Sunday, May 8, 2016

Alice in Chains – "Down in a Hole" (1992)

Down in a hole
Out of control

I lost my father in January.  My mother is still alive, but sometimes I feel like I’ve lost her as well.

My parents – who were both 90 years old – were married for 68 years.  Despite a number of health issues, they were still living at home and managing reasonably well until my father’s final illness.

My parents (two weeks before my father's death)
His passing devastated my mother, although her grief didn’t take the form I expected – I never saw her cry after he died.  It turned her into a completely different person.

She became consumed by anxiety and fear.  When friends came to visit her, she wouldn’t open the day because she thought they were someone else.  When I called her on the phone, she didn’t believe that it was really me calling – “It doesn’t sound like you,” she would say, convinced that I was an imposter trying to take advantage of her.  (She said the same thing when my children called her.)  

My parents in 1974
She was overwhelmed by even the most insignificant decisions, and begged me to take control of things.  But she questioned every action I took on her behalf.  When I tried to explain (as patiently as I could) why I had done something, she always had the same response: “There’s no use arguing with you.  You’ll just do whatever you want to do.”

The evening of my father’s funeral, my children and I tried to persuade her to come home with us and move into assisted-living facility in our neighborhood, where we could visit her daily and she could join us for birthdays and holidays and family dinners.  (We live over a thousand miles away from the town when my parents lived their entire married lives.)  

At my daughters' high-school
graduation in 2005
But she wasn’t ready to leave her home yet.  So we increased the number of hours that her home health care worker stayed with her and tried to oversee her bills and other business.

After a couple of months, she seemed to be coming around to the idea of moving, so my sister and I started planning to relocate her.  But one night, she fell while walking down the hallway to her bedroom.  The next day, a cousin took her to the emergency room, where she found out that she had suffered a type II fracture of the odontoid process of her C2 neck vertebra – a not uncommon injury for people who fall on their faces.

A neurosurgeon fitted her for a large and very uncomfortable brace that’s designed to immobilize her neck until the fracture heals.  I haven’t had the heart to tell her that she is likely to have to wear that brace for a year.  (The only time it comes off for even a moment is if the doctor thinks some kind of adjustment or refitting is necessary – otherwise she wears it 24/7.)

I moved my mother to a skilled nursing center after she left the hospital.  It’s relatively new and pleasant for a nursing home, and the staff are warm and caring.

I’ve flown back to visit her twice since she fell, and will head back shortly for another visit.  She should be able to move to the assisted-living facility near my home in a month or two.  

I can’t say I’m all that optimistic about how well she will adjust to moving to an unfamiliar environment.  She’s a long way from being over my father’s death, and we have no idea what the long-term effects of her neck fracture will be.

I’ve been spending a lot of time over the past few months trying to take care of the myriad of practical issues that my father’s death and my mother’s injury have raised.  

I’ve made appointments with her dentist, her audiologist, and her doctors, and arranged for her transportation to those appointments; filed claims on my father's life insurance policies; set up automatic monthly bank withdrawals to cover her utilities and other bills: enrolled her in Medicare part B and part D, and signed her up for supplemental “Medigap” health insurance; sold my father’s pickup truck (a 2003 GMC Sierra with only 12,000 miles); and cashed a number of matured U.S. savings bonds that haven’t been earning interest for years.  (I don’t know what happened on April 23, 1975, but my parents bought no fewer than eighty $50 savings bonds on that date.)

All that needed to be done.  But I may have done it as much to make myself feel that I was being useful as for my mother.  

There a scene in Ian Rankin’s newest book, Even Dogs in the Wild, where a brother and a sister are visiting their ailing father – who is near death – in a hospital.  When the sister accidentally spills the contents of her purse, the brother immediately starts picking everything up:

"Just leave them," she hissed. "They're not what's important."

"But they're something I can fix," her brother said, straightening up, her things gathered in his hand.

Paying bills, enrolling my mother in Medicare, selling that pickup truck, handling all those old savings bonds . . . those are all things that I could fix.

What I can’t fix is my mother’s grief and loneliness.  She fell into a deep psychological and emotional hole when my father died, and I want desperately to help her out of that hole.

But I’m not going to lie to you – and I’m not going to lie to myself.  Despite talking with ministers and grief counselors and elder care consultants and social workers in hopes of gaining some insight into how to do that, I really have no idea how to help her overcome her anxiety and depression.

* * * * *  

“Down in a Hole” was released by Alice in Chains in 1992.

It’s the best song on their second album, Dirt, which I bought the same day I bought Nirvana’s In Utero, Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy, and Soundgarden’s Superunknown.  That was enough grunge to last me for twenty years, when I added Mudhoney’s My Brother the Cow to my iTunes account (which currently contains 22.615 songs).

Here’s “Down in a Hole”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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