How Did We End Up Here?

My mother with me in December 1963, a month after I was born.

I stood alone in the darkness of the den last night and wondered how it got to this point.  My mother had a mild stroke one week ago today; paralyzing her entire left side and essentially rendering her immobile.   She is now in a rehabilitation facility.  With dementia clouding her judgment and comprehension, I almost felt like I was abandoning her to a bedridden life.

Both of my parents were among the roughly 100% of the population declaring they would never end up in a nursing home.  In the months before he died, my father insisted on returning to this modest suburban home to pass away.  He did not want to be in a hospital or any other facility hooked up to machinery, barely surviving off IV drips.  I was able to grant him that wish.  Who wants to die in a hospital anyway?  I believe only a workplace is the least desirable place to expire.

But here my mother is in a place filled with elderly and disabled people.  I got a bad feeling from the moment I stepped into the building.  The representative I had spoken to on the phone earlier on Friday told me the structure was older.  Indeed, it is!  With severely off-white walls and ceiling light fixtures the color of Neosporin, the place looks like it’s witnessed every national event since the Vietnam War.  I didn’t expect the rooms to be equivalent to 5-star Bahamian resorts.  But they’re Spartan appearance is just one step above a prison cell.

Aging building features aside, I have to concede the staff seems nice – at least the ones I’ve met so far.  That, of course, is far more important than cosmetics.  The facility has a high rating from business and health associations.  I’m concerned mainly because the state of Texas has become a critical focal point in elder abuse within nursing home facilities.

I’m also worried because I’ve never been put in this situation before.  I had promised my parents I’d never let this happen – being placed in a…facility.  But how does one prepare for such an event?

Life takes such a strangely circuitous route.  When we’re born, we’re totally helpless; dependent on others to ensure our survival.  As we reach the end of our lives – hopefully many years later – we enter another stage of fragility.  The human body winds down and shows its age.  Like a building.

So how did we end up here?  It’s just what happens to many people.  My primary hope right now is that my mother can endure proper physical therapy to get her ambulatory enough to return home.  If she could walk – even with an aid – that would make a world of difference.  Besides, I’d promised my father years ago that – should he die first – I’d take care of my mother.  And I feel if I violate that oath, he’ll return to cripple my hands where I can’t tap on a keyboard to write my stories and make snarky comments on this blog.

Shortly after moving here in December of 1972, I stopped my father amidst the unpacking and asked if he’d noticed something unique: silence.  We’d moved from a garage apartment near downtown Dallas to this newly-developed area.  It had been mostly ranchland and, for years, a large pasture stretched out behind our house.  We’d often see cows grazing, along with the occasional bull.  But relocating from a heavily-trafficked urban neighborhood to here was utopian.

I kept asking myself last night – having downed plenty of vodka and orange juice – how we got to this point.  Things happen, I finally realized, and people get old and disabled.  The alternative is not too pleasant.  But this is the way it is.  And it’s not infinite.  It’s this anomaly called life.

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