Pam’s Pictorama Post: Several months ago I wrote a post where I opined on my existence in liminal time, the space between time, poised on the threshold of one thing and another as I helped care for my mom and witness her failing health. (That post can be found here.) Since then her health has continued to deteriorate and I have slipped further down the rabbit hole.
Until recently I would grab several days a week there in New Jersey, every other week and then weekly. My work days were largely uninterrupted and I would spend mornings, lunch and evenings with mom and her caregivers and cats. While it wasn’t home, which remains intact in Manhattan, but it was a home away from home and while I wrote more recently (here) about how wearing the transfer was there was some chance to get rest there.
Mom’s health took a serious turn for the worse recently and we are in a period I can I describe as pretty brutal. Our days and nights are punctuated by the sound of the oxygen machine and the television, always on CNN – mom’s choice!
As we slip into this phase I feel the full weight of her care, her finances and the care of the cats and house, shifting over to my shoulders and frankly I stagger under it. Work is wedged between the coming and going of docs and various tradesmen – delivering and picking up. Understandably, mom is fretful and needs attention and reassurance. I am grateful for the flexibility of my co-workers and their concern during these days as the period drags on longer and longer.
Nights are especially long there and the late nurse coming on, mom’s wakefulness, and even cats chasing each other keep me awake even if worrying about taxes, money, work and a myriad of other things don’t crowd in. No sleeping pills there in case I am needed. Instead the television stays on, a quiet buzz of mostly home renovation television, all night long – a soothing loop of eager home buyers viewing house after house. I wake periodically and hopefully fall back asleep.
In the morning I wake to make the first of two pots of coffee as more and more people find their way to the house for various reasons. Oddly my coffee has become somewhat legendary – made with an old fashioned percolating pot I am a one person influencer of the younger generation as now they all want to learn how I make it. I occasionally wake to find one of the young night shift folks attempting it on her own to various results. I give out tips and tricks.
Plying them with coffee is the least I can do after I know they have had a hard night and most of them will go onto day jobs, not to mention kids at home who need to go to school and who stayed with a grandparent or someone else overnight. For them this night shift represents a financial edge to get ahead, but recently it has become more grueling. Therefore the day starts very early there.
I do my best to rally the troops of Team Butler any way I can with treats, stories and conversation – trying to make sure they have everything they need and enough help. Still, we lose folks along the way and it is hard to find replacements. If nothing else exhaustion and exposure leads to picking up a cold, the flu of even Covid, which takes them out for a period of time.
I like them all although I suppose I have favorites. Each brings a different sensibility to her work (yes, they are all women) and a shift with any one or combination of two is somewhat unique. The pair of sisters, one who lights up the house with her cheerfulness and the other very calming, the older woman who is wonderful but quite deaf – the very tall young woman who travels quite a distance to get to and from us each day for whom; this is her first job of this kind.
Mom clearly has favorites and makes little secret of her preferences – to some degree this has not changed. She was always a pretty easy read with folks and has only become more outspoken.
A good friend walks over for an early cup of coffee and sometimes brings a breakfast of French toast, hot cross buns or other treats. She brings flowers for mom and sings for her in the afternoons. Suzanne is also kind enough to get me out of the house every day for a bit so that I can back off, even if it is only to buy groceries or grab a sandwich.
And of course I run. Time and energy are dictating shorter runs, but I get 3-4 miles in most mornings, weather permitting. I find it hard to get out the door and start, but once in motion my body responds to habit and command and I feel better for it. (I wrote about that good habit here last week.)
There will be good things I know I will remember. The other night mom’s favorite caregiver stayed over to cover for her daughter who had done a very hard shift the night before. She is the person in charge of all the other nurses and aides and is truly everyone’s favorite. I declared it a pj party and made avocado toast on everything bagel halves for all. I will need to lose weight when this is all over.
Although there are cats aplenty, we all applaud when a stray we feed shows up for a meal. I have christened him Hobo and I am pretty sure we are only one of several places he stops on a never ending quest for food. Hobo days are considered special and the news that he came and went spreads throughout the ranks of the subsequent shifts.
Last night I landed back in Manhattan for 48 hours after more than a week there. The city seemed slightly out of focus with inebriated St. Pat’s Day celebrants wandering the streets. Now I am slowly absorbing the facts of my own home again – things left undone as I rushed out the door last week. I am so happy to see Kim and the cats are getting lots of attention to make up for my absence. (Cookie was the first to forgive my transgressions, but Blackie caught up later in the evening. He deigned to sleep with me last night.)
It was hard to leave mom and now it will be hard to depart from here tomorrow. These are the days of not looking too far ahead and just getting done what needs to be, making decisions as they arise and, with the help of everyone around me, doing the best I can do.