My Head Feels It Will Blow Up

I think it has something to do with my dad being a prisoner in a nursing home.  He looks so helpless there.  And he’s developed a belief that the nursing home is run by Nazis.

When my dad was a corporal in the US Army in World War II, one of his jobs was to go into villages that the Nazis had taken over–this was in the Alsace–and make sure that it was actually the Nazis and not somebody else.  Then he would radio his outfit, and they would rain artillery fire on the village and blow it up.

Dad knew that the Nazis did not kill or run out all the people whose village they took over.  They simply moved into their houses, ate their food, raped their daughters, and held that position for the advancing front.  Dad knew that when he called in fire on those villages, he was calling in fire on the innocent people that the Nazis were using as human shields.

Long before there was a acronym for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Dad had it.  He spent most nights fighting hand-to-hand, even though he denies that he ever did that in the war.  Often my mother had to go sleep in the guest room to avoid getting unwittingly assaulted.

She vehemently denies that he has PTSD–a service-related condition that would qualify him for lots of important VA benefits.  If he doesn’t, then why the kicking and punching, why the paranoia, why the things that remain half-said, the conversations begun and ended in a shudder……why are there Nazis in the nursing home?

Tonight he waved me in to him and whispered conspiratorially: “Your mother may not believe this, and heck, you may not believe this either, but they are meeting tonight in the square.”

“What square, Dad?”

“The town square.  The square of THIS town.”

“Who’s meeting in the square tonight?”

“The ones we fought against in the war, the ones that wanted–US–GONE.  We won that one, but they’re back.  You be careful out there.”

I nodded.   “I’ll be careful, Dad.  You be careful too.”

He closes his eyes, shudders.  I hear no more from him tonight.  A few words of small talk, a few observations about Noga the Lhasa Apso, who is a welcome visitor.  Tonight Dad “doesn’t think she likes him.  The only reason she comes is that I bring her.”

I stay two hours, then they put Dad to bed.  He is looking very black in the face, bitter.  He falls asleep, but I wake him to kiss the top of his bald head just like always when I say goodbye.

Tonight he doesn’t say “I love you.”

Slow Down Now

Literally, I get to slow down now.  It’s Friday Night, the beginning of Shabbat.  I should be sitting at the dinner table singing with friends and family till midnight, not sitting out here in the middle of nowhere by myself, writing.  Well, this is my Shabbat celebration: to get to slow down enough to pick up my computer and do what I haven’t had time to do for the past eleven days: write.  I love to write.

Where to start?  I guess I could try to start where I left off: leaving Dad at the nursing home.  That was weird.  It’s even weirder because it’s actually happening.  It’s not, like, he went in there to get all fixed up and then came beaming out the front door, looking years younger, with a spring in his step.  No.

I go in there, trying to give everyone I meet on the way to his room a cheerful smile.  Smile, and the world smiles with you.  I see his room number: 110.  I know that’s where he and his sweet-tempered roommate will be.  I make the left turn into the room.  Lyle, the roommate, smiles and waves.  He beams when he sees that I have brought Noga the Lhasa Apso, who has appointed herself official therapy dog at the nursing home.

Dad is in bed, on his side, with his head and one arm hanging over the side.  His belly, black and blue spotted with the jabs of insulin needles, puffs out feebly from the gap between his shirt and his pants.  I pull his shirt down.  He opens one eye, not at all surprised, and says, “Oh, hi, Laurie.”  As if I had been expected to be in that spot on the stage, at that very moment.  Perhaps I was.

“Hi, Dad.  Are you comfortable that way?”

“No, I’m not.  Would you please call those box top girls to help me”

“‘Boxtop girls’?”

“Yes, you know the ones.  They’re in the hall and they say they have a button, but I don’t see, at least, haven’t found, whatever it is.”

“He means the aides.  I called them, but they haven’t come,” says Lyle.

“I’ll take care of that,” and I do.  Instantly two aides are at the bedside, pulling him into a more lifelike position.

“Would you like to sit up in your chair for a while, Norman?”

“Yes, I would.”

They help him stand and walk the six steps beside him, help him turn and sit.  This is not my father.  This is my father.

Wheel him over to face the chair I’ve parked in, to keep out of the way.  We look at each other.  Start a conversation about….something…..his eyes droop, head drops to his chest….asleep, in mid-sentence.  It happened all the time when he was at home, too.  It’s just that….in this stark-real place, it seems so….pathological….when before it had been just normal, for him, at this time.

Where are our special Mondays and Wednesdays, when we get to have six whole hours just for us, for me to make you sardine sandwiches, ugh, on bread lightly toasted, onion sliced thinly layered, tomato, and you used to like one small piece of lettuce on top, but not anymore.  And after your sandwich, a piece of fruit.  An apple, a tangerine, whatever was good.

Then maybe you’d need a nap, and maybe not–but your eyes kept an eye on your watch–is it four yet?  Four o’clock—le’chaims!  Scotch, sipped neat out of little cups he made for the purpose years ago.

This Wednesday I took a flask of Scotch and our special cups, and arrived at the nursing home at four o’clock.  We would have le’chaims!

Room 110 only had Lyle in it.  Lyle told me they had taken him to the Therapy Dining Room for dinner.  Dinner?  I thought that was at four-thirty.  Honest, they give them dinner at four-thirty.

I had not been to the Therapeutic Dining Room before, although I knew they were working with him on eating issues (I never noticed any issues with eating the sardine sandwiches I made him, other than they fell apart usually, but every sardine sandwich will do that at some point).  I found my way there, though, and it was nothing more than a couple of card tables pushed together in the middle of the physical therapy room.  OK.

Dad was seated with his back toward me.  He was trying to have a conversation with the gentleman across the table from him.  Neither of them speak normally, but when put together it just sounded like two people having a normal conversation in a slightly foreign language.

I walked up next to Dad and said “Hi, Dad!”  He halfway turned to me and said, “I’m busy now.  I’m eating dinner.”  And turned away.

I was not sure what kind of emotion to have.  One part of me was hurt-little-girl, the other part was, OK, he’s creating boundaries, and that’s empowering for him in this disempowering place; and he’s used me for a testing point for his boundary-setting, because he knows me.  So I decided to take it that way.

“What time is dinner over?”  I asked the Dining Therapist.

“Five-thirty.”

“Hour and a half.  Too long.  Seeya, Dad.  Here, let me kiss you on the head.”  Smooch.

I also have boundaries.  They are reasonable.

The next day is Thursday.  I have therapy on Thursdays, an hour and a half away to the nearest city.  I use the day to go have coffee, shop at Whole Foods, buy stuff for Shabbat, eat at the good Thai place.

Thursday, my mom calls me, says Dad wants to talk to me.  Why didn’t I come today?  Because it’s Thursday, and I always go to town on Thursdays, right?  Right.  But you weren’t, yesterday, right?  Were you, did I?  Was I mad because you chucked me out of the dining hall?  Of course not.  Did you hurt my feelings?  Excuse me, but I have known you for a long time.  You’re my grumpy old man, remember?  Laughs.

But are you going to come?  Tonight?

I’m sorry, Dad, but I will be getting home too late.  It will already be dark.

Oh.  Tomorrow?

We’ll have to see, tomorrow.  I have to take Mom to the oral surgeon to get her tooth pulled, remember?  And it all depends on how that goes, whether I can get back in time to come or not.  And then Saturday is Shabbat, so it might be Sunday until I can visit.

Oh. OK.

I feel horrible.  Whose fucking idea was this?

I don’t even know what to say….

I just got back from the nursing home, where they took my dad after the hospital.

Actually I stopped by Walmart to get a heating pad, two bottles of castor oil, a package of 5 cloth baby diapers, and a back brace I know won’t fit because of my curvy hips.  All this to treat the disc that’s bulging in my lower back.  I coughed it out a couple of days ago when I was still asthmatically getting over the mini-flu, the kind you get when you’ve had your flu shot and get the flu anyway.  But at least it was the mini-flu and not the whole thing.

So to treat the inflammation I am going to soak the baby diapers in warm castor oil, maybe mixed with eucalyptus or some other anti-inflammatory oil, maybe German chamomile, put a sheet of plastic wrap over that so it doesn’t stain the heating pad, slap the whole mess on my back, and listen to some soothing music while it works.

I got through yesterday by dosing myself up with the cannabis tincture I have been steeping for the past two weeks.  It got rid of the cough and relaxed the spasm in my back enough so I could get through the day without screaming in pain.  The stuff is miraculous.  Too bad it’s illegal in my state.  Actually it’s a Schedule IV substance in my state, which puts it in the same class as benzodiazepines; in other words, needs a prescription but considered low-risk for abuse.  But for some reason, the criminal code and the medical code don’t agree.  Figures.  I consider it medicine and use it as such.

My dad.  I can’t even wrap my head around it.  The brilliant thinker, the blazing torch of a teacher, the maker of achingly beautiful art: now unable to figure out how to use a pencil, unable to understand how to read a phone number, let alone use a phone–how could this happen?  Whose idea of a cruel joke is this?  It makes me want to run off and kill myself before I have a chance to get so badly off that I can’t even figure out how to do it.

I comfort myself by knowing that he’s much better off in the nursing home, where compassionate people take care of him.  They don’t belittle him for dropping crumbs on his clothes–they just put a bib on him and treat him like a normal human being.

They don’t scream at him for wetting the bed–they take it for granted that he will, and they check him every two hours at night and change the bed if it’s wet, and change his diaper if it’s wet, and treat him like a normal human being.

He doesn’t ask me who those two sisters are anymore–the nice one who helps him and takes care of him, and the one who gets upset all the time–those two sisters are my mother, the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of her personalities.  The sweet one that everyone outside the home adores, and the control freak abuser that nobody sees but us–my father and I.

She is spending hours and hours at the nursing home, and making sure that my father and I are never alone together.  The look of hatred in her eyes, toward me, is more open than I’ve ever seen it before.  I’m sure that it’s because the love between my father and I is so apparent–he knows that each parting might be our last, and we tell each other we love each other and I give him a kiss on top of his bald head.

The last time I kissed my mother was several months ago.  She demanded it, saying she was jealous, so I kissed her on the cheek.  It’s not my fault that I treat her like a poisonous snake–with a long forked stick–because she is liable to strike without warning.  Has done, and does, and will do.

At least she finally admitted to letting her own mother die of lactose intolerance.  Did you know that people can die of lactose intolerance?  Yes, they can.  My grandmother had terrible diarrhea from it, and was losing weight.  The nursing home she was in did not have a doctor.  They had a Physician’s Assistant.  Pardon me, to any of you who may be P.A.s, but P.A.s do not have the level of education that an M.D. has.  Some are excellent clinicians and know when to consult their supervising physician, and some are full of themselves and think they know it all.  The one in that nursing home was the latter kind.

So they fed my Nana Ensure, a liquid food substitute that is milk-based.  It is full of lactose.  So she kept on having more and more diarrhea, and losing more and more weight, and they kept on feeding her more and more lactose-containing substance.

I begged my mother to put Nana in the car and take her to see a gastoententerologist.  “She’s old,” my mother said.  “What would they do anyway?”

“They would make a diagnosis and stop the diarrhea,” I said.  My mother made a face and told me I didn’t know what I was talking about.  I had only been in medical practice for ten years at the time.

So Nana died of diarrhea, like people die when they have cholera, only more slowly and in terrible pain.

And two weeks ago, before Dad fell again and broke his back and got yet another concussion, she suddenly started saying how guilty she feels that she didn’t do more for her mother.

And why this sudden bout of guilt?

My mother has become lactose intolerant herself, and got a little taste of what it feels like to have horrible cramps and have to run to the bathroom every ten minutes, and have your butt burn up because of the acid stools you pass.

But Nana couldn’t run to the bathroom anymore.  She had her liquid stools in her diaper, and her whole bum burned up from soaking in the acid stools.

So now Dad is in the nursing home, and Mom is acting like a jealous bird protecting her nest.  She has always considered me an inconvenience, but now my presence is indispensable, as it has been ever since I flew here from my home in Israel three years ago.  She tolerates me only because she needs my help with Dad.

Tomorrow we take Dad to the cardiologist, an hour and a half away by car.  We will have to get him into the car, and out of the car.  It’s generally me who does the heavy lifting, but now I’ve got a bulging disc, so we will have to have help from others both at the nursing home and at the cardiologist.

I know the nursing home will help get him into the car: it’s their job.  I also know the cardiology office won’t help get him out of the car, for liability reasons.  If one of their staff accidentally injured him, the practice would be liable to be sued.  So this will be an interesting exercise, since Dad can no longer walk without help.

Things have gotten so out of hand, so out of control, that I don’t even know what to say anymore.  I just try to “keep it between the ditches,” as Dad used to say, when he knew how to talk.

 

Sad Days Ahead

Friday, January 18, 2014, 2 pm.  Walmart.  Maneuvering the shopping cart (or “buggy,” as they call it here in Western North Carolina) around the place packed with people gathering supplies for what was supposed to be a blizzard, luckily turned out to be flurries.  I was picking up a few things to top off my Shabbat preparations: mineral water, blue corn chips, orange-and-red striped tulips, and cheesecake.  My phone rang: my mom.  Her cell phone, which was odd at that time of day.  Alarms go off in my head.

Dad has fallen again–the second time this week.  The many-th of this year.  Falls are increasing in frequency, varying in severity, but always accompanied by a decrease in function afterward.  He has a dementia that is not Alzheimer’s.  He’s had many small strokes.  And he’s got a narrowing of his spinal canal that causes him to have to wear diapers because it’s pressing on the nerves that control his body functions.  And to make things even better, his vertebrae–all of them–have been slowly but progressively disintegrating so that he’s bent over in a “C” shape when he walks–if he is able to walk, which is sometimes, with difficulty, with a cane or pushing his wheelchair, which is where he is parked most of the time.

So far he’s managed by sheer force of will to do his shower by himself.  But this time he fell right over on his back, hitting his head for the millionth time on the hard tiled floor, and my mom was not able to get him up; so she did the right thing and called the ambulance.  As of the time she called me they had still not shown up and Dad was still lying prostrate on the floor naked as a jaybird and twice as wet.

It took them a good twenty minutes to arrive.  Good thing there was nothing life-threatening.  And when they finally got there, they came in such hordes that there was nowhere to park both the First Responders van and the Ambulance, which couldn’t even get into the tiny parking spot at the end of the long dirt road where they built their home 40 years ago.  They couldn’t figure out how they were going to backboard him out, given that my parents built their house into the side of a cliff and there is very limited access.  My mother said it was like the Keystone Cops.

After I got her call I put the cheesecake back in the freezer and just left my cart where it was, and drove the ten minutes to the hospital, thinking surely they must have arrived at the ER by then.  But no.  I waited a good half hour.  My mom arrived in her car, and it took the ambulance another fifteen minutes to get around to unloading poor Dad, who was immobilized on a backboard.

CT scan of head and neck were fine, but he had a new compression fracture of L1, the first vertebra below the thoracic (chest part) spine.  And as I gazed at the cardiac monitor, I noticed a very strange rhythm, or dysrhythmia really.  It looked to me (and it has been a very long time since I read EKGs) that he has a partial or intermittent block in the electrical system that runs the heart.  It happened in “runs:”  the pattern would get normal for a minute or so, and then pop back into the abnormal rhythm.  I observed that his level of consciousness varied with the rhythm.  When it was weird, he would get confused and less conscious; when the rhythm was normal, he was more aware and oriented.  That explains a lot, because he’s been “going in and out” a lot lately.  Surely when his rhythm is weird, his heart is not pumping normally and his brain, already battered, is not getting enough blood.

As if that is not enough, he has a urinary tract infection–probably the same one he had about a month ago that was inadequately treated with the wrong antibiotic and no follow-up culture to see if it had cleared.  I was furious then and I’m furious now.

Thankfully, he was admitted to the inpatient service.  The last many times he has fallen and hit his head, they have sent him home, even when he injured himself badly enough to need stitches.  But this time, with the combination of the fall and the dysrhythmia and the kidney infection and the broken back, for heaven’s sake, they kept him.

Today, Saturday, January 18, my mother, the doctor, and I, unanimously made the decision that he will go to a nursing home for “rehabilitation” after his hospital stay.  This is a very sad state of affairs.  In all my years of doctoring, and in all my mother’s years of being a geriatric social worker, neither of us has ever seen an 89 year old person who is sent to a nursing home for “rehab,” be discharged from there to come home, because by that point the person is really not “rehabilitatable.”   If my dad makes it out of that nursing home I will be very surprised and very elated.  But I don’t think he will.

He’s been through at least four six-week courses of twice weekly physical therapy to try to improve his balance and ambulation.  All that’s accomplished is to cause him great pain and distress, but he’s soldiered on with it because he’s not a quitter.  In fact, the main reason for most of his falls is that he’s trying like hell to be independent.

I’m terrified to think of him in a nursing home with a broken back, because I know what they will do: they will leave him lying in the bed, with the excuse that it’s not safe to get him up in a chair, much less walking with assistance, and neglecting to turn him every two hours like they’re supposed to.  I’m terrified that he will develop bed sores.  Maybe I’m just, just, just overthinking….but this is what I’ve seen.  And if he develops a bed sore, he’s gone, because he’s diabetic and his immune system can’t take it.

So I know where I will be spending most of my time, making sure that he’s properly cared for.  It’s a sad time, a time we’ve all seen coming, and now it’s upon us.

Holy moley, back to the Holy Land again!

So yes, I have been back and forth a lot this year.  Israel is my home.  There is no where else in this world that I feel at home.  I felt at home there the moment I stepped off the plane on my first visit in 2005.  I returned in 2006 to study in a women’s seminary, and in 2007 I made Aliyah: I moved to Israel.

When I settled there, I knew that at some point I would be obligated to return to America to help my parents, who are now 88 and 86, respectively.  That point came in the terrible winter of 2010-2011, when their remote mountain home was completely surrounded by ice, and my father had begun to fall frequently, and my mother was freaking out.  I had already flown in from Israel three times to “put out fires,” and the fourth time my mother called begging for help I packed up my house and was back in the U.S. in three weeks.

They really did need me then.  My father was in the early stages of dementia, and was struggling to maintain what was left of himself.   He refused to use any assistive devices, not even a cane.  He was constantly falling asleep at the dining table and sometimes falling off his chair.  One time I had to extract him from under the table, where he had slid down and was tangled among the table legs with his arms pinned under him.

Then finally he fell and broke his wrist badly and got a concussion to boot, and was in the hospital for a couple of days.  While he was there, I had his bed brought down from upstairs and made the living room into a bedroom.   When he had recovered enough to understand speech, my mother and I forbade him ever to use the spiral staircase again.  He was incensed and called us his jailers, which he does to this day, but better jailers than to have some disaster on the steel spiral staircase that reminds me of a submarine.

The past two-and-a-half years, since I’ve been here, have been tempestuous and productive all at once.  If you are a regular reader, you will know that I have had issues with PTSD caused by my abusive mother, who has not changed any since I left home at 16.  So staying here has been a challenge, to say the least.

A few weeks ago I couldn’t take it anymore.  I had developed high blood pressure.  I was constantly filled with rage.  Suicidal fantasies filled my days and nights.  Not just THAT I wanted to kill myself: developing more and better and more sophisticated methods, so that I wouldn’t be found.  Oy.

I knew I had to get out of here, get back to the Holy Land for a few weeks, breathe the air in Jerusalem that is filled with holiness, even if it’s also sometimes filled with dust.  So I booked a flight for a three week respite, announced my plans to the P’s, and took off.

Do you know, I have so many friends in the Holy Land that in three weeks I could not even visit two-thirds of them?  My family is there, my family of choice, the loves of my life.  I got to see some of my patients, who have become dear friends.  Two of them have had children while I was gone.  Actually, more than two–no, three–no, four–and three of those have had TWO children while I was gone!  I went around smooching babies.  I had coffee and Israeli breakfast (oh, Israeli breakfast!  I could do a whole post on Israeli breakfast.  Maybe I will.) with a lady so pregnant that she could hardly reach the table.  She has since given birth to a girl, MAZAL TOV, even more mazal tov since she already has four little boys.

I stayed with my adopted brother. We took bus trips to exotic places and had extraordinary meals and adventures.  And we made Shabbos together and drank strong Israeli port wine (20% alcohol!) and solved all the problems of the world.

I spent one Shabbos with my adoptive family, my rabbi and his wonderful wife (my adopted sister) and their adult children and grandchildren.  We sang and learned Torah together and laughed and cried and I felt bathed in love.

And then it was time to leave.

I freaked out.  I ran to the rabbi upstairs.  He is an expert in Jewish Law, and qualified to judge cases.  He is also an expert therapist.  Two hours with him, and I knew what I had to do: I had to save myself by being in the Land with my real family.  So I scuttled about and **voila** found a tiny apartment, just right for my needs, and signed a one-year lease.  That night I flew back to the States.

I had already told my parents that I planned to return to Israel for the High Holidays plus the month preceding them.  My custom is to devote that month, Elul, to intense Torah learning, in preparation for the Days of Awe: the ten days between Rosh Ha’Shanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  There is much spiritual work to be done, if one is to get the most out of those intense and heavy days.

But as soon as the plane hit the tarmac on my return from this three week trip, my heart sank into my shoes.  I just feel terrible here.  I belong in Israel.  I belong TO Israel, and she belongs to me.  We are lovers.  I am my lover, and my lover is me.  I did not know what I would do, how I would be able to survive the–what, six weeks?–of what remained of the summer, because I knew that after the next trip, I would be back here for the winter, and who knows how much longer?

I tried to put a good face on it, and smile, and I don’t think it worked, because yesterday my parents told me, in a kind way, that they know I am not happy here, and they know I am very happy there, and they want me to be happy, so they want me to return to the Holy Land.

This is bitter-sweet for me.  Part of me is elated that they have released me.  Part of me feels like I am failing them.  Both the rabbi in Jerusalem and my therapist here tell me that this is guilt, and guilt is in no way productive, and it is entirely optional.  I plan to get over that guilt, because this place is killing me.  The rabbi in Jerusalem reminded me that we are not permitted to harm ourselves in any way, and even I have said that very thing on this very blog.

My ticket is at the end of July, with an early October return.  I might extend that through November so that I can spend Chanukah in Jerusalem, that amazing festival of light and enlightenment.  And then we will see, we will see what the light brings in.

My Channukiyah (menorah) in Jerusalem

My Channukiyah (menorah) in Jerusalem

Rage Can Kill You

First it was Human Trafficking Awareness Month, which I got through mostly by dissociating.  I thought I wasn’t, but I was.  My past homelessness and survival prostitution still haunts me, and although I have forgiven myself, I can’t forgive my parents for not rescuing me, nor can I forgive the shameless bastards who raped me when I was a naive little girl trying to survive on the streets.

Then it was Child Abuse Awareness Month.  I really thought I might get through that in one piece, but after the pieces on emotional and psychological and verbal abuse started coming hard and fast, I have to say I took a pounding.  I grew up with a relentlessly abusive mother and an absent, codependent father who played the sympathetic one and passed me his handkerchief while explaining that Mom wasn’t feeling well, had her period (he described her as a “wildcat in a hatbox” when she was menstruating), or any of a million excuses for her evil behavior.

Since my chief drive as a recovering Adult Child of Abusive Parents is still to try to mollify my mother and protect my now-disabled father from her wrath, I moved to the US from my beloved Jerusalem to try to help them in their old age.  He is 88 and she is 86, although she claims to be 85.

They live in what my dear friend R_ in Jerusalem affectionately calls “East Bumfuck.”  Their house is in a remote hollow, and the road leading to it is so steep that the UPS man refuses to drive down there–he parks at the top and walks down, except in the winter when their access road is a bobsled run and utterly impassible.  Then he leaves the package at the post office, which makes the postmistress frantic because they’re not supposed to do that and what if she gets inspected etc., but there’s nothing to be done about it.

Because of the nature of the road and the ice in the winter, they are often housebound for weeks.  Several years ago when Dad was still healthy he slipped coming down it and broke three ribs.  My mom broke her ankle on it.  My dad broke his wrist on it.

The power goes out frequently.  Since Dad has been losing his balance and falling a lot, I pitched a fit about the kerosene lamps they used to put around everywhere when they were younger, and they finally caved in and got a generator, which has made life easier in that area.

I moved here in a panic, in the winter of 2010-11, when there was storm after storm and they were completely snowed in.  My mother was putting on ice cleats and crawling up the hill to gather firewood.  My dad tried to help her and slipped on the ice and got another of the three concussions he racked up that winter.

I had been calling all the neighbors to please go and check on them, since if anyone asks my mother if she needs help she will say no, whether she does  or not.  Please, please, walk down there and make sure they’re all right and have what they need.  Since they only have one neighbor, I didn’t have many to call, and he never did go down there.  So I packed up my house in Jerusalem and three weeks later was on a plane to East Bumfuck.

I had a hard time getting there because it had just snowed three feet, so I rented the biggest SUV I could find and put the fucker in four wheel drive with the towing gear on and managed to get down into “the hole,” as the UPS drivers call it.  They were in pretty sad shape, and mighty glad to see me.  I had brought groceries and eight gallons of spring water, since the electricity was out and they didn’t have the generator yet.

Well, that was two and a half years ago, and the winters since then have been mild, and my dad’s dementia seems to have stabilized.  And now is the time to start talking about the fact that East Bumfuck is no longer an appropriate place for them to live.  My mother has a million reasons why they can’t move, which I will not enumerate here.  None of them is insurmountable.

Then comes the question, where will they move to?  Their first thought is to move to the nearest small city, which is a lovely artsy place with all the amenities and museums and theatres and lovely architecture.  I remind my mother that Dad is not going to get better, and she is not going to be able to handle him herself for much longer, since she is no spring chicken.

“Well if we move to Hip City, what will you do?”

“I will go home to Jerusalem.  I miss my home.

“But this is your home!”

“No, mother, this is YOUR home.  My home is Jerusalem, and my soul cries for her every day, all the time.”

Her mouth twists with disgust.  I get triggered.

Anger starts to brew.  What does she expect me to do, spend the rest of my life taking care of her?  Dad won’t be around much longer, although his own father lingered in a pitiable state till the age of 91.

I get hold of myself.  “I’ve sent for a packet from Lovely Hillside Retirement Community, where you can live independently until you need more help.”  She is a geriatric social worker and knows exactly what I mean, and knows the place.

“We can’t afford it.”

“I believe you can.”  I outline the plan.

“But what will you do?”

“I am going back to Jerusalem, and will visit frequently.”

Silence.

It’s obvious that HER plan for me is to be the caregiver, so that she can live the way she wants, with no regard to my life, my needs, my health…

Anger starts to brew.  I will not go into the childhood abuse issues that started coming up, because I don’t want to go there again.

Anger brewed into rage.  I live in a separate building, so there was no chance of confrontation, thank G-d.  Rage filled me, overcame me, and every time the sonovabitchin’ trains across the river blew their infernal horns, I was screaming with them.

I started feeling exhausted.  My exercise tolerance was for shit.  I started having these vague, vapory headaches, and I am not a “headache person.”

My blood pressure has been creeping up in recent months, to 130’s over 80’s, which is not good for a person who usually hangs out in the 120/60 range.  I felt so weird that I bought one of those home BP monitors:  150/100!  Fuck, I’m gonna die, and it’s all because I feel trapped by my guilt at not being able to fulfill my idea of filial piety without ruining my not-so-good health and sabotaging my future, which I hope will contain a home and a partner.  I went to my internist, and now have yet another pill to take twice daily.

At this point, my plan is to get them into someplace appropriate for their now and future needs, which is going to be a shrek in itself, since their house is a fine art museum which will have to be turned into money in order for them to afford the new place.  The property will be sold, so that means no inheritance at all for me because they failed to plan for retirement.

And they planned to use me as an unpaid caregiver, room and board included of course, with my social security for pin money.  But now I’ve come and thrown a monkey-wrench into the works, by coming to the realization that I deserve to have a life.  They also deserve to have a life, a pleasant and comfortable life.  But I’m a person too, and I sure don’t plan to live out the best years I’ve got left caring for people who made my whole life hell, and would continue to do so, if I let them.