Mothers

All posts tagged Mothers

We never forget our loved ones

Published 16/06/2016 by damselwithadulcimer

If you’ve followed my earlier posts you will be aware of how my sister and I cared for our mother as she gradually declined and succumbed to COPD and vascular dementia. The lady who had insisted for years that she wanted to be cremated, had a change of heart in her final months and decided that she wanted a traditional Jewish burial when her time came to join her ancestors.

As Jews we followed the demands of a funeral as soon as possible after death. We sat Shiva, (the Jewish practice of mourning the passing of a close relative in a family home, whilst friends and family visit to pay their condolences, and a Rabbi attends to lead prayers in the evening), although only for one night and not the customary seven.

We also carried out the practice of erecting a headstone over our mum’s grave, but not until at least nine or ten months had passed. This is so the ground has a chance to settle. We gave the tombstone a great deal of thought, finally deciding on a colour that we thought mum would have liked, and choosing one that was not too high as she herself never grew beyond 4 feet eleven inches. In addition we took a great deal of care over the wording on, and the design of, the memorial monument. Apart from the traditional Hebrew lettering, we chose the epithet, in English, ‘To live in the hearts of those we love is not to die’. This has rung true more and more over the last year or so.

Mum is often in my thoughts and it’s hard to stop myself short when something happens and I would love to pick up the phone and tell her about it. She used to say the same thing to me in respect of her own mother.

My cousin recently reminded me that it was 45 years since her father, my uncle and mum’s brother, died. Returning to the Jewish religion, we mark the annual anniversary of the passing of loved ones, but we commemorate the date according to the Hebrew calendar. This is known in Yiddish as the Yahrzeit, literally the season. When the date comes round we light a memorial candle on the evening before the actual day (Jewish days begin at sunset the previous evening) and this candle burns for 24 hours. My uncle’s candle has now finished burning. I also asked the Rabbi to read out his name during the Shabbat service on Saturday morning, which is done on the closest Saturday to the Yahrzeit.

My awareness has now been brought to the death of my own father 34 years ago, the date of which will be commemorated at the end of this month. Once again his name will be read out before we recite Kaddish, the prayer for the dead that is chanted both at funerals and Saturday morning and festival services, as well as on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), that most sacred of the High Holy Days, a time spent repenting and fasting. Included in the service is a portion known as Yizkor (a Hebrew word meaning ‘remember’). When I was a child my mother used to send me out of the Sanctuary for this section of the prayers as my  parents were still alive. Now that they are no longer with me, I remain, remember them, and grieve for what I have lost.

My own Liberal Jewish congregation also offers an alternative ‘spiritual and meditative experience’ to the Yizkor prayers on Yom Kippur. This is a much more intimate and inclusive occasion, and one which brought back the memories of mum’s death with deep poignancy when I took part last year for the first time since she had left us. Perhaps I should also mention that the Hebrew date of mum’s passing was on Kol Nidrei, the evening that commences before Yom Kippur, but which signals that the Day of Atonement has begun. So not only do I remember my mother at that holiest time of the Jewish calendar, I can never forget that was when she died too.

Therefore Judaism provides reminders of those who have passed, but who remain forever in our hearts.

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To blog or not to blog

Published 08/06/2016 by damselwithadulcimer

For months I’ve been acutely aware that I’ve neglected my blog. Why pay for a domain name and not post? Life seems to be so busy with family, volunteering and continuing to work part-time. Not to mention the prevarication brought on by just sitting at your laptop, reading emails and posts, responding to them and then uploading items that you think will interest others. What on earth happened to all the leisure time we were promised for the 21st century? Or perhaps it’s more a case of employing better time management skills.

Six months ago – I can’t believe we’re almost halfway through 2016 – I realised that I’d allowed myself to fall into some kind of semi-hibernation. Mum had been gone for well over eighteen months, and it seemed to be taking a long time to adapt to a life that didn’t involve worrying about, and caring for, her; a period spent constantly on tenterhooks, wondering when the next phone call would alert me of another fall, or an urgent summoning of the paramedics.

So, since the beginning of this year I have made attempts to get out more into the world, or more precisely to go to London, on my doorstep. Of course I’ve kept up with friends (well, to a certain extent) and continued with my volunteering, almost as if I need to care for others as I no longer have mum. But I’ve also made a point of visiting more galleries and exhibitions, especially when I realised that I was paying annually for my Arts Pass card, but never using it and therefore not saving myself the money that I could. I’ve got partially involved with a theatre going group, so am able to see plays about once a month, and now actually have others to chat to during the intervals. But I’ve also managed to get myself back into reading: my first and forever love. If I’d never acquired a passion for reading I would never have improved my own writing skills.

Currently I’m working my way through Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. With only about 100 pages to go before I finish the final book, The Story of the Lost Child, I’m in an ambivalent state. I can’t wait to get to the conclusion, but will also feel bereft to have reached the end of a saga, spanning some five decades, that examines the friendship of two young girls as they grow and mature into older women, as well as painting a broad sweep of Neapolitan life with its background of politics and social change.

So the evolving Sandra is now going out to meet one of her daughter’s for a bite to eat, and will then be attending a thank you party for one of her volunteering groups. I promise to come back very, very soon.

Grief and Mourning

Published 23/10/2014 by damselwithadulcimer

The Oxford English Dictionary defines grief as ‘intense sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death’. Yet even these words cannot sum up the strength and breadth of feelings invoked at the loss of a parent. After more than thirty years I am still grieving for my dad, and this is compounded by the passing of my mum barely three weeks ago.

We all deal with our sorrow and cope with mourning in different ways. No two people will experience the same range of emotions, distress and pain in the same way, and these feelings frequently change from hour to hour, day to day and week to week. Different societies and religions have their own rituals and practices for coping with bereavement, and the support of friends and family members can often be a huge comfort. We can ‘mark the time with fairest show’ as Lady Macbeth advised her husband when they were plotting their murderous deeds, but later on in the same play Macduff, after learning of the slaughter of his wife and children, is advised to ‘Give sorrow words; the grief, that does not speak, Whispers the o’er-fraught heart, and bids it break’. Shakespeare was equally aware of the importance of displaying the pain of loss in order to begin the healing process, and I have been repeatedly told that tears are good and necessary.

Mum’s health had been deteriorating to the point where she became bedridden in the middle of August (about six weeks before she died) and this gave me an opportunity to think about the end of her life, her death and her funeral. But envisaging an event can never prepare you for experiencing it when it happens. I was upset when I visited her during her final days and was unable to hide my tears from her, much as I tried to turn my head away and dab at my eyes. She spotted my distress and asked why I was crying and her quick-thinking carer responded that it was hay fever.

I parted from her about 10 hours before the end. It was obvious that it was imminent and she was suffering a huge amount of discomfort. Her eyes were like those of a sick dog who is pleading to be put out of his misery and when she dozed briefly she muttered ‘take me there, take me there’ and a little later she opened her eyes and pleaded to be knocked out or put to sleep. Her cat also remained close to her during that final afternoon, so I didn’t need a crystal ball to know that she didn’t have long left. Yet life without mum is something I had never experienced and wasn’t something that I could imagine.

When the phone call came at 6 o’clock the following morning I was flung into auto-pilot. There was an urgency to be with her and to say more farewells and goodbyes, except that these would be final and not mere adieus. I would no longer be able to bid her to take care and do as she was told. Of course the tears flowed of their own volition, both whilst driving to reach her flat, and once I was there. They continue to find their own journey down my cheeks when I least expect them, but there are also glimmers of fond memories when I can talk about Mum without getting upset.

She had the Jewish funeral she had requested, with her eldest grandson saying Kaddish five times over the course of the day. Then she was laid to rest in the same cemetery as her brother, the person she had fallen out with before his own death, and with whom she had not made peace in their own lifetimes. The rituals were a comfort to me, as were the condolences and wishes of Long Life from friends and family.

But life goes on for the living and the days seem to follow in rapid succession. I can still mark the weeks since her death and the funeral in single digits, but the year is fading and then there will be the usual milestones where she will be remembered and missed. Although we are Jewish, Christmas was always an excuse for family get-togethers, and in later years was just lunch at our house with Mum always present, and exhortations from us to her to eat a little bit more. Next year will see Mother’s Day come and go without her (and the memory that she broke her hip two days before that day last year, scuppering our plans to take her out for lunch) and then her birthday in May, when she would have celebrated her eighty-ninth anniversary.

So how do we cope with the grief? The tears help, although there is often a perception that they won’t stop. There is a strong need to talk about her, her life and her final days, and in my case there is also a cathartic outlet provided by writing these blogs. I want to dismiss the memories of her last uncomfortable, distressing and distressed days, and of her lying at rest in bed at home, another feat we were able to help her to accomplish. She refused to enter a care home and I’m so glad she remained in her own flat, with a carer by her side during her final moments. I can take comfort from all of that, and from the reminders of others that we did everything that could be done for her, although there are still the nagging doubts that I could have done more, visited more frequently and reminded her of how much she was loved. But our family was not one to express our feelings although they were tacitly observed and understood.

The recent trips to clear out her flat have not been too harrowing either. I think it could be because we were with her there after she passed, we said further goodbyes, kissed her numerous times and I stayed with her whilst the Rabbis removed her for burial. Although she was finally at peace I don’t want to remember her face in death and would rather return to the photos I have of her that celebrate her life and vitality.

I also find that my religion, lapsed as it is, is somewhat of a comfort. My belief in God, or a greater, supreme presence, has been strengthened. I believe that death is not the end and that Mum’s soul is now in a more beautiful, peaceful place, where she is reunited with her family and loved ones and that I will also be with them one day. In the meantime I have been to Shul once to celebrate Simchat Torah, joining in with the songs and prayers that I remember from my childhood. That afternoon the words of the song ‘Shalom Aleichem’ (Peace be upon you) that we had all chorused so joyfully kept running through my head and I found myself singing it out loud: the first time I have felt able to sing anything over the last few weeks. The next morning I was looking out into the garden and I saw a flock of doves flying backwards and forwards beyond our fence.

Life is for the living, but the dead remain in our hearts; nobody can erase our precious memories whether they invoke tears of sorrow or joy.

Final Days

Published 12/10/2014 by damselwithadulcimer

Before I visited Mum after our return from holiday I phoned my sister to ask what I should expect. She thought I might notice a deterioration, but I wasn’t prepared when I went to see her on the Monday after we came home. I hadn’t seen her for two and a half weeks, but she had declined rapidly. I had been told that she had become even more demanding and that her carers were remaining with her constantly during her waking hours, which tended to be at night as she was sleeping a lot during the day. I had also been informed that she had a pressure sore at the base of her spine, which was being treated and dressed, but which was causing a lot of discomfort as she was propped, or was lying on her back most of the time. The carers were turning her and trying to move her onto her side, but she wasn’t comfortable in that position.

When I walked in to her room on that Monday her carer was trying to feed her; before I went on holiday she had always fed herself. I was terribly distressed to see her eyes: her beautiful green eyes were heavy, lifeless and sunken and I was struggling to hide my tears. Most of the time I was there I sat next to her and held her hand and she returned the grasp as firmly as she could.

The District Nurse had visited that morning and diagnosed another infection, which I was assured was causing much of the confusion she was exhibiting. I collected her prescription from her GP, took it to the pharmacist, and then back to the GP surgery as the wrong medication had been prescribed. Firstly they tried to fob me off, but I stressed the need for Mum to start on her tablets immediately, whereupon I was told that there should be a prescription for antibiotics at the chemist’s shop, but there wasn’t and the pharmacist had to contact the practice again before he dispensed the correct pills. Once back at her bedside with the medicine she had difficulty swallowing, and the carer had to request dispersible tablets, which arrived before the end of the day.

I visited again on the Thursday and was equally upset to see her. The nurse’s notes implied that she was a little better, but she seemed worse as far as I was concerned. Once more her carer was trying to feed her some soup with bread, but she just didn’t want food. She frequently asked for sips of her drink, interspersed with requests for a cigarette, although she had been unable to inhale for some weeks. Ever the polite, well-brought up lady, demands for anything were always suffixed with the word ‘please’. Frequently she was unable to speak, either from lack of breath and strength, or because the dementia was robbing her of language. She was dreadfully uncomfortable and her carer and I tried our best to settle her. Thanks to the hospital bed we were able to raise her head and shoulders to different degrees, plus to prop her with her pillows, or to turn her on her side to take the pressure off her lower back. She urged us to sit her up and then gestured with her hands if she needed to be higher or to be lowered.

Again I sat at her bedside and held her hand as long as she wanted me to. She seemed to drift from time to time, but never managed to fall into a proper sleep. At one point she appeared to drowse and asked audibly to ‘Take me there, take me there’. A while later she opened her eyes and pleaded with me to ‘Knock me out. Put me to sleep.’ I was unable to hide my emotions and she asked why I was crying, at which point the amazing Emma responded quickly ‘It’s hay fever’ and I rapidly improvised, pointing out that it was early Autumn and something in the seeds or the air was affecting me.

During that last afternoon I believe that her cat was aware what was happening and what was going to happen. She stayed close, at times on the bed (with mum caressing her with one hand and holding mine with her other) or under it or on a chair in the room.

The weather was bright and gentle that day, although I’ve been aware over the last few weeks that the year is starting to draw in and it has provided an apt analogy for Mum’s life moving towards its close. There have been some perfect autumnal days, the sort of time of year Mum would have called ‘Yom Tov weather’ as we often have an Indian summer around the time of the Jewish High Holy Days in September or October.

I must have fallen into a very deep, if apprehensive, sleep that night and missed phone calls on my mobile in the next room. I was suddenly dragged from my slumbers by the sound of the telephone ringing in our bedroom. It was still dark and I fumbled around the room, minus my glasses, groping for the phone. It was 6am and the voice at the other end was my sister’s urging me to come to Mum’s. Obviously she realised that I hadn’t understood and had to break the news that Mum was no longer with us. Nobody had tried to contact me on the landline and my sister had fully expected me to be at the flat, or on my way.

The two minutes spent brushing my teeth seemed like an eternity when I wanted to be on my way. I hurriedly dressed, no time for contact lenses, which would probably not stand up to the tears I knew would flow, grabbed a box of tissues and left the house. As well as still dark, it was also misty and I couldn’t drive off until my windscreen was clear. After a few minutes I realised I was dreadfully thirsty and blundered into an open shop for a bottle of water, not stopping to wait for my change, and then dropping my purse in the road in my rush to get back into the car.

I hadn’t expected there to be so much traffic on the road at that time of the morning and I have no idea how I managed the fifteen mile drive; it all seems rather hazy now. Arriving at the block of flat there was typically no parking space close to the front so I had to drive to the back, acknowledging the police car parked by the entrance. Rushing inside I was advised to take my time by the police officer in the lobby, and entering the flat I was confronted by the carer who had been with Mum at the end, her boss and another police officer.

Dee, who runs the care agency, was amazing to have left her bed at that time of the morning just to be at Mum’s, and she offered to cancel her appointments and stay with us (we declined as she has done so much and still had a business to run). The carer was visibly shaken to have encountered her first dead body, and the WPC was equally supportive, despite having lost her own father a few months previously. The police were called as Mum hadn’t been seen by a GP for some time and had died at home. An ambulance team had also attended before I arrived and taken a heart trace, confirming that it had been slowing down during the hour prior to death.

I don’t know how we got through the day. In an order I can’t even remember the Community Matron arrived to comfort us; the GP phoned to offer condolences and promised that she was sending the Death Certificate to the Coroner; we telephoned and spoke to the United Synagogue for guidance on what should happen next; a local undertaker arrived and advised us of the order of proceedings, although we were insistent that Mum was having a Jewish funeral so that his involvement would end there. My sister had to be firm with the Registrar’s office as we needed them to issue us with the Death Certificate and the Green Form on that day. It was tight as it was not only Friday, and the eve of the Jewish Sabbath, but it was also erev Yom Kippur, the day before the most solemn festival and fast in the Jewish calendar, and we knew that the relevant offices would close well before sunset.

We divided the hours between phone calls, official as well as to friends and family, and emails to family overseas. We said our goodbyes to Mum. I sat with her for some time, desperately trying to warm her up, and brushing her hair. She looked peaceful, although much older, but the puffiness had gone from under her eyes and her face was relaxed. I stayed with her after my sister had left for the Registrar’s office, massaged her hand through the sheet, convincing myself that it was getting warmer. I didn’t want the Rabbis to come from the Burial Society, although I knew their arrival was imminent. I kissed her forehead several times, refused to leave the room while they wrapped her in a sheet, and insisted that they were gentle with her as she was so tiny and frail. I watched while they carried the stretcher to the waiting ambulance and then she was gone. And then I threw myself onto her bed with my head on the V pillow where she had lain until a few minutes previously, and cried and cried for my mother who has now left this mortal world and is finally enjoying the peace she so desperately needed.

How do you reason with somebody who has dementia?

Published 30/08/2014 by damselwithadulcimer

When the Community Matron visited mum she made a few suggestions and recommendations, one of which was to provide a hospital bed. Mum eventually agreed and said bed was delivered this week. I knew I would also have to dispose of the double bed that was already in situ and arranged for it to be collected by a charity shop, with the proviso that the mattress bore a fire safety label. The first problem was to get mum out of bed long enough for somebody to locate the tag, which proved impossible. I assumed that the necessary information was there as the mattress was only a few years old.

Problem number two was to coordinate the collection and delivery so that mum wouldn’t have to spend too long out of bed. This was further complicated when the hospital bed was delivered a day later than it should have been, meaning that the switchover would happen on the same day. Delivery was promised for some time between 10am and 5pm and the collection was to be during the afternoon. I agreed with one of the care agency staff that she would stay with the carer until I arrived, except that I was held up by a few minutes. That gap was when the people turned up to collect mum’s bed, and she flatly refused to vacate it. When I turned up they had been unable to wait so mum was still tucked up cosily.

A few minutes later the man from Medequip appeared with the new hospital bed. How do you convince a tired, frail person that she must get out of her bed so that it can be removed and replaced with another one? More than that, how on earth do you argue with somebody who has dementia? It’s impossible to reason with a person who doesn’t appear to understand what you’re telling her. We played the same loop over and over again: ‘Who decided I should have a hospital bed?’ ‘You agreed to the nurse’s suggestion mum.’ ‘No I didn’t.’ And so we went round and round in circles as if we hadn’t already had the conversation. She told me to go away, to go home, and she told the van driver to throw me in his vehicle and get rid of me. Ever conscious that he had other deliveries to make I kept pleading patiently with the patient. Eventually I persuaded her to leave her bed; the carer and I each took one arm and we eased her across the room and into her armchair.

Her old bed then had to be taken apart and stored in the lounge while he brought in the new one and assembled it so that we could make it up and get her into it. I was so thankful that he was able to stay long enough for me to convince her of what needed to be done, and also that he helped move the old bed into the other room. Unlike Blanche Du Bois I don’t often depend on the kindness of strangers, but I was certainly grateful for it then. More than anything I was determined that she would be transferred to the new bed and that his time wouldn’t be wasted.

Of course there was still the problem of disposing of the old bed, which was now taking up a great chunk of the lounge. The charity I contacted to collect it the following day declined it when they saw the stains on the mattress as mum has managed to upset so many drinks in bed. However I phoned her local council who have charged me an older person’s fee to dispose of it next week when they come to empty the bins. I will just need help to get the two sections of the divan, and the mattress outside and then we will be able to get back to some kind of normality.

More than anything else I cannot believe that I have actually imposed my will on my mother. She has always got her own way and has never done anything she hasn’t wanted to do. I have never before stood up to my mother, argued with her or answered her back. I wonder if I’m finally growing up.

When Mary Poppins came to visit

Published 21/08/2014 by damselwithadulcimer

Once mum had been bedridden for more than a week we began to get seriously concerned and made contact with the GP, who acted swiftly and put one of the Community Matrons in touch with me. Two days later she visited mum to assess her needs. We also decided that it was time for mum to have round the clock care and organised a roster of known and trusted people to stay with her overnight, whilst seeking out a new care agency that would be able to provide continuous daytime cover.

This was all in place when Sarah visited to carry out her assessment. She swiftly took charge, insisted mum mobilise to the bathroom and gave a few pointers to the carers. Mum will now be prompted to take in more fluids, as she is obviously dehydrated, and will be encouraged to try to eat a little more. Food will be given to her, rather than her deciding that she only wants bread and butter. She will also be encouraged to get out of bed, with lots of help. I was amazed when I watched Sarah escort her (plus Zimmer frame) along the hall as I was convinced that she was far too weak to manage. The difference between a health care professional is that they can employ the firmness that a daughter, who has been brought up to be obedient, cannot. Just like Mary Poppins, Sarah is firm … but kind.

Sarah demonstrated her skills and training when she told me that she would be in touch with the GP to ask for a home visit, would contact social services on our behalf, would arrange for bloods to be taken and would also contact the domiciliary podiatry service to arrange a visit. She has also ordered a hospital bed to be delivered next week, so I need to arrange for collection of mum’s double bed. Sarah is a far cry from Hattie Jacques’s matron in the Carry On films, but every bit as capable, knowledgeable and caring.

To complement her input there is also the new care agency. They carried out a thorough evaluation of mum’s medical needs and medication, a risk assessment of her home, wrote out a detailed daily care plan (which was also augmented with Sarah’s suggestions) and asked me about mum’s interests and the work she had done before she retired.

I’m feeling far more optimistic and reassured. Some of the weight and anxiety have been lifted off my shoulders thanks to Sarah and the girls from Insta Care

Infections and Hospitals

Published 13/08/2014 by damselwithadulcimer

It’s been a difficult time. When visiting mum a few weeks ago she was having trouble getting out of her chair; I put this down to a mobility problem and helped her up. The following day I had a phone call from Careline (the company that responds to her calls for help when she presses the button on her bracelet) telling me that she was again unable to get out of her chair. Knowing her afternoon carer would be there before me I let it go and hoped for the best. A little later my sister phoned to say that mum had pressed several times (in fact about 12 in total) and that I should go over. When I arrived she was in bed and four attempts at standing up proved futile, so I phoned for an ambulance. She was duly taken to A&E, diagnosed with a UTI and sent home with antibiotics. 72 hours later I had a phone call from a paramedic who was with mum, as she had again pressed for help numerous times. She was persuaded to go into hospital, diagnosed with a chest infection, and remained there for three days.

From our point of view, which was endorsed by her carers and other health care professionals, she really needed to be in a care home. My sister tried to persuade her of the benefits of one we had found not far from where she lives, and that would also allow her to take her cat, her ‘baby’. Still she dug in her heels and insisted she wanted to go home, so back home we went. I organised another assessment with her social worker for the following Monday and in spite of everything he pronounced that she still had capacity and could not be forced to go anywhere she didn’t want to go to. So the two of us continued to operate on high alert with our anxiety and stress levels building, wondering when the next fall or hospital admission would occur.

We didn’t have long to wait before the buzzer was pressed more and more frequently and she was again admitted and kept in for two nights. Her discharge home was not an easy one. She was delivered by patient transport, which was actually a man driving a minibus, and not a paramedic or somebody with any kind of medical training. She beckoned to me with a face like thunder and screamed that she had been waiting since 9 o’clock that morning – it was now about 2pm. I had to help her down to her waiting Zimmer frame, but she was not strong enough to use it to walk into the block and her own flat, so I had to dash back in again for her wheelchair. When I asked the driver if he could just make sure that she was steady until I got back, I was informed by one of the other passengers that he was ‘only the driver’.

By 4am the following day she was again calling for help; an ambulance was duly summoned but she remained at home. Since then she has been more tired and lethargic and when I visited earlier this week she didn’t even have the energy to get out of bed. On the advice of the Alzheimers Society we have bumped up her care so that somebody is with her throughout the night, and we are trying to arrange for care during the rest of the day. At least the presence of another person will stop the panicky demands on Careline, who are often unable to elicit a response because of her poor hearing, so feel they must send another ambulance. One major problem is that the response time can be up to four hours.

We are still working on the idea of residential care, but not sure how on earth we will manage it, especially if she is too weak to get out of bed and walk to the car. In addition the home will initially only assess her during the day and overnight. It is apparent to everybody but her that she needs to be looked after in a caring environment where there are skilled people, friendly faces and nutritious meals. Where there will be somebody to reassure her when she gets worried and confused and above all where she will be in a place of safety. We haven’t given up hope yet, but we have to contend with her independent stubborn streak that makes her too obstinate for her own good.