Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Goodnight Sweetheart

In probably my next to last post on Gertie's Galavants, I wanted to leave you with the eulogy I prepared for Mom. I say "prepared" as it's not the eulogy I delivered. I use written words only as a guide - to be honest, I'm not even sure how much of this written eulogy I spoke of.

Here's 'tis:

I’ve been my mom’s caregiver for 5 years now – since my Dad died April 7, 2007. It’s been both the hardest and most rewarding job of my entire life. And, predictably, this eulogy is the hardest one I hope to ever give. Please bear with me.

Mom was born October 28, 1916. To put that in perspective, she was born the year:
stainless steel was invented, before the zippers, bandaids, the traffic signal, nylon or ball point pens were invented. She was born only 13 years after the Wright Brothers had their first flight. She saw the development of commercial airplanes, saw WW1 and WW2 where she lived without her husband for years. She had a baby while her husband was in the war – she lived 95 very full and wonderful years, 65 of them beside her best friend and lover, my adorable dad. Anyone who knew my parents saw a real life love affair. They were connected both physically and emotionally.

My sister died suddenly in 1989. It was then that I learned of the strength of my mother. She held my father up, physically and emotionally. She held the family together during those very dark days.

When my dad died, the very first words my mom spoke to me were “These things happen.” And, that was her philosophy as she faced the end of her life. “These things happen.” That pretty much says it all.

One of my favorite memories of my mom was when my friend Bobbi, Mom and I were sitting around the kitchen table having cocktails one day – as we did frequently. I had just purchased a brand new Bluetooth for my cellular phone. And, I got one of the first blue tooths on the market. Mom and Bobbi had never seen one before. To those of you unfamiliar with the thing, it’s a very small earpiece with no discernable buttons. You just press an area of it to answer or hang up the call. Anyway, Bobbi was looking the thing over and said “How do you answer this thing?” Without missing a beat, Mom looked up from her cocktail and said “hello?” That one word, “Hello” would send the three of us into peals of laughter all the way to mom’s end.

Mom and Dad were extremely proud of their children. But, they didn’t coddle us – my parents were the type of parents who stood behind their children 100%. We all had a safety net but we didn’t take advantage of it. My parents taught us how to live with life’s ups and downs. They taught us how to survive on our own by letting us all fall and then teaching us how to get up. I think that’s the most important lesson they could have given us.  That and seeing the love they had for each other. They had a marriage to admire. They had a relationship I’m lucky enough to have found late in my own life with John. Mom loved John almost as much as I do and gave me the ultimate compliment one day when she said that John was very much like my Dad.

I remember one time when my parents were trying to correct me as I slid under my new car (at the tender age of 18) to change the oil. By my side was my trusty “car repairs for dummy book.” Dad and Mom were standing by the car as I was trying to get the nut loose in the oil pan. Dad tried repeatedly to warn me that I was about to make a big mistake and, in 18 year old fashion, I just told him to leave me alone. I do though remember looking out and seeing their shoes, next to each other as they waited to see what was going to happen. I was too far under the car when I  finally got the nut loose and came up sputtering oil. It was in my mouth, my nose, dirty oil coated my eyes and ears. I remember bolting from under the car, mostly blind and deaf. I do though remember my mom and dad holding each other up. I’m not sure I ever gave them another laugh like that. To her credit, Mom did take me in the house and clean me up. From then on, I (mostly) listened to them.

I remember Dad telling a story of being out late with his brother-in-law, Uncle Harry. They went to a dive diner for steak and eggs and were half toasted themselves. The waitress, at 3 am, was very slow so they concocted a plan to buy the place. And, if they hadn’t returned home finally to sleep it off, I believe we’d own the Tasty Diner in Bethesda, MD.

They drove to Florida one time in our large yellow Chrysler Imperial and returned 7 days later in a Triumph convertible. Dad saw it, liked it, and bought it. He was born with the philosophy of a Costco shopper – if you see it, get it now. Sometimes, quite sadly, I have the same impulsive quality. I’ve been known to make some pretty quick decisions – some have worked out and some, well, never mind.

After my folks moved to Arizona, Mom and Dad would return to Maryland to spend the summers so Mom and Dad lived with me 12 years in my current home.  I had the pleasure of knowing them, not just as their child, but as the adult they had molded. We had a lot of fun in those days – days filled with laughter, good friends and treasured family dropping by, poker games, and just quiet times of sitting on the balcony. It didn’t take much to pleasure them nor me. Just being with them every day was a treasure in its own right.

Mom and Dad were movers and shakers. I remember one time, they disappears for 3 weeks! Ronnie, Mike, Steph and I were quite worried about them. Mom’s siblings had no idea where they were, they weren’t in any hospital beds – they just disappeared! One of us finally thought of checking with travel agents in the area and we got a hit. They got a great deal for a “that day” flight to Budapest and that’s where they were. Budapest! Now, Mom would get angry at Sharyn and me if we were an hour late coming back from the senior citizen bar in Arizona but they disappeared just fine…

My Mom and Dad sacrified for their children. They ran Town Hall together for 25 years or so, working opposite shifts most of the time so one was always home with the kids. But, when retirement came, that was their time. They traveled the world, Alaska, they were one of the first people into Russia, they almost lived in Laughlin where they’d gamble into the night.

After Dad died, Marlon, Craig and I took Mom to Atlantic City. I bellied mom up, in her wheelchair, to a blackjack table and told her that I’d be right behind her at the craps table. My craps table got hot so I turned around 25 minutes later to check on her and she wasn’t there? Now, how far could a woman in a wheelchair go? I went to the blackjack dealer and asked him if he had seen her. His reply floored me! He said that Security had her. My next words pretty much spell out who my Mom was. I said “What did she do????” The dealer laughed and told me she was tired so she’d flagged down a security guard to take her to her room.

My Mom was the type of mother who wouldn’t sleep soundly until I was home. I went on a trip one time with some school friends and a teacher. The teacher drove and was driving us all to our houses – this was before cell phones. We were running very late – in fact, I was supposed to be home around 6 and it was 11 pm by them time I got in. When Mr Allen was driving me to my house, he bet me that my mother would be waiting up for me. I took the bet – but shouldn’t have. There she was, in the doorway. The only mother waiting up. And, at my tender age of 53, she would still tell me to wear a coat if it was cold out. She never failed to utter the words “be careful” when I left the house. And, to this day, even transcending her death, there are things I’m not allowed to do because I promised her: I can’t use a chain saw, I can’t use a pressure cooker, I’m not allowed to cross against a light, and I’m not allowed on a motorcycle.

The last one, not being allowed on a motorcycle, I actually tested once after I started dating John. He had a motorcycle.  I argued with Mom a few times about wanting to get on it and she finally said that “if I don’t see you.” Well, I took that as a nod to go ahead, which I did. And, the very first time I climbed atop the bike, I suffered a nice third degree burn on my leg (why they put the muffler right there is beyond me) which sent me to the hospital. She never ever said the words “I told you so.” She expected that I’d learned my lesson and I did. I’m not allowed on motorcycles.

Hillary Clinton said it takes a village to raise a child. It’s not only children who need our support but the elderly. It takes a village to walk someone to Heaven’s door and I had the best village of anyone I know. I’ve become used to the comments about how wonderful my friends are. Throughout this whole period in our lives, my friends have dropped their own lives to help us along. It was nothing for Bobbi to cancel two business trips to be here with us today. She just did it as she thought it was the right thing to do. That’s what my parents expected of their family and friends – you did it because it was the right thing to do.

Mom wouldn’t want us to draw this out. When she was done, she was done. And so am I with just one more thing:

Every single night of her married life, Mom would kiss my Dad and say “Good night, Sweetheart.” Once dad was gone, she uttered the same words to me as I tucked her into bed.  So, “Good night, sweetheart. Sleep well. You deserve it.”

Sunday, February 26, 2012

I got the most amazing email today...

...from my dear friend Joni. Joni is a nurse and used to live around the corner from us. She came running every single time I called with a question or concern. She would always run over to check Mom out and spend a moment or two quelling my concerns, which, upon occasion, were many.

Here is the email - I was so honored and read it with tears streaming down my face.

From Joni:

Something I wrote for you on Thursday:

It is raining a peaceful steady rain as I walk into the chapel. 
The room is warm, fully occupied and quiet, Gertie is at the center of thoughts, feelings, love and attention.

The Rabbi brings dignity and tradition to the gathering.

Avis speaks with such compassion and wonder, inspiring celebration on a day of sadness and reflection.

I watch my friend Lori, her family surrounds her including her closest friend and best man beside her.
Then my friend Lori steels herself, stands with pride and determination to give tribute to her mother. 

She looks out at us, standing with such poise and sureness, speaking with such love and admiration.

I see in my friend the wonderful woman she is, and I see in her some of what she learned from her mother – the gifts of honest humor, true compassion, unshakeable tenacity, and love that knows no bounds.

I am so proud to be a part of their lives, my son and I were adopted and loved as well as any member of the family.

And in my heart I see Gertie with Joe now, sharing Jelly Bellies.

How amazing is that to read? As I've mentioned time and time again, friends are the family you choose and I clearly have chosen well to have a woman such as Joni in my life. Thank you my dear friend and thank you again to all my friends. I could not have walked this journey without you all by my side.

A shout out to Family & Nursing Care

This post is a personal review of the exquisite personnel employed by the agency Family & Nursing Care. I hired a lot of home care aides over the last 5 years and had some genuinely horrible experiences with the same. One agency I worked with sent over a woman who ran from the kitchen when she cracked an egg with a double yolk. Evidently, a double yolked egg is an omen of the devil in some cultures (who the heck knew THAT?). It was this one time that cracked the camel's back - I quite my job to stay home with Mom knowing full well that, with no training at all, I could care for her better than a paid worker of this caliber.

That is, until I found the company Family & Nursing Care, operating in MD and DC. Unlike other agencies, Family & Nursing Care has a different pay scale which is much fairer. The workers actually pay the company a commission for finding the job so the home care aides retain more of the money. The result is an employee base which far exceeds any other in quality (other agencies I worked with paid the employees less than 1/3 of what Mom was paying for care - no wonder we weren't getting quality workers).

I had a few different home care workers through Family & Nursing Care. First, Rebecca spent the nights at Asbury while Mom was there in rehab. The aides are not allowed to sleep at night so poor Rebecca spent the nights sweltering in Mom's room in a chair which was wholly uncomfortable - I know of what I type as I spent the days in that same chair. But, with Rebecca on duty at night, I could rest assured that Mom's needs were tended to.

When we first came home after rehab, Carina and I resumed our regular duties. She was on during the day and I was on at night. That is, until the duties became more strenuous and then we had to "double team." This meant that I had to make sure there were 2 of us at the house at all times. So, I went back to Family & Nursing Care for help and help they did. They sent a worker over that very night (Grace) who was every bit as good and caring as Rebecca was. Grace was kind enough to thank me for giving Mom the level of care and love which I thought she so richly deserved. Grace said it was a pleasure to work with us - how sweet. But, Grace had another assignment, and I was leery of having to "break in" another home care aide as it's almost easier to do the work yourself rather than retrain anyone. Little did I realize that I was the one in training. Each home care aide patiently taught me some sort of new skill - I became efficient at changing the sheets of a bedridden Mom by myself (well, mostly - Mom was still able to roll to one side mostly on her own). I learned how to make sure Mom was in the right position at night for the most peaceful rest. I discovered ways to ensure her safety when I was out of the room for even a moment. I learned how to give a bed bath and change her with virtually no effort on her part. All of this is thanks to the home care aides excellent instruction.

The last home care worker I had from Family & Nursing Care became a part of our family - that was dear Elizabeth. With her South American accent, Elizabeth would teach me more than I thought possible. She showed me how to gently moisten Mom's mouth for comfort, how to prop pillows around Mom so that she's rest easier and not hit the bars in the hospital bed with her arms (causing painful bruises), and how to put on a happier face around Mom. The dying don't need to see a bunch of tears although that obviously can't always be helped.

Elizabeth went so far out of her way to help me learn these skills that it's impossible for me to thank her. I do though consider her a friend forever. She stayed late the morning Mom died to help Mike, Sharyn and me with the transition. She held our hands, she prayed with us, and she timed Mom's last breath and gave a quiet nod which said it all. I am so very grateful to have had her by our side.

If you need an agency, I can 100% vouch for Family & Nursing Care. Please use them instead of anyone else. They truly stand out from the crowd. And, when you're in the position that we were in, that's exactly what you need.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

After much thought...

I've decided to retire this blog. I just feel like it's the right thing to do now that Mom is gone. I will have a few more posts though before I officially sign off so stay tuned.

Here's Mom's obituary:

She is, indeed, greatly missed. I've mentioned to a few people that I feel a bit like a lion who has lived in captivity for a long time. The door to the cage may be open but I forget that I can walk through. I still seem to think I have to be home at 5 pm to relieve caregivers, I still wait for the phone to ring to coordinate schedules. In fact, when John and I were out of town recently for 3 nights, my phone didn't ring once. The silence was deafening.

John and I were recently talking about taking a 9 day cruise. My immediate reaction was "I can't leave for that long" and, the minute the words entered my mind, I remembered that I now can. It was a bittersweet moment.

I have, though, been getting on with life. I cleaned Mom's closet - good quality nightgowns and robes are going to a senior citizen home in Brazil where they have next to nothing, new items (tags attached) are going to some of my friend's Moms, and a few items will remain here with me. I have to do the room in pieces though as it can be a bit overwhelming to do it all at once. Her presence is still felt everywhere as I hope it will remain for a long while.

I am also in deep awe of the support my friends, both near and far, have given me. For an example, just this morning, I've been sitting and reading the volumes of comments on one of my last articles Death and Dying - dealing with the restless patient.  Just read some of the comments (hit the "more comments" button at the bottom to load another page). I know my Mom would be proud of these types of writings and I always read the comments to her, even as she lay dying.

My friends have been instrumental in keeping me sane these last weeks, and the acts of kindness I've seen are amazing. One of my online friends, ChrissJ, challenged other Squidoo writers to promote my articles while I was on hiatus. How very sweet that was. And, as a thank you to my closest online friends, can I ask that you visit their profiles and select a few articles to comment upon? Here's some of them (more will be posted later):

ChrissLJ (Chriss Jones)
Peggy Hazelwood (ScarletOhairy)
Virginia Allain (Vallain) 
Nancy Carol Harding
Joan Haines (MiddleSister)
Kathryn Yount Aqua (Frischy)
Mark Goodwin (Zut_Moon)
Beaucee Panz (BossyPants)
Joyce Mann
Carolyn Martin  (AlleyCatLane)
VeryIrie (Pam Irie)
Priscilla Benfield (PriscillaB)

As I mentioned, I will be adding more names in future postings prior to retiring Gertie's Galavants.

As to my physical friends, they're the most wonderful group of people I could ever have chosen. Friends are, after all, the family we get to choose, and I just couldn't have done any better. The day Mom died, I came home to find the hospital bed out of the living room (it had already been picked up), my dear friends had already rearranged the living room into a very nice seating area and everything was sparkling clean due to Carina, Joni, Bobbi and Sharyn's attention and true love. Sharyn et al handled all of the vendors picking up oxygen equipment, the other hospital bed, commode, etc. I didn't have to deal with any of that stuff. What a burden off my back.

I hope that all of my friends realize that I will repay the honor of their friendship any time they need me. As I'm the last year of the baby boomers, my friend's parents are aging and some of my friends will be faced with the caregiving role. I hope to be able to pitch in and help them learn how to deal with this challenging role with good humor and grace and give their patients dignity in their last years. That will, hopefully, be a legacy I pass on. My momma taught me well. She guided me every single step of the way. I could not have hoped to care for a more compassionate, gentle souled lady. Up to the very end, she wanted to lessen my burden and would do anything I asked her to do - sometimes even painful things as help me turn her to her side. She never shed a tear and only spent quiet moments staring deep into my eyes. I felt her love and still do.

 I have more pictures that I haven't even seen yet - haven't downloaded them from my digital camera but I know I have some beautiful pics of my Mom during the times she rallied. So, stay tuned. There will be more to come before my final chapter is through.

Much love to all of my friends, near and far and to all of my readers. Your presence has made all the difference in the world. I love you all very very much. Lori

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

At peace, finally

Mom passed away at 7:11 this morning - a very fitting moment as we're gamblers over here. She went quite peacefully in her sleep.

Still in a holding pattern...

Well, Steph's birthday (Feb 12th) came and went, Valentine's Day (14th) came and went and here we are on the 15th. Mom is mostly comatose at the moment and I think we're in the last phase as her breathing pattern has changed. She's in no pain but it is difficult to watch her grasp for breath. Hospice did a great job of preparing us for this stage - it's much worse on the family than it is on her. I just medicated her to hopefully ease the breathing.

The human soul is amazing though. She'll go when she goes. I just pray that she remains in no pain.

Monday, February 13, 2012

She's one strong cookie

Mom continues to weeble but she's not falling down! In fact, she gave us quite a gift last night when she awoke from a very long nap totally lucid. She knew all of us in the room and even looked at brother Mike and said "Hi, Sweetheart." How very nice. Truly a gift I will always remember. She ate a few cheerios, had a sip of brandy which was shared by all around the bed and then went back into the twilight.

Friends Robin, Bill and Jeff spent yesterday afternoon with us so that was a nice diversion. Linda brought dinner again which was, as always, welcomed and very very tasty. John and I have mostly rebounded from the flu.

Thankfully, Mom has absolutely no pain and what a blessing that is. She continues to weaken but that's ok - as she put it when Dad died: These things happen. She's surrounded by love, some laughter, and a bunch of dogs who periodically sit on her lap.

I've had caregivers at night which is another huge blessing. I did this so long on my own that I really didn't realize the level of exhaustion until it's no longer there. I'm feeling peppier, although I got up at 3:30 this morning to check her and have been up since writing. Just got the urge. Here's the article I wrote:

Preparing for the death of a loved one

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Stephanie's birthday - Feb 12th

My 36 year old sister died December 3, 1989 in a one car auto crash. It was an incredibly tough time on our family, most notably, on my Dad who Steph always relied upon. It was during this time that I first saw the strength of character in my Mom, Gertie.

I'm sort of hoping that Mom holds out until Sunday so that she can go join Dad and Steph on what would have been my sister's 59th birthday. Part of me hopes so but part of me just wants her to go in peace whenever.

It is now, as she lies in her hospital bed in my living room, facing the last moments on earth that I see that strength of character again. Hospice workers are amazed that she's still here with us but I'm not. I've seen that strength many many times during the past 5 years that I've been her caregiver. She's taught me many important lessons and we've shared many good times and laughter. We've known the warm love surrounding us from friends and family - my online friend have been an incredible support system to us both as I read their words of love or encouragement to her.

Here's my latest and probably last article for a while: Death and Dying - dealing with the restless patient.

 Mom is waning so I doubt I'll have much time to write. I will try to update the blog though. The picture above is Mom with Bobbi's grandson (I call him Squared) - they have a special connection. My connection with Mom can be seen below:

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Gertie-isms - still funny

Mom was lying in bed yesterday, Sharyn and I were in the room. Mom sits straight up in bed and says "Gertie is white!" Well, you know, we just cracked up. She looked at us again and said "Gertie is white!" Sent Sharyn and I over the edge of the abyss into deeper laughter and Mom was smiling too. She was, of course, just smiling at us laughing but it was funny.

Later, Sonia, our wonderful hospice nurse came by to check Mom out (btw, her blood pressure is way better than mine...). Sonia mentioned that, at this stage of life, Mom is awake but might be dreaming inside so her words might not come out as an awake persons would (depending on how much vodka they'd imbibed). So, what she says is not what she means. Which is where I come into play. Being the one who knows her so well, I can generally (important word: generally) guess at what she wants or needs. But, it does lend for some interesting conversation.

Sonia also mentioned that Mom might get agitated by being touched too much. I've noticed this when others have visited and tried to warn them but to no avail. At this stage, she can't process as much outside stimulation - she might yell to turn off the TV or to stop talking. Similar to when a cat will turn and bite the hand that is petting it, Mom is overstimulated in certain situations so my job now is going to be to make sure I read the signs right and protect her from this. This caregiving gig is getting more and more interesting. I sure have learned a lot. I just went back through and updated this article with more information that I've gleaned:

When death looms - the signs and symptoms of the last moments on earth

I personally think everybody should read it and know this information. It's much easier to be more compassionate and kind when you realize that aggression or withdrawal is not directed at any one person. It is, very simply, part of the process.

Here's the companion article if you haven't read it:

The long goodbye - when your job as a caregiver is ending

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Superbowl Sunday... noon and Mom is having a cream sherry. Yep, that's right. It's not exactly her breakfast but it's what she wanted afterward so it's what she got. She ate pretty good yesterday and had 1/2 piece of french toast and some yogurt so far today. I, for one, feel a little better when she eats something.

I managed to eek out another Squidoo article today - this one came out to be pretty funny. Here tis:

Senior Citizen Flash Mobs

And this one just needs some views. I'm trying to keep it in the top tier (top 2000 articles on Squidoo) because the payout is around $60/month if I keep it there. So, please share!

Taking the elderly on a cruise

Friday, February 3, 2012

Fresh as a very old daisy

Hospice workers are just amazing. Watching the latest Hospice worker bathe Mom in bed was just like watching a ballet. It was obvious that the woman had rehearsed the moves time and time again and worked very hard at preserving Mom's dignity - which she did. Mom even had her hair washed while lying down (I see a Squidoo article coming). I'm just constantly amazed at the process.

Mom didn't eat much yesterday so she's weak this morning but I think she'll make up for it today. She's already had most of a full cup of coffee and oatmeal.

It's really heartwarming to see Mom's face light up when John comes in the room. She always reaches up with her hand to draw him close for a kiss. Sharyn noted that she does this with men only - I think Sharyn's right. Mom is a flirt any way you look at it. I asked Mom if she was in love with John and her reply was a weak "I'll never tell." Very cute indeed.

I've been blessed with yet another wonderful homecare worker, Elizabeth, who has been spelling me over night. With her help, and that of Doris (another great homecare worker), I've been able to sleep mostly through the night - a huge gift for any caregiver. I'm very very grateful to their support through this time.

Carina and Sharyn are here today so John and I are headed to DC for the day. We rarely have visited the city in the last 4 years so we're overdue. Adam's Morgan is on the menu today - a unique little neighborhood outside DC. There's very interesting restaurants and stores in the area. Since it will be 50 degrees today (what happened to my winter?!), it's convertible weather so even the ride will be nice.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

There's one good thing about being bed bound...

..At least to Rita. More time in Mom's arms. When Rita was recovering from eye surgery last year, there was nowhere she'd rather be but in Mom's arms. Mom held her 8 hours a day. It was the cutest thing. And, I caught her there again this morning.

Mom continues to rally and ebb throughout the day and night. She periodically tries to "make a break for it". I just saw her trying and asked her what she was doing. "Hanging out" was the answer. Cute. She's still on the chocolate milk binge and is at the bottom of her second bottle right now. Off we go to make a chocolate milk run.

John and I took the opportunity (with Mike and Sharyn and Carina at the house) yesterday to head to Annapolis where we had a beautiful day walking around in the 70 degree weather. The convertible was a great ride and much laughter was had to and fro. A great time was had.