Aging

Glacier by Akira Ohiso

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Mom died last November.  I think about her often.  The initial loss gives way to glacial loss. Time creates daily moments of remembrances; sometimes hunks of memory fall off into the oceanic abyss never to be conjured again. The mass moves, deep architecture like ballast...

Today, the snow triggers ancient memories; plastic bags over socks to keep moisture out, the Long Island Blizzard of 1978 and frostbite on the sledding hill behind the Port Washington Post Office.  The radiator in my kitchen was where boots, wool gloves, hats, scarves, snow pants and jackets thawed and dried.  I distinctly remember picking the pilly snow out of my wool gloves.  Mom would be cooking something warm and bubbly on the stove.

I walk with Ellie on 14th Ave NW.  A worker shovels snow off the roof of Ballard Market. Couples venture out to experience the rare event of snow in Seattle.  Dogs jump euphorically through powdery drifts in Gemenskap Park.

Six inches of snow in Seattle is a big deal; supermarket shelves empty out as if a Zombie Apocalypse is imminent.  The city does not budget a lot for snow management because it rarely snows on a scale that requires management.  When Seattle gets a snowstorm the city shuts down.  Bars stay opened.

The death of a parent sometimes marks a new chapter in one’s life.  For me, it has been a chance to reflect.  I am not depressed, but compressed, caring for an aging parent and three children.  My eldest is a hormonal tween on the cusp of finding friends more important than parents.  He is beginning to explore his identity, while I begin to avoid Ericksonian stagnation.  I know he wants me to be a supportive father, but it has to be different than just a year ago.   I have been resistant to adjust.  I’ve been resistant to many things lately. 

Death Bed by Akira Ohiso

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Saturday 

My mother was moved to hospice a few weeks ago.  We wanted her to be comfortable with all palliative interventions available.   For the past year, my mother has been declining in cognitive functioning, in and out of the hospital for sepsis and multiple urinary tract infections.  After several stints at home with caregivers, we decided to finally move her to an adult family home. 

Conversation with her were a mix of paranoia, delusions and hallucinations with brief moments of clarity.  She often lived in fear of people under her bed or outside her window.    She talked about a family that lived outside her window.  Jerry, the father, was fired from Amazon and was homeless.  Her mind still filtered in the contemporary issues she heard around her.  She continually asked my father for money to help Jerry. Sometimes she heard Jerry knocking at the door.  When Jerry died in a violent shooting, she started talking about Jerry 2.  

Susurrous voices continually occupy her attention.  She sees and hears things in a realm we cannot see.  A far-off gaze is towards the ceiling and beyond.  The TV is always on an inoccuous cooking show chosen by caregivers.  The thinking is that a cooking show is less likely to trigger agitation than CNN.  I agree, but would have chosen Bob Ross. 

She has not eaten in 6 days.  Nurses are giving her Lorazapam patches and topical gel to reduce her agitation.  Mom is uncomfortable and talks about pain she can not describe or locate.  We are told it is terminal agitation, a cluster of symptoms such as discomfort, confusion, aggressiveness and labored breathing.  Mom moans quietly and says things we cannot understand.  We often hear statements about the death of celebrities and the famous: “He died peacefully surrounded by family and friends.”  So far, I have yet to see any peace except for short fitful moments of sleep.

Her organs are slowly shutting down, like lights going out room by room in a house.  I tell her it is ok to let go.  Everyone is ok and she doesn’t have to worry.  She nods “yes.”  My dad breaks down after a year of holding in his emotions.  “I cannot live without her.”  My sister, Ellie and I comfort him.  

As a child, I always feared the passing of my parents, but today it can’t come soon enough.  Our healthcare system could easily offer a more compassionate and less painful way to depart, but instead we play out years of decline devoid of quality and happiness and create financial crises for so many people.  Mom often joked about driving to Portland for physician assisted suicide.  When she was being more poetic, she said, Socratically, “I’ll have a Hemlock on the rocks.”

Sunday

She slipped into a coma.  Her lower extremities are cold as her circulation and oxygen levels conserve for her heart and brain functioning.  Her breathing is intermittent with longer pauses between breathes.  The nurse tells us that her hearing and touch are the last senses to shut down so talking to her is of great comfort.  My sister puts cream on her dry lips.  A nurse washes her hair with a no rinse cap.  The family chatters around her telling stories from her life.  We cry and laugh and forget about the void her death will leave in its wake.  Mom was always there, in every way. 

Even on her death bed, my mind plays through the Kubler Ross stages of death.  She will wake up and start eating again.  Today , I bargain and deny.

8:20pm

3 respirations per minute. The next inhale never comes.  A threshold is crossed.