Yesterday, I came home from work to find my mother has been placed under Hospice Care. She has suffered Parkinsons for many years, slowly moving further and further away into a world far beyond our reach. I have watched her turn inward, slowly losing the ability to walk, then stand, to move or feed herself. She suffered hallucinations of trespassers living behind the shed; my Dad dating other women; imaginary people in the house. And always that she wasn’t home. Hallucinations, the doctors assured my father, caused by her medicines.
Day by day, she wasted away, thinner and more inward each time I visited. What was the point of ‘going home’ if it wasn’t really home? No place could be home without my mother, even the house in which I’d lived until I married. Regardless of the fact she and I fought throughout my childhood and adolescence, me to break free and her to mold my life to her expectations, no place felt like home without her.
When I became an adult and learned to live with manic depression, and she learned to let go, we became friends. She was my strongest supporter. No matter when I called or what I called about, she listened. Going through years of marriage and an inevitable divorce, she listened. She never had harsh words, at least in front of me. Now she is leaving slowly, bit by bit, day by day, a frozen statue of herself.
Nobody in the family bore any illusions Mom would ever get better. You don’t get better from Parkinsons. Betrayed by her body, she lives locked in a prison from which there is no escape. At first, her mind remained, but that too has faded, gone just as her ability to speak, open her eyes, or stand.
My Father took care of her at home until he fell ill and ended up in the hospital. I was charged with getting Mom into respite care, a horrible decision, but the only one available. She couldn’t care for herself and, even if my sister or I could stay at the house until Dad was better, we were barely able to life her out of the bed on her final day at home. Days later, Dad came home from the hospital. We all knew that she wouldn’t be going home with him. Caring for her exhausted him to the bone, leaving him with no strength or ability to do so anymore.
On the hour journey from the house-that-was-no-longer-home to the Assisted-Living Faculty, she cried only once. I had been afraid she would cry the entire time, but soon discovered her silence and the knowledge I alone was taking her to the place she had always feared, hurt even worse. All during her illness, she feared being left and forgotten in a nursing home. And here I was taking her there.
The first week or so at the faculty, she ate and responded normally. When I visited, she cried. The only words able to stop the tears was my promise to take her home as soon as Dad was strong again. But I won’t. She won’t ever go home again. Her last ride will be in the back of a hearse as she goes back to the town that was her home for so many years, to the friends and family grieving her loss.
She stopped responding to anything this past week. She’s stopped eating. She’s given up. I can feel it in her. So many words have never been said. The last time she responded to me, I told her, I promised her, I would take her home when Dad was ready. I told her that I loved her. I told her that I missed her so much. Her thin, frail, fingers clutched mine as I held her hand, almost as if she was telling me she understood. Now if only I understood.