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What do you do when the unexpected happens?

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Last week Tuesday I got the kind of call no one wants. My brother, Andy, called at 10:30pm. Normally, he never would call then. He has to be at work at 6am. He simply said, “Julie, mom fell down the stairs.” After my gasp, he went on… “I couldn’t get her up, I called an ambulance. Can you go to the hospital?”

I don’t believe I even really hung up after I said yes. I had been in bed but my husband, Bill, was downstairs and I quick called him to come up and asked if he would go with me up to the hospital. Even with having to pull on clothes, we beat the ambulance to the hospital and Andy by a few minutes.

Then commenced long hours of waiting while they ran numerous tests, C-scans, x-rays, and we knew only what the administrative clerk told us. Finally, they let Andy and I go back. Mom wasn’t coherent enough to talk at all. We had to wait another long time while they ran another x-ray. The ER doctor explained what they knew that she had two pelvic fractures, a dislocated elbow, and broken bones in her arm.

A little about Mom

Mom is 84. I took the photo above earlier on the day she fell. I was looking at the flowers and the roses she was pointing out and she was saying, “oh, don’t take my picture” when I snapped that one. Mom never did like her photo being taken and since my brother is an avid photographer, a trait he got from my dad, we all learned not to point and shoot at Mom but last Tuesday, I didn’t listen and just clicked.

She has been experiencing some form of dementia for some time now. But she was ambulatory and able to still do things she loves. She was confused about cooking and recipes she made for years now didn’t work but she still planted flowers outside and knew all of them by name. She still worked on crossword puzzles and read fiction. She still kept up the large binder detailing the books she read by author, title, and other details… all without a computer.

Mom was born in the house she still lives in. 84 years in one house. My grandfather built the house and until my grandmother’s death in 1979, Gramma lived downstairs while our family lived up on the second level with 14 stairs to climb.

Some people asked after the fall why we didn’t make mom move downstairs. Mom was stubborn and she wasn’t likely to do anything she didn’t want to do. She wanted things to remain the same. Yet, she never had trouble with the stairs before that day.

Change is hard

Everything is changing for Mom now. She never wanted to have any tubes hooked up to her and she didn’t want to go to a nursing home. Right now she needs 24/7 care. She has so many bruises and broken bones from the fall. Much of the time, she doesn’t say my name and drifts out of consciousness. As her power of attorney for health care, I talk with the nurses, the doctor, and other staff. I keep forefront her faith and mine. She knows her final destination and I am instructing the doctor to help keep her comfortable until God tells her it is time.

I am grateful for the time we have had throughout her life and the moments since the fall when she knows me by name but I will honor her request to not use any extraordinary measures to keep her here on earth.

Why share this?

I share all this with you because I know I am not alone in this time of caring for elderly parents. My husband Bill’s job for the last 6 years has been to care for his now 89 year old father after his heart surgery. My brother took the key role of caring for my Mom who was more active than Bill’s dad. Bill spends 6 days a week helping his dad with household chores, errands, and other projects while my role has been to keep income coming in to pay the bills and keep our household running.

But many of you reading this will relate. My sons are 24 and 25. The sandwich generation they call us, still involved with our children’s lives while caring for parents.

This is an incredibly hard time. But Mom had told me what she wanted far in advance. Planning for the unexpected is never fun either but in the end, it will help clarify and make decisions somewhat easier.

Some of you are regular readers of this blog and while I primarily weave in job search strategies, this post is to share with you this challenge. I thank all of you who have shared your thoughts and prayers already on Twitter and Facebook and by e-mail or phone. I am taking life day-by-day now and weaving in time to see Mom daily up at the hospital.

Note:The final chapter

On Friday, July 8, 2011 at 7:30pm, Mom died. She never really recovered enough to hold a conversation and never even got out of the hospital bed. We will miss her forever but the memories will always be there. She always had her faith in Jesus as her personal Savior and I knew that she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life hooked up to tubes. Her injuries were so extensive that eventually the rest of her gave up and went home to Jesus.

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17 Responses to What do you do when the unexpected happens?

  1. Julie,
    This post brought me to tears. As you know, I was the caregiver to my mother-in-law, who had dementia. We were able to keep her in our home for six of the tougher years, until we simply could not give her the care she needed. We found a wonderful place for her. Three years ago this week, she passed peacefully.

    My mom is your mom’s age. Still in her home, we see signs that things will have to change in the near future. It is hard. She does not even want to hear about it.

    No matter how the end, how old the loved one, the passages are painful. The long good-byes are painful. Your post touches on the human experience–and beautifully so, with your mom’s photo, that of her flowers, sharing a bit of her story. Thank you for sharing. You continue to be in my prayers.

    • No matter how much a person prepares for the end, Barb, they struggle with admitting they are there when they get older. Mom fought more giving up control of decisions than anything else. She acknowledged the effect of Alzheimer’s and pain on her life but still tried to think she would never need to yield financial or medical decisions to someone else. Fortunately, she did set up the appropriate paperwork legally years ago.

      Thank you for your support and caring.

    • Thank you for stopping by, Louise. It has been a challenging time. Even responding to your comments took time. The balancing act of family and business is hard when you add a crisis into the mix.

  2. Julie,

    “This is an incredibly hard time” <– you punctuated your story so well with this line.

    84 years in one house; her passion for her flowers; her avid reading and journaling of book titles, etc. all paint a vivid picture of a strong, smart, sensitive lady.

    Your love and caring for her during this most difficult time provides comfort to your dear mother.

    Our thoughts are with you during this very tough time.

    Jacqui and Rob

    • Thanks, Jacqui and Rob. I know Rob just lost his grandmother too. We have passed to the next level several years ago. You plan or you think about how you will handle all of this but you are never ready. Thanks so much for caring!

  3. [...] then when my mom took a horrible fall at the end of June, everything changed. I had to balance everything I did before with seeing my mom at the hospital, [...]

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