Monday, October 15, 2018

dire straights

Your faithful correspondent is not perky today. It's cold and raining, and things are confusing and dire. One of my aunt's good friends came back from visiting her nursing home last night and sent the most desperate email about her condition. It felt as I read as if we have betrayed her, let her down in the most appalling way, condemning her to a ghastly death. And yet I don't know what to do for her or how to change her circumstances.

Besides the staff at the home, who by my own reports and those of others, are skilled and caring, we have provided two other PSW's who are there for hours a day and care for her with loving kindness, as well as her own longterm caregiver Pat, who has just recovered from an operation and is there too, not to mention my brother. She is in a specially ordered hospital bed and is on a heavy dose of a powerful opiate. No one understands how she can still feel such pain and anxiety.

I have written to a friend who's a doctor, seeking advice - are there better meds? Should she be in actual palliative care, which would mean moving her? -  to an organization that advocates for the elderly, and to the woman who runs the home, who assures me my aunt is getting the best of care. Nothing has helped my brother and me through this terrifying, excruciating quagmire of death. My father was only 65, with terminal stomach cancer, when one day, after watching Wimbledon with us all, he walked upstairs, took the morphine he had secretly stockpiled, and died in my mother's arms the next morning. He was in no pain, never lost dignity, just saw what was coming and had had enough. My mother had been disintegrating for some time and was headed for palliative care when at 89 she died on Christmas morning in hospital. But again, she had not been in pain.

We have always been afraid of the current scenario for my aunt, who at 98 had absolutely nothing wrong with her - a tough sinewy body, a good heart and perfect blood pressure. So now, the strong body that allowed her to live independently for so long is delaying the death she so desperately desires.

I teach tonight but am cancelling things right now and am on hold with Porter; though I'm scheduled to go up in a few weeks, I'll go up tomorrow first. Was asked to speak about a student and her book at her book launch on Wednesday - I'm now writing the talk I would have given and someone else will deliver it.

I took a sleeping pill to be able to sleep last night, so much was roiling inside. All this, plus an election in Toronto that, after the disgusting Ford smashed our ward system, has me filled with concern, plus of course the apocalyptic UN report on climate change, and the state of the world, more dire reports coming from all over about the rise of the hard right - a story today on how Breivick, the far right mass murderer in Norway, was the beginning of a trend. Nightmares.

On the other hand - even in the gloom, the bright side. Eli and I had a sleepover this weekend, and what a gift to spend time with this bright, voluble, inventive six-year old. We played Snakes and Ladders many times and he only cheated a bit. We did the big dinosaur puzzle five times - he's really good at puzzles - and went twice to the wonderful playground in Regent Park for a lot of time on the monkey bars. First thing Sunday morning, as I reluctantly moved my ancient bones, he said, "Glamma, let's play tag!" Just, JUST what I felt like doing. Tag.

Best of all, snuggled in bed reading "Charlotte's Web." So I will leave you with a last word from E. B. White, the last two paragraphs of this glorious book, which Eli and I have not reached yet.

 Mr. Zuckerman took fine care of Wilbur all the rest of his days, and the pig was often visited by friends and admirers, for nobody ever forgot the year of his triumph and the miracle of the web. Life in the barn was very good - night and day, winter and summer, spring and fall, dull days and bright days. It was the best place to be, thought Wilbur, this warm delicious cellar, with the garrulous geese, the changing seasons, the heat of the sun, the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep, the love of spiders, the smell of manure, and the glory of everything.

Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is both a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.


Ten minutes later: my brother called from Do's hospital room. They don't think she will last through the night. He assures me again that she has been getting the very best of care, surrounded with love and attention. Perhaps her friend was distraught at seeing such a strong woman brought so low. I will wait to hear if I am needed, but he says she won't know me if I go tomorrow, so I probably won't. I said my goodbyes to her last time I was there.

Both my brother and I were weeping as we talked. She is almost the last of that generation - no one left on my mother's side, one or two on Dad's, in their nineties in New York. Loss loss loss loss loss loss loss.


  1. I'm so sorry to hear about your aunt. Sending you my best thoughts.