Haunts and Jaunts: Last conversations with my mother

By Rick Hinton

 

  I like to think I’m a funny guy. My sense of humor has always helped me to get through some tough situations.

   In 2013, my mother contracted spinal meningitis. She was alone in her house in southern Kentucky, thinking she just had the flu. Her back and neck hurt…along with fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, and lethargy. She didn’t want to bother me with it, so she didn’t call. She isolated herself in the sun-room of her home for several days until my Aunt June, curious that she hadn’t visited, took the drive and found her. Then I was called. The small hospital in Russell Springs couldn’t handle that type of situation, so she was transported north to Lexington, Ky. I called my brother Kerry in Florida and we met there.

   She was unconscious, with tubes running into her nose and mouth. I looked numbly down upon her, not knowing how to react or what to do. It was then that my safeguard humor kicked in. I envisioned my brother and myself posing on either side of her with ear to ear grins. That vision lasted only a few seconds before it was gone; I’m glad it did! Nobody needs to see a photo of their mother like that, with two grinning idiots for sons!

   A couple of days later she regained consciousness, seemingly on the mend. However, while trying to get out of bed one morning she suffered a stroke from which she never recovered. She had made me her power of attorney after the ordeal with my father’s parents a few years before, with only one request—“Don’t ever put me in a nursing home…just take me into the backyard and shoot me!”

   I lived and worked in Indiana, and she in Kentucky. How would I deal with it all? I put her in a nursing home.

 

   Long story short: I was not happy with the care she was getting there. And weekly trips to Kentucky were draining my energy, along with being overwhelmed by the never ending logistics of mom’s doctor’s visits, insurance, social security, utility bills, and rising nursing home costs. She refused to participate in the very rehabilitation that may have enabled her to walk again. (I realized where I got my stubbornness) Our roles reversed, I became her parent, caregiver and coach. Things were not looking so good. She was declining, so I made a decision. I brought her home. Home to die! 

   My sister-in-law Lyn from Florida agreed to be her live-in caregiver. We converted the sun room (the very room she spent 3 days collapse when she first came down with the spinal meningitis) into her private hospital room. The TV was in sight (she loved her shows!). We wanted to make her comfortable, not expecting her to be around long; maybe a few months. She proved us wrong!

   My mother’s speech was difficult to understand after the stroke. Then, she started easing into dementia. I believe when she was of clear mind, she knew she was in her house; when not, she just seemed lost. Initially there were many lucid moments where she would become my mother again for a brief spell and we discussed the business at hand.

   I was there literally every weekend, noticing that the house’s atmosphere was changing drastically. It was a heavy cloud permeating the interior. It was hard to breathe. I continued to communicate with her, using a sense of humor as a buffer from my going crazy. However, our conversations—and the house—got stranger…