Teacher's Ramblings

A potpourri of education, politics, family matters, and current events.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Totally Off Topic of Politics and Education

I've been involved with an email conversation regarding parents/grandparents in skilled nursing facilities. I'm not quite sure where this post will go, but my own mom was in a 'home' for the last 11 months of her life. While this placement was very hard on my mother, I doubt it was as difficult on her as for my father, my brother, and myself.

My mom was my best friend and mentor. Seriously, a smarter woman you would be hard pressed to meet. I won't bog anyone down with the particulars, but let me tell you that when MLK Jr. was assassinated, she made all of us Catholics go to a Baptist Church to mourn our nation's loss. This from a Chicago west side kid that grew up during the depression. She was raised a democrat, Irish immigrant parents. Turned Republican with Nixon, God help us! The fights we had. Her heroes were Mike Royko and the Pope.

When I chose to marry a Jew, she didn't have a problem with his religion, in spite of my uncle the Irish priest. She dd seem reticent about the marriage, though she never told me why. When I decided to divorce him nearly 15 years and 3 children later, she supported me and the kids. There was no, 'I told you so'. When the divorce became very ugly, nothing of which had to do with religion, she had her first stroke and my dad moved her down to Florida, she sent me the money for a townhome. She told me to get the kids in a good school and just keep going. After the 4th stroke, my dad moved into the townhome with her. As she had said when she sent the check, "You never know when an investment will pay off..."

With 24 hour nursing, she had nearly 2 years of pretty good times. No doubt she was sick. My children learned how difficult the end of life can be. I'll never forget coming home from school and finding my youngest son, a freshman in high school helping her on the toilet. This was a child that had been in the running for bd classes, but in the district we were in they chose to try him in the gifted program-thanks to my mom for giving us that opportunity. When I tried to help him, he said, "I've got her, she'll get upset if you step in now..." Granted he used that later, but not when she could know about it. Today he is in a university, hoping to be accepted into the FBI.

No doubt the hardest part of the years of my mom's sickness was the last, in the 'skilled nursing home.' It was a great home, as far as homes go. It was Catholic, so she could go to mass whenever she wanted. Funny thing once moved there her desire for early morning/late night masses fell to zip! I guess right up to the end, 'The grass is always greener...'

While her mind was pretty good regarding politics and such, there were impulse problems and other issues that made the 'high intervention' floor the choice for the home. This put her with Alzeimer patients and others that couldn't discuss what she was interested in. She took to sleeping during the day and reading papers and talking with the nurses during the night. In other homes they may have sedated her, not at this one. No problem, when she died, the night shift eulogized at how she kept them up to date after the Iraq war began. It was a fitting end for a woman who was so engaged in current events.

Obviously my mom had been very sick for a very long time, yet the day she was dying came suddenly. It was a Saturday, my dad and I had gone to Sam's Club for groceries. On the way home he suggested we stop to see her, I said it was too close to lunch, it made me ill to watch the residents eat. He agreed and we went home and were putting away groceries when the call came to come over, the end was near.

We called my brother and all of us gathered. There was my dad, my brother, our 6 children, my sister-in-law and myself. The nuns at the home gathered about every hour and sang a song of 'going home.' After several hours, my sister-in-law took my dad and the kids home. My brother and I stayed for a few more hours. We had become used to my mom getting sick and then rallying. We began to wonder if that was happening now, the nun/nurse said, "No, this will be it, but no telling how long." My brother went home at 1 am, planning on returning about 6am, to break me. He showed up about 7, and called before I got home, she was gone. I think my mom knew it would be too hard on me to have her die, so she waited. My brother, the cop, was used to death-he sees it more philosophically.

What the home did that was extraordinary was the funeral service. They contacted the children to do the readings. One of the nuns asked my daughter, the music major to sing for the funeral, Oh Danny Boy and the Ave Maria were the high points. The oldest grandchild, in law school, was asked to speak about my mother's passion for justice. I don't think that my dad, my brother, or myself could have put together such a send off for my mom. Those nuns did that, they brought her to life, after so many years of entrapment by illness. They contacted my school which sent the middle school students to the funeral with their parents, needless to say, that was a shock to me.

All in all, we wish we could have provided the care for my mom at home, but we couldn't. We were fortunate to be able to afford the care at home as long as possible and the best alternative care when home care was no longer feasible. Back in 1977 as my graduate thesis study in sociology at U of I, I had completed a study on nursing home care in Chicago, in no case had I found the level of care my mom received. I will be eternally grateful and will work that all families have the chance to keep their loved ones home as long as possible, and have access to the best care possible when that is no longer feasible. I cannot believe that the cost of the care at the home was less than at our home, yet the cost was totally covered, while the home care was not. That does not make sense and I am heartened to see that the present administration is addressing this issue.

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