Chat @ Care-giving: Help Along the Way

While I’m on the subject of recommendations, let me make a couple more. Abrams-Skillman Self Storage and The Consignment Embassy.

Remember back in September when I had to hurry up and get my Mom’s stuff stored so we could get the maximum refund on her independent living apartment?  Well, I researched the locations and Mr. Bill compared the financial offers and we ended up at Abrams-Skillman Storage.

At first it was just a storage place, albeit a nice clean one with what Bill thought was the best prices.  We picked out a unit and the next day we put everything from Mom’s apartment into it.  The next time I thought about it was after the funeral.  Unfortunately that was a lot sooner than I anticipated.

Next thing I know, I’m sorting through things and deciding what to do with all of them.  I was there day after day and soon felt sort of like a regular.  The staff and I always greeted each other warmly and if I needed something, either they had something to borrow or to buy that would help me get out of whatever bind I’d sorted myself into.  They were helpful in other ways.  They kept trying to figure out what I needed before I needed it, like pointing out that the loading dock was right across from my unit and stuff like that.

Then we were down to the nitty gritty.  We asked about the auctions and they filled us in.  Then we needed an extra storage place for a day, while the auction guy did his thing, because we were saving the bedroom suite for a family member.  No problemo – they gave me one right next to my original unit and when the auction was over, they let me stay in the one that I’d moved the furniture into.  All that was very helpful and they really didn’t have to do it.  The fact that I only made $150 off the auction items wasn’t their fault.  Obviously the Storage Wars gang didn’t show up for my auction, but somebody made a killing.

Then there was The Consignment Embassy.  We’d actually consigned a mirror there once and the transaction went very smoothly.  I never went in, but Bill said they had gorgeous stuff. Anyway, out of the ten or so consignment places I dealt with, she’s one of the few that responded in a timely manner and she was the only one willing to take a stab at value before I’d hauled it to her store front.  If you’re on either side of a consignment deal, I’d recommend starting there.

If you get stuck in a place where you need some of these services, these are my recommendations.  Hope they can help you out.



Chat @ Care-giving: The Place for Mom

Straight from visiting Parson’s House Assisted Living Facility, I went to Caruth Haven Court and remember, at the time, I was thinking that Mom might be in assisted living for years.  She hadn’t had the code episode yet.

Though I grew up in East Dallas and thought I knew the Central/Northwest Highway area by heart (after all that’s where Northpark is and I LOVE Northpark), I didn’t know about Caruth Haven Court.  When I take Bodecker in that direction, I’m always on my way to Old Town, which means I jog to the right. To get to Caruth Haven Court, you stay on Bodecker.

After arriving, I had a chat with the marketing person in what they call the Family Room, which was also an example of one of their apartments.  It was quite nice, but also quite small.  I was interested in other choices.  We took a look around.  Everything outside the small apartments looked perfect, but I knew Mom’s vision of her assisted living space was bigger than what was available.  There was one floor plan that I thought would work, but none were available.  I thought another floor plan seemed adequate, but I doubted Mom would.

What I liked best was the dining room.  They were having lunch as I strolled through and it was easy to imagine my mom in the space.  Dining rooms had been the hardest part of assisted living for me to swallow.  In some of the facilities they were just downright depressing, but this was open, airy and full of people who looked just like Mom.  Sure there were wheel chairs and canes and oxygen tanks, but they seemed less overpowering at Caruth Haven Court than at other dining rooms.

I’m a very transparent shopper, so I told them exactly what I was thinking.  I explained the reason I liked Parson’s House, as well as it’s geographic undesirability.  I also mentioned the other two places I still had to see, but I admitted that all things considered, Caruth Haven Court was in the lead.  They didn’t have my first choice of floor plan available and of the only other possible choice they just had one.  I wasn’t ready to put down a deposit, but I did ask for first right of refusal.

Then we had the code episode.  Hospice loomed on the horizon.  On the recommendation of Mom’s doctor we moved to Walnut Place.  He suggested keeping her there, even if we were able to get her well enough to go into assisted living, but Mom decided pretty quickly that Walnut Place was not what she wanted to call home.  Don’t get me wrong, for rehab, Walnut Place was extraordinary and they were a true blessing when Mom moved to the nursing floor, but Mom had visions of a different kind of life for herself.

I became a virtual basket case.  I was caught between the reality of Mom’s true condition and offering her the hope she needed to carry on.  Her only chance was to believe that if she worked really, really hard at her rehab, I’d find her a lovely place to live out her life.  I needed to return to Caruth Haven Court and think about what her life would be like if she were on hospice there. If you are already on hospice, then you can’t move there, but you can go on hospice after you get there.  This time I took Bill with me.  My judgement was clouded and erratic.

Bill could see Mom living there also and he loved their cookies.  When you take a tour, they give you a big stack of remarkable chocolate chip cookies.  I liked them, but Bill loved them.  I’d donated the stack I got from my first visit to him and he was ecstatic when they gave us another stack for the tour we took together.  But we couldn’t commit right then.  There was one other facility within the geographic boundaries that might work and I wanted Bill to see them.  Unfortunately, there was only one apartment available that fit our criteria.  Even though he thought I was right, Caruth Haven Court was probably the right place, he didn’t want to put down a deposit.  We just arranged to have the first right of refusal on that apartment.

The next morning I received a bouquet of flowers from Caruth Haven Court.  Not some big arm-twisting arrangement, just a small thoughtful vase with a sweet card.  It didn’t twist my arm, but it did touch my heart.  I was having some difficult days.

Our visit to the other property was two days later and we’d barely begun when I got the call that someone else was considering “Mom’s” apartment at Caruth Haven Court.  We finished our tour, but at the end we raced back to Caruth Haven Court and put down a deposit.  I was euphoric when I returned to Walnut Place to share the news with Mom.

But she wasn’t feeling well.  The nausea she’d been fighting all week was worse.  We were on our way to hospice.  By the beginning of the next week, I had to call Caruth Haven Court and tell them Mom wouldn’t be coming.  Even if she made it through the crisis that made me call hospice, she’d never be well enough to enjoy Caruth Haven Court’s dining room the way I imagined she would.

One would think that this would be the end of my story, but it wasn’t, because when you choose Caruth Haven Court you become family.  Even though Mom never made it there, they’d gotten to know me and through me, they were looking forward to having Ruth (and her extensive wardrobe) at their facility.  The saleslady continued to call me and check on me in the coming days.  She even dropped by one day to see me at Mom’s bedside.  The deposit was returned to me with no fuss and no ado.  That’s why I had to take time to tell you about Caruth Haven Court.  If you have a loved one in the Dallas area that needs assisted living, you need to visit Caruth Haven Court.  That’s where Ruth would have gone if things had gone the way she wanted it and that’s where you’ll be treated like family.

Chat @ Care-giving: The Post I didn’t Get to Write

Can it be just weeks ago that I told you about A Place for Mom and had hopes of moving my mom into an assisted living facility? Yes, it can.

When I started the process, hospice wasn’t even in the picture.  Mom sent me on my assisted living search with very strict guidelines concerning geography and high standards concerning lifestyle.  That made the list very, very short.

In fact, there were only two facilities that made the cut and one of those was just outside Mom’s geographical boundaries.  First I have to tell you about the geographically undesirable one, because geography isn’t so important to me and it’s where I’d want to go if I had to be in assisted living.

The first thing I liked about Parson’s House was that it didn’t look like an assisted living facility.  I had the address in my GPS, but when I arrived I didn’t realize I was there.  It looked like a large private home with extra parking out front.  When you walked inside the illusion continued.  Yes there was an office off to one side, but it was easy to ignore.  The feeling of home overpowered everything else.  Maybe it was because I could smell the evidence of lunch being cooked, but whatever it was, I liked it.

The dining room wasn’t the largest or the grandest or the most beautifully furnished, but something about it, maybe the style of furniture said this was a good place to be.  Over to the side was a grouping of sofas and chairs.  They looked comfortable and showed signs that they were actually used.  That was something unique.

See, most of the other places I visited were pristine.  They had the very latest in furnishings and the best word I can think of to describe them is opulent.  But I’m not opulent.  The chic furniture groupings looked like they belonged in a furniture showroom, not someone’s home – and that’s what assisted living is, someone’s home.

Don’t get me wrong.  Parson’s House is very clean and their furnishing are top quality. Things just didn’t seem so opulent.  I didn’t feel as if I would be upsetting the balance of the world if I actually sat down on the sofa and read the paper.  There was evidence that someone had done just that not too long before.  I liked that.

But what I liked best was that residents were outside on a large patio, having a resident meeting.  They were planning their activities for the next month.  What a concept!  All the other facilities gave me a list of the activities an activities director had planned for the residents.  At Parson’s House, the residents got together and decided what they wanted to do and it looked like they were having fun doing it.  A variety of dogs were helping with the meeting and one of them was a Shih Tzu named Precious, just like my Shih Tzu.

And get this, instead of a professionally maintained landscape masterpiece, they had a vegetable garden maintained by the residents.  The patio was decorated with hanging baskets, each the proud responsibility of an individual who lived there.  I don’t even like gardening, but it gave everything a much stronger feel of home than any other facility.  I was hooked, but the tour wasn’t over.

They had a little of everything needed at Parson’s House, exercise, crafts and like, but a feeling of participation, rather than mere availability, pervaded.  The hoops used for one class were leaning against a wall.  Nothing was messy or cluttered, it just looked natural and normal, instead of pristine.  Pristine can be very cold.

On the other end of the facility from the exercise and crafts was the media room, but it looked more like my den.  They may have actually had the latest in technology, but what was more important to me was that someone was actually sitting there reading a book.  People lived here.  They weren’t locked away in their apartment waiting for the next meal.

As they showed me an apartment, I couldn’t help but be dismayed.  I just couldn’t imagine Mom living happily in one room.  Where would she put all her clothes?  That’s when “we can do that” showed up.  Everywhere else I’d been, they told me how my mom would live. At Parson’s House, as I explained what I thought would best suit Mom, I was told, “we can do that.”  Sure, they could put a door between two units and they offered other possibilities.  I liked that.  Would the alterations cost me money?  Sure they would, but how do you put a value on happiness and comfort for someone you love.

OK, I was sold.  I knew it was outside Mom’s geographical zone.  I doubted that I could convince her to move there, but I’m telling you, it’s where I’d want to be.   In a couple of days, I’ll tell you what I picked out for Mom.

Chat @ Care-giving: Treasures or Trash?

Still smarting from the Salvation Army’s caviler attitude towards my Mom’s gorgeous clothes, I found myself staring at the furniture which filled the rear of our storage unit.  What was I going to do with all of that?

We’d already been down this road a few times.  I’d sorted through my aunt’s belongings three years before, finding homes for most of her furnishings and a lion’s share of her clothes.  A few months later, I downsized Mom and Dad to an independent living apartment out of their home of four decades.  Just over a month ago, I sifted through Mom’s stuff again.  She was never going to return to her apartment, so we were storing her things until we knew which assisted living facility she would be moving to.  In the process we donated a bedroom suite and desk to one charity and gave a recliner to one of my bestie’s sons.

Since there was a long waiting list for my mom’s apartment, we rushed the move to maximize our refund and took everything to the storage facility.  I planned on sorting through it when we moved her into assisted living, but we never made it that far.  So, after the funeral, my first job was to sort through everything in storage and figure out what was there.

Some of it was easy.  The half full box of cereal – trash.  A shoe box full of used insoles – trash.  A gallon Ziplock bag of dental floss told me Mom didn’t floss as she should, but there was no reason we should ever have to buy any more – ever!  We also have a lifetime supply of Q-tips, cotton balls and Kleenex.

Some of it would be a treasure to anyone.  Mom collected porcelain and crystal whatnots.  I didn’t hesitate a moment in claiming the Lladro, Royal Doulton and such to display in my house – but I did share with my sister, my cousins and a few friends, albeit reluctantly.  Same with her jewelry.  The fine jewelry I split with my sister and the costume I spread between us, my cousins and those good friends.  My sister placed dubs on the Frankoma Ware, the lamps and Mom’s art.  I wanted a Queen Anne desk with display case and an etergere to show off my new treasures.

Still there was a five piece bedroom suite, a dining set with hutch and various living room furniture.  Acutely aware of how hard my parents worked to amass these belongings and cognizant of the fact that this was the good stuff – not that cheap stuff they pass off as furniture some places, I assumed that consigning it was a good idea.

I took lots of pictures and emailed them off to some of the better consignment stores I knew of.  From time to time Bill and I will redecorate and drop off a mirror or a chair.  We’ve had good luck.  We’ve also shopped at consignment stores and found some real winners.  Well, when you own your own moving company, I guess consignment is a good idea, but it wasn’t working out so well in this case.

The calls came in.  Yes, they’d like to sell my mom’s stuff.  All I needed to do was deliver it to them.  I knew that was the case for the odd piece I’d consigned before, but this was virtually an apartment-ful of furniture and I’d already moved it once.  No, they wouldn’t give any estimates on value of things they hadn’t seen in person.  No, they wouldn’t come to the storage unit to look it over.  The gamble was all mine – and when I delivered it, I not only had to agree to whatever price they wanted to put on it, but I had to agree to their markdown schedule.  Either that or pay to take it back to the storage unit and continue to pay for storing it.

It sounded like I did all the work and took all the risks, only to net out less than half of whatever price the consignment store eventually got.  This wasn’t sounding so good after all.

So maybe letting it go in one of the storage auctions was a better answer.  The lady at the storage place came down and guesstimated that I might net out $150-375 for the lot of it.  Was she kidding?  We’d paid more than $375 for the small dining set from IKEA and it still looked brand new.  I understood that the furniture wasn’t as valuable to them as it was to me, but I’d prefer to use it for kindling at those prices.

I posted the furniture on facebook and one of my friends was dying for it, but she’s in Wales and moving on to Canada from there.  She wasn’t sure when or if she’d actually manage to get to Dallas to pick it up.  The way things were going, I wouldn’t have minded giving it to her, but I couldn’t afford to store it until some time in perpetuity, so that was a no go, too.

If no one in the immediate family or my cousins could use these treasures, maybe someone in the wider family could.  I’ve made that call and sent the pictures.  I’m waiting to hear back.

Anyone need any kindling?

Chat @ Care-giving: The Challenges of Giving

So, after delivering the medical equipment to DME Exchange, it was time to give away Mom’s clothing. Clothing is tough, especially when it came to her.  If the expression “clothes make the man” ever applied to anyone, it was my mom, even if she was a woman.  She labored over the purchase of each item, labored to pay for each item and labored over the care of each item.

I looked into consigning it, because Mom only bought the best, but consignment shops want you to have each item freshly cleaned.  I can understand why, but it would take a small fortune to dry clean eight wardrobe boxes, two suitcases and numerous boxes full of clothes.  There were a few pieces that were still in the dry cleaning bag and several more that still had the tags on them, but if I was donating, I planned to donate it all.

I must say that I was impressed with the business end of this transaction. I found the Salvation Army on the internet, called the 1-800 number and soon had an appointment for a pick up. Since they were meeting me at the storage facility, they even offered to call an hour ahead, to give me a chance to get there. I was also given a number to call on the morning of the appointment to get an estimated window for the pick up.

Pick up day seemed to be going well. I called that morning and got the 1-3 time slot. They called me an hour before they came, which was within the window and showed up in the time frame they promised. The truck was very nice and the gentlemen were very polite.

Then things didn’t go so well. I told the original person I spoke to I had eight wardrobe boxes of clothes. In case you didn’t know, wardrobe boxes cost between $15 and $25 according to where you get them and what size they are. If someone is making you a donation of eight wardrobe boxes, chances are the clothes inside weren’t on the clearance rack at Target or Walmart. My mom was a clothes horse with a discount at Dillard’s. She’d retired from there. The boxes I got held between twenty and thirty outfits and I’d say the average cost of the good stuff was about $250 on sale with Mom’s discount. Of course, not all the boxes had that much value, but even the casual clothes robes were nice.

The truck driver opened the back of his truck and it was readily apparent he hadn’t been given any packing lessons. Things were tossed in there willy nilly. I’ll admit, some of the stuff looked as if it should have been taken to the dumpster rather than picked up for donation, but that was none of my business. I hesitantly asked him if he thought he had enough room for my stuff, using an outflung arm to encompass half of a large storage unit. “Sure,” he said, as he tossed the first wardrobe box on top of the other donations.

I nearly had a heart attack. I’ll admit. I’m a clothes horse, too. My mother was half my size and much more conservative in her taste, but I appreciated what she had. As the abused box sailed in the air, I envisioned the hangers coming off the bar inside, snagging button holes and tearing them. Everything we were donating was in pristine condition.  I hated to think of lace getting ripped, sweaters snagged and everything wrinkled.

I swallowed down my fury and said, “I’m sure people donate a lot of junk, but…”  I gave him my estimate of the value.  As he tossed another box in, he said, “They have to come out of the box at the processing center anyway.”  I wanted to punch out his lights, but he didn’t know me and he didn’t know Mom.  He obviously didn’t know how to pack a truck or appreciate the value of what he was handling either.  I gritted my teeth and hoped something in the boxes would be worth salvaging when they got to the center.

After treating my donations like two cents worth of dog excrement, they turned politely to me and said, “We appreciate your donation.”  Oh yeah, which one?  The one I had before you got here or the one you’re going to take to the center. People always hear what you do, not what you say.

I suppose the driver and his sidekick were part of the Salvation Army’s rehabilitation program.  Well, I suggest they rehabilitate their attitude towards the donations.  For one thing, the items they pick up will be of greater value if they aren’t damaged during the pick up and transportation.  For another, maybe the rehabilitatees might have more appreciation of their own possessions if they’re taught to respect the donations that come in.  And finally, it will take a very long time for for me to think about donating to the Salvation Army  – if ever.

If you know of a place that really appreciates donations of good clothing, I’d like to know about them!


Chat @ Care-giving: Executrix of the Will

I know I’m lucky. My sister doesn’t give me any lip about anything I’m doing concerning Mom’s estate. In fact, she actually appreciates it all. It’s the rest of the world that’s giving me fits.

Let’s start with notifying all the interested parties that Mom’s passed away.  This is not a jolly task by anyone’s stretch of the imagination.  Making calls and navigating phone trees is just about one of my least favorite things in the world, even if what I’m doing bears no relation to a loved one’s death.  Doing so to tell the world my mom died puts it in the column of tortuous.

I’ll begin with the kudos.  Once I actually got through to a human, the government OPM (Office of Personnel Management) and Blue Cross Blue Shield were actually quite wonderful to deal with.  Fidelity Investments has a whole department set aside to handle these calls.  Sympathy was extended and I could hear care in the voices of those I spoke with.  Same with Farmer’s Insurance.

That wasn’t so with some places I called.  For instance, canceling my mom’s store cards.  You know JCPenney’s, Dillard’s etc.  In this age of identity theft, cancelling these accounts is as important as notifying Social Security (the funeral home handles that for you).  Here’s the problem, store credit cards are handled by GE Credit and they’re not very nice.  You know who handles the cancellation of an account when someone dies?  The collection department!  Need I say more?

And you can’t cancel all the accounts with one call.  First you have to go through the individual store’s customer service department and then they transfer you to the mean GE people, where yet another rude collection agent shakes you down.  Perhaps if my Mom’s accounts were in arrears, this might have been necessary, but Mom and Dad always paid off their accounts, in full, as soon as they got the bill.  And to boot, she’s been on the medical merry-go-round for so long that it had been months since she’d used any of the cards.  In essence, I was doing them a favor by notifying them, but they thought the shoe was on the other foot.

There was one store that handled things differently and that was Macy’s.  I was able to cancel the card with no hassle what so ever and got a confirmation letter in the mail.  I’ve never been a big fan of Macy’s.  I’ve sort of been mad ever since they took over Foley’s, but I see them in a whole new light.  I may just have to start buying things there.

Handling other financial institutions, like banks and that sort of thing has been fairly painless.  (Accolades go to Capital One, Comerica and Fidelity.)  They all seemed to understand that this was an unpleasant task and did their best to make it easier.

Then came the donations.  First, I want to let you know about a great resource.  I had a wide variety of medical equipment, from a wheelchair and wheeled walker to other tools to assist the aged and handicapped.  I wanted to be sure these things would go to someone who actually needed it, so I hit the internet.  I discovered DME Exchange of Dallas.  They accepted donations on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so on the appointed day I loaded bath chairs, potty chairs and all the other stuff into the car -banging myself in the head pretty good along the way.  (Can you get a concussion from a walker to the face?)

I was beginning to doubt the wisdom of this as I drove across town with a throbbing forehead.  I found the place in a nondescript office complex and went in to figure out the drill.  I suddenly became very important.  The workers in the office were thrilled that I’d brought them some equipment.  One lady was so grateful she cried and the other one was in ecstasy.  Every item I donated was something they desperately needed.  Boy, did that little chore feel good.

The next day I met that charity that does “the most good” at the storage facility.  Things didn’t go as well with that.  I’ll tell you about that another day.

Chat @ Caregiving: Doesn’t she look good?

There’s not much you can do to sugarcoat it.  Funerals are weird and I’m glad this one is behind me.  If nothing else, the cost was outrageous.

Mom is gone and nothing is going to change that.  She’d led an exemplary life, but the last few months had taken their toll on all of us.  Her and me – especially.  I’m carrying around pounds I don’t need and the mortician got her mouth all wrong.  We were about to be seen by most of the people we knew and neither one of us was looking our best.

Perhaps that shouldn’t matter so much, but it mattered a lot to Mom.  She was my biggest fan and my worst critic.  If she didn’t like the latest version of my hair, she didn’t mince any words.  When I put on a few pounds, she called me on it.  Of course she expected me to behave appropriately, but she also expected me to look good doing it.

She expected the same thing from herself.  Deciding what she was going to wear to any given event (be it a social occasion or just a meal in the dining room of her living facilities) was an important hurdle.  She did laundry every day.  Most days she ironed. I’m a little more laid back.  One day of laundry a week is usually enough and ironing is a rarity.

For years, she’s kept me aware of what she wanted to wear for her funeral.  We usually shopped together and with the almost daily commentary she gave me concerning her wardrobe, I could have easily guessed what the outfit would be. Still, I think it made her feel good to have it pinned down exactly.  Over the last few months, she asked frequently about her most recent selection, wanting assurance that it was the right one.

It must have been.  The one thing I heard most constantly during the two day affair was how good Mom looked.  I bit my tongue frequently, to keep from pointing out how weird her mouth looked.  Mom wanted them to think she looked good and if they thought so, then I’d done my job well.

My theme over the last few years has been, “No regrets!”  I didn’t want woulda, coulda or shoulda to have any toehold on me.  There could be no if-onlys to haunt me.  God had arranged my life so that I was able to put my darling senior citizens first and He’d given me a husband who believed, with me, that it was the right thing to do.  So that’s exactly what I did.

Now, that darling husband moves to the front of the line.    I want to love him up until he thinks he must be the cat’s meow.  For him and for myself, I’m going to drop those pounds I’ve put on lately.  I’m going to get to the gym and tone up everything I’ve got.  I’m planning to do some work on myself that starts at the top of my head, goes through my heart and mind and ends up with the soles of my feet.  I might not have looked my best at Mom’s funeral, but watch this space.  It won’t be too long until you’ll have to say, “Doesn’t she look good!”

Chat @ Caregiving: It Doesn’t End When They Do

I woke up on the morning after my Mom died with a new list of things to do.  Most pressing were the preparations for the funeral, but other things also loomed large, like making all the necessary notifications and changes of address, splitting the financial assets and making decisions about things in storage. Putting first things first, I went to church with my husband, had lunch with our friends, did some grocery shopping and went to the movies.

The next morning my eyes popped open at five AM.  Over at Walnut Place they were waking their patients for the day, but I wasn’t there.  Realizing there was no going back to sleep I tiptoed down the hall to my office.  First order of business was to prepare the obituary.  Mother had graciously provided a folder with some handwritten notes and a picture among her things, so I didn’t have to start from scratch.  I also had my dad’s obituary to plagiarize from, but stuffing all of Mom’s life into 150 words was quite a challenge.

I ran into another problem.  Mom didn’t list her siblings’ names in her notes.  I had no trouble recalling all of their first names and even if I would have, I had photo albums to remind me.  Obviously the guys’ last names were her maiden name.  Three of her sister’s last names were as familiar to me as my own, but not Aunt Gladys’.

I spent at least an hour trying to put my finger on something that would remind me of Aunt Gladys’ last name.  I remembered her house, just off the square in McKinney, and the house they moved to in Allen.  Her husband usually wore wife beaters when we visited, but that’s not what we called them. Aunt Gladys was the pastry cook at the TI cafeteria, but she had diabetes, so she couldn’t eat what she made.  One Christmas she gave me a VERY turquoise VERY mohair sweater.  I remembered my mother lamenting she didn’t have any room for Gladys’ pump organ when my aunt died, but that was decades ago, when details like last names didn’t matter to me.  My solution was to omit the names from the obituary altogether and just say Mom was preceded in death by her mother, father, three brothers and four sisters. If anyone remembers Aunt Gladys’ last name, please remind me.

Next I prepared some notes for the pastor.  He knew my mother well from church, but he didn’t know her early life or what she did professionally or which of our memories were the dearest to us. Fifteen hundred words later, I’d related some endearing moments and impressive accomplishments, but I knew I hadn’t captured my mother in them.  She was already slipping away from us.

Then  it was time to iron her suit.  As my husband pointed out, the only pressing it needed was in the seat of the skirt, so no one would ever be able to tell whether I ironed it or  not – but Mom was serious about ironing. There was no way I was going to condemn her to eternity in a suit with a wrinkled seat.  After ironing, I placed the suit in a travel bag with her jewelry and lingere.  Then it was time to take care of me, but I’d put it off until the last minute – just like my husband put off running an errand in the “good” car.

Just as I rushed out of the bathroom in my funeral-home-appropriate pant suit, my husband returned and handed me the keys to the good car.  I’m usually not particular about which car I drive, but with the temperature still in the high 90’s, I needed air conditioning and the “other” car’s a/c is just about kaput.  With just a little more luck, I thought, I might even have time to pick up a bite.

Well, I had some luck, but only bad luck.  I was halfway across town when I realized I hadn’t brought the freshly ironed suit and its accessories along.  I called my sister, so she and the funeral home personnel would know what happened to me, then I called my husband and told him to grab the suit and meet me somewhere midway.  He’s been pretty supportive of me throughout this whole crisis, but he really didn’t want to get in that hot car and drive anywhere.  Still, the hint of madness at the edge of my voice forced him into the heat.  I was only twenty minutes late, but I didn’t get any lunch.

It was downhill from there and I didn’t have any other appointments until the visitation on the following evening.  Still, I realized that in losing her, I hadn’t gotten rid of my responsibilities as a caregiver.  They were still with me.

Chat @ Caregiving: And Now She’s Gone

About a week ago I put Mom on palliative care and now she’s gone. I got a one day break to pay my bills, catch up on my sleep and think through the days ahead.  Several hours of that day I spent with her.  She rested quietly and though I sat right beside her, I knew she was far away in a drug induced dream.

I’d read  that if I talked to her, she could hear me on some level, so I talked.  I told her who she’d received cards from that day and described a wonderful gift from a friend.  I praised the gentle ministrations of the staff, both Walnut Place’s and hospice. I reminded her of how much I loved her and that I’d gotten every thing in order business-wise, so she didn’t need to worry about it. I told her how sorry I was that her little body had given up on her when she had such a strong will to live. I reminded her that Dad, Aunt Edie and Grandmother were standing at heaven’s gate anxious to have her with them.  I told her a cousin who had been on vacation was headed home, so there was nothing else to wait for.  I assured her that I’d heard her when she said she wanted to go and I’d gotten everything ready to accommodate her departure.  I kissed her on her sweet little forehead and went back to my life.

The next morning I decided to go ahead and make the funeral arrangements.  According to the hospice workers, we probably had a few weeks to go, but there was no use putting off the inevitable.  I made the appointment and then went to visit with her for a while.  Things were very different than they were the day before.  Mom was restless and experiencing some difficulty breathing, so I found the nurse.

The nurse looked at her watch and furrowed her brows, “I just gave her some medication an hour or so ago.”  I told her I could be wrong, but it appeared to me that it had worn off.  Sure enough the bed alarm went off and the nurse hurried down the hall to see what was happening. She dosed Mom again, stopping at the end of the bed to give her a gentle look.  I waited beside Mom, counting the minutes until she got relief.  I counted twenty minutes and though Mom was not worse, she was still very restless and her breathing had not improved.

I suppose my face told the whole story, because I walked out of the room and before I could say a word the director of nurses rushed in and right behind her was Mother’s nurse.  More meds were administered and the director of nurses took me in the hall for a frank conversation.  At best Mom had seventy-two hours.  “Should I stay or should I go to the appointment I have at the funeral home?” She said I should go to the funeral home and she would call hospice to request critical care. She said she couldn’t promise the round-the-c;lock nurses would come and she reminded me that my mother had a habit of rallying, but one way or another I needed to get the arrangements made.

So, I went home, packed a bag and Bill went with me to the funeral home.  All the time we were planning the funeral, my phone was buzzing on the table.  I’d excuse myself, have a hurried conversation and then try to return to the business at hand.  (Note to self:  Funeral home personnel aren’t geared for speed.)  When the documents were finally ready, I signed on the dotted lines and rushed to the hospital.

Critical care had been re-instated.  A nice young man whose name sounded something like Ytakis sat at her side making notes to document every subtle change.  She was improved over her situation earlier in the day, so I suggested that a few people come for their last visit.  We shared a pleasant evening, then I tucked myself into the recliner to catch some sleep.

Mom and I slept peacefully for a while and then there was a lot of activity around 1:30 AM.  Her doses were raised again.  After a bit, she settled down, so I went back to sleep, secure in the knowledge that someone was watching over her.

Around five, the hall started waking up and I gave up on sleep.  There were changes.  Mother’s breathing had become more labored and there was a new gurgling sound.  Later in the morning I made some calls to discourage people from seeing her like this.  I’d been down this road with Aunt Edie and I didn’t want anyone else to have to have those kinds of memories.

The day seemed to inch along and the gurgling worsened.  I could only stand it for so long and then I’d walk the halls.  When I managed to compose myself, I’d return.  All the while the Walnut Place nurses were taking wonderful, gentle care of me alongside my Mom. Ytakis tried to distract me with a discussion of politics, but trying to explain Obamacare to a recent immigrant was more frustrating than distracting.  I went back to the crossword puzzle books I’d been toting around me with me since Mom went on hospice.

Around six they brought me a dinner tray, but as I lifted the lid a new sound filled the room.  I recognized the awful gasping from my vigil beside my aunt.  I clenched my teeth and pushed the tray aside.  This was the moment I dreaded.  I wondered if I would be able to endure the final ordeal.  I stood next to Mom, holding her hand and kissing her forehead.  On the other side of the bed Ytakis was busy doing whatever nurses do in this situation.  In just a few minutes the wet labored breathing stopped.  Mom had finally broken through to heaven.

Chat @ Caregiving: Downhill Fast, But Not Fast Enough

Some things happen fast. Some too fast. Others not fast enough.

A week ago I made a deposit on an assisted living facility. Today I’m trying to wrap my mind around the idea of palliative care. The changes are coming more quickly than I can grasp, but not fast enough to bring my mom the peace and relief she’s longing for.

After my midnight ramble last Thursday night, my husband and I slept in.  We were enjoying our morning coffee ritual, the one where I make him coffee and we spend about half an hour together trying to focus on the positive aspects of our life. Our brief interlude was interrupted by a couple of phone calls.  Mom had been suffering from nausea for several days and nothing seemed to help it.  One medication would put her to sleep, but it didn’t get rid of the nausea.  A crisis was brewing.   The doctor was coming after one and there were decisions to be made. Coffee time was over.

There’s been a lot of doctors in my life lately.  There’s Dr. Alan Kaye, Mom’s personal physician.  There’s another doctor, at the nursing facility, we call Dr. K, because her last name is unpronounceable.  Then there’s Dr. M.  I’m not trying to be mysterious. It’s just that no one can pronounce her name, either.

Dr. M had been the physician who dropped by during my midnight ramble.  Dr. K was the one I was supposed to meet with.  Dr. Kaye is the one I know and trust.  So I put a call into Dr. Kaye and got myself ready to go to the facility.  The next few hours were awful.  Mom was really sick and thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, no one could do anything.

I wasn’t sure what to do, because I was waiting on a call from Dr. Kaye and waiting for Dr. K to show up.  Mom just wanted someone to knock her out, but it wasn’t quite that easy. The nurses on the floor couldn’t do anything without Dr. K’s say so. Taking her to the hospital might have gotten her a little pain medication, but would have opened up another can of worms.  I didn’t want to open that can without Dr. Kaye’s approval.  For all the advances of modern medicine, I longed for the day when the town doctor just dropped by daily and administered laudanum.

To a certain degree, Mom didn’t care what category her health givers put her in, she just wanted some relief.  She was only sure of one thing, she didn’t want that relief to be called hospice.  In her book, that relief was synonymous with giving up and Ruth Cave doesn’t give up.  I have rarely felt so helpless in all of my life.

Finally, at three, Dr. Kaye’s assistant returned my call, but all she did was get the details to pass on to Dr. Kaye.  Within twenty minutes he called.  One thing he was sure of, Mom should not go to the hospital.  He peppered me with questions and I turned him over to the charge nurse. While he was on the phone with the nurse, Dr. K breezed in.

I’m very respectful of the medical profession – from the aides to the doctors .  I respect the training they’ve gone through and appreciate their desire to be in that line of work.  I know I’m not equipped for it.  I’m also very respectful of the fact that these people have lives and cares of their own.  However, I didn’t have much respect for Dr. K.

Dr. K had requested that I be there to discuss my mom’s situation after one.  It was almost four, when she arrived.  I didn’t think Dr. K was showing me much respect.  And when I said she breezed in, I meant it.  I was at the nurse’s station listening as the head nurse talked to Dr. Kaye.  I saw a woman with long blonde hair, a white gauze Indian shirt with beading and clogs.  She looked like she didn’t have a care in the world and I wondered who in the world she might be. As she flung her long blonde hair over her shoulder, someone told me she was Dr. K. The nurse turned Dr. Kaye over to Dr. K, who disappeared around a corner. The charge nurse returned my phone and I was dismissed down to my mother’s room.  Surely something would happen now.

Something did.  Dr. K came in and decided Dr. M had been wrong to put Mom on an IV for dehydration.  I heard her order the IV stopped and lasix to be dosed intravenously.  Some RN came into do that, but he decided the fluid should continue and added the lasix to the drip.  I gave the LVN with him a significant look and as soon as the RN left the room, she shut off the IV and went for help.  She returned with another pair of RN’s who removed the IV and gave the lasix as the doctor had requested.  Can you imagine how my head was whirling?  All this while, Mother is moaning in misery.

Lasix aside, what were we going to do about Mom’s nausea?  Dr. K returned.  I don’t remember her exact words, but she certainly didn’t approve of Dr. Kaye’s opinion of things. She gave me a list of things that she thought could be excuses for overriding Dr. Kaye.  I’ll spare you, but I reminded her that Dr. Kaye had been Mom’s personal physician for decades and that Mom had just been in the hospital.  They said there was nothing else modern medicine could do for my mother and all we were looking for was some relief from the nausea.  Dr. K told me she had other patients she had to see about on another wing.  She stopped at the door and turned to me.  I do remember what she said there, “Hospital or hospice – you’ve got a tough choice.”

She was gone before I could say, “We already made that choice.”  I looked at the clock and it was five.  Five on a Friday afternoon.  Friday on Rosh Hashanah and Dr. Kaye is Jewish.  I sat down to talk to mother.  I laid it all out for her and she said, “I’d put up with anything to get some relief.”  I said,”Then I’m going to call hospice.”  Her only reply was white noise.

The next two hours were excruciating.  Thankfully, I’d followed Dr. Kaye’s request and signed up for hospice without indicating a start date during the week before.  Within minutes, Mom was on hospice, but it was five thirty on Friday and we were waiting for Bernard.  Though I’d been doing everything I could for Mom since I got there at eleven, she was still miserable.  I can’t blame her for her anger and accusations as we waited for Bernard, but that didn’t take the sting out of them.

When he arrived, he got the smile and sweet words I’d wished for all day.  After taking a few vitals he got on the phone and started the ball rolling.  When he left, Mom still hadn’t gotten anything for the nausea, but she felt like something was finally happening.  A continuous care nurse showed up.  I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I was glad for her.  I finally gave up and went home.  Mom wasn’t talking to me anyway.

The next few days were a blur.  Exhausted, I was operating on pure adrenalin.  Were I put on the witness stand right this moment, I could not provide a time line.  I could relay a number of vignettes, but they don’t make any sense.  I know I was there Saturday for a while, but there were no sweet moments for me to cling to.  I know that Saturday night  they called me.  Mom’s temperature was at 95 and her feet were mottling.  We thought this was the end.

I went through all of the motions I’ve been told to go through.  I told her what a good job she’d done in all of her roles.  I told her I loved her.  I told her everything was in order, just as she’d requested.  I told her it was OK for her to let go.  She’d done her job well and she deserved her reward.  But she wasn’t ready to go yet.

I stayed with her through the night.  For a while, I held her hand, hummed her favorite hymns to her and continued the one way dialog about the excellence of her life.  Finally, exhaustion took over and they brought me a recliner.  I went to sleep holding her hand.  I’d done the same with both my father and my aunt during their ordeals.  This felt familiar.

But Ruth wasn’t through.  Her temperature went back up, her feet were no longer mottled and another day began.  For lunch she wanted me to go to Wendy’s to get her a hamburger and a frosty. I fulfilled her request and she had a bite or two.  How many times was Ruth going to go to the brink without letting go?  I took a few hours away from the hospital, but then I packed up a bag and went back for the long haul.  When I returned, they said she’d been asking for me, but now she had nothing to say to me.

Monday morning I handled a few pieces of business and picked out a room on the third floor.  I’d been frequently reminded that Mom was still on the recovery floor and they weren’t really staffed for hospice.  Monday evening the continuous care ended and I was left alone with Mom.  Sure there were nurses out there, but they didn’t seem any better equipped to deal with the situation than I was.  Meanwhile, Mom floated along in a drugged state, rousing occasionally to go through the farce of a meal.  We’d get her up, put on her bib and give her a few bites that she’d chew on but rarely swallow.

Tuesday, around lunch time, they moved her.  I’d been told they would move her on Saturday and so I’d packed everything up.  We’d already lived out of suitcases for three days and by ten thirty I was tired of it.  I got ugly, but I got her moved.  On the nursing floor, I expressed my concern over the way they’d been medicating her. I feared they were over-medicating and she was in there somewhere cursing me.

So they backed off the drugs a little, but if she had been in there, she wasn’t anymore.  She was desperate to leave – telling me her girls would be home from school.  She remembered me as someone she knew, but she sure wasn’t certain who that someone was.  Before the night was over, we were back on morphine.  Less this time, they’d been giving her too large a dose, but it was still her only friend.

In the morning, I met with hospice and put her on palliative care.  I still don’t know if anything I did was right, but God knows, I’m doing my best.  I slept in my own bed with my husband last night.  I must balance the checkbook before I go check on her.  This has all happened too fast, but the rest is not happening fast enough.