Do Not Resuscitate!

March 30, 2014, Ojai, California

Well, I did my daughterly duty, my dharma, my karma yoga or whatever cosmic spin you want to put on it. A week has flown by since I last saw my old parents. When I arrived, early this evening, my mother was sitting as usual in the living room, in her favorite easy chair by the window, with the view of the orange orchards and majestic mountains. I could tell that my middle sister had been here earlier; my mom’s hair was in a neat ponytail, she had on a nice flowery purple dress and matching jacket, and she wore a strand of pearls around her neck. When I tapped on the window to announce my arrival, she looked at me in happy surprise. I’m always grateful that she still knows who I am.
It took my mom five minutes to unlatch the screen door, but I told her to take her time. The first time she couldn’t manage to lift the latch, I got impatient and went around to the back door, which is double- or triple-locked and almost impossible for me to open. But now I realize that opening the screen door is a life skill I don’t want her to lose, so I wait patiently.My dad was already in bed, only getting up once in a while to empty his bladder. He has now lived with the diagnosis of prostate cancer for about five years. And, just like when I was a child, with my dad asleep in the bedroom so that I don’t have to tiptoe around his La-Z-Boy recliner in the living room, where he often falls asleep, I breathe a sigh of relief. My mom and I can laugh loudly and cut loose.
My parents’ private, at-home nursing home is plastered with notes written by my middle sister, the bossy, responsible one who worked in institutions. These notes are printed in giant letters with a black Sharpie pen, and can be viewed above every sink, on the cupboard doors, on the fridge, on every wall, above the washing machine, on the dressers, night stands, and, of course, all around the telephone:
BEFORE BED
Eye drops
Pill
Put phone in charger. (With a drawing of the phone in its charger)
PLEASE FIX LIGHT ABOVE SINK. DAD CANNOT SEE. 

Change Mom’s piano books. (Otherwise she plays the same songs over and over.)

 

Take care of Mom’s dental and bodily hygiene responsibly.

 

Clean teeth. Soak dentures.

 

Check meds–trade out empties.

 

Give Mom greens and protein and carrot juice after her walk.

 

Keep a walker in the front room and in back of the house.

 

Wash Mom’s shoes. Soak Mom’s feet.

 

Reminder: Read the article on Dementia: How to Encourage Healthy Eating.

Even with all our encouragement, my parents eat so little. Which I think is nature’s way of dropping the body. When she hands me her dentures, I can perfectly see the bony skeleton of my mom’s hand.

The most important sign of all hangs in the hallway, near their bedroom: DO NOT RESUSCITATE. The physician-signed DNR form hangs in a protective plastic sleeve in a spot where it will not be missed by emergency responders.

My dad likes to remind me, “Suzan, we are on our way out. Your mother and I live in our own peaceful cocoon. Like in a satellite floating above the Earth. Your mother and I enjoy each day, but we are not of this world . . .”

While my dad sleeps and my mom listens to her favorite classical music station, I rummage around in the kitchen in search of some vegan food. My parents’ fridge is always stocked with the Dutch staples of my childhood: three or more kinds of whole-grain bread, various cheeses, raw butter, and two gallons of organic milk. For a second the death grip of old habits tempts me to throw in the towel and make a greasy grilled cheese sandwich, but then I spot a package of organic tempeh–my dad’s Indonesian staple–and soon I’m sitting by my mom eating a hot tempeh sandwich.

It’s all so unreal. We arrive on Planet Earth, not knowing from whence we come . . . We depart Planet Earth, some of us certain of where we’re going, others not so sure. We appear . . . we disappear . . . I don’t know anything, but I feel the Great Mystery, and the bliss of not knowing. And I feel the cold that has descended on my little cabin at the top of North Signal as I type this.

Namaste. The divine in me recognizes the spark of divinity in you.

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