Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Home Again, At Last
Tobacco House, Hoffman Estates, IL
I am finally home from Tobacco House, where my mother lived. This was only going to be a one-week trip, but extended to two... My mom was ill from terminal emphysema due to smoking from age 12 to age 68. She did quit finally, but the damage was done. Her house was coated with 30+ years of heavy smoking by her, her husband and my step brothers, one of whom stayed with her and gave her constant care as her condition worsened. I had to stay in a nearby hotel for the time I was there because the air was so bad inside the house.
When I got there I found the place looking as though it hadn't been cleaned at all in the last 10 or 12 years-- and it hadn't! You know how those TV shows like The Munsters always had everything covered in fake cobwebs? In my mom's house, they were real cobwebs! I'm a little sorry now that I didn't take pictures of the inside of the house, but it just seemed so very dreadful... The hospice people were paying someone to come in and clean once a week, but apparently all she did was neaten up a little in the kitchen and talk on her cell phone. It didn't take me very long to whisk away the cobwebs and dust with a swiffer, and my brother (we stopped all that "step-brother/step-sister" nonsense right away-- family is what you make of it!) and I restored the living room from being a warehouse maze of boxes of medical and long-term care supplies. There were a few glass covered bookcases with frosted glass-- but when I cleaned them, it turned out to be clear glass coated with years of thick tobacco tar! I tried cleaning the walls, but when the 5th pass had the paper towel coming away the same dark brown oily color, I gave up. It was a very small (1,000sq ft.) and very dark house, indeed, without the tobacco's help.
Mom's room was kept pretty clean, though, except for the corners, which had cobwebs. She had a very comfortable hospital bed with an air mattress, TV and all the general comforts she needed. And she was very alert and had not lost one bit of her wonderful dark sense of humor. The humor helped a lot, for sure. We spent a couple of really wonderful days together going through her costume jewelry and trying it on like a couple of little kids, sharing memories and jokes.
I got there on Thursday/Friday, and by Monday she started to go into a decline. The hospice got Medicare to approve continuous nursing for her, which was a huge relief to my brother and his roommate, who had been doing round-the-clock shifts for the last year to make sure Mom was okay and got all the care she needed. It was a great relief to me, too, to know that they could rest at last, and that Mom was getting the best. I had no money to kick in, and they had all been living mostly on Mom's small pensions, so it's good to know that Medicare was willing to pay for that. We sure couldn't have.
My days there were spent cleaning up as best as I could, going through papers, helping prepare her will, packing my dad's paintings. And, of course, sitting with Mom when she was awake. She had some very bad nights where she would call out for help. I'd ask what she wanted and she'd look at me and say, "You!" So I kept extending my stay, of course. It was starting to get scary expensive, but what could I do? I was glad to be able to be there for her. When she signed her will, it kind of looked like maybe she might not be able to actually sign, but then, after a tentative try with the pen, she signed quite vigorously. This had been on her mind for some time, and she was very determined to get it taken care of. That night was much quieter for her.
On Sunday, August 19, after a couple days of more and more sleeping, my mother died at 11:25pm. It seemed peaceful. She had spent the whole day just lying quietly, breathing rapidly but showing no distress, though she was very much aware of her surroundings and nodded to me when I spoke to her. It looked to me as though she was just letting the charge run out on her personal battery. We were all with her at her bedside, telling her how much we loved her, telling her, "goodbye." It was hard, and yet I wouldn't have wanted to keep her here like that. Emphysema is slow and merciless. I wished her then, and wish her now a Good Journey.
It was the day after, Monday, that I learned from my brother just how really nuts her life had been. She lived as an almost total recluse-- I knew that. What I didn't know was, there were actual large family inheritances that she had turned down, for herself and for me and the step-kids! These were large legacies that could have changed all our lives for the better. There were other things, insurance settlements passed by, restitution for a failed business turned down... I was in shock for a few hours before I got really angry. My mother died in total destitution. And she didn't have to!!!!! She made huge financial decisions for me, without telling me!!! Not to mention that she still had minor children living at home. And too late then to ask why, what had she been thinking.
By Wednesday morning we had sorted things out to the extent that I could leave, so I drove back to Portland with a car full of tobacco contaminated paintings and books, double-wrapped in 2 mil giant plastic bags. (Soon I will be an expert at cleaning tobacco tar off of oil paintings!) If there is an afterlife, I sure hope Mom heard me yelling at her, all the way through Iowa and parts of Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Oregon. It was very therapeutic, I'm sure, and also very good I was traveling alone.
We live in an absolutely breathtakingly beautiful country! If you ever get the chance to drive across it, do it! You will be amazed and delighted. My only 2 complaints about driving are that it is not considered an emergency stop to get out every 5 miles and take pictures, and that the vast majority of rest stops on I-80 and I-84 have 2-way mirrors!!! Their surveillance cameras now have great shots of me, flipping them off and throwing water at them. I'm sure the excuse is "safety", but the camera behind the mirror will not save anyone from any crimes, only record the crimes for later viewing. Grrrrrr! I hope they enjoyed watching me brush my teeth.
I decided at the last minute NOT to take my beadwork, after all. This was the right decision, it turned out. I would never have actually had the energy to work on anything there. I got in a very small amount of knitting, though, and that did wonders for my sanity. Of course, this leaves me to finish up July, start August, and maybe even get into September, as the Summer draws to a close. I'm truly inspired to jump back in, and will do so soon, once I catch up with a little paying work.
It was an amazing, sad, aggravating, scary, and wonderful trip. I am so glad that I was able to spend this last time with Mom. I do love her very much, even though her actions in life were truly crazy-making. I guess all parent/child relationships have their complications. We had to borrow against the unsold house to make the drive possible, but I have no real regrets, and there would have been a great many if I had stayed here.