I love and cherish life, so it's the strangest feeling in the world to want your own mother to die. My mom's been in the hospital for a week with pneumonia, and is not responding to the antibiotics as quickly as they'd hoped. She's seventy-nine, almost eighty years old, can't walk, has advanced Alzheimer's, rheumatoid arthritis, congestive heart failure (among other things), and has absolutely no quality of life whatsoever. Her skin is tissue thin and so sensitive, creases in her clothing tear it. And she's becoming really mean.
A nurse told me that in Alzheimer's, a patient usually exhibits one or two personality changes as the disease progresses: childlike infantile or hostile aggressor. Mom is the latter. She invents the most repulsive, vicious revenge scenarios and fantasies I've ever heard of; strange and ghastly tortures to do to all sorts of private anatomical parts, threatening other residents in the nursing home. She dreams of grinding a little old lady's hand up in a meat grinder then making her eat it on toast...really terrible stuff. At first, these fantasies were sporadic and easy to steer her away from. For the last few months, they've become all she can talk about. Her oxygen saturation count is very low and her poor brain is simply fried from all the trauma. The doctor told me, when she was first diagnosed, that the disease had progressed so rapidly because it got a good foothold in a brain that was damaged to begin with. Between the cluster strokes she's been having for a decade and the years of drinking and pill-popping before that, her brain was "like damp peeling wallpaper in an abandoned house. Black mold spread like wildfire. That's what the Alzheimer's is doing." Those were the doctor's words way back when. Medication has helped her learn how to eat again but she still has a problem remembering to breathe. Maybe that's how the pneumonia set in.
Mom doesn't know she has Alzheimer's. We decided not to tell her, since that and paralysis have always been her two worst fears. But she knows her mind is going. She can feel it. We skitter and dance around the subject. I ask if she's doing her breathing exercises and she says "yes," then goes on to describe how she'd like to tie the therapist to a barbecue spit until he pops in his own juices. That is, when she could talk. She hasn't spoken for two days now. They've got her sedated because she panics when she's awake.
So I want her to die. I want her to just go to sleep and not wake up. I pray for my beloved dead brother Ian to come and get her, for Charlie, her boyfriend of twenty-six years, to spin her onto the dance floor and out of that train wreck of a body. I don't want her to stay in it anymore. I want her to leave. I keep thinking about the doctor's prayer for the crazy preacher in the HBO series Deadwood. How the once nice old holy man is robbed of his senses and control over his body until everybody wishes he were dead. That's how I feel about Mom. I wish she could slide out of that raggedy meat suit she's in right now and be free. And selfishly, I want to be free of it as well. It's hard to witness. I watched her decline every day for the four years I took care of her in Illinois until she became too much for one layman caregiver. I just want her to stop suffering and I want to stop watching her suffer. I heard a segment on NPR this morning about a woman who cared for her mother for years before she died. They asked people to call in with their caregiver stories and I started bawling because they were all so familiar. Such a terrible familial link of exhaustion, misery and broken-hearted love.
So I tip my hat to all the brave souls out there, struggling every day with their infirm loved ones. Take the time, find a moment, hide in the corner and just...breathe. Love you all. Hang in there.