Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A report on my visit to Wisconsin to see my Mom

I landed in Milwaukee around 9:30 on the morning of Thursday, May 17 and rented a car to drive up to Oshkosh to  see mom. It was raining torrentally hard for about an hour but I got to Oshkosh, where my mother resides, the weather settled. I arrived at her care facility, Evergreen, right after  lunch. It took a few minutes for the memory cells to click in, but after just a little while, Mom seemed to recognize me. Although she cannot function much, in terms of walking or even feeding herself, she seemed more lucid than the last time I saw, at Thanksgiving in 2011, not long after my dad passed. I remember thinking to myself when I left my sister Heidi's house that bleak November day I would not see her alive again, so seeing her well and in good spirits was an unexpected blessing.

The rain had let up by the early afternoon and I took mom out in a wheelchair for some air. We found a spot near the pond by the Evergreen facility and within a few minutes a large bass leaped out of the water to catch a wayward fly. "There goes Dad, Mom!" I said to her. She laughed when the fish splashed down. "Soon you'll go see Dad in heaven, Mom!" I suggested to her. She looked at me and shook her head. "Noooooo!" she said. I don't think Mom is all that ready to pass.

We had one other stroll later in the afternoon but it was short-lived -- the wind kicked up and it started to rain again. I stayed until dinner, which mom ate at the table with several other elderly women patients. This part of my visit was heartbreaking. The nurses at Evergreen engage the patients a lot and it pleased me to see how good the care is there and that many of the nurses  know Mom by name and appreciate her. But there is no interaction at all amongst the women at mom's dinner table when they share meals together. This is inevitable and not likely to change, but it saddens me Mom is not closer to my East Coast siblings because she would get so much more attention and interaction from us, even if we only saw her once or twice a month. The hard reality of the flipside of that scenario is we would not find such an amazing place as Mom is in a good place for the remainder of her life with people who take care of her and appreciate the how special she is.

I made a photocopy of the story that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Mother's day in 1984 ("The Civil Disobedience of an American Mother") and gave it to Teresa, one of the night nurses on Thursday evening after dinner. She was immediately taken with my mom's political activism when I gave her a short synopsis of the story and she promised to photocopy it and pass it around to the other caretakers. I had some doubts whether this would happen but on Monday, when I spend 4 hours with mom before driving back to Milwaukee, one of the day nurses asked me if I was Chuck and then proceeded to pump me with questions about Mom and her acts of civil obedience against the nuclear arms race. She recommended my story to a number of other nurses at Evergreen, so mom will get some extra special attention from the caretakers there, at least the one's who appreciate what Mom stood for and did with her life.

 Heidi and Michael took me out to a fish-fry dinner at a local restaurant near Neenah and we got all caught up on things at Kimberly Clark. Both of them have great careers going on, but Michael was somewhat chagrined that he is becoming better known at work as "Heidi Hopkin's husband" than for his own sure-handed management.

On Friday I was at Evergreen from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The day was sunny and warm and I took her outside on three different occasions, once for a long stroll through a wooden glen/walking path near the pond. She loved being outside. There were several rows of tall, blooming tulips planted in a small garden outside of Unit 8 where Mom lives and Mom took note of them when I wheeled her past them. When I asked her if she remembered tulips from Holland, she said "Oh, yes." I was pleasantly surprised she was lucid enough to process and answer my question.  When mom took a nap after lunch, I took a ride into downtown Neenah and found a CD store that Heidi had recommended to me and found several CDs worth owning. I spent the rest of the afternoon with Mom and fed her dinner on Friday evening before leaving for the Hopkins. Mom had a very healthy appetite, she ate everything on her plate. We watched several episodes of season one of "Call the Midwife" during the day. Mom paid attention to the show and laughed every time one of the East London women in the show gave birth.

Saturday was more of the same......I spend most of the daylight hours with mom at Evergreen. The day was sunny but windy and cooler than Friday but I had her out for two or three more walks and we watched more of season one of Call the Midwife. There's a small bird feeder attached to the outside of the window of Mom's room and dozens of birds come to eat out of it. One red-wing blackbird with brilliant red splashes of crimson on its wings came repeatedly to the window and Mom was delighted several times watching him chow down in the bird feeder.

On one of our rides outside in the afternoon, I took a cigar out and smoked half of it while walking through the glen garden. I stopped for a picture and asked mom to pose with me with a cigar in her mouth. I told her the sister's would not approve of that and she laughed and obliged me. (I will try to retrieve it from my cell phone and send it out to you).  She was a good sport about it and when I showed her the picture, she laughed at my nonsense. When I got back to Evergreen, I noticed a sign that declared Evergreen was a "smokefree campus environment."  Oh well! Some cigarette stubs near the park benches reassured me that I wasn't the only tobacco outlaw at Evergreen.

On Saturday evening I had dinner with Michael and Heidi and we watched a movie Michael had gotten from Netflix.  I feel asleep before it ended so my visit with mom must have worn me out!

On Sunday morning the van driver brought mom to Heidi's for the day. We (me, Heidi and Mark and Heidi's boys) celebrated Mother's day a two weeks late. Michael and Heidi laid out an incredible spread and young Michael brought Caleb and Brendan over. Nathan's girlfriend, Erica, was there with her friendly pitbull, Jackson. Heidi hopes Nathan sees what a special young woman she is because she likes Erica a lot...and I would agree with Heidi, "she's a keeper" as Heidi put it. She really seemed to enjoy Heidi's family. 

Heidi also had a young couple over (I think the woman's name was Jessica but I cannot seem to remember her fishing-guide husband's name). They brought their newborn baby with them and mom loved the activity and seeing the newborn in Heidi's arms. Michael smoked one of their farm-bred chickens. it was at least 16 pounds, about as big as a turkey and it fed 14 people for dinner. Mom went back to Evergreen around 7 in the evening and I am certain she slept very soundly! She had a wonderful day....we all did. The Hopkins' farm is just glorious, especially in the early summer time. Dogs, children, chickens and goats running around, young Michael playing with his kids, the smell of smoked chicken lingering in the summertime air, beer being passed around and imbibed,  Mark rolling his own cigarettes and sharing them with Michael and Nathan.... it was all a wonderful scene of domestic bliss and Mom soaked it all in with great pleasure and attention.

On Monday I stayed at the Hopkins farm until 9 a.m. or so and then drove down to Oshkosh for one final visit with Mom. She had just had her swim for the day and we went outside again for one final stroll in the wheelchair. At lunch time I took her to the foyer where we had lunch in front of a large wooden birdcage with 5 or 6 finches in it and fed mom her lunch. Heidi had sent over two desserts with me that were leftover from Sunday's dinner and Mom ate a delicious bread pudding dessert. 

At 1:30 p.m. one of the staffers came by for Mom's physical therapy and we said our goodbyes. I told Mom I would be back soon..... and I encouraged my siblings to visit Mom. We can't know how much time left she has left and it is important we visit -- Mom seems to thrive when she has visitors. We laughed a lot together, during the four days of my visit, even if we were laughing at different things. It was really wonderful to see her to happy.

On Monday evening, I got a ticket to see the Brewers play the Dodgers at Miller Park. It's not quite as great as Citizen Bank Park, but it was fun to see a Major League baseball game there. My flight back to Philly left at 7:30 a.m., so I had a pretty early night on Monday and was at the airport by 6 a.m. to drop the rental car off. The flight home was crowded but's nice being home but honestly, I missed those farm fresh Neenah eggs for breakfast this morning!