Thursday, July 13, 2017

RIP Mom: Why feeling sad is so elusive


I woke up Saturday for the first time in my life without either a Mommy or a Daddy.

I remember thinking I was glad I paid attention when they were teaching me how to tie my shoes.

Mom, 84, died peacefully Friday morning at 8:05. She’d shattered her left wrist in a Sunday evening fall at her apartment. The shock precipitated a cascading raft of maladies that led to respiratory failure involving undetected lung cancer and pneumonia on top of her escalating dementia.

I’d like to thank all those who prayed she’d overcome all her deadly ailments.

I’d especially like to thank those who prayed she wouldn’t.

Her care was exemplary. The first responders transferred her to Latrobe hospital at 7 p.m. Sunday and it only took them five days to finish her off.

I hope you’ll forgive me for deviating from our scripted bereavements.

I know I’m supposed to say I wish they could have done more, that she was still with us, that I’m deep in mourning. And in some ways, I am.

Heck, I haven’t used an exclamation point in seven days.

But, honestly, hers was a very good death and just in the nick of time. She’d been slowly, but steadily and lately dramatically been succumbing to her dementia.

But with our help, she’d been able to live her last seven years on her own and free of all medical intrusions. 

Our fears when they admitted her was how drastically that was about to change.

“Our best guess is she could hang on another six months,” one caregiver said.

I’ll let you imagine just how those six months would have played out.

Instead, it was like she cheerfully surrendered.

We had one very bad night followed by two days of her being alert and feisty enough to make us all smile and laugh. I’ll most remember her in perfect pitch singing songs from “The Sound of Music,” which Josie had cranked on her iPhone.

Then it was two days of watching her sleep, the pulsing vein on her exposed neck growing more and more faint.

My brother Eric was there when she passed. He’d driven solo up from Nashville on  Independence Day and had presciently spent Thursday evening with her in hospice care, the unit to which they’d transferred her the day before.

I called him at 7:50 a.m. He said she’d awoken just once, at 9:45, and tried to get out of bed like she was intent on going on a soulful stroll. Mystics can surmise perhaps she was being beckoned to journey to some other place.

I told him I’d be over in an hour or so.

“Take your time,” he said.

He called back 15 minutes later and said she was gone.

He was alone with her when she died and reported no profound last words.

Lucky for him the situation wasn’t reversed. Had I been alone with her at her passing, I’d have claimed her last words were, “Chris was always my favorite!”

Or maybe, “Bosco!”

I’m grateful for all the kind gestures of so many friends. They uniformly tell me they’re sorry she’s dead.

Me, I’m overjoyed she lived. Truly lived.

She spent part of everyday over the past 84 years either laughing or doing something to make someone else’s life better. She was a true angel long before she became an actual one.

Death is something even basic morons can achieve. But to live and live well in these troubling and divisive times is breathtaking. To laugh, to sing, to exalt, to revel as she did, ah, these are a few of my favorite things.

Understanding these combined factors make it nearly impossible for me to feel sadness usually associated with the passing of a dear loved one.

So, yes, to me it was a very good death.

But an even better life!

That exclamation point felt so, so good.



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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Mom's fallen & may not get back up


I’ve been the primary care giver for my darling 84-year-old mother since 2010 when she first began exhibiting signs of mild dementia. In the last two weeks under my primary care, the old gal’s been diagnosed with lung cancer, pneumonia, severe dementia and osteoporosis after falling in her kitchen and shattering her left wrist.

I think I’ve finally found my calling.

Primary care giver? Murder Inc. has nothing on me.

Oh, that poor woman.

She’s since Sunday evening been in the ICU at Latrobe hospital. She’d spent the day on our porch sipping wine and complaining about needing a nap. I took her to her apartment, settled her into her chair and told her I’d see her Monday.

Unlike many dementia patients, she was still capable of living alone, albeit with our daily visits. She can make coffee, work the microwave and — hallelujah — take care of her intimate personal needs.

It was about 7 p.m. when the neighbor from the floor below heard her fall and called 911 and me.

From my understanding, her dementia is rare in that she’s become even more cheerful than she’s ever been — and she used to make Fred Rogers seem like a sourpuss.

I’ve often said she gave me my sense of humor, which means she gave me everything.

On what was to become her worst night since, I guess, a 1982 double mastectomy, she was joking about needing wine and telling the paramedics the pain was a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10. If there was pain, it was not at all evident. No moaning. No grimace.

When they wheeled her stretcher past the ladies gathered on the porch outside, she responded to their questioned concerns with, “They’re taking me to the hospital. I’m having a baby!”

I wish I could say with certainty she was joking.

The pain didn’t ding an obvious 10 until two hours later when they gruesomely reset the bones. One doctor gently held her wrist, another her fingers, and together they began gingerly tugging in opposite directions. 

I remain surprised she muffled her screams. Had she not, I wonder if I’d have run like a coward out of the room. Instead, I stood at the end of the bed messaging her feet and feeling sure I’d failed her.

We spent the next seven hours in that room with me trying to patiently respond to her deliriums about the location of her purse, her need for Kleenex, why her arm was in an annoying sling and what all these friendly strangers were doing in her bedroom. Every 10 minutes I’d literally have to wrestle this 104-pound grandmother back into the bed to prevent her from getting up to undertake various missions.

It was all so much pain and absurdity.

I’ve read how some children say they felt God’s divine presence in the death room when a loved one passes. After Sunday, I wonder if the presence I’m destined to most feel will be that of the late Moe Howard.

A chest X-ray revealed a lung cancer and pneumonia. She’s rallied from her Sunday evening lows when the doctor described her status as precarious, but an experienced nurse described her as feisty. She pegged her term at six months.

She has a living will and we’re today looking at hospice options. We have maybe three days to decide.

I told an oncologist about how the sudden onslaught of deadly diagnosis made me feel like I’ve failed my mother. He said: “Did you think under your watch she was somehow going to become younger and healthier?”

I guess in these situations we’re all hardwired to feel like failures.

I remember after a round of petty gripes involving having to devote so much free time to her care telling my daughter that if after Mom dies and she sees me crying she’ll know the only reason I’m doing so is because I think someone judgmental might be watching.

Right now, my fear is if I start crying I may never stop.



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