Friday, July 10, 2015

Losing Mom - Lessons to Remember

As many of you know, my mom, Rose Weinberg, passed away recently. I have to admit it’s hitting me harder than I expected it would. But this is not about being sad. Everyone gets that part. This is about so many wonderful things I experienced and witnessed over the past weeks. There is a lot of good in the world, and it has not gone unnoticed.

Here’s the nutshell version – Mom, who was entering the late stages of her Alzheimer’s journey, had two small strokes, which put her in the hospital. After the strokes were diagnosed, she was transferred to a rehab facility, but after about a week there, one thing seemed to lead to another, and a few weeks after that, hospice was called, and you know how the story goes.

There are some things worth passing along to others who have to lose someone dear to them. So this is Andee’s Guide to Some Things Worth Knowing if You Have to Lose Someone Dear. (Forgive me. I'm not into thinking up good titles at the moment. I did just lose my mother, you know.)

So, back to the hospital (Methodist, now Unity Point, in Peoria), where everyone ….. EVERYONE ….. was lovely, compassionate and kind, and, not surprising to us, they quickly fell in love with Mom, with more than one person saying they would like to take her home with them. One of our favorite nurses, Matt, said to us, “She’s so cute, I just want to pick her up and SQUEEZE HER!”

And speaking of Matt, who was a lovely, kind and happily engaged man, on her first day in the hospital…..yes, her first day… I was sitting next to her bed, and Matt was doing something nurselike on the other side of the bed, Mom looked at me, let her eyes go over to Matt, and back to me, and then raised her eyebrows with that inquisitive, “Yes?” look. That’s right ..… Jewish mother to the end. Seriously, Mom, could you give yourself, I don’t know, 48 hours before you get back to finding me a husband?
Lesson #1 – Always be able to find the funny.

I have to tell you my thoughts on the medical care professionals in general. Every single person we encountered was simply amazing. The nurses, the CNAs (certified nursing assistants), the APNs (advanced practice nurses), all the therapists and diagnosticians, and the people in housekeeping and dietary services – all were amazing. The doctors were great too, but most of them were not a part of the actual care given to actual people, so on this particular subject, they are not at the top of the list. We needed their knowledge and brainpower, but once we had that, they moved on to diagnosing the next case, and we moved on to Mom's care.

So, back to the rock stars. If you are in the medical care profession, and you ever wonder if you are making a difference, I promise you that you are. One of the beautiful things we will always keep with us is the way our mother, along with our family, was treated by each and every one of you. And it’s not just about the care. Your knowledge impressed us to no end. But the kindness, the care, the compassion …… trust me, you are making a difference.
Lesson #2 – Always notice and appreciate the kindnesses.

Ok, this one's important. I happened to stay over at Mom’s house because we knew something wasn’t quite right, and I was going to take her to Urgent Care in the morning. When I woke up, I went in to her bedroom to see her sitting up and getting dressed. As I was saying, “Well, look at you, already up and moving,” she told me something wasn’t quite right, which isn’t unusual with all the Alzheimer’s challenges, but I quickly realized she couldn’t move her right arm. I knew the acronym to determine if someone is having a stroke. I knew it started with F, for facial symmetry; and then A, for arm movement. I then couldn’t remember the next letter in the word. So that all of you reading this will not have to utter the words, “Son of a bitch! Is it FACE or FAST??” I will tell you, it is FAST.
F: Face – Does one side of the face droop if the person smiles?
A: Arms – If the person raises his/her arms, does one drop downward?
S: Speech – Is the speech slurred or strange?
T: Time – If you observe one the above signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.
Lesson #3 – Remember the acronym F-A-S-T if you think someone may be having a stroke. (Remembering the word F-A-C-E will not help you after the A.)

Fortunately, my brain kicked in and said, “Andee, her arm is not moving. Call 9-1-1.” I do appreciate that my brain sometimes thinks all on its own when I forget to use it. And, of course, we got to the ER, thanks to all the lovely people who show up when you do call 9-1-1.

So, after the diagnosis, Mom was discharged to a rehab facility. My sister and I had visited facilities in Peoria several years ago when we realized at some point, we would probably need to make some decisions regarding our parents’ living arrangements. We visited several nice facilities, but when we walked into Lutheran Hillside Village in Peoria, we saw they had a resident dog. That sealed the deal for me because I firmly believe if anywhere outside a private home has a resident pet, that is a sign that real humans work there. To say this was correct is an understatement.
Lesson #4 – Pay some attention to the sales pitch when looking for potential services for your parents, but really notice the little things – like resident pets – and things like smells, smiles, and how you feel when you are there.

If you have parents or others in a care situation where they may not be capable of making decisions for themselves, I cannot stress enough that you need to be their advocate. That doesn’t mean you have to start fights. It doesn’t mean you have to be difficult. It just means you have to ask questions, you need to make sure all the messages get transferred accordingly (i.e., hospital to care center), and you need to speak up when something doesn’t feel right.

We had one of those instances, and we spoke up. I learned quickly that once the people in authority became involved, things happened. Learn who the people in authority are. (I should have done this sooner.) The good ones, and we had some great ones (Robin and Wade), will make a huge difference.
Lesson #5 – Be your parents’ advocates, and learn who can make decisions. Then do not hesitate to speak up if something doesn’t feel right.

When I spoke of the medical profession earlier, I was talking about the people at Methodist Hospital, but I can say the very same things about the people at Lutheran Hillside Village. We said this in Mom’s obituary, and it was so completely true – the people at Lutheran Hillside cared for Mom as if she were one of their own. They were compassionate and funny and respectful and loving, and as we all were realizing it was Mom’s time to go, they shed tears along with us.

And they didn’t just care for her. They cared for us. When Susan, my sister, and Lindsay and I decided we would just camp in Mom’s room with her, breakfast trays started arriving in the mornings. One night when I was sleeping in my two chairs, two lovely CNAs (I'm so sorry I can't remember both names!) woke me because they were bringing in a recliner. As I climbed into the chair to fall back asleep, I felt a pillow being put under my head and a blanket being placed over me. Always, always will I keep that with me. Then a cot appeared when someone (I’m told it was Robin) saw Lindsay sleeping on the floor.

They made sure we ate meals. They sent us out for walks. And, how’s this for a Touched By an Angel moment? One of our favorite nurses, LaRosa, started working there the day before Mom was admitted. She and Mom had a bond that was simply magical. Rosa would whisper in Mom’s ear kindnesses that were helping her along the way. And yes, the fact that we considered LaRosa to be one of our angels…… and she started there a day before Mom came in…….is not lost on me. Coincidence? You decide.

Tamika brightened every day, Trudy exuded quiet competence, and Angel knew a lot…..about nursing and about Mom. When she hugged me goodbye, she told me it was a blessing for her to serve our mother and our family. I appreciated that, but I already knew it because I felt it. There were so many others – Angie the speech therapist who “got” Mom instantly, and Yarl, the occupational therapist who said to Mom, “Loss of memory does not take away from the beautiful person you are.” There were so many kindnesses.
Lesson #6 – Refer to Lesson #2. Repeat often as needed.

There’s more, but I’ll stop here for now. I need another nap. The hospice social worker told me today that exhaustion is a big part of grief, and I need to be good to myself. That is not something that comes easily to me, but I’m going to try.

More to come….