Monday, September 08, 2008

And so we wait

Ben returned about 10:30 last night from a very difficult weekend in Delaware visiting his dying aunt and extended family (see last post). For Ben, the secondary drama was dealing with his mother G., whose Alzheimer's disease and being away from her familiar surroundings under such circumstances made her understandably confused and upset. This was just as hard to take in some ways as his aunt's illness. An example: G. asked Priscilla's nephew, who is a doctor, whether there was any chance Priscilla could recover. When he gently told her no, G. burst into tears and wept for a few minutes before calming down. And then asking the same question again. And getting the same answer, and experiencing the shock and pain of that information for the first time -- again. Ben did a wise thing, which was to have G. write down what she wanted to say in the way of a good-bye to her sister. Ben also made a short video using his cellphone of the two of them in the hospital room. It was shocking and sad to see how Priscilla had deteriorated so quickly, but also heartwarming to see the sisters holding hands. I think it was good for Ben as well to be able to be there and connect with his family. In some ways I wish I could have been there as well, for whatever support I could offer, but also in a sort of selfish way, to share in the experience of being brought together with others in a serious way, which sounds horrible, as though you need an impending death in the family to bond with people, which is not what I mean, so I guess I can't really verbalize it... but also I'm drawn to the experience in an odd way because Priscilla's illness has been so much like my mother's (feeling tired, getting tests, suddenly being told she has just weeks to live, then told you have only a few days as relatives rush to her side). It was a terrible thing when my mom died, but I almost feel I didn't experience it completely, if that makes any sense, because I had a two-month-old and a 19-month-old to take care of, so I couldn't have extended visits with her in the hospice, though my stepfather, who had no such contsraints, also visited her a few times a day after we arrived, as opposed to Priscilla's husband, who has been with her round the clock, sleeping in her room. Every family is different and everyone is entitled to make their own choices about dealing with the end of life, but the contrasts as well as the similarities in these two situations are striking to me, and so I've been preoccupied with reliving the details of my mom's death, wondering if we could have done things differently to somehow make it a "better" death for her and for us, as if such a thing were possible... well, obviously I'm rambling here; I think I need to take some time to write something more coherent about that episode, but not right now.

Anyway, it looks as though all four of us will be going back down for a funeral sometime in the near future. I say four rather than five because the weekend convinced Ben, despite extreme feelings of guilt, that he simply can't bring his mother back there for the funeral. She simply can't function away from her facility any more; she won't remember who died and when, or where she is, or why she is at a funeral, and all the repeated questions and explanations will be too painful for both her and everybody else. (For example, during the train ride back last night, Ben said she was asking, "Who was that woman we saw in the hospital?"). Ecch. The debilities of old age are the worst.

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