A Huge Loss: Remembering My Mom
Hey there…. To all 3 people who check this page out, I need to apologize for the lack of anything new recently. There’s a reason for it. I’d say it was a good reason, but it’s not good. Not good at all. I haven’t posted anything, haven’t even really felt like posting anything, because my mother has been very ill, and last week passed away.
My mom’s been having health issues, serious health issues, for about 8 years, so her dying can’t be seen as an absolute shock. What was unexpected was how suddenly her body just decided that it had had enough. My folks live in Florida, almost 1500 miles away, so we unfortunately can’t just drop in on them to see how they’re doing. Regular phone calls are how we keep up with them, and not being able to hear my Mom’s voice on the other end of the line is one of the things I’m going to miss most.
Since she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, my mother suffered one insult after another, and she did so bravely and without ever complaining. Not once. Where she got her strength and determination and downright stubbornness I will never know.
She battled the breast cancer and beat it. Things were fine until about 2009 when she started having circulation issues in her leg. Attempts to correct that, including surgery to improve her blood flow, didn’t take and that year she had to have her leg amputated. This understandably had a massive impact on her way of life. She had a prosthetic leg that she wore off and on for a while, but ultimately surrendered herself to the wheelchair. Still, her spirits remained high, at least outwardly.
In spring of 2013, while my family was visiting them in Florida, she suffered a serious stroke. The doctors told us she wasn’t going to survive it, and we all gathered at the hospital to say goodbye to her. The moments I spent with her in her dark, quiet hospital room that night, as she lay unconscious in her bed, were some of the saddest of my life. To my shock, and ultimate joy, I awoke the next morning to the sound of my wife talking to her on the phone. She somehow pulled through her stroke, and though her speech and memory were affected, she was still here. It was a miracle.
The last year and a half since she survived her stroke have been a precious gift, though her health suffered and she was more withdrawn than her ‘normal’ self, she was alive. It was Bonus Time. I made a trip down to Florida in August of last year, and this summer my family and my sisters’ family all traveled down to spend time together. I’m glad we did, because it was the last time we all got to be together with Mom, and the last time she got to see her grandchildren, all five of whom she absolutely adored.
While she survived her stroke, as I mentioned her health never fully recovered. Physically, she suffered from a nasty infection in her intestines which kept her from eating much. The medications she took also made her physically uncomfortable. Her physical decline, coupled with her diminished mental condition, took their toll.
Finally, in September, she went back into the hospital after suffering from more stroke-like symptoms. The doctors determined she was suffering from a major urinary tract infection, symptoms of which can include these strange seizures. She was sent home, but her improvement was short-lived. Tests taken in the hospital indicated a spot on her lung, and more areas of concern in her abdomen. The dreaded cancer was apparently making its return. Given her weakened state, we all feared the worst.Her digestive conditions worsened, and she had basically stopped eating. She went back to the hospital two weeks ago, and her decline accelerated. Her kidneys stopped functioning. Her blood pressure dropped. At some point the doctors and my father made the difficult decision that she was too weak to undergo treatment for these new cancers, even though tests showed that they were growing rapidly.
My sister and I traveled to Florida to spend time with her, and ultimately, to say goodbye to her. She was transferred to a Hospice a week ago, arriving at 9:00 that night. We held her, we kissed her, we talked to her. We told her it was OK to let go. She was suffering so much at this point, the heartbreak was unbearable. If there are angels amongst us, they are the people who work in Hospice. The care and compassion they provide on a daily basis to those at the end of their life journey, and just as importantly to those they are leaving behind, is amazing. Mom was cared for, administered drugs to ease her pain, to, as one of her nurses put it, “to let her body do what it has to do.” To die.
By the next morning, she was gone. Her body was finally free of pain. She looked so incredibly peaceful. For the first time in a long, long time.
Those few hours last Monday night were the hardest of my entire life. Hands down. Nothing else even comes close. In the last week, we’ve cried and cried. But we’ve also laughed and felt relief. Relief at the fact that her suffering is over.
In keeping with what we all felt would be my Mom’s wishes, there was no funeral service. A very nice visitation was held at the funeral home, where her friends and neighbors in Florida gathered to pay their respects, followed by a get-together at their neighborhood clubhouse for drinks and food and celebration. Dare I say a party. Similar events will occur here in Michigan over Thanksgiving, my Mom’s favorite time of the year, to remember and celebrate the beautiful person that was Mom.
I’ve written a lot about my Mom’s health the last few years, but that’s not who my Mom was. Mom was the life of the party. Any party. Every party. How appropriate that she met Dad at a party. And how appropriate that we celebrate her life with one. She had a smile and a laugh that would light up the room, and she had an almost magical ability to turn a complete stranger into a lifelong best friend in under two minutes. I certainly don’t have this ability. My sister does (she’s more like Mom than she probably likes to admit. I joke that Mom was “preincarnated” in her.) but it’s rare. Mom loved nothing more than hearing about how we were doing,, what her grandkids were up to. Growing up, if anyone ever needed assistance, Mom was the first to volunteer to help.
And Mom loved a party. Watching Mom plan and organize a get-together, whether it was a quiet evening with another couple or a massive blowout for 200 people, was like watching Mozart compose, or Picasso paint. Had she wanted, she could have made a fortune as a professional party planner. And she also loved to cook; watching others eat what she had created was what she lived for. It was very difficult the last few years as she slowly lost her ability to be in the kitchen much. But she never lost the ability to have a good time, and she never ever complained to anybody if she wasn’t feeling 100%. And she hasn’t felt 100% for a very long time.
So how do you say goodbye to your Mother? My answer is that you don’t. Because she’s not really gone. Oh sure, her physical being is gone, but she’s still here. I’m not sure about Heaven or the after-life, or whatever happens after the heart stops beating and the brain stops thinking. I’d like to think that our souls go somewhere to spend eternity with our loved ones doing the things we love to do, but to me at least, there’s no way to know with absolute certainty what happens until the lights go out.
But no matter what happens to a person when they physically die, they’re not really gone. And my Mom is most certainly not gone. I can’t talk to her on the phone or give her a hug, or drink a beer with her, and that’s sad and it sucks, but it’s OK. Because she’s still here. She’s in me. She’s in my sister. Not just her genes, but HER. More than anyone, her love and lessons and advice shaped who we are as individuals. And thanks to her I think we turned out pretty damn good. I’m proud of the fact that although she was loved by hundreds, only two people on the planet can call her Mom. As role models go, there were few better.
She’s living on in all five of her beautiful grandchildren, and she’ll live on in THEIR children. She’s in her brother and her sister. She’s in the hearts and memories of every single person she touched with her smile and her caring friendship over her 72 years. She lives on in the lives of the people who loved her. The bottom line is that our memories are really all we have in the end, and I have enough wonderful memories of Mom to last a lifetime. Thanks Mom. For Everything.
I also can’t forget to thank one other person, and that’s my Father. He spent the last several years in a role of caretaker for Mom, with an ever-increasing workload that was really more than one person should’ve been able to handle. But he did it. To quote one of his neighbors, he showed with his tireless care for Mom what it means to be a man. That means I have two parents, two role models, to be proud of and eternally thankful for.
Thanks to you, if there’s anybody still here at this point, for letting me ramble a bit. It’s been a tough week, and there will be tough days ahead, but we’ll get through it. Do me a favor: If your Mom’s still around, give her a hug today. Don’t wait. If she’s not nearby, pick up the phone and give her a call right now. Let her know you’re thinking about her. You won’t ever regret it.
Another thing: If you’re fortunate enough to have some extra cash laying around, won’t you please consider a donation to your local Hospice Care facility, or maybe donate to organizations who are working so hard to rid this world of cancer in its many forms. Thanks.
Below is a link to my Mom’s Florida obituary. Family and friends in Michigan, stay tuned for details on her Celebration coming in November.