Home Bound (Week III)

Guest post from Wendee cont.'d My mother’s condition has deteriorated to where she spends most of her time watching TV or restlessly dozing on the couch. The Canasta ladies continue to visit, perching uneasily on the edges of the furniture, watching my mother mumble to herself. Early in the week, my childhood friend Madlyn Westphal and her mother Edith come to visit. We haven’t seen them since Bob Westphal’s funeral, almost eight years earlier. Edith stands next to my mother’s bed, stroking her hand. “Poor sweetheart, poor dear,” she says, over and over, tears running down her cheeks. They leave a small glass filled with roses from Edith’s garden on the bedside table. The next morning my mother wakes up earlier than usual. She’s unexpectedly energized and she decides we need to color her hair. “The roots,” she says, dragging a comb through unwieldy curls that spring across her head. By the time I was born, my mother’s hair had already turned a shimmering salt and pepper gray. She didn’t start coloring her hair until her mid-seventies, though, long after most of her friends had begun camouflaging their age. Now her hair is a beigish shade of washed out blonde. White roots swirl in greasy cowlicks from a flaky pink scalp. She sits on the vanity chair next to the bathroom sink and extracts a box of Lady Clairol Honey Blonde from the back of her makeup drawer. “Use this,” she demands, pushing the box towards me. I read the directions and realize we’ll never be able to handle even these simple steps. “Do you remember how you’d fight me when I’d brush your hair?” She asks. I figure she’s talking about my daughter, Allison who has long, thick red curls. I only disagreed with her once, when I was nine and she bobby pinned a sanitary napkin to my forehead, under my bangs to make them “have a little body.” “Do you remember when you did that?” I say, trying to get her to forget about coloring her hair. “Then you told me to go out and play.” She shakes her head. “I never..,” she puts the Lady Clairol back in the drawer. “Too tired,” she says, and heads to the bedroom. When the hospice nurse visits later that morning I tell her about the hair color. “No,” the nurse says. “Her skin’s much too fragile.” We agree my mother will feel better if she takes a shower and she arranges for a health aide to come that afternoon. It’s been over a week since my mother last bathed. When the aide arrives, I set a plastic lawn chair in the shower and we guide my mother into the bathroom. “You need a bath, mom.” I tell her but she’s already started to struggle. “I don’t want that woman to touch me,” I’m embarrassed at my mother’s outburst towards the aide but the aide doesn’t seem to notice. “I don’t want her to touch me.” The aide is trying to take off my mother’s nightgown but my mother’s become combative. I try to help. The aides pushes me away, “Let me do it, it’s best if you wait outside,” she insists. But my mother’s afraid and I don’t want to leave her alone. “You need to get in the shower, Ruby.” The aide hisses. “Stop.” I tell the aide. “Mom, if you won’t take off your nightgown, leave it on, we’ll dry it later.” The aide pushes my mother forward and my mother grabs the door jamb, wedging herself outside the shower. I reach around her waist, intending to lift her into the shower, to set her on the lawn chair, but my mother’s surprisingly strong and I’m unable to release her grip on the door. The aide begins prying her fingers back. “Ruby!!” “No, we’ll do it later,” I say, letting go of my mother. The aide refuses to listen to me. We’re all sweating and the steam from the shower has filled the room. My mother begins to cry; tears and sweat streak her face. This is the first time in my life I’ve seen her cry. Four weeks ago, when her doctor pronounced her cancer terminal, her response was a strong shrug and a decision that she’d die at home. But now the fear in her eyes breaks my heart and we cry together, the health aide looking on. Later, after the aide’s left, when my mother and I’re alone, I strip down to my underwear and carry my mother, this time compliant and limp, into the shower still dressed in her nightgown. “Don’t worry, mom, you get too scared, I’ll take you out,” I tell her as I sit her on the lawn chair. I wedge myself between the chair and the shower wall and we let the spray cover us. We take her nightgown off and stay in the shower, together, until the hot water runs cool.


Blogger annegb said...

Again, memories. Stacy sobbing and shivering as we bathed her. Her poor tiny body.

Dang, I want to hit that health aide.

5/03/2006 01:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Melissa said...

Beautiful writing- thanks for sharing.

5/03/2006 06:41:00 PM  
Blogger Dorothy said...

And that is why I will never put my mother through that. I'd report the aide for verbal abuse and assault. She needs to not be working with geriatrics if can't make something as simple as a shower easy for them.

5/04/2006 10:40:00 AM  

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