Roseanne is 92 and under conservatorship. This means that a judge has appointed a conservator who has never met her and knows nothing about her to make all her decisions.
Roseanne outlived all her family and was living contentedly with her cats in a rambling house in the San Fernando Valley until I took her to the doctor to get antibiotics for a bladder infection.
The doctor asked her four questions; “What’s your name? When is your birthday? Where do you live? Who is the president?” Roseanne forgot her birthday and wasn’t sure whether it was George Bush or ‘the other guy,’ so the doctor wrote ‘DEMENTIA’ in her files. Now a conservator has been appointed by the state to make all her decisions for her, and Mandy the social worker, makes sure that the decisions are carried out.
Mandy condemned Roseanne’s house unfit for living so the conservator found a ‘lovely place’ on a quiet street in Van Nuys where, she assured me, Roseanne would be very happy living with 5 other people with dementia. No, sorry, cats aren’t allowed.
Roseanne doesn’t want a conservator or a social worker, she wants to go home. But she isn’t living her life anymore, she’s living the life that the conservator decides is best.
When she lived at home, Roseanne liked to stay up all night painting pictures and slept during the day. She didn’t have a TV and preferred not to wear clothes. She drank lots of coffee and ate mostly pizza and chocolate. Roseanne’s idea of a bath was to stand naked in the sun while I sponged warm water over her. ”Ahhhhh…” she would sigh, face to the sky, arms outstretched, “That’s good. That’s really good.”
The dutiful nurses at the ‘lovely place’ corrected Roseanne’s sleeping pattern with medication so now they can prop her daily in her wheelchair to watch the cooking channel. They kindly force her to eat, force her to get dressed and to stretch her arms waaaay above her head to help the circulation. They force her to breathe oxygen piped into her nose, and to take water forced through a needle into her veins. She gets a bed bath, like it or not.
Ever since she arrived, Roseanne has refused to speak and rarely opens her eyes.
I adore this woman. I love that she neither assists nor resists the desperate shenanigans to keep her life going. Her defiance to contribute anything is her peace. Voluntarily deaf and blind she has closed the curtains to a life which is no longer hers to live and is doing what all earthly creatures do… finding a dark, quiet, place so she can prepare to die.
When she lived at home, I would visit twice a week and we would sit on rickety lawn chairs in the back yard and sip iced coffee and admire the weeds. She would tell me tales of her pioneer grandparents who arrived in North Dakota and spent the first winter in an underground dugout shelter because they arrived too late to build a cabin. She told me about all the dogs she had owned over the years, her life as an artist and how her husband died suddenly of a heart attack at age 40 and she was looking forward to seeing him again.
Now when I visit the ‘lovely place’ I pull my chair close to hers and hold her hand. She doesn’t look at me anymore, she is on her way and there is nothing I can do. So I sing to her softly and liquid love slips out of my eyes and gathers in tiny pools at the crease of my nose.
I will love Roseanne to death. I am her Anam Cara. I will be there when the outer breath ceases, and stay there quietly until her inner breath ceases. I will ask the lovely caregivers to leave us alone and I will light a candle and sit vigil as her body relaxes its hold. Then I will bathe her, anoint her body with oil and wrap it in a simple white shroud. I will sing to her and pray for her and gather all her things.
Then I will call the conservator.