I lost my Mom last month. I was asked by many if it was expected or not. I always found myself stopping, pausing thinking about that one.
My Mom had me when she was young, 22, and then married. Almost two years later she had my sister and was raising two kids while my Dad worked at the VA Administration. It was the time of the Vietnam War and I hardly knew it was going on. I would walk the halls at the VA and see a room called “agent orange” and had no idea what that was. It was the 70s and when I think about those times it is scary. My parents didn’t have guides or instructions. This was a time when you drove in the front seat of the car without belts. You ate food high in sugar all the time. The idea of spanking kids was normal in schools. Years later when I was almost 8 years old my parents left me in-charge to babysit my brother and sister. 8! I remember at that age being scared to be left alone. What if someone tried to break in? What would I do? What was the plan? I slept with my tennis racket by my bed till I was about 17 years old just in case. It wasn’t until I was 19 that I learned how to make food from scratch. “What do you mean mashed potatoes don’t come from a box?”
My entire life was spent watching out for my Mom. Parents fighting and cops or first responders coming was quite the norm. I was looking over her belongings recently from her time as a teen. I looked at her yearbook, comments and wondered what happened to that girl. She didn’t have parents herself to guide her and too see what raising a family is like. How to be a loving person. She didn’t have family encouraging her to be anything she wanted. I found some flyers in her things she must have picked up at a job fair. Late 60’s and she was looking at flight attendant or the Navy. The navy flyer was addressed to the ladies. Do do desk work and wear lots of lipstick and call it ‘serving your country’. That was it for her options as I woman I guess during that time.
She found refuge in alcohol and prescription drugs and being “high” all the time made her both physically and verbally abusive to her kids. One time she was driving us while drunk and she hit someone and knocked herself out. They thought it was their fault and yet instead of any of them getting the police, they drove us home. I sat in the back and placed a cold key at her neck to keep her up. I was 9 years old.
Till her last moments she never overcame the pain pill addiction. Without going into a lot of the details though, her health problems have been mounting for the past 9 years. Before this though she managed to live on her own and had decided to move up to Harrisburg, PA; over 2.5 hours away from me. One time back around 2004 she had fallen and the neighbor had figured out how to reach me to let me know. All she could tell me was she was taken in an ambulance the day before. I called every hospital in that area. Even one I called said “We are a mental hospital.” I said “Yeah – check anyway”. When I finally found her she was in Hershey hospital and was treated for a broken wrist but they were holding her longer because they suspected something else was wrong. She was diagnosed bipolar; which she probably was all her life. Her life of doctors and therapists and never once was this a conclusion. She returned home and battled broken wrist, trying to figure out medications, and most of the time taking the wrong ones at the wrong times. 9 years ago though she got a bigger blow. Her kidneys were failing and she had to start dialysis. Still smoking and eating a poor diet, she would go three times a week. Then her colon exploded and had an emergency colonoscopy. Going home she couldn’t manage on her own and she found a nursing home that was supposed to be temporary but they called me and said “she can’t take care of herself”. So I started handling her things as her POA. Sold off her things, cleaned out her home, got her set up at the home.
Finally this summer it got so bad that she decided to start hospice and stop with kidney dialysis. She couldn’t even sit up on her own. She was down too 80 pounds. Still it took a month from that choice for her to pass. She couldn’t swallow or eat and just withered away to skin and bones. The person I knew and remembered looked so different. Was frail and hurting. Still in her last couple of weeks I sat with her and we played songs. My sister and I just kept thinking of songs from our past and Mom knew all the words. I knew that this was such an important moment because instead of hating things in the past, we just sat and remembered the good. It was time to let all that go. The people at Hospice and the Home were so helpful. A guitar player came to play for her and he called me one night just to ask about her favorite songs. “I started crying. I think what you are doing is just amazing” I said. A Chaplin called me and I finally got someone to offer her a communion which was important to her. In her final hours my sister, brother and I got to her. Sitting with her was a volunteer. A stranger who goes to the bedsides of those passing to sit and be there so they aren’t alone. All I could say is “Wow”. There are angels here walking around us all the time doing good deeds but you have to look for it because it doesn’t make the news.
I came to grips with the fact that my Parents were kids themselves without much guidance and they made mistakes; like all of us do. They didn’t know how to be there for me because they didn’t love or like themselves. My Mom had her own way of trying though. There are memories of her and I dancing in the living room to musicals. Her taking me to shows, art galleries and making sure I had my own library card so I could read as much as I wanted. I think my Mom wanted to do so much more in her life but never did. Maybe she had regret for having kids so young.
My Mom’s last wish is to be placed with my Dad at Arlington Cemetery and we are waiting to have that scheduled there. With that private ceremony I hope to place a letter to my parents where I will just forgive and say “good-bye”. Right now her remains are here with me and I have her by the TV – one of her favorite things to do- watch TV. My Mom didn’t leave her kids an estate. I didn’t get to inherit anything. In the end my siblings and I are sharing the final costs of my Mom burial. Still I know Karma has provided me so much from my community of love and support.
During my loss so many people showed up for me and I’m forever thankful. When you are grieving it is a lot to feel and deal with so asking for help is not easy – at least not for me. So many people just showed up. Put food at my door. Flowers. Cards. Would grab me and hold me in a log hug. Would just call me to say “You are in my thoughts. Remember Your Mom knew you were a good loving person. She was proud of you”.
This is true. Although she never showed up to my events, she was always proud. In the end she was so happy that I was helping others who were addicted or dealing with injury. I could help others but never get her to see that mild movement will slowly help with the pain and discomfort. She would try PT but in the end get the nurses to give her medication.
Knowing isn’t enough though. Why some overcome addiction and others don’t, I may never know. It isn’t as easy as declaring it is a choice. There is a lot of hard work and commitment but still I think science has a lot to understand with the mind and its power. Still I hope and won’t give up trying to help those I can and be there to offer support to those still trying.