"Why can't we build orphanages next to homes for the elderly? If someone were sitting in a rocker, it wouldn't be long before a kid will be in his lap.” Cloris Leachman
Mel’s mom and dad were living in Arizona. They were on in years and really would not be able to be on their own for long. Mel’s mom, Betty, had crippling rheumatoid arthritis. Her father, Bill, who everyone calls Puz had transient ischemic attacks (TIA’s), which are strokes. He had hundreds. We knew the day was going to come where intervention was needed.
Finally, that day happened.
For some time Candee had been giving Mel the cold shoulder. It had nothing to do with me. Candee’s anathema regarding me was of no matter since Mel always seemed to be in agreement with her sister while in Candee’s presence and on her knees begging forgiveness from me when Candee was nowhere in sight. This little situation was disgusting to me for many reasons, of course one being, I was the target of this contrived reasoning and second, it brought Mel down several notches. I always felt Mel was above reproach, so it saddened me to watch her loose her spine and so dishonestly.
“Tragedy in life normally comes with betrayal and compromise, and trading on your integrity and not having dignity in life. That's really where failure comes “.Tom Cochrane
Fear has its use but cowardice has none.
No, Candee didn’t keep in touch with Mel because she didn’t need to. Leroy, her new love, was taking care of all her needs.
But Mel was inconsolable. First it was days, then months. I felt horrible for her, but what could I do? I decided to call her. Leroy answered and I explained that Mel really needed her sister and please, have her at least touch base. Candee called, but it was regrettable. It was a one sided conversation and Mel was doing all the talking. After the call completed, I was heartbroken for her. It took weeks to get her out of that funk.
And then the phone call came. Mel’s parents both needed care. Mel and Candee came together and made the decision that each of them would take a parent. Of course, Mel had decided this before she discussed it with me. At least we were to get her dad, who actually loved me, Candee would get her mom, who despised me and what I represented in her daughter’s life.
For some time, Mel had been begging me to quit my job. She wanted an “at home” wife. I had been working mostly contract jobs and they were high paying. Of course I was afraid to give up my independence. She promised me that should she die I would be well taken care of. But what if she left me? Her answer was always driven with indignation that she would even consider such a thing.
Now, she insisted I quitf. She did not want to put her parents in “a home” and they would, most certainly, need 24 hour care.
So true to form, I refused any more contract work and settled in knowing the road ahead was going to be far more difficult than any building projects.
I took apart my office, bringing most of the computer gear onto our enclosed porch. Actually, it was much nicer there, I could see the White Mountains and the porch was cheerful and sunny. It was our TV room as well. We put a bed and dresser into the now empty office and decorated it for a man.
Mel drove to Arizona to pick him up while Candee made arrangements for Betty, their mom.
Puz was actually a very interesting man. I have no idea where “Puz” came from, but if you look it up on the net, the only one under “Puz Williamson” is Mel’s dad. I believe his wife gave him that name.
Puz adored Betty. He lived for Betty. When they met, she was working at his aircraft factory. He was immediately smitten. However Betty was not. Betty had become ill with kidney and lung problems. She wanted nothing to do with Puz, but he was not to be deterred. While she was ill, he slept on her porch every night. Today this would be illegal, stalking. But every morning she woke to his protective presence. She was eventually taken to a sanatorium as she had TB . Puz stayed at her house taking care of Candee who was only a small child. When Betty returned home, she finally gave in and all of Puz's dreams came true. I am playing this song for them.
He was a very intelligent man who had only two requirements and that is, a newspaper and a lot of coffee. The former was no problem, the latter, well, he was incontinent. I would do everything I could to distract him, to no avail.
I was the primary care taker. Mel worked the early morning shift, 6:00am to 2:30pm. When she got home, she would spend maybe five minutes with her father and then go take a nap. I prepared all the meals and I had dinner ready by 6:00pm. I would feed her father, who had difficulty holding his utensils because of all of the strokes. Then Mel would eat and then the two of them would watch the news and retire to bed. During the night if Puz needed anything, and every night he would, I was the one who attended to his needs.
Mel would get very angry with me if I asked her to spend more time with him. “I work all day….” You know the drill. But she had the weekends off and even then she didn’t have the patience to spend with him. I tried explaining to her that his time was limited and she needed to spend as much time as she had with him.
His strokes got worse. I would get Puz up in the morning and he would be soaked. After changing and cleaning him, taking him to the porch to watch television, have coffee and read his paper, I would then change the sheets and wash down his bed. The incontinence happened often during the day as well. His favorite chair to sit in was an arm chair I had with silk upholstery. I tried in vain to substitute another piece of furniture, but he was adamant. He wanted that chair. So I just let him. What the hell, it was only a chair and I could get it reupholstered. So I moved it to the porch and that was his throne.
As his TIA’s got worse, he could no longer speak and eventually was bed-ridden. I decided to have his hospital bed moved to the porch as well. That was the heart of our little family and I wasn’t going to banish him to some back room. I wanted him to be a part of all of our lives. Even visitors. And the porch was adjacent to the kitchen, so he could smell my cooking, which he loved.
Eventually, he could no longer eat and had a stomach tube. It was my job to change him, administer medications through the tube and of course, his food. I had never had such huge responsibilities and at times I was overwhelmed and had no one to talk to about it. Mel definitely did not want to hear of it. I was so tired from the late nights and my spirit was waning. The worst was knowing he was going to die. But I had no idea it would be on my watch.
On May 26th, 2004, I woke up to hear Puz gasping, wheezing. I called Mel. She in turn got all the medications needed, mostly morphine, to “make this as easy as possible”. WHAT? No, I wanted oxygen, something to HELP him. The hospice nurse came and told me they could not administer oxygen as he was on a DNR (do not resuscitate) order. Before she had come, I had taken some of my morphine (per doctor’s orders) and smashed them up – putting them into his stomach tube. It seemed to calm him down, but he looked panicked. After the nurse arrived, I went into my bedroom and suddenly broke forth in sobs. Everything was out of my control.
The front porch was filled to capacity with Mel, a nurse from her work, the hospice nurse and a preacher as well as a couple of neighbors offering help.
The hospice nurse came into the bedroom and pulled me into her arms. She knew. She didn’t have to say anything. But she did say Puz needed me. So I went. I have never watched someone die. It was a shock. And right up until his last breath which he struggled, I begged for them to give him oxygen. Yes, he was dying, but why did he have to suffer. They told me he wasn’t suffering, but he was. I’m not a medical person, but I am human and I know what it is like to struggle for air.
But soon he was gone and all that was left were “arrangements”. Everything went to fast. And there was no ceremony, nothing. This wonderful, fun, caring, giving and honest man left this earth…and no one noticed.
Puz died. In one week it was as if he never lived. I wanted to go back to work, so I started putting my resume’s back out and soon the jobs came trickling in. Mel and I used the extra cash to take a few road trips, most of them to casinos. Mel had a bigger addiction to gambling than to alcohol. I didn’t say anything and secretly gave thanks to God that we didn’t have any close by.
Jerry Atwood came for a visit, which was a welcome relief. Mel and Jerry weren’t very close, so the trip was for my benefit. It was then that he told me he wanted me to move back to Texas. He promised I would get work, not only work, but great wages. I declined, but that trip was a Godsend that would pay back in years to come.
Mel was keeping touch with Candee. Candee was taking care of their mom Betty. Candee’s boyfriend, Leroy had set up a nice room for her with a bathroom. It seemed all was well with the world. Soon we heard less and less from Candee. Mel would relentlessly call, speaking to her mom who said all was fine with the world. But things didn’t feel fine.
Then Betty called and asked Mel to look at her bills. It seemed that someone was running up her credit cards. Not only that, but new cards had been applied for…and gotten..in her name. Of course all this dancing around “someone” and not actually using the name “Mandee” would have been comical had it not been so sad. Mel did so and well, we know the truth now, don’t we.
Candee never called again. Leroy did.
“Mel, Candee is no longer living here” Leroy, it seems, was on his own. With Betty. "Mel, your sister has moved out"
"What!" Mel was truly in shock. She just lost her father and now this.
Candee deserted their mother Betty. Just one day, she didn't come home. Of course Candee didn’t see it that way.
When Mel spoke to her mother, Betty said Leroy had been drinking and no one should have to live with a drunk. But…wait a minute…it’s okay to leave your incapacitated mother with said drunk? Betty never had a wonderful relationship with Candee, so this was just plain weird for her to defend anything Candee did. I felt she was afraid of burning bridges. She was bed ridden and that is not the ideal place to be if you are planning on running your mouth.
It is a time in your life where the tables have turned and you, the parent, are now the child. A return to innocence.
No matter what Candee did, her excuses always worked. But this time, it seems they weren’t. Mel was livid, beside herself in disappointment. Leroy could take over, but he couldn’t for the long haul. It wasn’t his mother, and after all he had a life. Candee was nowhere to be found. She wouldn’t even go over to check on her mom.
I knew what was coming, but I dreaded it.
“Di, I need to talk to you” Mel started.
“Don’t”. Was all I had to say. “Just go down there and get her”
Mel swore she would NEVER talk to Candee again. This time it seemed as if it were set in stone because she didn't let up. Between the bills and the fact that Candee could use alcohol as an excuse for leaving yet not explain why she left her mother in a situation she herself could not tolerate really painted Candee as the person everybody BUT Mel knew.
Candee had a life long friend, Cindy, who was the only one that could abide Candee. However, she also was through. And disgusted. It was Cindy who kept us up on what and where Candee was and it seems Candee was on the prowl and told Cindy she had met a man and was getting married. Her favorite hobby. She was married 5 times. So what was one more? Cindy relayed to us that Candee never spoke of her mother, or LeRoy and if Cindy were to bring them up, Candee would get up and leave.
I knew that this was going to be tough, I had no idea HOW tough. So Mel set off to Alabama to collect her mother and all of her mom’s treasures. I readied both the house and myself. Betty wanted her own room. We took the spare room that we put Puz up in and redid it. We painted it bright yellow like she preferred.
And then I went on a rampage cleaning the house. Five days later Mel arrived. I was in shock when I saw Betty. She weighed less than 85 pounds. She could not eat without help and it looked as though that help was not there. Betty acted as though she were happy to see me. And I acted as though I were happy to see her. But soon all masks were off.
Mel was thrown into the task of detective trying to find out who ran up all the charges on Betty’s bills. Finally Mel surmised it was the reason Candee took off. She knew this was going to be an issue and she was anything but responsible. We never heard from Candee and so, Mel started to pay them off one by one.
The arrangements were pretty much the same as when I took care of Puz. Mel would work, I would stay home and take care of Betty.
And take care of her I did. She also had incontinence issues, but she was spry. Betty was a night owl. We had given her a bell and in spite of her delicate condition, she seemed ready to live another 20 years. And she felt that way as well. She promised us another 10 years at the least.
We gave her the bell and trust me...she used that bell all night long. Mel never answered it, just me. Betty wanted to watch a certain program, would I cook something for her that she probably would never eat, would I play cards with her. For the most part, I didn’t mind except I also had to take care of Mel. That meant going to the laundry to wash clothes, cooking all her meals and catering to her every wish. I was tired most of the time. But Betty was a secret delight.
Betty had some stories to tell. She had traveled the world as a missionary and actually was part of the beginning of NATO! In the hours just before dawn, the only sound was her small voice reliving these adventures and me hanging on to every word. I felt bad that Mel was not enjoying this as well. When I did have time alone to be with Mel, I would tell her, but she did not seem to be as engaged. She had a lot of bitterness towards her mom who was a strict and often unfair disciplinarian. Betty and I became very fast friends.
Betty was a religious fanatic, that was a bit difficult to get around. She felt Jim and Tammy Faye got a raw deal. Yep, she did. Yet she didn’t understand my idealism regarding the death penalty, I mean, really? If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses. And of course, she had her issues regarding homosexuality. Mel and I had a bedroom next to hers and she demanded we keep the door open. At some point, probably when I was in a coma sitting next to her bed at 4am, she asked me to promise her something. I promised without knowing what I was promising. So from that point on, I had to weigh whether I would have sex with Mel or be scorned to hell – she warned me, she was on a first name basis with God and I would most certainly go to hell.
“The betrayal of trust carries a heavy taboo.” Aldrich Ames
She stopped eating. And I spent my days making everything and anything for her. I tried to sleep when she did, but she would only sleep in fits and starts, and never at night. Those nights with Betty are my treasures. I wish I had taped them. I don’t know what I was thinking, that I didn’t. I just figured she would be there forever.
The VA has a program where home cared elderly can stay in the hospital for a week while the family goes on a respite. We decided to take advantage of it. I felt Betty needed some one on one doctor care and Mel had a conference she needed to attend.
But that trip was not our best decision.
Beginning of Book
Yes, this is absolutely positively true. If you lived this wouldn't you write about it? Some of the names of characters in this blog are fictitious. This is an account of actual events. Some of the events have been compiled together for the flow of the story. Even when I read my own work, I wonder how it could be so. But if you study your own life and compartmentalize it into less than 200 pages, you would be surprised how interesting it really is!
TRUTH HAS WITNESSES (Dianne Lindsey) This material is the copyright Dianne Schuch Lindsey and cannot be duplicated in any fashion without the express permission of the Author. All rights reserved ©