I have been away from blogging for awhile. I will be away for a bit longer. During the past 30 days many things have happened, life transforming things. My precious mother died yesterday afternoon. Will and I went to Cuba and returned, changed.
I want to blog about Cuba. I have so much to share. But I have not unpacked -- not so much my luggage, but all that we learned and experienced. We went right from Cuba to a nightmare of a culture shock with health care, specifically elder care, upon re-entry home.
Mom was very ill when I rushed to her side. She had gone into a slump just 12 hours after my sister had last seen her, and taken her in for her follow-up check up with her doctor who gave her a thumbs up. It was thumbs up, so my sister returned home to southern Oregon.
My sister rushed back for a couple of days when I called her about mom's condition and how she had a very bad bladder infection which remained untreated due to a FAX error and was severely dehydrated. The doctor refused to order an IV for her and advised against it. The two of us immediately went to work trying to help Mama with some natural medicine and using eye droppers to give her the lifegiving water and broth since she was refusing food and drink. She had developed cold sores which made it painful to take anything. I thought we had worked hard enough to be out of the woods. She revived. Her personality returned. My husband, Mama and I were celebrating with a little joyride. Reflecting on the horrible miscommunication between her doctor and Southtowne resulting in her illness not being dealt with soon enough, made worse by the doctor and some of the med aides and caregivers dropping communication and responsibilities, my husband Will couldn't resist saying, "Mom, when you get well, shall we all run away to Cuba?" Our being so recently there, we couldn't help comparing the fact that there was a doctor for every 100 people -- who made house calls, who talked to patients and family face to face, who knew everything about them and who was connected to a psychologist to get families through crisis -- with what we were facing at home in Eugene -- schedules which did not jive with my mom's abilities and needs, prescriptions lost through the FAX, blood drawn for labs accidentally thrown away, phone calls only and with someone who was once, then twice removed from the doctor, med aides who gave medicine when my mom's dementia interfered with it and wouldn't give it to her when she could take it. It was maddening. This is a crazy way to heal or take care of people. To his question about escaping to Cuba, mom's small voice answered, "Okey dokey."
In the following days, I could not help comparing the care not given in the medical community and what we get when we go to Winnemem, the attention, the whole family in a circle for the healing around the fire, the medicines carefully picked, and prepared, medicine, prayers, the focus of the whole tribe and the spiritual doctor there for the duration. No receptionist guarding the door, no person once removed, twice removed taking the call instead. No reliance on equipment and machine for communication. There is human touch, face to face communication, and compassionate, courageous care, side by side, step by step. We are not abandoned to see if we can make due by ourselves. I voiced a wish several times that my mom could have followed this way. So much would be different. At least she was under care with a naturopath through whose care mom had quality of life even with dementia. She was herself, full of personality, not drugged out with a vacant look strapped into a wheelchair.
To be fair, there were people at Southtowne that stepped forward like the angels we prayed for and took exceptional steps to help mom through this time. Some med aides and caregivers, but also cooks, and people who took care of the rooms. It was their humanity, not their job description that guided them.
I miss my mom. I miss her zest for life and funny phrases. I miss being connected to my parent in that mysterious way. I feel left afloat. It isn't the painful raw ripping of myself from my Winnemem Granny where I literally felt I was torn and bleeding from her when she died. She took care of me and taught me how to live. But my mother dying hurts the same depth. She's my mom, after all. I began living because we were connected by what would one day be separate belly buttons. But I think I found out that separation from the cord is only an illusion. We're still connected in an inexplicable way. She was the first who took care of me and she took care of me the best she could for this world.
Eventually I took another path which led me away from the traps which ensnared us anyway during these days caring for our mom -- the culture which would spawn a disaster of a health care system which exists today. We are living with the horrific outcome of too much being done for the sake of profit and too little vision to protect the human being and each individual's inalienable human rights.
Since Mama died, I don't feel anchored down to anything. She was my mother for all but four years of her life when she became my sister's and my mother/child. When she thought more clearly she told me, "Once I was your mother but now you're my aunt." There is something very complete in an unexplainable way when a person gets to take care for their mother.
She may have acted like a terrible teen when she first moved in with us. She was always trying to escape to have some fun after we old fogies went to bed. We'd catch her trying to climb over the "baby safety gates." She felt confined always wanting to go "find the elderlies" and hang out al day. I'd complain to Will, "Haven't we already done this with Maki and Margaret?"
When we finally started paying with our health for sleepless nights and stress and gave up, taking her to live in Southtowne, five minutes away, where I can visit her as much as I could each day, going on rides, doing things together between her regimens, then she became "mommy's favorite ten year old" and stayed that way for a long time, that or "the entertaining four year old." Anything I invited her to do, she would say, "Okie Dokie Doooooo." She would belt out the songs singing along with the musicians who came in to entertain the elders. If she didn't know the words, she would open her mouth into an ah and do background music. She had that "Little Richard" quality to her voice. She was fun.
And in the last days, as I gave her droppers full of water or broth as if they were lifegiving every 15 minutes, I thought, this must be how it feels to have a baby. They could not live without you staying up and nourishing them, every drop depending on you. And you don't have time doing anything else.
When you've had the privilege to be your mother's caregiver and she gets to be her daughter's little bundle of responsibility, and death comes, when that bond is gone in an instant, although I may not feel raw and bleeding, I felt dangerously afloat. That first night without my cutie pie mama, and my arms feeling very very empty, my heart was stressed and I thought, am I in danger of going too? I turned to my husband and said, "Could you please get Granny's root and smoke me up? I think my heart wants to follow." He got out of bed and lit the root, smoking me up and the pressure began to lift from my chest, and I began to breathe more freely and my head cleared up. It's hard to lose a mother but the death of a mother/child comes with a special pain of its own.
I want to stay and I will. But I am very sad.
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