Sunday, May 13, 2012
MOTHERS AND CHILDREN ADAPT
[These following recollections of mine are dedicated to all those mothers and children who did not survive the Holocaust, though my memories are unrelated to the horrific events of those years. I am prompted to offer this symbolic commemoration since in recent months I've been listening to a child survivor of those harrowing times relate her recently deceased mother's emotionally moving words recounting the harrowing experiences of their survival.]
MOTHERS AND CHILDREN ADAPT
My long time Southern California best friends are experiencing parent care giving challenges similar to those I had years ago, as so many Boomers face today -- needing to assist older loved ones to live independently. Almost ten years younger than I -- both recently retired, their children now adults with families of their own -- my friends are positioned differently than I was thirty years ago to provide parents needed help.
I was fortunate that once my Mother relocated from the Midwest she lived only a mile or less from my home, whereas my friends must drive from one community southeast of Los Angles, across that megalopolis to their parent’s northern Valley area home. They also, have brothers and sisters living in much closer proximity to their parents, but my friend, being the first born daughter, and her husband provide much of the care.
My much older only sibling was across the Pacific Ocean and unable to participate with my mother’s daily assistance. No other family resided in California – in fact, lived a many-States distance away. I won’t go into other specifics as they are incidental to the day-to-day picture.
What’s important is, that no matter what anyone’s personal situation may be, at any time we can be unexpectedly thrust into a care giving circumstance. Our attitude, that of surrounding family members and friends, and that of the loved one or patient themselves has a significant impact on how well we navigate the after effects of such an event, while – most importantly – preserving our own health.
My children were young, my employed husband was coping with a difficult situation himself, coupled with the beginnings of his health decline -- all contributing to marital stresses. I was in University training for my current profession, which added to life’s complications when my Mother had a sudden life-altering event. She never fully recovered from this variously called stroke, brain attack, cerebral vascular accident (CVA.)
Fortunately, her mental status remained intact. The only residual effects were balance mechanism deficits and decreased walking ability. Her brain could no longer perceive where her body was in space – proprioception problems. So she had to always use a walker – not a four or even two wheeler, because the wheels would move too fast.
Critically important was the requirement that my mother NEVER lean too far backward, especially when standing, because her brain would not send body position correcting messages to prevent her falling. She certainly didn’t need any broken bones, or even a hip fracture, much less further brain injury if her head struck some piece of furniture, the floor or ground.
Together Mother and I determined the choice was hers to continue living independently though falling could be a risk. If she had exhibited memory, judgment, impulsiveness, or a number of other cognitive and physical problems her choice might not have been appropriate and I would not have hesitated to say so. She never fell.
Fortunately, our relationship was of such mutual respect tempered by love that decision-making occurred with my mother always included and participating in the process. Her cooperation for whatever was best never presented a problem. I think this was partly because we were always honest, open and truthful with each other, even when the message might not always be what either of us wanted to say or hear.
She had been very active though legally blind for several decades with her vision gradually deteriorating even further through the following years. She had lived independently many years after she was alone, choosing to continue doing so after she moved across country to be nearer to me.
Living in a small Midwest town when she was widowed she had been able to walk everywhere she needed for groceries, the post office, church, downtown for banking and shopping, to the courthouse lawn for weekend afternoon concerts and events. Even the train depot and long distance bus station were close by.
Her social life kept her busy joining friends for occasional countryside drives which might include roadside market stops for farm fresh eggs, fruits and vegetables. Much younger friends with their children sometimes stopped by to visit her simply because all ages enjoyed her company and the positive outlook she had maintained despite some hardships she had known during her lifetime.
My mother enjoyed volunteering at the local hospital’s ladies sewing group, creating lap quilts for nursing home residents. Fund-raising rummage sales to help the needy were among the activities in which she aided her church women’s group.
For a number of years at home she managed to occasionally use her treadle sewing machine for straight line stitching, as with repairing a seam, or joining two pieces of material together. She couldn't use an electric machine because the sewing was much too rapid, possibly causing injury since she often said her fingers were her eyes.
This was quite a sewing adaptation from a woman trained to be a teacher who once could observe a dress in a window display, go home, reproduce the pattern and make that same dress for herself. Or, the much in demand lady to whom word-of-mouth brought women asking her to fit ill-fitting dresses to their particular body form.
She was comfortable with solitude, quite able to entertain herself. Some years earlier I had learned of Talking Books before the days when audio books with playback devices were commercially available to the public. She was delighted to receive free books and magazines on record (later tapes) to listen to at her leisure. She discovered she didn’t dare lie down or simply sit in a chair while she was listening to a story or she would fall asleep only to awaken several missed chapters later.
Concluding she needed some activity to occupy her hands, she successfully experimented with creating an original type of rug hooking to do while listening to the books. Mother subsequently hooked unique one-of-a-kind colorful rugs using select fabrics based on geometric patterns she recalled from the years when she had been able to quilt.
Mother’s creations multiplied in number, eventually became in demand, but were first sold in a local furniture store. Subsequent years I placed them in Scottsdale, Arizona artist crafts stores, a local California antique store when we moved here. We were told each year a Chicagoan returned here to purchase her hooked rugs. Another family member released a few rugs that sold on Hawaii’s Big Island. Her rugs have been described as examples of primitive art.
Family contact was maintained during the years with occasional visits and phone calls on special occasions. Mother's sisters and a cousin circulated round robin letters she could sometimes read using magnification if large black print on white, but increasingly letters had to be read to her.
Her hearing loss (presbycusis - aging hearing loss) was, fortunately, mostly negligible. So, when personal tape recorders with cassettes became accessible technology, my brother supplied each of us with one. We exchanged audio tape letters after she learned equipment operational skills.
The years before televisions had remote controls I was able to locate a then soon-to-be out-dated push button television set (I still have it,) since a channel dial presented her visual difficulties. Again her fingers were her eyes, she said, so could feel the buttons for the channel she desired once she learned the broadcast station sequence.
Mother enjoyed listening to a few television programs, often on public television (PBS,) music, comedy (if not too visual) and variety shows, news, game shows like Jeopardy, other programs that offered lots of dialogue and didn't depend too much on visual action to convey crucial aspects of a plot. Radio programming continued to be a favored medium, especially bedside if she couldn't sleep.
The older I become, the more frequently I seem to recall my mother’s words, our experiences together. I often wish I could talk with her now, having gained a perspective only years lived can provide.