Archive for the ‘Losing Mom’ Category

ImageWhen I was a little kid I used to think for certain that because I was so young when my father died some karmic balancing mechanism would be activated and my mom would stay healthy and live for a very very long time.  It seemed only fair to the small, innocent me, the me who was deathly afraid of losing the one true parent I had left (since my so-called step-father didn’t count), the me who would lie awake at night trying desperately not to imagine all the things that could happen to my mom.  Horrible, terrible thoughts flew through my brain.  I could not keep them out no matter how I tried.  I vividly pictured car accidents and falls in the shower, poisonings and even my “step-father” murdering her with some kind of carpentry tool from the basement shop, like an awl or a ball-peen hammer or a hacksaw.  It was very alarming for these images to creep through and invade my thoughts because at an early age I had begun to study Eastern philosophies, begun to grasp the idea that thought is energy and that maybe what we think in our minds is what we are asking the universe to manifest in reality.  I used to actually have to shake my head to get rid of the horrible images and force myself to think happy thoughts.

Thankfully, none of my horrible thoughts about all the ways my mother could suddenly be snatched away from me ever came true.  There were a few close calls, like the big eastern seaboard blackout of 1965, when my mom was miles away from home as the lights went out and she had to drive through streets that had no traffic lights and she said another car missed wiping her out by a fraction of a second.  I was supposed to be doing my 2nd grade homework by candlelight but I heard her nervously relating the details to my older sister.  Or the time when her idiot ex-husband (the ink had just dried on the divorce papers) came at her with a screwdriver because she had returned to the house we once all shared to gather some things that the movers had left behind.

No, my mom lived to see me graduate from college in 1980, dance at my middle sister’s wedding in 1982 and play with her first two grandchildren through the late 80’s and into the 90’s.  Once she made it past age 65 I thought she was home free and would live another 20 or maybe even 25 years.  But when she was 69 she asked me if I would drive her to and from the hospital for a test her doctor wanted her to get, a test from which she would not be allowed to drive herself home.  A colonoscopy.

She wound up having three surgeries for colon cancer over the next few years.  The first was a resection and the doctor was confident that he got it all and said she’d be fine.  And she did do pretty well for about a year, managing to keep up her beautiful, glamorous appearance for a long time.  She bought herself a sporty black Acura Integra with some money that her wealthy, childless sister had left her and I deluded myself into thinking that she was out of the woods.

The next surgery didn’t go as well.  She needed a colostomy and that was the end of her self-esteem, the end of her fight.  She became depressed, gained weight and decided death would be a better fate than having to use a colostomy bag for the rest of her life.  So the third operation was unnecessary, really, because once they got her open they found her body riddled with “buttons” of cancer and closed her right up again.  She was 72 and the doctor told her she had a few more months, perhaps, but there was nothing else anyone could do.

At this point she was living with my oldest sister in eastern Long Island.  I drove out from Brooklyn whenever I could, just to keep her company, but she had shut down already.  She had been missing my father for 38 years and told us over and over that she was ready to be reunited with him.  She was certain he would be waiting for her.

It was a tough few months.  The final week, though, was easier than all the weeks previous because we knew it was really the end.  She was unconscious for most of it, in a hospital bed we had rented for her bedroom and aided by hospice care nurses who came every day to help us bathe her and change her sheets.  We took turns sitting with her, holding her hand, talking to her, singing to her, putting the phone to her ear so her remaining sisters could tell her they loved her.  One of her sisters, her youngest and the only one still alive today, came up from Florida to wait with us, her grateful nieces.  She told us wonderful stories about our mom and dad and about how everyone thought theirs was such a beautiful romance.

One story, which we had already heard many times but whose retelling seemed appropriate at the moment, was about how once my dad left Brooklyn, where they had been living, for the “war” in Korea, he left seven hand-written letters addressed to my mom with another of her younger sisters because he knew at one point he would be out of touch for a week.  He gave my aunt precise instructions on when to put the first one, already cancelled, in the mailbox early in the morning and then to continue sneaking, in order, the other six into the box, one per day, until they were all gone.  My aunt took her assignment very seriously and followed his instructions carefully so that once my dad had been gone for a few days and the real letters stopped arriving, the first of the bogus letters was there right on time and my mom never knew the difference.  Seven of them were secretly placed into the mailbox by my aunt and seven of them were found by my eager mother each morning.  As planned, once the dummy letters had run out, the real letters started showing up again and so the communication from Korea to Brooklyn appeared seamless to my mom.  That’s how much my dad loved his wife, her younger sister told us.

On April 23rd, 1998, in the early afternoon, as I was holding her left hand in both of mine and her other two daughters, her sister and two old family friends stood around her bed, my mother took her last breath and gave in to it and went to be with the man she loved and missed so dearly.  It was bittersweet.  She was miserable and in pain and needed to go but not a day goes by still, all these years later, that I don’t miss her and wish that she could have lived long enough to see the three beautiful granddaughters she never could have imagined she’d have after she was gone.

I know she sees them and watches over them, but I would so love for them to have known her.  I would love to have seen the delight on her face when I handed little baby Bea to her and then four years later let her try to hold both twins at once.  She would have loved them so much!  And they would have adored her.  At least once a week they ask me to tell them a story about Grandma Anne.  Their favorite is the one about how I hid behind a wing chair when I was about 9 and kept removing and replacing the plug to the vacuum cleaner as she was trying to vacuum the dining room.  It was driving her crazy that the machine kept turning off and on, off and on and she only discovered it was my doing when I could no longer keep myself from laughing hysterically and giving away my hiding place.  The girls could listen to that story endlessly, they love it so much.  They especially love how, at the end, I always tickle them and tell them not to get any big ideas about trying to trick me like that.  And talk about Karma….  I had, just a few years ago, a Miele vacuum cleaner with a short somewhere along the chord and yes, it constantly turned off and on, off and on.