Hi, there, Dear Reader. It’s almost noon on Saturday, July 17, 2021, in New Hometown, Florida. It is a hot summer day: the temperature outside is 87˚F (30˚C) under sunny skies. With humidity at 50% and a southeasterly breeze blowing at 7 MPH (12 KM/H), the heat index is 96˚F (36˚C). Today’s forecast calls for scattered rain showers and a high of 93˚F (34˚C). Scattered rain showers will continue throughout the night. The low will be 74˚F (23˚C). The Air Quality Index (AQI) is 32, or Good.
This time of year – July 15-July 20 – is always hard on me. Six years ago, my mother was at home but in under hospice care provided by Catholic Services of Miami. She had been suffering from several ailments – including dementia, issues with her kidneys, a weary heart, and the effects of being confined to a hospital-style bed in what used to be our guest room in a three-bedroom, two-story townhouse – and had just been released from Kendall Regional Hospital after suffering a cardiac event.
Those five days in mid-July of 2015 are indelibly etched into my memory as the saddest, most difficult days of my life. I was simultaneously trying to run the house in my mother’s stead, squabbling with my half-sister Victoria over everything under the sun, and preparing myself for the inevitable death of my mother.
Of those three main concerns, running the house was perhaps the easiest one. All I had to do in those last days of being my mother’s principal caregiver was to make sure the bills were paid on time, go grocery shopping to keep both of us fed, and cook at least one meal a day. The home health aide – whose name I’ve forgotten – helped keep the downstairs part of the house tidy, but I still vacuumed and washed dishes by hand…chores I had been doing in the two houses I shared with my mother since we moved back to Miami from Colombia back in 1972.
The other two big issues – Mom’s impending demise and my stormy relationship with my half-sister Vicky – were much harder to tackle. And if I am to be totally honest, the former was more a matter of accepting an ugly truth, while the latter was akin to holding a wolf by the ears – I didn’t like it, but I didn’t dare let go. Both were grievous blows in their own way, and I don’t think I’ve recovered from them.
Paradoxically, even though I am the younger of my mother’s two children and the one who had the closest bond with her, I think I came to terms with my mom’s death even before she died on July 19,2015. I knew that I would miss her terribly once she was physically gone, but I mentally said my “goodbyes” to Mami (as she liked to be called) on Mother’s Day of 2015 rather than by her deathbed on the dreaded date of her passing.
Why do I say this, Dear Reader?
Well, you see, in late April of 2015 I bought the Blu-ray of Evita for Mom as what I strongly suspected would be her last Mother’s Day present. I chose Evita – a 1996 musical drama based on the 1976 concept album of the same name produced by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, which also inspired a 1978 musical – for two reasons.
First, Mom and I had wanted to see Evita when it was in theaters in Miami in late 1996 and early 1997. We invited my Aunt Martha (Mom’s older sister), who was staying at our house for an extended vacation at the time. At first, my aunt seemed enthusiastic and we made arrangements to go with my half-sister, who also said she wanted to go. But on the day that we had set aside to go to the theater where Evita was running, my aunt got cold feet and said, “Que pereza!” Mom tried her best to sway her sister, but to no avail. My half-sister, who was already into her second vodka with tonic water, sided with Aunt Martha, so we did not go to see the movie.
The second reason for choosing Evita was that back in 1950, my mother was married to Vicky’s dad, a brilliant surgeon who, with excellent political connections, was appointed to be the chief medical staff member at the Colombian Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Both Mom and her husband had diplomatic status and, as a result, attended several functions where General Juan Peron and his wife Eva Duarte de Peron (aka “Evita”) were present.
Mom had met Evita at these functions – you know, just the usual reception line stuff where she respectfully said “hello” to Argentina’s First Lady, shook her hand, then moved on – and that’s why she had wanted to see the movie. She was not necessarily a fan of Madonna (who plays the title character) or Jonathan Pryce (who plays Peron), but she liked the music from Evita and was keen on seeing the spectacle in Alan Parker’s movie.
I wish now that I had given Mom her copy of Evita well before her cognitive issues emerged after her fateful 2010 surgery to repair her spine. The 25th Anniversary Blu-ray was released in 2012, and I’d given her a Blu-ray player in 2011, so I could have bought it while Mom could still watch movies and follow their plots without any problems. I was pretty busy dealing with all of my new responsibilities and fending off Vicky’s efforts to take over the running of the house, so I didn’t have clarity of thought a lot of the time. Still…
Of course, by the time I attempted to screen Evita on Mom’s small 720p high-definition TV set in May of 2015, her ability to enjoy movies was gone. She kept saying, “But I’ve already seen this movie!” over and over – I think she was blending her own fractured memories of her time in Argentina and the images on her television – and asked me a few times to turn Evita off. And because Mom also suffered from Sundown Syndrome, I had to acquiesce.
That’s the moment when, in my mind at least, I mentally said Oh, Mom…I love you. I hate to see you go. I didn’t dare say it aloud, but that’s when I knew that Mom would not last all the way to Christmas of 2015 (which Vicky kept on insisting our mother would live to see). Fighting back tears, I stopped the movie at the halfway point, ejected the Blu-ray from the player, and put the disc back in its case.
Mom would linger on, painfully, another two months, but she was steadily fading, one ghastly day at a time.
Dealing with my older half-sister was, is, and probably will be more painful than Mom’s death. I’m in New Hometown in no small part to the conflict between Vicky and me. Our relationship was stormy when Mom was still around and able to play the role of peacemaker, but it became more toxic after Mom became ill and was no longer able to run the house in any way. Vicky got mad when Mom chose me to become the one responsible to pay the bills and do the grocery shopping; I think her mindset was, “Well, I’m the older child, so I should be the decisionmaker here,” but Mom needed someone who could make sure bills were paid in time and that groceries were purchased, laundry washed, and household chores done regularly – and properly. And for good or ill, I was that person.
Vicky helped with my mother’s caregiving, at least as far as the purely medical aspects are concerned. She was, after all, a registered nurse with a specialty in geriatric patients, so she was the one who went with Mom to most of her appointments and talked to the physicians, psychiatrists, therapists, and nurses at Mom’s HMO.
But as far as helping me around the house? Nope. No siree. Her idea of “helping” was to lie down on the bed across from Mom’s and watch TV until it was time for Mom’s late night (10 PM) diaper change, one last blood pressure check, and the giving of a mild sedative to help Mom drift off to sleep.
Other than that, Vicky did not do much. Sometimes she would try to imperiously order me about or get the home health aides to change the layout of the room (which I then would order to be reversed) because she thought Mom would see the TV better from the north or “right side” of the room rather from the south.
I could go on and on with a score of other “why Vicky was more hindrance than help” anecdotes, but I just get angrier and more depressed than I feel already. Suffice it to say that she was passive-aggressive in her efforts to undermine my authority as Mom’s stand-in as head of the household and leave it at that.
As I said earlier, even though there were other reasons why I am here in New Hometown, living under someone else’s roof (financial insecurity being the main one, if truth be told), the estrangement between Vicky and me is the main one.
Well, it’s now well past noon, and the weather has changed (it’s hotter and cloudier) since I started this post, so I’ll just end this long and sorry tale here. Stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.
 It must be said that at this time Mom was not really eating much, even though my half-sister insisted that the home health aide cook meals for her from scratch, as if somehow “homemade” would keep Mom alive. Still, I went to the nearby Winn-Dixie to get the ingredients required for these meals, and of course I’d get food for me as well.
 Literally, “What laziness!” Roughly, it means “How boring!”
 I had bought her a cassette with the songs from Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice’s concept album back in the 1980s for either Mother’s Day, her birthday, or Christmas.
 The caveat is that because Vicky had not yet retired – Metropolitan Hospital of Miami would not close till April 30, 2014 – and was still working the 7 AM – 7 PM shift as a nurse, I was the one who had to call the HMO’s pharmacy and re-order Mom’s prescriptions every month. Moreover, I was the one who had to administer the various pills when Vicky was not on “Mom watch.” By law, the home health aides could not do so. So I did that job, too.