A last bath

I am immersed in the editing of my next memoir, to be released early in 2024. I’ve been surprised by how much I enjoy the various stages of editing my books. While there is no feeling equal to the initial “can’t stop” crafting of its first draft, I find the thoughtful editing stages deeply satisfying. The hardest part is knowing when its finished. It’s a delicate balance that’s a bit like cooking salmon or rice: it’s sometimes hard to know when enough is enough; to stop at near perfection before being overdone.

As I get closer to finalizing this memoir about Mom, our relationship, and her way in the world, disparate stories bubble within my brain, a bit like cartoon chain thought bubbles. Apple’s prescribed photo pop ups from my i-pad spur others, visual clues often difficult to consolidate with the passage of time. As I soaked in the bathtub the other night, a memory of Mom’s last soak in a tub distracted me from the book I was reading. (Yes, you’ve heard me say the bathtub is a most favorite place to read as long as it’s not a library book.) I tried to remember if this memory was her last one. It took place several years before her death. No, I’m not talking about showers or sponge baths; but a hot soak immersing one’s body so that all we can utter is, “Ah.” That feeling is hard for me to equal: hot water comforts my bones, muscles and spirit.

My first take at blogging about baths was intended to bring a bit of humor into my posts: Tips for reading in the bath (or how to avoid fines and electrocution). Although I posted it three years ago, web analytics inform me that some still find it. Yes, our family is big into hot baths. I’m willing to bet our Dad had a bath the night before he collapsed following his final heart event, his skin lobster red as always.

It must be true, as well, that each generational member of our family has immersed in our outdoor Illahee bathtub. Several decades ago a family member set his sites on putting in a hot tub, even purchasing some of the supplies. When his young life ended tragically others let that dream fade away. Instead, our family continued to soak in our low-tech option: an old tub hauled on the deck and outfitted with two hoses, each one connected to a cold and hot water spigot. After a decade or two, we rebuilt our deck to enclose the tub with hoses connected to a newly added tub faucet. This became a coveted spot after cousins and their parents frolicked in the cold Pacific waters, or late at night under a moon and stars. Although Mom seemed to be the one taking most of the Illahee tub pictures we retain today, I know she adored her outdoor evening soaks in solitude during her times at Illahee.

Not long ago I visited friends who recently completed building a new house. When I toured the house and bathroom, we chatted about the tub and how a claw tub might have been more aesthetically pleasing than the tub they ended up putting in. I said I thought it was a pragmatic decision for safety reasons, getting older and all, a comment I would never have thought to say when I was 30 or even fifteen years younger. It reminded me how I helped Mom and Dad consider safer choices to prevent falls in their final years. When they moved into their last shared apartment, we talked about how to help Mom be able to safely continue to take baths. Although Dad’s heart failed, he remained muscle bound and strong to the end. He had no problems getting himself out; though a slip or fall can happen when we least expect it. While some might give up baths as a strategy to promote safety; we also have to balance that with our ability to continue to do the things we love most. We looked into interventions that might make it safer. Instead, Dad provided his muscles to help Mom get out of the tub. Once Dad died, and me lacking sufficient strength to drop by and help pull her out of the water, she returned to a shower-only routine. I know that tub baths were one of many things she missed after Dad died.

A few months after Dad died, Mom moved into an assisted living facility around the corner from her apartment. This move I write about in the context of aging in my forthcoming memoir. I don’t write about the secret tub I learned about a few months after Mom moved in. This walk-in tub had been added into the facility for staff and specialists to help residents rehabilitating from injury or illness. The staff, most of who became good friends during Mom’s years living there, said nobody used it anymore. It was too much work, and staff simply didn’t have the time. I asked what it would take for me to be able to help Mom use it. My question was greeted with silence at first followed by a shrug and, “As long as you get the training, I guess.” The “training” consisted of promising to scrub it out before and after use, and understanding how to lock the door before filling with water.

Mom was thrilled; I only a bit nervous I might create a plumbing disaster. I figured out how to keep Mom’s upper body warm by enfolding her in a soft, warm towel, while we waited for the bath to fill, also pre-warming the room by heater. I too learned to bring myself something to read so mom could close her eyes, relax and be in her own thoughts during her soak. I brought down her fuzzy pink bathrobe and she didn’t mind returning down the hall to her apartment after donning it. Yes, I did scrub the tub before and after; I’m a rule-follower most of the time, after all. It shouldn’t surprise me how access to something so simple can bring us such joy, though I do recognize how precious excess hot water is to many globally. (If and when it comes to it, I’ll see if I can trade points for riding my e-bike instead of driving a gasoline-powered car so to continue my hot water habit. Maybe I’ll collect rain or gray water? Hmm.)

Sadly for Mom, not long after the facility made plans to add memory care they gutted the floor with the tub. Not surprisingly, they had no plans to reinstate it. I even searched for facilities that might have walk-in or accommodated hot tubs, knowing as I did that I wouldn’t suggest Mom to move for that single reason.

And now? I think about that last bath of hers. I hope it was perfect. I’d like to think I used special bath salts, but know that I didn’t as it was part of the bath rules I promised to follow. I think of her, head relaxed onto a tucked towel on the back of the tub, eyes closed, arthritic toes and feet rejuvenated in the luxury of hot water, her mind stilled in the warmth. I’m sorry I couldn’t provide that for her other nights, especially in her final year. And yet. In those moments as she soaked, it mattered.

P.S. Dear Kids. Do please help me find a way to take a bath if I need your help someday. Yes, safely. After all, I am a safety professional.

2 thoughts on “A last bath

  1. Hi Dede. I so enjoyed your presentation yesterday. You were so gracious about the technical difficulties. AV is not a strong point here but it is being worked on.

    I’m sorry i forgot to take the books. I had things scheduled at 3:30 and 4:00 so needed to keep going. Please let me know what i can do to retrieve the books. Sorry for the inconvenience. Thank you and Take care.


    Sent from my iPad


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