by Lauri Fraser
So we are sitting around my moms hospital bed, and my mother is holding court. After all, her body may be failing but her mind was as sharp as a sushi knife. She could still beat the contestants on Jeopardy and do the N.Y. Times crossword puzzle in pen and she could decide for herself, that she didn’t want to do the dialysis anymore. It wasn’t going to make the Sclera derma go away, or the COPD, or the renal failure, so she said forget it, and chose instead at 82 years young, to go into Hospice.
Trying to be very practical and put away what that meant to me emotionally as I was her medical directive and her eldest daughter,
My mind went into over drive. “Where would she go? We had packed up their house so we could afford to keep them in assisted living, where they’d been living up until Mom had gotten ill. Hospice? Hmm....In an effort to protect my Dad from having the last memory of his wife be lying in the bed next to him dead, I suggested going to the last place she was in rehab for her broken hip just two weeks earlier. They had hospice service. They didn’t have a bed open. My brother lives in the hills to awkward to get her to, she hated the valley and that’s where my sister lived, then there was my place with the bedrooms upstairs. She was worried about my Dad. “I can put you in MY place Mom. I can make the downstairs a hospice room and we will make it work. Don’t worry about a thing.” I was already doing enough worrying for the entire family. Suddenly my sister chimed in “You want to be with your HUSBAND don’t you, Mom?!”
Shit. Don’t you get it, I thought? Shut up. But I would soon see that my sister was right as she often is after I decide in my head that she doesn’t know what in the hell she’s talking about. I have full on arguments with her as I do with lots of people as I drive to work with no one in the car but me. Fuck therapy. Just give me a car and some traffic and move out of the way while I heal thyself!
Ok. So Hospice it is. My mother loves orange juice fresh squeezed. One of the only things my father did right, was to squeeze her fresh orange juice, and she declared that’s something she wanted. My sister looked on as if to say, “Oh Mom, that is so sweet. That’s probably not going to happen but it’s very sweet and shows soo..... much love.” I on the other hand thought, Shit. How am I going to do make THIS, happen? I had enough going on. Ok. Says the Doctor, that’s a courageous choice and I applaud you all. But wait. She has an infection and she can’t go until it’s clear. Good, I thought, this will give me time to transform wherever we are taking her into a place, fit for dying.
Up to this point I have been careful in bringing my Dad to the hospital and rehab to visit Mom as he hates the hospital, and I don’t want him to be shocked when he sees her because she has physically changed so much in these last months.
My father is physically in pretty good shape, and is missing just the right amount of marbles. I want to be missing the same ones when I get to be his age. He’s lost the drive a passion marbles, so everything is in the moment and .....FANTASTIC is the word he uses most. My Dad is a cross between Peter Sellers in the movie Being There (where he plays Chauncy Gardner) and Ron Popeil. These days he spends most of his time in the prone position with a DVD player sitting on his chest, with the earphones in, a piece of a banana in one hand..... a piece of a bagel in the other hand..... munching away, watching old DVDs of I dream of Jeanie, Get Smart, Wild Wild West, and an assortment of other old movies....over.... and over again. He’s in heaven. When you come to visit him he doesn’t get up. He just waves and says boisterously “HELLO!” “Hi Dad. How are you?” “I’m FANTASTIC!. Wow. You looks Gorgeous!” Thanks Dad. You’re thirty years too late, but it sounds good anyway.
So there you go. That’s my Dad. No use telling you of their past lives and how they looked like movies stars, he in the Navy, a printer, a dancer, an inventor, a narcissist, her, a beauty queen from England, an actress, an artist, a business woman, passive aggressive, That was then and this is now.
The day after my Mother decided to go into hospice, I decide to tell my Dad about the reality of Moms situation so that I could see, depending on how he responded, if I can in fact move my Mom into their little two room place. They had lived in their home for over fifty hears, but THIS was their home now. I met my Dad at table 18 where he has eaten all his meals since Mom went into the hospital the first time.
“Hi Dad.” “HELLO!” he says “are you taking me to see Mother?” What? Hmm....He hasn’t asked that in a very long time. Although he calls her every day he never asks to go see her. “Just a minute.” I go into the other room and call the caregiver. “Maria, can you get my moms hair and make up done? My Dad wants to see her. We’ll be there in about 45 minutes, is that enough time?”
I turn to my dad and ask “Hey Dad Mom wants you to make her some orange juice, can you? “ “Of course. I always make your mother orange juice”, he says with a puffed chest. “Ok,let’s go.”
We stop at the market and pick up a couple of oranges, and a large yellow Gerber daisy for him to give her. If I get a dozen red roses she’ll know it’s bullshit. El Cheapo would never buy her roses, but she’ll believe ONE flower. I drop him off in front of the hospital and go park the car and when I return he’s sitting in his yellow shirt, holding one yellow Gerber daisy looking like Forest Gump. We go up to the 5th floor. Geriatrics. Before we go into the room we have to put the hasmat gear on cuz she’s still I isolation with an infection. “Here Dad, put on one of these gowns.” “Why do I have to wear this?” “Everyone wears this when they go see Mom.” “Ok.” “And these gloves.” “What? I don’t need gloves to see your mother!” “Ok. Forget the gloves.” I had been visiting her everyday for the past two weeks, and I hadn’t gotten anything, so what the heck. He peers into the double thick windows and stares right at her and says “Where is she?” Now my father keeps a picture of my mother in his wallet. Not IN a picture sleeve, no, it’s a picture of her when she was in her early twenties when they first met, and he cut it out of another picture, and she is sitting in a skirt with her beautiful legs, and her head titled back and every time he opens his wallet it is right there, loose, and it always falls out and he catches it gently in his hand, every time, and he says “Have you seen this picture of your Mother? Look at those legs. She was the Paddington Queen. She had won a beauty contest in Paddington, England and he does this between 3 and 33 times a day. Each time, he catches it, and it isn’t frayed around the edges, or torn. “Isn’t she beautiful? She was the Paddington queen.” Now he looks in on her some 59 years later. I know that he may not recognize her but when he looks into her eyes he will see that same girl. “Come on Dad follow me, and I lead him in directly behind me like a horse into the direct line of her eyes, “There she is Dad! Mom, I brought your orange juice squeezer!” Her body has started to stiffen from all that’s wrong with her and she strains to smile as she turns her head to meet Dad. He looks right into her eyes and says, “Yous is GORGEOUS!”
She smiles, her hair and make up done, for she hardly ever saw my Dad without it.
“Move over and let me sit down.” He kissed her hand and then kissed her on the mouth and sat down. “Dad, which orange do you want?” “I don’t care, just give me the knife.” “When are you coming home, we can’t AFFORD this place he says with a smile. She stares at him and starts to tear up.
“I can’t COME HOME, she says, I can’t make it. My legs WON’T MOVE.” “Well then I’ll stay here. I don’t care as long as I’m with YOU.”
I almost lose it at this point, as does Mom and Maria, Moms caregiver. As Dad starts to squeeze the orange , I look at Mom, knowing that it will be ok if she comes home. That he can handle it. “You can come home Mom. It’s ok. I will turn your place into the perfect place and you can be with Dad. If you don’t want him next to you, you can tell him to get the hell out of there, and if he wants to he can go into the other room and watch his DVDs. It will be ok Mom!” At that point I notice my father, wipe his eyes with his sleeve of the yellow has mat gown.
I have seen my father cry twice in my life. Once, at his sisters funeral, and once when at 16 years old and employed by my parents to take care of my brother and sister, clean the house and take my grandfather to the track once or twice a week, for a whopping $25.00 a week, I asked him for the $100 dollars he owed me for the month, and he said he didn’t owe me that much, and I told him to go screw himself. Other than that, this was the only other time I’d seen my Dad cry. I knew at this point it was time for me to get him out of there, and that he had had enough of the hospital and sick people.
Ok. Mom, don’t you worry about a thing, we are going to get you out of here and take you home!
We leave and as we walk down the hall I think that for a moment my Dad is totally all there. “Boy for being so sick she looks pretty good doesn’t she?” “Yes....” He says, just like Chauncy Gardener, she does.” Hey Dad, do you know what Hospice is? “ “No, but I took ballet once, at the Hollywood Professional School.” Hmm... ya don’t say I thought to myself. Wow. Could there BE a better ending? As we step in the elevator he takes out his wallet and says with a smile “Have you seen this picture of your mother? Look at those legs. She was the Paddington Queen.”
My parents are like Oil and Vinegar. When shaken up the come together and there’s a good honest flavor and it works, but leave them alone for a while and they separate again. And after being a witness to their lives up closer than is sometimes comfortable for me, I see THAT also works. I never thought so growing up. I prayed they’d get a divorce. In fact, we threw the a party for their 25th wedding anniversary which was really to say ”Ok. You’ve done your job, you’ve raised us kids, now go out and get a divorce and get on with the business of living. But no. they stayed together and I have gotten the grace and good fortune of witnessing what oil and vinegar looks like after being together for 60 years, and though I continue to try, no words do it justice. Perhaps it’s meant that way. To say on the inside, close to the heart, the only place where speech, no matter how eloquent, or important, doesn’t hold a candle to witnessing what the eyes see or the ears hear, and heart feels.
Look at those legs.........she was the Paddington Queen......