Sunday, May 15, 2011

Her father's beads

Nursing my mother has become something of a preoccupation. Not so much to keep her alive as to make these last days comfortable. She is not in pain she tells me time and again, but her legs weep. I never knew this. I never knew that legs could ooze liquid as if they have become my mother’s eyes and she cries all the time through tiny holes and blisters in the skin around her swollen ankles.

It is a side effect of congestive cardiac failure the doctors say and there is not much they can do apart from reducing her fluid intake and trying to keep her fluid retention down. But my mother could not survive on a single litre of fluid a day.

I notice she does not even keep a tally on the number of drinks, cups of tea, juice and water she consumes and to my way of thinking why should she? It will not make a huge difference. This slow grinding down heart will only get worse.

Late on Friday night when I unpacked my mother’s bags after she had finally returned from hospital to her retirement village, I noticed a set of wooden rosary beads.
‘Do you want these nearby,’ I asked.
‘Put them there,’ she said and she pointed to the table beside her chair.
‘My father carved that crucifix out of wood,’ my mother said. ‘They were my father’s beads.’

Even to the end my mother has her father in mind. She was his favourite. He was hers. Strange then that my mother should marry a man such as my father, a man who could not/did not make her his favourite, or at least not in so far as I could ever see.

I have yet to work out the psychology behind my mother’s choice of husband, or should I say her husbands, for there were two.

The second husband puzzled me even more, but she was happy with him and although he seemed to me an uncouth, ocker sort of bloke who often put her down, he also treated her well to a degree, though not sufficient to cater for her well enough after their seventeen-year-old marriage ended in his death several years ago.

He left almost everything to his own children and very little for my mother after he died apart from the choice to live in his house for as long as she wanted before it was turned over to his two remaining children.

My mother refused to contest the will. She did not want to make trouble for anyone and so she eked out the last of her days on a pension and the good will of some of her children, leaving only the money she had invested in her room at the retirement village, which will be distributed between all her children on her death.

I have often been jealous of friends whose parents leave a huge monetary inheritance. I know I should be satisfied with my inheritance as it stands from both my parents, my education, my sense of myself, my capacities in most endeavours, but I cannot help but think what a wonderful help it would be to become suddenly rich as has happened to a few of my friends on the death of their respective parents.

Not so for my husband and me. We have been, as far as wealth is concerned, self made. We paid for our own wedding. We have worked hard to support ourselves throughout the years of our marriage and now at this stage I am not so confident that I have not repeated history, managed my affairs badly and will not leave a large legacy to our children, only debts that might consume whatever assets we have gained. I hope this does not happen.

I do not live to leave my children huge wealth but I’d like to think there might be more left over for them when we die than has been left for us, for both my husband and I. His parents were not much better off than my parents and they too had a large family of six.

There is something in this forward looking to my own death which relates I am sure to my mother's slow and steady decline into lifelessness, but as I drove back home last night from the retirement village after I had tucked my mother into her recliner chair where she now plans to sleep each night - she sleeps better there, as her heels do not rub - I thought I am grateful for this time, this time of nursing my mother, this time to make peace with her.

I have not always been such a faithful daughter.


Elephant's Child said...

'I have not always been such a faithful daughter.'
You post 'My Mother/Myself' stirred up quite a number of issues for me. (And I have to thank readers of both our blogs for their support). The issues that your post raised mostly related to the final sentence of this post. I did a lot for my mother, but I did not do it with a good grace. And regardless of the reasons for this, it is something which will continue to haunt me, and I suspect in different ways, you.
Re the inheritance question. I suspect the biggest and most valuable things you can give your children are not financial. They are things like confidence in your own worth and emotional support. Certainly a monetary inheritance can be a bonus, but it does not/cannot replace those other, in my mind, more important gifts.

Linda Sue said...

Oh My Elisabeth this is a post! I will be re-reading it for sure- just have to let you know that this one indeed sent me into a deep place- many levels of deep.

Rob-bear said...

A powerful post, indeed. Captivating thoughts well expressed. I need more time to think.

Laoch of Chicago said...

Finely expressed.

Windsmoke. said...

Take it one day at a time because i have no doubt that it will work itself out in the end and then you'll be sitting around wondering why you were so worried and concerned just like i was when my mum past away last year :-).

Anonymous said...

WE all vow not to repeat history - to leave our children something ... I hope I manage to leave a clean slate and a little something, maybe enough for them to go on a holiday with, or get a new kitchen ... maybe a enough for a deposit on a skateboard!

Lovely post Elisabeth, thought provoking as ever.

Jim Murdoch said...

When my mother died all she left us was the house, an ex-Council house all bought and paid for, and a few hundred quid in the bank. Not a huge sum in total; the house was in need of some repair. Everything was divided three ways only the solicitor forgot about the money in the bank and I just kept that. Even though it was only a couple of hundred pounds I still feel a little guilty that I didn’t split in with my siblings, but only a little. We were estranged by that point and although everyone was civil at the funeral we all knew that we’d never see each other again and it’s been about thirteen years during which time I’ve moved house a number of times and not told anyone. I did my duty as the eldest and I think they were happy to leave me to it. There was no squabbling over anything although I wish I’d let my brother take my dad’s Bible now. I didn’t want much apart from that, Dad’s writing desk and the SylvaC rabbits, the only thing to survive my parents’ marriage undamaged. Not having a fireplace to put them on they sit on the windowsill in the living room.

I do think about dying. It was what prompted my last book even though it didn’t turn out the way I expected, the idea of my daughter having to come into this place and go through what was left (hence the book’s title) of me; the rabbits have a cameo appearance by the way. If there’s one thing my daughter is not, however, it’s avaricious. Even as a child I had to press things on her. In her teens she hung onto everything though, bus tickets, the lot, but nothing of any real value; she seemed to require tangible proof of the times she had been happy. I bet she still has every soft toy I ever bought her somewhere in that garage of theirs.

Her partner already owns his flat so financially she’s comfortable. She has really turned into quite a sensible young woman and has made far wiser choices than I had any right to hope for. Okay she flunked college but in another year she’s going to have a Psychology Degree but then her mother failed her O-Level arithmetic and also got her degree later in life. Me, I’m just a writer. The things she’ll want will be, like me, of sentimental value: my big red folder of poems, the Didi and Gogo dolls and at least one or two of the Garfields. Yes, she’ll get rid of the flat and the money will come in handy but I don’t feel that she’s sitting there counting the days to my demise any more than I think he’s waiting on the death of his parents.

Apparently I was my parents’ favourite. I never felt it. I believed I was the black sheep but then apparently both my brother and sister thought they were too. I only have the one kid so there’s no question there. My wife has a favourite. I’m sure she wishes she didn’t and there’s no doubt that she loves her children equally (she has two) but that doesn’t change the fact. I was my father’s son. The irony is that I’m so much like my mother it’s not true.

During what turned out to be my mother’s last few months alive she ate what she wanted. My mum was fond of saying, “You are what you eat,” which means when she died she was probably 55% water and 45% microwave chips. I nagged her only on point of principle. She’d had such a rotten life up until then that my brother and sister and I were really only interested in seeing that she did what she wanted during her remaining time and if that involved daily trips to charity shops and a starch-heavy diet then so be it.

steven said...

elisabeth - these posts about your mother's preparations for flying away are so heavy and ripe with observation and introspection. i am in awe of your ability to contain the whole and place it in such a relatively small space. the richness that is left behind, that truly is left behind is nameless. steven said...

My father is in a hospital, just now, dying an expensive death. He will leave only debt, and I will be happy to pay what I can towards it.
It is funny, sort of, yesterday I had a conversation with my husband about my Dad. " Friend to all, Father to none." That is what I have always said about him.
Powerful writing, Elisabeth. You are in my thoughts today, and always. Peace.

iODyne said...

'friends whose parents leave a huge monetary inheritance' ... I have heard this called DeathLotto.

Wishing you strength at this emotional time.

Zuzana said...

Dear Elisabeth,
I feel there is a lot of sadness in this post.
Death is inevitable, for all us. It comes sooner or later and it never is pleasant.
I am sending you big hugs,

Enchanted Oak said...

I've thought often about my legacy from my parents since my mother died last August. My brother used all of it up in trying to save the family business he inherited from my dad and mom. Now his legacy from our mother is early-onset Alzheimer's. My younger brother is now trying to save the business, and they have both ejected me from their lives. I have nothing of my parents' former wealth. But I have memories of nursing my mother through her last years, the profound experience of that, plus the good years before her Alzheimer's set in, plus the memories of my father's love, plus my college education, plus a sense of blessing for who I am. My legacy is priceless, it turns out, as yours is too, because everything has made you what you are, the rich woman you are. May you find peace with your mother. I think you will.

Elisabeth said...

My mother rang tonight, Elephant's Child, to urge me not to visit tonight. she was fine she said. my older sister has been with her all day replaced by one of older brothers and she would be fine.

I suspect that my older sister would have talked to her about giving me a break. It's quite a hike to my mother's especially after a full days work.

My older sister lives closer but was away for the weekend when my younger sister and I took over.

My older sister has been doing the lion's share of the work as regards my mother, which is complex. I suspect my older sister feels like you - dutiful and ambivalent.

My guilt and relief at having the night off linger, but I can live with that.

Thanks Elephant's Child.

Elisabeth said...

Many levels of deep, Linda Sue. I'm gratified you see it this way. Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

Take your time, Rob Bear. Most of these things - things like dying and inheritance - take a great deal of thinking - and feeling - time. Thanks Rob Bear.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Laoch for those kind words.

Elisabeth said...

I'm sure you're right, Windsmoke. In the storm of each moment these events feel monumental, but in time they will be something to look back upon with quiet thoughtfulness.


Elisabeth said...

Your wishes for your children's inheritance, Jane H, are lovely, and a measure of what's really of real value. Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

My mum is meant to drink only a litre of fluid a day, Jim.

That's okay when it comes to water but what about her beloved cups of tea and the occasional coffee.

It's hard but the doctor says if she wants to stay around longer she'll have to adhere to the restriction, which she will not, I suspect.

How many of us feel that we are either the favourite of one or other of our parents or otherwise the black sheep. I suppose it offers some form of family notoriety. Imagine seeing yourself as just ordinary, one of the mundane ones.

I saw myself as my mothers favourite until adulthood when I decided my older sister has that Guernsey as she did with my father - the favourite but not so much the favourite, not when you consider the demands both parents have/had/ continue to place on her. Second best is probably best here.

As for your thoughts on your death as imagined through the eyes of your daughter as she goes through her father's belonging after his death, I suppoose in a strange way it's a bit like cheating death, in so fas as you can be around to watch people's reactions to your absence, if only in fantasy.

Thanks, Jim.

Elisabeth said...

Steven. I'm grateful for your appreciative comments and surprised that you see so much more than I do when I simply respond to my observations and experience here. But that's the way of it, I suppose.

We see, we feel, we think and record and others get a whole new angle on things we had not considered before, even as we write about them.

Thanks, Steven.

Elisabeth said...

Your father's is an expensive death, Just Jane, as is my mother's, what with modern technology and the push to keep people alive in ways they would not have dreamed of in years gone by.

And as for inheritance. To me in many ways it is my writing ability essentially, that my parents bequeathed to me.

Thanks, Jane.

Elisabeth said...

'Death lotto', Marshall Stacks. I've not heard that term, but it's very resonant. What will they leave me we wonder?


Elisabeth said...

Death is inevitable, as you say, Zuzana, sooner or later for all of us.

Thank you for your good wishes.

Elisabeth said...

Your legacy sounds priceless, Enchanted Oak, now as I'm coming to realise the value of being able to say goodbye to my mother through nursing her. It helps to wash away at least some of those grievances built up throughout our lives. Thanks, Enchanted Oak.

Ellen said...

A common lesson of life we are sharing. I am glad your mother can talk to you and you to her. I miss that fact that my mother doesn't have the ability to be understood with Non-fluent Aphasia that she has along with the dementia.

Like you I question my mom's plan in life. Was this what she thought would happen the way her life played out? Is she happy with the choices she made? Everyday I am learning from her downward spiral illness about how I wish to be for those around me. What I want because I don't want to get to my end stage in life and regret having not done something that I could have.

Legacies...whether it is a relationship that means the world to loved ones or wealth to loved ones when one passes away....I try not to go there. I don't know in the end what my mother has done. She would never tell us anything. It's not that I needed to know every detail but given the fact of the dementia I have no idea what she could have done. Good decision? Bad decisions?

Kath Lockett said...

Oh.... "'I have not always been such a faithful daughter.'

Me either... and I too harbour a bit of resentment about how LC and I have done everything without any financial support from my parents or his. We're proud of this but also a little sad about it as well and have been hurt a few times over the years.

and yet.... and yet.... they love us. We know that they do. We all make mistakes and we're all trying to do the best we can; to improve on what we perceive that we missed out on. Will that mean that my daughter might end up with too *much* help as I over-compensate, so that she fails to become independent or value things?

Who knows? But 'I have not always been such a faithful daughter' could be ascribed to most of us, methinks.

susan t. landry said...

dear elisabeth,
just wanted to let you know that i have been here. your last several posts have been so strong, so eloquent, the working through sof uch complicated, human narratives. your writing is brilliant and straightforward. i so appreciate everything you say, and how you say it.

Frances said...

It is fortunate for your mother that she is lucid, Elisabeth, and can give her children her last maternal lesson: how to die with dignity and grace.

Elisabeth said...

We take every day one at a time, Ellen, as far as my mother is concerned and as for imagining that this is how her life would pan out, I'm not sure what she would have imagined. But even now, as sick as she is, my mother holds onto the belief that she might live forever, or near enough to.

I'm glad that my mother is lucid and available to speak to us now, though from time to time she becomes a bit confused. It must be so much harder for you without the opportunity to speak to your mother at this time.

Thanks, Ellen.

Elisabeth said...

Faithless daughters and faithless mothers, Kath, they perhaps go hand in hand, but as you suggest we do our best despite any underlying resentments that might surface. Everyday I feel different vis a vis my mother and I relish the opportunity to shift from a bitter disenchanted and angry daughter into one who is more appreciative despite my mother's shortfalls.

Thanks, Kath.

Elisabeth said...

Dying with dignity and grace is a great lesson, Frances, though as I said to Kath earlier and now in different words, I suspect my mother will not go easily. She will most likely 'rage at the dying of the light'.

Thanks, Frances.

persiflage said...

Being part of the process of dying of a person dear to you inevitably makes one think about mortality in general, and how to come to terms with it, accept it, think about all the regrets, sorrows and pains, and then to think more about how to live the rest of one's own life.
Being close to the dying person, and giving whatever help is possible, matters immensely. It has always seemed to me to be a very precious time, to be treasured, and pondered over. Sorrow of course goes with it. Life contracts, and the world becomes smaller, confined to the needs of the dying and the family, until it is possible to accept the death's inevitability, and in many cases, its desirability. One cannot want those we love to linger in pain and misery.
It is impossible to forget the dying and the deaths of those I have been close to, saying those words of farewell and acceptance, and seeing life fading, dwindling and finally vanishing.
Then to say Requiescat in Pace.
May your mother's life end peacefully. I am thinking of you.

Dave King said...

There are so many issues here that seem to me to relate to myself and/or my wife, but I do not feel I can comment on them now. I need to think. Powerful post.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Sad and poignant at the same time. Hugs...
After caring for my mom for years since my dad dies very young, my inheritance was her set of favourite books and half of the remains of her tiny saving.My little sis got the jewellery. Nothing went to the grandkids. My maternal aunt was more fair. I decided to give my kids stuff now. They already have most of my jewellery and some of my wealth has been put in investment accounts that they have control over. But for Buddy it will be different. He will get 50% of the estate and a trustee to care for him. My sister has accepted that role and she will do the job.
The oldest auntie whom I shall visit this July has already given me my share of inheritance, my sister too. I think it makes sense. That way there's less for the lawyers and gov't when the time comes.
Glad to hear you are coming to terms with your feelings about you and your mom.

Marja said...

Elisabeth you leave me again with so much food for thought. Indeed a very powerful post. So many things get digged up from my mind.
I love your writing and I wish the best for you and your mother. Arohanui.

erin said...

i ache all over this. i'm not quite sure what else i might say. except you are beautiful in your honesty. and she, in what you reveal to us.

i kinda of just want to sit in her room and watch you two. i'm glad she is back in familiar surroundings. i wish her peace. you too.


Elisabeth said...

I'm sorry to be so long in responding to your generous and thoughtful comment, Persiflage. I find at the moment with all the commitments I have plus the added demands of helping out with my mother, I have so little time to respond in the blogosphere as I'd like.

My thanks to you Persiflage for all your thoughts here. I can only agree with you. This is a precious time.

Elisabeth said...

It's this talk of mortality, Dave, that sets those of us aged over fifty thinking hard, I suspect.

I hope your thinking about these matters proves productive. I bet it will. You are such a thoughtful and eloquent poet and thinker, Dave. Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

Susan, thanks to you, too, for being here and letting me know. I value your encouragement.

Elisabeth said...

The distribution of the things we leave behind is always meaningful, Kleinstemotte and often times difficult.

I agree with you about giving things away before you go. At least then you can share the pleasure.

Thanks, Kleinstemotte.

Elisabeth said...

Thank you again for your good wishes, Marja. I'm glad my posts give you food for thought, as yours do for me.

Elisabeth said...

I'm glad that my mother is back in her familiar surroundings , too, Erin. She seems so much happier.

Strange to say, hospitals are no place for the frail elderly. My mother is much better since she was in hospital. She needs a different sort of attention than the carving up of her bodily functions as happens in hospitals. Like all of us, she needs overall and personal care.

Thanks, Erin.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Wills and inheritance are a touchy subject for me. My mother apparently had something in mind when she left the lion's share of the inheritance to my sister. The money wasn't the issue but my sister somehow deemed that my mother's decision meant that I was somehow "undeserving" in some manner and the remainder of our relationship with each other was infused with that underlying attitude. It became sufficiently uncomfortable over time that I severed all relationship with my sister.

I am in a second marriage with two blood and two step children. My wife and I have made it a point that all four will benefit equally from our estate. When we were married, we had our children stand with us as a demonstration that two families were getting married. The step-siblings do not recognize that they share no DNA, they consider themselves brother and sisters in all respects. Our legacy will always reflect that.

Elisabeth said...

I think it's terrific when blended families can get together to share their parental inheritance equally. It seems much more helpful to all concerned.

No wonder you're toey about your mother's inheritance. I'm all for equal distribution among siblings regardless.

Thanks, Robert.