First and foremost I'd like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, in the truest meaning of the phrase. This year, in fact, as of this past Monday, Christmas in my household took a somewhat unexpected twist.
A few columns back I wrote about the death of my Uncle Bob earlier this month at the age of 104. The death of Bob Mandeville at such an advanced age was neither tragic nor unexpected, but that doesn't mean there weren't consequences.
It was a tremendous blow to my mother, who will turn 92 in a couple of weeks. Even though she has lived long past the average American life expectancy, my mother was and still is the baby of her family.
Her late brother and older sister are gone; my Mom and one older brother who is 95 are still with us. But Uncle Bob was the emotional rock of the family and for the rest of us who were junior in age to him, which means all of us, he had always been around.
His health wasn't bad and even though he died a few days after his 104th birthday, there had been a sense among some of us that he might yet live to see 110. As I wrote earlier, I think he reached the point in his life where he didn't need another milestone. Yet his death was still a shock.
The impact of his death put my mother into a temporary bout of what appears to be depression, and her diet dropped off for a few days, which is not good when you are 92. No one noticed because she lived alone, in an apartment about 120 miles from my house, and a mile or so from other family members. The day before my uncle's funeral I received a phone call alerting me that my mother was in the hospital.
As it turned out, she had become dehydrated, which led to other complications and for a few days it appeared Mom would be placed in an extended care facility. But once her bodily fluids and electrolytes were back in order she rebounded quickly, and I suggested that putting her in any kind of facility would do more harm to her than good.
My wife and I have been discussing this issue for a long time as our families have aged. We had already concluded that we could put an addition onto our house, a mini inlaw apartment if you will, and care for our elderly parents ourselves should it become necessary.
It has become necessary. I offered to take my mother in at my home, and my siblings quickly agreed. On Monday, Mom and a bunch of her belongings were bundled into my brother-in-law's car for the 120 mile journey from her home to mine.
As the plans were being made for her trip, my home office was torn asunder. It had been my son's bedroom when he was young, and has been my office since he moved out nearly two decades ago. Now my computer, phone and assorted paraphernalia have formed the inner ring of my bedroom castle.
The outer ring consists of those things that belong in a bedroom. The inner ring forms a second layer of defenses against unwanted intruders, and inside the inner ring you will find ... me. Typing away, checking out the latest news, reading political diatribes from those who agree with me, and from those who don't, trying to maintain a semblance of normality in what has quickly turned abnormal.
The room that had been my son's bedroom, then my office, now is back to being a bedroom. We took everything out, and replaced it with a bureau, bed, recliner, television, nightstand, end table, and telephone. A Christmas arrangement, prepared by my wife and daughter, with holly, pine boughs, pine cones, and candy canes in a silver sleigh was waiting for Mom as a welcome home present.
When she first entered she was pleasantly surprised, which is a good thing.
It should be obvious to even the most casual observer that there is a serious readjustment underway. My mother was opposed to moving into any type of facility that isn't her home, but she still is undergoing a major upheaval in her life.
In the meantime, we will be providing 24-hour care for her, and in the spring I will be adding a bedroom, sitting room and specially outfitted bathroom to my house. This will enable my mother to maintain a sense of independence, and to keep many of her belongings, especially those that mean the most to her.
She will have family as near or as far as she wants, since the addition I have planned will include unfettered access to the rest of the house. She will be able to look out a slider at my wife's flower beds and the vegetable garden from spring to fall, and she will be encouraged to do her own gardening if she wants.
We will be able to monitor her food and fluid intakes, and since I still maintain my personal trainer certification she has asked that I establish an exercise regimen for her. That should help offset the muscle atrophy that has resulted from her spending far too much time alone and idle.
Mostly what is required here is attention. There will be no leaving her for hours on end with no one to look after her. In fact there will be no leaving her alone period. Someone will always be here.
This could become tiresome, I am well aware of that, but there also are programs available where we can get some help if we need it. There are six hospitals within a half-hour of my home, and there is a 24-hour emergency room facility, complete with helipad, only 7 minutes away.
We have a very active senior center in my town, vans to take the elderly shopping, or to medical appointments, or even to get their hair done. There are events at the center where she can meet other people, and we have good neighbors who are sure to stop in every so often to say hello.
Basically she has an opportunity to live her final years with a semblance of independence and dignity, and have some fun along the way.
The only fly in the ointment came from a friend who mentioned to me the bumper sticker that tells senior citizens to "Live Long Enough To Be A Burden To Your Children."
I got to thinking about that and I couldn't help but wonder if Mom still remembers the stunts I pulled when I was a teenager. I mean, her short term memory has lapses but she is crystal clear on long term remembrances.
Do you think she would remember that time I raided the liquor cabinet when I was 16? She and Dad went out for the evening and I made two discoveries that night. The first was that blue label Smirnoff vodka tastes really, really good when mixed with Hawaiian Punch. (Kids don't try this at home.)
The other was that anyone who has never had Scotch Whisky previously should never try it out by taking a full shot all at once. Talk about making a beeline for the sink to spit it out! Wow. It's amazing I ever developed a taste for single malts.
I'm not sure if Mom figured out what went on that night, but I do know that my parents kept close tabs on the booze in our house. She probably knew something was up but couldn't prove exactly what it was.
Then there was the time my girlfriend MaryJane came over for the evening. That was the night I experienced my first ... cigar. Hah, thought I was going to say something else didn't you?
MaryJane was pretty much my first real girlfriend. I was a faithful member of the Methodist Youth Fellowship back then, which is where I met MaryJane ... and learned how to kiss. At the same time actually.
But the night I am talking about - it was winter, it had snowed, and we sneaked away to my neighbor's driveway which was lined with huge evergreen trees and really private.
We probably smooched a few times, but the real big surprise was when MaryJane drew two White Owl Tiparillo cigars out of her jacket pocket. She showed me how to light them and how to smoke them. What a night!
We must have smelled like chimneys when we returned to my parent's house and I got some really strange looks from my folks. But they never said anything.
You don't suppose my mother has been harboring that memory all these years do you? Would she really wait this long for payback? I still smooch girls, my wife anyway, and I still smoke an occasional cigar, but after all, I've been an adult for several decades now.
I drink single malt scotch, in addition to some nice blends, and a cigar company in Ybor City, Tampa, sends me a batch of very smooth Coronas every so often. There is nothing in that to warrant payback is there?
Kissing MaryJane on a snowy night under the fir trees, smoking cigars, and sneaking liquor when the folks were away. What kind of punishment do you suppose a modern-day mother would consider appropriate for those offenses?
What did she consider an appropriate form of punishment way back then?
Oh, I remember! Grounding me and forbidding me to see my girlfriend!
Uh-oh! My wife is not going to pleased if my childhood comes up again in this fashion. This could get very ... interesting.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008