It’s easy to pretend to not notice little changes in a person when you don’t see them that often; especially when the changes are subtle and unremarkable on their own. We had suspected that something was up but, when we arrived at her place, I had to admit something was very wrong. She looked the same; granted, a little sad, but that was understandable. She asked about the drive, the kids, the dogs, all the normal stuff she usually says. She opened her presents and made the appropriate remarks, offered us a snack and some wine, and continued with the small talk. I asked her how she was feeling and she replied that she was feeling just fine and excited we were there. I shot Bill a look - what in the hell?
The thing that tipped me off that she had really taken a turn was that she has always, ALWAYS, made a point to remark about my appearance; most of the time it was nice but sometimes she could be a little harsh. I hadn’t seen her in a year and during that time I had lost a significant amount of weight, had major surgery, and gone through some catastrophic personal crap. I was thinner than I had ever been and the stress of it all showed. I know this because several of my friends had expressed concern and my best friend had cried because she was so worried about me. But, from my mom, not a damn word. The woman who had invested so much time, energy, and money into making me feminine, graceful, and pageant worthy (none of it stuck) had not one word to say. Nothing about how I was feeling, how school was going – nothing. That one little thing was a big indication that we had a problem. It was just the beginning.
The next day, we offered to take her to lunch but she said she wanted to stick to her normal daytime schedule; however, we could do dinner together as we had planned. Okey dokey, we had just driven 500 miles the day after Christmas to see her but, since I had told her that we would work around her schedule it was cool. We spent some time driving around, checked out our first house, visited my dad’s grave, did some grocery shopping for mom and then checked in to see when she would like us to pick her up for dinner.
She has always enjoyed dinner out and she would never turn down an opportunity but this time she said she didn’t want to go. When I asked her why, she said her stomach was bothering her again and she just didn’t feel like it. We stopped by to drop off her groceries and she acted like there was nothing wrong. Bill and I had decided that we needed to talk with her and now was the time. I told her how much I loved her and how concerned we were. I explained how her over the counter medication usage might be making her not feel well and that her diet of potato chips, chocolate, and wine was probably not helping.
I asked her to please cut back on the pills and try to eat better. I reminded her that she could get precooked food at the deli counter, explained all the things that I would think she already knew, and she acted like it was the first time she had ever heard what I was suggesting. She was being agreeable but it was just to placate me, nothing was sinking in and it was obvious. She told me that she had a doctor’s appointment that one of her friends had booked for her but since she was a new patient it wasn’t until April. I asked her if perhaps she should find one that could see her sooner but she acted like she didn’t hear any of it. I caved and let it go.
In hindsight, I should have been more proactive, I should have loaded her up in the car and taken her to the hospital to have her checked out. But, then again, what would I have said was wrong? She’s acting strange? She’s abusing Tums and laxatives? She just seems off? I’m not sure I could have gotten anywhere and I’m positive she would have talked a really good game and made me look like a meddling daughter teetering on the edge of overbearing and perhaps elder abusing.
Knowing what I know now, and having gained a little bit of personal strength, I would have handled the situation very differently. I so desperately wanted to believe that she was fine and still able to drive and take care of herself. Wishing for something isn't an excuse for not doing the right thing. The hard thing. The hardest thing.
During this trip, Bill and I had visited an independent living facility that was right across the street from where she was living. It was perfect; she could come and go as she pleased, she could keep her car, she could choose to eat there or not, she could have guests, and it even had a little convenience store and transportation in case the weather was crappy or she didn’t want to drive. And, best of all, a call button for emergencies. All this for what she was paying in rent, insurance, utilities, etc. Problem solved! Nope, she wasn’t having that either. We were waved away and dismissed. Thanks for driving down, so nice to see you, tell the kids I said hello. It was an interesting drive back to Oklahoma.