Family Matters

just thoughts

I took Toby’s mom back to the hospital today. When I say hospital I mean the convalescent home but she calls it the “hospital”. They have beds and nurses there so I guess I’ll call it the hospital too. (Then again she calls her late onset diabetes a product of getting old and not from trying to drink herself to death… so we’ll just let the euphemisms fly.)

Last Thursday Toby and I took her home from the hospital against our better judgment. She had been calling us daily, begging us to come and get her. I was very reluctant to take her home. I didn’t even want to go but I knew I needed to be there to support Toby. I couldn’t believe that only a month ago she couldn’t walk and she ate her food through a tube and now she wanted to go home to an apartment that is completely trashed. She will be alone without a car or a telephone. Why not stay in the hospital where people feed you and take care of you and it doesn’t even smell?! They are very kind to her there.

As we were trundling her out with her one garbage sack of belonging, several nurses stopped to hug her and tell her that they will miss her. I wanted to stop her right there in the hall and tell her to reconsider. But a body wants freedom and it’s not my right to take it away from her, even though I’d like to lock her up for good for all the horrible things she’s put us through over the years.

Toby later told me that the reason she wanted to go home so bad was because she had hidden a stash of pills in her apartment. She does that. But Toby had thrown them all out when he went back to help pay her rent and get her mail etc. I didn’t know that he had gone back and picked things up. He went without me. From the way he described her apartment I was expecting dried blood and vomit and piles of chewed up pills. I expected the floor to be covered with moldy laundry and piles of her belongings looking like someone had robbed the place. I couldn’t even talk to her while we drove in the car towards her home because I was so worried about what her reaction would be when she saw the condition of her home. Twice I almost told Toby to stop the car and go back. She doesn’t remember how she left her place because of course when the ambulance came to get her she was out of it. I could go on and on here but this is not really what this blog post is about.

This blog post is about my role in this saga. The role that I’m still not sure about.

Toby often tries to protect me from his mother and her addictions. I love him for that. But at the same time I need to be there for him. He can’t do it all alone. He’s often rude to her and calls her on her bad choices right to her face. It’s so hard to watch him treat her like that but I know it’s because deep in his heart he loves her more than anyone. There are times when I just want to let her die. If she wants it that badly then let her go I think. But Toby thinks that is the one thing God asks of him. That he not let her die. So I respect that and we carry on.

After getting a gallon of milk and some bread at a corner liquor store (the irony does not escape anyone) we dropped her off at her apartment, promising to stop by in a few days to see how she is doing. We know that a physical therapist will be by the next day and the housing manager says he will check on her as well. We tell ourselves she will be okay and after several hugs and well wishes, we go. It is such a mixed bag of emotions. I see Toby switching between showing her how much he loves her and being the tough guy who has to call the shots. She says she will call us as soon as she gets her phone hooked back up.

The weekend goes by and we hear nothing. Then I happened to have an errand right by her apartment so I stopped in to check on her. It’s a good thing I did. She hadn’t moved. Her drapes were drawn and she was lying on her couch half naked in the dark. She hasn’t been eating or bathing. She ran out of toilet paper and she has diarrhea. (Sorry for the gory details but if you’ve made it this far then I guess you’re in it for the long haul. Really I’m just typing because it makes me feel better. I don’t even know if I should post these thoughts but this is a big chunk of my life going by and maybe someday I’ll want to know where the days went. Sometimes that’s why I keep this blog as a way to go back and remember time.)

I asked her if she wanted me to come back later but she wanted me to stay. She even wanted to go to the market with me. So I helped her get dressed and we trudged down to my car. I had to walk very slow and help her down the stairs. She was very shaky and weak. She also smelled pretty bad but I told her she didn’t. I don’t know why I lie sometimes like that. I just want to make her feel better and not worse. I tried to be as helpful as possible without making her feel like an old cripple. She is sixty-eight after all so I guess it’s okay for her to be an old woman but I know that this is not who she really is inside. She will get better. This is not the beginning of the end. Not yet.

It was probably the worst time to take a weak old woman to the grocery store. It was crazy busy. She was very self conscious of people trying to get around her and she kept trying to push down her hair that was stuck upwards in the back. Several times she had to hold the cart and catch her breath. I tried to make the trip as quick as possible but at the same time I didn’t want to shelter her too much from the real world. I always have trouble with this role I find myself in, as the child acting as an authority figure for the elder. Maybe I should’ve had her stay home and brought groceries back for her.

On the way back to her apartment, she broke down in tears. She was afraid she said. She realizes she can’t take care of herself. Just going to the store was terrifying. Maybe she needed to go back to the hospital. Inwardly I was so relieved to hear her say that. Leaving her in her apartment was like a ticking time bomb. I know it’s going to be hard for me to keep checking on her. I feel like I’m setting myself up for failure. If it isn’t my life getting in the way then it is my fear that I’ll check on her and find her in a bad state. Or worse that I’ll feel used and tricked because I’ll begin to trust her again and then she’ll go and try to kill herself. Even though my feelings about alcoholism are mixed and I do blame her as well as her illness, I do know that getting my hopes up is like expecting my cat Pounce to be a good cat and not eat my birds. No matter how much I love her she will always be a drunk and a liar. She will lie cheat and steal to get alcohol or drugs so that she can just tune out on life.

I don’t completely blame her. Her life is in the toilet. She is very depressed. Who wouldn’t be? Her family is not there for her. Everyone has left her in order to escape her. It is necessary for survival. She has ruined her life and now there is not much left of it. This is the way things are. I want to be an optimist but I’m not going to be stupid about it either.

Going back to the hospital seemed like the most intelligent alternative. I told her I would come back at 10 in the morning and see how she felt. I called the hospital the next day and they said it would be no trouble. They even had the same room open for her. They were not surprised at all and had in fact been against her leaving so soon in the first place.

I do understand her reluctancy to go back. There are very very sick people in that convalescent home. People who cry out and moan in their sleep. People who will never get better but will just bide their time there until they die. Compared to them she has a future. She is getting better. She can walk. In fact it almost seemed weird that they immediately wanted to put her to bed. She wanted to walk down the hall and talk to a nurse about her medications, but the nurse sent her back to her room and said someone would come to her. I wish there was some medium ground where she could stay. Somewhere where she could be herself and not an invalid. Immediately I think of our own home and how maybe we should take care of her. She is getting better she just needs baby-sitting. But Toby has made the decision and I am behind him 100%. She cannot live in our home. She exhausted that resource a long time ago. We must be selfish if we are to survive. So this is what I struggle with. Where does my conscience let me be at peace and my self preservation stop. The line is gray.

I promised I would check back on her at the end of the week. I think I can do that.