"And I think about all of us, walking our own 'Green Mile'...Sometimes, the 'Green Mile' seems so long..."
01 March 2015
To my closest confidants, I sometimes admit to feeling extreme anxiety when I first wake up each morning. I'm afraid of what I'll find. My parents are 90 and 91 and dependent on me for almost everything.
When I was a little girl, I used to live in a state of extreme fear because my Mom and Dad were a good ten years older than my classmates parents. My Mom had me at the age of 35 which, isn't anything close to rare, but certainly qualified them as older than the average age of most of the other parents I knew. I would lie in bed at night, scared that my Mom and Dad would die much sooner than most of those other parents of my classmates and this was a particular fear after 1973, following the sudden, unexpected death of my 23 year old sister, Becky. Her death was followed less than two years later by my 83 year old grandmother who had lived with our family from the time I was in first grade. As far as I could tell, my family members were dropping like flies and my response to this was extreme fear and multiple panic attacks. I lived a very fearful existence, just waiting for someone else near and dear to me to suddenly disappear from my life.
Obviously, this didn't happen - my parents have, in fact, outlived many of my former classmates parents.
I no longer lie in bed and fear the inevitable in the same way I did when I was 10 or 12 or 14 years old, but I know how my own movie ends. Death is non-negotiable for all of us.
When I hear the first stirrings of my Mom's walker in the morning or the clop of my Dad's cane, I'm instantly relieved and then in the very next seconds I gear up for another episode of "Groundhog Day", because frankly, this is exactly what my life is like right now. Every day I answer the same questions about 40 times (no exaggeration) and sometimes I must identify myself. The weather becomes a particularly hot topic because in the span of an hour at the breakfast table, my Mom will ask me, even with the weather on the kitchen television being broadcast in real time, "what's the weather going to be today?". Sometimes I direct her attention to the television set which she'll watch eagerly for maybe 2 minutes and then, as soon as a commercial comes on, she asks me again, and again, and again "what's the weather going to be today? Is it going to snow?".
Cloudy, cold days are the worst. Not only does the pain my Mom experiences in her joints increase as the temperature slides down, but her whole affect is much less amiable and cheery.
Today is the first day of March. I heard my mother remark earlier today that it's "looking like fall". There is no real grasp of time and space for her. I'm not sure if that's true for my Dad because his almost total deafness and inability to carry on a conversation unbroken by "what did you say?" makes small talk an impossibility. I hate speaking in a loud voice and while I made a good go of it the first year and a half, I must confess I no longer do. It becomes very hard. That doesn't stop my Mom - from anywhere in this house one can hear her repeating the same question or comment up to 10 - 15 times, directed at my Dad. Most of the time whatever it is she's saying gets lost in the yelling and given her own abbreviated attention span, more often than not she forgets what her original point was when she began.
Schedules become essential and one tangles with them at a risk. If I serve dinner an hour or so early - say at 4 rather than 5:30 PM, I'll often hear the click-clack of my mother's walker heading to the kitchen, asking me what we're having for dinner tonight? When I remind her that she ate just a short time earlier, she regards me with a quasi suspicious and embarrassed look. Not quite believing me and embarrassed that I might be right.
Last night I was watching "A River Runs Through It" after I served my parents dinner. About an hour after they had finished, I heard my mother tell (yell) for my Dad to be sure and check the doors. As I was sitting in the living room which is situated right next to their room, I heard my Dad's footsteps and waited for him to "peek" into the living room. I told him all the doors were locked and everything was safe. He gave me a nod and then proceeded to walk to the side door, the door leading to the garage and the sliding glass door in the dining room. I guess he didn't believe me - this is his routine. I smiled to myself and continued watching the movie.
A few minutes later, my Dad appeared again in the living room - "Your mother said she heard some people talking in here and wanted me to check.".
"Dad, it's the television - I'm watching a movie. No one else is here."
He nodded and headed back to their room with the message.
Not fifteen minutes later, my Dad reappeared in the doorway of the living room. "Your Mom keeps saying someone else is in here."
I pretty much gave up watching the movie by this point. I walked with him back to their room and told my mother personally that there is no one in the house but the three of us, as it is most days and nights. I told her I had been watching a movie.
Not ten minutes later, their bedroom door opened yet again - it was at this time I believe I looked over toward Cleo and said, "I'm going to stab my eye with a fork!!".
"Did you lock the doors?"
"Yes Dad - everything is locked up tight."
"Just checking. Your Mom wanted me to make sure," so again he makes the rounds until I seriously find myself unable to sit still and I walk up to him, gently put my hand in his and tell him he's done this already tonight. The house is locked up. No one else is the house. It's time for bed.
Meanwhile, I go outside and make about fifteen revolutions around the pool and I do this for two reasons. To shake off the irritation and the rote quality of this and every evening for the past couple of years, and to drive up the steps on my Fitbit. I accomplish both goals in about twenty minutes.
Every single day is both the same and different. The routine is the same but cognition and mental status seem to degrade just a little more. It's sort of like watching paint dry, but it makes me very sad. The intangible loss, the deficits, will break your heart.
I drink a lot of hot tea in the evenings. I build a fire in the wood stove almost every single night and I have an alarm set on my iPhone set for 7:45 PM so that I can listen to the BBC 4 Shipping Forecast. I pull up the maps on my computer and follow along as I listen to the forecast for the gales that are expected at Trafalgar and Biscay, and then I close my eyes and imagine myself bobbing in the small teak cabin aboard a sailboat, holding a mug of hot, steaming tea, tethered to some marina off the Isle of Man, wondering if I'll be able to cast off my lines and head back out to sea. No matter what I'm doing, I listen to that forecast and I visualize that scene. It's a mental image that gets me through another evening after another day of heavy repetition.