Thursday, September 21, 2006

Rocking and Rolling with Bea and Lisa

There are places I would rather be. Paris. Rome. Boston, holding the hand of my daughter whose beloved cat just died. But I will not abandon my mother.

Bea sleeps now. In fact, she snores loudly.

This afternoon I helped Lisa with the bed bath. Protruding bones always affect me more when I serve as helper. I reach down and poke at a bump, unsure what lies beneath the taut skin. The bump turns out to be part of Bea’s ribcage. None of us are prepared to see bodies this gaunt, legs broomstick thin.

Lisa indicates a purple splotch on Bea’s heel. I take note. It will need to be checked every day. I smear on some Bag Balm.

We “rock and roll” Bea, change her nightie and sheets. It takes two to tango, ditto for bed baths. Lisa uses humor to distract our victim. We turn her this way and that, slip in a sheet, slip out a brief, adjust the sheepskin so it is in an optimum position.

“I’m cold!” Bea protests.

Lisa covers her patient with a towel, then applies Bea’s new Lavender & Acacia Body Milk to dry-prune skin.

I untangle and wash her hair, then braid it.

Bea doesn’t want to play Name the Snarls today. She can’t wait for the ordeal to be over.

Why does my mother still live? What is she living for?

“What a great day!” I say to Lisa. “The sky is so blue!”

“I want to go outside,” Bea pipes up suddenly, the first words she has uttered that were not a complaint.

“Do you have a wheelchair?” Lisa asks. “We could …” She stops, realizing we couldn’t.

Bea is so fragile, like an antique vase with a hairline fissure that might, at any time, break into millions of pieces.

She doesn’t eat. She barely drinks.

“Let me sleep!” Bea cries, angry now at the four hands still manipulating her poor body.

Emotionally this elderly care takes a toll. I snap at Sven, eat too much, argue with my son. Sven reminisces about his plan to visit an archeological dig in Turkey. He also wants to see Rome.

Bea used to tell me that my father’s mother was quite a lady. “She knew when it was time to leave,” Bea always said. My grandma died at 82, several days after a trip to the hospital. I had just turned four. She did what was appropriate, the implication being so Bea and my father could live their lives.

Now modern medicine makes it possible to live longer than ever before. The drug companies and the doctors who pioneer the life-prolonging operations must never consider that living longer doesn’t always imply living better…

And longer lives have consequences. Family members must make choices on elderly care, a burden earlier generations did not face.

Bea is awake when I tuck her in for the night. “Thank you for being my daughter,” she says with a gentle smile.

That’s all it takes. Tears fill my eyes.

“You’re welcome,” I respond softly. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

I leave her there with the hum of the electric air mattress....


Blogger The Scribe said...

You are inspiring me to write something about people who are caring for their older parents. Personally, my parents died very young, so I will never have to do this. It sounds tough.
The Boomer Chronicles

8:18 AM  
Blogger annulla said...

You'll need to treasure this memory. There may come a time when she can no longer say "thanks," but you can remember and know that her heart will remain thankful.

8:13 AM  

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