My mother, Alice Cobb, died on July 4, 2012. She died in her sleep in her three-room apartment at the Parker House on Church Street in Rutland. She was 98. The home health aide for Rutland Visiting Nurse Association found her in her bed. The on-call nurse for the VNA called me that morning.
Four months earlier, my mother and I had a fairly heated argument at the Rutland hospital over whether she should return to the Parker House or move to the Loretto Home, where her life would be more closely monitored. She had been in the hospital for several days and it was her third trip there in less than a year. She was found barely conscious on her living room floor. She had passed out because she was severely dehydrated, the same problem as the two times before.
While she was in the hospital, I made arrangements with the Loretto Home to have her move there. There was a three-room suite available with a living room, bathroom and bedroom but no kitchen. My wife, Cindy, and I spent the entire weekend cleaning her Parker House apartment. It took four trips to the trash transfer station, our Ford Escape fully loaded each time, to throw away what we thought should go. We donated the furniture, pots, pans and everything else that was usable to charity.
Three visits to the hospital were too many, and she wasn’t safe at home alone. The various social workers and nurses agreed with me and, although I didn’t ask the staff at the Parker House, I suspect they would have agreed also. She and I had talked about her moving to a staffed residential care facility for several years. Depending on her mood, she was either absolutely ready to go or totally opposed. She was getting 18 hours of care a week from the VNA through the Choices for Care program, but that still left 150 hours a week when something could go wrong and often did.
In December, she slipped on the ice while walking two blocks to the Beer King store to buy cigarettes, and she could not get up. Fortunately, a kind taxi driver spotted her stuck on the ice and returned her home. She did not tell me about her accident, I learned that from the VNA staff. Her side was badly bruised.
A few months before her fall, she lost the use of her kitchen stove. She could use her microwave but not the oven or stove top. One day the summer before, when she was cooking peppers and onions in olive oil, she left the burner on and fell asleep in her TV chair. She thought she had turned the burner off but her vision was too weak to tell off from on. The olive oil burned and filled her apartment with smoke. The Rutland Fire Department was called in. The fire scared the bejesus out of several of the women on her floor, who were pretty sure if she did it again, she would burn the building to the ground. She promised the Parker House staff she would be more careful, but it happened again. The fuse to her stove was shut off. A few weeks later, she found the fuse box, clicked her stove fuse on, and cooked peppers and onions. No problems this time, but some of her neighbors were totally frightened when they smelled the cooking peppers. The Parker House staff dismantled her stove. She never really liked microwave cooking but she got used to it.
Two days before I was to pick her up from the hospital and bring her to the Loretto Home, the intake director from the facility met me at the hospital. She walked into the room with her brochures and briefcase and was ready to sell why the Loretto Home was a good fit for my mother. But she never got the chance to say anything because my mother saw the brochures and the briefcase and immediately figured out what was up. She looked at the woman and said, “Tell my son to shove it.” Actually, what she said was much more colorful, but can’t be printed here.
Cindy and I spent the next two days moving the furniture we had donated back into the apartment. None of it had sold so we made a small donation and got everything back, everything, that is, except for the pots and pans and silverware, all of which was gone. We went to Walmart and spent $400 to buy what was needed. The apartment was pretty much back to normal except for the missing pictures, other wall items and the dozen or so plants we had thrown away.
There also was a problem at the Parker House. A new tenant was set to move in at the end of the week. I said I had no power of attorney or any other power over my mother for that matter, not even the power of persuasion, and legally, she had never given notice. She got to keep the apartment.
Needless to say, my mother was furious. She didn’t like any of the pots or pans or dishes we had bought. The silverware didn’t feel right, all the cleaning products were wrong and she wanted her pictures and plants back.
Obviously, I should not have done what I did. It was a gut reaction, not something I had thought carefully about. Fear makes me stupid and impulsive. I should never have arranged for her to move without getting her approval. I didn’t want her to die alone, but I lived in Barre and my sisters lived in Washington, D.C., and London and none of us could be there. In the end, she died peacefully in her sleep. Her decision probably was the right one.
Peter Cobb lives in Barre.