Tag Archives: poem about aging parents

#262: Nine on Nine–For the Birds

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Mother is pissed partly because the oncologist made an appointment
without consulting her; they scheduled her too early in the morning
so she just says, screw it, I’m not going to let them tell me.

It’s also the breast cancer, the second time around, and the fall
a week or so ago that gave her a big forehead bump
and a cut on the knee that needed stitches, followed by

an infection she needed antibiotics for, not to mention
the excruciating leg pain that makes it difficult to walk.
And the difficulty breathing. She says: This is for the birds.

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#65: Quality of Life

Dad and Bryce

My Daddy: Louis Glen Jarmer

Quality of Life

The story goes that my parents at one point
made official a “do not resuscitate” order
in the event of some cataclysmic approach
of eternal darkness–and then, at some later
point they changed their minds, in order,
I can only guess, to live as long as they could live.
That cataclysmic event occurred for my dad
while on vacation in Nevada. Sitting around the
dinner table at some swank casino restaurant,
my father’s heart stopped. The life flight unit
helicoptered my dad to Salt Lake City,
essentially freezing his body against the dark
so that he could be revived later.

After an excruciating recovery in which
Dad had to relearn everything and
miraculously did, and after being stranded
with Mom in Salt Lake City for two months,
he was finally able to come home to Portland.
He stayed at home, venturing out only for
doctor appointments or simple tasks  here and there,
alive, relatively alert, but uncomfortable
most of the time, never feeling very good
about anything; food, drink, conversation,
all those things he loved seemed to have lost
all luster and interest.  He was a man
biding time.

But Mom, my siblings and I, and all the
extended family were happy to have him
back in our world.  We visited often, saw
each other more, sat with Dad in relative
silence, did odd errands for our parents,
and praised modern medicine for bringing
our daddy back to us from the dead.  But
something nags at me still about this year,
the last year that we would have our father.
His miraculous recovery was more about us
than it was about him, and I think that
maybe he sacrificed the last year of his life
only so that his family could better prepare
for the inevitable, so that we would not
feel that he was ripped away, stolen from us
before we could see him again, say goodbye,
touch him, tell him that we loved him.
And maybe that was okay, what he did for us.

But almost one complete year after
his heart stopped and he was able to return,
the next cataclysm was deadly, and painful,
and in his last days he suffered immensely
before going into a last-ditch surgery for which
even the doctors had little or no hope. This was
Mom’s wish to try one last thing, to hold on
just a little bit longer.  We all watched him
die the very next day, quietly, surrounded by
family, likely unaware of our presence.
Luckily, the only day he ever had to spend
in a nursing  home was his last, and he
slept through it until he stopped breathing.

As my mother considers
a dangerous surgery to repair a fractured vertebra,
I write this poem,
before memory fades and time erases
the learning, in order to remember what my father
taught us, that, insofar as it is possible,
quality of life decisions can only
truly be made by the individual living that life.
The rest of us, well, we learn to let go,
and then we mourn.

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#64: Black Friday

Black-Friday-photography-deals

I

Well, it’s darker.
Yesterday the skies were blue and clear
and today there’s a cold cloud cover
and there’s rumor of snow.
I’ll believe it when I see it, and
sometimes I wonder if we will ever
see snow here in the valley
of the Willamette again,
what with the warming.
What a strange phrase, that.
What with the warming?
I had a moment when I was not
sure whether this was a real thing
or if I had just made it up;
English is funny that way, as is warming.
However, I plan to do no shopping
today, but my wife and son are out
cavorting somewhere and I am
readying myself to take my mother
to the hospital where a young neurologist
will explain to her the results of her test.
They injected dye into her spine and
took pictures to see why her neck
has been hurting her for so long now.
She’s 83.  We are hoping that surgery
is not necessary. We’re worried about it
nevertheless, and that adds darkness
to our day, this Black Friday.

II

The doctor will tell her that the only fix
is a surgery that would essentially lock
the base of her skull to her spine,
preventing her from turning her head
ever again.  That’s the bad news.
The good news is that this, he will say,
is not an emergency surgery, and not
the kind of decision to make lightly
or quickly and not a surgery to sign
up for unless one’s quality of life
was so low that the situation was unbearable.
I will have to think deeply about this phrase,
quality of life.  And I will tell her, Mom,
you are bugged almost constantly by
a pain in your neck that makes it difficult
to turn your head, and you have to
constantly wear this uncomfortable neck brace.
But you are still living independently, still able to play cards,
domino games, and bingo with your friends,
still able to get yourself to meals,
get to church with your niece,
and have cocktails with your sons and daughter.
After this surgery,
after the recovery, you will still not be able
to turn your head, and, depending on how
things go, continuing to live independently
and all that goes with it
may no longer be in the cards.
My mother will say she does not
like the idea of wearing a neck brace
for the rest of her life, and I will tell her,
There are worse things, Momma.
There are worse things.

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