The strangest things seem to trigger the most intense reactions in me. I was in Home Depot today trying to find a pot for this vine in our backyard. . .anyway, as I was walking around the nursery department I happened to notice this elderly lady walking with either her care giver or relation of some kind and I overheard her say "boy the sun sure feels good". That is exactly what my mom would say every time I took her out to one of her doctor's appointments. For those not in the know, my mother died three months ago.
The elderly lady's comment just seemed to be the switch I didn't want flipped. It reminded me of all that my mother and I had gone through in the last four years. I was always so busy trying to get her to her appointments, filling her prescriptions, drawing her needles and taking care of her finances that I never really thought about why she always said that. You see, my mother spent that last five years of her life confined to a wheelchair. The only times she left her apartment and felt the sun on her face was when I took her out to see one of her three doctors.
It is funny how we busy ourselves so much with obligation that we neglect to consider the everyday words of those around us.
Anyway, what started out as an innocent home improvement quest turned into a downward spiral that has manifested itself in this post. I got to my car and melted down. It all started rushing over me again. The guilt, the depression, the anger at myself for feeling relief at her death, and the pain of her absence.
The last few years of my mom's life was one nightmare after another. She had diabetes, a heart condition that required a triple bypass several years ago. She was legally blind, suffered from crippling arthritis as well as kidney failure. And for the last four years of her life I tried to be her voice of sanity amidst the madness. As her health got worse I was sure that she would recieve better care in a facility of some kind. This was a hard conclusion to arrive at. Italian people aren't supposed to put their elderly mothers in a home.
Anyway, she wouldn't hear of it. She insisted on living with my verbally abusive and mentally unstable brother because he would take care of her. So I always had to monitor his violent out bursts and take his calls at 2 a.m. about how I wasn't doing enough to help mom and how I'd better get out there and do something. Even though I was there every week. He always demanded. He would call me in my classroom, yelling that my mother needed me and I'd better come because he was tired of it. Never understanding the concept of my working and having to care for a family for he hasn't worked since Reagan was president and is divorced. On some level he needed her money and support. She need him to make her the focus of his life, because I could'nt. Don't ask me how bad that makes you feel, I still can't articulate it.
Twice I had her convinced to leave and get care in a more quiet environment. Twice she backed out. It was fear and I know that. But it still rips your spirit to shreds. And everytime I was there I could not wait to leave. Her living situation was hell and I could'nt get her to see that. It haunted me. What kind of son was I? After a while my doctor prescribed sleeping pills to offer at least six hours of peace at night.
In October the dementia set in. So she was no longer able to self medicate or use the bathroom on her own. Then came the diapers and the occasional violent outburst. Two months later her kidneys went into complete failure. Oh yeah, and at the same time Lori-Ann was having difficulties with the pregnancy and was put on bed rest. How thin can you spread yourself? I tried. Something always suffers as a result.
Back to the story. After October, my mom spent more time in a hospital than she did at home and her dementia got worse. In December she was admitted again to the hospital. At that point she was hooked up to a dialysis machine and never came home. Because she was so exhausted from dialysis all the time(I know because I made myself sit with her through one of her treatments so I could know the depth of her suffering), and because of the dementia, she stopped eating. My brother, who by the way had power of attorney, refused to put her on a feeding tube. He insisted that I take turns with him coming everyday to feed her. Between work, the 40 minute commute, family and a bed ridden pregnant wife it didn't seem possible. He couldn't believe I would let my mom die because I had other obligations, so he did it. He went there three times a day and fed her. He kept her alive. I didn't.
"Sorry mom, I can't save your life, I have to go to work today".
Even the sleeping pills didn't help after a while.
Lori-Ann had the baby 4 weeks early and that provided a momentary, joyful distraction. But mom was getting worse. We decided when the baby was three weeks old that we would defy doctors orders and bring the baby to meet my mom in her hospital room. The last few months she had been saying the only thing keeping her fighting was the thought of her meeting her last grandchild.
We came. She held him. She touched him and commented on how small he was. She smelled that special smell that only newborn babies radiate.
Five days later she died.
She died on my wife's original due date.
The night she died I was on my way to visit her and feed her dinner. I got stuck in traffic on one of our many congested 'freeways' here in SoCal. I got there at 7 p.m. she had died at 6:30. I was the first one there and first to see the body. Incidentally, I was the first to discover my father's dead body 14 years ago. I hope this is not a lifelong trend developing.
I knelt at her bed, insane with grief. And mad. Mad at myself for not being there when she really needed me. She was always afraid of dying alone. I had let her down again.
Her nightmare was over. My nightmare was over. I was in disbelief. How dare I feel relief about that?
I couldn't believe it was over.
Two days later I drove out to the site where she was cremated. I watched the operators at the crematorium put the box she was in, into the furnace. Macabre? Perhaps. I was hoping for closure, better luck tomorrow. I'm still processing as you can see by the length of this little diatribe.
I can honestly say that in four years, there was not a day that I didn't worry about her. Whether it was her health or her living situation, I would worry. I was on my knees every morning the better part of those four years literally crying out to God "What am I supposed to do?". Silence.
Only God can speak in what we percieve as silence. During those four years my relationship with God grew stronger than it ever was. He sustained me and gave me the ability to continue doing the only thing I could do, serve Him in the faith of knowing that He was in control. He truly is my rock, my strength. My mother's faith became stronger. I read her scripture in the last few months that seemed to minister to her even in her circumstances. God was being glorified and I couldn't even see it because of my circumstances.
My mom is in her real home now. The wheelchair that once restricted her movement has been cast aside. The eyes that failed her now see the glory that is God. And she knows peace. Something that I, try as I might, could never give her. Only God could.
Peace and good health to all.