My mom called me Thursday and said she wanted me to go with her to visit a longtime family friend, BT, who was in a nursing home way on the other side of town. We agreed that she would come pick me up at 3 pm on Friday. She had printed out the instructions on how to get there, and I was duly appointed the copilot/navigator. (It truly was “way out there” at the edge of town — all there was out there were only a few small housing editions/estates, some apartment complexes/blocks and a lot of empty land.)
We had known the “T” family since I was in primary school. At that time, my parents were heavy into bowling — they had their own ball and shoes and were in a league. My parents met BT and her husband “AT” through a mutual friend as they, too, were in the bowling league. My mom can talk to a person for 10 minutes and find out their complete life history, so it took her no time at all to find out that BT and AT went to the same church as my parents. My parents recruited them to sing in the choir, and the two families have been friends ever since. BT and AT had two children, daughters, the oldest, “P,” is two years older than me and the younger, “J,” is two years older than my (younger) brother. They both married and had children, all their children married, and now there are grandchildren and great grandchildren scattered about. P lives here in town, as does one of her sons and his family. J lives two states away.
BT has been in declining health for some time. She has been in and out of the hospital with heart problems and congestive heart failure problems for several years now and had some “ministrokes,” but this last year, she had a more severe stroke and had to be put in a nursing home. Within the last couple of months, she had another stroke and was no longer aware of her surroundings. At that point, she was put on hospice.
The nursing home was quite nice (it’s probably only four or five years old). The front door was on an alarm system and you had to punch numbers on a key pad to get in or out. (There was a sign above the keypad telling you what numbers to push.) This is a necessary precaution in a facility that houses patients with Alzheimer’s disease as the ones who are able to walk are prone to wandering right out the door. I was on the far side of the car from the door, and by the time I caught up to her, my mom had already pushed four of the five numbers required (she didn’t realize you had to push the # symbol too), and had tried to open the door, which set off the ear-splitting alarm.
BT was asleep when we arrived. My mother awakened her, but I don’t think she knew who we were, or whether there was even somebody there. Her responses were limited to making constant “sobbing” like sounds which I could tell upset my mom. With my years of being a medical transcriptionist, I recognized that this had nothing to do with her being upset or in pain, but was a symptom of the profound damage from her latest stroke. Still, it was hard to hear. We didn’t stay long.
After we got home, my mom wrote an email to BT’s daughter J telling her of our visit. J replied that she was coming down for the weekend to stay with her mother. Then, this afternoon, my mom called. She told me J had just left the nursing home to go to her nephew’s house where she was staying, when the nursing home called to tell her BT had passed away. She had called my mom to let her know.
My mom is what you might call a real people person. She pretty much never meets a stranger. She loves socializing and entertaining, and over the course of her life she has acquired this great gaggle of friends and acquaintances which she has slowly but surely begun to outlive. My mom’s in her late 80’s now, and it seems like every week or so, somebody she knows dies. Compound that with my dad’s declining health (he’s practically blind, nearly deaf, and very, very frail), and she’s gradually becoming more and more socially isolated. Even though she’s got her share of minor aches and pains, she’s still very active and is sharp as a tack, and it is difficult to watch her trying to cope with the loss of so many long time friends. Not to put too fine a point on the situation, the world has been changing right out from under her at a faster and faster rate. Technology went off and left her at cordless phones and electric typewriters, and she has been falling farther and farther behind ever since.
I’ve had to assume the role of “chief fixer, explainer, and technological intercessor” that was once my dad’s. She’s also becoming more dependent on me for moral support, too. I know this is all part of the “great cycle of life” and while I’m familiar with it in theory, this is the first time it’s ever happened to me personally, and it gets a little daunting at times — especially now that I’m having to “daddy-sit” my dad. It’s not a role reversal I’m comfortable with (who is, really?). I’m just going to have to step up to the plate, keep my eye on the pitcher and hope that life doesn’t throw me a curve.