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The Winnowing

To telescope a harrowing couple of months into a couple of sentences,my mom was on hospice for kidney disease (and she kept ON being on hospice, declining slower and slower, getting frailer and frailer, but still insisting that she was fine living alone in her condo unit. At some point in late January she sent away her hospice bath aide because her hip hurt too badly to get out of bed. The aide called hospice. Hospice called me. They sent out a nurse and the nurse slapped on a fentanyl patch for the pain and my mother spent that night talking to my dead father, and being mad at my cat for not paying any attention to her (which wasn’t surprising seeing as he was asleep on my bed 30 miles away). They took the fentanyl patch off and then conferred and then decided that they would take her into Hospice House for a “respite stay” until the hip got better. She stayed there for a month, more than a month, ornery and imperious and demanding, running the staff ragged, the most obnoxiously ALIVE dying patient in Hospice. All of the staff knew her name, her preferences, her wishes, her royal decrees. But then they told me that they could not justify keeping her on hospice as a patient any more because she was simply dying too slowly for hospice, and they “graduated” her from hospice. By this stage APS was involved and she was deemed to be too labile to return to the condo by herself without supervision and care. We were supposed to get her into an adult family home but the initial one which was ideal fell through, and then I looked at a second one which was appalling, but I was running out of options. I contacted a woman who runs an organization of moving and downsizing and clearing out places, to help me deal with the condo, which was going to have to go on the market. She also helped me arrange a minor miracle, which was to find an Asssted Living place where mom would get her own little studio with her own little attached bathroom and enough care to muddle through; that was the first Winnowing. With the declutter-lady’s help, I worked like a dog to bring a vestige of the dear and the familiar – her own bed, her rug, an armchair, her beloved dresser, lots of photos and  artwork to go on the wall. She moved in March 15. I had the worst time getting a phone line connected so that she could stay in direct touch with me and for a long time it just wouldn’t work right but we finally sorted that out. She even began – antisocial as she is – to talk to other people there over her lunches.

May 16, she turned 88.

May 17, they called me and said that they’d found her on the floor again (she’d falled down before necessitiating an ER visit…) but this time her right leg was not weight bearing at all when they tried to get her up. They sent her to the ER again. They took an X-ray.

Her hip was broken. In a bad place. Even if she wanted surgery which she wouldn’t choose it was doubtful if she would have survived it – and her increasing dementia would have made the post-op rehab a bad joke. THis was, in other words, a death sentence. They admitted her to hospital that night for pain management and the next morning, on May 18, she was back in Hospice House. Unconscious. She hasn’t woken up, or eaten or drank anything, since that morning. They tell me she has maybe days left.

So I went back to the little nest I had built for her in the AL place, and began the second Winnowing.  I made a small pile of a couple of the smaller pieces of furniture and I packed a sad suitcase with one or two of her iconic pieces of clothing, a lot of photographs, her sewing boxes, a half-empty pot of Nivea cream, a bunch of framed photos, a vase I had hand-painted for my parents many years ago, a calendar I made for the two of them the year they arrived in America, a couple of pieces of cutlery and crockery, her CDs with her favourite music from the Old Country, a half-finished pot of honey, her comforter.

They are coming to take the rest, on Friday morning. The remains of my mother’s existence. The things she loved and lived with and which were familiar to her. Her bedspread and her cushions. Her piles of slippers (I swear, the woman had six pairs of slippers in there). Her half-finished bottle of bodywash/shampoo. The towels and the bedding she had brought with her. Her blankets and her pillows. Her drawer full of socks, many of them in desperate straits because she didn’t like elastic around her calf so she kept slashing all her socks to pieces to make sure she didn’t have to endure it. The rest of her shoes. The clothes in the closet and the drawers, many of them worn thin with age, including a coat which she inherited from me when I got myself a new one and which she, when she noticed it in the closet when we moved her in, failed to recognise and firmly maintained wasn’t hers at all. All of it… going, going, gone. WInnowed away.

There’s a pathetic little pile of stuff left there in the middle of the room which is coming to me – and I don’t even know what I am going to do with any of it, here in my own overstuffed house, but I couldn’t let it ALL go away and vanish like it never was. There had to be something left behind, something that shows that my mother existed once, was alive, vital, LIVING, and not this skin-upholstered skeleton lying in the hospice bed, attached to a pain pump administering high octane pain medication, and enduring the indignity of a catheter.

I’ve been back to see her every day, but she doesn’t respond to me, doesn’t wake. By Friday every trace of her earthly existence on this planet (except for that pitiful little pile of belongings I am fighting to save…) will be erased. Winnowed away. And I will return to her bedside every day for as long as this last lingering pain endures, until she draws that last breath, and winnows HERSELF away.

My mother’s life and legacy now lives on only through me, in my mind, in my heart, in my memories.

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9 thoughts on “The Winnowing”

  1. Alma, I’m in tears here, because I share the same harrowing story with my own mother. Your post helps me with my guilt about letting her go after a “death sentence” injury to her coccyx. She too suffered from dementia.
    Going through “things” is strangely more heart-rendering than sitting at the bedside waiting for the inevitable. “Things” signify the a person’s choices, brings her back to life; you can see her choosing her slippers in the morning, or wrapping herself in the afghan she crocheted. My mother’s (and grandmother’s) “things” surround me still with their everlasting memory.
    I most definitely feel what you feel right now.

  2. What you wrote here really hit me right in the heart, as I sit here in a house that still has some of mom’s things, six years after she left us. I can’t quite get rid of the last vestiges from the last winnowing. Thanks for writing this, and strength to you in this tough time.

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