Saturday, April 26, 2008

Two Hospital Visits, 48 Years Apart

48 years ago today, my mother made a visit to a hospital and I was born. She was 32 years old, and I was the 5th out of what would become 6. She was married to a kind man, and had a world full of family, friends and church.

Today, she's back in the hospital, wrinkled, shrunken, and dying. Her husband is a memory almost two decades old, and most of the friends she had are gone. Her children are mostly scattered.

On Monday, she checked into the hospital with severe dehydration brought on by nausea following radiation treatments to relieve pain from bone cancer which had metastasized from breast cancer diagnosed in mid-February. Her kidneys have now shut down, she has developed fluid around her heart and lungs, her adrenal gland is suspect and she has pneumonia. On Thursday, she told me she thought she would be ready to go home and live alone again in a few days. Earlier today, her heart became so irregular that they called my sister to be with her at 3 in the morning, because it appeared she may be dying.

She was born in 1928, a second generation Polack on the north side of St. Louis. She married young, partially to leave a difficult home environment, and she married a handsome veteran of WWII with a sharp intellect, quick wit and gentle kindness. She was social, beautiful and perhaps a little headstrong. Their marriage, at least as it appeared to a child growing up in the small, packed house, was quietly happy - I don't think I ever heard angry words between the two of them.

Her husband, my father, had a massive stroke in 1982 that left him paralyzed and robbed him of his speech, and she was left to care for him until he died in 1990. After that, she kind of blossomed - she took over his seat on the Board of Aldermen in Beverly Hills, Missouri, and became the City Clerk. A yellow dog Democrat, she got involved in the background of County and municipal politics in St. Louis, and traveled with her sister to Ireland, Canada and Hawaii.

A few years ago, the politics turned nasty, and she left our home and bought a small townhouse in O'Fallon, a contemporary suburb of look-alike homes and chain restaurants in strip malls.

She grew up in a world of radio and her father worked on the railroad. She spoke of walking down to the corner bar and bringing her father locally-brewed beer in a pail. She loved to rollerskate and bowl. She hosted card parties and tupperware parties and "kidnap" breakfasts, where the ladies of the parish would show fill their cars with unsuspecting neighbors and "force" them to come over and have breakfast.

She is wired differently than I am or anyone else I know - with an absolute sense of wrong and hardheaded willingness to bear a grudge for years. One daughter-in-law she loves now spent a decade in the doghouse for daring to move to the town her son was living in. She did not attend the wedding of one of her daughters, or even let me know that it had happened, because the groom was a divorced man. Another sister removed herself from the family as a result of clashes with my mother. To this day, she is unable or unwilling to fully accept a granddaughter who went through a difficult period years ago. I do not understand her emotions or the depth of her antipathies, but I've learned to step aside from the full force of her anger. Her personality hearkens back to the an age of blood feuds and intergenerational battles. We, her children, joke that we will find a marked up list among her belongings after she is gone that will reflect her final ranking of her children.

Sometime soon, perhaps today, perhaps 2 weeks from now, almost certainly within a couple months, she will cease her struggles and her only presence on earth will be in the memory of those of us who knew her. When I started this blog almost 5 years ago, I wrote my first post about her and ended it with
Sometimes I feel like such a bad son. I never visit, and my irregular calls are usually multi-tasked with TV or some amusement. We have not really ever been close. But, Friday night, I thought she was beginning the death process. Now I know I have a limited time with her - maybe enough time to change our relationship.
That relationship has changed for the better, and I'm glad of it, though I failed in many respects. I wish my children had known their grandmother better. I wish I had visited more often. I wish I had learned more about her early life, and shared my life with her more freely.

This is not a happy birthday. The woman who created my life is losing her own. She's alert and lucid, and beginning to realize that she's not going to survive. She's not caught up in fear, but she's not unafraid, either. Similarly, I want her to live, but I'm tired of watching her suffer with tubes and monitors all around her.

I'm 48 years old today, and I know I need to say "goodbye" to my mom. And "thank you" - for everything.

Literally everything.



Blogger A Librarian said...

You guys have my number if you need anything. Know that I will be thinking of you.

4/26/2008 5:47 PM  
Blogger meesha.v said...

There is no good comment on this not-so-happy Birthday. Stay strong for your mother.

4/26/2008 6:01 PM  
Blogger Melinda said...

I think it's good that you were able to see your relationship for what it was and change it while you still had time. Don't regret being a bad son. Mothers love us in spite of our flaws (even those hard-headed ones). Beautiful post, and I wish that your birthday could be a happier occasion.

4/26/2008 6:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the one who became number 6, thank you for a beautiful tribute to Mom. I have printed it and will keep it for a very long time.

4/26/2008 6:10 PM  
Blogger Xavier Onassis said...

Wow. This brought tears to my eyes.

Tears of joy, love and regret.

My mother and I have never been close. But I'm her oldest and she is getting close to what your mom is experiencing.

I balance that against the very close relationship I have with my only daughter.

Do I really want the relationship between my mother and I to be the model for the relationship between my daughter and I in my waning years?

What can I do at this late stage to reconcile the two?

I don't know.

4/26/2008 9:46 PM  
Anonymous Nuke said...

A beautifully written post. I hope you are able to enjoy your birthday to some degree. I also wish your mother a quiet uneventful final journey.

4/26/2008 10:35 PM  
Anonymous Doc said...

My sympathies.

4/26/2008 10:55 PM  
Blogger Spyder said...

Beautifully written. I'm so sad for you. I hope you find peace during this trying time of her returning to her Creator.


4/26/2008 11:17 PM  
Anonymous travel said...

Wow, that was one powerful post, Dan, straight from the heart. And, my heart goes out to you and your mother. I hope she goes easy and I hope you find peace too. She may not have been the perfect mother, but she did somehow manage to raise a good son.

4/26/2008 11:53 PM  
Blogger Busplunge said...

Been there, done that, don't want to do it again. You tackled the subject with more honesty than I ever could have. No matter how prepared we think we are for what comes, we never are.
I share your feelings.

4/27/2008 1:20 AM  
Blogger Keith Sader said...

Dan, you can only prepare and wait.
The waiting is the hardest part. You know my waiting story, but this one is yours for now.

Having been through this with my father I have no great words of wisdom to offer, so I shall just wait with you my friend.

Janet's and my thoughts are with you. Your mother has done her darnedest, and that's all anyone can do.

May the peace and joy of all your happy memories comfort you during this time.

4/27/2008 8:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was a tough read. Been there a little over a year ago. I never in a thousand years thought I would celebrate my Mom's passing, but the suffering was unbearable for way too long. My sympathies are with you. Kathy

4/27/2008 9:55 AM  
Anonymous JW said...

Ashes to ashes, we all return to dust. My sympathies.
Thanks for the vivid description of an interesting life. All that remains are the memories, yet they hold all the answers. As long as you tend the flame, the fire will never go out. Here's to the persistence and fearlessness of a generation. Prost.

4/27/2008 10:20 AM  
Blogger whistleblower said...


A well written, and touching post.

I've traveled down that road, and felt the end was something I would almost appreciate. In some ways it was, then again it never will be.

My thoughts are with you.

Finis vitae sed non amoris
-The end of life but not of love.

4/27/2008 1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No words... that was a very touching post...

Bigs hugs.


4/27/2008 3:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My husband and I lost his sweet mother a few weeks ago. I send my prayers and wish you much strength in the coming days. I don't know you personally, however from reading your posts I think you seem like a man who would make his mother very proud.

4/27/2008 4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing. Watching my grandmother suffer for months was so painful and so I pray that your mother, you and your family find joy in creating final memories and peace in knowing that there is great joy and rejoicing beyond this crazy world!

My prayers are with you all.

cortney,...amy's sister

4/27/2008 9:21 PM  
Anonymous Average Jane said...

It's been more than ten years since I lost my own difficult, headstrong, yet still admirable mother to cancer. It's an awful thing to go through, particularly when there are mixed feelings involved.

I'll be thinking of you.

4/28/2008 7:41 AM  
Blogger KC Sponge said...

The greatest gifts our parents give to us is the stories from their lives and the challenge to do ours better, or sometimes just as well.

I hope you found something joyful to celebrate on your birthday - whether it the taste of yummy cake made by a loved one, or a memory from a day in your childhood where your mother fussed over you and silently cried that you were growing too fast.

I can't imagine the day I realize my days with my mom will be numbered. I am sad for you in your time of grief and waiting on a day and a time where you should be celebrating. This is your last year with your mother, there's a small amount of joy in that you still have her around.

Happy Belated Birthday, Dan.

4/28/2008 10:02 AM  
Anonymous MoxieMamaKC said...

Thank you, Dan for such a beautiful post. Your mother and mine sound so similar they could be sisters. I haven't reconciled the difficult past with mine, I'm glad you have peace that you have done so to an extent. Very inspiring reminder to try harder. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

4/28/2008 2:09 PM  
Anonymous Dustin said...

Thank you.

4/28/2008 3:56 PM  
Blogger --Blue Girl said...

Wow. What a powerful, moving post. Thank you for sharing that. It is doubly moving for those of us with aging parents with whom we have tenuous relationships. Peace be with you, and also with her.

4/28/2008 4:57 PM  
Anonymous inafunkaboutthefunk said...

Despite you being a mild form of a jerk from time to time, no one needs to go through this. I truly wish your Mom g-dspeed in whatever is left of her journey on Earth. And for you, I wish your Mom is comfortable while she is in the hospital and leaves you with whatever good memories you have from your life with her.

4/28/2008 8:54 PM  
Anonymous Mainstream said...

Inafunk -
You just had to use this occasion to claim Dan is a mild form of a jerk from time to time. Holy cow.

If you were only a mild form of a jerk, that would be a huge step forward. If you were only a jerk from time to time, that would be another huge step forward.

Dan, you have my prayers, and Inafunk, you do, too.

4/28/2008 10:31 PM  
Blogger PlazaJen said...

Find peace, comfort and joy in your memories, be grateful for all the time you had together. I am sorry this is happening to you & your family; I am glad you already have some clarity to view your history & time together and her passage from this life with the peace and love you have for her. I'm just so sorry. It sucks.

4/29/2008 12:11 PM  
Blogger Well Hell Michelle said...

Your mom sounds like a great lady, and she helped produce a great son. Happy belated birthday.

4/30/2008 3:17 PM  
Anonymous inafunkaboutthefunk said...

Actually Mainstream I was trying to be nice. If I offended you or Dan on this subject, sorry and I apologize. This is an awful experience that no one should have to go through and that too many people have the misfortune to experience.

5/01/2008 9:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan, your words brought tears to my eyes - and a few smiles as I remembered moments from our life with Mom. She certainly is a unique blend of harshness and gentleness - and she gave each of us a huge capacity to love. I love you and thank you for a beautiful tribute - S.

5/02/2008 11:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uncle Dan,

It's been very hard watching her decline so fast. I find myself wishing I had said so many things I haven't, wondering if she feels the same. It has been tough being "the granddaughter" you spoke of, but at the same time, I have had each of you to love me through those times in my past, especially my mom and dad.

For all I don't understand about Grandma, there is so much more, though, that I treasure and love. Her laughter is one. Her ability to tell a story is another. I will miss her stories so much, but I know that each of us will share our favorites over and over - and she'll be there in every drop of laughter. I will always find comfort in that.

Thank you for sharing this. I love you a lot more than I have ever said before, I'm sure. I am blessed to have such a great family.


5/03/2008 10:36 PM  

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