Dad passed in August of 2000. This post focuses on “Angela Fera Fish” ~ my Dear Mother ~ May 23, 1928—?
Begun on Friday—2/19/2010 @6:27 p.m.
THE YEAR IS 2010 What you are about to read is an account of my one month long trip from lower NY (Rockland County) to Albany to live with MoM back in February 2010. It’s now Friday, February 19 at about 6:36 pm. I wrote this account after returning to our residence in Nanuet. I had an uneventful trip back home and enjoyed good weather and very little traffic (thank goodness). I apologize at the start for the length of this post; Pard said it was quite detailed. He used the word “minutia”. Pard is all about family, and I know he did not mean that in an insensitive manner, but as far as the situation of our Mother’s life, I feel there is no detail too small to share about the last month of my life and visit with Mom. Therefore, please indulge me in sharing with you all I have written below.
Normally, when I have been traveling (whether an overnight, weekend, or longer) it is not my custom to immediately unpack upon my arrival back home. Today, however, was different. I have had the sense for about a week now, that once home, I would fall exhausted into my bed and not venture out for at least 2 days. That sense has not, as yet, left me. So, I decided that I had better take the time NOW to empty the packed car, and put everything away. When I departed home to head to Moms, I wasn’t certain exactly what I would need. I brought bedding/towels/food and enough clothing to stay a year. Not that I expected to remain a year, but in the dead of winter, one does not readily know what they will need. And so I brought with me what ended up to be far more than I needed. Therefore, upon my arrival home, it all had to go back where it belonged. One thing is for certain if I did end up sleeping for 2 days, I didn’t want to wake up and then have that task waiting for me. And so … thankfully, that task is done.
Now, two hours later, I am sitting up in my bedroom, facing an early evening indigo sky and writing down my thoughts before they begin to evaporate. I’m fairly certain I won’t finish this account this evening, but I certainly will tomorrow. It is important to me to share with all of you what I’ve learned over these last days, weeks and month of my life.
At the forefront of all of it all is, of course, Mom, but directly behind Mom is Mary. Our dear, faithful, hard-working sister who, for days, weeks, months and years now has carried the weight of responsibility on her little shoulders for the well being of Mommy, our dear mother, wife, and widow of Dad, now in Heaven with The Lord. Please do not think that I for one minute am forgetting the things that all of you have done for Mom . . . but if we are all honest … it is Mary that has carried the ball and carried it many days, weeks months and years. It is Mary, always Mary…trying to keep the family a family and tirelessly (though I’m certain she must be tired) spearheading the effort to help Mommy.
Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I know Mary will be uncomfortable with what you are about to read, but I would be greatly negligent by not recognizing her devotion and sacrifice for Mom. So, I’m asking ahead of time for Mary’s forgiveness for what may make her uncomfortable. (Sorry Mary). First I want to tell all of you, as regards Moms state of mind (and affairs) that I can now see clearly what many of you have seen for quite some time. Mom was in serious trouble; how do I even begin to tell you what the last few weeks have been like? Mary was with me every step of the way, or should I say I was with her, and so this accounting is more for everyone else than for Mary.
I’m not exactly sure when I sensed the need to drop everything and make haste to Moms side, but I feel quite sure it was a prompting straight from Heaven. In my naiveté I thought my time with Mom would be spent “sitting with her” having coffee or afternoon tea, reading to and/or with her, watching t.v. with her, taking her out to lunch/dinner or whatever other types of fellowship I could think of that would not only bless Mom but create and enjoy memories that would last in my mind and heart long after I left her and long after she was gone. Instead what I found was a woman who (without her even knowing it) had the begun the process of “checking out” of this world. I want to say early in this letter to you all that I do not feel that way any longer.
You all know that I am a woman of faith, and certainly many different people were praying for Mom; some inside and some outside our immediate family. And though I appreciate all the prayers flown up to Heaven on Moms’ behalf, it is not prayer, nor faith alone that has made the difference in our Mother’s condition. It is love.
At this juncture, I want to confess to all of you that over the last few weeks God has impressed upon me that I have been guilty of neglecting my mother. I did not come to that conclusion until about 2 weeks into my stay. When I did, it brought me to my knees and to tears. The words taught by Jesus came true in my heart and in my life: Jesus taught in James 1:27 – Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. And so I had to ask myself … “have I been looking after my widowed mother?” Have I been doing that the way that Jesus wants me to? My answer to myself and to God was that “I had not”. So let me tell you what I saw, and how this “revelation” played out in my life.
The first 2-3 days I was there were filled mostly with getting myself nested and ready to be away from my own home for a month. It took most of my waking hours to go through things in the spare room and make a little spot where I could be centered, rest and think. Everyone is familiar with that once incredibly cluttered room and what appeared to us as junk that Mom had in that room. But, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure and (with the exception of mountains of aging paperwork) that is how I wanted to treat the things Mom holds dear. And so it was that after it became obvious that serious organization needed to done, I began the process of painstakingly touching, reading and showing to Mom every single item that either needed to be thrown away, put away or given away. Coupled with that was the process of eating, sleeping, keeping a hand in my business back home and observing how Mom spends her days.
Remember that Mom used to be a woman whose skills were cutting edge and in high demand. She worked a full-time job AFTER raising a family of 8. Now her days are spent like this.
6:15—6:45 Rises; takes her Levo and checks her blood. Putters out to the kitchen and makes her instant decaf coffee. Putters around the kitchen mostly and “maybe” does dishes/picks things up looks at them (some as if it’s the first time she’s seen them and then puts them down. Maybe talks briefly with one of her children by phone reads the day-old paper left by her cousin who lives in the building; does the puzzle; inserts her insulin (up until recently with little consistency) eats her breakfast (usually oatmeal/bran or Maypo)
10:45-11:15 Goes into her Maroon lazy boy chair and watches t.v. Drifts off to sleep, wakes watches more t.v. and drifts off to sleep
12:00—12:45 Lunch-usually eats alone. Putters around the kitchen or another room mostly and “maybe” does dishes/picks things up looks at them (some as if it’s the first time she’s seen them) and then puts them down. What little housework she does, will be done mostly at this time. Her “housework” consists of the following: Emptying the trash, cleaning the toilet, doing her dishes, and very occasionally a load of laundry. She did not do this at all while I was with her the entire month. She goes into her Maroon chair and watches TV, drifts off to sleep, wakes watches more tele and drifts off to sleep.
5:00—Her scheduled time to take Coumadin (which she was not taking regularly as you all know)
6:00-7:00 Dinner—usually eats alone
7:30—Back into that Maroon chair and The bright spot in her day watches “jeopardy”. And yes she still gets LOTS of questions right. Maybe talks with one of her children on the phone drifts off to sleep, wakes watches lots more t.v. and drifts in and out of sleep.
10:00 -Aricept—she’s supposed to take it at 10:00 but she seldom remembered
11:45-12:30—Bed, but leaves the t.v. on during the night into the wee hours of the morning. This is why she was sleeping so much during the day.
And so … you can see how small and how simple her world has become.
I want to tell all you now, that though the sisters, Peg and Maryann live not only in the same building but on the same floor they all rarely visit. Mom and I hosted a dinner the first Thursday I was there, but I could quickly see that it would not become a habit. These women seemed to have a lovely time together but Mom didn’t seem interested in carrying it on any further than that one time. I inquired whether she saw them often and she said no. All three widows and so little fellowship. How unfortunate and sad.
As I said, over the first couple of weeks I was there, I was working to clear out, clean out and try to improve her living conditions while at the same time give her some organizational structure that could be maintained after I was gone. But countless hours were also spent with Mom just talking, watching movies, reminiscing, eating, shopping. We had a few excursions out, but it is winter so that time was limited.
One evening I took Mom to a Jim Brickman concert at The Troy Music Hall. She pointed over to the stage where she stood on her graduation day and with her hand shaking and tears in her eyes and voice she said: “Angela I stood right over there…right over there”. Oh my, it took all I could do to not cry. Look at the picture left of the music hall. Look at the left side of the stage and that is where
Angela Fera Fish stood in the spring months of 1946. I wanted to take her picture up on that platform but was prevented by staff and copyright laws. Yep. Copyright laws. But this is the view we had of the stage. We were center balcony with a full unencumbered view of the platform. I felt fortunate to be able to get those seats. Mom sat there “Catholic girl school style” with her folded hands in her lap the whole time and her gaze fixed and almost transfixed on that performer. She loved it.
That concert reminded me how isolated Mom has become, how small her world is and I believe that night God let me see inside her just a little bit more. It was somewhere around that time that I suddenly realized that really, “what did Mom have to live for”. She rarely saw her sisters (who live only steps away) anymore. One of her sisters would drive to the store and not even ask Mom if she needed anything. After all the Diamond Rock bus could take her. How strange that. She doesn’t go to Bingo anymore and rarely goes even on the Hannaford bus or any other outings. Her world is medicine and t.v. She lives for the visits of her children. By the profession of her own mouth, she said, that she missed her children, but hardly anyone came to see her. She said “John comes to see me the most.” Perhaps the Brickman Concert reminded her how narrow her life had become. Most of our conversations centered around home/family/children and I could see these were the things that mattered most to her. Those things now had diminished significantly.
She even shared that when she “is” with her children she feels that everyone talks “around her” but that no one talks “with her.” I’ve read about older people feeling invisible like this and many of them just give up and die, not caring whether they take care of themselves because they are not living for themselves.
One night I stood outside her bedroom door as she lay sleeping. I was crying silently and talking to God and asking Him to help our mother and to help me help her. I felt so inept. This is when I began to feel convicted. This was about the time that God was knocking on my head and heart and saying “this is you, Angela”. You come to see her occasionally, but are you really interested “in her”? Yes, God, I said. So I sensed him saying .. How do you show it?
One day I was sitting watching T.V. with Mom and I glanced over and her eyes were wide open, but she was not blinking at all. She stayed like that (almost catatonic looking) for what seemed like minutes …but, in reality, it was more like 20-30 sec.) and finally, I said “Mom”? She kind of snapped to it and said “What?” I said …. Are you okay? She said, “Yes…why”. Well, I just changed the subject but felt strongly that we really had to get her regimented on her meds and diet. There was much to be done in that arena and I wanted so badly to balance it with quality time spent. The tremendous goal of finishing the organizational tasks of the kitchen, bedroom, 2 huge closets and that living room with mountains of “stuff” all around still had to be accomplished.
Now you might think “why would organization and cleaning” be so important. Well … by itself, probably not so important. But I remembered reading that the cluttered mind benefits tremendously by an uncluttered environment. And so that task became a top priority for me.
Also … one of the most challenging tasks was attempting to find a way to help Mom remember to take her 6 daily medications on time and to eat at regular hours. Endless hours in the first 2.5 weeks were spent on developing and training Mom to use a chart that she could use to help her remember and stay on track. But it seemed no matter what I did, she couldn’t grasp the use of even the simplest of charts. Then I decided to put alerts for all her meds on her computer. She had reminders to take her medicine at the appropriate time and/or eat at a scheduled hour, but she would either turn off the t.v. or totally ignore the reminders. We even had Sinatra as the reminder tone thinking that that would work. It did not. At about the 2.5 week mark I was frustrated beyond belief and worn out from the constant necessity to remind, remind remind …. plead beg and talk with her over and over about how important doing these tasks on time were, for without that discipline in her life, the chances of her remaining independent were diminishing fast.
I would usually work on Mom’s place, visit with her, go on an excursion, out to dinner/lunch or shopping during the day. In the wee hours of the morning, I would then turn my attention to my business down here in Nanuet. It was then that I would answer emails, and make any changes on my website that had to be done. Thankfully, my agents were able to handle the rest of everything and it was generally quiet. If they needed me, I didn’t know it.
It was also during those wee hours of the morning that I would search and read for things that gave some ideas and/or hope as to how to help Mom become regimented in disciplines that could save her life. One night I found something promising called Glow caps. Little caps that are equipped with a computer chip that “blinks or flashes” when it is time for the patient to take meds. If the patient doesn’t take the medicine, the computer program will carry a message to a caregiver. The problem with that solution was that each glow cap was $100.00. Mom would need 6 of them and insurance would not cover it.
The following day, Mary was thinking that surely the glow cap people have some competition and she came across a great sounding gadget called The Wellness Wizard. Mary and I read the description and thought this could be our answer. If it worked, if Mom would use it as directed, then maybe she could stay in her place. So…we ordered it. The first one came, and iI spent a full day and a half learning about it and programming it. I woke up at 6:15 am the following am hoping that the day had arrived to begin Mom on her new program to freedom . . . But the machine did not work as promised. It had some bugs. So we ordered another one. Same thing. Mary was masterful with the guy on the phone. We ended up with a brand new unit. We had 3 days to go before my departure date and hoped that the 3rd time would be the charm. As you all now know…it did work. Now I had 2 full days to be with Mom to train her on her new “assistant”. Mary Mom and I have come to call it “The Gizmo.” So far so good.
I have to tell you that about 4-5 days before I left … I began to see BIG changes in Mom. Oh, she was still staying up too late and still falling asleep in her chair. But as Mary and I have both discussed, who cares about that as long as we know Mom is taking her meds well and is eating correctly. After all, it’s her business how she spends her time. But suddenly Mom was more interested in her surroundings. She would walk over to the piano and hit the little button that plays the music automatically and she would try to “play along”. She would listen to her Sinatra again. She started actually cleaning things (not just straightening up). I think she was grateful to have someone help her with that overwhelmingly huge task.
It was like I saw her come alive. It was a bit of a transformation. As I truly began to take an interest in her, and as others came alongside, Mom began to blossom again. I think she has hope now. It’s probably not hurting either that she is taking her meds as directed or eating a diet that is right for her. Her numbers have stabilized and this morning when I called her numbers were still good. I believe the time spent consistently training her paid huge dividends.
I have seen my mother in a whole new light this last month. Mom comes from a simpler time. A generation who, for the most part, (except for the upper middle class and rich) were all children of the great depression. She is not materialistic. She is not a consumer. She is frugal (reuses Scott towels, etc). Her world is simple. The many things we all take for granted now and use quite easily are overwhelming to her. We have to remember that we will all be old one day and someone else will look on us as “simpler than ourselves”. Our treasure will be their junk. It’s all a part of growing old and leaving these earthly tents we call our bodies. I truly believe how we’ve honored others who have gone before will be revisited upon us.
I’m not sharing any of these things I’ve done this past month to pat myself on the back, because God has shown me I needed a good swift kick in the backside. Mary has been trying to get all of us, for years to do “our part”. She has done her part. She has done what she could. Even in the midst of her own health issues she was there (and is there) for Mom. She has done more than she could. And I know Mary will do what can she can until the day Mommy is laid to rest. So I want to “thank Mary” for loving Mom with “pure religion”. Mary will be the first to tell you she’s not looking for any crowns and she’ll laughingly say “let me just adjust my halo”. But I was remiss in my duties toward fully honoring and loving my mother. I was not calling her enough nor seeing her enough. It was really only after Marys prompting that I fully committed to my once a month visits. I’m not in California for pity sake, I’m 2.5 hours away.
And so, today, I am grateful to Mary that she never abandoned her responsibility of loving Mom. That even after all her years of trying with all of us to be “a family” that she never gave up. That she continued to do what she knew was the right thing. That she and Chuck were willing even at their own expense and effort (which with an elderly parent is no small thing) to open their home to care for Mom. And even after I hurt Mary (and Chuck) with my e-mail and offensive manner, they forgave me.
So today, sitting in my little quiet time spot again after being away for so long, I am humbled, and I am thankful for those whom God places in our lives to love us, to chasten us and to come alongside of us when we need care. I am grateful for a mother who is never too busy to answer a phone, and who is always interested in what her children and their children are up to. I am grateful for the time I was able to spend with my mother this last month. To look at pictures, to talk, to remember with her while she still remembered me.
I am thankful that God moved in my heart to move North for one month of 2010 so that I could remember how much I loved Mom and how much she means to me. To help her live out her days with dignity, and strength, with her own things about her. I am grateful for the reminder that I, and all of us, sooner than we know it will be the senior ones remembering back over the pursuits, pleasures, pains, and promises of our lives. We will be the white-haired ones being visited by youth zooming through life too busy to sit and learn about wisdom from someone who has walked roads seemingly different but much the same as those we walk. I am grateful for all that I have here and all that I hold dear. Life is a vapor.
I am grateful that all these years Mary has done what she could. I am grateful that God has shown me true love never falls. It always protects. Always hopes. Always perseveres. Always loves. I am grateful that my husband allowed me to be all there with my Mom, and that God has blessed my business enough that I had a way to leave business behind and be all there with Mom.
I thought I was coming to help Mom. But as always when one gives, they receive so much more. I did not have the usual quiet times I have with God each morning, but strangely I felt closer to him than I have in a very long time. When I arrived home and put my head on my pillow … I slept peacefully and with hope in my heart for not just my mother, but for my family. God answers prayers.
Please please please, let’s all of us love our Mom . . . Keep your appointments. Remember it’s the highlight o her day/week/month and life. She’s counting on you. On us. Please let’s all of us not forget that time is so short. How long will we have Mom with us, only God knows, but I’d like it to be the best days they can be for her. If it turns out that Mommy does sink deeper into Dementia (or God forbid Alzheimer’s) I want to remember times I had with her that were rich and full of joy. I want to know that all of us can stand with Mary over Mom’s casket and say that “we did what we could”. elephant
Only one life so soon will pass, only what’s done for Christ will last . . .
Love, Your sis, Angela
Scriptures Used: Mark 14: 3-9 3While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard.
She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
4Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages[a] and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
6“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Matthew 12:50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” James 1:27 (New International Version) 27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
1 Corinthians 13- Love 1If I speak in the tongues[a] of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,[b] but have not love, I gain nothing.
4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
9For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13And now these three remain faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.