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It’s the Moments

We do not remember days, we remember moments (Cesare Pavese, Italian writer).

My mother was passionate about her rice bags. Each evening—and afternoon when she began napping in her bed—regardless of the season, she’d microwave-heat one for her feet in spite of wearing socks, one for her knees, and one for her right arm on the window side of the bed. At eighty pounds, she was always cold. At least that’s the reason she gave, or that I assumed.

A few years ago, my daughter-in-law made fancy rice bags for Christmas gifts. The past two winters—Covid winters—I’ve become attached to mine. Yes, the foot of the bed is cold (and I do not wear socks), but it’s warm after about a minute and I move the bag up to hug in my arms. It’s not the cold, it’s the comfort. It’s like my tight-fitting fingerless gloves, the weight of the yoga blanket across my mid-section during savasana, the electric fireplace near my desk in the pre-dawn morning, the heated seat in my car, my hand knit throw across my legs on the sofa in the evening, my cat Lena snuggled close to my legs at night. It’s not about cold. It’s comforting. I don’t think my mother would have articulated that’s what the rice bags were for her, but now I wonder.

How she must have missed my father all those years. Never a pet person, she had nothing after he was gone. I suppose she had gotten used it—alone is not lonely, living with someone who is distant is. And I expect she was more lonely after I arrived on the scene. I find myself wishing I could have laid down beside her in bed, rather than impatiently waiting to get her settled in bed so I could retire to my quarters in the downstairs suite for the evening. I wish I could have provided the intimacy of my presence in a way I had not since I was a child. And now I’m wondering about rice bag comfort.

Notice I say I wish I “could” have, not I wish I “would” have. Subtle difference, but I am not so far removed from the reality of the years with her that I have forgotten what I was and was not capable of. Even had I thought to climb into bed her—had she even wanted me to—I could not have. If I could have, I would have, but we were not emotionally close enough. I did not have enough love. There, I said it.

This is why my memoir does not include the perspective of the look back. It would not be an accurate depiction of the days in the trenches, it would be too easy to change the story. My mother changed the story of the years she cared for her mother . . . but that’s another story. We do the best we can—and even with all the knowing that someday we will look back and grieve, it’s impossible to apply the future to the present. When we are so tired it’s impossible to really understand the surety, even, that some day this parent or this partner will be gone forever.

What we can do, though, is notice the moments: right now I am holding her hand, right now she is saying she loves me, right now I am describing the sunrise to her, right now she is telling me a story of my infancy. Right now there is a moment to cling to. Right now I am her rice bag. When I’m bashing myself for all I did not/could not do, the words I wrote then remind me: there were many moments; I was not a terrible daughter.

Waking up in a Foreign Land without a Map

Reader post by B.R.
Posted: March 12, 2022

I’m not going to sugarcoat any of this. I’m wide awake at 1:30 am after a dinner of Good n Plenty and turkey casserole several hours ago. My hair is matted with dry shampoo and my worry gene just shifted into overdrive.

On Valentine’s Day, I took my Mom to the hospital for a TAVR procedure. A new heart valve with an overnight stay as a precaution. They came out after surgery and said all went well. Relief. Until it wasn’t. An hour and a half later they came out again and said there had been a complication. What? They offered to let me go back to see her . . .

I passed out that day on the floor of a Tacoma hospital’s surgical recovery room. It’s not every day you see your mother being rolled out the door toward ICU after suffering a complication from heart surgery. I was not prepared for what I saw. My own heart raced, I got lightheaded, and down I went. It was my initiation.

Welcome to caregiving.

Since that evening, my Mom has spent 12 days in the ICU/PCU and I was airlifted (figuratively) from the recovery room floor and dropped without supplies into a foreign land. I don’t know the language, I haven’t the right tools, and there is no map. I’ve been blindly wandering along the side of a cliff ever since.

The first hospitalization was three nights. She was discharged home from ICU and it was too soon. Covid made the concern over staying in ICU equal to the concern of coming home.

You don’t know what you don’t know. This isn’t caregiving, it’s firefighting. Every day there are dozens of fires to be put out. Here is my list today after her second homecoming:

Did I brush my teeth?
Take my pills?
Has she had breakfast?
Did I use the gait belt?
Is her BP taken?
Should I worry?
Temperature? Normal?
What drugs get taken in the morning?
What are they?
What are they for?
Should she still take them?
Why the hell is she taking them to begin with?
Have I remembered to measure fluids?
Why are they restricted?
Is she dehydrated?
Should she be this tired?
Is there confusion?
Are there appointments today?
Should I be calling the PT?
Is today the day the nurse comes?
Was I supposed to call OT?
Is the shower safe?
Is there mail?
Is someone looking at bills?
Are the dishes done?
Did I start the laundry?
Do I have enough socks?
Does my dog miss me?
Is there any food to eat?
Do we need shopping help?
Is the diet heart-healthy?
Have we exercised?
Is the sun out?
Have the birds started nesting?
Did the hummingbird feeder freeze?
Is the furnace working?
Is she warm enough?
Did the shows get taped?
Have I forgotten anything?

How does it all get done?
Will it always be like this?

Are there tricks?
Magic?

Fires.
In a foreign land.

Send hoses and help.