When I walked into the front door of my mother’s home, a little over two weeks had past since my last visit. Because of the influenza epidemic that turned Arizona bright red on the “flu view” map of the U.S., the home issued an edict banning practically all visits until it subsided. They told me that if I was healthy, I could check in on her as long as I wore a mask and doused my hands in sanitizer……………………………. I think they felt sorry for me. I sounded completely lost when they called to say no visitors: “Oh. How long? Really? I, mean, I’m fine. Can’t I just check in on her once in a while? I just worry.”
Unfortunately, my own immune system was obliterated not 24 hours after the ban was put in place.
Before this, the longest I had gone without seeing my mom was, maybe, 48 hours……………. When she spent time at the geriatric psych ward last February, I was told I had to wait for her to be assessed.
Letting go is not my thing.
This time, I was too sick to get out of bed. Too sick to get in my car. Too sick to feign good health just so I could see her. I really missed my mom. I felt empty. Alone, really. Even though my mother can’t talk to me, her presence, while it makes me sad on the one hand, also gives me comfort. Of course, in some ways, this is what it’ll be like when she’s actually gone, and if this is a sign of things to come, it won’t be the relief I’m so desperately seeking.
Life without stressing over her wellbeing, her care, getting kicked out, her flooded diapers, if she’s in pain, Medicaid, finances………………………….
I feel physically, emotionally and mentally sick. I am physically, emotionally and mentally sick. Who am I kidding? Sure, this might be the flu, but it’s also years of fighting the disease that has consumed both my mother and my father.
I don’t expect either parent to be alive when I turn 40. That’s four years from now.
A reverse empty nest.
Last Monday, despite the ban, I decided to visit my mom. They said I could. I walked in expecting to be turned away. The thing is, I was really worried about her finger nails. What if they cut her nails too short or what if they didn’t cut them at all and she snagged her nail on something? What if she has a painful hang-nail? I brought my clippers.
I am perpetually drowning in the minutiae.
“Hey Patty, I know there’s the ban, but can I please see my mom? I’m not sick anymore.”
“Hi Kathy, Sure. How are you feeling?”
“I’m OK. I just miss my mom is all.”
“I know. I would feel the same way. I’ll give you a mask; just be sure to use the hand sanitizer.”
“Should I leave my bag here?”
“I don’t think that’s necessary.”
My mom’s asleep. Her head is hanging to the right like a rag doll. I take a black sweatshirt, fold it up and tuck it beneath her neck. The room is warm and her radio is playing NPR. Aside from her crooked neck, she looks comfortable. I place my bag on the console nearby and plop down on the arm of her beige pleather chair. She finally wakes up, turns her head and stares at me. I smile. Of course, she can’t see my smile… I’m wearing a blue surgical mask that sits awkwardly on my nose. I squeeze the metal band on the nose in hopes of it fitting a little better (don’t these things come in small?)……………. UGH, now my glasses are fogging up. I consider taking the mask off… just so she can see who I am. What if she forgot who I am? It’s been over two weeks? I decide against removing the mask. Instead, I take her hand and hold it. She can’t really hold my hand; her brain isn’t firing off a signal that would tell her fingers to wrap around my hand.
A few seconds pass and she starts yelling.
“It’s me! Your daughter! I love you.” She’s either horrified by my presence or saying hello.
Hard to tell.
Mom’s roommate is in the room. I’ll call her Margie, though that’s not her real name.
“Hey Margie, how are you? Have you been taking care of my mom?”
I don’t want to stay too long, it’s already 9:00 a.m. and I’m late for work. I rub mom’s head until she falls asleep again……………………………. I look at Margie and ask her to take care of my mom.
She obliges, of course.
I walk outside, talk with some of the caregivers, get in my car and drive to the office.
Just your typical Monday morning.