I’m thinking about Lucy. She’s 92, the mother of my ex-daughter-in-law. She became my new friend after I reconnected with Donna, her daughter. By phone. She lives in Texas; I live in Missouri. I love Donna dearly and I grew to love her mother.
After the divorce, Donna moved into Lucy’s home. They were a loving, compatible couple, sharing work and recreation. As Lucy grew older and acquired several ailments, she depended more and more on Donna to get things done. Donna developed some serious medical problems of her own, but she continued struggling to shoulder the greater load of day-to-day tasks that kept them going.
On September 1, I called to wish Donna a happy birthday. Lucy answered, said Donna was in bed. I knew Donna had been having back pain for a long time. I called the next night to see how she was doing. Still in bed. I asked Lucy if she needed help. I begged her to call someone. She said they were fine. Next night I called again and found them both in bed. I called Donna’s brother’s shop but no one answered. I left a message that I thought someone should look in on them. When I called the next day, Lucy said Donna was in ICU in a hospital in Dallas.
To make the story short: the paramedics found Donna cold and unresponsive. They said she couldn’t have lasted another day. They found she had a large stone in her only kidney. Her urine had backed up and she had developed sepsis. She was air-lifted from the first hospital she was taken to to another one. On a ventilator and a dialysis machine. In very serious condition. She’s been there since, ventilator and dialysis machine now removed, but still in serious condition. They are not even talking about removing the stone yet because she isn’t strong enough and she still has the infection.
The family has decided that after Donna is released she will go to live with her son in Dallas and Lucy will be sent to a nursing home.
Lucy doesn’t know this yet. It will kill her. Literally. As a nursing student, I worked in those places and I can’t tell you how many perfectly alert, fairly able folks I saw folded themselves up and died. Your spirit dies first. Then your body.
That is my own worst nightmare. No one can know, until they live it, how very difficult it is to leave your comfortable, familiar surroundings to exist in a strange, sterile setting.
We who are old. We can’t explain our need to hold onto what we know. Our memories that are in everything that surrounds us. It’s how we hold onto those we have lost. How we hold onto ourselves. When that goes, there’s nothing left. No reason to go on.
I’ve seen online several rescue dogs who needed a new home because their owners had to go to such a place. How very sad. Not only for the dogs. But for their owners. Loosing not only their homes, their possessions, but their companions, in many cases, the only members of their family they have left, the loves of their lives.
I recall something Ken said to me days before he took his own life, “You’ll outlive us all. You’re too stubborn to die.” It hurt. I had given him so much. I know I wasn’t a perfect parent. I made some wrong decisions, some mistakes. But they were honest mistakes, never coming from a place of meanness.
Yet, I knew that’s how Ken felt. I know it’s how many folks feel. Maybe even my one remaining son. We oldsters, many of us know we’re seen as someone in the way, a nuisance, a drag to those whose lives are hectic and in a hurry.
Don’t we have a right to be here? Haven’t many of us spent a greater part of our lives caring and sacrificing for our children? Often giving more than we could afford? Wanting the best for them? Is this how we are to end our days? Many of us dying alone in a barren room, lonely and forgotten?
Oh, dear Lucy, I wish I could help you. But I am as alone as you are. Just not quite so helpless. At least, not yet. Lord help me to hold on.