“Again?” my 98 year-old mother says, with considerable irritation, as I walk into the dining room of the retirement community. One daren’t call them nursing homes anymore. “I thought you were gone on your trip,” she says, angry now. “What are you doing here?”
It’s true. I was supposed to be gone. First a week-long mission trip to Loisiana last month then a ten-day trip to Mexico this month. Both times, I had stopped in just before leaving. Both times it seemed to irritate her tremendously. I am not sure why. Perhaps she had already put herself into the mindset of being alone. Or as alone as she can be with 50 or 60 other elderly people around her, and a staff to care for her.
Mom does not want to be at the Retirement Community. We put her there to die, she says. And she’s not dying. Bleeding, perhaps, from bruises and breaks in her fragile skin, but no, not dying. She takes no medication and still eats like a pig fighting for space at the trough. She is fragile, forgetful and frail, but she is certain to make it past 100 at this rate.
I had gotten a call from the RC staff at the front desk at 6 in the morning. At least this time it wasn’t 1 am as it was the last time. She was bleeding from a cut on her leg, they said, and it was bleeding into her shoe. They didn’t know whether to call the EMS. Dear Lord, NO!
Mom is not a hypochondriac. A little blood dries quickly, she says. And since her skin breaks open easily, she is frequently bunged up and bleeding. But the RC staff—and probably the other residents—panic at the sight of blood drizzling down someone’s leg. I arrived, post haste to be greeted by her irritated complaint
I grabbed a napkin from the table, asked the sweet girls who wait on the tables for a glass of water, and knelt down beside Mom and began to scrub at the dried drizzle. She was right. The small cut had already stopped bleeding, and all there was to do was slap a bandaid on it. But her new beige shoe looked a little like it had been in a battle zone. Nothing for me to do but kiss her goodbye again, and leave her to the tender mercies of blessed Juanita, one of the caregivers who will take care of her while I’m gone. Which Mom grumpily says she doesn’t need.
I should explain. Mom and Al follow the tennis circuit north and south during the year. Make that past tense-followed. They have no permanent home and rent rooms, when necessary, in people’s houses. If they will be in a town only overnight, they camp out. To my embarrassment, Al is an inveterate dumpster-diver. He scrounges perfectly good food that has been thrown away by supermarkets and brings it back to Mom. It made for an interesting life, much to my mortification.
Over the last many years, Mom and her husband, Al, have bivouacked in the woods, camped in empty apartments, spent nights in hide-aways in every conceivable place up and down the East coast. My cousin reminded me that many years earlier, before she even knew him, her husband had seen one of their tent camps near a creek in Roanoke. He and Mom had been sharing stories and the strange coincidence had popped up.
Of course, that is all in the past now. She is safely stowed away at the Retirement Community. Al still calls from his Virginia digs demanding, in his Autistic way, that she be allowed to leave. But her mind is no longer what it used to be, nor is her health, or her ability to care for herself. So here she will stay, bleeding, eating, complaining, and not dying. And I will continue to hover, three times a day, or at odd hours of the day and night, when the staff calls. That is, at least when I am in town. And when I’m not, there is, thank goodness, Juanita. But I still worry. You know how these helicopter children are!