Few Words

“I smell fish.”

Conversations with my mother, desert sands blowing in light winds this way and that: “Fish?”

I’m making my daily phone call to my mother. Sometimes more than daily when I’m especially missing her.

“Something’s fishy.”

She’s been saying this for days. There is no fish in her house. She has swallowing issues since her stroke so no longer even eats fish. She  drinks her “nectar consistency” meals of smoothies and soups, thickened with “Thick-It.” Which sticks to the roof of her mouth so her aide uses what she calls “lollipops,” little red square gauze things, to clean out her mouth.

“Maybe it’s the cat food, ” I say. The cats only will  eat fish cat food.

“The what?”

I change the subject: “Any cardinals out your window?” I know she’s sitting up now in the wheelchair beside her bed, facing her backyard.

Mom: “Any what?”

“Birds. Maybe your feeder is empty. I’ll fill it when I come.”

She has always kept the feeder full with sunflower seeds. Now she doesn’t notice. Or maybe in all painful honesty, just doesn’t care to notice.

“Where are you?” she asks. “Home. At home. With the boys. Your grandsons.”


If she doesn’t ask “Where are you?” she may ask: “So what’s new?”

The perfect generic question uttered by a person who no longer recognizes her own home or doesn’t always remember that her daughter is married with two children; sometimes I’m still on college. Maybe even high school, and she can ask about my “studies.”

So I ramble. About her grandsons. The dog. The hole in the ceiling where they had to repair leaking pipes from the upstairs bathroom. I tell her about the dog throwing up tin foil.

I ramble as I can when I visit her in the home she’s lived in for thirty years, and I pull down one rail on her hospital bed so I can lay my head beside her. Or if she’s sleeping so deeply she can’t be woken,  I lay my hand on her thin veined one–beautiful somehow,  in an inexplicable way, as only can be the delicate and withering. I lie close enough so that her breath is a welcomed breeze through my hair.

My mother can be up nights crying because she thinks my wedding has been cancelled and that I am heartbroken. So now I’ve put up photos from our wedding from thirteen years ago. I pulled out pictures of her grandchildren so that her aide, at 2 am, can show her, when she is not convinced that I am not heartbroken, that I have been married for thirteen years. And that I have children.

Last time my mother was in the hospital, I was only allowed in to her room wearing a paper yellow gown and gloves; she’d developed the highly infectious MRSA due to open infected sores because of very limited blood flow to her legs– completely blocked femur arteries.

One day when I walked into the room, donned in my antibacterial outfit,  she was crying.  “Oh, oh,” she sobbed.  “I thought you were dead.”

Then later: “Be sure to give me all the keys before we go.”

“What keys?”

“I don’t know. to all the trunks and suitcases…”

My husband says I wail and scream in my sleep. I don’t hear myself. But my dreams are vivid and repetitive: I am always packing, or trying to pack: either stuffing things into paper bags that rip, or I don’t have enough suitcases to hold everything, and I’m always in a rush, state of panic. Trying to get off a boat as it is sinking, hide from a tornado, or check in before my room is taken and I have to sleep in the dining hall full of beds, some kind of evacuation center.

We can analyze our dreams to eternity. I’m not interested in that. But I would like to quell the panic. I would like peace. But peace will not come with my mother’s death–I will be down on my knees. My head pressed against a hard wood floor.

Anyway, as her health care proxy, back at the hospital, I had been faced with two choices: invasive arterial grafting surgery or amputation of her leg.

And with such choices emerged the crazy side of the grieving daughter,  screaming, begging, for a far more rational alternative for a 96-year-old woman.

Which is antibiotics for life, and anti-fungal topical meds as new sores emerge, to keep infection at bay for as long as possible. Daily wound dressings by home nursing care.

Another phone call: “I bought new glasses,” I tell her. “They’re different. I needed a new look.”

“Oh thank you.”

“No, I mean glasses. for me.  I needed new eye glasses.”


Then this: “I have to go. I can’t sit like this anymore,” she said.

And I text her aide that she needs to be rotated.

Last time I was there, I helped her aide rotate her – my mother is too weak to roll over. Bed sores. And we had to pull back the blankets and change her Depends.

And I saw her. I saw my mother – her bones. Since her stroke she has lost weight. A lot. She is on that “nectar” diet. Protein, yes. Calories, not so much.

Because she has no fat left on her bones yes, she cannot stay in one position too long as nothing left to cushion her bones.

Her bones.

“I should’t complain. This too shall pass,” she still can say.

This too shall pass. She has been saying that to me all her life. Always during hard times.

One time as I lay beside her, back in her bedroom where she now is confined to that hospital bed, she said what she has said to me many times before: “You are a most satisfying daughter.”

“And you’re my best friend,” I tell her back.

We have in recent weeks told each other how we love each other “so, so, so ” much.

And she can still call me “Honey Bun.” Reaching out that thin veined hand to pat my head. “Go get some rest.”

Quality of life. When does one know if there is none left? When do you stop making her get out of bed to sit up after eating so she doesn’t choke?

Hallucinations: She saw a boy in orange. Then an array of flowers going by. And a row of figures. Someone swimming around the corner. A blue man on the ceiling.

But there are still her pearls of wisdom: “Be brave.”

“Go live it up!”

“Be sure to giggle. Giggling is so important.”

My own words, never mind of wisdom, are few. I am often left speechless. Unable to write. So today I took a picture instead. Of something close up. An image. The tangible. Of a lone feather: Unedited as are my emotions.


About Sandra

Author;editor of The Woven Tale Press at thewoventalepress.net; mother; weaver
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16 Responses to Few Words

  1. I’m grateful you’re able to hold her hand now, to ache for her, and to know you will be heartbroken when she’s gone. She’s not afraid about the wedding, even if that’s how her addled mind is presenting the fear to her. She’s certain about your ability to love, to be hurt by love, and she aches for you, because she knows she can’t comfort you forever. Your words are more wise than you know, but it’s hard to see when you’re trapped in the middle. Hang in there.

    • Sandra says:

      thank you Jessie. Each day brings more agony psychological for bother her and me, as she slips further into dementia and fear, and I am unable to comfort her.

  2. Hi Sandra,
    I’m sending you a hug. I’ve been through this as you know. “Through” is the only way. There’s no going around it or over it or under it. That you and she are able to express your love is so special. In time, that will mean so much to you. Thinking of you and holding you and your mother in my thoughts and prayers.
    xo, Mary

    • Sandra says:

      Mary. was just looking at your blog. As you know, I’ve been out of blogging for some time — did not know about your daughter. How are you holding up? My prayers go out to you. I’m raising you up!

      • Hi Sandra,
        Thanks for your prayers and please keep raising me up!
        I’m doing okay, not great. It’s distressing. Incredibly so.
        I haven’t been blogging either. I’ve been too distracted and busy with everything. Liv and I moved into an apt together this past weekend so that I can help her for the next year. I’m so relieved to be near her all the time now. It makes it so much easier to go together to the myriad medical appointments.
        Plus, we laugh a lot! She’s so fun! I love her so, so much and always have. She’s really a unique person – lighthearted and loving always. By way of example, she’s planned a going away party this weekend for her tumors!
        I wish I could write/blog – I have an awful lot to say. But I clam up. It’s too painful, too personal, too overwhelming.
        I so appreciate this last post of yours. Such good writing. You show, you don’t tell…it’s a beautiful expression.
        I think of you often and keep you and your mother in my prayers.
        xo, Mary

        • Sandra says:

          that’s it Mary — we can clam up as writers during hard times. But maybe write about it later. Depends on the writer; some can write through this stuff and it helps. You certainly have stories to tell, even about your daughter and her tumor party. She could, through your writer eyes, become an inspiration to so many.

  3. squid says:


    My heart goes out to you, and I know what you feel because I have been there too. All I can say is to persevere where you think you can’t. Take joy in every moment you can. In the times you think your not doing enough, know that you are, and above all, never let go of the special love you both share.

    My thoughts will be with TWO wonderful ladies tonight, you and your mom.

    • Sandra says:

      Oh Squid. You are not only of such talent but of such warmth and generosity of spirit; thank you. Wish I could say writing about this stuff is therapeutic but for me, not so much. Still there are moments as a writer I can’t help wanting record.

      Speaking of writing, go look at our new Press site. It works seamlessly now to cross-post from your blogs. Register if you haven’t and start posting!

  4. Beautiful. I have had similar experiences with my own parents and they were excruciatingly difficult.Blessings on you all.

  5. Susan Kane says:

    The word imagery makes me weep. You are correct: “I would like peace. But peace will not come with my mother’s death–I will be down on my knees. My head pressed against a hard wood floor.”
    God keep you and bless you.

  6. So very, heartbreakingly difficult. No words, just know that my thoughts are with you.

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