Art of the Sea

Art of the Sea

My mom has spent years making magnets. She calls it her “art of the sea” because it’s made from shells and ephemera from her beach walks. She never felt competent as an artist but she found some books that gave her simple tips for creating figures and she used them to make birthday cards for all her kids (and grandkids) every year. I still have most of those cards. She labored over them and created a profound snapshot of my life. She also constantly encouraged me to be creative as a child; buying me cartooning books and other art supplies and heaping praise on me. Recently she stopped making her birthday cards because she couldn’t hold a pen for that long. Again, my mother has always been profoundly supportive of me creatively. In some ways that unquestioning support left me with complex questions about my abilities, but it also undoubtedly pushed me in the direction of making art. That doubt was something that I had to work through for myself.

A few weeks ago she fell and cracked her skull, so she’s staying at the care facility of her retirement community-Carol Woods. She has her own cottage there that she has lived in for nearly 6 years. While visiting yesterday I walked over and grabbed some of her magnets and they cheered her up. She likes to give them to people so I brought some for her to do that with, but also to connect her with her home. I kept the one above because it cheered me up. It’s been a very difficult year for her with numerous illnesses, and now this fall. She’s wildly tough though and even with a fractured skull she escaped from the care facility in order to go home only hours after falling. She called me around 11:30 because she couldn’t remember the number of her cottage. I told her to go back and then hustled over there to get her upstairs. At that point neither the nurses, nor she, realized her skull was fractured. She has a horrific aversion to pain, yet at the same time she is so tough that no one understood how bad her fall really was. The next day when she was very out of it after waking at 2pm so we got her over to the emergency room where a CAT scan revealed both the fracture and a fairly significant brain bleed.

When I saw the cat scan pop on the screen in the emergency room I felt a sense of dread. As much as my mother fears pain, that fear pales in comparison to her horror of losing her mental acuity. Over the past year she has had increasing difficulties with memory and that has made her anxious leading to more difficulties with memory. Still, a week before the fall she got a 28 out of 30 on a cognitive test. This led me to believe that her difficulties with memory had more to do with anxiety than the onset of dementia so I urged her to do something to deal with it. A few months earlier I had spent several nights in the ICU with her as she struggled with pneumonia, and I witnessed a lot of extreme anxiety. In addition to stress dreams she repeatedly focused her worry on doctors appointments that didn’t exist- and frankly didn’t matter because she was in the ICU. I think some of this worry had to do with a fear of losing her ability to be in control over her life.

My dread only increased when I saw the reaction of the nurses. Within minutes they had arranged for her transport to another hospital with a neurological ICU. They then spent a good deal of time making sure that we understood that with a DNR order (do not resuscitate) meant that they would not do any kind of chest compressions. I had a sense that she might not make it to the hospital, and the emotional reality of that was profound.

While she was very uncomfortable due to the head injury and having to be in a hospital bed she seemed to feel a little better by the time she got up to the ICU. In fact she was so comfortable that she was fighting with the nurses and I, insisting that we take her back to her other room to get her stuff so she could go home. The confusion about where she was supposed to be that had manifested the night before was now appearing in a more aggressive and angry form. A few month earlier I had pushed myself quite hard to be with her in the ICU as I knew she needed my loving support. However, in this situation I realized that the personal nature of her anger was a bit much for me, and that my being there seemed to give her more energy for her resistance. So, I told the nurses they would have to take it from there and I left.

The next morning she was a little calmer and while she was very confused about short term issues, her recall was quite strong. Everyone seemed fairly confident that the brain bleed wasn’t too much of a problem because as we age our brains shrink in size leaving a little more room, which means that there was a much better chance that swelling wouldn’t be a problem. After one more night in ICU, with all of it’s lights and beeping and wires, she was moved to a regular hospital room where she stayed for several more days.

There were some ups and downs during those days including a decision to give her an endoscopy to scope her throat to see if there were any issues there because she was having some issues with swallowing. When it became clear that she was in no state to have an elective procedure like that I was able to get it stopped at the last minute. After a few days she was moved to the care facility at Carol Woods. She’s in the same room she was in after she had pneumonia. At the time, the hospital stay really affected her and she didn’t remember her cottage, but she quickly rebounded once she got home.

This time I’m struggling to find hope that she will rebound as profoundly. A couple of days before her fall I had a discussion with the social worker at Carol Woods who indicated that they believed she needed to move from her cottage to an apartment with more support. She was not yet willing to do that but now it might be necessary.

Her brain and body need some time to heal and we are taking it day by da . Yesterday I was able to get her outside and that perked her up a lot. My sister has been a total champion, spending several hours a day with her to help her feel more settled and attend to her needs. I’m doing my best to also be there as often as possible as well. For two weeks she has had a full time bed sitter who makes sure she doesn’t get out of bed without help, which she doesn’t like. Since she had been sleeping later and later we decided to not have one from 6am till noon. Yesterday I got there at 10:45 and she was in the bathroom. She’d gotten there by herself. While it’s great that she was able to do that, it was clearly dangerous since her blood pressure has been very low which makes her a very strong fall risk. The bed sitter was full time last night.

She was more awake than I had seen her in days but she tired quickly and indicated that she felt awful. When the Occupational Therapist came in we almost decided to push her visit to later, but we changed course and encouraged my mother to sit up so I could take her outside. The sunshine and the warmth seemed to have a very powerful healing effect. I’m going to head over soon to do that again. I had a really nice day with my mom yesterday, but it left me a bit restless this evening, so I’m taking this moment to not get lost in it, and instead bring my attention to to those thoughts, feelings, and worries. I’m not indulging in them but also not resisting them. Its often when we are in a space of resistance that we kind of trap these feelings and thoughts in an anxiety loop. I see this in my mother a great deal and I’m doing what I can to unwind some of those patterns in myself. It’s not easy, but I have a more visceral sense of just how important this effort is.

My mother with her daughter, daughter-in-law, and my daughters on Mother’s Day a couple weeks before her fall.

My mom’s move to the retirement community prompted our move to my childhood home nearly six years ago. It’s been a long strange trip that’s brought us much closer together. It hasn’t always been easy, but we have both been committed to working through some of the issues that cause us problems, and that sense of communal effort makes it more possible to tackle these points of friction. While she is a bit less capable of working with me at the moment, I work to find value in the practice of staying present with it all.

1 Comment
  • Daryn Smith
    Posted at 16:53h, 05 June Reply

    This is touching and will help a lot of people who are going through the turn turn turn of life

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