Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Sleepy Afternoon

On this persistently snow day, I drove to see my mother after work. I'm shifting days from Thursday to Wednesday because I am taking a MassArt class on Thursday evening. I was expecting my mother to be chipper and very alert when I arrive. It was not the case.

Yesterday, my sister and I talked with some of my mother's caregivers about her condition. They suggested that they call in hospice to evaluate my mother. They reassured us that some patients actually graduate from hospice because of their caring intervention. Hospice will review medications and treatment plans to keep my mother comfortable. She will simply stay where she is, but hospice workers will come in two or three times a week for some extra attention. They will also help the family understand what we need to do to prepare for her eventual death, to plan for burial, and to cope afterwards.

However, life in the nursing home is certainly moment by moment. My sister saw my mother who was chipper and in a good mood earlier in the day. Typically, I see her when she is active and my sister gets her when she is sleepy. Today, it was reversed.

I could scarcely get my mother to lift her head. I wrapped her in blankets because he skin was ice cold. The building was warm, but my mother's legs were chilled. Her hands were cold as well. She did not raise her head. I adjusted her breathing tube, but I could tell she labored from a chest cold.

I rubbed her legs and she said it hurt, so I stopped. She said her head is itchy, so I scratched it for her. She still has such thick hair. I held her hands and warmed them up. She barely moved, head slumped forward. I massaged her back and sang to her. She barely lifted her head.

After half an hour, she came to. She said she felt sick all over. I asked questions about how she felt sick, but she said, "It is a little bit of bad everywhere." "Can I get you something to drink?" She shook her head no. "How about soup?" No. "Some crackers or a cookie?" No. "Your favorite icecream?" No. "Would you like me to stay?" Yes. "Would you like communion?" "I can't." She drifted off.

Fifteen minutes later she came to, but couldn't muster a smile. After some brief chatting where the answers did not fit the questions, I asked:

"Did you know it was Dick's birthday the other day?" "How old is he?" "86," as she winces. "He says hello." "Well, that is good. Is he coming to visit soon?" "Yes, I think so." "That's good. I still like him you know. You know, history is in the past, but I still like him."

"Did you know it was Dara's birthday the other day?" "How old is she?" "60," as she turns away and winces. "We are all getting old, huh?" "Yeah, I must be getting old," she says.

"Did you know that you were a good mother?" "I think so. I tried."
"And you raised us well." "I think so."
"And you were a good cook." "I think so. You all liked to eat."
"And you did well. You had a good life." "I think so."

That was it. Sleep overcame her and she napped again. Then it was a deep sleep. I blessed her and went on my way.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

New Year’s Day 2018.

A poem about snow, oldness, and birth for new year 2018 :

Hard and crusty snow.
It’s 2 degrees below
In the backyard where
Only bundled children tread
Trailing ribbons and scarves of red.

The living room tree bows and sheds
Where last week week Santa left a dolly bed.
Toasts in egg nog or prosecco
Are memory of Christmas revels.
Can you still hear the carols’ echos?

Despite cold and old - the new again.
In love and birth - the new year ordains
A chance, a life, a hope to thrive -
Listen, the newborn's cry - it fills our lives
The frozen tired world revives.

Happy New Year; Blessings in 2018
Mary Lou Ashur MD 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

They feel unloved today

My mother was slumped over with exhaustion when I saw her this morning. I sat next to her and tried to gently wake her and then a staff member came over and woke her up to ask her about her lunch options. He chose cheese pizza, mashed potatoes, and Boston Cream Pie. She was excited about each option, and poo-pooed the green beans and squash.

I put my hat on my mother and many women came over to tell her how stylish and beautiful she looked. She said, "Thank you. It is my son's hat and he has a nice smile." The women then kept telling each other how beautiful they look today. What good therapy for them.

The residents of the center were active and they had a similar theme today. No one felt loved. On woman came over to ask if I liked her. "Of course, I do. Why do you ask?" Crestfallen, he uttered several syllables that did not form any words. She teared up and started rolling away. "Why are you leaving? I want you to stay. I like you and so does my mother. Do you know Connie?"

"Samma, samma, samma," she uttered and she and my mother spoke to one another. My mother turned to me and said, "I don't know what she is saying!" She wheeled herself away with a heavy heart. Then another woman came over to the table. I said, "Hello," and she asked, "Is it O.K. to sit here?" "Of course. Join us." "I don't mean to bother you." "No bother. Are you here for lunch?" "Yes, but if you want me to leave I will." "Please stay. Do you know my mother, Connie?"

"O, you are Connie too? I'm Connie." "I haven't seen you before. Do you like me?" My mother replied, "I don't know you, but I like your name. That's my name too." They both beamed.  The other Connie showed me her necklace that her mother bought her when she was fifteen, but she is feeling sad because her parents won't come visit her anymore. I told her that her necklace was beautiful and that we were glad to visit with her today. She talked on and on about her family.

She said she was from Webster, so I asked if she visited Lake Chargoggagoggmanchaugagoggchabunagungamaugg. "Yes, I used to live nearby." We repeated the name of the lake three times together and the staff laughed and laughed.

Then the previously mute woman rushed by in her wheelchair and shouted, "There he is," and then went back to darting up and down the hallways.

A concerned looking woman came in with her mother and gave the staff many instructions about her mother. She brought her favorite clothing and told them everything she likes to eat and all the stuff she likes to do. Her eyes darted about the room almost as fast as the previously mute woman darted up the hallway in her wheelchair.

I called her over and said, "Just breathe. Relax. This is a good, caring staff. Your mother is in good hands. Just go home and rest well."

My mother's meal came. It looked delicious - very cheesy pizza, buttery mashed potatoes, and a hearty slice of Boston Cream Pie. My mother looked at it and made a face. I'm not hungry. "Well, don't eat it." "I can't." "Did you have breakfast?" "Probably not." "Does the food have any taste?" "The pizza probably has good taste, but I don't want it." "O.K. If you get hungry later, they can bring you something."  The staff came over to get her to eat and one staff member whispered, "I made it myself." "I would probably like it, and I'm sure it is good, but I can't eat it right now." My mother spoke in a raspy voice as she suffers from a sore throat.

After chatting for a while, my mother said, "I hear these negative voices. It is from people, like Ma and Pa, and Betty, wanting me to eat. They are making me feel bad." "Listen, you don't have to eat." "I think they are angry with me." "I wonder if they feel concerned for you. It might not be that they are angry, but they are worried about you. They know if you eat, you'll get healthy. They are urging you because they care for you." "That sounds better." "Listen, you eat when you want to eat. That's all. You do it on your own time." "That's right. Thanks. I feel better."

Another woman came over to eat her meal. She wanted to eat her Boston Cream Pie first, so I encouraged it. She and the other Connie exchanged a few words and called a few names. "Why don't you like me?" "I do like you." "Well, you called me a name." "You got me angry." So I interjected, "She was using that term affectionately as friends sometimes do. She wants to remain your friend."
"Is that so?" "I like what he said. Yes, we are friends." The woman quickly devoured her meal and rolled away.

My mother started dozing and I gently touched her elbow. "Am I dying?" "Yes, you are." "I'm in pain and I don't want the pain anymore." "We will give you something for the pain if you need it." "I don't want any pain, and I'm not ready yet." "O.K. Well you decide when, but it will be important for you to think about the happy place where you are going and the people you will see there again. Ma and Pa, Dawn Mari, and Betty will be happy that you are with them." "OK, but I just need to nap now. I don't want to keep sleeping, but I fall asleep often."

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Jesuit Vocations Website

Jesuit Vocations Website


Stay at home
if idea of becoming a Jesuit makes you unsettled or nervous.
Do not come to us if you love the Church like a
stepmother rather than a mother.
Do not come if you think that in so doing
you will be doing the Society of Jesus a favor.


if serving Christ is at the very center of your life.
Come if you have broad and sufficiently strong shoulders.
Come if you have an open spirit,
a reasonably open mind
and a heart larger than the world.
Come if you know how to tell a joke and can laugh with others and
… on occasions you can laugh at yourself.

Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ,
Superior General 1965–1983

A Low Energy Room

I visited my mother later than I usually do because of severe traffic delays. I arrived at the nursing home around 5:20 p.m. and the residents were finishing dinner. My mother had two uneaten chocolate chip cookies in front of her with a glass of milk and a glass of apple juice. No one was speaking, the lights were dimmed low, the kitchen help were collecting soiled trays, and the atmosphere in the room was subdued.

I asked my mother if she ate any food and she said, "I'm full." "Well, did you eat earlier?" "No, I'm fat." "Would you like something to drink?" "They took it away. I had something on the table earlier." I replied, "Your juice and your milk are here, if you'd like." "Those aren't mine." "I can get you what you would like. I can make you any food that you would like to eat." "No, thank you."

"Did you know that you are quite thin?" "No, I'm fat." "Not really. Your weight is down to 75 pounds and the body gets weak when it is at this weight." "Do you have an appetite?" "Nothing really takes good." "What about the cookies?" "Did you bake them?" "I did." "Well, I'll have one then." Munching away, "What type of cookies are these?" "Chocolate chip." "They are fine."

"I always liked your baking. You were a good cook." "I was? I didn't think so." "Yes, you were very good."

We had a lot of small talk. Women would wave at us and smile. Some women would utter some words that came from nowhere. The woman next to me kept saying about herself, "I know I'm dumb, I know I'm dumb, I know I'm dumb, but they tell me I'm cute." I replied, "I think you are brilliant," and she smiled brightly and rubbed my knee in thanksgiving.

My mother and I talked about egg sandwiches, how to make mashed potatoes, and her like of warm blankets. I asked how her legs were feeling. "They hurt." So, I gently touched them, "That tickles, but it feels good. Don't stop."

"I just want to mention again that your weight is low. Your legs will hurt because of it." "I'll eat someday. In a day or two, I can put it back on." "I think this time it is different. I'm concerned about your weight." We talked about a few other unrelated things, and some nearby women had small bursts of conversations with my mother.

Finally, we prayed. "Yes, I always want communion. You don't have to ask." We prayed the Lord's Prayer and she had communion, and she said, "I pray for the usual things. Good health and happiness."

"How about if I say a prayer of the church for those who are sick?" "OK" I started with the prayers and she said, "Those words are so nice." It came time to anoint her and I asked her if I could apply the sacred oil to her forehead and hands, and she said yes. "You can wipe your hands together." "O, I like that. I like how it smells."

"Let me give you some oil that I received from Jericho. It is perfumed nard, just like the oil that bathed the body of Jesus." I applied it on her forehead and her wrists, and she looked at me and says, "This smells so good." "Wipe your wrists together and smell them every once in a while." "Ooh, I will."

We continued with the prayer. "These are nice words." Then I prayed for her by name and said the prayers for those in their old age and she her face fell. She looked sad and said, "I'm sad. I didn't know those words were for me. I'm not ready to die."

"O, no. This is the anointing of the sick. This is the prayer that helps people get well. This is to strengthen you and to encourage you. The prayer is so you get well." "O, that's better."

We sat and talked about a few other things. The lights were low, some women's eyes were closing, and night was falling. Then a staff activities person came in from the outdoors with a bucket of snow and asked the residents if they wanted to make snowballs. Wheelchairs began to creep in her direction and I sensed it was my time to leave.

Goodnight, dear people. Sleep well tonight.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Off to London

My sister and I stopped in to see my mother this afternoon and she was so glad to see us. She called over one of the staff members and said, "See, my brother and mother are here." We immediately checked her oxygen levels, but it was full.

She was having a hard time in London. They would not let her eat and even took away her grilled cheese sandwich. They wouldn't give her any coffee or anything to drink and she was threatening to call the police and turn them in, but even the police were not kind to her. My sister went off to speak with a staff member and I listened to her experience of her trip. She was dissatisfied with the way most people were treating her, and she wanted people to know of her discontent. She decided she would not go back to London for a long time.

We talked about visitors she had and she was pleased to see her sister and niece on Christmas Day. She saw other family members.

Just then, a mute woman who constantly darts back and forth in her wheelchair and annoys most residents approached us, smiled, and said, "Merry Christmas." My mother smiled at her and warmed her hands.

Another woman who always dresses impeccably approached my mother. I noticed they had the same color fingernail polish and I commented on how beautiful they looked. She blushed and my mother grabbed her hands and they just held each other's fingers and smiled at one another.

Then an agitated woman who constantly murmurs wheeled close by, and my mother shouted, "Mister, shut up. Can't you be quiet?" Then she turned to me, "That man. I can never understand him."

My sister came to get me and we talked with the nurse practitioner who oversees my mother's care. We talked the medication regimen, her pain levels, and her daily activities. Most concerning is her weight loss. She weighs 76 pounds, which is a decrease of 5 to 6 pounds within the last month and a half. Her appetite has decreased and her physical stamina is low. We recognize that a body's resistance is precarious at her weight and it is likely that she is surviving on her reserves. They will continue to monitor her closely and keep in close contact.

We then went back to visit my mother and my sister gave her some Hershey drops to eat. She played around with a stuffed dog and sang Christmas tunes by barking. She tried on my hat and we talked about a number of other fun things. Then we could tell she was getting tired. We wheeled her over to other residents and she started napping. She had a good day, but an afternoon nap was in store for her.

Two thousand seventeen is coming to an end. What a year it has been for her.

Watch the video

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Breathe Deeply and Trust

I gently wheeled my sleeping mother three feet away from clogged traffic to a nearby table where I could greet her when she awoke, but the slight movement startled her. "Jack, I think I'm dying."

"Yes. You are right."
"I didn't think I would ever see you again." "Why do you think that?" "Because I'm dying."
"I am here. It is OK."

Silence. "I'm gettin ready, but I'm not ready yet."
"That is O.K. You go when you are ready. You can tell God when you are ready to go."
"I can?" "Yes, you can. You just let God know and he'll take care of you."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that."
"I like how you speak. Your words make me comfortable."
"OK. I'm not ready yet. I don't want to leave anyone yet."

"What is it like to be dying?"
"I feel funny inside. Sometimes it is dark inside and it is growing, but sometimes it feels good."
"How you are feeling is O.K."

"I just don't want to forget any of you kids."
"O, no, you won't forget any of us. In fact, you'll remember more. You'll be closer to us than ever."
"Yes, of course. God is going to show you all the important stuff of our day every day. You'll be alive to God in a new way where you can see everything new."
"Sometimes I'm not sure if I'm good enough for God. I've had a pretty good life, mostly. I raised a good family, but sometimes I'm not sure."

"I think you need to trust God a little more."
"My sister always scared me. She made it so that I didn't want to close my eyes and fall asleep. She would scare me but I would always say, "I believe in you.'"

"Your sister is with God now, and she is on your side. She is probably telling God right now how much she loves you."
"I hope so."

"Would you like communion now?"
"Of course."


"So what are you thinking?"
"I hope God accepts me. What do I have to do?"
"Just love people as much as possible. It is all about love, you know."
"Well, I'll try my best."

"Your love is important, but God's love goes beyond everything. God's love is very strong."
"He knows I've loved you kids."
"God's love will keep you connected to your family and loved ones. Do you know God's love doesn't end when one dies? It keeps going. Death is not an obstacle to God. Do you know that?"
"I like what you say. How can I trust more?"
"Just believe in God. It is all up to God. God's love can do amazing things. Just trust it. God keeps people connected through death. All you have to do is trust and breathe deeply."
"That's it?"
"Yes. That is it. It is kind of easy. God takes care of everything. With God, we have no worries. Just breathe in gently."

Three deep breaths later, my mother was sound asleep.