Grief, still more

OK, one more on grief. When my mother died in 2017, my grief was a bit delayed. First, she died of advanced dementia, although the immediate cause was pneumonia. That, in itself, was difficult. I felt as though my mother had been dead for quite a few years, when she became irrational, delusional, no short term memory. When my great aunts went through this, a doctor examining one of them said it was “organic dementia”, and not Alzheimer’s Disease. At that point, it could have been called dirty socks and it wouldn’t have mattered. Whatever unique components make us who we are, as individuals, was fading away. She was becoming more and more a hollow shell, one that looked as it always had, but wasn’t her. Her core had seemingly dissolved, along with her brain function. They told me there would be a personality change, and fortunately for me (and everyone else) hers resolved to a really nice, sweet lady who tried really hard to be helpful. She had been such a roaring hell-fire before that, I felt as though I’d lucked out.

I had been watching the dementia start to take over several years before she became more or less incompetent. She couldn’t remember most things, appointments, obligations, directions. She wrote everything down on sticky notes, but as the decline progressed, the notes didn’t make any sense. They were stuck everywhere, in her car, on doors in the house, on walls, on the table, on the television screen. Still, there were forgotten appointments, but she was somehow able to compensate. She was still teaching at that point, at the school she’d been at for 30 years, and was still reasonably competent. Like me, she had always waited until the last minute to meet deadlines, even with months notice. That wasn’t new. What was new, though, was her gradual lack of enthusiasm in the work. That was attributed to the mind numbing changes in educational requirements that had come with the “no child left behind” effort. As far as I was concerned, that set of regulations meant EVERY child was left behind, as teachers had no choice but to “teach to the test” and spend most of their time writing meaningless performance plans and reports. Teaching came last. She was still functioning at a reasonable social level, though, and every teacher had the same complaints. The condition in her brain was worsening, though, and it was unstoppable.

By the time memory really got to be a problem for my mother, and her behavior had begun to be impacted, it was probably too late. I didn’t know that, however, and looking back on it there was probably some chance the process could have been slowed. But, this was MY mother we were dealing with, and she absolutely refused to consider medication. SHe had always been medication-resistant, unless it was for her hypertension. Her father had died of a cerebral hemorrhage while playing baseball, and it had been brought on by untreated hypertension. So, that medication was religiously taken. Anything else that she even thought would be mood altering or narcotic…nope. She just wouldn’t do it. Even before the dementia began settling, begged her to consider anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication. She had become phobic about driving over inclines, and on the interstate. She’d have panic attacks if she even thought she was coming close to an on-ramp or a high-speed roadway, and just couldn’t do it. Because of that, she had begun to narrow her world to only a small part of town where she knew there would be no bridges or high-speed roads. Even then, she was more or less confined to driving to church, the pharmacy, the grocery store within about 10 miles of home. She absolutely refused to consider any medication to lower her anxiety level and probably help with the phobia. When I pressed, she got nasty, and once told me that she’d consider it when I was able to lose weight. HUH??? She said God would take care of it. Alrighty then. I didn’t ever bring that up again, and she never drove over another bridge or on the interstate ever again. At that point, she was in her late 50s.

As time went on, so did she, and I had made the move to North Carolina. In retrospect, it was a geographic cure they’d warned me about in recovery, but while you’re in the middle of that thought process it still doesn’t seem to be the case. I was somewhat convinced that I would find everything I’d been looking for in the mountains of NC, and so off I went. I had also figured a long time before that I had to somehow get away in order to become my own person, that if I stayed there I would only be her daughter. I feel guilt about that after the fact, but at the time, it seemed like the answer. She was still working, doing OK it seemed. We talked often, she made sense…or at least as much sense as she ever did. She appeared to be in touch with reality, at least. Still going to church, still working, still watching her beloved NBA games.

Things went on, like things always went on, until 2005. i had surgery in August, and she came bolting up here to take care of her baby girl. The surgery went just fine, she was satisfied that I was OK, and nobody died. We had one minor little confrontation, about a picture of my grandmother that I had found when inventorying one of my great-aunt’s houses. She saw it when she came to my apartment on that trip, and decided she was entitled to it because she was the daughter and it should be hers and rights of succession and some crazy illogical diatribe. I fell apart, and she tried to have the photo copied, but it didn’t turn out well because it was so old. When she was ready to leave, I was very dejected because she was taking it back to New Orleans with her, and I was heartbroken at losing it. I still had stiches from the surgery, and a friend drove us both to the airport when she was to leave, and on her way into the airport she leaned down to hug me and said, “I left something for you on your dresser, in a folder. Look and see.” And then she was off.

When I got back to my apartment, I obediently looked to the place she had referenced on my dresser, and there, in the folder, was…the original picture of my grandmother with my great-aunts, and the tiny little side picture of my mother and my aunt. I burst into tears, because she had thought better of taking it when she saw how upset I was. She knew how much I loved my grandmother, and how much my grandmother loved me. I was overjoyed and broken open at the same time. I called and left a message for her, and thanked her for leaving me the picture, and that it meant a lot to me that I had it. She made reference to that weeks later, and said that she heard my voice breaking and knew how important it was.

Less than three weeks after my mother had left here, after things were getting back to normal for me following surgery, hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29, 2005. On the 27th, my cousins were evacuating, and my mother was calling me repeatedly to ask if she should go with them. She didn’t want to, they drove too fast, she would be trapped with people and would rather just be by herself, in a downtown hotel, and blah blah blah. I said just go. I wasn’t even concentrating on the storm forecast, I’m not even sure why I said it, but I told her over and over…just go. Thank goodness she went. She might have drowned in the debacle that overtook the city once the storm had passed. The hotel she was planning to use looked as though it had been in Beirut after the storm had passed, and the people staying there had been forced to seek shelter in the SuperDome. Watching the new footage of that horrific mess, I swallowed hard thinking she might have been squashed into that mad throng of people. She would not have been safe there, by any means, so going with my cousins was the absolute right thing to do.

It took me a few days to find her after the hurricane…you couldn’t get a call through down there because, well, the city was basically off the grid. No power, no sewer, no phone service. She finally called me, and said they wound up in Jackson Mississippi. Some friends of one of my cousins. They were there for nearly a week, and nobody could enter the city. She asked if she could come up here, and of course I said yes. Of course. So, here she comes, all 100 pounds of her, in an oversized t-shirt and sweat pants. She didn’t yet know the house had been all but destroyed, having nearly 8 feet of water standing in it for almost the whole time she was in Mississippi. It was hard to get news, hard to figure out what exactly was going on. I finally got some information from one of the news stations down there, and found out there was all that water in the house. She panicked, and wanted to leave immediately. We called my aunt, who was back home to her house that stood on slightly higher ground than my mother’s, and my aunt told me she had gone to see my mother’s house. She said the doors were wide open, and there was algae and mold growing on the walls. She said to me, “Ann, I have never seen anything like that in my life.”. When my mother heard that report, she began running around the apartment and demanded the phone so she could get a plane ticket to go and lock up the house, it couldn’t stay open like that, somebody would take all of her stuff. It took a while for her to get calmed down and realize there wasn’t anything she could do, and she cried and said, “I can’t believe I’m going to lose my house!”. I really didn’t know what to do, so I said I didn’t think she would lose it, but there was nothing we could do at the moment, so she was just going to have to sit tight. She was here for a little over a year.

When she went back to New Orleans, I thought I should go with her, but I just wasn’t sure. There was work, and I was still recovering from surgery, and she seemed to be on her own little mission from God, so…I let her go by herself. I regret that, although it was the sensible decision. Regardless, we lost everything in the house. Pictures, memorabilia, memories…everything. All of the other pictures of my grandmother, my family, me…all gone. She had hoarded all of it in that house, and it was all destroyed. My aunt had tried on several occasions to persuade my mother to store all of the family stuff there, since again, my aunt’s house was on higher ground, but my mother wouldn’t hear of it. Now it was all gone. Even she admitted that had been a bad decision, and then said thank goodness she had left that photo of my grandmother with me when she’d been here a few weeks before. Otherwise…we’d have lost that as well. It’s the only picure I have of my grandmother, and wound up being the last picture my mother had of her as well.

I grieved the loss of all those photos, all those memories, a papal blessing for my parents’ wedding, the piano I learned how to play on. I grieved every splinter of wood, every scrap of paper, every picture frame, every book. We had tons of books in that house. I don’t think she knew how much I grieved all that stuff, and I didn’t really let her know that, because I remembered how my mother would sometimes use my emotional response against me. So, I kept that to myself. And there was really nobody else to tell. I wish I had been there when she had the house cleaned out, because I might have been able to save some mildewed piece of a photo or a book or something that meant something to me. But, she tossed it all. I supported that, because she had decided to rebuild, she had lived there and sweated to pay for that house, and it had been her home for 40 years, so I figured she had to right to do that. But it would have been nice if it had gone another way.

Anyway, she rebuilt, life went on as life goes on. The city struggled to recover, she struggled to recover. I had a nagging feeling that she might not bounce back from all of the trauma, and ultimately I was correct. She was furloughed from her job, since the schools were closed and there was no population to speak of. She focused on rebuilding her house, and her life I suppose, but she was doing it in her own slightly psychotic way. That was par usual, so, I thought nothing of it. She moved back into the rebuilt house, and seemed to be mostly ok, but the the dementia was still marching on. One day, our neighbor across the street called and said she needed to talk to me about my mother. Seemed she old owman was losing a lot of weight, and being a little more goofy than usual. I made a trip down not long thereafter, and my mother had lost at least thirty pounds from a 125-pound frame. She looked like a child. She wasn’t making all that much sense, and all she wanted to eat was bananas and vanilla wafers. I managed to drag her to see a doctor, and physically she was mostly OK, but the doctor was giving me that raised-eyebrow doctor look that said “What the hell am I supposed to do with this – she’s out of her mind!”. I started looking at assisted living places and started trying to convince my mother that it was time. That went over like a turd in a punch bowl. She wasn’t having any of it, but I figured I would just keep trying. Back to NC I came, and she seemed pretty stable when I left. But that was a fantasy.

Her finances were in a mess. The house was in a mess. I went down there again, and it was just not good. Miraculously, I managed to get her to sign a power-of-attorney with her trusted lawyer so that I could take over paying her bills. She had not paid property taxes, and the house was about to be auctioned. I straightened that out, but couldn’t get her retiree health insurance restored. I got her water turned back on, and got the power bill caught up. She had the money, just couldn’t get it together to pay the bills. She started calling me every 5 minutes, or sometimes as soon as she had hung up the phone from calling a minute before. I was working, and sometimes let the call just go to voice mail, and she would just call back over and over and over. When I finally answered, she would say that she was so glad she’d caught me on the first try. If I told her that we had just talked, she was incredulous. The neighbor across the street kept me posted and eyeballed her. Fortunately, the car had broken down so she wasn’t free wheeling all over town. There’s a murder a day in New Orleans, and I was sick thinking of the possibility that someone would kill her. I began marshalling my courage to go down and physically haul her out of that house to a facility. In the meantime, I hired some half-assed sitters to go in and sit with her for four hours a day, make sure the trash got put out, eyeball her and keep me posted.

Things went from bad to worse, but i went down for Christmas of 2015, as usual. She was not in good shape…I had begun staying in a hotel when I went down there, instead of the house, because she had started running the heat even when the weather was warm. I picked her up to have dinner, as we usually did, and noticed that her hair was somewhat matter. She had not been washing or combing it, but I let that pass. She wasn’t making much sense at all, but … I had made reservations at a decent restaurant and figured some food and a change of scenery would make it ok. Yeah, I was as delusional as she was, but this was hard and I had no earthly idea what I was doing. We got to the restaurant, and I went in with her and presented my name to the host. He looked at me as though I’d grown a second, or maybe a third, head. I asked him if this was the entrance to the restaurant, and he said the restaurant had been closed for a year. … … I said that can’t be – I made a reservation day before yesterday on your reservation website, and it even sent me a confirmation. He said, in typically nonchalant New Orleans fashion, “Girl, we been trying to get off that stupid thing since the place closed, and it just don’t work.”. Now what?

Now what, indeed. It was Christmas Day, and anything that might have been open was already booked and double-booked. Back to the car, with her following in what I imagine was a good-humored daze. But then, something shifted. I don’t know if it was lack of food, or dehydration, or fatigue, but she suddenly began hallucinating. She became convinced that she had to get back home immediately because Ann was waiting for her. And could be on the back porch waiting. And she had to get home immediately to let Ann into the house. I asked her who I was, and that confused her so dramatically that she began to get hostile. I thought she might try to jump out of the car or something, because she had gotten agitated. We drove up to the house, and she jumped out of the car and ran – RAN – across the street to the neighbor’s house and began banging violently on their front door. I know they were home, but I suspect they decided not to answer because she was looking so frantic and deranged, and I was there. I could not talk any sense into my mother at that point, and she had gotten very surly. Telling me go ahead and go on, she had to take care of this. So I did. I left. It was surreal.

Not long after I got back to NC after that bizarre Christmas visit, I knew I had to do something drastic, and I was just about to sign on with an assisted living facility. I figured I would have to fight and wrestle her into a place, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. So yes, I drug my feet a bit, because I was NOT looking forward to any of it. Then, seeming divine intervention kicked in, and I got a phone call from the sitters. I had just gotten them keys to the front door and the security gate, which my mother had refused to provide, and they said they were at the house but she didn’t come to the door when they knocked. She always came to the door, even when she was convinced the male half of the duo was there trying to sell her insurance (she even called the cops on him several times). They said they believed they could hear her faintly through a window, and they were goin’ in! THey found her on the floor in the bedroom, between the bed and the wall. It looked as though she had fallen, urinated on herself, but couldn’t quite right herself and stand up. They called the ambulance, which came pronto. She wasn’t bleeding, thank goodness, but it was as though whatever thin threads had been holding her in reality had broken. She was totally gone. The ambulance attendant got on the phone with me, and he said, “You de daughter? Mayam, this here lady’s in an alltudd reeality state!”. No shit, sherlock. He said they were going to transport her to the hospital, although it didn’t look as though she was physically injured, but just to have her checked out. OK, fine. The sitters went with her (which cost me a pretty penny after it was all said and done). The hospital admitted her for observation, but her purse couldn’t be found, so there was no insurance information. She had resisted giving it to me, so I had….nuttin’. I told them I had seen her Medicare card, but they couldn’t find any evidence of a Medicare account in her name. They wanted to discharge her before before breakfast the next morning, and I spoke to the social worker. I told him I was almost ready to contract with the assisted living facility, and he said…she’s beyond that. I could not understand what that meant, and he said she cannot function at the level of assisted living any longer. Where does that leave me, I asked. He said…nursing home. He was able to arrange for a place that would take her on the spot, and so…they rolled her out of the hospital and to the nursing home. It was not a pretty place, it was old but seemed quiet and the staff appeared competent. My cousin got there before I did, and said it was creepy and I needed to get her out of there as soon as I could. It took me a few days to get down there, and I thought it was creepy as well, but…it was reasonably clean, and everybody was dressed appropriately and seemed to be clean. The staff was doing the usual things. It didn’t smell badly.

This place was around $5200 a month, and she had enough money for that until I could do better. What I didn’t know was that $5200 a month was dirt cheap. Getting her into some place that was less creepy was going to be significantly more expensive. I would have done that except, my mother began to literally thrive there. She made friends, she gained weight, she was laughing and seemed happier than I had seen her in a while. So I left her there. For about two years, that was the new normal. She never once asked about her house, or about any of her possessions, or about neighbors or her sister. She. Had. Left. She was gone, and she wasn’t coming back. And that’s when she was mostly dead to me, even though she looked and sounded like she always had, whatever inside her made her who she was had vacated the premises. She had disconnected. I was already missing her, as though she was dead, so when her body began to fail nearly two years later, it was the second blow of a one-two punch sequence.

The nursing home left me a bizarre message on voice mail saying they had taken her to the hospital, suspecting pneumonia. When I was finally able to get more information, I spoke with the hospital and told them I was coming down there. So, I did. I rented a car and drove this time. It took me a minute to connect with the physician, but once I did, he told me something I wasn’t expecting. He said yes, she had pneumonia, but she also had a bad mitral valve in her heart, and that’s why the nursing home had been telling me she was declining and had reduced energy. They had put her in a wheelchair because she didn’t seem to be walking competently, like she couldn’t remember how to do it. We all thought it was just the dementia, but it was also the mitral valve. She had been sleeping a lot. The doctor said that was consistent with the bad valve. I asked him if that could be remediated, and he said it would take a heart transplant, and in her condition with the dementia, she wouldn’t make it onto a transplant list. All I could do was stare at the floor. I looked up at him, and he was matter of fact but not unsympathetic. I asked him, if this was your mother, what would you do? He looked me directly in the eyes, and said if it was my mother, in her condition, I would put her in hospice with a Do Not Resuscitate order, and let nature take its course. That sounded right to me. I didn’t like it, but it sounded right.

When I had put my dog down less than a year earlier, I learned a lot that prepared me for the moment of this decision. The dog had stomach cancer, and she had begun to suffer. I could tell by her breathing that she was in pain, and so when she stopped eating, I brought her in. The vet said the cancer had progressed, and started talking about quality of life. I stopped her and said just tell me if it’s time. I understand all that, but is it time? She looked at me with the same direct look the doctor had, and said yes, I would say it’s time. My only other question was could she do it now. I had made a deal with my dog that I would not let her suffer, and I did not want the pain to continue for another minute. I was very clear that any extra time would be for me, and not for her. She was not going to recover and go back to running and barking and being my dog again. So, as much as it hurt, I wanted the suffering to stop. And we did it right then. That experience helped me to understand that what the doctor was telling me was the right decision for my mother, because any extra time I might negotiate for her would have been for me, not for her. She would not have wanted to live like that, peeing on herself and having somebody wipe her butt, not knowing what the hell was going on and being afraid because she didn’t even know where she was. I felt like all I had left to offer my mother was her dignity, and so I signed the hospice admissions packet and the DNR. I did that by myself. I did all of it by myself, as I do most things. And that was that.

When I went to see my mother in the hospice unit, she was clean, the room was clean and bright, and she seemed comfortable. There was a morphine pump, just to keep her comfortable, which I thought was fine. She could no longer open her eyes, and she was motionless in the bed except for her chest rising and falling. The staff was friendly, and having visited dying friends in NC hospice, I knew they would take good care of her. It takes a special kind of caregiver to do hospice care, because you know the outcome. I knew the outcome as well, but I wasn’t dealing with that yet. After I saw that she was settled, I went back to NC, intending to do…I don’t quite know what. Wait? Make preparations? I have no real idea. I suppose i needed my dog (new dog, the one I have now). I needed my friends, I needed my support system, I needed the familiarity of all my stuff. And that’s what I got.

Hospice called, and said she was going downhill, so I needed to come. I got ready to go, got plane tickets, got a rental car, got time off from work, boarded the dog. Got ready to leave, the flight was a red-eye at the crack of dawn the next morning, August 29th. I was on time – had stayed up most of the night. Found a parking spot in long-term parking at the airport, turned off the engine, opened the door of the truck, and…the lights went out. At that very second, the light in the garage went out. I didn’t think all that much of it, maybe there was a timer that was screwing up. I got my carry on out of the truck, locked it, and went to the elevator. Pushed the button, waited…and waited. It never came. I started looking around, and realized everything was dark, even on the outside of the garage. I started walking down the ramps, and saw a few people walking around and looking as confused as me. When I got to ground level, an employee was walking toward me, and I told him all the lights had gone out and the elevator was broken. He said everything is out – there’s no power at the airport. That did not compute. When I got inside the terminal, it computed even less, because EVERYTHING was dead as a doornail – no computers, no ticket kiosk, no escalator, no lights. No. Nothing. Frantic ground crew were huddled together like a football team at the two-minute warning, and passengers were standing around looking befuddled, I among them. Finally, one of the ground crew shouted out – there were no loudspeakers working, of course – there’s been a power failure due to a traffic accident on the interstate nearby, and no flights are able to depart or land at this time. If you can rebook your flight, you might want to do that now, and here’s the number…”. OK, it’s 5:30 in the morning, so no reason to panic. Yet. The sun came up. More befuddled passengers arrived. More bellowing from the ground crew. I knew we were in trouble when they brought out a snack cart and offered us all a complimentary treat. They never give away anything free unless it’s bad. I called to rebook my flight, and after being on hold for more than 45 minutes, got a very nice lady who was eager to help me. I told her I needed a new flight, and gave her the flight I was originally booked on. She said, well ma’am, that makes no sense, because you flight hasn’t left yet. Can you not make it? I said, well ma’am, that flight isn’t GOING to leave, because me and 500 of my new friends are all sitting here in the dark airport, which is closed to inbound/outbound flights. She had no idea. She said nobody had told them anything, and they were the ticketing center. Oh, good grief. She couldn’t rebook me, though, because the computer said I had not missed the original flight. Oh, good grief and good night, Irene. I went back for another free snack. And hospice called for the second time that morning, letting me know her blood pressure was 80 over 60 and her secretions had increased.

Four hours later, after standing in an endless line of people trying to check in manually, and sobbing uncontrollable thinking my mother was going to die before I got there. By myself. All by myself. But I was on a plane, going to connect in Charlotte. Miraculously, I managed to make it to a connecting flight, and I was on my way. It was now 2pm and I was just getting out of NC. But I was on my way. I was trying to send telepathic messages to my mother, telling her I was coming. I got to the New Orleans airport, my back was killing me, I could barely walk after having stood in that check-in line, but I staggered to a car and got the hell out of dodge. I had to go to the bathroom, so I took a huge risk and went to the hotel, which was almost walking distance from the airport. I checked in quick, fast, in a hurry and went to the room…and the bathroom…and threw on a clean set of sweats. I was in and out of there in less than ten minutes, and on my way to hospice. I bolted in there, and a nurse intercepted me, with a look of concern, letting me know it was close. I went into the room, and it was still clean and seemed blindingly white. Everything was white. She was still lying there, in the clean white sheets, but her breathing was very laboured. She still could not open her eyes, but the nurse and I – a really funny male nurse – had a long talk. We talked about her, and not about her, and about her condition, and about the nursing home. We talked for a long time, because I needed human contact I suppose. I asked him to make sure she got Last Rites, and he told me the priest had already been in and did the Sacrament of the Sick, and it was all included. My old Catholic upbringing kicked in, and I said, nope – she needs Last Rites, so please call the priest back. He said that he would, and then he left. He left me there with her, alone. And the only sound was her struggling to breathe. I talked to her. We had the Last Talk. I felt like she could hear me, and I told her everything I could think of…that she had made me who I am. That I was OK. That she had done a lot for me, that I wouldn’t be where I was without her. All kinds of stuff. That she had taught me so much, and given me music, and was there when nobody else was. I told her I was sorry I had been mad at her at times. The last thing I said was that I did love her. That was really hard for me, but something told me I needed to say that. I almost choked me, not because I didn’t want to say it, but because I could not remember having said it before. We had never been a family that told each other that on the regular, but you did what you needed to do, just like I was doing. Then, I left…I told her I was going to get something to eat because I had not eaten since the day before, which was true. With all the ordeal of getting there – it had taken nearly twelve hours to get there by plane, and it occurred to me I could have driven in the same amount of time – I was actually hungry and definitely tired. Somewhere in my head, I was thinking I had tomorrow morning to be there, that I would just spend the day in hospice. I told the nurses I would be back, althoug in my head I was thinking I would get some sleep and be back in the morning. I got in the car, suddenly very, very tired, and started the engine. I was about 15 minutes away from there when the phone rang, and it was the funny male nurse, letting me know she had “expired”. She’s gone, I shouted??? Yes, he said. I told him I was coming back, and I did an illegal U-turn and headed back to hospice. He told me before I hung up that he was on the phone with the funeral home, making the arrangements for them to come and get the body. I had given him their card when I got there, just in case. When I arrived, he was at the desk, still on the phone, and he took my hand and held it. I went to the room, and there she was…silent…motionless. It was just…not right. Not right for that little body to have no sound coming from it. I was afraid to touch her, and I don’t know why. Maybe because I didn’t want to feel the unnatural chill I knew would be there, the absence of life, the stillness of the flesh without blood flowing through her veins. I don’t think I was quite ready to admit that it was done. I said to her, “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of everything. I’ll take care of everything.” And then I left, by myself. Truly, unequivocally this time, by myself.

I went to get something to eat. I smiled at the cashier, the wait staff. I went back to the hotel, laid down on the bed, and stared up at the ceiling. My mother is dead. I wasn’t so much number as resigned. She had been dying for more than two years, it’s just that now her body was gone. I was relieved, then immediately angry and guilty that I felt that. I was tired, but feared that I could not sleep, so I took some Advil PM and waited for merciful sleep to come. It didn’t. There was no tossing and turning, but I don’t think I was in my body. I finally drifted off, but it was not restful sleep. It was bodily restoration, but my spirit was working, I think. I didn’t so much think of her as not think of her. I will see her body in that bed for the rest of my life. I asked the nurse before I left it it had been peaceful. He said…more or less. From that, I figured that it wasn’t, but I remember her telling me about being there when my grandmother took her last breaths. She said there had been some struggling and flailing, and the doctor had said it wasn’t so much pain as the body reacting involuntarily. I’m figuring that’s what happened with my mother. I told the nurse she didn’t want me there, and he said oh, don’t feel that way. But she didn’t want me there, not because she was trying to exclude me, but she didn’t want me to have to go through waht she had gone through with her mother.

I posted things on FaceBook, and got all manner of great support from my friends. I called a couple of my friends in New Orleans, and they were very supportive. I went to the bank to let them know, and I told the lady who has been so helpful to us. She asked me if I needed money. I said that I understood that when my mother died, the power of attorney was no longer any good, and so I had just stopped in to let her know. She asked me if anybody else knew my mother was dead. I said no, I don’t believe so. She said hurry up, write a check and we’ll cash it. I made it out for $10k so that I could pay the funeral home and finish paying for the mausoleum crypt. She gave it to me in cash, so I walked around New Orleans for the next three days with $10k tucked into my bra. That was special. I was able to pay the funeral home, though, and when I got to the mausoleum in Lake Charles the day after the funeral – almost a week later – I was able to pay them in cash. I was counting out cash money like a drug dealer on the tailgate of the hearse. It was absolutely surreal, and no, you cannot make this shit up.

After the rest of the funeral activities was over, and I had made my peace with the city which, for the first time, did not have either of my parents holding a place for me, I came back to NC. I felt empty, like that same little kid that went to kindegarten at four and didn’t know how to ask to use the bathroom. Like I didn’t know what to do, or how to do the simplest things. Like maybe the dementia was contagious, because I could barely remember my name, and I didn’t really care. I walked, I talked, I smiled at people, I could drive, I could eat. But I wasn’t in there, I wasn’t in my body. I don’t know where I was. It was like being on auto-pilot at a really high altitude. Smooth ride, but just going though the motions. I didn’t sleep longer than three hours at a time, which was disconcerting and counterproductive.

I was trying to work, but it was kind of disconnected for me. I was already way behind, since before I left, and in trouble for that. Again, I really didn’t care at this point. It’s good that I really didn’t care, because less than six weeks after my mother’s funeral, I got laid off. I was pissed, because they had been after me for going on two years. The same two years I had been living for two people – me and my mother. The same two years I had been losing her, and they were wanting me to be worried about how long it took me to change somebody’s name display on a fucking telephone. Not whether or not I could make the change correctly, only how long it took me. Whatever, y’all. It was a harsh blow, though, and the timing sucked. There are not words for how bad that felt. I felt as though the Universe was reducing me to nothing. I wasn’t suicidal, but if I had ceased to be, I could have lived with that. (See what I did there? I could have lived with being dead. RIght.) Anyhow, I had that same bizarre sense of relief coupled with grief and then being angry that I felt the relief. My so-called career there had been trying to die for longer than my mother had been trying to die, and I definitely think both events were related. I was, and still am, just a bit frightened about how I will survive without the steady income, but I’ll just have to figure it out. My mother died on August 29, 2017 – the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I got my lay-off notice on October 15, 2017 and my last day at work was December 15, 2017. I don’t miss those assholes. I thought I couldn’t live without my mother, and I definitely thought I couldn’t live without that work. Neither has proven to be true. Imagine that.

I still grieve both of those mainstays of my life. That’s normal, I guess. What I’m hoping is that I can make a new beginning, re-create myself yet again. I get to do what the hell ever I want to do, and…so , now what? Where you go, that’s where you are, and so I am here. Sitting right here, beside myself. In my own little space. By myself. I need to move…need to be in motion, at least. I hope my mother was proud of me. I hope she WILL be proud of me. I need to be about something, and not about obligation. The funny thing about being free is that you’re not tethered to anything unless you want to be. That’s the good news. The bad news is…you’re not tethered to anything. Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…. I hope I don’t have anything left to lose, ’cause that shit gets old.

Where the hell are you?

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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