Friday, February 26, 2010

Goodbye, Mother

My mother died on Feb 16. Today I feel like I'm sitting in a maze of emptiness, with no concept of time or location.

She was 82 years old, enjoyed good health for most of her life until about 3 years ago when she was diagnosed with end-stage lung disease. She'd had breathing problems for several years, and was always tested for cardiac pathology. We'd celebrate when the angiograms came out clear, having no idea that pulmonary scar tissue was already forming in her lungs.

So, she declined, ever so gradually, but always remembered to call me on Thursday mornings, saying "hi, my girl". Then she started forgetting. One week. Then two weeks in a row. Then the numerous hospital visits started. She lived in a town 70 miles west of Minneapolis, so got to ride in a helicopter more than once. And, finally, the transition to assisted living. She'd say, "I know this is where I need to be" and the tears would roll down her face.

Two weeks ago, the staff suggested she be placed under hospice care. Throughout that day, I wandered around with my stomach in a knot, thinking "this can't be happening". My sister, niece and I had visited her on President's Day, the 15. She was very weak, but asked me to hand her the Valentines she'd gotten in the mail. She loved Valentines - the bigger and more glittery, the better. I remember my niece hugging her goodbye. I remember giving her a kiss on the forehead. I remember silently telling myself that she was just fine.

On Tue, after not having gotten out of bed in several days, she had a surge of energy and wanted to be taken to the game room to play bingo. She stayed for the entire evening. They wheeled her back to her room and she simply stopped breathing.
I got the call and spent the rest of the night sitting on the edge of the bed, staring. My dad has been gone 20 years. And yes, his death was different. At that time I was frightened because I didn't know if I could tolerate the pain of losing him. I guess I thought M's death would be easier. I am indeed glad she is no longer struggling. I'm also glad for myself - not having to jump every time the phone rings. But I still want her to call on Thur morning, telling me how busy she'd been, volunteering at the blood bank and library. Telling me that this was aboslutely the last year she was going to have a garden (well, maybe just a few extra potatoes).

The two of us never talked much about the db. I was in my late teens when diagnosed, and her only reference point was several of my young relatives had died from or were currently suffering from complications. She didn't know how to help me. I don't know what I needed. She'd ask if my testape was still negative and I'd scream back at her. My 20's were very stormy, and I think tne entire family wrote me off as a nutcase. So the silence remained until I required emergency surgery for a detatched retina. She hated the TwinCities - said it made her nervous to be here. When I called and asked if she would come and stay with me, she said "of course." For the entire 7 days that I had to lay on my face to recover, she cleaned. Tidiness is not my forte, but neither am I too slovenly. I was on heavy pain meds and would wake every so often to hear a brush tackling some new surface. "What are you doing, Mom?" ..."Oh, nothing much - do you have an owner's manual for the vacuum cleaner?"

Tonight I will be removing her picture from my family collage frame and putting it on a little table that I have for the ancestors that have passeed - my dad, uncle, and brother. The picture was taken on her 75th birthday, at a little party we had. I got her a corsage, which my sister said was stupid, but M loved it. She said she even wore it to church the next Sunday....."it was a little wilted, but I wanted them to know I got it from you".

Mom, I miss you already. I know you are in a better place. My favorite recent memory will be this past Christmas, when you had on your bright red sweater and were smiling because you family was all together. Rest in peace.