I woke with a jolt — one of those soldier-coming-awake-in-a-foxhole snaps from dream sleep to full awake without a step between.

The house was quiet and dark. 

I hauled my tired self out of bed and walked down one hall and then the next hall and yet another hall until I came to Mama’s bedroom, flipped on the light and looked at her bed. Which was neatly made up and empty.

Panic is the word, but it’s inadequate. Think baby-missing-from-the-crib-in-a-silent-house, think every nightmare of bungled love and responsibility pounding straight down with one slam.

I ran through the house, yelling for her.


Then, I noticed that the pillows on the sofa were laid out flat in a row that went from one armrest straight across to the other. I walked to the sofa. Lifted a pillow.

She was lying there, fully dressed and sleeping. Her white hair was streaked red with blood, her pants and shirt had huge spots of blood. It was bright red; fresh, newly-bled.

It didn’t take long to trace the blood back to Mama’s bathroom. The tub was smeared with blood. Her bath chair was tossed in the floor. And the ceramic soap dish that’s attacked to the wall was broken, the pieces lying in the floor of the tub with the blood.

The question I didn’t even consider in all this was what the Tom Fool was she doing in the bathtub in the middle of the night? I knew why she was in her clothes and her bed was made. She gets up and puts on her clothes and makes her bed in the middle of the night almost every night. It’s part of the dementia. But the question of what she was doing in the bathtub had to wait.

I got my husband out of bed, just because I was upset and I wanted him near me. Then, I called hospice. The on-call nurse on Mama’s hospice team was with another patient, so they sent a different nurse who had to come quite a distance to get to our house. We waited. And while we waited, I cried. Hubby decided to go to a nearby bakery and get fresh bagels. I called my oldest son, who came over to hold my hand.

When the nurse got there, she decided that Mama needed a trip to the ER to check her out. We called an ambulance. And waited. They got there and the hospice nurse (God bless her) took over. She went in the ambulance with Mama to the ER, which gave me time to get dressed and grab some breakfast.

They looked at Mama at the ER, and discovered that she was, considering everything, in pretty decent shape. 

Time to bring her home. Since her clothes were bloody, they gave her scrubs to wear, which she didn’t like much — she’s quite the 90-year-old fashion plate, constantly changing clothes and getting spiffed — but what’s a girl to do? It was scrubs or nothing.

I wanted to buy her an ice cream cone when I was bringing her home, but the line was too long for drive-through and I didn’t dare leave her alone in the car while I went in. So, instead of driving through, we drove by. Even though I promised her plenty of ice cream when we got home, she was still miffed. 

We had the usual argument about her lying down for a nap. She wanted me to take her to her “job” (adult day care) so she could “earn some money.” I explained that she has plenty of sick leave and that she would not lose her “job.” She was not at all happy about the prospect of eating ice cream in her bed while watching football on her TV. She wanted to go gamboling. But what can I say? These days, I’m her real boss.

She solved the mystery of what she was doing in the bathtub in the middle of the night while I was moving her hospital bed up and down until I found the angle for sitting up that she thought was just right. She doesn’t remember hitting her head or going to the living room. But she did comment that she was “using the bathroom.”

In other words, she was trying to use the tub for a toilet and fell in. That explains why her bath chair was in the floor. She threw it there.

It also explains why I don’t know what to do anymore when it comes to taking care of her. I know your response to the tub for a toilet story was ewwwwww. Mine would have been too, once upon a time. But when you’ve changed enough adult diapers and cleaned up enough middle of the night “mistakes” — the most dreaded words in my world right now are Mama saying, “I made a mistake.” — when you’ve been going down the diaper-changing, “mistake”-cleaning-up road for awhile, news that your mother bashed her head and got blood all over everywhere because she was trying to use the tub for a toilet just rolls right off you. It’s all in a regular day with dementia.

I’m sharing this with you for a couple of reasons. First, I want to sing the praises of those heroes and heroines who make adult day care and hospice a realty. Their work is just as pro-life and just as hard as the work done in crisis pregnancy centers. Any elected official who tries to cut funding for these programs and who claims to be pro-life is a liar. If I can think of a way to say it more bluntly than that, I will. But for now, I go with liar.

Second, I want to underscore the fact that pro-life is love. The reason I can shrug off emptying Mama’s porta-potty, and change her diapers and, yes, shampoo the carpet in her bedroom (use your imagination) is love. I could force myself to do it in a mean-spirited and hateful way without love. But shrugging it off and even laughing about it — some of this stuff does get to be funny — is love.

Third, living pro-life is not easy. It’s a blessing and like all blessings that come from God, it asks a lot of the blessed. Do you know what I did this morning while I was waiting for the nurse? I cried my eyes out. And then, I sat down with my rosary and prayed.

I never really thought about the fact that Our Lady had to watch her parents die, that she and Jesus had to see Joseph home. But this morning those thoughts came into my mind like a salve on the raw spots of caring for Mama in this time.

I offered up my misery — and it was a miserable morning — for the souls in purgatory. I have a whole list of people I pray for almost every day. This list comprises everyone I know who has died, including several people I didn’t like at all when they were alive. I pray for them, and then I place the prayers and whatever happens to me during the day in Our Mother’s hands.

A few weeks ago, I told Our Lady that my Mama is now my baby and the she was going to have to be my Mama from now on. That made me think of Pope St. John Paul II. He lost his mother when he was so young. I don’t know this, but I imagine that he turned to the mother of Christ for the mothering he needed in his life.

Living pro-life is not easy. But euthanasia, abortion and all the other tragic concessions we make to our indifference and hardness of heart are far more difficult. Can you imagine the darkness and inner death of those who support such things? How sad and lost they are.

This morning was a miserable, terrible, horrible, no-good, rotten morning. It made me break down in tears, and drove me to feeling totally crazy for a while. Now, I’m dealing with rambling Mama who doesn’t want to rest from her injuries but who, like a puppy who’s had surgery, doesn’t seem to remember that she’s a bit gimpy.

It’s not easy. I do not know how much longer I can keep Mama at home. We’ve been trying to figure out a way to keep her safe and at home ever since I brought her back from the hospital. Which leads me to another part of the pain involved in living pro-life: The decisions you have to make.

I will be there beside Mama to the end, and then I will pray for her every day until I go myself.

That, my friends, is what pro-life looks life in trenches.