IMG_0547Roseanne 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.


24 thoughts on “Roseanne

  1. So many questions run through my mind mainly what would her death look like if you hadn’t got the dr? How do you feel about the events leading up to her death? How would you have liked them to go?

    1. Yes, so many ‘what ifs’…the most important would have been for her to complete advance directives and perhaps assigned me or her attorney as guardian so that we could make decisions rather than the conservator. I begged the conservator to let her stay with me, her only friend, but she insisted on a licensed facility where she could be ‘properly taken care of.’
      This is no longer the land of the free and the brave it is the land of law and order.

      1. Hi I am knew here, but have emailed you Olivia. I was wondering, how does one go about taking in these precious souls? I found myself in a very similar position in Dec. I wanted to bring a sweet elderly soul home with me, he begged for me to take him home and I wanted to, but I couldn’t. It was very hard for both of us and then I left out of town and he was so upset he tried to leave his bed and died. You can imagine my heart ache as I was called and told this over the phone. Do you know of any way of helping??


        PS. I look forward to meeting you and attending some workshops

        1. Dear Erika, Thank you for your loving concern. It is a difficult situation as there are so many lonely souls who would love a caring companion to shepherd them on their journey home. However, unless you are a family member or have permission from a family member to offer a home and bed to a dying person, it is not possible for legal reasons. These are in place to protect the elderly and sick for good reason. I would suggest you contact your local hospice and become a volunteer, if you are not already. I look forward to meeting you one day and hope that you will join our certificate training program: The Art of Death Midwifery.
          Many blessings,

  2. Oh, Olivia. This is so beautiful. Lovely Roseanne. I will pray for her too, and hope that soon she can be at peace with her cats, and her paintings, and her warm outdoor showers. Love to you for being with her.

  3. Oh Olivia that brought tears to my eyes! Thank you for loving her so completely. I hhope her visions are as beautiful as her paintings. Who is conservator for her cats? What a lesson about advanced directives! Deep Love and prayers for the highest good.

  4. ~We would sit on rickety lawn chairs in the back yard and sip iced coffee and admire the weeds.~

    The whole article – such a gorgeous and painful vignette. You are an angel of the most exquisite kind, Olivia.

  5. Olivia that was so beautiful and so maddening. But when I read that she had a UTI I wanted to make sure you knew that that can exacerbate dementia symptoms. If they had been very mild before they could go back to being mild. Is it possible to reassess now that that’s cured and get her out of that place? Oh i hope so.

  6. For our loved ones we want safety; but for ourselves we want autonomy. Stay atuned to your inner self and should you find yourself acting from this place, check it! It’s an impulse of love but plays out as cruelty.

  7. Wow….tears feel my eyes reading such love in your friendship and at the same time anger for the loss of freedom. So much judgment and fear used to make choices and stepping in to control another’s life because it does not look like the norm (for a 92 year old!). Thank you for sharing this. Sending Roseanne divine light in her heart to set her free and be one with who she is and deserves to be. <3

  8. I know a lady who has gone to court to take people home. She is a CNA and I am sure you have to prove the patient would be well cared for. She said that with permission from a judge, that it is still difficult getting that person out of the “home” they are assigned to.

    1. Yes, I can imagine that proving the person will be well cared for is quite difficult. It is sad though that when a person has no living relatives, he or she cannot be allowed to live with friends who really care for her and have known her for years without a judge’s permission. It’s a sign of the times. sigh.

  9. That is VERY interesting! I live in Fargo, ND. So they had one of the Sod Homes. It was very prevalent here, even my own great-Grandparents had one when they came in 1850. If it wasn’t for the local Sioux tribe here, they would have perished.

  10. This story hit close to home. I wish Roseanne could have stayed home and had you as her guardian/conservator. I am my father’s guardian/conservator but for 8 years he had a court appointed one, who was pretty darn good. He had checked himself into assisted living but was kicked out due to alcoholism and I was not willing to take on the job. Over the years I mended many of my feelings but he is still in assisted living. He would love to be elsewhere. I do not know how to cope with this because he is extremely challenging, difficult and mean and does harm to himself and his surroundings. He is not dear and sweet like Roseanne. I have huge personal challenges with him. Not every person who ends up in Roseanne’s situation can be elsewhere.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear of the challenging situation with your father, it sounds as though the assisted living facility where he is cared for and protected is the safest place for him right now. It is fortunate that we have these resources for our loved-ones when we cannot care for them. Love and prayers to you both.

  11. I’m in labor and postpartum doula training. I’m a Shaman, hypnotherapist and work in past life and transformative coaching. What training is available? This is something sacred …im all in.

    1. Hi Rae,
      We offer a three-level certificate training in The Art of Death Midwifery – There are 2 spots left for the August class if you would like to join us.
      Blessings and love on your journey!

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