I wanted to share some U.S. Mother’s Day personal thoughts here – two days early. I choose to do that because, well, this is the first year my mother will not be here for one. Also, I don’t feel this post is quite appropriate for Sunday itself.
I don’t mind others celebrating, but I wish I could’ve “blocked” Mother’s Day just for myself this year. The barrage of ads that have been landing in my inbox seemingly hourly reminding me of the day and how I need to remember Mom with flowers or something, get deleted unread by me the moment I see them. They have led me only to remember one year ago: Mother’s Day 2015.
That day, from Britain, I had FaceTimed Mom over in Pennsylvania. I had expected an innocuous “Mother’s Day chat.” After thanking me for our card and flowers, she said she felt a bit under the weather. My father had booked dinner out, but she didn’t feel up to going to a restaurant.
She was sure she’d be better in a few days. She chalked it up perhaps to over-tiredness after returning home a couple of weeks earlier from our Florida road trip. (We had driven from PA to Florida – where we stayed for a week – and back with Mom and Dad within about 9 days. My mother always refused to fly.) Or maybe it was a cold coming on. Regardless, she said wanted to rest on the sofa and just watch TV.
* * *
None of us knew it at the time, of course, but it turned out that was the beginning of her end. In the days, weeks and months after, she got only weaker and sicker. She would eventually rise from that sofa only when she had to, usually needing assistance, and never managed to go upstairs in the house ever again.
My father prevailed on her in June to allow him to take her to their family physician; “four weeks” feeling so off was too much. Unfortunately, the general practitioner seemed to think it was 1) an allergy, or 2) a “virus,” and then, a few weeks later, when they returned to him again, he did a blood test and it came back showing 3) hypothyroidism. As the summer wore on, and the anti-hypothyroidism drug seemed to do little for her, she did return to see him for more tests, but he still insisted it was hypothyroidism and perhaps she just needed a stronger dose of the drug to fight it. He never directed her to seek hospital treatment.
Monitoring all that from over in Britain, we could only assume she was being reasonably looked after. But when we were finally able to get to the U.S. in the first week of October for a visit, my wife and I were horrified at her condition. She had never looked that bad on FaceTime.
I thought: “Hypothyroid my a-s.” Dad revealed to us he’d been at her for weeks, but she adamantly refused to go to the hospital. When he broke down in the kitchen in front of my wife, she declared enough was enough and she was going to be the “evil” daughter-in-law. “I don’t care. Your mum can call me any name she wants,” she told me forcefully as she walked into the lounge.
Quietly my wife got in my mom’s face as my mother sat on the sofa barely able to keep her head up. She told her lovingly but firmly, “You are getting in the car with them and going to the emergency room, or I am calling 911 and an ambulance will come to take you there. Which will it be?”
She relented and we drove her to the ER. After she was examined, an ER doctor gave us all the likely diagnosis a couple of hours later: “There’s a mass in her chest. I’m not an oncologist, but I’d bet my house it’s cancer. I’m very sorry.” Sadly, he also told us, the blood test for hypothyroidism would not have revealed cancer.
A few weeks later, on October 26, staring briefly at my mother moments after she died in front of me in the hospital bed set up in her former dining room (less than two weeks after she had been discharged because there was nothing more that could be done and she had rejected “extraordinary” treatment), I still recall feeling numb. How had matters gotten so out of control in so little time? What the hell happened?
* * *
I kissed her on the forehead for the last time. Afterwards, for seconds my father and I stood over her. At last we could remove the oxygen line from her nose and shut off that rumbling, loud machine for good. After I switched it off, there was, suddenly, silence in the house.
I will never forget my utter and complete sense of disbelief.
“We have to call the hospice nurse,” I said to him.
“I’ll do it,” I heard him mutter.
She had died with her eyes closed, propped up by the mechanical bed’s elevated pillow-end, but disturbingly slouched over. She had often positioned herself that way in her last weeks because, she insisted, it was more comfortable than lying down. It is an ugly image that will stay with me the rest of my life.
After my sister (who lived with my parents) saw her too, I reclined the bed. (My wife was due back from England the next day; she’d had to return there for a week; when she’d left, we had thought my mother would last longer than she did.) Dad returned to the bedside saying the nurse was on her way, stepped behind my mother and gently took hold of her around the waist. The bed flat, I reached down for her lifeless legs. Together, we lifted her up and then positioned her on her back, placing her in a sleeping position.
It was now sometime after about 5 pm. In one of her last coherent statements to me hours before, Mom had thanked me for looking after her. She mumbled that she had lost her own mother when she was 50 also.
I had forgotten that. I had hit the big “5-0” weeks before in September. I was now the same age as my mother was when my grandmother had died.
My mom was with me for 50 Mother’s Days. All, save that last one a year ago, are happy memories. If your mother is with you, enjoy your day this Sunday with her, and God Bless. 🙂