All this was inevitable after my husband, Ed, died.
††††††††††† Yes, we talked when we were younger about the possibility of me outliving him. But things then seemed so remote and life while a struggle really was mostly roses and candy.
††††††††††† Maybe I counted on my children too much. Iím old enough to remember when my sisters and I helped our mother through the death of our father, and how our aunts and uncles all lent a hand during the Great Depression when things werenít good for anybody.
††††††††††† But that was a different time. When the extended family still meant family, and brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandfathers and grandmothers picked up the pieces when anything happened.
††††††††††† I donít blame you. How could you help living all the way out in California. And Emily, my only daughter, couldnít stay statesí side if her husband went overseas.
††††††††††† This left the whole burden on Little Billy, and you know heís not the most responsible human being Ė even if he is my son.
††††††††††† Donít get me wrong, Billy tried to help Ė which is more than I can say for most peopleís sons.
††††††††††† He even let me live at his house over the shrill objections of his new wife Ė whose voice I would have heard through walls twice as thick as theirs.
††††††††††† Iím not blaming her either. She grew up differently than we did. She grew up in the suburbs where the sense of family was hardly as strong as we had it in the city.
††††††††††† Besides, who wants to get saddled with an old soul like me when sheís just starting out her new life?
††††††††††† She did her best to hide her discomfort, even pretending to be gracious whenever I was in the room.
††††††††††† Sometimes when we got stuck in the same room alone together she even pretended to care, saying she understood how growing old alone wasnít easy, and that my being a burden wasnít totally my fault. She said she could even imagine herself at my age and how awful it must feel.
††††††††††† A kick in the shins might have felt more comforting.
††††††††††† But I think my situation alarmed her. She put Billy on a diet right away and ordered him to exercise daily.
††††††††††† Anyway, I tried to keep out of their way, avoiding the stereotypical interfering mother-in-law. I asked to help only when she really seemed to need help and wanted it. An invalid, Iím not, though to hear Billy lately, you would think I had lost both arms and both legs, not my husband.
††††††††††† Still, it felt terrible. This was not my house and for the most part, even Billy seemed like a stranger to me Ė the way grown sons often seem to their parents, coming from and going to work, talking little to his wife, and less to me.
††††††††††† Had things stayed that way, I could have faded into the wood work and I would have seen more like a piece of unused furniture than interference.
††††††††††† Instead, I fell down the basement steps and broke a hip.
††††††††††† While the doctors said this was no as serious as it could have been Ė the bone would mend eventually despite my age Ė the disability would require me to spend time immobile and that meant someone would have to look after me, waiting on me hand and foot.
††††††††††† Since Billy was off at work most of the day, this left me in the care of his new wife Ė an unbearable situation for her and for me.
††††††††††† I knew we could not make it work from the moment I got back to the house from the hospital, unless I did something to alter things.
††††††††††† Billy hadnít a clue as to what was going on and was shocked when I asked him to find me a home, some form of elderly care center where I could cease being a burden on them.
††††††††††† He insisted I was no burden.
††††††††††† But the prolonged yelling match with his wife that night changed his mind, and he agreed to find me a place Ė and he did.
††††††††††† I hated it Ė as I knew I would.
††††††††††† My worst fears could not have painted a circle of hell as bad as that home was.
††††††††††† Billy assured me this was not the kind of home where young dumped the elderly while waiting for us to die.
††††††††††† Yet it was exactly that.
††††††††††† Half the people slumped in the chairs in front of TV sets needed mental and physical help the home could not or would not provide.
††††††††††† Most didnít even know to put their cigarettes out in the ashtrays, but rather let them linger until they burned their fingers.
††††††††††† I canít call the attendants brutes.
††††††††††† They kept the place reasonably clean, made sure people received their medicine, and supplied us with meals while skimpy didnít reek of bacteria. Some attendants even smiled and remembered our names.
††††††††††† But this was a home, not my home, and the people around me seemed no more like family than my sonís wife did.
††††††††††† Never more did I miss Ed and the tenderness and love he helped shape in our home. After all those years, I felt hollowed out and terribly lonely.
††††††††††† Billy visits almost once a week. But he grows more and more distant as time passes. He always asks the same meaningless questions about how I feel and tells me each time how well I look. But the truth shows in his eyes as if I was already dead and he is simply waiting for someone to issue the death certificate.
††††††††††† Being around sleepy people day in and day out also made me a little sleepy. I sometimes even wake up suddenly when the cigarette burns my fingers. Yesterday, I caught a look of myself in the hall mirror as I stumbled to the lunch room for our meals. I didnít recognize myself. I looked just like everyone else on the ward.
††††††††††† Fortunately, a haze of sorts has settled around me, easing a bit of the pain of it all. Sometimes I go a whole day without thinking much or feeling sorry for myself.
††††††††††† But I really would like something Ė even a little real pain Ė to remind me that I am still alive. It is as if I am swimming in a sea of honey waiting for someone to drain it.
††††††††††† Sometimes all I really want is to go to sleep and now wake up again.
††††††††††† I really, really miss Ed.