This memorial post is dedicated to my dear mother, Grace, who passed away in my home on January 17, 2012.
When I think of my mother, I just can't help but smile. My mother ADORED her family, and treasured her friends. She was loving, generous, funny and feisty. Anyone who knew her described her as "full of life". With her love of bold, bright colors and *alotta bling* (rhinestones and sparkle and goldtone, ohmy!), plus her VERY witty sense of humor, she truly was the life of any party.
My mother would be the first to tell you that she was a little bit "spoiled". An adored youngest daughter and pampered wife, she would often brag that she had never balanced a checkbook, painted a room, stripped a floor, planted a garden, hung wall-paper. ("Why?", she would ask, "when someone else would do it for me?!")
So (obviously!) there were many things I did not learn from my mother, but that's OK, I could learn those on my own. But my mother did give me one invaluable, priceless gift -- that I never could have learned without her -- and that was unconditional love. My mother loved my sisters and me with a fierce, protective, mother-bear love -- and we always knew this.
I have always been close with my mom. When I was little, she used to lovingly refer to me her "shadow", because where she was, I was... stuck to her like velcro. I loved nothing better than sitting on the porch with her on warm summer nights, side-by-side and "talking", feeling ever-so "adult". As I grew a little older, we had our normal teenager vs. adult squabbles, but honestly, they truly were few and far between. As I grew into adulthood and got married, we remained close, and she even moved 100 miles to be closer to me, my husband and our son. She was always a supportive mother and doting grandmother, and she loved her sons-in-law as her own.
My mother was 88 years old when she died. The first 85 years were active, independent, healthy, wonderful years. At age 80, after the death of her second husband (whom she married at age 68 after a less-than-one-month courtship -- I kid you not!), she sold her home and moved into a lovely senior high-rise apartment. Talk about easy livin'! And in her usual "Grace fashion", she charmed the managers and the maintenance staff alike (the little stinker didn't even have to change a burned out light bulb!) and made many dear friends in her building.
At that time, she was taking only a thyroid pill and a blood pressure pill -- period. When she was 85, she had a very scary episode of brief confusion and left-sided weakness, was taken to the hospital, and diagnosed with a TIA (commonly called a "mini stroke", because the symptoms, thankfully, fully resolve.) The doctor prescribed an aspirin and an anti-platelet medication and in a few days, my mom went home, fit as a fiddle.
A couple of months later, she fell in the hallway of her apartment building, and broke her right hip. She had surgery, went to Rehab (where she charmed all the doctors, nurses and therapists) and soon returned again to her independent apartment living that she so loved.
Well, they say troubles come in 3's, and right before her 86th birthday, she was rushed to the ER with a heart attack. I rode in the ambulance with her, and never left her side, even while the doctors and nurses were actively working hard to save her life. And save her life they did... and after a few days in the hospital, and a heart catheterization, mom went to our local hospital's Transitional Care Unit (where she again quickly became everyone's favorite patient) and then back home again to her apartment.
Now the doctors added a few heart medications to the daily mix, and she used to say, "With all these darn pills I have to take every morning, I don't have room for breakfast!" But thankfully, while she was admittedly a little more tired now than she had been before, no other problems occurred (except for a skin cancer successfully removed from her leg), and life continued well for my then 86 year-old mom. I started balancing her checkbook for her (hey, someone had to do it!), setting up her pills (she hated doing that!), and continued the regular mani-pedi's. But she still was still happily living independently, driving, doing all her own shopping and meals, socializing with her friends, getting her hair done and attending exercise classes.
Because she had become quite hard of hearing (and the dang hearing aides never really worked well for her... we can put a man on the moon but we can't develop decent hearing aides??!) I would take her to all of her doctor's appointments. I kept a notebook of careful notes, and she always deferred all questions to me. Here is one actual conversation that took place at her PCP's office:
MD: So, are we having any problems?
Me: Nope, she's doing great!
MD: Good! How's the hip pain?
Me: Much better, not needing any of the pain pills any more.
MD: Great! Has she seen the dermatologist yet for that spot on her back?
Me: Yep, last week. He said it's nothing to worry about.
MD: That's good news. How about the eye doctor?
Me: We see him next week.
MD: Good. So, did you get the routine labs done?
Me: Yep, on Monday. Your office should have received the results by now.
MD: Good, I'll go check.
Mom: [sitting on the edge of the exam table, tapping her toes impatiently] *Hmph!* I don't even know why I have to come!
This past October, we had a big family dinner party at my house (one of my mother's grandsons was home from Alaska), and the next week, I hosted a Spanish tapas party with friends. My mother was definitely the Belle-of-the-Ball for both events. She was beautiful, lively, funny, sweet, and feeling good.
But sadly, within 2 weeks of those parties, and without warning, she was rushed to the ER with crushing shortness of breath and a new diagnosis of congestive heart failure. One heart attack, several episodes of flash pulmonary edema, two thoracenteses, renal insufficiency, a complete heart block and a devastating new lung cancer diagnosis followed. She got weaker every day, but still, through it all... she remained amazing Grace.
She was in the hospital and then TCU for 5 weeks. We virtually lived there. My daughter barely left her bedside. My sisters came from out of state. My mother had so many visitors that at one point, we had to ask them to be limited, just so she could rest. She began to speak about being "very tired" and "ready to let go." She had private conversations with each grandchild and great-grandchild, and assured them all of her love forever. She gave away her cat, her car, and her wedding ring.
On one particularly difficult day, a dear friend named Dean came to visit. She smiled at him but said quietly, "I can't really talk right now." And holding her hand tight, Dean said softly, "That's OK... I just wanted to see you, Grace."
On Dec 20 my mother was discharged from the hospital -- to my home with hospice services. We rearranged our living room to accommodate the hospital bed, over bed table, oxygen concentrator, bedside commode and new lift chair, so that on good days she could be engaged and involved in our daily family life. We hung curtains in each archway and on the French Doors for privacy. She was warm and cozy covered in soft cotton blankets and a light down comforter. She often had a kitty or two at her feet. We joked that she was the Queen Bee and we were the willing worker bees! With the help of my husband, daughter, sisters and the hospice team, we were able to care for her, keep her comfortable, and even have a surprising number of laughs along the way. We looked at each day as a gift.
She enjoyed Bonanza (do you know it is on aaaaallllll afternoon???!) but every now and then I'd wrestle the remote off of her (!) so I could watch a show or two of my choice, LOL! She was a fanatic for Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune (on Mondays through Fridays at 7 and 7:30 pm respectively, but opposite on Saturdays, and not at all on Sundays... who knew?!) and on good days, she loved calling out the answers before the contestants.
She was home with us exactly 4 weeks. Yes, we had some hard and scary moments.... but in general, having her here, surrounded by the love of family and *home* was one of the most rewarding and satisfying things I have ever done. It just felt so *right*.
I am proud and humbled to be able to say that in the last weeks of her life, my dear mom was never alone. She knew we were here with her -- come what may -- and she knew she was loved. My husband and I were at her bedside as she passed away early that morning, and I know she knew it. I know we will never forget it.
Thank you for everything, Mom. I love and miss you so much. And I always will.
For more posts on my dear mother, please look:
And for a wonderfully fun, touching blog tribute by my niece (The Daring Librarian) for her dear Grandma, please scroll down to the end of THIS POST.