Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Walking Through Woods on a Snowy Day

1st February 2012

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
- Robert Frost

I went on a wonderful two hour walk today. My Canadian cousin Diane Brenneman is my new muse. She walks for an hour a day: rain, snow or sleet. I know because the one day I was actually able to drag my ass out of bed to meet she and Garry for their 6 AM walk (only because my body was still on Zurich time - by the next day my mind had caught on to what my body was up to and put paid to that early morning business), the wind was blowing sharpened needles into our faces. Today, I needed the walk and not just because I've let five pounds (okay, maybe a few more than that) creep like unwanted bedbugs back onto my body, but also because the last two months have given me a lot to think about.

First, the good. Noah brought his parents over for a week at Christmas/Hannukah. Katie and Heath had asked me to find places where we could all go sledding so of course I hit the internet and found lovely kilometers long sled runs. I also lined up day trips to wonderful Medieval towns with perhaps a run for the border to visit the Strasbourg Christmas Market.
Of course, Noah was not willing. We walked downtown, we played pinnochle and Katie and I put together the jigsaw puzzle from Hell. We assembled the traditional Hill/Gonzalez Ugliest Gingerbread House with a snowman to which Heath, also following tradition, added some anatomically correct features. One afternoon, we even managed to hop a train for a very fast, very abbreviated tour of St Gallen. And Noah did graciously agree to tag along on his first ever trip to a zoo for the not-to-be-missed penguin parade. But extended winter sports were not in the cards ... this year.

On January 7th, Mom was found to be unresponsive in her room at Caressant Care Retirement Home. An ambulance took her to the hospital and I flew home on the 11th. I am so thankful that Mom had the good sense to make my cousins Garry and Raym her powers of. They and their wives Diane and Marybel have taken wonderful care of her in the last year and a half since Mom fell and broke her hip and whose dementia made it necessary for her to leave her apartment for a place where there would be someone to keep an eye on her.

But this is where we get to the bad ... the really bad. The stroke has managed to wash away whatever dignity was left to Mom after her dementia had eaten away at her ability to communicate her thoughts. My feisty, independent Mom is confined to a wheelchair, needs help with feeding herself and everything else, and barely speaks. Yesterday, she responded with "I love you" when I called her and told her I loved her and, at the end of the conversation, she said "Goodbye" when I told her she needed to say goodbye so the nurse would know to hang up the phone. Today, she was completely mute ... not a word. We are investigating hiring a speech therapist who will work with her one on one. Stroke is such a vicious disease. It's clear that Mom understands way more than she appears to take in but it's so hard to know just how much since she can't tell us. And how appallingly frustrating that must be!

As was the case when I flew home last January for Uncle Lloyd's funeral, the good to be found with the occasion was the opportunity to rebond with family. Marybel and Raym shared their home in Embro (small village where I grew up) with me and hosted a dinner with Garry and Diane and cousins Helen and Jake. Garry and Diane hosted a meal where the Brenneman clan had a chance to meet Katie and Heath and Noah. After a few days spent with Raym and Marybel, I was supposed to move on to Garry and Diane's but ended up in Woodstock instead to be nearer Mom in the hospital. (Crazy Canadian weather - rain, no! snow! no! rain! no! snow! no! freezing rain!) The original plan was that I would stay at cousin Liz's but, over dinner (lots of wine) the first night, we decided it might be better if I just checked into the local Microtel so she didn't have to kill me when I nagged her incessantly about her smoking and I didn't have to kill her when I ended up smelling like a well-used ashtray. It worked out well - we still spent most of the daylight hours together, consuming more wine than was good for us, but we each had our own space ... and I had free internet!

The two weeks I was home were hectic. Liz and I needed to go through Mom's retirement home room and get rid of furniture and just about everything else, keeping only the few things that would fit onto the walls above her bed and onto the small dresser in the "basic" room that she now shares with three other women. It was the first available room and, although we have her on the list for a private room, I'm not sure she really cares at this point. We hauled eleven plus garbage bags to Goodwill. Mom has gained weight over the last year and I had to drag my fashionphobic cousin Liz with me off to buy Mom new clothes.  Those eleven garbage bags really gave me pause. When Greg and I moved to Zurich, we piled all our stuff into six suitcases. But I knew that we had left our other stuff in a storage unit in Florida. Now I was leaving Mom with only enough to fill a small box ... and there is no backup plan. 

Of course, there were hours spent with Mom at the hospital, some of those long hours being relieved by humor of sorts.  I was encouraging Mom to feed herself from the different god awful mushed barely recognizable things on her plate, when she managed to get out, "Mind your own business!" She repeated it for good measure. I told you she was feisty.

Unfortunately, we think Mom may have suffered another stroke while in the hospital because she was making good progress with feeding herself, walking with assistance, and speaking, and then suddenly that  all went away.

Katie and Heath flew up from Florida and Mom got to meet her great grandson. The first day, she didn't seem too aware of him and didn't respond when we asked if she wanted to hold him. That evening, we went ahead and put him into bed beside her and the two of them shared smiles and eye contact. When Noah started to fuss, Heath held him and Katie asked Mom if she were comfortable. Mom struggled to say, "Talk to me about Noah." And Katie did, starting with the long hours of labor and recounting the wonderful things our little dude has done since. Katie and I cried together on the way back to the car and in the hotel. "Talk to me about Noah." Oh, Mom.

And now here I am back in Zurich. I love being home again - and for now, Zurich is home - but I feel "betwixt and between": body here, mind still trying to deal with Mom's new reality and all the thoughts and emotions that reality has generated.

Two hours alone in snow draped woods. Therapy.