It was about 3 in the morning when I was roused by my “your sister is calling” ringtone…

I thought it was a dream at first until my usually dead-to-the world husband nudged me saying that I’d better pick up the phone.  “There must be something wrong,” he was saying.

Sure enough.

Sis apologizes for the wake-up call.  She says that she’s just learned that our step-father of eighty-plus years had left the house at 10 a.m. on his grocery run and still wasn’t home by late evening.  Worse yet, our mom didn’t contact anyone about the situation until evening.  Ay, yay, yay.

I’m sitting straight up in bed now.  I do believe a few expletives flew out of my mouth.  Sis was spitting bullets too, rightly so.  Our mother has become mostly bed-ridden unfortunately largely by her own making (her refusal to move and laying in bed nearly 24-7 has stripped her of nearly all her muscular strength) but don’t ya think she could have noticed that her husband wasn’t back from his milk-run at the grocery store just three miles away well before noon?!  Mom says he called at “some point” to say “I am lost” and then he hung up.  Could you not call him back?  No…she doesn’t have his phone number.  Seriously? Seriously!  Ay, yay…..

Eventually the police were called and eventually my step-father was found.  When all was said and done, he didn’t get home until about 2 in the morning.  He was “as docile as a lamb” said Debbie,  mom’s friend, who picked him up at the police station.  My heart broke at that description.   Our mother was a wreck, but not necessarily for the right reasons.   Oh mom.  I tried to listen while in that  3 a.m. wake-up fog and again, I asked the wrong questions.  Mom wasn’t happy with me.  Debbie said later that it wasn’t the time to ask questions and I will admit to lashing out at Debbie:  It’s NEVER the right time to ask questions with my mom.  We cannot wait anymore…we need a plan.    My sis and I feel totally helpless living nearly 3,000 miles away but even when we are visiting we can accomplish virtually nothing.

Sis and I are both very concerned about what is happening with our aging parents and have been for some ten years now.  They don’t seem to have A PLAN and if they do they certainly aren’t sharing it with their children.  You know the kind of plan…what do you want to do when the time comes that you can no longer take care of yourself or each other plan.   I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised because we aren’t even privy to the alarm code to their house.

Our mother’s abysmal health issues aside, part of our deep concern–apart from the fact that we love our parents dearly— is that our step-father’s health has been in decline for nearly five years now and it seems to be taking a dramatic turn.  He is the only one that takes care of our mother …and to a terrific fault I might add.  He is, I believe, partly the reason why our mother is virtually bed-ridden.  But I digress….
With our step-father, there has been a noticeable mental decline in the past five years as well as changes in temperament… specifically a lot more yelling and screaming.   Part of that could be due to tensions with mom and the fact that he can’t hear worth a damn after years of working with heavy machinery in his architecture business.    Add to that, he’s on blood thinners, he often refuses to wear his hearing aids, he has leg problems and he has faced prostate cancer that required frequent trips to the doctor for treatment. Mom hasn’t really seen him through these challenges; he’s faced them mostly alone and while some of it could be due to his stoic bearing, I’d say mostly its to keep the peace with our mom.  She’s just not “good” with these things if you know what I mean.  Something else is also going on with our step-father’s health which we have absolutely no information about:  he has lost a dramatic amount of weight in a short time.  Naturally, Sis and I know this is just not good and we surmise it’s cancer but we don’t know for sure.   We ask our mother what is going on and remarkably, she knows nothing.  Really? Really.  Call the doctor mom; you need to talk to the doctor!  Sis and I implore over and over again.  But mom says incomprehensible things like “I can’t…I have a dentist appointment.”  Sis is spitting bullets…I am a convulsing volcano. Mom is at once in denial and fearful for her situation; who is going to take care of her?  Sure, it’s understandable…it’s a very frightening time…but don’t bury your head in the sand and expect that the problem will just go away.  Work with us please!   I feel like I am watching a ship sink.  Our brains are about to explode from the craziness of it all.  We want to help but we must be let in….

During our visits we see the changes in our step-father..some subtle, some glaring and we try to weather his intense outbursts.  One minute he’s laughing and jovial and in an instant he’s angry and storming off into another room.

Yes, we all decline.  From the minute we take our first breath as we enter the world, we are dying.  His decline, as for each one of us, is inevitable.  In our family’s case, I just wish there was a kinder and gentler way through this.  As sis and I are trying to navigate through this new chapter…a totally unfamiliar territory with very few tools, we are also keenly aware of the inevitability of losing our loved ones.  But add to that sadness the unnecessary drama of refusing to discuss  a plan of action to smoothly sail into sunset.  It shouldn’t be this painful, should it?    What are we doing wrong?  We are asking questions.   Mom is often the button-pusher in this whole scenario. The minute we ask a question, she explodes.   She causes intense drama, acting still as the queen and we…her children, her husband, her friends…are witnesses to it all on her grand operatic stage.  It is so difficult for sis and I not to react to the drama and nearly impossible to breathe it away with a mantra of positivity.

We are human after all.

So why should my sadness be so great especially since he is a man who I have known only since 1997 …a mere 16 years?  Despite his irascibility and thoroughly German stubbornness, he is a teddy-bear of a man and I’ve grown to love him, quirks and all.  He somehow managed to woo my mother, who after 22 years of a bad marriage, followed by almost as many years of solitude was hard-pressed to like any man, let alone love one.  He has taken care of my mother for more than 17 years now.  He built her a fabulous home, took her on first-class travel adventures, and he’s literally been doing everything for her, from cooking gourmet meals every day, to doing all the shopping and errands throughout all these years.  Our mom has wanted for nothing.

Sis and I were mighty happy, at first, that our mamma was being pampered so wonderfully.  She deserved happiness and I think sis and I were relieved that finally she was not all alone and that she had someone to share her life with.  But his devotion to our mother seemed a bit one-sided at times, at least in my humble opinion.  I think their relationship reached something of a tipping point– exacerbated by a foot injury that mom experienced– seven years ago.  He still pampered her, of course, but now it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to do literally everything for her.  Resentment to mom’s demands and neediness slowly started to creep in.  I think its that resentment that has fueled some (not all) of my step-father’s angry outbursts and the nearly daily arguments between them.  After every visit I’d tell my husband that I do not want us to be like my mom and step-father when we’re in our seventies.  Perhaps it’s because mom got so accustomed to being pampered like a queen that she became so thoroughly lazy to do anything for herself.  Perhaps depression, which runs in our family, has once again snuffed the life right out of our mom… but you’d think that all that our step-father has done for her over the years would have shaken her out of herself and into a new way of thinking and living.  Sis says mom will never change.  I’ve honestly fought that concept for years now because I firmly believe that anyone, until their last breath, can change.   I’m losing faith in a lot of things these days.  I think my sis is right.

Sigh.

So we’ll both go out and see our parents in a couple of weeks.  The fight has already begun because mom doesn’t seem to want us there.  She exploded when sis said we were both coming.  She says that “her heart can’t take all the drama.”  I erupted with laughter when sis told me that.  That’s too funny because despite her inability to walk mom could outlive us all.  She doesn’t want our help to figure things out…she just wants us to be like her husband and do everything.  Sounds wonderful right, but like any drug (you name it) eventually it is not good for the body!  Mom doesn’t want to face the changes that are coming.  I understand, all too well, although mom doesn’t give me any credit for that.  She also doesn’t see past her situation to know that we also want to see our step-father who is declining.  We have every right and reason to come…his days with us are fewer and fewer.  He deserves the show of love, support, and respect even though we are not his daughters and even though his mental state may not recognize that our hearts are heavy knowing that he is slipping away from all of us.

Mom and step-dad on a cruise in 2006

Mom and step-dad on a cruise in 2006

I’m trying not to break down from the craziness of it all and sis is trying not to turn into a purple minion…again….

We are both trying to navigate these uncharted-for-us waters as best we can.  The only support that we have through it all is each other and boy am I ever thankful for that.  Our husbands are here for us…yes….but they are also weighed down by the demands and pressures of work and travel.  It isn’t any easier for them to watch their wives go though this intense drama…

I sat on the yoga mat just yesterday trying to find a measure of peace and calm in the storm.  I’ve overeaten for two days in a row trying to soothe the turmoil in my heart which has in turn caused turmoil in my stomach!    I need a new mantra but I’m stuck in my head.  In some ways, I don’t want to face the changes that are coming either.

So mom… I understand….really I do.