Have decided to start sharing “My Little Miracles” on Sundays in hopes of setting a positive, uplifting tone for the week to come. Guess I originally posted them on Sunday but moved to Mondays to join Shaunacey’s “Monday Moments of Gratitude”. She is taking a blogging hiatus so back to Sunday I go.
This post has been on my heart to write for five months. It is the story of some very difficult times that were also intertwined with little (and big) miracles. And just last week, everything came full circle from where it started in October.
You may remember in my last “little miracles” post, here, I talked about how the stars aligned for my daughters, granddaughters, sister and I to all go to Kentucky to celebrate my mom’s 90th birthday and Lucia’s first birthday. You may have seen some of these photos on Facebook taken last weekend while mom opened her presents. She tried on all of her birthday necklaces at one time!
It was such a blessing to be with my mom and to celebrate HER. Mom is so very fortunate to be in almost perfect health aside from macular degeneration and high cholesterol. She plays Bridge several times a week, attends morning exercise classes that leave me winded, has a gaggle of girlfriends, dances with her walker at the occasional happy hour, plays Bingo three nights a week. And can work a mean cross word puzzle in no time flat. She is funny, witty and incredibly intelligent. Mom can out-cipher, out-read, out-reason me on my best day. Read a previous post about my incredible mom, here.
She amazes us all.
Especially when we think back five months ago.
Back to where we were on October 25. Because, on that autumn Tuesday morning, after days of little sleep, my mother took an overdose of antidepressants and over-the-counter sleeping pills and in desperation to get some rest.
Mom took a “handful” of each about 6:00 am and then climbed back in bed. And of course, she was soon sound asleep. My brother, who lives in Lexington near my mom, always calls her on his way to work. When Kevin called and my mom didn’t answer, he became alarmed. She hadn’t sounded exactly right the night before when he called, but when I had called a little later Monday evening, I thought maybe she was doing ok. Although we both knew she was desperately tired and sleep deprived.
Instead of going on into work, Kevin decided to run by her apartment just to check in on her. When he arrived, she was in bed, semi-conscious. But miraculously alive. He called EMS and she was taken to the hospital. My sister and I both jumped on the first flights we could get, miraculously meeting up in Atlanta to console each other and fly on into Lexington together. We arrived so late that we didn’t get to see our mom until the next day.
This photo was taken outside the hospital on the morning of our first visit to see mom.
Not the First Time
A very difficult week followed for all of us, in part because we had all been here before, in the spring of 2011.
April 2011, my parents were in the process of moving from an apartment into a retirement community. My mom was wound tight with worry about all aspects of the move. Unable to sleep. And my father, who was in poor health, was able to do little more than sleep, day and night. At that time, my mom wrote a suicide note, took a cocktail of pills and went to bed.
It was my dad who found my mom that time. He called Kevin who directed him to call 911. Miraculously, mom survived this first attempt but had to spend a brief time in a inpatient mental health facility. Miraculously the first attempt and again this past October, mom didn’t have to undergo a stomach pump. The doctors were able to flush the drugs out of her system with fluids. Coincidentally…yet not, mom is a chemist…perhaps she knew exactly how much to take. Or maybe she was granted two miracles.
In 2011, when she was released after a week in a psych unit, I accepted responsibility for watching and caring for her until we were sure she was in a better place, mentally, emotionally and physically. My mom never really seemed the same again. At least not to me.
This photo was taken the day she came home from the first mental health facility to their new apartment in the retirement community. My father only lived another year afterward. So mom has been alone since the spring 2012. But she seemed to be enjoying life.
Fast Forward to December
The days and weeks after this past October 25 are a blur of sleepless nights and stressful days for my brother, sister and me. We all slept with our cell phones on our pillows, praying there wouldn’t be another incident. And hoping if there was, our mom would be as fortunate again as she had been before. My sister and I had to return to Texas, to our families, work but felt like we were in some ways abandoning my brother and our mom.
And we were being eaten alive with conflicting emotions. We were sad, hurt, and even angry. Suicide and attempted suicide is so difficult to deal with. Even writing this now, I am conflicted…should I be sharing this? Am I airing our “dirty laundry”? Is this too personal to put out ‘there’…here?
Holidays are Hard Days
Mom has never liked the holidays so as Thanksgiving 2016 approached and passed without incident, we breathed a collective sigh of relief. This picture was taken after Thanksgiving dinner at Kevin’s house.
But Christmas has always been a tough time for mom. And sure enough, one morning in early December, mom called the front desk at the retirement community feeling suicidal. She asked them to call 911 for her. Someone from the apartment complex came up to sit with mom until EMS arrived. Thank goodness, this time she called for help before taking anything but told the paramedics she was on the verge of taking another overdose. Another miracle.
This time Kevin had to handle everything himself, although we tried our best to support him from Texas. We all communicated our concerns to mom’s doctor and that same day, she was checked in to another inpatient facility. She remained there until a day or two before Christmas.
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
The way mom described the facility made it sound much like the psychiatric hospital where Jack Nicholson was confined in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. Minus Nurse Ratched. An assortment of mentally and emotionally unstable patients. Lining up for daily doses of medicine. Stripped down rooms with nothing more than a bed. Even mom’s laces were removed from her tennis shoes. Community meals and TV in the common room. Group therapy. We hated for our 89 year-old mother to have endure these circumstances but didn’t know what else to do.
In some ways, she was the belle of the ball. Poor analogy but despite being committed to a unit for geriatric psychiatric patients this time, mom was the oldest there, and the most aware, most ‘with it’. After her attempt in 2011, mom was confined to a unit with much younger patients, mostly young people hooked on drugs. The medical staff at both facilities enjoyed talking with my mother, learning about her, giving her little privileges that they couldn’t give the others.
And while she appeared to have been suicidal at the time, immediately after each attempt she had plans for the future. She gave me a Christmas list on the phone in December. In 2011, from the psych facility, she drew us a floor plan of where to move their things as it became my brother, sister and I who took over the last details of our parents’ move to the retirement community. Our mom was obviously very conflicted, too.
A day or two before Christmas, my mom was released. She was prescribed a couple of new drugs and seemed to be feeling better. She spent Christmas day with my brother and his family.
On the first day back home in her apartment, mom began hearing music in her head. It would begin as soon as she awoke in the morning and would ‘play’ all day at varying volumes until she went to bed at night. I remember her telling me about it and thinking that this would surely be the next thing to drive her to take another overdose.
But she explained that the music wasn’t really annoying or bothersome. Mom said it was a song she thought she’d heard before but couldn’t identify it. Sometimes during our phone conversations, she would hum a little bit of it to me, describing it as almost a waltz being played by a cello and other string instruments. Accompanied by a full orchestra in the distant background. Over the months since her return home, the music has gradually become more faint but is still a daily sound track to her life.
One evening during our visit last week, an amazing thing happened. The girls and grandbabies had returned to the hotel where they were staying. The apartment was quiet for the first time all day as my sister and I scrapbooked together on mom’s living room floor and mom watched on from her recliner.
Mom started humming. She didn’t say anything but just began humming a melody that sounded familiar to me. When I realized what she was doing, I asked if it was the song she was hearing in her head. She nodded and kept humming. She could only relay the first part of the song before the tune would become muddled. But I recognized it almost immediately. My mom was humming “Amazing Grace”.
Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now I’m found.
Was blind but now I see
At first, mom was a little reluctant to acknowledge that “Amazing Grace” was the soundtrack she kept hearing. She almost made an excuse saying that she’d heard that hymn somewhere in recent days and maybe that was why the song she was hearing sounded something like “Amazing Grace”. But that night, the longer she hummed the song, mom came to realize it was “Amazing Grace” she had been hearing everyday for three months.
Our Spiritual Background
I won’t go into great details now about my family’s spiritual background but have written about it in the past. You can read some of those posts, here. There are two posts that explain a little about my spiritual growth. And a few that talk about my spiritual journey as an adult. All of this to say, I wasn’t raised in a religious home, although both my parents were but moved away from organized religion as adults.
I purchased a copy of Jesus Calling and sent it to my mom in January, hoping she would find its daily messages encouraging. I doubt she has opened it. The book was on the floor between the couch and her TV stand when we visited.
She doesn’t attend any kind of Sunday services and as far as I know, doesn’t have a devotional routine. But maybe the soundtrack in her head is all the worship and message mom needs.
Little Miracles Today
As I write this, it has been five months since my mom’s last overdose in October. And three months since she was released from the geriatric mental health facility. I no longer sleep with the cell on my pillow. Some days I feel brave enough to turn it off at night completely. We have a home phone, though, so anyone can reach us day or night.
We had such a good visit with mom for her birthday.
Several times I saw that old twinkle in her eye.
Suicide in the Elderly
This has been a long, deeply personal post. But if another family can benefit from what we have experienced, then God will have worked these trying times for good.
According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy:
Older adults make up 12% of the US population, but account for 18% of all suicide deaths. This is an alarming statistic, as the elderly are the fastest growing segment of the population, making the issue of later-life suicide a major public health priority…. Not counted are “silent suicides,” like deaths from overdoses, self-starvation or dehydration, and “accidents.” The elderly have a high rate of completing suicide because they use firearms, hanging, and drowning. Double suicides involving spouses or partners occur most frequently among the aged… The strongest risk factor appears to be a major psychiatric disorder at the time of death, as major depression is very often associated with suicide in later life. Most elder suicide victims either live with relatives or are in regular contact with family or friends, and this implies that depression is more a factor than social isolation. [source]
Although we realized our mom was struggling with the move and insomnia in the spring 2011, we didn’t foresee the possibility of a suicide attempt. In October 2016, again mom was not sleeping well so our suicide radar was triggered. But when I look at the following warning signs for suicide in the elderly, she really didn’t present with any of these.
What are the Warning Signs?
- Loss of interest in things or activities that are usually found enjoyable (mom had begun eating in her room more, skipping Bridge)
- Cutting back social interaction, self-care, and grooming
- Breaking medical regimens; such as going off diets, prescriptions
- Experiencing or expecting a significant personal loss, spouse or other
- Feeling hopeless and/or worthless
- Putting affairs in order, giving things away, or making changes in wills
- Stock-piling medication or obtaining other lethal means
- Other clues are a preoccupation with death or a lack of concern about personal safety. Remarks such as “This is the last time that you’ll see me” or “I won’t be needing anymore appointments” should raise concern.
- The most significant indicator is an expression of suicidal intent. [source]
Finally, here is the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255, available 24 hours everyday.
Mom continues to be in remarkable physical health. Her mental capacities are astonishing. I just never know, deep inside, how she is really feeling. I don’t think our mom ever really returned to us completely after the spring of 2011. But I love the memories I have of the way she was and love the person she is today. I love you, mom.
And I thank God for “little miracles”.
*I want to thank my blogger friend Shelly at The Queen in Between who wrote a very touching post about her relationship with her father that help give me the courage and the words to write this post today. Thank you, Shelly.
Hugs and kisses,