"Everyone's gonna be late, and you know what? I don't care, not now," the bus driver's saying.
Well, lady, I care. I don't want to miss our plane to Mexico. That would be a disaster with Mother the way she is.
When we got to the Mitchell Field stop ten minutes ago, our driver checked for waiting passengers. Although another bus was blocking her view, she took off, commenting to me that because of construction, the road near O'Hare is like a parking lot and we'll be at least a half hour late. So I was thankful we were whizzing along with no one else to pick up. Then came the call from her supervisor. Now she has to turn around and go back for six people she missed, and she's furious, arguing with her supervisor, but not too much. She doesn't want to lose her job. The man behind us might arrive at 9 A.M. for an 8:30 plane.
I went to bed at midnight last night, tears streaming. Having to leave Mother in Mexico makes me realize how much I care. Of course the present her isn't quite so lovable as earlier incarnations. At 4 A.M., I got dressed, aware that getting Mother ready would be a project. We just made the 5:30 bus.
Later. We'll arrive in Mexico in less than an hour. Mother was excited to be traveling, loved the three-hour bus trip to O'Hare, and she hasn't been bad in the plane, except for little annoyances that aren't her fault, the constant motion, constant searching for things. She asked for pen and paper, didn't use it, hid the pen, asked for more paper, folded it. It's part of the illness, being unable to remember why she wanted pen and paper, sensing something's missing without knowing what.
Yesterday's trip, fifteen hours door to door, went surprisingly well. Mother kept bending over to look for things on the car floor, but she was bearable during the long, spectacular, and sometimes hairy drive with Jane from Mexico City to Mendosa, a small town near Orizaba. She said, "Let's go home," when we hit dense fog on some of the hairpin curves. She doesn't know she no longer has a home.
Our arrival was the nightmare. We made the mistake of stopping at Jane's ranch on the way to Don Juan's house. The dirt road leading to it was bumpy and waterlogged, and Mother grunted at every bounce. The ground at the ranch, which we had to walk over in the dark to get to the stable and house, was puddles and muck.
Mother didn't believe we were in Mexico, went in and out of recognizing Jane, and by the time we got to Don Juan's house, she was ready to undress and sleep in the car. The path has been downhill from there. Neither Mother nor Judit, the woman taking care of her, have slept. Mother's angry; she has no idea where she is nor what she's doing here. When I first saw this house, I cringed. Porcelain figurines and other breakable objects are crowded onto every available surface. Mother's room is right at the top of a narrow marble spiral staircase. She has the master bedroom, emptied out in her honor, except for a double bed and a couple of night tables, so there wouldn't be much for her to get into except for her own clothing. And that she has amply gotten into all night, a blouse over her nightgown, slacks, socks, shoes. I finally got her into bed just now, fully dressed. Not that fully dressed makes a difference; sleep makes the difference. Without sleep, she's out of her mind. What if Judit quits after one night?
Five mastiffs and a daschund live in the courtyard here. When one barks during the night, the others reply. The sounds seem to come from all over the house, waves of dog howls rolling through. Right now, however, I hear cocks crowing.
Jane says the attitude towards dementia is more accepting in Mexico. It would have to be. They don't have many nursing homes. Still they must be put off by Mother's madness. It's terrifying when the body's here and the mind's gone. Mother wants to sleep outside, and Judit says wild dogs would attack her. She says it in Spanish, so Mother doesn't know. I translate. Mother still doesn't know.
Things are impossible. Mother slept last night, but the big problem is getting help. Thus far Judit has been here from 9 P.M. to 9 A.M., no one else has shown up, and I'm not sure Judit will continue once we pay her. From being caregivers in Milwaukee, we've become caregivers in Mexico, different scenery, same job. Right now we're at Jane's ranch, Mother sound asleep, Jane giving a riding lesson, Adolph taking a walk, I praying Mother doesn't wake up. Jane has no riding instructor right now, so she has to give all the lessons and ride five or six horses a day, twenty minutes each.
The house where we're staying belongs to 77-year-old Don Juan, who had a stroke last May which affected one side of his body. He's a warm and caring man who stays home all day, walks with a cane, seems very calm about Mother's behavior, but can't help out if a caregiver doesn't show up. Neither can Victoria, the niece, who lives here only because she's a student nearby; she has no obligations in the house. Neither could Juan Pedro, the son, for he's out of the house from 6 A.M. to 9 P.M.
Jane had only four days notice to set this up, so making these arrangements is a major accomplishment. She's been interviewing potential riding instructors and potential caregivers simultaneously. A nurse, Silvia, who speaks English, recommended a caregiver who didn't show up. Silvia was embarrassed and said she'd help out until we find someone else. So maybe today is the last day of the interminable watching of my mother. That would surprise me. In any event, my saturation point has been reached.
We've been at the ranch several hours now. Mother's awake and starting to wander. Jane's still teaching. Mother is talking, a healthy sign, but it's past her time for conversation..."Where is...?" "Did he ever...?" "Are they going to...?" Then she finishes a sentence: "I think I'm going to read," and reaches for an empty bottle on the table, finds its cap, and puts it on. "Ooh, this is...," she says. Now she's trying to read the signs on Jane's refrigerator. I'm getting claustrophobic. Adolph and I showered here since we couldn't figure out how to get hot water at Don Juan's. We each took a little walk, watched Mother sleep, watched her wander, otherwise have waited for Jane.
...Sarah just called to find out how we're doing. I had nothing encouraging to say. I feel trapped with an almost mindless creature that I too could well become at some point in the future. As Adolph was talking to Sarah, Mother wandered over to the stove and chose the burner with a pot holder lying on top of it to turn on. I yelled, raced over, and grabbed her arm just in time. She snarled, "I'm moving out." There goes her dirty tissue, into the dogs' water. Now she's dumped a bowl of a mysterious white substance onto the floor. I clean it up quickly, not wanting to poison Jane's dogs. Mother moves everything from place to place, "Where is my, my, my...?" she's saying. I tell her that her purse is the only thing she has, and it's right here, which makes her happy. "Oh, we're going to have a rain," Mother suddenly exclaims, and she's right.
Later. Actually she wasn't right. Though it's the rainy season, it didn't rain.
This evening Mother was funny, verbal, the things she said made sense, if only by coincidence. We were interviewing Silvia, and we started to go around the room to see who Mother knows, beginning with Jane. "She's my daughter." Then Don Juan. "I'm not sure who he is, but I sort of think I like him," which broke everyone up. At one point she called Juan Pedro a naughty boy. There were also moments when she understood some Spanish. But most of the time she was out of it.
Silvia works in the States and is going back next month, so she'll help for two weeks at most. She asked about violence, and Mother is not serene. She gets angry at too many no's. She doesn't like too much help. She doesn't like to hear a lot of Spanish if she can't understand.
...Damn, Judit showed up right on the dot, 9 P.M., first caregiver of the day, but Don Juan and Juan Pedro aren't here, and the gate is padlocked. So we're locked inside, and she's locked out. She waited fifteen minutes and then left. I sure as hell hope she comes back. But when are THEY coming back? It's one thing too much. Now it's 9:30, and they're still not back.
9:45. They're back but not Judit.
Maybe things are starting to come together.
Wherever we go, people know Jane, she tells them what our problem is, and they try to think of possible caregivers.
Juan Pedro would really like this to work out so there will be people around. Don Juan is home alone all day, and Juan Pedro worries about him. They're such warm people, they would have been perfect for Mother to live with, not too long ago.
Jane, Adolph, and I took Mother to a gerontologist named Erendira at 6 this evening. She took Mother's history from Jane and me, then Adolph brought Mother in. Actually Adolph knocked on the office door and said, "Your mother's going crazy out here, you'd better let us in." Erendira gave Mother a physical, checking her reflexes in particular. When the physical was over, Mother started to wander, touching everything in sight, taking off her sweater, her blouse, her shoes, never, never staying still.
Finally Adolph and I took Mother out, and Erendira spoke with Jane: Mother was much worse than she'd expected, the reflexes on her left side were gone. On a scale of twenty, she's a five. The Mother we used to know is no longer there. No caregiver will be able to stay with her for very long and the constant changing of the guard will be more traumatic than if we just put her into an "asilo" as soon as possible. The ones in Orizaba aren't good, but there's an excellent one, Emaus, outside of Cordoba. We'd better get her in right away, for if something happens and she can no longer walk, they won't take her.
At least Mother likes Mexico. A lot. There's a warmth to the people that she needs and will never find back home. Look where she's been: Spanish Lakes in Florida, a vapid, elitist mobile home park for those who are far from elite. The main topic of conversation was nearby restaurants. After that she lived at the Milwaukee Protestant Home, a rather straight-laced, aloof group of residents for my unconventional mother, though by then her unconventionality was often indiscernible from madness. The psych ward at Columbia Hospital. She fit in better there. Chai Point, that's where her dementia really took over, and the other residents were terrified, for in her they saw themselves.
When we got back to Don Juan's house tonight, Mother's room was a shambles, piles of clothing on the bed and floor. And it wasn't Mother's clothing. In fact it was no longer Mother's room. Judit had warned Juan Pedro to get Mother away from the top of the staircase immediately, and he did.
I feel as if things get worse by the moment.
The good part was Emaus. Adolph, Jane, and I went there today. Run by Spanish nuns, it was beautiful, bright, lit by skylights, rooms intimate, the whole place intimate, with ramps instead of stairs, and a lovely garden. Residents pay room and board and hire private nurses if they need them.
However if Mother was a 5 yesterday, she's a 4 today. She woke up angry, was nasty to Silvia, refused a badly-needed bath, and spent most of the day undressing and dressing. The Mother Superior at Emaus won't be back from a retreat for another week, and I don't see how we'll survive the suspense. I want to know right away that they'll accept Mother. I'm afraid she'll fall down the spiral staircase before we get her in there.
It IS possible Mother went completely bonkers today because we doubled her dose of Depakote, which is to put her on a more even keel and to help her sleep. I certainly won't double it tonight.
She began the day screaming at Judit not to touch her, though Judit had no idea of what she was saying, proceeded to make Silvia's life miserable from 9 to 4, and has succeeded in making our life miserable since 4. Silvia said Mother insisted on going for a walk, even though it was raining all day. Perhaps that's better than yesterday: Mother was obsessed with calling Father, who's been dead ten years. Silvia did take Mother for a short walk, and Mother wanted to sit down outside on the wet sidewalk. After Silvia left, Adolph and I took Mother for another walk. Within a block she wanted to stop, and I told her she was the one who wanted to walk, and we weren't going to simply sit in the rain. We shuffled down the middle of the more or less empty street, Mother going very very slowly. I walked a bit ahead of her, my usual ploy for getting her to speed up. This time instead of speeding up, she decided to go back to the uneven sidewalk, which I was purposely avoiding. She fell, almost in slow motion, using her forearms to save herself from landing flat on her face.
There was no way to lift her by myself. I screamed for Adolph who was way ahead of us. Three ladies passing by, one very old, glared at me. After Adolph picked Mother up, I overheard them discussing whether or not she was hurt. I said she was fine, which amazingly enough was true. One of the women grabbed my arm, placed it between Mother's elbow and body, and told me to always walk with her like that. You can bet I followed her instructions.
Adolph and I are now on a bus headed towards Necostla, an Indian village at the top of a nearby mountain. We just started moving. It's one hour upward on a narrow, unpaved, mud and ruts road. The most constant aspect of this trip other than Mother's vagaries, has been rain, fog, and mud. It's almost too bumpy to write, more or less like horseback riding. It's worth the trip nevertheless, for the cloud-kissed mountains, for the delicate and brilliant violet, purple, yellow, and orange wildflowers, for the purple-bearded cornstalks. Ouch, we're face to face with a truck. We back up, I should say back down. It passes.
Here we are in a busload of beautiful, dark-skinned Nahuatl Indians, Mexican music moaning of lost love, surrounded by mountains, and a few hours ago I was screaming from the bathroom where I was trying to bathe Mother but couldn't get her into the tub, "Adolph, could you please come in here, I can't stand another minute of this!" Now we're on a high.
Here's a cross where someone plunged off in 1947. The young woman in front of me laughs at my facial expressions when I stick my head out of the window and look straight down.
I'm now sitting on a rock, mud-logged sandals resting in additional muck, waiting for the bus back to Mendosa, damn, it's starting to rain again, as if we haven't had enough. When we got off the bus a few hours ago, a young man escorted us down the mucky mountain road to the center of town, which consisted of a brightly-painted Catholic church, a town hall, and a little food stand. I hesitated to eat there, Mexico has so many insidious parasites, but we needed a place to sit and a potential toilet. We had a choice of ham sandwiches, out of the question, or corn soup with shrimp and slices of corn on the cob, which I had without the shrimp. Adolph ate it with the shrimp. As we chatted with one of the women who owned the stand, her six-year-old son interrupted to say his friend was afraid of us. She tried to shush him, but I asked him why. His answer: he'd never before seen white skin.
She told him that there are places in the world where people have white skin, and others where they have brown, and there's nothing to be afraid of.
"Don't other Americans come to Necostla?" I asked.
"There was one who lived here 25 years ago. I have a picture of him."
"Hasn't the boy been to Mendosa?"
"Yes, but very few Norteamericanos come there." I haven't seen any at all, come to think of it.
I asked if Adolph could use their toilet. They warned us it was very dirty and filled with bugs, conferred with each other, then offered us the use of their own toilet. One of them led us along a path through ten-foot high cornstalks to an outhouse right in the middle of the cornfield.
When we got back, I wondered if there was anything else to see in town.
"El panteon," they told us, and I suggested the little boys take us there. They quickly recovered from any fear as the four of us slid, sloshed, and skated through layers of slime, in constant danger of landing face down, laughing at the precarious nature of our cleanliness. A panteon is a cemetery, but this one made us gasp, for crosses adorned with colorful wreaths blanketed the mountainside.
Whoa, oh my god, we're on the bus now, after almost two hours of waiting in the rain, and up ahead the road is almost gone. I'm looking out the window at our future route, mud and ruts edged by a steep drop. The man in front of me is much more interested in the people behind him, us, wondering how long we've been here. The fog is closing in, hairpin curve on mud, plenty more coming up...
Despite the muck, we loved Necostla. Adolph said he'd like to stay a few days. Not this trip, that's not why we're in Mexico. It was just a break in the ongoing nightmare.
Trying to get Mother upstairs yesterday took a half hour because she sat down at the most dangerous spot, where the staircase spirals, and she wouldn't or couldn't move. She was probably panicked because of her fall in the street. Even when I got her to stand up, she wouldn't move in either direction. Taking her hand, we eventually managed to lead her to the bathroom where I forced her to let me bathe her, then I brought her to her room where she refused to put her nightgown on. I told her to do whatever she pleased and left. An hour or two later I found she'd gone to bed nude between two blankets.
I asked Juan Pedro if he minds her getting up to go to the bathroom nude. He said, "Not at all, I'm used to having sick people in the house. I accept her as she is, she'll be like part of the family." I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
Something else he said shocked me. His mother died from a fall on that spiral staircase! How could he even WANT my mother in there after that?
His mother had diabetes and in 1975 was given six months to live. She was a stubborn woman who lasted another twenty years and used that time to do what she'd always wanted to do, teach school in an Indian village up in the mountains, accessible only by footpath. Her teaching there ended with a fall on the path. But the finishing touch was her fall on the spiral staircase.
Though the decision is of course up to us, he hopes we'll decide to leave Mother with them. His father is alone all day and if something happens to him no one would know. I mentioned the danger of caregivers not showing up, something that also concerns him. Jane works full time and can't come running over. We'd have to put a lock on the outside of Mother's door and some sort of adult potty inside the room, I told him, just in case. He said he'd try to find a potty, that he'd adapt the house in whatever way is necessary. What worried him was how the caregivers treated Mother, and he'd keep an eye on that. I was feeling good about the possibility of her staying here, amazed that anyone would have her in her shape.
But what about that fatal staircase?
Before we got back just now I felt a twinge of optimism. That changed quickly. Mother was worse than ever, and Norma, who had just spent her first afternoon with her, looked harried. If we can't find people who'll put up with her, there's no way this can work. Mother sits where there is no chair, reaches for the design on the floor, goes up three steps then goes back down. Tonight she said she had to go to the bathroom, wouldn't let anyone take her there, forgot she had to go. I finally got her to the toilet, forced her to sit down, and she wouldn't get up again, just sat there and stripped. Finally Adolph and I took her arms and dragged her naked to her room.
Afraid to take her back down the stairs, I brought her a roll and banana for supper. She didn't want to eat. Norma scrambled her an egg. I think she nibbled a bit.
I force-fed her her medication tonight, but it doesn't seem to help. I thought of increasing the Depakote again. But maybe that's why she's worse, from that one increase. Maybe she was so drugged she couldn't function at all, and that made her angry.
It has rained every day but one. While eating breakfast yesterday in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant dominated by a TV, I noticed footage of floods; I was surprised to learn they were in the state of Vera Cruz. We are, in fact, in the state of Vera Cruz. I bought a newspaper. Flooding is the headline story, in several states, eight people dead thus far. I'm thankful that at the moment the sun is shining.
When we were waiting for the bus in the rain on the mountain top yesterday, an old man lugging a burlap bag over his back wanted to know where we were from. When I told him, he asked, "Does it rain in the United States?"
Mother went to bed at nine last night. When we left at 9:30 this morning, she still hadn't awakened, nor had she gotten up during the night. Silvia said she's worried that Mother isn't eating. I told her it doesn't matter anymore, that the real Mother left quite awhile ago, it's time for her to die. Then I burst out crying.
Today Adolph and I went to Orizaba, and Mother's alone with her caregivers. Jane looks at it as a dry run, but she's leaning towards putting Mother in the asilo. An article in today's paper on asilos for Alzheimer's patients says there are several in Mexico, but mentions only one, in Cuernavaca, and shows a photo of people dancing. Jane already knew about that one, one in Mexico City, and one in Queretaro. All three are too far away.
Later. Things look somewhat better. Jane, Adolph, Norma, and I took Mother to Dr. Garcia, a geropsychiatrist in Cordoba this evening. We all liked the soft-spoken bear of a man who bent forward, face near Mother's, and looked her directly in the eye when he spoke to her. Mother was in a good mood today, saying things that made some sense, like warning Jane not to speed. In the doctor's office she said, when asked, that she'd love to visit her great grandchildren, dumping a load of guilt on me, but a few minutes later wondered when we were picking up my father. I reminded her he's dead ten years; she didn't react. Dr. Garcia asked her where she lives, and she replied, "In Mexico."
Dr. Garcia thinks Emaus is a wonderful place and would be much better for Mother than staying in Don Juan's home. He said there are lots of activities there, and the care is excellent. The Spanish nuns devote their lives to caring for the elderly. He felt her Spanish would came back if she were forced to use it. And Mother did say a little in Spanish, as if to prove his point.
Jane's friend Tony told us his uncle lives in Emaus and speaks fluent English. Norma said the priests who retire there are all multilingual. So there will be some English-speakers. The best part is that caregivers wouldn't have the safety concerns we have at Don Juan's, the fatal staircase, the breakable knickknacks, the five mastiffs, hundreds of potential disasters that await the demented when living in a normal household. And Don Juan is not in good health, not only from his stroke, but also from several bouts with cancer, so the situation could change suddenly.
At Emaus caregivers could concentrate on activities. Jane would send English students from the language school in Cordoba to entertain Mother. And Norma wants to continue working for us, despite the length of the commute.
This bus from Mendosa to Orizaba is a new one, but we slide forward in the plastic seats with every bump, and there are many. It's 10 AM. People are already stuck in their work ruts or schoolrooms. Everyone but us has probably eaten breakfast. The streets are relatively empty. We bounce past shops selling tacos, paper, glass, a boutique for men and women's clothing. What's in a shop that simply says "Harmony?" Pharmacies, novelties, Rio Blanco Trade Union Headquarters, churches, little parks, auto mechanics, a stadium, doctors' offices, someone seated next to piles of oil cans, hotels, day care centers...what does refacciones mean? Tony's mufflers, blue, green, yellow facades, Coca Cola signs, tortillas, more auto mechanics, computer diagnosis of your car, dentist, "El Soldado," military articles, here's the home of the best hamburgers and beer.
...Now I'm in a doctor's office, not for my mother but for Adolph, who needs his ears cleaned out. Jerry, the doctor, has a monitor. I can see an enlarged version of Adolph's inner ear being cleaned out, which I didn't really want to see. "I'm enjoying this experience. I never thought I ever would," Adolph says as he twists to see the monitor.
Then Jerry checks Adolph's nose and shows me the inside of his nostrils, which I also didn't really want to see, checks his throat, comments on his apnea operations, I wasn't sure whether or not he approved of the results (a gap in my Spanish). I almost remind him that Adolph only wanted his ears cleaned. Digital blood pressure on both arms, then he ushers Adolph into a sound booth. He checks Adolph's hearing and chats with me simultaneously.
He says Adolph needs a hearing aid. I say he's about to get one in the States. But then he mentions that a programmable hearing aid is ten thousand pesos, about $1100. The cost back home is $2900 plus $400 for insurance. Should Adolph get his hearing aid here? Jerry says the Danavox is the Mercedes Benz of hearing aids. I tell him to find out if the guarantee applies in Milwaukee. It takes four days to get the hearing aid, so we have to decide soon.
Later. Both Silvia and Norma said Mother was in good spirits today, laughing, singing, hugging them, eating well, speaking a little Spanish. She went downhill with the sunset, suddenly became angry at Norma and more confused than ever. Norma didn't dare take her for a walk: she was afraid she'd refuse to come back in. Mother wouldn't take her medication, and she kept dressing and undressing, unsure whether she was putting things on or taking them off. Adolph, Norma, Mother, and I took a walk down the street towards the mountains. Mother stopped passersby and asked them unintelligible questions, in English of course, and they looked at her with concern and puzzlement. After one block, she asked someone if there was a place to stay, for she didn't feel like walking any further. She tried to go into someone's home and checked out all the little shops.
We gave Isabel, Don Juan's maid, our laundry, and because of the rain, it took several days to get it back. I offered to bring it to a laundromat and dry everything in a dryer. She said there are no dryers in Mendosa. Funny. There are no dryers, yet it's possible to get on the internet. You just have to go to the shop that says Public Scribe.
"Your mother can be intolerable at times," Adolph said to me as we looked for a place to have breakfast., "You just have to keep in mind that she's crazy." You can't really forget it when she's the way she was this morning. Her wake-up statement to me was that Rosario (Judit's sister, who was relieving Judit for the night) had stolen her jewelry. I told her she has no jewelry. She called me, with extreme hatred on her face, a liar. "And what about my ring?" she asked.
"I've never seen a ring on any of your fingers."
Thus far today I'm a liar, a thief, and a son of a bitch in my Mother's eyes, titles delivered emphatically over and over again. She said her purse was stolen, so I handed it to her. She said her watch was stolen. I showed her it was on her wrist. It seemed like the right time to give her Navane to calm her down, she gritted her teeth. Finally I forced her onto the bed, made her lie back, put the pill into her mouth, and tilted a little water into it.
While Mother was in this state, Deborah, the caregiver Jane found to replace Silvia, arrived. A slightly pudgy woman with a big smile and a smattering of English, she seemed to take Mother in stride. Silvia definitely did not.
When we went to Necostla, we asked a policeman where the bus stop was. Yesterday he saw us walking along the Calle Real and wondered if we'd actually gone to Necostla and how we liked it. After we'd chatted, he shooed away a crazy man who wanted to sell us a live rooster, and pointed out the music store we'd been looking for. I shook his hand and thanked him for helping us once again.
When we left the music store, which had guitars and sound equipment, but no bells for Mother's door, I noticed the policeman watching us from across the street, and I thought how nice of him to make sure the crazy man doesn't bother us. He walked along, parallel to us for awhile. Then we hit an empty stretch of sidewalk. Suddenly he was right next to us on one side, another policeman on the other, and I was thinking what the hell is going on here? He fingered a very small object, put it back into his pocket, took it out again, looked around to make sure no one was coming, then gave me a tiny lapel pin of the Mexican flag. I asked if it was a gift, and he didn't seem to think it was. His partner kept saying cafe, cafe, so I asked if they wanted to have coffee with us. They replied, "We're working now."
I offered them five pesos for the flag, and they snickered. Then one said, "There are two of us." I gave them each five pesos, figuring that's the price of a cup of coffee, though I knew they didn't want coffee.
Jane said later that that was pretty chintzy. The usual bribe is twenty pesos, fifty for a parking ticket.
"But I didn't do anything wrong."
"That doesn't make any difference," she told me.
The authorities are trying to crack down on the police, and people are supposed to report those who ask for bribes, but old habits are hard to break. Jane has watched them in Mexico City hook up illegally parked cars to tow trucks, hang around until the drivers appear, shake them down for money, then unhook the cars. "They clearly had no intention of towing."
I now look at Mexican police a little differently. Rather than ask for directions, I might cross the street to avoid them.
It hasn't been raining quite so much the past couple of days in this part of Vera Cruz, but the death toll from the floods has now reached 425 in the country, the worst flooding in forty years. In Vera Cruz there are 81 dead and 80 missing. Last July the river that forms one of the boundaries of Jane's ranch overflowed and caused a lot of damage. So we're lucky that this time it's mainly a matter of muck and depressing grey here.
Jane couldn't have picked a more beautiful place to live. I said to Adolph one day that I feel as if we're in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madres," asked Jane what the mountain range is, and discovered we're in the Sierra Madres. We're surrounded by mountains, by Latin warmth, by Latin music, music on the buses, music when walking along the street, music when going to bed at night. A few nights ago a voice filled the air, so mellifluous I would have loved to get out of bed and look for its source. Last night, however, Mother was awakened by a serenade, not destined for her, at 3 AM. It went on and on and on right in front of the house. At 5 AM I finally gave her a Navane, and Rosario said it worked like magic.
I've mentioned the nighttime waves of dog barks, and now the serenades. I haven't yet gotten to the farm on the roof, the chickens, roosters, hens, turkeys, and white doves, Don Juan's menagerie. I hear clucks and chirps and at first I think it's Mother making some sort of peculiar sound, and probably sometimes it is. I always hear music coming from some unknown location as I try to fall asleep. At times I hear mysterious booms, or snorts, or brays, or dog-fights.
Juan Pedro gets up at four every morning, at 4:30 he feeds the animals and clears away their leavings, at 6:30 he goes to teach at a secondary school, and around 9:30 PM he gets home. Later on he goes back to the unfinished apartment over his veterinary clinic to sleep. The clinic, two blocks away, is his luxury. People bring in their sick animals from all over the area to get his advice. They're willing to pay for the medication, he says, but not for the consultation, so he can't possibly make a living at it. It's like Jane and her ranch. Jane's teaching job at the Centro de Idiomas supports her riding school. Although she has fifteen students, five horses that belong to her or the school, and several horses boarding there, she's not yet at the break-even point.
Everyone seems to know Jane. She's definitely part of the social fabric. We're hanging out in her milieu, where she's hard-working and competent in a business she's always wanted to be in, dealing with her students, her employees, her colleagues, her friends and acquaintances. She designed and built stables and a house and bulldozed the earth for two riding rings on an unused hectare and a half of land. It's unfair to expect her to literally run two businesses at once in addition to her teaching job. And that's what it would be if we pursue the fiction that Mother could live in a family. Jane would spend her life searching for, interviewing, supervising, replacing, and paying, three caregivers a day seven days a week.
Mother got to speak to all her grandchildren today, and was more coherent than she has been. She seemed to recognize that she was in Mexico, then said to Joshua in NY, "See you tomorrow, drive tastefully." A little while later I mentioned the phone calls to her, and she said it was a shame we didn't reach my children.
"Can you wait a minute?" Jane starts to get out of the car, "I'll be quick. He owes me money."
"She certainly is a businesswoman," says Adolph.
Now she's back with the money. "When he boarded his horse with me, people warned me that he wouldn't pay, but I've never had any trouble with him."
Jane's tightly packed life is evident wherever we go, a stop here to pick up papers, a stop there to drop something off, buy some IV fluid for one of the horses, go to the locksmith for a new padlock, go to the village hall to report the theft of her Beetle's registration papers, to the auto mechanic for the funny noises in her Rabbit, to the bank because it's payday and she has to pay her workers, to the Language Center to complete a project. Of course that's the way it is for our whole family, except for Adolph who just retired and spends his time fishing. And except for Mother, who does keep busy, if wandering around touching everything and taking clothes on and off fits the definition. In fact I think the dressing phenomenon is exactly that. She has to keep doing something and the clothes are there.
Norma says Emaus will be perfect for Mother, who needs lots of safe space. Norma is an excellent caregiver. Although she started out with very little English, she's learning several new words every day. She's laid back, lets mother go wherever she wants without policing her, is less worried than I am about potential breakage, and accepts whatever Mother does. I told her I admire her patience. She said she enjoys working with very old people. She knows one day her parents will need the same kind of care, and she pretends her charges are her parents and treats them the way she'd want her parents to be treated.
"I'm very lucky to have you taking care of my mother," I told her.
...We're now on the way from Mendosa to Orizaba to exchange $1100 for pesos to buy Adolph's new hearing aid. We're not saving nearly as much as we thought, however. When Jerry made the mold of Adolph's ear, he made only one mold. It turned out that the price was for only one hearing aid, not two, as the doctor in Milwaukee recommended. That gave me pause. Jerry insisted it would be unethical to recommend hearing aids for both ears because it isn't necessary. The vibrations from the corrected side transfer to the other, and it's less comfortable to have appliances in both ears. He also felt strongly that Adolph should have an inside-the-ear aid since the back-of-the-ear appliance would be in the way of his reading glasses. Adolph loved the idea of getting his hearing aid on Thursday and saving money besides, so he didn't hesitate at all.
Yesterday morning I asked Juan Pedro, "Will it rain all day?"
He said, "Yes."
"Do you think Jane will want us all at the ranch anyway?"
So Juan Pedro, Don Juan, Adolph, Mother, Mother's caregivers, and I went to the ranch in the afternoon with a takeout order for seven people. The rain stopped, and the day transformed itself. Surrounded by glowing mountains, we sat on Jane's porch and actually relaxed.
"Why does your Mother always remember me and she can't tell the caregivers apart?" asked Juan Pedro.
"Well, maybe because you're a man, and she likes men," I joked, "And there are several caregivers and only one of you." It's also because of the way Juan Pedro treats her. A warm, cuddly man with a mellow voice, he puts his arm around Mother and says in English, "What do you want, Rose? Let's go for a walk," or "Let's go into the kitchen and get something to eat." He treats her with a gentleness that melts away anger. There's still another reason, I told him. Jerry said that as we age, high, sharp sounds annoy us, and low voices are more soothing. Then Judit's voice must drive mother a bit crazy. It's high-pitched, rather irritating, and she overuses it, though I've asked her to try not to repeat so much. Especially since she speaks in Spanish. She's very nice, and very reliable, and sometimes during the 9 PM to 9 AM shift, she doesn't see Mother at all. If Mother were staying permanently at Don Juan's, we'd probably replace her. Right now, we're on pins and needles, hoping to get Mother into Emaus. At this moment Adolph and I are waiting in the car while Jane calls to see if the Mother Superior is back yet from her retreat.
...Ah, we have an appointment tomorrow morning at 11. So tomorrow we should know.
"In Mexico culturally it's not very good to arrive early or get to things beforehand," Jane is telling Adolph, who kept pushing her to call before 9 PM even though we were told to call after 9.
Now we're on our way, at 120 kilometers per hour, which does not make me happy. Norma showed up at 10 this morning, even though she doesn't work until 3. She wanted to be the one to come with us to Emaus. She said yesterday Mother was singing and dancing all afternoon...ugh, the smell of Kimberly Clark's paper factory... and Mother awakened in a good mood today. She even wanted a shower.
Later. Mother liked Emaus. "This is a beautiful hotel," she said. Well, it's very bright, even on dull days, because of the skylights, and there's all that room. The Mother Superior, Sister Socorro, said she could stay on a trial basis once we get all the necessary medical tests, so we went directly from Emaus to the hospital for a chest X-ray and an EKG, schedule the blood and urine tests for the morning, and make the trip back to Emaus in the afternoon! I was nervous about the "trial" basis. Sister Socorro had asked if Mother can shower, dress, and eat by herself; the answer to all that is just barely. Mother had to leave the Protestant Home and the Jewish Home. Will the nunnery be next?
Jane kept telling me that this place is for people like Mother. But then why is it a trial basis?
Norma will work there from 8 to 6, and the bus trip takes over an hour each way from Mendosa. That's one hell of a long day.
Yesterday I had breakfast with Jane's friend Evelyn. Her grandmother had Alzheimer's. Like Mother, she was always doing something with her hands. She took a quilt apart thread by thread, then rolled the threads up into little balls and the cloth into bigger balls. At first she wandered around the way Mother does, until she fell and broke her hip. After that life got worse because she'd forget that she could no longer walk and keep getting up and falling. Evelyn said there are no nursing homes for those who can't walk. The government expects them to remain with their families, not recognizing that such an intrusion can destroy the family. Often people get so desperate that they abandon their loved ones, not only the old people but handicapped babies, too. She said the mental wards in Mexico are filled with abandoned people, especially those who have epilepsy, because it's too hard to take care of them. It's illegal to hire epileptics.
Wow, is it pouring now. We've had a sun-laden day. The trip through the mountains to Emaus was spectacular, though there were too many clouds, so we still haven't seen the snow-covered peak of the volcano, Orizaba.
Emaus glowed. I hope Mother still thinks it's a beautiful hotel next month. What worries me is the language. They have exercises and dancing for two hours every morning, which if true, would certainly help.
This morning in Mendosa two Nahuatl Indian men came up to me and asked, "Are you going back to Necostla?" I told them I'd love to, sometime when the sun is shining.
One of them was the man with the burlap bag who'd wondered if it rains in the United States. They said they make wood furniture, much better than the furniture sold in the city. I was ready to go right back to the mountain top to take a look. Instead I promised to send them a postcard from the United States.
"A todos alumnos, se les solicita traer: suero oral, material de Curacion, toallas sanitarias para ayudar a los damnificados de las comunidades de Veracruz." This was a big sign on a blackboard at the entrance to the Language Center in Orizaba. It's a request for donations of medical supplies and sanitary napkins to help flood victims.
On the way to see how Mother did the first night of her new life, I was not optimistic. For one thing, the night before last was extremely unpleasant. When I woke up at 2 AM to go to the bathroom, Rosario ran to me with a jar. She said she couldn't get a urine sample from Mother and she wanted to use mine instead. I should take her word for it as a nurse, it made no difference, it was just one of the prerequisites for getting Mother into Emaus. Although I couldn't imagine getting Mother to pee into a bottle, I refused. Mother at that moment was wandering around in the upstairs sitting room semi-dressed, in a don't-touch-me state of mind. She'd say she wanted to go to bed, but there was no way to get her to the bedroom. When I went back to bed, for over an hour I could hear the murmurs of Rosario and Mother. Finally I got back up, afraid that if Mother was awake all night, she'd be impossible for her first day at Emaus. I gave her a Navane to calm her down. There still seemed to be no way to get her to bed. In the end, I simply pushed her there and forced her down. She stood back up and said, "You know what I'm going to do? I'm going to punch you in the nose."
"If you do that, you'll be one of the most unhappy people in the world," I warned.
That scared her. I forced her back onto the bed, Rosario covered her, I turned out the light, closed the door, and she went to sleep.
The following morning Rosario had a sample of Mother's urine, which she claimed to have gotten by attaching a plastic bag to the toilet seat. It's lucky she didn't use a sample from me, for Mother does have a urinary infection, which could be why she kept getting up during the night.
Of course now I'm wondering: the doctor at Emaus will give Mother medication for the infection, but was it really her urine? Maybe Rosario has the infection!
When we brought Mother to Emaus yesterday, she seemed in pretty good spirits. Once there, she wanted to take a nap but then refused to lie down on her bed. "If I do, all of you will leave." Damn! She was more aware than we thought! But of course Adolph, Jane, and I did leave, and Norma stayed. She got back to Mendosa after 10 last night, then had to leave for Emaus before 6 to arrive in time to shower and dress Mother and get her down to breakfast.
When Adolph, Rosamaria, and I arrived there at 11:30 this morning, the sisters said Mother was at Mass. We all laughed, Mother's first Mass, actually not so funny since it's a sure sign her mind's gone, but of course we already know that. Anyway Norma is anxious to convert her to save her soul.
Mother seemed glad to see us when Mass was over, sat with us, and said, "What a beautiful child!" though there was no child. Eventually she got up and announced that she was going for a walk. Her need to wander seems stronger than her need for our company, perhaps because she no longer has anything to say to us, no longer can finish most sentences, except for threatening to punch me in the nose.
Sister Socorro wanted to talk with Jane, and their meeting lasted over an hour. Adolph was afraid they were going to kick Mother out; I figured there were a lot of details to work out and the length of the meeting was a good sign, though my update from Norma about Mother's first night there made me nervous.
Here's what Sister Socorro told Jane about the first night: There was a nurse stationed outside Mother's room, which was a good idea, for Mother ended up naked in the corridor, and that's not permissible since men also live there. Later on Mother was found lying naked on her bathroom floor. The nurse gave her something to help her sleep, and she slept nine hours.
Norma claimed Mother had fallen since she had bruises on her arm in the morning. However Mother fell the day before, and bruises always look worse the second day. Norma also said that some of the private caregivers were more like guards than caregivers. She told Jane that caregivers there charge 200 pesos per day. Jane had already researched salaries and discussed the pay with Sister Socorro. Caregivers at Emaus get 1500 pesos a month, a bit over 50 pesos a day. Still, Sister Socorro says that Norma is very good with Mother, and of course we already know that, so Jane agreed to pay her 150 pesos a day plus fare and lunch, a high salary for Mexico, where store employees get 300 pesos a week.
The Sister said Mother has very advanced Alzheimer's, that she wants her to see a psychiatrist once a month, that she'll change Mother's room from the second to the first floor so there's no staircase anywhere nearby. So long as Mother has the correct medication for sleeping, she doesn't need a private caregiver at night. She also wanted to be sure that Jane would take her into town every now and then.
Mother may finally have a place that can deal with her humanely.
Our return reservations were for Friday, which is tomorrow, but we added three days to the trip, to give Jane and Mother extra support. Mother looked more relaxed today. When I think about Don Juan's lethal staircase and the house-load of breakable figurines and cut glass, I'm thankful she's at Emaus.
We would have had to change the reservation no matter what. Jerry said the hearing aid won't be ready until Monday. I told him that's impossible, we leave Orizaba on Sunday, fly from Mexico City on Monday, and we're not changing our reservations again. He offered to cancel the order, but Adolph's determined to get that hearing aid. He offered to send it; I said no. Once Jane sent new shoes to Mexico, and a pair of old ones arrived. Then I remembered that the hearing aids are made in Mexico City. So we worked that one out. We'll pick it up on the way to the airport.
I don't know if it matters to Mother whether or not we come, if she'll remember today that we were there yesterday. It has been a fast drop. Two months ago she taught her last yoga class at the Protestant Home. Even at Chai Point last month, one day she and one-year-old Cal played the piano together, then Cal rested his head on her lap. Then a nurse's aide left her alone in a wet bathroom, and she fell. Even though she didn't break anything, she missed a week of sleep from muscle pain. I keep expecting her mind to improve as her sleep improves. I guess it's still possible.
"Since it's payday, everyone's out on the street spending money." We're on the way to Emaus, if we ever get out of this congested parking lot. Norma called Jane at 7:30 this morning, still angling for 200 pesos per day, the price of a registered nurse, which Norma is not, telling Jane how irresponsible everyone at Emaus is, the caregivers show up late and leave early, and how much we need her. Jane told her that actually her pay is 200, 150 + 30 for fare + the cost of meals.
Now Jane is saying, "There's the house of an ex-boyfriend's ex-wife."
"What's happened with him?" Adolph asks, though he has no idea whom he's asking about.
"He had two illegitimate children with the girlfriend after me, and she just sued him for palimony. May God go with him."
"'Cause you're not?" I ask.
A truck, stuck under a bridge that's too low for its crane, is tying up traffic. How will it get out of this? Back out along the one-way-the-other-way ramp? When they pave the roads, they don't remove the old layers, so the road gets higher and the bridges lower. The other night Juan Pedro told me that when they paved the sidewalks near his house, they didn't remove the old walks, and protective ledges over doorways are about five feet five inches high, according to my head.
I just had this horrible thought as we speed along the super highway: if the car crashed, the three of us could end up spending the rest of our lives at Emaus with Mother!
Norma said Sister Socorro is a strange duck. However Jane liked her a lot yesterday, and we suspect it's Norma who has a bit of strange duck in her.
There are, actually, a number of good things about this trip for me. One is: being in Mexico. I always love it here. Another is: the food. A third: speaking Spanish. I've discovered that I still can, despite a forty year hibernation. It's a necessity for communicating with the caregivers and Don Juan and Juan Pedro. And it's especially helpful since this is an area where there are no other Americans. The usual tourist annoyances are absent, no one trying to guide us on tours or sell us anything. Those who accost us are usually beggars. Most sit on the sidewalk, leaning against the wall and hoping kind-hearted people will make donations. The problem is, there are hundreds.
...Now we're on the way back from Emaus. When we walked in, Mother said, "Jane!", said hello to Adolph and me, then wanted to go downstairs. We had to convince her to stay with us. I tried to show her color Xeroxes of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but she said, "Not now."
Deborah was taking care of her. She works three days a week, Norma four. Deborah's English is pretty good, Norma's gets better every day. Dr. Garcia had said it's important to read to Mother, and we immediately thought of children's books. But Deborah began reading a novel, "I Was Amelia Earhart." What a good idea! Mother told her she knew Amelia Earhart. That's true; that's why we bought her the book. Now I'm thinking in terms of novels, even if mother can't remember from one sentence to the next.
Apparently Mother spent the night throwing her clothes all over the floor. That's what Deborah found when she arrived. She put whatever was dirty into the laundry, and Sister Socorro told her to lock the closets tonight
Today we see Mother for the last time before we go back. It's extremely upsetting, though also a great relief. I'm sick of the fact that every coin has two sides. I'd like to feel, okay, now it's Jane's turn. Of course there's no way. Mother was a major role model for me and my children, the thoroughly unconventional activist, creative and giving. Having dinner with Rosamaria last night reminded me of what once was. It also made me realize why Rosamaria told me last week that once her new house is built, she wants Mother to stay with her awhile to give her a change of scene. She'd seen Mother's condition, seen her wander from room to room, taking clothes off hangers, moving things from place to place, trying to wear a pillow cover, yet she invited Mother to stay!
In 1988 Rosamaria, a friend of Jane's, had wanted to go to the States, and my mother desperately needed help in caring for Father, who was in much the same condition Mother is in today. Rosamaria lived with them in Spanish Lakes for a year. When Father died in February of 1989, she stayed on with Mother until May. I always considered her kind of a miracle for my parents. It turns out they were kind of a miracle for her. Last night she told me Mother had been the most important person in her life, that she'd learned a lot from both of my parents. From my mother she learned about old people and about personal freedom. In Mexico the family is very tight, and old people are caught in the web. They have no freedom, even to do what they're able to do. If something drops on the floor, the young person will pick it up, even though the old person is perfectly capable and needs to do things for himself. If my mother couldn't find a particular paper on the desk, Rosamaria would offer to help her find it, and Mother would refuse her help saying it was important to find it herself. Rosamaria used to go to Mother's classes with her at a nearby nursing home and saw her teach old people, most of them in wheel-chairs, how to move.
She said Mother made her feel free to think in different ways and to express her opinions. My father, she said, taught her about tenderness and caring. Since Jane had sent her from Mexico, he seemed to think she was Jane's daughter and introduced her to everyone as his granddaughter. Even when he had no mind left, Father liked to go to the clubhouse at Spanish Lakes where everyone socialized and he'd talk to everybody. Most of them seemed to understand his illness and treated him gently.
Father's memory would revive a little at 3 AM. Sometimes he got up and wanted to go to his office to work. My Mother would try to get him back to bed and end up crying and hitting her head against the wall. My first thought was: maybe that's what finished her off. Just taking care of Father would have sufficed, just as taking care of Mother too long would definitely finish me off.
Rosamaria said there's one story about Father that always makes her laugh. One night when she was about to give him a shower, she asked him to pee in the toilet first. He said no. She asked him why not. He told her, "My family's in the toilet," and he absolutely refused to pee.
Mother spoke Spanish very well then, she said. So there's a chance of it coming back. I certainly hope so, though it might not make much difference.
Since Rosamaria expected Mother to stay at Don Juan's, I wondered what she'd think about our putting her in an asilo. Now that she's seen Emaus, she feels Mother is where she should be. She'll try to visit once or twice a week, she said. No matter how well the nuns and caregivers treat her, they're not family. But if she and Jane visit on a regular basis, Mother will know on some level that there are people who really care.
...Adolph and I are waiting for Jane to pick us up for our last visit to Mother. October 14th was Mother's 87th birthday, and we bought two fancy birthday cakes, enough for all the residents at Emaus.
I have been smelling the bleach on the hotel pillow for a half hour, so I guess that means I should get my head out of it. It's nice sleeping on a firm bed after two weeks in Don Juan's lumpy one. His springs managed to find every potential sore spot on my body. I do have an extra sore spot: lifting Mother has reopened the hernia that was repaired last July. She may be small, but she's not light, nor weak. I would not want her to punch me in the nose. Sirens, a car horn that plays La Cucaracha, church chimes telling me it's now 3:45 AM, lots of cars passing, a car alarm, Orizaba certainly isn't dead early Sunday morning, car horns with no particular tune. Voices. At Don Juan's it would have been roosters, fighting dogs, and not too distant donkeys.
When we were staying in Mendosa, as soon as Adolph woke up, he'd wash, then sit with Don Juan in the kitchen and drink cafe con leche, eat pan dulces, and try to communicate though neither had much command of the other's language. They had a nice morning friendship going, and I had an evening friendship with Juan Pedro, who would have done almost anything to keep Mother there, probably even build a railing on his staircase, which anyway he should do. After all, Don Juan is not too alert as he hobbles down the stairs aided by his cane. When we said good-bye, Juan Pedro said any time we or any of our family visit, we are welcome to stay there. Don Juan, on the other hand, said he's old and sick and may well never see us again. Juan Pedro's long-term plan, however, is to build a ranch for himself on the three hectares of land he has in the mountains and a one-room house there where his father can live with his animals. Jane says it's fantasy. By the time that house is built, Don Juan will be long gone. Well, none of us know which of us will go first, and Don Juan could outlive us all.
Later. It's raining in the distance to the right, though still further away the sun is shining. The volcano Popocatepetl is gently smoking on the left, may it remain gentle, and in the middle, here we are, headed for Mexico City, then home. It has been quite a ride. I've never before seen mountain roads on which the traffic suddenly switches lanes. You're driving along on hairpin curves and then you see big white arrows on the pavement telling upward-bound drivers to switch to the outside lane, the left lane, and downward-bound drivers to switch to the inside lane. Jane said everyone who drives this road is used to it. I'm certainly not.
Mother's birthday party two days ago didn't turn out as planned. On this edge-of-tears trip, I'd dreaded seeing her for possibly the last time.
We figured we'd get there at 6, just before dinner, with the cakes, all sixty residents would sing to her in the dining room and then eat cake. But when we got to Emaus, Mother had eaten early, Sister Socorro had given her a sleeping pill, and Mother was in her nightgown. We dressed her quickly in a simple Oaxaca dress to bring her and the cakes down for the second shift of eaters. She was totally confused, started down the ramp, turned around and went back up, went to the stairs, went back to her room. I imagined her stripping as the residents, the retired priests, the nuns, and the caregivers serenaded her with "Las Mananitas." So I suggested we put her to bed and let them celebrate her birthday the following day. We had already confused her into her stripping mode. She wouldn't keep her night-gown on, wouldn't get into the bed, lay down naked on the marble floor, walked through her room naked, bent over, trying to pick our feet off the floor, reaching for patterns. It turned out, though she didn't tell us, that she had to go to the toilet, and once she did that, she fell asleep immediately. And we left.
Norma and Deborah both really want to keep the job. That's particularly obvious with Norma, who's doing everything to make us think she's indispensable. She's called Jane a few times, first to get her salary up to 200 pesos, then to discuss the weaknesses of the other caregivers. Later she came to the ranch with a list of things we have to buy for Mother, toilet paper, soap, a plastic glass, perfume, talc for her feet, a toe-nail set, and purified water. She claimed there was no pure water for the residents, that the others are used to Mexican water, but Mother shouldn't drink it. We checked with Sister Socorro. All the water in the pipes is purified.
Norma called me the night before we left to discuss the list, her plans, and Mother in general, which I appreciated. She wondered if Mother once wore lipstick. Mother, I said, was always natural, no lipstick, no powder, no perfume, no talc, but I had bought some of the other things. Norma was about to write a work plan to find ways to help Mother get to know the other residents. I hope that's feasible.
It was the longest conversation I ever had on the phone in Spanish, but really, she was trying to make me feel better. And she succeeded.
She did not convince me she's indispensable. Since we're paying three times what the other caregivers get, I imagine we could find a replacement. Jane put a sign up at the Language Center in Cordoba. She needs a couple of people who speak English to stand in if Norma or Deborah doesn't show up. Even if they didn't, Emaus is filled with nuns, caregivers, and nurses.
The phone was ringing when we walked through our door at 10 PM two days ago. My first thought was, is Mother kicked out already? No, just someone to let me know I was scheduled to perform the following night. So yesterday, along with eighteen days of mail, Email, and telephone messages, family to see, food to toss into the garbage, undone chores to do, laundry to wash, there I was, preparing to perform, back in the Milwaukee swing. Except there's no Mother to call.
Do I feel relieved? Well, yes, but this tale has no end. I think she's in the right place. She seems to know she's living in Mexico, and when asked if she likes Mexico, she always answers yes. The warmth of the people and of the climate are right for her. And Emaus was recommended by everyone. The sisters seemed relaxed, knew what to expect and how to handle it. Mother can have a future of sorts there, far better than anything here.
The tale has no end. After all, what does it mean for Jane and me when both parents end their lives like this? I've read that dementia that begins late in life is not necessarily genetic. I've also read that it sets in slowly over the years, so really late in life is a tenuous concept. The main thing is to live life while I have my mind and to figure out how to protect my children from me when it's gone. When I'm nearing my mother's stage of decay, I hope there will be some miracle cure or a softer, gentler version of Dr. Kevorkian. Maybe it'll be Mexico or suicide or a locked room with art supplies. It's sad that the last years become dominant and the good years recede in the memories of those who can still remember. Well, nothing in life is guaranteed, not even Alzheimer's.
So I should be feeling great relief, right? I no longer have that full-time job of figuring out what to do with my mother. My old things-to-do lists are filled with phone numbers that I no longer have to call, adult daycare, community care, group homes, nursing homes, doctors, caregivers, all the real estate brokers in Shorewood. But I don't feel great relief. I miss my mother, at least the former version of her. I'm always noticing things that would have interested her and will never interest her again. I realized that everything but her body had died, yet when she was here, she was here. Now she's not.
Here are some Emails I've received from Jane since we're back:
Norma and Deborah seem to be functioning pretty well. I visited mother (and Norma) on Wednesday and although she doesn't seem to realize that she's in Mexico, she did mention 3 times that we should make a date for next week, so I called Rosi and we'll take her out for lunch on Monday.
The urine sample was Mother's (I talked to Rosario and Dr. Loranca gave her a sulfa drug to get rid of the infection.
PS. Evidently, during the aerobics session at Emaus, Mother took over and gave everyone a mini.-yoga class. Ah yes, and she says she won't learn Spanish there because everyone speaks English.
I don't Mother think recognizes much of anyone. Norma and I took her out to lunch (Rosi couldn't make it) and it was not exactly a success: she ate very little, wanted to walk around most of the time (she isn't getting any Navane), and at the end wanted to take off her blouse as well as her sweater. Norma was very cool and fortunately there weren't many people in the restaurant, but I think taking her out to a park would be better.
"Did Mother REALLY take over the class?!"
For five minutes, Norma said..
"And are there actually a lot of people who speak English there?! Clients or care-givers? Is she getting back her sanity? I'm anxious for further reports!"
Many people say hello to her in English, and that's probably enough. She is definitely not getting back her sanity.
Today I went to Fortín with Abel to see Mother and she is really much better. I told her you were going to have a hernia operation. She waited a few moments and then asked me when you were going to be operated.
She really smiled when we arrived and she saw me this morning.
Then we went for a walk and she asked if we were going towards Teaneck. I told her we were in Mexico and she said, "of course."
I told her Abel had gone with us to Cuernavaca years ago and she again said she remembered. She looks well, walks well, eats very well. And the only medicine she's taking is the Depakote and Tebonin. So, so far so good. She seems to be more continent and isn't taking her clothes off as much (except at night, and the toilet has been used in the morning). Pretty good, isn't it?
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