photo by Sheri Dixon

Thursday, August 1, 2013

When Every Day is a New Day

Most every morning, I see him walking from his cabin to his mom's house.

It's not stalking if you're in my yard, and both little houses are less than 100 feet from our cabin.

Every morning Joe walks over to his mom's house, her morning medications in hand and ready for coffee and conversation.

I love Edna. I've loved her from the moment I met her almost exactly 2 years ago. She was only 91 then.

She was small and frail and in a hospital bed in a hospital. She had read my book, "CancerDance- a love story" (the first version) because Joe had given it to her to define for her this family he was now part of.

I walked in the room and she looked up at me, and in her eyes I saw relief. "Everything will be OK- Sheri's here" they seemed to say.

I had known from the minute Joe said, "Mom fell down and is in the hospital" that her next move would be onto our place. She'd been living alone and I knew those days were probably over for her unless there were special circumstances.

So we put the special circumstances in place.

She had enough in her bank account to purchase a little modular home- a tiny modular home that was nevertheless as big and about 10 times better constructed than the apartment she'd been living in...the apartment that cost her her entire social security check plus some of her savings every month with nothing included- no utilities, no services, no meals...nothing.

She paid cash, hooked up to our well and septic and got herself an account with the phone company and electric company.

We promised her she'd never be alone overnight, since she was an urban dweller and our rural location made her squidgy.

I try to visit her every other day and when Joe and I are out running errands for more than a few hours either Ward or Alec check on her.

At night when I go to bed I turn on the baby monitor that sits one end on the top of her fridge and the other end on our headboard. I turn it off when I hear her little dog dancing around in the morning.

Once a week I take her to get her hair done and we generally go out for lunch afterwards.

But the bulk of Edna-care falls on Joe's big ol' shoulders.

When Edna declared that she needed help and that Joe needed to move to Oklahoma City to help her, he panicked.

When Edna moved into his cabin for a 'visit' to see if she liked Texas and declared 2 weeks later that Joe's little cabin was just fine for her and he could stay living in his camper permanently, he hyperventilated.

When Edna finally moved into her own little house, he was relieved. And horrified. Because she was here. Right here. Forever.

When Edna moved here she was sharp as a tack, in all ways. And Joe was the one she poked.

For some reason, I'm the one she thinks can do no wrong, and Joe can do very little right. It's only funny about half the time now.

Last summer, Edna came down with pneumonia and was hospitalized for a few days. They wanted to keep her longer but she checked herself out against medical advice and three days later was sitting at her kitchen table eating pizza and drinking a beer.

She seemed a little more physically feeble after that.

About 6 months ago, she was sitting down on the end of her bed, misgauged where her butt should land (shut up- we've all done it) and slid off the bed and onto the floor- cutting her forehead on the dresser and bruising herself up pretty good.

Of course, she refused to go to the doctor, much less the hospital.

She used to tell me about her crazy dreams- where people she knows are long dead or relatives still alive come to visit her- but she knew they were dreams. Because she was awake most of the day, most days.

Now she spends a lot of time sleeping and dreaming and sort of drifts in and out of what we see as reality.

She's been getting more and more confused about days and times and thinks her little dog is sometimes a little boy who can't talk or eat correctly...because he doesn't have fingers.

Joe never knows how many places will be set at the table for dinner, because she's cooking for 'everyone'. Sometimes it's 2. Sometimes it's 8.

She'll be 94 in September. She refuses to go to the doctor. Says she's fine. Old, but fine. She told me the other day, "I have aches and pains and I'm getting forgetful, but you know? I still do pretty much what I want to do. Most people my age are dead".

How can you argue with that?

The one thing I hate, personally hate, is that she is forgetting her son.

She'll be talking to him...about him.

He said something about his upcoming birthday and she asked when it was. He told her and she said, "Oh! My son's birthday is that same day!"

When he offers to go to the store for her, she tells him no thanks- she'll wait for her son to go- he's so good at it.

He tries to tell her that HE'S her son and it only makes her angry. She doesn't know who he is, but she knows darn well that he's not her son.

When I'm talking to her she refers to her son...and that other guy. The one who lives out behind her son's house.

Joe asked me why she never forgets who *I* am. I avoided what would normally be my smartass obvious answer- that she loves me better, because it really does bother him...a lot. And I understand why.

I told him that she's living more in the past now than the present, reminded him that she never knew me as looking other than how I do right now, that he left home when he was 17 and except for visits of a few days never went back. Has he looked in the mirror lately? When he walks into her house he's not her 17 year old son...he's a 71 year old man.

While he understands it, it's still difficult.

While I understand her confusion and wanderings, it takes a lot of patience to have a sustained visit with her.

And I'm not her daughter.

Every morning he takes her her pills and has coffee. Every afternoon he has dinner with her. Every evening he takes her her pills. And generally checks on her in between.

And it's a total crap shoot whether he'll be her son, or 'that other guy'. Sometimes they switch places during the visit.

Joe's packing up his camper as I type. He's headed to Montana for a month- something he didn't get to do last year because Edna had just come out of the hospital.

I give him a ton of shit about it- about needing to run up north to shoot and hunt because obviously there are NO GUNS or DEER in Texas, but I understand. I do.

Now more than ever.

And even though I usually never disagree with Edna unless its a life or death situation (like insisting she go to the hospital...with PNEUMONIA) I firmly but kindly tell her yes- her son does need to go up north and he's not abandoning her and the rest of the family will step in and do what he does for her and he'll be back in a few weeks.

Because a month is too long, but a few weeks is acceptable.

Being the caretaker for a child is exhausting, but you know that child will grow up and fly away as they should.

Being the caretaker for someone who's been ill or had surgery can be daunting, but most of the time they recover and re-take their place as another able adult in the family unit who can then care for others as needed.

I cannot imagine my own mother not knowing who I am. Cannot imagine my mother looking directly at me and denying that I belong to her. Cannot imagine watching the woman I remember as being strong and capable and sharp as a tack decline bit by bit, day by day.

He said the other day, "Every day's a new day- I never know who I'll be or what she'll come up with".

I know the next month will give me just a small dose of what Joe does every day right under our noses as we run our own lives.

Amazingly, when we were gone for 10 days, Joe did all the running of the farm- everything Ward, Alec AND I do, plus cared for his mother.

I just wanna tell him to have a wonderful, relaxing time.

Joey- you are appreciated, you are loved, and you are doing a tremendous job caring for your mother.

Be careful, darlin'- have fun and come home safe.


  1. so true and so sad. Edna is very fortunate to have such love and compassion in her life. I cannot imagining being someone else to my family or them to me. you are truly a kind spirit...take care.

  2. I am starting on that slippery slope with my 89 yr. old Mom, just starting. Edna IS fortunate to have the Dixons in her life, though I suspect that as people become more forgetful, they don't always "know" that. I've also read that when someone becomes confused, it's usually easier for them to be around someone who they don't know all that well, as there is not as much that they need to remember. Or they are not reminded of all that they have forgotten... either way you want to look at it. Anyway, I hope this month goes smoothly for everyone!