I'm stealing from myself. I wrote this to a friend (okay, Bess) and decided to make part of it public, with some editing to take out the names and details.
We had a tease of autumn, a few days of lovely low humidity and a hint of cool in the air. Today the 90 degrees and humid slammed us. I walked Murphy at 9 and my hair frizzed and sweat poured off me as he spent a good 20 minutes deciding where to poo. I kept up a running nagging – because he nags me and paybacks are hell - “Oh, come on, DOG. I have bought cars in less time than it takes you to pick a place to poop.” He was unmoved by my nagging and took his sweet time.
He made up for his annoyingness at the nursing home. My mother was sitting up in her wheelchair near the nurses' station when we arrived. God, she’s so tiny and frail, but still feisty and totally aware and knows what she wants. She is basically willing herself to die. I can see it. She didn’t complain, we had no attitude problem, but she’s just “Eh. I don’t wanna.” She was perfectly calm and pleasant, except when I didn’t have any gum on me, and she wants gum. I told one of her favorite nurses, and he said he’d scare up some gum for her. He had already hunted down ginger ale when she asked for it, and said he was coaxing her to eat with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches between meals, he got her to eat some Goldfish crackers and a few potato chips, and rolled his eyes – hey, it’s calories - but she’s still picking at her food and dropping weight. 5 lbs in a week, and she was already drastically underweight.
I picked up some Doublemint (the kind she requested) later and will bring it, along with jellybeans and anything else that might get her taste buds to wake up. I don’t think it will work for long, but we’ll give it a shot. So far, she loves something once and the next time it’s offered she doesn’t like it anymore.
She loved seeing Murphy. We walked the halls, and Murphy has learned to walk next to the wheelchair without getting run over. I brought her roomie the new People magazine, because she said she used to have a subscription and now can’t afford it. The guy who winked at me and should be on a golf course beckoned to Murphy and we visited. He loves dogs so much it tears my heart out. He is usually so slumped and detached, I thought he must be unable to speak at all. No, he can talk - his voice is soft and a little slurred (and I'm a little deaf in one ear, so our conversations are tiring for both of us). Murphy’s visits make him light up. He should be sitting on the couch watching TV with his dog after a nice long walk with the dog and a round of golf with his friends. His body has totally betrayed him. He is not an ancient man, it’s hard to judge ages in that condition but I doubt he’s even 70.
Murphy was in his element, greeting everybody and wagging and kissing and just being cute. We sat in the lobby for a bit, and there was a lady who looked like scary hell – half her face was so droopy it was basically a liquid – it’s hard to imagine a face could sag that much until you see it. Her tongue protruded, she appeared seriously brain damaged, but she lit up at the sight of Murphy so I brought him over to visit and kiss her. Her speech was terribly slurred but she asked his name, his age, recognized that he is a Yorkie, called him cute, and thanked me for bringing him. There is a warm, intelligent, normal person in that damaged body with the face like scary hell.
Murphy’s really good at this, but I’m not. It’s too easy to see myself in that chair, and I get way too emotionally involved. All of these bright, aware, basically normal people, stuck in bodies that have developed mechanical problems they can’t control. It coulda been me, and the odds were it shoulda been me. I can’t tell you how weird that feels, to be there as the Healthy One.
And then after an hour of visiting, my mother went from upright to slightly slumping to drooped, and asked to go back to bed. So her aide helped her back into bed, and my mother was tucked in and wisecracked, “A perfect three point landing!” and thanked her profusely and said she was so grateful for the way she takes care of her. Then she told me to leave because she’s tired, and asked for a kiss goodbye from me and from Murphy – who she teased for being too slobbery. She’s so much her good self – calm, spunky, grateful for those caring for her, affectionate. The wonder of antidepressants. And as her daughter, I feel cheated and angry because this was the mother I wanted all my life and now I get her when she’s 74 pounds and nearly gone.
But compared to never having her at all, this is a gift.