Where Do the Details Go

There is something wrong with my mind. More precisely, my memory. I have been one who could recall names, places, faces, and facts without any trouble. It was like my mind was a rolodex and all I had to do was give it a spin and I would land on just the right information every time. Yet lately it seems likes these mundane facts have left me coming up empty.

The one that frightens me the most is facts and details of things I myself have created, yet cannot recall. For whatever reason I started recounting all of the different “lands” I’ve created while writing stories, and I could remember all except one. To this very minute I still cannot tell you what the name of it is, and for this particular series I fleshed out an entire thousand year history that culimanated into the events of my short story turned novel. At one time that was something I knew in intricate detail. Now I can’t even tell you where all of this fictional bullshit took place.

I am aware of how overdramatic I sound. This is not a real cause for concern. But dealing with my mother’s rapid slide into dementia, I have become hypser sensitive over the slightest change in my own memory recall. It leaves me asking am I too going to suffer from this disease? Or worse, is this something external that is not only fueling my mother’s memory loss but now having an affect on me?

I am sure the answer to this is a simple one. My sudden missing mental notes are due to either age or just overall stress. Lately I have come under a lot in regards to my dad’s sudden an unexpected death, and my mother’s mental collapse and unrelated health issues.  I’m sure (and hope) that once all of these things have calmed and my mind is at peace these details will return to me and I will be just as sharp with my mundane facts as I ever was.

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Coming to you LIVE from the Living Room

The hardest thing to grapple with my mother’s illness is that the woman who currently resides in her body is very much not like the one who raised me. This one is more like a petulant child than anything else. She’s argumentative and obstinate, who will do the exact thing you tell her not to do. It’s irritating and upsetting.

Her “caretaker,” for lack of a better word, (babysitter is more apropos but I refuse) doesn’t start until this coming Monday. The plan was that she was going to come and stay with me until Thursday, but last night she flat out told me she wasn’t going to stay with me. So I countered by setting up camera’s in her house.

I must confess they are incredibly handy. I can see most areas of her home and what it is she is doing, which is constant shuffling. And if I so chose I could get alerts to ANY movement. However, as previously mentioned, she never sits down, so the only camera that sends me alerts is the doorbell. I want to know if she goes somewhere, especially since I told her “don’t leave the house.”

The husband and I have dubbed it “The Ginger Show” ala the movie “The Truman Show,” because we can see what she’s doing at all times. And goddamn is it fascinating. Just the mundane things she does, aren’t so mundane when you realize she is mopping the floor with a padless Swiffer. Or she is readjusting the chairs for the third time, even though they haven’t been moved since the last time she rearranged them. But in my mother’s mind she is more than capable to take of herself. In fact, she is completing every task she sets out to do. However she can’t tell you why she thinks that, but she can tell you why she doesn’t use the things she once used, like a telephone or a T.V. remote. I dub this kind of activity “raging against the dying of the light.”

I know she refuses to see herself as old or infirm.  She doesn’t even believe that she has Alzheimer’s. Whenever she talks about it, it’s always “what you say.” I want to immediately counter with “no, it’s what the doctors say.”

When I switch over to the “live view” of whatever room had the last bit of activity and I just take a moment to watch what she’s doing, I am overcome with this immense sadness. Here sits a woman who is quickly deteriorating mentally, who has no concept of what is happening to her and refuses to admit that she needs help. If I believed in any kind of god I would pray she realizes she can’t do this on her own, but there is no greater power in this universe. Maybe there is and like these Ring cameras he just enjoys watching this shit show. But unlike me, he gets off on the misery.

A Month in Review

It’s weird to think that my dad has been dead for a month now. It simultaneously feels like it’s been forever and then again no time at all. I miss him but at the same time I miss what he was for my mother, a caretaker.

My mother has Alzheimer’s. An aggressive bout of it, it would appear. Everyday it feels like she’s getting worse. Then again it could be because I am seeing all of it, in all of its cruel glory without filters.

I never truly understood how bad it was. My father would just tell me that it was getting worse but never elaborated to how or why he felt that way. Now I do.

For those keeping tally, I have bathed my mother 3 times and cleaned up her “accidents” just as much. She has so far accused my husband of bringing a woman home and fucking her in our bed and has also told us (on a separate occasion) that the power chords in her room were calling her ugly. However she also has accurately figured out who Josh is and what role he plays in my life. To that I say “clever girl” in the voice of Robert Muldoon from Jurassic Park, right before he’s devoured by a velociraptor.

My mother is adamant that she won’t be living with my husband and I. She wants to go home and me “live my life” and she “live hers.” I haven’t even broached the subject of assisted living by the advice of a woman who’s sole job is to place elders into care. That’s about the only thing I’ve listened to thus far.

I’m trying to please too many people in this situation when I have to think about what is ultimately the best choice of action. What that is I don’t know. Well, that’s a lie. A care facility would be best but when I look at the monthly cost, coupled with how much money she has and how little I make to supplement that it seems like a fools errand. Especially given that we don’t know how long she will live.

Getting old in America is genuinely a cruel joke. You work your whole life, scrimping and saving to leave your children something after you go, and instead it is bled dry by corporations who make money off of the infirm. All for the idea of safety, care, and security.

I am someone who couldn’t care less about what my mother could leave me. Her on the other hand is deeply concerned. She repeatedly tells me she wants me to have something upon her passing. Looking to the horizon that will be one other thing she won’t get.

But it’s for the best, considering her disease has already claimed one life and it wasn’t even hers.

A Son’s Eulogy to His Father

My dad always wanted to be a father. He never explicitly said that, but I could just gather it from the clues of his life.

When he was 16 he and his then girlfriend, Pam, became pregnant. The two wanted to get married but because they were so young their parents were required to give consent. Neither of which gave and the two didn’t see or speak to each other again for many years. My mother told me once that, that broke his heart.

To ease that pain my father tried to rescue a woman named Diane. She was already pregnant and my father stepped into the role of expecting dad and cared for the daughter she had. He would recount that he changed her diapers, fed her when she was hungry, and calmed her when she was fussy. She may not have been his blood but she was his is by name. And that was more than enough for him.

Then came me, when both these women were in their twenties. My parents told me repeatedly, but especially my pop, that I was wanted and planned. He joked that my mom talked him into it. “Can’t we have just one, just one little baby.” And clearly, we can see who won.

But like I said, my dad wanted to be a father.

Truthfully he was made for the role. In typical father caricature, He did like a beer or two, before he was sober. He liked to fish. He was a strong silent type, who peppered in random bits of wisdom, spoken in only short, clipped sentences. He never really was one to wax poetic about any topic. It was always precise response and right to the point.

My pop did have this uncanny ability of being right. He would tell me, after I told him how silly it was to get mad at traffic lights, “just you wait, Josh. You’ll see.” And by-god he was right. And I loved telling him how annoying it is that every light turned red in this town and they need to synchronize them.

He was truthfully, the most patient and strongest man I had ever met, and I am so happy I was able to tell him that before I couldn’t. He was my role model, and I strive to carry these very qualities.

Years before, He apologized to me once that he wasn’t a good father because he didn’t know what it was to be one. He didn’t have one when he was growing up. The only examples he did receive was an aloof, absent man who liked to drink. But him claiming that fault was/is not true. He knew what it was and what it took. And even to admit that, regardless of its validity, was someone with humility.

When I told my dad that I was gay, the very first thing he said to me, after an evening of processing this information silently, was that I was his son and he loved me no matter what.

My dad showed what it was to be a true man, with his kindness, his patience, his immense capacity for love, and admitting and owning his faults.

I tried to immortalize him in his obituary but of course, in true Josh fashion, I wasn’t concerned about double checking dates. So my dad hasn’t passed yet. That’ll be at the end of this month. So this man in this coffin is an imposter who stole my hat to complete the ruse.

He would have loved that joke. And I loved making him laugh.

One final story for those who aren’t friends with me on Facebook or have hidden me because of my incessant opinionated posts.

When I was getting the things for my father to wear for his final trip, I happened upon a tape, in a box filled with casettes, titled “dad and Joshua and mom.” I knew instantly what it was because I had found similar tapes when I was younger. My parents couldn’t afford a video camera, so my dad made due with his rad stereo and recorded audio of us just doing mundane things around the house. That night, before heading to the bar, I tasked my friend to make a trip to Target to buy a walk-man. Surprisingly and luckily, they still sell them. Once we got to the car we split the headphones and listened to the tape. On it was my 3-year-old self playing in a pool and my father talking to me. He asked me questions and talked about the next weekend when we were going up to my grandparents’ house for 4th of July.

My father went to the hospital on June 27th, a week before 4th of July. My heart started to race as I did the math to decipher when this could have happened.

When we got to the end of that side of the tape, I flipped it over and it began with my father announcing that it was a warm Sunday morning June the 26th. I broke down crying because, here was a moment of a very different morning 31 years prior, where we were having breakfast as a family.

My father may be gone, on July 28th, but he will never be forgotten. He will live on in the memories and hearts of all the lives he impacted.

My Life Turned on a Quarter

Today will be two weeks from the moment my entire life changed with a single phone call. The one in which a stranger left me a message from my parents line to tell me that my father was taken to the hospital in an ambulance and she was waiting with my mother for me to arrive.  Five minutes later, panicked, I called back and got the details. I told my mother that I had to do an inspection first before I could get her. I was oblivious to the seriousness of the injury. Now, knowing everything I do, I would have left immediately instead of doing my job first. But I was in denial that it could have been anything worse. (This wasn’t the first time my pop went to the emergency room.)

After rushing through my home inspection I got in my car and hurried over to my parents to retrieve my mother. For a brief moment, during my drive, I had a spark of dread that my father would be dead and I would have to take care of my mother (who has alzheimer’s.) As the anxiety began to engulf my chest, I told myself to just take things one at a time. Everything would be all right.

I arrived to my parent’s house with the security screen and front door wide open, my mother was waiting for me inside, shuffling items in the dining room. She had packed up his wallet and all of “his pills” in a basket and was ready to roll. (It turned out they were her pills and not his. But, oh well.) She was already fearing the worst, and I, uncharacteristically, told her not to think that way. We didn’t know yet, and to do so would only make it worse.

She agreed and continued to spin the lone quarter in the palm of her hand.

We arrived at the hospital, with no knowledge where to go. Even the quick description from the security guard in the E.R. was super vague and not at all helpful. When I finally figured it out, I called around and eventually found out he was in surgery.

My mother was beside herself, even then. Again I told her to not worry, we would find out what was going on when he was out.

For the next thirty minutes I calmed myself by playing a game on my phone as my mother babbled on with nonsense about “jesus” and “the Christians”… her usual go to commentary from her diminishing brain.

I am almost certain that doctor’s take a course in medical school wherein they learn to deliver bad news. The moment the surgeon removed his net cap I knew my father was gone. There wasn’t a doubt in my body. However, what I would soon learn was that he wasn’t “gone” physically, but rather mentally. He had arrived unresponsive and stayed that way until the end.

As it turned out, my father had fallen and hit his head when he had gotten up to pee in the early morning. What time that was at I have no idea. Getting a straight answer out of my mother is near impossible, and her story (which she recounts in graphic gory detail) changes each time.  My father had asked my mother for help, and her response was to run outside and call for it from anyone who might hear. She encountered a bus driver who told her the number to dial an emergency (you know, the one everyone fucking knows) and when she got back inside she forgot it completely, thus she returned to the front yard. This is where she encountered the stranger who called 911, like a normal person, and took care of my father as instructed by the emergency operator.

After the surgeon removed a portion of his skull to relieve the massive amounts of bleeding, he was moved to the ICU. Room 11 for child 11. It was there that I was handed the gauntlet to be the one to make all of my father’s decisions. My mother couldn’t even grasp what was happening, and was distracted by my father in his hospital bed. So the nurse’s calmly rattled off their assessment of the situation and asked me how we were to proceed. I wasn’t ready to make these decisions. This man’s entire existence rested in the palm of my hands.

I had concluded that the hospital should keep him on life support until my Aunt arrived to say goodbye. Once she had had her moment with him, I gave the order and they removed the tubes. I told myself I wanted to be there when he went, but I regretted it almost instantly as I watched him arch his back, take his last breath, and hear his heart slowly stop beating. It is an image I will never forget.

Today, two weeks from being told my father was mentally gone, I have to put on a brave front and lay his body in the earth. But before that, I must deliver his eulogy. One in which I most likely will not write and just deliver off the cuff; against the advisement of the preacher, but fuck him. However my own hatred to spite another person will only harm myself and I will inevitably detest myself for not even attempting bullet points.

Historic Parallels

I need to write. It has been some time and I feel all of these emotions welling up inside of me. In usual “Josh” fashion I will decompress by letting some of it out for mental relief.

Last night, when I was attempting to sleep, I would slowly drift off and then wake up in an abrupt panic. To what I can remember, one of them was that someone was in my bedroom and then the other was about my mother. After the one regarding mom I turned on my ringer, just in case.

My mother has been having delusions. She had them awhile ago in the form of thinking that my cousin, her nephew, is dead. Legitimately no longer among the living. I had to video chat with him to prove he wasn’t. My mother was elated that he wasn’t gone, however even among that proof her brain somehow turned his death into “in prison.” For whatever reason, with a few more days under our belt, that all went away and she never spoke of it again.

After her brain scan, showing the substantial decrease in brain mass, the doctor prescribed her something for the delusions. But first we had to get her off the Lexapro the previous nurse practitioner had prescribed for the misdiagnosis of “stress and depression.” Once she was weened off of that we began these. That was a nightmare.

After just the second 1/3 of the actual dose, she was becoming aggressive and manic. As a knee jerk reaction I told my father to stop it and we would try again down the road.

For awhile she was okay, but not good. It wasn’t until this past Saturday when my mother was explaning to me about seeing people in the mirror, who moved and talked, that I decided it was best to try again.

This had the same result as it had before. So much so that my father tossed one of his xanax down her throat to calm her down, because she would not sit still, would not stop crying, and was basically “freaking out” (per my dad.)

I went over to visit her the day he called and she was there, happy as a clam. I guess after getting some sleep she was doing alright and had mellowed out. We then decided to try again, but this time at night (which should have been last night.) My biggest worry is that she freaks out again, and my secondary being my father not even giving it to her because of how she had responded. The second I absolutely understand. I don’t know how I would have handled the situation at all. Especially since I don’t have a bevvy of pills at my disposal. Thank god my dad is a prescription drug addict.

Whats funny is I have been in this reality once before.  When I was six, my father had a mental breakdown and ended up in a mental hospital. He was seeing demons coming out of the mirror and was out in the backyard swinging around a broom trying to kill them. He did the second for so long that he gave himself blisters and had to wear kitchen gloves to keep going.

When I brought this up to my mother about her seeing people in the mirror, she dismissed me out of hand. She said something to the effect of “yeah but that’s the physical realm.” The woman can barely find the words she wants to use to express what she wants to say, but she pops off with “physical realm.” (Jesus… shoot me.)

When the husband and I visited her on Tuesday, she was herself. Calm and collected. She even understood how “crazy” she had been. What we also learned is that her cousin (who she explained had been born a couple months before her and was her best childhood friend) is not long for this world, from alzheimers.

I remember my mother coming home and explaining how her cousin had acted weird at he and his wife’s 50 year wedding anniversary. It wasn’t long after that, that he was diagnosed with alzheimers. Now, he’s dying. The beginning of this tale was maybe 2 years ago. Now… He’s dying.

This last part feeds into my own diagnosis. I estimated my mother maybe had a year or 2 years left. I concluded this just by the brain scan and seeing how quickly her mental health is declining. And then hearing this… Maybe I’m not far off.

Creating Chaos

I have noticed this strange phenomenon within myself. Whenever I begin to dwell on my mother’s illness and impending decline into nothing, my thoughts immediately revert to something else. In these new thoughts I begin to pick them apart to find a problem and thus creating a new conflict to dwell over. Once I hold a “new chaos” to deal with, my mind forgets about the one that caused the process to begin.

I am certain this is an actual mental disorder related to grief but I don’t have the time nor the patience to do research. (Although, that may help with my need to focus on something else, so maybe I should do that.)

The one thing I learned from my “Ethics of Living and Dying” course in community college is that process of grief is very concrete. In the moments I begin to feel these emotions, if I momentarily remove myself from the situation, I can see what stage I currently reside. Yesterday it was anger. Today’s emotions I don’t know. Denial, most likely.

It is super humorous to me that the ONLY class I received a B grade was the one that has probably impacted my life the most. I learned so much in it that it has carried over into my real life. I see the patterns, I see the human reactions to things to death and dying. It’s truly fascinating. And even in knowing the clinical process of it I still fall right into the same groove. It’s inescapable. It’s human nature at it’s core.

Knowing that I do in fact create fabricated or exaggerated conflicts I can stop myself whenever it becomes too overwhelming. Because even though it is a momentary distraction my thoughts are still consumed by my mother and I have then “successfully” doubled the stress, and I don’t need to do that.