On Friday night, late, Mama came to the hospital with a UTI, pneumonia, and sepsis. In the wee hours of Saturday, she had to be resuscitated twice and was put on a ventilator.

She is not in a coma, but she is not all the way here or all the way on the other side, either.

My brother and I made the difficult decision to have the ventilator removed and for her to go on comfort care, which is exactly what it sounds like it is.

There is no telling how long she might be in this state – it could be hours or days.

Some of you also know that Mama has been suffering with dementia for several years, during the course of which her very vivid imagination spun out stories beyond our wildest dreams – funny stories that sounded true, up until the point where it all just went off the rails.

This woman in this bed is our mother, but she is not our mama. Our mama is brilliant and does her taxes (the long form!) in ink and creative and can make anything out of a handful of raw ingredients as varied as a Coke bottle, a piece of screen wire, and a light bulb.

She has used more than her fair share of felt and she never met a can of spray paint she didn’t love.

She is an enthusiastic beginner of flower beds and has baked and decorated cakes that people still talk about decades later. As long as she lived at home, there was always a white-frosted sheet cake, in the freezer, ready to be decorated, just in case.

Her sense of humor is sly and dry, and upon being startled, she comes out with colorful exclamations, my favorite being, “My butt just swallowed my underwear!”

She is married to the love of her life, Bill Coward (fourth time’s the charm!), and she will make her grandchildren Rice Krispy Treats on demand.

She has made so many cheese straws that she figured out how many inches of cheese to cut off a giant block to make a pound. She catered her own wedding because she just knew if anybody else did it, it would be “tooty,” whatever “tooty” is.

Our mama can turn you sour with a glance, and if fact, she just gave me one because she thinks I’ve put her in the nursing home. She has a knack for voicing her displeasure and she holds us to the same high standards she holds herself.

I have never seen her not help someone who needed it, and I have seen her help many, many people who she didn’t know and who had no way of knowing she was the one who helped.

She is a voracious reader and can ignore anything if she’s in the middle of a book, except for the sound of a corn chip being crunched, which she cannot abide.

Mama is a piano player, having learned as a child from her aunts and then saving up to buy her own piano. We could always tell what kind of day she had had by how many times and how fast she played “The Entertainer” in rapid succession.

Even through dementia, she has never lost the ability to read music and play flawlessly from memory; she played the day she had to come to the hospital.

We hope for peace for the rest of her journey.

My personal hope is that Tom Petty is there, his smirk matching her smirk, and asking her to be in his band.

I guess now I’ll never know if a cat has a running gear.

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Long time, no write

Frankly, I haven’t had the gumption to write. Or do much of anything.

After the inauguration in January, the most overused term of the year, dumpster fire, became the only one really suitable for the nation that is.

My main client became more than I could deal with and it was just time to go. And it was just time to be back in an office around other people.

I’ve spent since April looking for my new real job and have been temping, which was actually kind of great.

I’m pleased now that I am finally gainfully employed again. I think getting my hair cut off changed my luck.

Not only did I find my real job, Burt Reynolds kissed me.

If I died right this very second, I’d be perfectly okay with it. Because I have kissed Burt Reynolds, my first love. He smelled exactly like I thought he would.

As if that wasn’t enough, on the way home from some contract work, I found a dog loose in the street, eating out of a styrofoam take-out container. I lured him to my car with a peanut butter sandwich and brought him home.

Booch is right here on the couch with me and Puppy. He has a shiny new collar and leash and a plushy new bed and I’m not giving him back. Whoever lost him and left him out in the cold to scavenge for chicken wings should have planned better.

So here I am with the two loves of my life, one of whom won’t poop when I tell her to because she can’t hear and the other of whom won’t because he doesn’t want to.

It does not suck being me.


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Uncle, dammit!

My name is Susan and I’m superstitious.

New Year’s Eve and Day are minefields for me. There are about a bajillion things that have to be done and not done or the coming year will both blow and suck.

Every year I rush around taking care of the details. This time last year, I was getting the laundry finished up and sweeping and taking out the trash. I already had money in my pocket and plans for lunch to make sure I had pork and greens and blackeyed peas.

I did all that and most of it still went to hell.

On the upside, I made new friends and kept most of the old ones, and I spent almost a month in Italy. My dear daddy didn’t die from aneurysms or surgery therefor. My bad little dog is elderly now but still chugging along. I learned to paint, or at least get the paint on the canvas.

People I know and love had catastrophic illness; some of them died. Favorite musicians and actors and other public figures who I don’t know died. The presidential election was a complete and absolute shitstorm.

So this year, today, I am not doing any of that. I’m not doing the laundry or taking out the trash. I’m going to a memorial service tomorrow instead of to a hoppin’ john, even though that might portend more deaths throughout the year. I have money in my pocket, but I always have money in my pocket.

Tomorrow, I will get up and wash a load of clothes, washing relationships down the drain be damned.

I hope that my utter disregard for my superstitions will somehow fix things, like taking a break from poker when you’re on tilt.

For all the truly wonderful things that happened in 2016, I am so grateful. I hold the rest of it in utter disbelief and await the day when we’ll all be able to look back on this time and laugh.

Happy new year to you and yours. Be tender.


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All these confused old people

Source: All these confused old people

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All these confused old people

The assisted living where Mama and Bill live is full of confused old people.

I know it is because she told me so.

They offered her a job out there. I asked what it was and she, “Well, running the place, of course.”

She wasn’t sure she’d take it, though, because she just can’t be away from her regular job that much. But she does feel that if she can help those confused old people, she ought to.

I’m unclear on the pay and benefits, but she has accepted their offer.

She called me a few weeks ago to tell me to call my brother and tell  him to tell the man who was coming to fix the teevee that she was going to be out of the office for an hour or so. I asked where she was going, and she said, in a most patronizing manner, “These office supplies don’t buy themselves, Susan.”

She has reached a point in her Alzheimer’s where she can make a plan, but she can’t work through the possible speed bumps and how she will circumvent them.

Last week, she waited until about 6 one night and then called for an EMT to take Bill to the VA for a rash and because his hands were on fire. And he fell and hit his head. (None of this was true).

They went in the ambulance to the VA, where I imagine she expected to stay overnight, and then when it was daylight again, she’d call for my Aunt Betty and the get-away car.

She did not count on the place calling my brother or me and letting us know, nor on one of us calling the VA and letting them know she might be plotting, so they should proceed with extreme caution in getting them back where they belong.

The next morning, when I called to ask if they were back, I was told they were in the dining room having breakfast, yukking it up like nothing had happened.

A day or so after that, she butt dialed me and I heard her fiddling around and saying that she was going to get that phone number, dammit.

I listened for about three minutes and hung up. She called me about five minutes later and when I answered, she very professionally said, “Yes, I need a phone number for Jim Hilburn, please. He’s an attorney.”

It became very clear to me that she thought she was talking to information, and I thought it might be best to see how it all played out. I asked what kind of cases did he take and she said, “All kinds.” I asked who she was suing and she said she didn’t know, and then launched into a spiel about how “they have us in this place where nobody does their job and they’re rude to me,” and how they had said they’d turn them out and put them in some old run-down house, and she was NOT HAVING IT.

I understand that they don’t want to be there. I don’t want them to be there. What I want is my mama back like she was: smart and funny and creative and talented and resourceful. I’m not going to be getting that.

I have to remind myself when these things happen that that’s not my mama. That’s a pale shadow of my mama and Bill and we’re paying for her care.

Mostly I find the humor in it, especially when she tells me about those confused old people she’s surrounded by. Sometimes, though, it pinches my heart, harder than my mother ever pinched my upper arm to get me to behave.

I would not wish this on anyone.

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The hard decisions

This past week, my brother and I went to our hometown to see about Mama and Bill, with the intention of starting home health care visits for them a few times a week – just to see that they’re taking their meds, check their blood pressure, see how they’re feeling, that sort of thing. Well, that and getting them moved back to the house Mama grew up in.

Things quickly escalated and we found ourselves on the horns of a dilemma. They can’t live alone – it’s simply no longer safe for them.

Yesterday, after a lot of gyrations, we checked them in to a lovely assisted living home. It’s like a five-star resort with wide doors and no steps.

They’re not happy about it, but today they had a good day. She played the piano and they all applauded and asked her to play again tomorrow. Bill has met some other veterans and figured out how to get strawberry ice cream any time he wants it.

This week would have been undoable without very real help from my sister, Kim, who busted ass all week getting their old house in order, and Daddy and Mary Ellen, who kept m’dawg and put me up while I was coming and going, and are, even now, running a load of laundry for Bill.

Polly and Jerry came over and helped sort out their other old house.

My friend Bruce was passing through on Thursday and we had lunch.

My friend Lori drove down from Atlanta and got us through the final push – the gathering of the little things they need, getting Bill to a haircut, being endlessly patient with my parents, and talking to my brother and me about pretty much anything but what was going on in geriatric world.

This has been a gut-wrenching decision for us, and we are grateful for all the large and small kindness shown to us.

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For all the times

For all the times my mama said, I do know what it means, but you need to look it up.

For all the times my mama said, you’re not getting an airbrush t-shirt or no, you may not have a weird haircut, or black is too growny for you,

For the million and twelve times she said run through it again and drop the “uhs” and “ums”,

For the trillions of times she said stand up straight, nobody likes a slouchy short person,

For all the times she said well, you’re old enough to be aware of the consequences of your actions; don’t be late for supper,

For all the hundreds of thousands of times she made practice tests for me until we both knew I knew it all,

For investigating before marching herself to school and taking names and kicking butts,

For never once pointing out I looked like Billy Carter,

For always saying Susan has prominent teeth rather than Susan has buck teeth,

For never asking me why if I needed money,

For bringing home my baby brother, who became my best friend,

For taking in strays, people and animals, and looking after them,

For always telling me you can do better, Susan,

For being hilariously dry.

For pushing good subject/verb agreement like it was her job,

And for that one time she said, oh, dry up, kid, it’s not even one of the important ones,

Happy mother’s day to my mama, the inimitable Miss Jan.

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