21 March 2012

Random Thoughts from 38,000 feet above Eastern Oregon

“Aquas de Março” may well be my favorite song.  If there is an afterlife, Tom Jobim and Joni Mitchell will hang out, smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey.

Business class transforms travel from horrifying to tolerable. 

When one’s parents are gravely ill, the question of how to be good to them is the most important thing in the world.  The danger is to know when and how to protect against consuming one’s being.

It’s very nice to have enough underwear so as not to worry about having to do laundry between unplanned trips

Since 2005, my Aunt Monica and my father have died.  Edith Throckmorton died.  Edie Mulholland died.  Bill Martin died.  Edith Stiles died.  There are others, some close, some distant – but they’re related by age.  The “Greatest Generation” is fading quickly.  In a very real sense, my mother’s impending death will close a chapter in our lives.  What chapter opens next will be fascinating.

Having discussed very painful decisions about terminal illnesses and end-of-life issues with my mother over the last 30 years has made the last month much easier.  Executing the decisions is relatively easy.  Catching up with the emotions is quite a different story.  No, in fact I’m not all right.   Thanks for asking.

How did I ever travel without a laptop?  And what will it be like to travel with a tablet as powerful and capable as my laptop?

I miss the smell and touch of Graham and Tick Tock bin Trouble.  I am a pack animal.  Who knew?

On being a good son to a dying mother

My mother is dying.  Not that any of us will live forever, barring the “rapture for nerds.”  My mother is 88, has moderate dementia, and has recently been diagnosed as having a large mass in her chest, most likely cancerous.  I can’t tell you that with 100% confidence, because my mother slapped the radiology technician assisting with her biopsy, thus immediately ending the procedure and delaying a definitive diagnosis of lung cancer. 

But we know enough to know that my mother is dying, and is likely to die sooner, rather than later. 

What I’m struggling with is how to be a good son to my dying mother.  I know how to do many things, with various degrees of comfort and competence.  I can, with fluency and grace, coordinate the IT policy of a major Federal agency.  I do a passable job as partner to the love of my life.  I rock wearing really good suits, and know my way around menus and wine lists like no one’s business.  I’m an OK friend, and a not particularly good godfather (yes, that’s my assessment of what I’ve done for you, Cord). 

The problem is, for me: what can and should I do for Virginia Jean Kuehner Fusick Cory? 

I’ve established her care goals as being “providing comfort and reducing confusion,” know that my mother’s tolerance for discomfort and change is shrinking every day.  I’ve tried to bring the right people together to ensure that she’s doing what she needs to do every day, and that she can’t badger, bully, or plead her way out of doing what she may not want to do. 

So – I’m flying once again to Oregon, trying to get sorted my mother’s collapsing world.  After having a episode with wheezing and shortness of breath which lead to an ER visit and a hospital admission, my mother will move from the apartment in which she has lived independently for the last 10 years to an assisted living room.  I know there will be tears, and complaint, and resistance, but the only way I can ensure that my mother’s days are comfortable and create minimal confusion for her is to provide round the clock supervision for her.  Without that, her chances of having an injurious fall are certain.  Without that, her failure to medicate or refuse medication would lead to more trips to the ER and hospital.  Without that, my guilt is unbearable.

I do know that I can’t do this myself.  This is work that has to be shared with the team – the professionals who understand how to provide care to the elderly, and how to work with the families of the elderly, and with my family and friends, who know how to tell me what I need to do, and when I’m trying to do too much. 

In the end, I want to make sure that I’m able to do for my mother at the end of her life what she and my father did for me at the beginning of my life:  keep me safe, keep me warm, and let me feel loved.  And if I can do that, I will have been a good son to a dying mother.