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Dear friends,

I was away. Two days and one night in NYC -- Queens NYC.

I visited my mother.  A vast change. The woman I visited last year 3 times was wiry and if not strong active, enough. She seemed independent.  The woman I visited Sunday has lost her nerve to live alone; she didn't eat while she was at that Center and has lost a lot of weight.  By having them put the cast on her in order to get them to keep her her leg needs much therapy. She does wander in her mind for the first time. She loses her balance. Very sad and of course I identified strongly and felt for her. Very frail   Probably she was on the edge all along -- as might be many old people who appear to go to pieces if they fall.  She's alert and remembers a lot and may come back to herself but I think she's lost the will to live alone. Nellie -- a Georgian woman (Russian) who is paid $1000 a week for 24/7 -- is an intelligent kindly enough woman and if this is the going rate what she is doing is worth it. She solves the "problem" - a retirement home would probably mean the end of my mother's life pretty soon if this is the way she responds to these places -- though it is hard to say. My aunt (Barbara) is right to say -- and hope -- that my mother could come back, but there's something there I discern which means she can no longer do for herself. Right now she needs someone with her in her apartment just about all the time. She doesn't balance herself.  She is often in bad pain from arthritis one can do nothing about; she had these things before but now they are too much. She does find Nellie an irritant alas, and the money bothers her so I tried my best to make my mother appreciate Nellie as she is dependent on this woman.  She has bad nights and suffers from constipation badly.

My mother's heart is good and I suppose she will live on her money which she has a lot -- it'll last a few years. When it is gone, my aunt says Medicare picks up the bill. My aunt will know of Jewish places which I where my mother might be comfortable physically and probably culturally enough.

Oh how hard it is to grow old.  Friends fall away and you are left with the few who will do their duty by you. And the cruel Republicans controlling the US gov't want to cut social security from these people. Why?  Gore Vidal has it: it's not enough to win, you must watch others lose.  More than this (though it's the core of the desire to cut others):  I remember a next door neighbor here where I live inveighing against social security because her "black man" who was a gardener wouldn't work more than 2 days a week. He had his small pension you see.She lived in an expensive house and retired to an expensive retirement home. Begrudged him his comfort & his dignity & self-respect before her.

Do read Atul Gawande on The Way We Age Now.

Who is Nellie come out of the blue to live with my mother and cater to her night and day, and it is night and day. Nellie has a husband in Georgia who is crippled, lives alone in in a village house and she sends money to him there. Two sons in Brooklyn, one doing fairly well but not the other. They three fled Georgia to escape the wars. Nellie spent the last 7 years of her life 24/7 catering to another dying woman.  Now my mother.  My mother won't watch TV with Nellie. My mother sits on the other side of the room on a chair as if she's not quite in the room with Nellie.  Nellie showed me her album of photos of her husband, and sons and daughter-in-law and 1 grandchild so I got out my mother's albums and we all four (the Admiral was there for how could I have gotten to NYC without him driving) looked at that.  It took a couple of hours. Nellie has far fewer pictures with her. Nellie is as yet hale and hearty, in her late fifties I'd say.

Now Nellie replaced Irene. Who was Irene?  A Slavish women who holds body and soul together by these housekeeping jobs. A "cleaning woman" who cleaned my mother's house for years and just spent 4 days a week with my mother in that care center has been dropped by my aunt. It was due to her, Irene, that I found my mother this fall after she fell -- she had gone from her apartment phone to the hospital with no forwarding number. And then was taken to the care center: my aunt was in charge of this.  My mother never neglects to tell Irene is Polish, especially when I've forgotten and call her Spanish. (My father was Polish you see.)  I then found my aunt and the phone number because of a smart kind friend on the Net who used to be a journalist. Then I phoned Irene first.  Irene cried for my mother. The only one who has cried. When Social Security was first passed, people like Irene were left out.



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 12th, 2011 11:39 am (UTC)
So sorry to hear about your mother and all the attendant waves and ripples her decline is making in the lives of those around her.

As you know, we were intensely involved in my father-in-law's care for some years, so I can certainly sympathize with the practical and emotional problems that brings.

I hope she manages to return even if only in part to her old self and be less reliant on other people again, as that can be a very slippery slope, but at least she does seem to be in good care now.

It's sad that it had to be at the expense of another long-time employee, though.

We managed without living-in help, but it's East-Europeans who are the principle workers in that sector over here, too. Economics again.

Oct. 12th, 2011 02:57 pm (UTC)
Ellen, what a beautifully-written essay. It's so easy to ignore the difficulties of old age until one's parents age. Extended families once took care of the elderly, but how many of us really have extended families anymore? Our society is not geared that way. But I would say it is ideal for your mother to be at home with an aide.

In novelist John Thorndike's memoir, The Last of His Mind: A Year in the Shadow of Alzheimer's, Thorndike took a year off to care for his father with Alzheimer's. His father took a strong dislike to one of the aides.

Now I know your mother doesn't have Alzheimer's, but these strong dislikes do happen, and it's an excellent book
Oct. 13th, 2011 03:50 am (UTC)
Thank you both, Fran and Kathy. I've been told that the women who do this kind of work are Eastern European. Unsung heroines. My mother doesn't dislike Nellie; rather that she doesn't want anyone there. That's really the case, hard though it may be for people to credit. I sure hope she does get a little better in spirits and then in body.

I've not read much by older people or about caring for them in the last phase of their lives. I do know of a moving book by Suzy McKee Charnas, My Father's Ghost. She took him in when he was old and bankrupt. He was living in NYC, a failed artist and she came and took him back with her to Arizona where she had a cottage on her land (I think it was). Much of the memoir is about the earlier time with him when he is still fairly independent and their re-adjustment to one another, for he had left her mother decades ago and Charnas has some hard memories to live with. Only towards the end does he deteriorate and then I think he was too difficult for her and he went into a home. I remember best that he adopts a cat who lives with him in these last years but when he goes to the home he does not take the cat. The cat stays with Suzy.

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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