Beginning of the end?
Here I sit in the Southwest International Airport three and half hours before my flight … because I don’t know what else to do.
I roll my head forward, lift my shoulders and focus on two guests sitting across from me laughing. Two women, one middle-aged and the other elderly. The elderly woman playfully leans into the middle-aged woman’s shoulder and gives her a gentle shove with her own. The middle-aged woman makes an over exaggerated expression of astonishment. I watch trying hard not to be obnoxious, there in front of me is presenting a beautiful relationship, one of what mutual love, respect and friendship looks like, one I know so well.
My throat begins to close up, my eyes burn I blink three, four times and raise my head to look at the ceiling. I feel my neck then my cheeks start to heat up, my eyes dart to the left, then to the right, my chin quivers … “don’t lose it Lisa” I shout silently to myself. I draw in a deep breath through my nose as my chest rises a single tear escapes my eye. I close my eyes and lean my head back listening to the two women giggle and converse as I reflect on the last 5 hours.
I slid the door to the lanai closed and stopped for a moment to take in my view out upon the pond. I was basking in the beauty of what laid out in front of me, the sun was shining, the water sparkled like little diamonds were dancing all along the top. I was smiling thinking about Joe arriving in a few days, this new life we’ve started was filled with challenges, but we are blessed with a strong, stable marriage. My phone begins vibrating on the dining table I turn and pick up the phone studying the caller id. The only announcement is Wallingford CT, I knew Joe was already home from his overnight shift, the only other option was Regency Home.
Barbara: Helllow? Lizzza?
Me: Yes, this is Lisa
I recognize the thick eastern European accent immediately
Barbara: Lizzza ... ummm this is Barbrah at de Reagency Hame.
Me: Barbara … is everything ok?
Barbara: Ummm … Lizzzzza we tried to caul your huzzzband
Me: Its ok Barbara, what going on
Barbara: Rozemarrrry she, she coallapze at breakfast, we call ambulenze … we know there dis …
Me: Its ok Barbara is she still there, at Regency?
Barbara: Nurse Suppppervizor here you talk to her.
Me: Yes, please
Me: Yes … (my heart rate racing)
Annette: I’m sorry Lisa we had to call 911, your mother in-law lost consciences during breakfast, she came to, with very low blood pressure she was complaining of pain in her chest. I was thinking heart attack, so we called 911, we had to.
I sip my very tall cold Mojito and watch the women again. The younger woman was adjusting the neckline of the elderly woman sweater then gently patted her knee. The elderly woman accepts the help with a weak smile.
Joe: Hello? (sounding distressed and even a little anxious)
Me: Regency called
Joe: Yea, Dave was on shift he called they’re in route to Midstate with Mom … why Regency didn’t call me … oh wait yes they did I was vacuuming I didn’t feel my phone vibrate … but Dave called and said they had her and I’m on my way now … what did Regency say?
I gave him the blow by blow of what I knew.
Me: I told them they did the right thing they seemed so concerned that they called 911 … I think because of the DNR?
Joe: yea maybe … I gave Dave a good medical history … I’ll probably beat the ambulance to the hospital … I’ll update you when I get there. I should probably text my brothers …
Me: I can if you want …
Joe: No, I will ….
Me: wait don’t do it while you’re driving …
Joe: I won’t, I also want to see what’s going on with her.
Me: I’m sorry I’m not there … should I come home now?
Joe: there’s no sense you coming home till we know what’s going on.
Me: K keep me posted …
Joe: yep ...
Me: I love you … (as a tear slid down my face)
Joe: love you too
I hit end and placed the phone on the table. I looked around the condo, less than five minutes ago the energy in this room was happy it was almost giddy. Now all the wind has been sucked out of my sails. Waves of guilt wash over me, there are currently 1600 miles between myself, Joe and … Mom. In front of me, my eyes radioed to my brain, the warm, vibrant sun smiling down over the glistening pond, my ears sent clear messages of song birds as the soothing fountain splashes. Yet what I felt were black, heavy … ever so threatening storm clouds rolling in, the unsettling screech of an angry black crow and that sickness that settles into the pit of your stomach when true fear creeps in and takes its awful grip.
The doorbell chime jolts me back to my current reality. I realize that I had made plans to spend the afternoon on the beach with my dear friend Shelley. I take a deep breath and walk to the door, do I cancel? Do I go?
I grip the door handle with no definitive answer, swing the door open. There stood Shelley her bright blue eyes dancing, her fresh freckled complexion breaking into a vibrant smile I could literally feel her friendship wash over me.
Me: Hey … oh Shelley … (the smile falling quickly away from my face)
Shelley: What’s up?
Me: Joes Mom’s been taken by ambulance to the ER. (leading Shelley down the hall)
Shelley: Oh No … should we reschedule? Do you need to go?
Me: Joe says no sense in coming home right now …
I look up at Shelley concern filled her face, I also knew sitting in the condo by myself would only spin the current pit in my stomach into an ulcer, a distraction would be helpful right now.
Me: Really Shell, what can I do? I’m 1600 miles away … I’m sick I’m not there but until he says I need to go … really what am I going to do? Sit and hold the phone?
The middle-aged woman points down the hall towards one of the convenience stores. The elderly woman shakes her head left to right and waves her hand in a dismissive fashion. As the middle-aged woman stands, she rests a hand on the elderly woman shoulder and leans in speaking in her ear, the woman nods and pats the middle-aged woman’s hand. I watch her walk away; she looks over her should twice in the 50 feet she needs to walk to the convenience store. The elderly woman watches her for a moment then looks out towards the window. I watch the middle-aged woman step into the store and take two waters out of the cooler, before she goes to the counter she walks to the edge of the store and looks down the hall. The elderly woman now is looking around the gate, as if she lost something or someone. The middle-aged woman starts to wave, I watch as I see the internal struggle start within her “does she see me?” “Should I go to her now … or can I pay for these waters first?” The elderly woman sees her, recognizes her and waves. I look back and forth between the two of them as little waves of relief flow across both their faces.
Shelley climbs onto the tram and adjusts her bag making room for me in her row.
Shelley: I’m so sorry you & Joe are going through this …
Me: I feel so guilty right now … he’s there all alone …
Shelley: I know it just sucks
Me: It’s not only that, I was home two weekends … and I thought about going to see Mom every day that I was there, but I didn’t. (I swallow hard) I didn’t go Shelley because I wasn’t in Connecticut that long and honestly, I wanted the time I was there with Joe to be stress free. She can no longer really interact with us she just sleeps or struggles to make sentences. It hurts my heart so much to see her like that, I don’t know how to be with her … and it’s just so painful to watch Joe look at her it is just so sad. Now I feel even more horrible. I was never afraid of this horrible disease … I have taken it chin on like a real trooper, but now … I just feel so awful.
Shelley: Oh … Lisa … you have to know that those feelings are understandable and very real. Its ok …
Me: It may be understandable and real … but it doesn’t make it right.
Shelley: She knows you love her; Joe knows you love her … don’t beat yourself up.
I turn my head and wipe a tear.
Me: So sorry to be such a downer today … its really not like me
Shelley: If you weren’t feeling some of this I’d be concerned. The break today will be good for you, by the way this is gorgeous! (pointing out over the inlet as the tram sweeps by)
Me: I know … see why we love it here?
Shelley: sure do …
The middle-aged woman sits down and hands the elderly woman a water bottle and watches her struggle a bit to open it, but only for a moment. She knows the elderly woman can’t crack the cap, although she is acutely aware of walking the fine line between helping and not making her feel like a child. The middle-aged woman puts a little extra struggle into opening the bottle than necessary I watch as the elderly woman almost looks relieved that she’s having difficulty too. When she does crack the top, she leans forward and says something to the elderly woman, I can almost predict what the comment is … “that stinker was really on tight! I thought I was going to have to enlist the help of that young, strong gentleman over there!” I watch as the elderly woman smiles and laughs before taking a long swig from the water bottle. I follow the woman’s hand as she slides it into jacket pocket, slowly and slightly dramatically pulls a candy bar from its hiding place. The elderly woman’s eyes become wide and excited; her mouth forms a perfect wrinkly ‘O’ as her bent finger points to her own chest. A smile fills the middle-aged woman’s face as the elderly woman takes the bar. I feel like I’m trespassing on their private time together, still I watch closely wondering if they know what the future may hold.
Me: Two sand chairs and an umbrella please … anywhere is fine, you ok with that?
Shelley: yea … of course!
We follow the path that the young man started on his quad. The wind tips my hat and the salt air changes the texture of my lips. The blue gray sky falls into the blue green Gulf with almost no definition. I pause hesitate for a moment and watch the water lap up onto the shore. Shelley is laying out her towels and settling in … I’m looking for the ocean to wash away this pit that continues to rise in my stomach.
Shelley: (throwing her legs over the side of the chair) I think I’m going to hop in … just to cool off a bit
Me: I’ll come for a quick dip … I don’t want to be without my phone for more than a few minutes.
The water is warm, the sand massages the soles of my feet I let the salt water wash over me. I look back at our chairs and feel a pull.
Me: Shell I’m going to go back in … don’t rush …
Shelley: I’ll come to
As I sit in my chair and slide my sunglasses on, my phone chimes.
Text From Joe Joe: She’s in a lot of pain Nurse is thinking UTI
Me: Ok … as we know those run wild through ALZ patients … I’m actually surprised she hasn’t had more.
(5-7 minutes pass)
Joe: She could be bleeding from somewhere just got hemoglobin’s back very low
Me: Oh no …
Joe: We have some decisions to make. I’m with make her comfortable.
Me: I do agree … I am so sorry I’m not there with you.
Joe: Love you I’m doing fine.
The elderly woman pulls at the candy wrapper, there is determination laced with frustration dressing her face. The middle-aged woman patiently watches her. The elderly woman pulls hard and the candy bar jumps free hopping up above their shoulders doing its own little acrobatic act. The middle-aged woman doesn’t miss a beat, in one swift sweep she catches the bar before it hits the floor, and hands it back to the elderly woman like catching flying candy bars was an everyday occurrence. I chuckle lightly and silently cheer for this middle-aged woman.
The sun beats down onto the Gulf Shore although with the breeze it is quite comfortable, almost relaxing. Shelley is an amazing job of distracting me with conversation, stories and just stuff which involves anything except what’s happening 1600 miles away. I am very grateful for her friendship, her companionship and I force myself to focus what we are talking about, then my phone rings … the screen announces Joe is calling.
Me: Shell ... this is Joe (as I throw my legs over the side of the chair) I gotta take
Shelley: go take it … go …
I walk towards the berm; the sea grass moves softly in the breeze.
Joe: … (silence) …
Me: Honey? Can you hear me?
Joe: yea …. I can hear you …
Me: You ok?
Joe: … (quick breath) … ummm … (sniffle) … ummm
Me: oh (my throat tightens) … Honey? … (the ball of sorrow rises in throat)
Joe: … am … am I doing (his voice cracks) … am I doing the right thing? …(sniffle)… I know we talked …
He goes silent, I imagine him leaning against the wall in the ER, his shoulders are slumped, his head hanging, his face is red and he’s pinching the bridge of his nose with his eyes squeezed tightly shut. The tears burn and flow fast as they rush down my cheeks, how can I be so far away?
Me: Honey? … we… we did talk about this … (sniffle) … oh God I can’t believe I’m not there.
Joe: … She’s not my mom anymore … she… (sniffle) she hasn’t been for a very long time
Me: no she hasn’t … (I look up hoping the salt breeze will dry the tears faster) … she’s been gone for years.
Joe: … but, who am I to say if someone (voice cracking again) should live or die? …
Me: … You’re not making that decision … your mom chose you to be her guardian. She did it…
Joe: She chose me and Scot.
Me: yes, she did choose you and Scot, but I know why she chose you, she knew you would always be her advocate, you wouldn’t waiver, you’d think with a clear mind and you would never not let her wishes be granted.
Joe: … It’s a lot … (blowing out a long breath) I don’t know if I can do it….
Me: (my voice begins to quiver) … I know it’s a lot, I know your strong … and I know you aren’t selfish. Letting her go is selfless … (sniffle) … Something I hope and pray you can do for me if it were me laying there…
Joe: don’t say that …
Me: but … but that’s what love is …
Joe: I know you’re right I know it’s the right thing … it’s just so hard ….
Me: What can I do?
Joe: Nothing right now (deep sigh) … I’ve got to call my brothers … this can’t be only my choice
Me: you ok?
Joe: … grrreaaat!
Me: Scot will follow your lead …
Joe: I think so … let me call them ...
Me: call me back ok?
Joe: yep …
Me: I love you …
Joe: love you too …
I walk back to the chairs where Shelley has just returned from another dip in the Gulf.
Me: Hey how about food? Want some lunch?
Shelley: yea, I’m starving … Joe ok? How’s his mom?
Me: Let’s order lunch and an adult beverage … and I’ll update you …
I lean forward and catch the straw between my lips, I suck up the refreshing mojito slides down the back my throat as I continue watch my new friends. The elderly woman is fidgeting folding and unfolding her arms, she opens and closes a magazine deep sighs escape her mouth often. The candy bar is gone, that little reprieve was short lived, I watch as the middle-aged woman continues to help her remain entertained, never looking annoyed, never losing patience always kind and loving. Another tear escapes and falls into my mojito.
Shelley: if I get fries will you eat a few?… just a side of fries is what I’m thinking
Me: Sure, I never say no to fries
Shelley: any more updates from Joe?
Me: Just that he got them to give her some pain med and she’s resting more comfortably.
Shelley: are your kids around?
Me: Ashely’s working … remember the pig ate her phone?
Shelley: … (swallowing hard after her sip of wine) … *giggle* Oh yea! How is she texting you? Me: Off her computer, I bet she’ll call when she’s on a break. I want to check in with Joey see if he can stop in at the ER, I know Joe will say he doesn’t need him … but I need Joey to do that … Let me call him …
Shelley: I’ve got a feeling he’s on his way already…
Me: Hey baby …
Joey: Hey …
Me: I know you’re probably at the fairgrounds … its Sunday and all but I think I need you to go to the ER and check on Daddy …
Joey: I’m already on my way
Me: (tears well up fast) Oh baby … I’m so proud of you … thank you …
Joey: I can’t leave him there alone …
Me; Ok let me know how he’s doing … Love you
Joey: Love you too
Shelley: He’ll go?
Me: He was already on his way …
Shelley: You’ve got great kids …
Me: yes we do …
My phone chimes on the table
Shelley: Is that Ashely?
Me: not its Joe …
Text from Joe
Joe: I think you should come home …
Me: I’ll find a flight
I look up at Shelley, now I’m scared.
Shelley: what did he say?
Me: I need to go home
Shelley: Well let’s get you there then …
The middle-aged woman stood and guided the elderly woman into line at the gate. As they walked behind two other passengers, I watch her gently guide the elderly woman back into line. She handed the elderly woman her ticket, after all they were just steps from the ticket agent, but the elderly woman dropped it. When they approached the scanner, she had nothing in her hand, the middle-aged woman handed two tickets to the agent, she saw the ticket drop and picked it up herself for safe keeping. She lovingly rests her hand on the elderly woman’s shoulder and helps escort her down the jet bridge … what a journey they have a head of them, I send them a silent prayer.
I sit back in my seat and watch the jet bridge door close, another tear escapes as I wonder … is this the beginning of the end?