"The Jingle Bell Bum" (Read The Touching True Story...please!) Comment at patriciahanrion.com

"The Jingle Bell Bum" (Read The Touching True Story...please!) Comment at patriciahanrion.com
Still available on Amazon for Nook and Kindle, hard copy booklett to re-print November 2013

Monday, May 11, 2015

Helen fades away at age 97

I never thought my mom would get old, and I never thought I would write a story such as this; bitter sweet, and funny in a way. I am sad as I watch Helen fade away at age 97. And then realize as I watch her struggle with life...that one day so will I.

Helen Mills was born in 1916. She was the daughter of a domineering German father and a sweet demure...1/4 American Indian mother (or so it is told, we are not quite sure.) She told me "My father loved my sister Ruth the best. She was a tom-boy and I was too shy and fragile."

Herman Herles saw Helen skating on the old mill pond and fell in love at first sight. Helen was only 13, but he was smitten and determined to wait for her to be married. At the time he was 24. He did not mention his age to anyone until they were engaged.

Helen graduated in 1934 from Closter High School, in New Jersey. She married Herman Herles when she was 20 and he became her life. She was shy and quiet and she was protected by him as was the custom of the day. She was somewhat of a trophy wife to the man who put her in a pumpkin shell...and kept her very well. They lived in a home Herman purchased next to her parents in Closter.
She was moved from her New Jersey home to Calif. 3,000 miles away. Away from all she knew at the age of 26. Herman had been offered a job in the movie industry as a controller (money manager.) It was during the time when silent movies were on the way out and talkies were starting to grow.

The film industry moved to the west and so did the little family which included Timothy age 4 and Patricia age 2. Helen never drove a car and after the move rarely went shopping. Groceries were purchased by Herman from a list that Helen made. She was an old fashioned wife who devoted her life to husband and children. Years passed, the children grew up and had families of their own. After that Helen and Herm filled their days with travel to Europe and far away places. They often went to see family in  New York and New Jersey. Their 50th anniversary in the Catskills of New York was spent with many friends and family. 

The tragic day came when Herm was diagnosed with cancer in 1987 and he died 6 weeks later. Helen had a difficult time after that, but learned to manage on her own. She wrote checks and paid the bills and went on with her life. Tim and Pat, her children, tried to make sure she was safe and doing well even though Tim had four children and Patricia the mother of five was already a grandmother. Eventually Tim helped Helen to move to Santa Clarita where he and Pat both lived with their families.

Pat was upset when she saw that the condo Tim helped Helen buy had two flights of stairs. But Helen said, "It's what I want. I feel safer upstairs," but Patricia knew the day would come when the stairs would become a barrier to Helen's freedom.

Now that over twenty years have passed since the condo was purchased, the dreaded time has come. Helen is a prisoner, trapped in her own home. 
At first Patricia helped her one step at a time down the stairs and to her car and then to a lunch spot of Helen's choosing. Her balance is off because she has scoliosis and kyphosis, and cannot stand up straight. She has shrunk from 5'3" to 4'10".

After her third serious fall, call for paramedics, and a day in the emergency room; she could no longer walk and was often disoriented. When she came home from the hospital she said,
     "I can't find anything since you moved me here. I liked my old house."
     "Mom, you've lived in this house for 22 years. Everything is where you put it." After that she had to be carried down the stairs. We did this for special dinners and trips to the mall.

But no one can get her down the stairs anymore. Tim is 73 with cancer, and Patricia is 71. Neither one feels safe to get her down the stairs. But never the less she is well cared for in her home. Helen has two caregivers, Alysa and Maria, and various meals on wheels people for a start. Tim is there for breakfast, Todd a grandson often gets her out of bed or into bed on the weekends and other grandchildren have pitched in to meet her needs.

She is now incontinent and wears diapers. Her arms are so weak she cannot push herself across the carpet. She is helped out of bed and rolled down the hall to "her spot: in front of the TV. She is surrounded by Kleenex, two phones, a TV remote, a TV tray holding a drink, snacks, several books and magazines and other items she requests; including a potty chair so she can transfer on her own when no one is there to help her.

Patricia recently retired from being a nursing professor. Her husband Patrick retired from being a construction superintendent and they moved to Arizona for economy. Patricia makes the 7 hour drive every five or six weeks to take care of Helen for a few days and give the others a break. 

Helen has become demanding and difficult. She believes she has a sharp of memory with good cognitive skills, but a year ago when Tim (a bank president) checked her bank balance and check book he discovered she had paid some bills twice and neglected to pay others for many months. He now manages her bills.

Grandma Helen & Granddaughter Becca
with 4 of her Great grandson boys in 2012 
She fell and was in the hospital for 3 days, when she returned she accused the family of moving her to a new house because she said, "nothing is the same." She confused the house she lived in 25 years ago in Van Nuys Calif. with the condo where she now lives. 

She has the magic button around her neck to push if she needs help or falls or she cannot get to a phone (she has tried to make calls on the TV remote) In the last year she has needed help and used the button about 8 times, (I think she may have a crush on the paramedics...they call her by name) Yet, sometimes she forgets she has the button hanging around her neck...We are afraid she would be treated harshly in long term care.

One time she asked about the man who lived upstairs.
     "What man?" I asked.
     "You know," she said with a smile, "The man mom rented our spare room to."

I think she thought I was her sister Ruth and that she was in her childhood home in New Jersey. By then we had learned it was easier to agree with her than to get into an argument. So I responded.
     "Oh, that guy, he moved out."

She is in pain from arthritis, but is allergic to most pain medications. Family and caregivers put up with her complaints, moods and foibles. Every day she accuses someone of theft, of her jewelry, or canned goods. (She wears several heavy chains, along with the magic button, 24/7 so no one can take them.) She complains of others moving her kitchen items around so she can't find them. And by the way she has not cooked anything for two years, so how could she know if anything had been moved or not!
Helen has refused to go to into assisted living and with only social security as income we know she can't afford the cost. As long as we can honor her wishes to stay in her home that is where she will be, because few others could put up with her.

The mystery of two Todds went on for several months. She insisted that one of the Todds was nice. 
     "The other Todd is mean. He looks very different from the nice one" she declared. (There is only one Todd; Tim's' oldest boy who helps to care for her.)

Her sister died six months ago but she insists, "Ruth is alive and well. I talk to her every week on the phone." She got very mad at my cousin Ron who played a 'trick' on her and told her that her sister had passed away when she knew she was alive and well.

Then one day she asked me, 
     "Where did the flowers go that Tim sent for the funeral." Later she said, "Ruth must be on a trip because she is not answering her phone."
She calls my brother "Dad", and calls me, her sister "Ruth"

Helen and her Father  Percy

"Do not touch the red button on the TV remote" She tells me each time I arrive, and several times during each visit.
"If it is pushed it will mess up the TV and your dad will really be mad." (She means Tim, my brother) One time she sat watching a Spanish channel.
     "Mom let me put on the cooking channel."
     "NO, don't push anything."
     "But mom, it's the Spanish channel."
     "I don't care."   
     "Mom, maybe you pushed the red button or did something."
     "I did not. I never push anything."
     "Not even to turn it on."
     "No Never."
She begins using the phone to change the channel. I take the TV controller, and change the channel to the news. I'm getting frustrated and say...
     "There, I pushed the red button and will push it again...pushie, push, push push...I am going to push it 20 times now."  
     I get a Nasty look from Helen.

30 seconds pass. I am sitting next to her looking at the news.
     "Oh, Oh Oooooo I hurt so bad, I have sciatica. I'm sitting right on that nerve. It runs down my leg.
     "Let me get you the Tylenol with codeine. It will help."
     "No, I only have a few left and anyway they put me to sleep, then I can't walk... See that smudge on the screen, I know that is Lisa wiping it with a Kleenex. I told her not to do that . She does not know how to clean, This place is a mess...Uh, Uh, Uh mm mm what are you doing? Why are you running around? Did you take my fuzzy night gown?"

     "Mom I'm trying to get things ready to cut your hair and color it then wash it. And no, I did not take your night gown"
     "Who said I wanted you to cut it?"
     "You did."
     "I did not!"

45 min later her hair is colored, washed, not cut and wrapped in a towel.

     "It's dripping in my face and on my clothes..."
     "Mom the towel fell off, it's in your lap...pick it up. You can dry your hair."
     "I can't"
     "Mom, you can move your arms."
     "No I can't I'm paralyzed." starts to cry. 
     "Mom, maybe your legs don't move too well but you can move your arms."
     "No I can't!"  

(I think I remember parts of this conversation with one of my kids 40 years ago...)

I go over and plop the towel on her head and 30 seconds later her paralyzed arms are miraculously drying her hair.

"Will this be me in 26 years?"  

Two days later I got the call from my brother that she was in the hospital and now in a long term facility...trapped and a prisoner there too. She has no phone in her room. I may need to go and rescue her! After all...I would want to be rescued!