I don't remember the weather or the date, but I will never forget the feeling I had that morning in April of 2008 when I opened the door to Mom's house and heard her calling for help from the back hallway. When I rushed back there, Mom was on the floor where she had lain soiled since she got up in the middle of the night for a drink of water and to go to the bathroom.
I wanted to call 911 on the spot, but she convinced me to call Maureen to help instead. She assured me that she had laid there for several hours, so another little bit wouldn't hurt more. She did not want the medics coming in to deal with her soiled and dirty. I called Maureen, told her we had an emergency, and went to help Mom a bit in the five minutes or so that it took Maureen to arrive.
I had Mom sitting by the time my sister got there. I told her that I couldn't see any damage to her, and that she was complaining more about weakness than pain. The three of us agreed that it would be okay if Maureen got Mom cleaned up and took her to urgent care. I would stay behind to clean up the hallway and bathroom, start the laundry, and call Bob and Kathy to let them know what was happening.
We were all on edge awaiting the doctor's verdict on Mom's condition. The relief was sudden when the doctor suspected the main cause was her not having the dosages of her insulin adjusted in more than fifteen years. She had lost weight, and she no longer had the stressors of her husband dying or business concerns. Though we were given no guaranty that was the only issue she had, the doctor was fairly sure that she fell because the dosage of insulin she was on when it was last set was causing her blood sugar to drop low.
Each of us was concerned about Mom's health, of course. Nearing 73 years-old, and legally blind, we knew that she would want to continue living in her home. We all knew the house was unsafe and impractical for elderly people. At the time, Bob and Kathy owned homes, and all of my siblings lived with spouses or their partners. I did not live with my girlfriend, and it was getting near the end of the time I was going to be able to taunt my former employer who was paying me in the form of debt relief to not work.
I objected when my siblings pointed out that I obviously had the fewest encumbrances preventing me from moving in with her. It had been only five years earlier that I suggested selling her home and the house Maureen lives in. We could then buy a duplex that they could live in side-by-side, and deal with what was going to be a tremendously large task of breaking up households that had been allowed to accumulate. No one thought it was a bad plan, but no one wanted to get together and talk about it, either. The argument back to me wasn't that it was a bad idea; the argument back to me was Mom has the right to live there and hope nothing changes. It was never about her rights, in my mind. I just thought the part of the plan that was 'we hope nothing changes' should be reconsidered.
We knew we were lucky that she fell on her way from the kitchen to the bedroom rather than at the top of the stairs as she was heading down to do her laundry. They remembered Mom being slightly brokenhearted when I needed a place to stay right away and moved out a couple of months later when I got my own place. I did not want to face the option of living in a situation I did not want to live in, or breaking Mom's heart again because she can't be independent without someone. I was assured that it would be handled differently this time because the fall brought to light Mom's declining health.
I contacted my former employer's attorney, and made a deal to move out early. We made a hasty move of my household into bare areas on the floors at her house. It was a mess for all of us, but this time, everyone promised, it would be handled differently.
In the fourteen-plus years since Dad had died, we moved the office into her basement and garage, and she had filled the top of the row of filing cabinets with things she didn't want to make a decision on until she could gather the entire family to go through it. That, too, was not practical because it was no longer assembling four children to have a family reunion of sorts. The grandchildren were all grown, as were several of the great grandchildren.
The full gathering never occurred. However, there was apparently a gathering of my siblings who agreed with Mom that she could remain independent in her home as long as someone lived with her. Three of us voted with Mom that it was a good idea, and I voted that needing help to live independently was an oxymoron. I also pointed out that we still aren't dealing with the problem or the mess, but, again, I was outvoted in favor of the proposal that we wait until it is an emergency to deal with it.
Kathy took charge of getting Mom to and from medical appointments, and Maureen would get her out for much of her shopping and just to hang out. All of the grandchildren loved her when they visited, but only Tara proved to be reliable as help. She would stop by after dropping her children at school or picking them up - just to visit if Grams didn't need help. If she needed help, Tara would do things like move her furniture to sweep and mop the floors just as Grams remembered herself doing it when she was the young lady with kids in school.
Tara got some guff from some of the other grandchildren when she took money to come over and help Grams. She did that after working out a deal with Grams to act as her caregiver rather than looking for a paying job, but, apparently, some of the same people who considered me a moocher -- but who would not trade me places -- were saying they would do what Tara was doing for free, except they have to work to pay their bills.
If I were to pick a single day that Grams and I both hated to see arrive, it was that bittersweet day when we had to say goodbye to the only grandchild she had who regularly took the time to help her. Tara was as precious to Grams for what she gave back as she was to Gramps for what she gave him when he was dying. Whatever differences Tara and I have politically or ideologically, I always admired her for the relationship she had with her grandparents. We were never going to find the level of care that Tara gave Mom at that bargain pricing again.
Grams' house was deteriorating, and it had been a really nice home just three or four decades earlier. Imagine that. We still were not at emergency stage of dealing with things just because Mom gave up paying a caregiver. It was three-to-one again that we go to the fallback plan that any job not covered by anyone else was presumed to be my job.
If I think critically about decisions I most regret making as an adult, number one is leaving Credit Union of Puget Sound and working with Bert to get the prestigious position with the Chapter 13 Trustee's office working for an old man who never said he was sorry for anything - even when he should have. The decision I second-most regret was not forcing the issue to deal with Mom's declining health and deteriorating house by moving in with her on the promise that we would work together to deal with her issues of health and home.
Once I moved in, the problem was resolved for everyone except me. Kathy and Maureen did their share of the care Mom was given, and Tara gave more than her share. Over the next nine years, we could never find a day to get together and talk about how to handle things. However, there was apparently a lot of discussion about why I would want to deal with this when I was given a gift horse. They never understood that I didn't want a horse, and mostly because I didn't want to take care of a horse.
Anyway, my attempts to get the family to deal with Mom's issues would follow with accusations of mooching off Mom, stealing heirlooms to sell to supplement my income, and becoming the reason Mom could not cash her checks as I passed over opportunity after opportunity while trying to crash land the balloon she had laden with the weight of family members that she refused to let me fire to try to keep the business aloft.
There would be twelve years between finding Mom on the floor that April morning in 2008, and the family finale of services that were for somebody the preacher manufactured through his belief that Mom would give a shit about his beliefs. The most tumultuous times the family went through, from my perspective, happened as a result of me going from being the reasonable temporary solution to get Mom from the floor to her next home to being the guy who should appreciate what I was telling them from the start that I didn't appreciate.
Going back to that morning, though, I do not recall ever being so frightened as I was when I heard her faintly crying for help from the back hallway when I opened her door that morning and found her on the floor.
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Other posts you might enjoy:
Remembering Mom: She Knew Her Tomato Plants
Remembering Mom: If Her Services Had Been About Her
Yvonne Koecke (1935-2020): Third Eerie Premonition About Death Came True
Remembering Dad: His System of Cycling Junk
The Family Finale
Pondering Death and Its Options