Monday, August 01, 2005

A personal note

I don't usually write about events in my purely personal, non-political life, but I'm going to make an exception.

Towards the end of my recent visit to California, my ninety-one-year-old mother had a stroke. Even though she is ninety-one, this was totally unexpected, as she was in vigorous good health and had a blood pressure a twenty-year-old might envy. Nevertheless, it happened.

My brother and sister-in-law raced up to be with her when we learned about it, and I came back from California the next day.

Although it had been explained to me that my mother was very weak on her left side, it was still a shock to see her debility and dependence. She has so rarely been ill that I can hardly remember another time, and she has never even sustained any sort of real injury in a long and active life. Much to be grateful for, of course, but her history had also lulled us all into a false sense of security.

But it never lulled her. Throughout her life her nemesis has been her fear and anxiety about illness and disability, and she never for a moment felt secure in her own good health.

Her luck had held out so long; perhaps it will end up holding out again and she'll make a decent recovery, as the doctors and physical therapists say she indeed might. But her strong suit--and she has many--was never optimism, especially about illness. At the moment, she's not buying into it.

I go back to her apartment at the beautiful independent living facility where, until a little more than a week ago, she had happily lived. I have to get clothing, supplies, mail, that sort of thing. Walking in, it feels almost like paradise compared to the rehab facility which now constitutes her world (she continues to call it a nursing home, I continue to tell her it's a rehab facility; a little war of words, the goal of which is to get her to think of it as a place to get better rather than a warehouse for the disabled). It is so sad, though, to see her apartment, so orderly, an order and routine which had made her feel safe, a safety that is now totally and utterly disrupted. It's hard to see the bathroom with its wrinkle cream and makeup (reminding me of my explorations in early adolescence into the secret world of women's primping when I used to experiment with all her stuff); the invitation to the special lobster dinner in two weeks; the smiling photos, the book on techniques to avoid falling.

Her fears--and ours--are many. There is a great deal of indignity, too, despite the fact that she is in one of the best facilities of its type. Sometimes I want to shake the attendants for the condescending and infantilizing attitude they display at times, even though I understand it--and say, "How dare you? You don't know her--she's a person of wit and joie de vivre--everyone admires her as a great old person--two weeks ago that's who she was--when I left for California that's who she was." That's who she still is, when she puts her hearing aids in enough to hear properly, and when her anxiety goes down enough to let her personality shine through again. I hope and trust that's who she will be more and more as time goes on and physical improvement occurs.

And how upset she is to bother and burden me! Over and over, my mother apologizes to me for this--it's exactly and precisely what she didn't want to happen. I just tell her I'm okay, not to think about that. When the doctor asked her whether she was depressed, she said, "If I wasn't depressed I'd be crazy!"

My mother is very lucky in her roommate (yes, in addition to all the other adjustments, one must adjust to living with a stranger and the constant visits from that stranger's family). The woman in the other bed in her room is ninety-seven years old and totally lucid. She is one of those elderly people who is almost luminous, a great beauty with a sort of radiance and light that seems to emanate from her. Her family is for the most part quiet, and they bring incredibly beautiful bouquets of flowers from their gardens.

This woman is a great patient, too; unlike my mother, she is very patient. As my mother herself says, patience was never her strong suit. That makes it very difficult, because right now it is what is required.

So, how to engender hope in the hopeless? Why is my mother having to learn this hard lesson now, of patience and of hope, when she is so elderly and debilitated? Will she be able to learn it?


At 12:00 PM, August 01, 2005, Blogger goesh said...

She sounds like a real fighter. To have lived that long, she has resivoirs of strength and psychic reserves to be called on.

At 12:25 PM, August 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

neo... Thank you for sharing this personal traumatic episode.
Those of us that have been through similar trials can very well understand the depth of concern and anxiety which follow. Keep in mind that a stroke manifests results on many levels but these should improve with time. Also, it has been my experience that no matter what the age, learning never ends. Even those concepts which we believe to be so remote and far out of reach are in fact often easily attained.
Best wishes for her speedy recovery.

At 12:39 PM, August 01, 2005, Blogger VietPundit said...


Best wishes to your Mom, and to you. Take care ...

At 12:42 PM, August 01, 2005, Blogger vanderleun said...

How utterly distressing and sad. I stand with you in believing that your mother will recover. I shall hold you both in my thoughts and your mother in my prayers.

At 12:52 PM, August 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so sorry to hear of your mother's problems (and sorry, as well, that it took this to finally prompt me to comment on a blog I've been reading and enjoying for some time now: I, too, am a somewhat closeted neo-neocon).

I did want to urge you not to discount the possibility that your mother's pessimism may, in fact, be one of her 'strong suits' after all. When I read about 'constructive pessimism' several years ago, it rang very true to me. Your mother's attitude may well be a positive adaptation for her. Here's hoping that it serves her well in this difficult time.

At 2:15 PM, August 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love your mother’s peppy response of “If I wasn’t depressed I’d be crazy.” Patience may be a virtue, but spunkiness is damn important -- especially at such a great age.

My mother suffered a broken pelvis at the age of 95. She hated having to be taken care of, but she managed to recover enough to live another year and a half, fairly mobile and still with it.

As Betty Davis is reputed to have said: Old age isn’t for sissies.

Hang in there.

At 2:29 PM, August 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

oops -- make that Bette Davis!

At 2:58 PM, August 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This has got to be a very emotional and dramatic occurence for you and your family in view of your mom's up to this point indomitable health. She's obviously a heck of a fighter and I suspect that survival instinct won't fail her inspite of what she might say. My mom at 86 has for awhile now made bold declarations about how she has her stash of pills and if things ever got too bad, she'd put herself out of her misery. Well, my mom's whole life has been about being spunky and rising to challenges and I notice that she pluckily adapts to things that just a few years ago, she might have described as intolerable health conditions. I don't have to tell you, neo, that the human spirit is an amazing thing and I'm sure your mom will continue to be an inspiration in however she handles this battle. Thoughts and prayers.

At 3:56 PM, August 01, 2005, Blogger Dymphna said...

What this recalls for me is how like it was to having a baby when you have an old mother to care for. I mean, it fills the whole front of your mind so that you become pre-occupied with her, with her condition, her emotional state, her care, etc.

And it's like having that first child, too, in that you're uncertain and scared and it seems overwhelming at times. You recognize that you've entered an entirely novel part of your life and you're not sure what to do with it.

For the most part, I find that people's deaths are a logical extension of how they've lived...though you ususally can't see that until later.

You're in uncharted waters in a very fragile craft. Take care.

At 4:36 PM, August 01, 2005, Blogger Richmond said...

I am sending best wishes and prayers to your mom and your family......

At 6:03 PM, August 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, neoneocon, that's such a sad thing. You have my sympathy and I hope your mother recovers.

At 6:39 PM, August 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just had a shocking experience last week while visiting my family in Ohio. My 79 year-old mother fell twice and couldn't get up on her own, even though she walks with a cane. She's been falling occasionally for years now, but has lately become very frail from arthritis and bad knees. I live in NYC so this was a difficult reality for me to see close up.

What makes all this worse is that she and my 81 yr-old Dad live with and care for my 46 year old severely handicapped old brother (a former pro golfer) who suffers from MS. About twelve years ago, they built a beautiful single story new house, so that they could take care of him.

What I try to see from all the loss, pain and difficulty I see in my family is the amount of love between them,in spite of considerable stress and strain. And I see the flow of love coming from other people, esp towards my brother and I'm grateful for that.

I heard from a good friend out there that her mother is in a hospital suffering from severe Parkinson's. We in our 50s, we're all going to experience this.
Thanks for sharing, neo. I feel less alone.

At 7:59 PM, August 01, 2005, Blogger ShrinkWrapped said...

I hope your mother recovers fully and has an easy time of it. Take solace that you now have an extended blogosphere family who have you and your mother in our thoughts.

At 9:15 PM, August 01, 2005, Blogger Pancho said...

I'm sorry for your trials and the questioning of hope and optimism that comes with life changes like these.

I'm am going thru this now with my Dad who has finally had 60+ years of smoking catch up with him. They call it COPD these days. Puliminary disease for short and with a diagnosis of "this will never get any better". I've spent the last month and a half in hospitals and rehab with him all the while thinking of his mortality and mine alike. Me just 7 months into a rehabed heart.

The best we can do is live one day at a time, keep active and continue to have hope and things to look forward to, no matter how far along we are.

At 12:28 AM, August 02, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Your posts are always enlightening and very thought provoking. Thank you so much!

Your quest to "engender hope in the hopeless, et al" is very heartwarming and must be so sad and frustrating for you and your family! :(

My mother died of lung cancer and the short but very definitive lead time we had, was one of the best gifts we ever could have received.

Your profession probably already has educated you relative to the following comments but sometimes things are much different when one is actually involved on a personal level and not professionally.

Please take the "out of the blue" comment noted below as one strictly of caring and concern.

Having worked in healthcare for many years and dealing with many people in the latter stages of life, it makes me wonder if "God/the universe/your mother's soul/whatever" chose this latest episode to occur more for some or all of the people around her than actually for her (or maybe both). Maybe an opportunity for...

Ultimately, you and your family are the only ones that can really answer this question but it appears to me that much was said in your VERY PROFOUND post. It sounded to me like your soul was doing the writing!



At 1:07 AM, August 02, 2005, Blogger neuroconservative said...


It is hard to know what to say, other than that I wish for you and your family all the best of health, strength, and wisdom that your situation requires. I am truly glad that the blogosphere has allowed us all to form this community, which has offered us the chance to get to know you. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

At 1:25 AM, August 02, 2005, Blogger ljmcinnis said...

Best Wishes to you and your Mom!

At 1:26 AM, August 02, 2005, Blogger Troy Stephens said...

Very sorry to hear the difficult news, Neo. Wishing you and your mother strength and courage. It sounds like she's a fighter in her own way, and I sincerely hope she'll be able to recover her mobility. (I gather her mind and personality remain intact, which is fortunate if so.) Best of luck, hang in there, and by all means write more if it helps. Keeping you in my thoughts.

At 4:18 AM, August 02, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I empathize with you as pertains to your Mom and I pray that she will get better soon. Seeing one's mother ill is not a good feeling and it drains us emotionally and physically. As one who knows, let me tell you that you will get through this sad, difficult time,but it may seem like an eternity at times. To persevere is the key and to maintain your equanimity is a continuous challenge. Hang in there !!

At 11:57 AM, August 02, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to thank everyone so much for your concern, good wishes, prayers, and support. Yesterday there was a slight improvement in her condition. Time will tell. I'll be giving updates at intervals.

At 6:30 PM, October 01, 2008, Blogger Unknown said...

My mother just broke her pelvis at the age of 86. I can't tell you the angry I feel at the nursing home where they just let them suffer and you have to fight for every drop of dignity for them. Then they humiliate you with the threats of Medicare and supplementals and how they don't qualify under THEIR guidelines. When are we going to wake up to this.


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