Our waters are surrounded by a smokescreen.
For weeks and days our waters on the Puget Sound are shrouded by a smoky fog, the result of fires burning out of control to the north of us in Canada and the south of us in Oregon.
Just now I hear a ship’s foghorn bellowing a warning of its approach.
For in these waters we cannot see what is ahead of us, but must move forward.
Last week my sister and I sat together at the table with a social worker from hospice.
Our mother had been admitted two weeks ago, and we meet to talk about mom’s situation.
We have just discussed our mother’s end of life plan over a form we must fill out that checks off which measures we will take or not take to extend her life.
Feeding tube. No.
Antibiotics…….this is a grey area difficult to define. Will we administer antibiotics to prolong life? Or for comfort measures only.
For now, we check the box….to prolong life.
She was admitted to hospice after being diagnosed with aspiration pneumonia. Her breathing was labored and shallow. She was weak, and tired. Yet a smile still lights up her face when we walk into the room.
Her pneumonia cleared up after a round of antibiotics. But with her swallowing reflex diminishing, she is at risk of aspirating again.
Over the phone in a twenty minute conversation, the hospice doctor patiently walked through the steps of the hospice decision with me after doing an assessment on my mother.
“When we come to this stage in the Alzheimer’s disease, we need to prepare ourselves that it is not the Alzheimer’s that will kill her, but another ailment. An infection such as pneumonia can be the cause of her demise. At some point we must assess, are we prolonging the inevitable at the cost of the quality of her life? This is a point for you and your family to decide.”
We review the living will she filled out ten years ago, before this Alzheimer’s fog arrested her brain.
At that time she stated, “I wish no extensive measures to prolong my life, as long as quality of life is not compromised.”
How do we measure the quality of a life? Who helps us decide that?
There was one point out on the water on my paddleboard this morning I become suddenly afraid, gripped by fear of the darkness below me.
The view that at first was calming and beautiful out on the still, clear water, drew me slowly over the dark and ominous, deeper cold waters of the Puget Sound.
Fear drove me to push myself closer to shore. Paddling over shallower waters I could see the beauty of the bulbous kelp’s long ribbons floating below, tiny red crabs holding on for a free ride. The pouf of a grand Lion’s Mane jellyfish appeared underneath. I watch the pulse of its feathery red tendrils.
(Photo by Dan Hershmanhttps://www.flickr.com/)
From above an osprey plunges into the cold waters, clenching life from the sea into its talons to take life into the air, towards the sky.
Below the surface life abounds, just beyond the eye’s first glimpse.
I step into my mother’s room for just a few moments, on the way to meet my husband for our 36th anniversary dinner. He has walked this path of caregiving with me for one-fourth of our married life. He first met my mother when he was 17 years old, my high school sweetheart. He was been first hand witness to my mother’s decline.
Today when I walk into her room her eyes light up with recognition.
I sit next to her wheelchair, kiss her cheek, and hold her hand. Her sweet smile shows me this is enough, to be next to her, rubbing the folds of her soft hand in mine, though the rest of her mind is lost in the darkness of Alzheimer’s. I read to her a story I wrote about her, one called “Messy Edges”, a story that shares how she has taught me to see beauty in difficult places through her disease, Alzheimer’s. She continues to hold my hand as I read to her out loud.
For many years she read to me at my bedside, aloud. She was the one who taught me to love words. She was the one who taught many others to love words and stories in her role as a third grade teacher.
Her words are few now. Yet her smile expresses all that is unsaid.
Today she is able to listen intently at the words I have written, my first in print. I end the story. I tighten my grip on her hand.
“Mom, you always told me I was a writer,” I tell her.
She looks up at me and smiles, her angelic smile from heaven.
To read a copy of the essay, “Messy Edges” and many other beautiful essays on the grace of aging, follow the link to The Wonder Years, 40 Women over 40 on Faith, Beauty and Strength , an anthology edited by Leslie Leyland Fields