I have probably written hundreds of blogs for DK and several of them have been about my mom. Some of you have followed my mom on her journey to get to a Neil Diamond concert, her stealing a chair right out from under Vern, her reading of romance novels, the day she had to go on Viagra for her heart, her obsession with drinking coffee, and one or two hospital stays. I know my mom has nothing to do with Doodles, but she always provided me with excellent material and it was fun to share it here on DK. It has taken me forever to write this blog, because I don’t want the stories to end, but as we all know, every good story has to come to an end sometime. My mom’s story ended on 1/17/17. She was 90 years old. This blog has nothing to do with dogs and everything to do with dying, so I won’t hold it against anyone who chooses to move on down the page, but writing is cathartic to me and I need to get this down on paper. I started this blog when my mom went on Hospice.
Two years ago in October my mom had a stroke. Up until that time, she lived in Senior Independent Living, drove a car, went to weekly hair and nail appointments, played Bridge in a club, loved to play Wii bowling and even took part in tournaments, and lived a pretty active lifestyle. From time to time, my middle sister would wonder out loud if mom should be driving at age 88, but short of finding out mom was knocking off pedestrians up at the local Kroger when she backed out of a parking spot, I was not taking mom’s car away from her. She was a cautious driver and told me more than once that she always thought of me when she had to drive slowly in the left lane for one reason or another. She knew if I were behind her I would have been the one yelling, “Move over, grandma!” as I went around her in a huff.
After the stroke mom went to rehab and I won’t bore you with all the details, other than to say we hoped she could live in the Assisted Living part of her facility, but because of what she was and wasn’t able to do, ended up having to go to the 24 Hour Care Facility. Basically, she had lost the use of her entire left side and it wasn’t coming back. For an independent, impatient, person who hated staying home and had to get out and do something every day, this was the worst thing that could have happened to her and her mantra became “I want to die!” She said it often and loudly. I don’t know if when you have a major upheaval in your life you go through something similar to the five stages of grief, but I can tell you she hit the anger and depression steps pretty hard.
Saying “I want to die” to other people is never a good idea, because normally other people have a strong desire to live and want to talk you into wanting that for yourself, too. Her heart doctor, who my mom hated because he replaced the heart doctor she loved and he was a pompous ass (her words), told her she needed to find a support group for people just like herself and that would make her feel better. I was at that appointment with her and he suggested I do the legwork of rounding up these people and I thought about saying, “so, I should be looking for cranky old ladies who say they are going to slap the next person who tells them to look on the bright side?” He then went on to tell my mom that he was going through a divorce and his three kids hated him and all my mom said was, “well, you don’t have it as bad as me.” I am sorry to say I laughed out loud at that one, because no one was ever going to be able to top my mom, in her mind, with who had it worse.
My mom was also very angry with God for doing this to her. She told me all the time she talked to him daily and he didn’t answer her prayers and once I said, “mom, maybe he did answer your prayers, because I moved back here closer to you,” and I think she said and not all that enthusiastically, “yeah, I guess.” I called some days to tell her I would be there on Thursday and she would sometimes say, “make sure you call first in case I’ve died,’ and I always said, “fingers crossed here,” which made her laugh.
It was so hard not to get irritated with my mom in the beginning because it felt like all she was doing was complaining and not trying hard enough to get better. She would counter with we didn’t know how hard it was for her. I have to give my sister, Vicki, a lot of credit because while my other sister and I lived 600 miles away she was in the same town and dealing with everything face to face. Until I moved to Michigan and only a couple of hours from mom, I didn’t realize how much easier it was to be the daughter at the end of a phone line and not the one dealing with her face to face. I know now, because her need to control what was left of her universe could be frustrating and irritating to the people around her. I guess when you are mad at the world for your circumstances; it is easier to let a daughter have it occasionally than calling out the universe.
It could be something as simple as homemade cookies. She hated the food where she lived, so I tried to occasionally bring her some goodies. Unfortunately, she was very particular about the presentation and changed her mind from day to day how she wanted them given to her. I have been told to bag a couple in small baggies and then I got in trouble at Christmas time because I bagged the cookies instead of putting them in a tin like I did last Christmas. And if you pointed out that the tin was hard to open and she had requested baggies before, she would say something like, “Don’t get all huffy.” Another time, I was told to take what I brought home because I brought too much and she didn’t have room for it. It was a couple of slices of banana bread. My sister and I both laughed when she said she didn’t eat a lot of snacks, because for a while there, we felt like Crack dealers keeping her in her supply of Milky Ways, Three Musketeer Bars, and Peppermint patties. I did like to say, “What day was that?” to her “not eating a lot of snacks” comment, just to keep her on her toes.
The last time I poured her a cup of coffee, she told me the cup was too heavy and I got the feeling that was somehow my fault. The same with her iced water they brought her daily. It could only be filled half full and since she was the only one who knew where the invisible line was on her cup, there was no possible way another human being could get it right. She played the stroke card every time anyone tried to point out that her demands were getting a teensy bit annoying and almost always said, “you don’t know how hard I have it,” or “why won’t the Lord take me?” I always commiserated with her on her first comment, but varied my response to the second by saying, “there is a reason they call it heaven,” or “that’s the question on the tip of all of our tongues.” That usually got a laugh.
Humor is how I survive and it is how my relationship with my mother has survived. Through the years my mom and I have had some contentious times, but humor could almost always see me through to a better place. I could make her laugh and the more outrageous the comment, the better. When she could still drive and our kids were younger, from time to time we would revisit the idea of getting a cat. My mom loved to offer her advice and would tell me if I got a cat she was never visiting again. I would always hold the phone receiver a bit back from my mouth, and scream, “Kids, get in the car NOW! We are going to get a cat.” At the Christmas party this year, mom had on a new jacket and when I complimented her on it, she said, “Oh, this is my funeral outfit, but since I never seem to die, I thought I would wear it tonight!” For the rest of the night, whenever anyone told her how nice she looked, we did not miss an opportunity to tell him or her it was her funeral outfit. When the social worker came by we told her all about the jacket and while she was standing there thinking how best to respond, I added, “we are a little angry with her for wearing it tonight, because if she goes tomorrow, we are going to have to get that jacket dry cleaned.” Even though mom was already starting to go downhill, she laughed, and laughed harder when the social worker said she had no words.
Mom had the nicest Vicar visit her occasionally and sometimes I was there when he visited. He was young, red headed, soft-spoken, and very kind. He would bring his children to see her sometimes on weekends and mom got the biggest kick out of the fact that his one boy was named Norman. One day when he came, mom started talking about how she wished she could come to my house some day. We both knew that the possibility of that ever happening were slim to none, because by that time mom could no longer stand on her own and had to be lifted in and out of her wheelchair with a lift device. The logistics were just too much to think about at the time. Well, I chimed in that there would just be no way to get her in and out of my house and while the Vicar was trying to think of something uplifting to say, I added, “and it is just going to be a lot of work for me to keep running food out to her in the car.” He stood there, dumbfounded, until my mom burst out laughing and said, “see how my family treats me!”
And in case you think I get off scot free with all my teasing, I have a daughter who picks up with me where I left off with my mother. Just the other day, I was reading something to her someone posted on FB about how to avoid getting raped and I made the mistake of saying the article said rapists look for people they can move to another location. Well, just like that, it caused her to burst out laughing and she said, “I think it is fairly safe to say no one is going to want to move you anywhere!” Of course, I laughed, just like my mom always did, and encouraged this behavior to go on for another generation.
The funny thing was when we finally told mom she was going to go on Hospice; we expected her reaction to be far different. I thought she would throw a party, but instead she acted worried. She kept saying things like, “what’s going to happen now?” and when the Hospice worker came for her interview, my sister and I got the impression she thought we were putting her to sleep that day. We worried they might not accept her into the program because she really didn’t seem all that sick, other than she kept gaining fluid weight. Then she started saying she didn’t want to die and when we asked what brought on the change of heart, she said she had enjoyed watching the World Series. It had nothing to do with family, this change of heart, but the fact that she loved the Cleveland Indians.
Which brings us to January and the end of the story. We had a great Christmas. All her girls were home for Christmas and we celebrated at her place with lots of the Christmas cookies she taught us to make. She got to see Archer, who she loved dearly. We all knew mom was going downhill and when she said she was no longer going to go down and have her hair fixed, we knew something serious was happening. Shortly after that she said they were forcing her to eat and she just stopped wanting food. She was still spunky though and we had two nurses tell us she stuffed half a sandwich in her mouth and said, “There, are you happy now?” when they kept telling her she had to eat something.
Pretty soon after that she stopped eating altogether and for a mom who ended every event with a treat, it was hard to comprehend or watch. She drank only a little water here and there, but she was a tough cookie, and lasted two weeks. Mom would have been thrilled at the end to see how thin she looked. Her weight was a lifelong struggle for her and she had more than a fair amount of vanity. I often thought if mom had been granted one wish for all mankind, it would not have been for world peace, but rather that she could shop in the petite department at Macy's. At the viewing, my sister said we should have left all her size tags show and I thought we should have had a weigh in like they did on The Biggest Loser and posted that number right next to her.
They tell you the hearing is the last to go, but every time I asked mom if she wanted me to play a Neil Diamond or Alan Jackson CD, she said no. She didn’t seem to want any noise or commotion at the end. My middle sister came home and insisted on singing to her. I told her later, I thought that was what pushed mom over the edge finally and she must have said to herself, “I can’t listen to this crap anymore!” It was either that or the hymns she played over and over again until I finally said, “mom must think she is already at the pearly gates with this music!” I like to think if hearing is the last to go, my mom was laughing when she heard that line. Maybe mom also decided if she couldn’t be there in person to see Neil or Alan in concert, she wasn’t going to settle with a CD. She had settled enough in the years since her stroke. I wrote her Eulogy and a fire alarm went off in the middle of me reading it, which we all felt was mom’s doing. I ended by saying I thought somewhere in the world, right before mom died, a world class coffee Barista must have preceded her in death, and God thought the time was right to bring her home. After all, if she couldn’t get a good cup of coffee it wouldn’t be Heaven for her.
Christmas Party, 2016