The headlines scream: Supreme Court decisions. Donald battles Hillary. Orlando. A congressional sit-in. And that’s just the top of the list.
If I may? Let me take a moment.
On Saturday, Kathleen Rose Jackson Lord — aka Mom — will celebrate her 97th birthday. The years have taken their toll. She can no longer walk, dress herself, and the tentacles of dementia have begun to slide inside her once very warm heart and doubly crisp mind. There are moments when she no longer recognizes her caregiver, that being her only child — me.
“Jeffrey, where are you?” she frequently asks me as I literally sit next to her, trying to fathom her bewildered state. She asks to “go home”… yet she is home. At least in the home where she has lived for a full forty-five years, almost all of them with my late Dad after they decided to stop owning a house and all its entailed responsibilities and move into a small apartment in a ranch-style suburban home.
Over here is a poem that asks What Is a Mother? It reads as follows:
A Mother has so many things to do,
From washing, ironing, cleaning to tying a shoe.
She scrubs, she mends, she cooks and sews,
She bathes the children and washes their clothes.
When they forget to wash their faces clean,
And their clothes are the muddiest you’ve ever seen,
Who repairs the clothes and scrubs them like new?
Of course, that is what a Mother will do.
Who becomes the doctor or the nurse when they are ill,
Applying a bandage or giving them a pill?
Who becomes a teacher when a child has homework?
She must never her duty shirk.
Who becomes a detective to find a toy or a book?
For missing things she must look and look?
Who becomes a listener to every heartache,
To every accomplishment that a child makes?
Who scolds their children when they are naughty,
Or remind them of God when they are to haughty?
Who tends her family with love and patience, too?
Of course that is what a Mother will do.
Well, of course. That is exactly what my mother… and without doubt millions more mothers… have done.
As a Baby Boomer, by luck of the draw, my life exists because of the high school sweetheart parents who helped form the backbone of what is now known (thank you, Tom Brokaw) as The Greatest Generation. Mom, her Riverhead, New York high school class’s valedictorian, was a seriously smart person, never able in the era of the Great Depression to go to college. She would go on to work in my hometown of Northampton, Massachusetts as the executive assistant to the Smith College English and History Department, the chair of the Hampshire County Republican Women (replete with an invite to the Eisenhower White House and a pose with Ike himself in the Rose Garden) and president of the Massachusetts Congregational Women. Her quest for education was never ceasing, and she, along with Dad, made certain that their son would get that college degree. (Thank you Mom, Dad, Franklin and Marshall College, and all those employers who employed me in college financing jobs life-guarding, flipping french fries, and taking tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike!)
Time flies, as they say. And so it does. For everybody.
In my case? Here I am at a juxtaposition in life where I happily work at home in Pennsylvania everyday tapping and talking in the mass media — with an off-camera life that entails taking care of Mom.
A while back I read a piece in the New York Times about a journalist who left her job to take care of her Dad. Alas, I can’t seem to find the story, but suffice to say the story was and is not uncommon for Baby Boomers. These tales are far from uncommon. Here is a tale from March of this year in the Times, the headline as follows:
Living With the Parents I’m Losing to Alzheimer’s
To be clear, I moved home from Washington twelve years ago when my Dad, now passed nine years, had Alzheimer’s. I was a struggling writer getting ready to go back to work in the hum-drum of D.C. having failed at the writing task. Abruptly, I had a life-changing situation on my hands, unsought as these situations can be. Now, having seen Dad through to the end of his struggle (he was a couple weeks shy of 90 when he died), the hand of fate turns to Mom. Without doubt, dementia she has.
But having lived with Alzheimer’s and presently with dementia, I understand exactly this Times “As told to Paula Span” story. Part of it reads as follows (the italicized section is from the story’s introduction; the rest are Ms. Wolf’s own words):
In 2010, Elizabeth Wolf, then 30, was living in Vermont, working for a nonprofit and happily
exploring new pursuits, from raising chickens to contra dancing.
But after several disturbing phone calls from and about her parents, Louis and Nancy Brood, she moved back into the split-level in Mt. Laurel, N.J., where she and her siblings had grown up, with her now husband, Casey Wolf. She expected to arrange caregiving help for her parents, then return to Vermont.
Five years later, she is still taking care of her 81-year-old father and 65-year-old mother, both with dementia. Ms. Wolf, who volunteers with the Alzheimer’s Association, writes about the experience at upsidedowndaughter.com.…
Now, every morning, I wake up around 6 or 6:30. I’ll bring Dad his medicine.
I take Mom to the bathroom. I have to take her every couple of hours, otherwise we have what happened this morning, when there’s not only a major accident, but the mess ends up everywhere and I have to get her in the bath.
I prepare their breakfast. She takes medicine for diabetes, hypothyroidism, high blood pressure, and she’s on seizure medication and two antipsychotics because she has hallucinations. She stopped swallowing pills willingly a few years ago — we were having all-out wars. Now we hide them in chunks of banana.
My dad goes to a day program for adults with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Five days a week, he gets picked up at 8:40 and comes back between 1 and 1:30.
I’m always looking for more activities to do with him. I found a local voice teacher, and once a week she plays the piano and they sing together, old songs he has in his deep memory recesses. All the Way.” “Some Enchanted Evening.”
My mom doesn’t have much of an attention span for activities anymore. A lot of what we do all day is wander and sit and stare out the window.
At night, we have a motion sensor so that any time their bedroom door opens — if my mom has to go to the bathroom, she’ll wander into the hallway — a receptor in our room bings. It goes off maybe six times a night, on average. Some nights it feels like every half-hour.
One night recently my dad was so confused, up so many times, and I was exhausted and full of frustration and anger and overwhelming grief. I just went in there and cried in his arms, begging him, “Please, go back to sleep.” He didn’t understand, but he was holding me and crying, too, and saying, “I’m so sorry. I’ll do better. I’ll do better.”
I don’t know how to describe that feeling, where you just don’t feel like you can go on anymore.
Is my “MomCare” situation exactly like this? Of course not. No two human lives, as I often say on CNN air when asked to compare Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, are exactly alike. But this Times account is close enough to my own — and doubtless so many others.
So why write about this now? There are, as mentioned at the outset, a lot of issues out there that are hot in the headlines and truly deserve attention.
Mom taught me two important rules of life. The first? “Anticipate!” I have been, um, less than diligent in absorbing and implementing Rule One. But hope springs eternal. Hmm… recall that column back there in 2013 that said Never Ignore Donald Trump as seen here? That would be Mom’s Rule One — “Anticipate” — in action.
Rule Two? “I don’t care what the Jones’s think. I care what YOU think!” That one, as readers and CNN viewers of all stripes will understand, Mom’s kid gets instinctively. See: CNN, YouTube, various fuming liberal and conservative sites beginning right here at The American Spectator. No, Van Jones, this doesn’t mean you…except that it does!
In my own “I don’t care what the Jones’s think” fashion while all hell breaks loose, I want to send a shout out to everybody out there who is doing their version of “Mom Care” — senior care. God bless you all.
And Happy 97th Mom. I love you. I’m here, whether you know it or not.