Tuesday, January 24, 2012 – The rain stopped last night. I went out and sat on my front porch. The night was dark. A wild wind wrestled with the limbs in the tops of the tall Norway spruces across the street and dried the brick sidewalks. Chimes hanging from porch eaves up and down the way jangled like angels chattering, tittering, anticipating. A dog proclaimed in a choppy bark from a backyard somewhere: “Let me in. Let me in. Let me in right now.” A very large, dark bird of prey appeared, flew in a small circle and perched on the low wire just in front of me.  It was an owl. I was honored by the visit.

I would like to tell you that I said “Hello, Owl” and about our enlightening conversation, but I won’t, because we didn’t speak. The owl remained silent, observant; I heard its mate calling “Who-oot, who-oot, hoot,” several blocks to the south. I gazed at the owl. I couldn’t see its eyes, only its head turning … turning, turning. It was too dark to see its colors. It flew away.

I saw a shooting star from my bedroom window in the middle of the night last Wednesday when I couldn’t sleep. I lay in bed and saw what appeared to be airplane landing lights low in the west through the bare walnut and mulberry branches beyond. I got up and squinted at the sky through the rippled glass. The light didn’t move. It was clear, bright and steady. It was a planet, probably, Saturn or Jupiter. Then, nearby, I saw a shooting star. Each time I see a shooting star, rarely, thankfully, I lose a friend – not necessarily by death; they’re just gone.

Our Hospice chaplain and our music therapist visited on separate days during the week. They said Emma is traveling. I believe so, too. When they are here, I observe that her travel is smooth – she seems relaxed, even smiles, albeit with her eyes shut.

Dr. Patel visited Friday. He said Emma is not ready to leave yet: she continues to eat. He advised not getting her out of bed, for she is so weak and frail, weighs about 65 pounds, that she could easily get hurt.

Emma was quiet during his visit, sleeping. She had just relaxed from another agitation bout that lasted all day Thursday until after around one o’clock Friday morning. When she is agitated, she is amazingly strong. I become tense when Emma does. She became tense Wednesday; maybe that’s why I didn’t sleep Wednesday night. We are mother and daughter, after all; apparently connected by physical nuances. I have to watch for that – what’s up with me may be up with her, too. My aides and I observed Emma closely from Wednesday into Thursday. Thursday morning she exhibited beginning signs of agitation, so I gave her a dose of Atavan. Her agitation continued all day; therefore, as prescribed, I gave her Atavan every four hours, the last at twelve thirty Friday morning when her symptoms subsided and she fell asleep.

These agitation events affect me deeply, psychically. This surprises me. I thought I could just deal with it, however stressfully, as I had with Emma’s erratic behavior – “I’ll be under the bed,” our teacup poodle, Jetta, would say – in her middle stages of dementia: the difficulty in toileting her and dressing her, her occasionally sitting and staring at her dinner, her telling me she’d have me fired, my frustration and exhaustion; but this is different. I felt comforted Thursday, however, knowing it was a weekday and our regular Hospice team was on duty, and that Tess, our nurse, was coming. Early that afternoon, Tess called: “I can’t make it today,” she said. “One of the nurses is out and they’ve sent me to see her patients.” I don’t know what happens. I simply lose it; I dumped everything on Tess through the phone. You may recall my mentioning previously (XXVII. The Horn Section) that Tess is Mother Teresa. She listened patiently, said she understood and that we’d discuss the situation Monday, her next scheduled visit.

Emma, meanwhile, said she was glad to be back, that she had been visiting her family (the cousins she grew up with) and that they were going to put her to work. “They’re a good bunch,” she added. Then she said, “Where are my dogs?”, the toy poodles she raised. “They need to have their food.” I told her they’re not here right now. She said, “I want to get out of here,” and got herself out of her pajama bottoms and diaper. I have neither the strength nor the leverage to turn her in her bed from side to side to change her clothing. I covered her with her blankets and we waited two hours for the aide to come at her scheduled time.

The evening aide came – I shall call her Daphne –, changed Emma and fed her dinner, and when she left, Emma was still agitated. I don’t know how she would have been without the Atavan. Previously, her agitation events occurred once a week, on weekends. But, this was an added event, midweek. After Daphne left, I sat outside on the porch for a few minutes. I felt distressed. “I have no one to call,” I thought. I can’t just call up a friend and whine at Emma’s every crisis. Friends have their crises to whine about, too.

I thought of the little things that mean so much to me these days: a fellow blogger commenting on my blog and when I commented on her blog, her placing a pingback link for her readers to my blog; my friend R’s and others’ comments on my blog post (XLVII. For Whom the Bottle Tolls). I find this heartening. I sat on the porch and thought about that. All at once, everything got quiet – not a bird, nor squirrel, nor car, nor kids running in the street, nor wind. Nothing. And suddenly, everything dropped away: I was totally and completely alone, alone with myself in a pure, clear space. What to do with this? Accept and adapt. I did. After a few moments, I came back into the house and a caring friend called. She knew somehow. She said that.

Part of my distress arises from having to call our Hospice agency off hours for help and getting an argument from on-call nurses and administrators who talk over me without listening.

When Dr. Patel comes, for me it is like meeting an oasis of the mind, as I have said. He is intelligent, interested, and uses common sense. Friday I told him about my seeing a shooting star and that every time I do, I lose a friend. “Close the curtain, pull the shade,” he told me. You laugh. So did he. I laughed, too. A practical remedy. Wise. I believe the Universe is mirthful. It cushions the ride.

Emma became agitated again this afternoon. She threw off her covers and shot bolt upright in bed. I gave her some Atavan. To my delight, a Hospice aide was here, the first Hospice healthcare agent to witness Emma’s agitation. The aide became anxious. I asked the aide to immediately call Hospice and inform them. She did so. “She keeps sitting up, trying to get out,” she told them. “I’ve never seen her like this. She was always so calm.” They contacted Dr. Patel who said to give Emma another dose of Atavan and to administer it every two hours, rather than every four, as needed. That second dose calmed her. How is she now, as I finish writing this at five o’clock? I don’t want to look. But, I must. She is lying in her bed with her eyes open – hopefully not ready to leap. I am perched nearby, watching. I can’t say I find this terribly amusing, though.

A Message from Emma: Daphne came to feed Emma dinner and prepare her for the night. Emma said to her, “I haven’t eaten all day. I’m hungry. I’m a vegetarian.” (She was in her earlier life.) Then she reached forward and took Daphne’s two hands in hers, pulled one of them to her and proceeded to try to bite her index finger. Daphne wanted to say, “Well, that would be pretty meaty,” but thought better of it. Emma asked, “Where’s Samantha? I’m hungry.” When Daphne told her I was cooking dinner and that it was almost ready, Emma said, “Tell her to bring coffee, too.” Then, later, Emma wanted candy. We brought her a piece from a box my good friend had brought to our Christmas party as a hostess gift. “I don’t like that,” said Emma. I knew better. It’s superb candy. “I only want half,” said Emma. She ate the whole piece and was ready for more. She still hasn’t calmed down, not at nine o’clock tonight. I’m hoping. I continue to give her the Atavan every two hours. She continues to throw off her covers and talk. Daphne has left, but sincerely offered to return if need be. I am comforted. All I can say is, I’d rather be on my end than Emma’s. It must be awful for her.

–Samantha Mozart