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Christmas Drama Sad

The sun shines invitingly outside the window on an overly warm day for the start of December. The baby Dexton, several months away from his third birthday, has crawled up beside me to watch children's videos on YouTube. We both like Diana, a precocious blond child charging around her mansion acting out various scenarios with an unending supply of pleasant optimism. Soon, my fifth grandchild will accompany me outside to do yardwork in an attempt to keep my weight down. This time I treasure with Dexton; he won’t be two and a half forever. I might add, my older grandchildren are also pleasant to do things with.

The phone chimes with its too loud notification that I don’t know how to adjust. I move Dexton quickly and rough him a bit on purpose. He doesn’t mind. It’s a text from my retired sister Judy.

“Mom has had a bad stroke,” she says.

“Oh No! How bad is it?” I type.

“I’m at the hospital now. Her right side is paralyzed and she can’t talk.”

“Is she going to pull through?” I ask.

“I think so but the doctor says she is going to need a lot of therapy,” Judy says.

“Good news about the prognosis, bad news about the therapy.”

“I’ll let you know more when I find out something,” she types and I put the phone down.

My wife, the poor baby, suffered a stroke three years ago with the same symptoms. She was talking nonsense to me, befuddled, and didn’t realize she can't move. I get her to the hospital, a stroke center, Oak Hill. The receptionist asks about alcohol but I insist we’re dealing with a stroke. Within two minutes there is a nurse practitioner behind her with a wheelchair. I have to rush to keep up and as soon as she slips into the small room there are workers doing this and that with practiced speed. As soon as the preliminaries are done the neurologist appears; maybe twenty minutes from entry. He starts asking her questions while looking her over. My wife Sandra is speaking in tongues, of course. The statistics on the thrombolytic are scary but I accept the risk.

The doctor, projected onto a screen of his automated cart, looks her over one last time before wheeling himself into the corner. The PA keeps asking Sandy questions when suddenly she is speaking normally; she doesn’t notice the change. Soon, we are moved to a comfortable ICU for a twenty-four-hour watch. Her arm is working but weak and her limp isn’t bad. Twelve hours after intensive care she is released to rehab, which she skips.

I’m old but my mother is older. We have an unbalanced relationship but I try to persevere. Who wants a falling out at this age? She doesn’t like me nor respects my abilities. Even when she tries to be good to me, like when she needs me to wipe her ass, little stabs pop out. Dealing with her presents a problem with no good solution. I’m not thin-skinned, I’ll just put up with it until one of us is dead.

For instance, I’m washing the dishes, and mom’s talking to my brother Don on the phone when I pull the stopper to let out the water. Only half of it comes up.

“What did you do?” accuses my sister Jerry. Jerry shares the condo with my mother. Jerry doesn’t do dishes for some unfathomable reason, but she’ll stand on top of me and supervise.

“He just got here and he already broke the sink!” squeals my mother into the phone. It could have been an amusement but it is not. It’s in the derisive tone the two of them use when they talk about me, I realize. Mom adjusts her tone but I’m guessing that Don doesn’t bother.

I don’t push myself on people but I do notify my family of the better action when I see them making a mistake. I would stop but I do have some perspective; over the years my suggestions have always proved to be the best course.

For instance, we all live in Hernando and Citrus counties, more than an hour north of this condo. Every once in a while I remind them that mom is old, that both of her parents died of a stroke, and if she needs help they should relocate where her helpers can get to her. That suggestion is pooh-poohed for the benefit of Jerry, even though my mom pays for the house (which Jerry inherits). I realize my sister is weak and I don’t want to force her into facing her shortfalls. Jerry is divorced, childless, with a wearying minimum wage warehouse job. She follows several specialty diets, often gets headaches and other sicknesses, and has worked her job for over twenty years without company encouragement. For unknown reasons, she talks to me wearing an uppity smirk.

Mom gets a sudden blazing headache and falls unconscious in the kitchen. Jerry is home with her and calls the EMS who quickly transport her. She is taken to a small local hospital. Her assigned neurologist doesn’t make an appearance for ten hours. He takes an MRI and declares the blockage is days old; old news, nothing he can do, he wasn’t criminally late.

The people at the hospital are nice enough. Visiting is one at a time so Judy sets up appointments. I need this because for reasons unknown my brother Don always inserts his jealous self between my mother and myself. I don’t understand his competitive need to outshine me, by hook or crook, at every trivial opportunity but I don’t take it personally. My appointment is at one o'clock. I get lost after the long drive, park in the wrong section, and try to enter the deserted rear of the complex. I’m normal looking, I’m old, nonthreatening, so a nice doctor lets me in and I wander to the front. I find an elevator before I find the security desk. My mom is in room 206A and it’s one o'clock so I go there and find - my brother sitting in the one visitor chair.

“How did you get in here?” he gasps.

“I walked. Hi mom,” I say but she seems shocked about me breaking some rules that nobody cares about, except my brother.

“There’s a waiting room in the lobby. You can come up after Mary Sue.”

“I’m already here. Hi mom, how are you feeling?”

She mumbles some information, clearly distracted, but I listen. The woman on the other side of the drape begins bitching about nothing. Not about us. Both a doctor and a nurse come to her aid now standing nearly on top of me.

“You don’t have a pass!” he declares loud enough for everyone to overhear.

“What are you, the pass police?” I question. The other patient adds to her list of complaints forcing the doctor and nurse to feign interest. They look at me mildly for a moment but they don’t care about my indiscretion.

“The lounge is really comfortable,” Don hazards. I doubt that.

“Is it free? Well, I’m leaving shortly,” After a few nonsense questions and answers I leave.

Mom was in rehab for two weeks but complained that she didn’t like it. They kept her moving all day and estimated to have her mobility back in two months. Judy stayed with her all day while the workers put mom through her paces. Judy, mom, and Jerry conclude that they can do the rehab at home. They would need help from the family. I, of course, advise that she stay at rehab for the short two months.

Mom has lots of family and friends, but it turns out, we’re talking about fair-weather friends. Judy schedules me for the first week. Jerry suspects she will need help at night so I just stay there. Judy will take the two weeks after that. While I’m stuck in hell, Don will pop in at his convenience to supervise. Jim doesn’t bother. Sandy has had her own stroke and I don’t want her struggling with my mom’s weight but it turns out all of the other inlaws come up with an excuse or just don’t bother.

The first night she needs to pee every hour. It’s crazy hard to get her in and out of bed; she affects dead weight and screams in pain. Once rolled into the bathroom she has to be put upright and pantsed; she’s gained weight over the last few years. She can wipe pee, thank God. Then it is necessary to pin her dead weight against the wall, again, and get those pants up from her ankles. Then the chair has to be positioned behind her. We are supposed to get a transfer board but I guess it went to China.

I brought grits, eggs, and sausage to cook breakfast. I didn’t have a hot meal during the entire adventure. Seconds after the first bite she needs to go to the bathroom. The first couple of mornings are special. Ten minutes after Jerry leaves mom has to go. As soon as I get her pants down she shits. She must have been saving it for days. I manage to get out of the way without dropping her but the tubes of sticky crap fly off in several directions. It takes over an hour to scrub it from the carpet, wash it off the back of the toilet and scrape it from the wall. First I have to clean her up as she had sat smearing the crud tightly into every crack she has.

Don decided that the diarrhea was caused by my sausage. Naturally, it had to be something I had done. Jerry requested I take my sausage back home as I questioned the diagnosis. Now, I wonder if she had done it on purpose; maybe she wanted Judy to take care of her?

By my second week-long shift she was in a diaper and slept through the night. She was still dead weight. I demanded that we work on getting her in and out of a car which everyone said was too early - but me.

“The driveway is too steep,” whines everybody.

“Who said anything about the driveway? Do it in the street,” I demanded and this time got my way.

We got her in and back out without problems. I needed to get her to a doctor's appointment and offered, strongly, to take her in my car. They had already scheduled and paid for wheelchair transport. They scheduled it thoughtfully and we would arrive an hour early - good because I don’t think these companies are as reliable as they once were. The driver arrived an hour late, long after the doctor had canceled the appointment, and cheerily came to the door like everything was alright. Puzzled, I looked into it to find that the company still demanded payment because he had to deal with my rudeness.

My third shift starts the Monday after Saturday Christmas. My holiday is grand! Gifts are piled to the ceiling. Dexton likes to play doctor and goes berserk with glee when he opens a cheap box of bandaids I had wrapped for him. My daughter, her husband, and son Colbey don’t live far away and came over for dinner. Colbey is two years older than Dexton but they play together well.

I get a text from Don.

“Mom came up for Christmas. If your kids want to see her they can come over and stand in the front yard and she’ll wave through the window.”

We haven’t seen any of them in over three years and this is the greatest effort they can generate? I used to organize a group call to mom but no attempt has been made to see their great-grandchildren or nieces or nephews. I wait a few hours before writing back and apologize for missing the message. I know who those people are over there, less than a mile away. They are friends of my brother's wifes’ son from a previous marriage. I find them pretentious like my brother. They have boats, BFD. Mom likes them, but, still, she couldn’t come by to even wave at her real family? My family is an afterthought, obviously. It bothers me but time is short, I just chew it down.

I enter my third shift to happily find it will be my last. There are numerous things to preposition for mom if she is going to be home alone. For one, they kept the nap blanket on the couch. I moved it to the edge of the chair so she can reach it, explained what I’m doing, only to have Jerry move it back to the couch.

Mom is now doing everything she needs to do with flourishes. Still in the wheelchair, of course. I cook the three meals, clean the dishes, do mom’s laundry, roll her to the mail, and do a few other pissant jobs. My wife likes me home, Dexton tells me to come home every day on the telephone, I’m gaining weight, I can’t watch my television shows and I’m not doing enough for mom to justify my time. Sure, mom would keep me here no matter my inconvenience, just to cook for Jerry. Cooking is like dishes to Jerry; she won’t do it.

Wednesday evening I tell them that I’m leaving Thursday night. Friday will be a great day for a dry run. Judy will still be here next week but we can find out the ABCs of mom’s independence. Weeks ago I had selected Mint as a cell phone company for them. I picked out a cheap but sufficient cell phone. With a holster, she can keep it with her and call someone with two pokes if she gets into trouble. It didn’t happen. I begin to wonder just how long they plan to keep me doing this.

Shit hits the fan. Jerry has put out the alarm and I’m getting calls from everyone. How selfish can I be, they ask from their homes? No one thinks my dry run plan is a good idea. She is a bit wobbly, I admit, but she'll still be wobbly next month and that will damn sure be without me!

Thursday mom is crying again when she gets out of bed. She has trouble doing everything. She can’t get in her chair for her nap so I leave her in the wheelchair. She wheels a bit toward the toilet but soon stops, seemingly exhausted. She looks at me with pleading. ‘If you think I’m going to help you pee again you'll be surprised to find yourself sitting in it!’ I think as loud as I can.

Physical therapy is scheduled before supper. Mom is supposed to request a shower and instructions on how to wipe after a poop. She neglected to do it - the longer I will need to care for her and cook for Jerry. BTW, Jerry doesn't eat chicken or cheese.

I’m itching at the bit to get out of there, still chafing by the Christmas snub and the immense resistance to my idea of a tryout day. Jerry has found someone to take my place Friday, further delaying the end to this crap. Before I leave, we are going to have a talk. If this ever happens again I won’t help unless some effort has been made to move her closer. I don’t want to sound threatening, I'll need to be careful.

When Melanie knocks I lean forward and scream ‘Come on in!'

Mom glares at me like I’m the biggest clod she has ever met.

I go to the door and let her in. There’s plenty of room but she gives me a leery look. It isn’t the usual greeting I get. Has someone told her something odd? She moves to my mother and leads her in some stretching exercises. Mom’s fine now. Mom doesn’t introduce me, as usual.

“Did you have a nice Christmas?” Melanie asks her.

“Yes, it was very nice. I celebrated it with my family,” says mom.

Uh-oh. I try to keep myself in control but my generator spins up unregulated.

Is she calling that group of posers at Don’s house her family? As it happens, Jerry gets off early and comes in, walking past me at the table.

“You called that group at Don’s house your family,” I say, unable to shut up. My face is burning; it must be red.

“What’s wrong?” asks Jerry.

“Well, yes. Your my family too,” she attempts.

“I thought your family was cleaning your shit off the walls and taking care of Jerry!”

They both look at me, pity on their unfeeling faces.

“ I’ve been watching you for two decades. I can see that you don’t like me. I’ve been trying to correct it but you’ve really fucked up,” I say.

They say nothing.

“It’s just the way you are. I can’t fix it. But, what did Sandy do?”

I go through the list, all of us at my house, half a mile away from Dons'.

“What did they do? I now realize that your disdain extends through my family. I can’t fix it for me, I can’t fix it for them. I’m sorry but I can’t have your indifference poisoning my family. We aren’t an afterthought! We’re the only lineage you have. Had. Yes, this is an outburst, but it’s really a decision. I don’t want you around. Don’t call.”

It’s a long ride home. I have to be careful; I’m yelling at the windshield.

Sandy is waiting for me on the drive.

“Are you alright?” she asks and I nod.

Dexton sees me and comes outside. “PawPaw Home!”

January 01, 2022 20:36

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7 comments

Moon Lion
04:25 Jan 04, 2022

This story had a very realistic description of family dynamics, which worked incredibly well in sucking readers into the world this story is set in. The main character (sorry, I didn't catch his name) was fascinating and an immensely sympathetic character and I truly enjoyed/and related to his efforts to work with this family. A great read and take on the prompt!

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John Hanna
18:48 Jan 04, 2022

Moon, As you might have guessed I had reservations about publishing this piece. I am glad you could relate. Happy New Year and I will get to reading your stories soon.

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Moon Lion
21:26 Jan 04, 2022

Happy New year to you too!

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Boutat Driss
13:40 Jan 20, 2022

nice tale. I loved it

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John Hanna
02:04 Jan 21, 2022

Thanks Boutat, I'll check out your stuff too.

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Kevin Marlow
00:39 Jan 13, 2022

This is a nice detour, your wry sense of humor still comes through. Your Misty saga was one of the first I started reading on the blog. Good work, yet worrying since my folks are getting older.

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John Hanna
01:40 Jan 13, 2022

Older, yeah. Well, my mom had five and I don't really know why I'm on the bottom. Sure, I filled my first apartment with beer cans and other embarrassing things but I've tried to be good for decades. Anyway, I had to apologize a week later, couldn't just leave it that way in case something else happened. "I thought you were upset about something," she said. Oh well, it is what it is. Hope you come out better.

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