Dying Sucks

Please excuse my language. I’m not sure “sucks” qualifies as an official bad word, but it doesn’t seem very polite. My mother died a week and a half ago, and I’m in a pretty bad mood.

Her death was not unexpected, but it happened suddenly. The end was not bad, especially considering what had preceded it. Before I go any further, I would like to stress that I am not complaining about the medical care she received. It was wonderful and compassionate. The nurses and aides went above and beyond anything I would be capable of.

They say that from the time we are born, we begin to die. I’m sure there’s a scientific basis for that statement. However, I also know that at some point we begin the end-game. It’s the point when the doctors start weighing the benefits of a procedure against the chances the person will not survive it or will suffer more harm than good from it. It is also the point when they start saying things along the lines of, “For someone your age and with your chronic conditions, here is what we expect …”

I have read many articles about the cost of the last year/six months/final illness of life. I’m sure they are no exaggeration. Since the end of last August, my mother spent one day not in a hospital/rehab center. Additionally, the last three days were in a nursing home. She started with shingles and pneumonia, then went to rehab. She was home one day when she returned to the hospital with pneumonia. She later went to rehab with a week in the middle spent in the hospital. The only reason she got out of rehab was because she “plateaued”, a nice way of saying the rehab wasn’t doing any good.

I did a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education as part of my religious studies. I worked in a hospital as a chaplain intern. One of the priests there said that the medical community does not like to talk about death with families. And families do not want to hear it. doctors are trained to save lives, not monitor the end. I think there is a certain truth in his opinion. There was no point in sending my mother to rehab. Her heart and lungs were failing; there was virtually nothing left to rehab.

We had chosen a very nice nursing home (they still use that term). My mom liked it, we liked it, and it was only a couple of miles from our house. Mom would have been much happier there in my opinion. The staff is very interactive with the patients, and we would have been able to visit much more frequently. However, due to the amazing amount of paperwork involved, it is much easier for the hospital/rehab to get a transfer than for a family to request a bed. (This is the case in Michigan; I do not know about other states.)

However, the rehab my mother was at was not particularly cooperative. The home had a bed on December 27, but the rehab didn’t release her until January 10th, the last day her insurance would cover them. At that point they told me that our chosen place might no longer have an opening but that she was welcome to stay where she was as a cash patient.

My mother has been sick for a long time with congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. When my dad died in 2012, both the doctors and family were surprised she had outlived him. The next year and a half was a slow, steady decline both physically and mentally. My dad had been her caregiver to a point she had not realized at the time. He was always there when she needed him. She missed him horribly and there was no way to fix the problem.

Her memory had been bad for quite a while. But, as you may know, dementia has a tendency to slither in and gradually increase. She knew the four of us at the end, but confused the names. Phone conversations were a challenge. None of us lead very exciting lives, and calling every day meant a struggle for things to say. She wouldn’t want to hang up because she was lonely, but dead silence is a little creepy after a couple of minutes. I guess there was some advantage in her not remembering most of what we talked about, since we could repeat the same things several times.

Her hearing had been decreasing for quite a while, although she only admitted it recently. Even toward the end, I wondered how much of that was hearing and how much was mental. I’d have to shout to get her attention, but if we had a conversation in the back seat of a moving car, she would participate from the front seat. I think she may have been having trouble connecting words with their meanings. Regardless, in the end, it was a lot like talking to my teenagers.

She couldn’t read by the end because her eyes got too bad. She always had the TV on, generally to news, but didn’t seem to be aware of what was being said. If I brought up a major news story, she generally didn’t know what I was talking about. So she basically sat and thought about how sick and lonely she was.

It was a lousy way to live and a lousy way to die. At least she knew I was there at the end. (At least I think she did; her breathing calmed significantly when she heard my voice.)

She was jealous of the way my dad died. He drove to his last doctor’s appointment (and drove well) and was mentally sharp to the end. We saw him on Sunday in the hospital, he went into ICU on Tuesday and was basically unconscious until he died  Thursday night/Friday morning. The more she suffered, the more I understood the jealousy.


You Lost All of It?

I will admit to being one of the least organized people around. Sadly, one of the best parts of my job is the awful uniform I have to wear. Since they tell me I have to wear one of their shirts, khaki pants, and a blue fleece over the shirt, I never have to get up and spend 10 minutes trying to figure out what to wear. Yes, I know. You’re supposed to pick it out the night before and put it aside so all you have to do is wear it. I could never get motivated enough to do it. So I’d wake up with the “perfect” outfit in mind. Then I couldn’t find the blouse I had in mind. Or any blouse that would work. Or realize that the sweater really didn’t match the skirt. Or the tights were dirty.

I can never find my keys. My husband told me to always leave them in the same place. Silly man. If I could remember to do that, I wouldn’t keep losing them. I’m the sort that comes home on a good day and leaves my purse, gloves, keys, sunglasses, etc. all in one place – preferably on the floor behind my chair in the dining room so I can find them in the morning. If I’ve been shopping, I drop things where I can before I lose the bags I’m carrying. If I’m upset, things end up in whatever room I find someone to complain to (even if it’s the cats). As much as I love my cats, they are not at all helpful in finding lost keys.

My daughter gave me a stuffed Tigger key chain. Tigger is too large to comfortably fit in my coat pocket. Tigger has a bad habit of walking away from where I put him. How else to explain continuing to lose keys that are attached to a stuffed animal? My husband got me one of those electric tracker things. You put a fob on your key chain and the base unit someplace safe. If you can’t find the keys, press the color corresponding to your fob and it will beep. Assuming you remember what color you used. And have some clue where you left the keys.

I recently completed a three-year course in religious studies. I really enjoyed it. Especially when I put the books somewhere obvious so I would remember to do the homework. And remember to take the homework with me. And remember where I put the folder so I could take the homework with me. Luckily, most studying comes easily to me, so I could usually fake it if I couldn’t find what I needed. The strangest part was that as soon as I got home, it would magically reappear.

I tried to do better with the papers that my kids brought home from school. As soon as they would hand it to me, I would sign it and give it back. It worked really well with my daughter. My son, if possible, is even more absent-minded than I am. Between us, we have spent more than a week trying to get something back to school, while my daughter reminds us that the deadline is getting closer. I thought the Internet was supposed to have made us a paperless society by now? Why am I still signing all these forms?

I just found out what happens if this personality trait goes corporate. My mother recently spent a lot of time in hospitals and rehab centers. “Her” hospital normally sent her to rehab facilities somewhere in their general vicinity. This fall, we got lucky and they sent her to a place out here. Unfortunately, she went back in the hospital and was sent to rehab in a very nice neighborhood that isn’t close to either her house or ours.

I should have had some clue there would be a problem when I filled out the inventory of her belongings and they told me they would file it. Not put it in her file. File it. That is the last anyone has seen of the list. It’s not like there was anything too significant on it. But it was all the clothes she was going to wear while she was there.

Mother got pneumonia and had to go to a very nice hospital in the very nice neighborhood. Too bad she was too sick to eat; the food was delicious. Since the rehab center sent Mom over, and she was returning to the rehab center, I didn’t think anything of the clothes in her closet. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

After a few days, Mom returned to rehab. She had no clothes. I called and asked the person answering the phone who I should speak with about the clothes, explaining that Mom wasn’t a new resident. That person didn’t know but said she would forward the message to the social worker. It seemed a little odd that the social worker would have nothing better to do than look after clothes, but who knows? I have no idea what happened next because there was no follow-up at all. I called again and they found the clothes that my mother was wearing before she went into the hospital with the dirty laundry. I guess that makes sense. She’s only been gone a week and a half. What institution does laundry more often than that?

My mother asked the nurses and aides. They have no idea (obviously) but offered to help find out. One of the therapists calls me and told me that no one on the floor can find the clothes, but she will talk to housekeeping. Once again, silence.

In the meantime, I had to buy clothes so Mom could come over for Christmas. A few days after Christmas, I received a call from Housekeeping. No one told them my mother wasn’t a new patient. Her clothing had been in storage the whole time. When I was ready, I should call and they would have the stuff ready.

Last Thursday, the rehab center called and said that Mom would be released on Friday to be taken to a nursing home. I called Housekeeping and told them that my husband would pick up the clothes when he picked up my mother. Fine. They would be in a box in her room.

Guess what? No clothes Friday afternoon. My husband did his best to get them to understand that he wanted the clothes. He said that if they couldn’t find the clothes, he wanted payment. Someone “in charge” said she would find the clothes and send them to us. I had to buy more clothes for the nursing home.

What I can’t figure out is what they would have done with the clothes in the week she was at the hospital. My guess is that someone stole the clothes to resell them. There has got to be a huge market for used polyester pants and white cotton socks.


You Got Me That? Why?

Now that you’ve finished shopping and wrapping, the tree is up, the cards are out, and the baking is under control, there’s one more topic we need to discuss. Why I would never be friends with someone so perfect. Just kidding. I’ve never met anyone who is at that point two weeks before Christmas, so you may be a wonderful human being. Or an alien. Or manic. (I’m bipolar. The one year I got everything done this early was before I started getting proper treatment.)

No, I’m talking about gift etiquette. Kids are not the only ones who open gifts and suffer from “You obviously spent a lot of money. Why on earth would you spend it on this?”

One year when I was in college, my boyfriend got me a large mirror. It was a cat amidst a bunch of houseplants with the title “In the jungle darkness lurks the tiger.” It was really cute, and definitely fit my personality. I had no place whatsoever to put it, but thought it was a great gift. My mother took one look at it and said, “Why did he get you THAT?” Can you tell she didn’t like him?

Of course, she is the one who got a pair of faux Louis XIV lamps from her mother-in-law to go with her Danish modern furniture. And a purple negligee from the same woman (she is neither the purple type nor the negligee type). They didn’t get along. I think she may have been living vicariously through me. She spent years bashing the gifts I got from various boyfriends. Fortunately she got more tactful by the time my husband started giving me gifts (or she liked him better).

While I would never advise my mother’s route of putting hideous lamps in your living room for ten years to show appreciation for the thought, I don’t recommend opening something and telling the giver “but this isn’t the one I wanted!” either. (Another relic of my pre-medicated days. My family is really, really grateful I found a decent doctor.)

I think it’s important to understand the giver. Obviously, anything you get from your child should be accepted with the same heart-felt joy they had in buying it/making it. No matter what it is, they genuinely thought you would like it and have spent a lot of time on it. Needless to say, this advice needs to go by the wayside somewhere over the age of ten.

While some teenagers still care about the recipient, I think some are more casual about the whole thing. “Oh, that’s right, you belong to the NRA. Sorry about the vegan food club membership.” Or, “I ran out of money after I bought gifts for [significant other]. But I’m sure you’ll like this soap from the dollar store. You always told me it’s the thought that counts.” A large percentage won’t care (or notice) if you return it.

Not so much with parents. Assuming they still like you and your spouse, they have put some thought into your gift(s). And they would like to think they know you well enough to know what you would like to have. So, if you receive another gift for your office (zen garden, aquarium, scorpion paperweight), be enthusiastic. They will never know that you returned it for the office basketball hoop with automatic return you really wanted.

It’s a little trickier with a spouse. He will probably notice if you return the sexy negligee for a flannel gown. By the time you are married, it is too late to tell him that it makes you feel like a slut (unless it’s a combination wedding/Christmas gift). We all know the gift is really for him, but there is usually something of a compliment in it. He won’t buy it unless he wants to see you in it. You can wear it one time for him. On the way from the bathroom to the bed. If you look as bad as you think you do, he won’t ask again. If you look as good as he thinks you do, you’ve got a new outfit.

Conversely, she’ll probably know if the boxers with “Gift from Santa” on the front disappear. (If you’re married to the girl above, you’re probably already happy with the gifts and don’t need my advice.) However, in your case, you need to find out whether it’s a joke or her idea of sexy. If they are accompanied by another pair covered in cartoon reindeer, it is probably a joke. If there’s a how-to manual for something you’ve never heard of, there are things you may not know about your wife.

Writing this has reminded me that the only thing that is done around here is the tree. And that is handled by my husband and daughter. You’re on your own with your bosses, friends and neighbors. Keep in mind: the tactfulness should increase based on the amount of damage they can do to your life/career.


Who Needs Tryptophan?

I was intending to send this post yesterday, but I fell asleep.

I would like to think that it had something to do with the Thanksgiving turkey the day before, but napping has been an issue with me as long as I can remember. My family swears I am part cat. Someone even had the foresight to give me the name when I was born.

I have always been a morning person, which means that I have never been a night person. It was a little embarrassing in high school and college. There was no point in staying up all night after graduation; even if I had  been able to stay awake, I would have been incoherent and grumpy well before sunrise. I later learned that more than a few people were incoherent and grumpy that night, so I guess I might have fit in anyway.

I only stayed up all night one time in college. I was finishing a paper. It was in the days when we wrote it down on paper (stuff made by pulverizing trees) and typed it later (no spell-check or backspace/delete). It was sometimes a painful process and could not be done during a boring lecture. The clicking of the typewriter keys would have kept everyone else awake.

What was funny was that I felt too guilty to miss class the next morning. My notes consist of a few works followed by a number in superscript, repeated multiple times. Too bad there weren’t actual citations associated with the numbers. Later I might have had some clue what he had talked about.

I worked at a weight loss clinic for a couple of years. Aside from the truly appalling practices they condoned (I found out later that I got my job because I looked better – weighed less – than my competition), the hours were noon til whenever we finished recording and calling in sales to the home office. A lot of people thought those were great hours. I got off early enough to go to the bar and then could sleep in. Unfortunately, I was usually too tired to do anything but go home to bed.

Dating was a little strange at times. Some guys had trouble understanding that when I said I wanted to go to bed, I literally wanted to go to bed, as in to sleep. Coupled with a real paranoia about eating in front of people I didn’t know well, I was probably a memorable date. Luckily movies were really loud, so I rarely had a problem with falling asleep there.

A couple of times I have tried to work two jobs at the same time. Not really a good idea. The first time I tried it, I lasted two days at the second job. While it seemed reasonable to work Thanksgiving weekend when I was interviewing, by the end of the second day I was too tired to even function through the day. The second time I tried it, I ended up with pneumonia.

After starting on afternoons at Ralph’s, I have been working first shift for quite awhile. That shift is 6a – 2;30p. Since I like to spend some time with my family, I usually came home, ate dinner, napped, and watched TV with my husband. Yes, we still eat as a family during the week (scary, huh?) Last week, they changed my hours to 4a – 12:30p. I saw it as an improvement – now I can nap before everyone else gets home. Just as soon as my body adapts to getting up at 2:30a.

I would go on, but Kommando Kitty is meowing. It’s time for a nap.



My New Love is Warm but Not Very Fuzzy

Actually, it’s not fuzzy at all. And that’s probably a good thing, since it’s a slow cooker (crock-pot). The fuzzy things live in the back of the refrigerator.

Until recently, I was very spoiled. My husband was working part-time (through no fault of his own – the economy still stinks here) and did the cooking and grocery shopping. Now he has a full-time job with regular hours, the same as I do.

While he is still interested in the shopping, there had been a significant decrease in the joy of cooking for quite some time. We seemed to be eating a lot of macaroni & cheese and tacos (not at the same time). Fairly regularly, we would get fish he caught (very yummy), burgers (not so much, I really don’t like beef), or pork chops. He also made soup (it always tasted really good, but sometimes I couldn’t quite identify all the ingredients).

I felt a sense of impending doom with the arrival of the new job. We might be the first family to starve because the man had gotten a job. Our 17-year-old son was not amused.

So I decided it was my turn. I am a very good baker. I just finished making a cheesecake for tomorrow. (My husband makes the pumpkin pie. I detest pumpkin pie. Besides, who eats vegetables/gourds for dessert?) We generally have home-made cookies or brownies for dessert and cakes for special occasions.

However, I am not allowed to touch beef (and I am not particularly interested in cooking hunks of other types of meat). I like beef well-done. Apparently that is like desecrating a work of art, so I don’t touch it. I think my husband got the idea on one of our earliest dates when I tried to make hamburgers. I guess you need to flatten them so they’re not raw in the middle and crispy on the outside.

Oddly enough, the one time I am allowed to cook beef is the standing rib roast on Christmas. It’s been a family tradition for generations, along with Yorkshire Pudding (guess where my family comes from). I don’t think it’s any comment on my ability to cook beef though. I set the temperature, season the roast, and let it cook until it no longer moos. The male members of the family are happy, and I don’t eat it.

I really couldn’t see myself coming home every night and making dinner. Generally, I would rather take a nap. So I looked around and discovered the slow cooker that has been sitting in the corner of our kitchen since my brother-in-law gave it to us about ten years ago.

It seems that slow cooker is the high-end name for a crock-pot. I would guess that’s because of people like me who put crock-pots in the same category as fondue pots. They have their place, but not in my kitchen. Most of what I have seen come out of them are kielbasa & sauerkraut, variations on baked beans, and chili/soups. All fine foods, but not the perfect long-term menu. The other option, as my son said, was to put in a hunk of meat and some liquid.

However, once again I went to the Internet (the decent cookbooks were in the $25 range, and I wasn’t sure my family would even like me cooking with it). Lo and behold, there are thousands of recipes out there. There are an alarming number of recipes for pork loins; pigs may want to band together for protection.

Today I made tortellini. There was a recipe for lasagna, but I make that from scratch and wasn’t sure I was ready to risk my reputation. However, the tortellini was very good. Crock-pots are excellent for slow-cooking pasta sauce. I have also made chicken and dumplings. Soups and chili were successes. My attempt at a hunk of meat was a ham cooked in Vernor’s (the only real ginger ale), with potatoes and onions. I made a beef stew-sort of thing (well-done beef is acceptable in stew).

So, I think we may be a match made in heaven. There’s very little work involved (although I do seem to be chopping a lot of onions); and with spices, the dreaded blands have been been avoided to this point. Of course, the test in any relationship is the holidays. So we’ll see what it gives me for Christmas. Or if it sulks when I yell at it.

I wonder if it cooks hamburgers.