The truth of it all is nearly unbearable. The simplicity, the ease at which it all unraveled was tortuous. Piece by piece my heart was broken. My mom’s illness had taken a toll on all of us. Watching her slowly deteriorate. Losing one ability after another. And the whole time she kept innocently and sweetly inquiring, “when will I feel better?” And it was a fair question since the doctor’s had not prepared us for anything else. We would do the radiation and the tumors would shrink. Easy peasy. But that was another lie woven into so many other lies we were made to believe.
At first, I answered her with confidence, “Soon mom. We just have to work at it.” But as time pushed forward, I soon was questioning myself when she would feel better. The doctor’s visits revealed no insight into her condition. They kept professing falsely that ,"She is doing great, considering.” Considering what exactly?
Meanwhile, each day that went by became more difficult than the last. But I was determined to help her achieve her goal of getting better. One thing about my mom was that when she had a goal, she was going to reach it and since it was impossible for her to do so on her own, I would help.
I began by acquiring the equipment she would need to aid her in this time. I contacted the local church for a walker, wheelchair, shower stool, and toilet chair. I picked it up immediately and took it over to my parent’s house. I got her set up with physical therapy appointments to strengthen her legs and arms. And I thought, “This is good. It’s different and not what I want for my mom but good.” But instead of getting better, she got worse. Our physical therapy walks around the house with the walker became too difficult for her. Just getting to the bathroom was strenuous enough.
She started to fall a lot. She fell in the backyard straight onto their concrete patio, using her head as landing gear. A rush to the emergency room. Again a fall on the tile left her lying in a pool of her blood, unable to call for help or get up until my dad found her.
My dad. A man I had blindly and devotedly loved my whole life. A man my mom had loved through their nearly 50 years of marriage. A man she had treated like a king. She kept his house beautiful, managed the finances, raised his children, and served him dinners every night after a 10-12 hour day at work. For a time I treated him like a king too. It was embedded into my brain for over 40 years watching my mom.
Well now it was his turn to serve my mom. She needed all of us to serve her through this illness. She deserved it. She had given everything to all of us. Every last drop of unconditional love (for real), energy, patience, kindness, selflessness. Every last drop of her. In retrospect, I think we may have taken it all and this was the result. So at the very least we owed her our time, love, kindness, and patience too. You would think that we all would just naturally step up. Take on any burden necessary to help care for her. After all, she had taken care of us our whole lives. Given us everything we needed and wanted. She planned super fun birthday parties and made our birthday cakes every year. She consoled us when we hurt. She took a life of ups and downs and made it seem seamless. We hadn’t a care in the world and we were 100% sure we were loved. How much more could a person give?
To me it was a no brainer. “Mom is down and we have to help in every way possible.” My mission: to help my mom. But week after week, month after month I found myself alone on this mission. I could see my dad wearing down physically and emotionally. Drowning himself in scotch. He wasn’t equipped to care for her on his own. I don’t blame him for that. I was exhausted as an outsider helping. I know living it day in and out was more than any one person can handle. So that is what family is for right? Wrong. Another truth revealed. Or maybe another lie discovered.
So I had to find a caregiver to come and take care of my mom’s needs. And I found the perfect girl. A sweet girl who shared my mom’s birthday. My mom loved her too although she could never remember her name. She tried and uttered out every name possible except for her name, Jennifer. My parents did not have a lot of money. They lived paycheck to paycheck and used credit cards for splurges. And they splurged a lot on their kids and grandkids. And now with my mom not working they had even less money. So a caregiver was a luxury they couldn’t afford. I owed my parents the down payment they had placed for my condo. Our plan was to split it up when I sold it but selling it was not in the near future so I refinanced and gave them everything I owed them. This helped pay for the caregiver on a very part time schedule. I asked my sister and brother if they could help pay for an additional day but they would not. My brother’s response was to tell my dad to use his scotch money to pay for an extra day and my sister used her tried and untrue response, “I’m broke.” Broke living in a gigantic house with more bedrooms than people, a BMW parked in the garage, a F-150 to tow her jet skis, quads, and eventually trailer. I was disappointed at the time. Slightly angry but it wasn’t until later that I realized that disappointment festered into a resentful, very angry feeling towards them.
Me being a pretty avid problem solver then asked if they could get into a rotation to come up once a week and help with grocery shopping, dinner, physical therapy (my sister is a physical therapist) but to no avail. The answer was no. Another disappointment that found a place to rot inside me. I never understood how easily they could abandon our mom. Ignore what was happening. They chose to deflect all that guilt towards my dad. He was the one that was failing her. He was the one in the wrong. And quite honestly he was but he wasn’t the only one. I couldn’t convince them to see that my mom needed us, not my dad. My dad wasn’t going to make the grade no matter how we felt about it. She needed care and we needed to unite together as a family and provide what she needed. But the team consisted of me.
I did the grocery shopping and picked up snacks for her to eat. She loved apples so I found little apple slices in a bag, little cheese and nut trays, and so on. No prep for my dad except to hand them to her. I made a meal plan to help organize my dad so he didn’t have to think about what he was going to make each day. I even got Meals on Wheels to deliver dinners but my dad snubbed his nose at them. I guess it was difficult to go from home made nightly dinners cooked just the way you like it to frozen old people food. That was the thing. My mom did all the cooking and she was terrific at it. We had the best Sunday breakfasts you can imagine. Waffles, eggs, biscuits and gravy, sausage, bacon, fruit, and toast. It was a spread fit for royalty and that royalty was her kids and husband. Those she loved most in this world. For us, she would do anything. And Sundays weren’t the only feast days. She did up Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas like no other. We all basked about on the holidays while she slaved away in the kitchen. Cooking up everything she knew we would like. And now I couldn’t get any of these same people who sat around stuffing their faces to simply bring up food for her. So my son and I brought her dinner once a week, I had them over for dinner another night, and on the weekend we would get take out. But no matter what I did, it never felt like enough. That feeling I blamed on my sister, my brother, and my dad. I even blamed her best friend. How could they leave me to do it all? Not that I minded, I just couldn’t do enough to make her happy. That resentment grew each day, each moment I saw my mom suffering. It surged just below the surface. But I didn’t know how to speak the truth. To tell them how I felt, what I needed. I hinted, I asked politely as they declined. I am not complaining. I felt it a privilege to care for my mom. To bring a little joy to her in this agonizing state she was in.
Luckily at the time I was blind to how sad it all was. I wore my rose tinted glasses when looking at my mom’s situation. I had to otherwise I may have broke apart myself. And maybe that is what happened to my brother, sister, and dad. Maybe the gut wrenching truth of her slow decline was all too much to handle. So I consider myself lucky in that I couldn’t see that clearly at the time. I just pressed on, in denial of sorts.
My mom and I were best friends. We did everything together. We went on fun adventures with the grandkids and my own son. My mom was always on the hunt for the next weekend outing. And it was her and me and a car full of crazy kids. It got hectic sometimes and I didn’t enjoy every moment but I should have. It’s times like these when you realize every moment is precious. Every moment is there for you to love and remember. So of course one of my mini missions was to get her out and do the things I know she would love to do. I took her out. As difficult as it was, it was worth it. I took her to the zoo, on picnics, on drives, to coffee, the mall. Anywhere I could think of that she would enjoy. And I absolutely loved to get her all cute. I had bought her make up, clothes, and these little body spritzers that have now become a special smell to me. My mom was a foxy lady. She always wore her high heels, panty hose, short business skirts with her animal print tops. She was sexy. But now she had turned into an ailing 90 year old overnight. She was only 67. I couldn’t exactly make her sexy but I thought cute was a close second.
So it went on like this for a while until she wasn’t able to ride in cars anymore. She wasn’t able to walk on her own and needed her wheelchair all the time. And she started having trouble eating. Eventually, she couldn’t use the utensils or hold the plate. Eventually, I had to feed her. Another time in this journey that I reflect fondly on. I would do anything for her and I did. I did everything I possibly could for her until the day she just stopped breathing. I was at work and got the call from my dad. Mom was gone. I fell to my knees and the sobbing began. As if it was a surprise. Shouldn’t I have expected this? Well, I didn’t. I just thought it would just keep going on. Well, it doesn’t.
So me, my sister, my brother, and my dad stood at the end of my parent’s hallway as my beautiful little mother was carted out on a stretcher in a body bag. We stood there united for a moment. We stood together in respect of her life and watched together as my mom was taken from us. And in that moment our hearts shattered. I felt it. In that moment we all suffered the same. In that moment we were finally together as a family should be.