Omen 2:

Omen two:

She fell on December 13th. Didn’t break anything, or so it seemed. The nurses didn’t call the doctor. She said she was all right. But you couldn’t trust the Care Aides. They didn’t come when called, she pointed out.

“I called and called,” she said. “It took them five minutes to come, at least”

“How did you call them? Were you able to ring the emergency bell?

“ No, I was in the bathroom. I just hollered out, Help! About five times.”

‘There is a call button just beside the toilet”.

“Oh, I didn’t know. When did they put it there? Really, I don’t think it rings anywhere. It’s just to fool you.”

“No, Mom, you are supposed to ring the bell”

A combination of memory loss and fear. What good were bells if one was afraid to use them? What good to ring the bell if one feared those who would come would hurt you? What good were bells if you couldn’t remember where they were? What good were they if you couldn’t hear what someone said over the intercom when “they” replied?

“They are not what they seem,” she said. Paranoia reigned. “They don’t come when you call. It’s not like they promised”.

I held my tongue. Nothing would convince her. Five minutes was infinitely long when you had fallen and no one came. Her voice was tiny now. It was a miracle that someone heard. Probably they had just found her on a routine check.

If she had been at home (and it happened more than once) it would have been hours before someone found her. Now she was so frail it was critical. That’s why she was in the residence, so that help was nearby and the help had medical training.

She hankered to come home and this was the time we had promised to bring her. I took the last of my annual leave from work at Christmas and we brought her home. Otto and Hugh carried her wheelchair up the front steps with her in it. There were no elevators to fear here but it was infinitely less safe; There were two stalwart men who could lift her into the house, but she was more trapped than in the care residence. If they were not both there at the same time, no one else could lift her in and out. I shuddered at the risk!

Baking powder biscuits were in the oven, warm and ready for her tea when she arrived. I was going to tempt her with home cooking. At the end of tea, her biscuit was still there, spread in smaller crumbs around her plate. At dinner, I had a special pureed soup. She always loved my soup.

She had a half cup before the meal and it was all gone. “Success!” I thought, but when I asked her how she had enjoyed it, she said, “Not really”.

The limit switches on the elderly are as effective as those on young children. They say what they want and their truth, as undiplomatic as it may be, is what comes out.

Everything had to be done for her. She could no longer get up by herself. She could not transfer from wheelchair to bed or from wheelchair to a comfy chair. Every personal care needed to be done for her.

I had Care Aides come to help with her dressing and morning care. Same in the evening.

Though they treated her with utmost care, nothing could protect her from her own deteriorating bones. She cried out with pain when her knee was moved. She winced when she was shifted in her chair. She could sit only for a few minutes before she needed to be resettled in a different position. She was not only frail. She was brittle.

She stayed four days. On Christmas Eve, her lifelong contemporary friend from University came to share dinner with us. A Christmas orphan, my friend, came to share as well. Her travel plans had fallen through and she was alone for the holiday season. Mother was in her element, entertaining. She was once again queen of her household. She glowed.

But her plate was scattered with crumbs of dinner. There was just as much food on it when it left the table as had been put on it to start. She was getting lighter and lighter. Soon she would be air.

On Christmas morning, she awoke as I was coming in to see how she was and if she was ready to get up.

“Where did Mabel go?” she asked.

Mabel is her sister. She died several years ago at the age of ninety six with Altzheimer’s disease.

I have gotten used to asking her cagey questions about these seemingly curious statements she sometimes makes. “Did you see Mabel this morning ?” I asked, as if it were a reality.

“She slept with me last night. She kept me warm.” she asserted.

“That’s wonderful, Mom” I answered in a laconic and even voice. “That was nice of her to keep you company and look after your comfort.”

“Was she not here, then? asked Mom.

“I don’t know Mom. Only you can tell. Perhaps her spirit came to take care of you during the night. I think that’s pretty nice, don’t you?” I had not questioned her basis in reality and she seemed comforted by that. The Care Aide did not arrive and I dressed her, lifting her dead weight body to the commode and to the wheelchair, finding unorthodox ways to get her clothes on.

Christmas Day was much the same. Nephew Ron and his wife came for breakfast and the traditional opening of gifts. His brother Hugh and his father Otto were there. Once again, she glowed to have them around her. It was a wonderful day, she told me. Hugh cooked. What would I have done without him? I would not have had time to cook.

We ate our traditional dinner. At the end the Care Aide, this time a recent immigrant, refugee from Somalia, came and waited while we finished our meal. I was struck by the display of obvious wealth and its contrast to this poor refugee woman. What could she be thinking? She would not eat with us, but she took a package of food home with her and a present hastily assembled for her son who was waiting for her.

With utmost care, she lifted mother onto her commode. She bathed her and put her in her pink pyjamas with the snowflake on the pocket. She lifted her into the bed and tucked her in. All this, with the utmost care.

But mother’s cries of “she’s hurting me; she’s hurting me” distressed me. Something more was wrong. It was certainly not this careful, deferential woman, this caring and tender woman, who was the cause of the pain. She was rather the bearer, the facilitator of the pain that was already inside my mother.

On Boxing Day, all the festivities were done. There were no visitors. I would not have her home with me again, I knew. I couldn’t manage. Did she know?

We spent the afternoon before she slept, talking about this and that and death. Where did she think she would go when she died? Did she think she would see my father, her husband? Her sisters and brothers?

She mentioned that she saw Mabel and her mother often now. They were waiting for her. Mabel had been her elder sister; mother was the youngest. There was ten years difference between them. Even later in life, Mabel had been known to take her by the back of her clothing and prevent her from crossing the street at the corner when a car was hurtling towards them. Mom had to be fifty when this happened. Mabel never gave up her role as protector.

She talked about what she wanted. No service. No eulogy. Cremation. She was looking forward to no pain. It was a privileged conversation. An intimate and trusting conversation. I was unlikely to have another one of these. I savoured the details of the moment.

The day after was the day to go back to the residence. She slept in the morning and then after a very short and small breakfast, she was tired. “All I want to do is sleep” she said. She slept.
She slept right into the afternoon, and then I took her back. I stayed with her during dinner.

Her residential friends were glad to see her. Everyone loved her. They missed her conversation and missed me as well. The daughter that came every day. The daughter who brought in the outside world; who stirred up the conversation into a big stew and doled it out for everyone to hear.

Mother faded at the table, exhausted with her days away. Exhausted from an internal source. I took her back to her room and got her prepared for bed. She lay down her head and slept.

I was exhausted too. I went home and I slept. And I slept.


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