Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Farewell to Mom... Or "It's been a helluva year!"

Well, it's probably a good thing I don't have "a following." I'd hate to disappoint anyone with my sparse posting habits!

I've been a tad preoccupied these past several months and just haven't felt the inclination to sit down and blather at the intertubes.

See, we lost Mom in June. In some ways, I'm actually kinda sorry I didn't blog my way through that Drama. To be honest, I really admire those folks who can bare their souls via blog-post (although some go way over the line of "TMI!"). And I can see how that could be very cathartic. I am not one of those people - fortunately or unfortunately!

Mom - on the pool deck of Monarch of the Seas - 2007

Mom had fallen ill toward the end of last year. She spent, essentially, the last quarter of '09 in-and-out of hospitals and SNF's. She did go home the-day-after-Christmas-2009 and for the first couple of months of this year, she lived in a hospital bed in the living room of her house. She had a wonderful caregiver staying with her during the days - and visiting nurses and physical therapists coming by to tend to her medical needs.

Somewhere during all of that, I took over handling her finances and paying her bills (basically by getting my signature added to her accounts). And THAT was probably the smartest thing she ever did because the rampant spending habits came to a screeching halt!

There were good days and bad days, but overall she seemed to be making progress.

Then in February, she made a dramatic recovery. She was able to climb the stairs to sleep in her own bed. Back down the stairs to eat and watch TV with the dogs. We started making big plans to go to Fish Market for a Crab Louie salad and - who knows? - Maybe we can even make it back to K-Mart one day!

Sure enough! We DID go to Fish Market and ate Crab Louies! And, around mid-May, we even made it to K-Mart for a major shopping spree (she seemed to thoroughly enjoy watching ME spend all of my money!). We even came down to San Jose and toured a couple of Retirement Communities - where the lifestyle would be like living on a Cruise Ship (minus the seasickness!). I had her CONVINCED that it was time to sell her house and move into a small 1-floor apartment where all of her needs would be taken care of. Plus, living closer to me meant we could go to lunch more frequently AND go to - Can you believe it? - WAL-MART!!!

Mom's needs were pretty simple!

Anyway, we hatched a plan to break the news to my sister - and even found a way to "finance" her move so that she could get settled into her new place before her house got sold... All we had to do was Break The News and, well, Make It Happen (Bigger feat than one might imagine - given that my sister and B-I-L were living at mom's house - along with 40+ years' worth of accumulated "stuff") (But I was up for the challenge, dammit!)

Well, long story short: It just wasn't meant to be.

I think our last trip to K-Mart was the week before Mother's Day. On Mother's Day, DH and I took mom out for brunch - and talked excitedly about her plans to move - ANNNNND her upcoming Mexican Riviera cruise with Aunt Marjie. Everything seemed perfectly fine.

But then, a few days after that, my sister called and asked about how mom was - during Mother's Day Brunch. I'd indicated that she seemed fine - but Sis told me otherwise. Mom was being combative and not making any sense - crying "Help me! Help me!" all the time. We figured it was another UTI, so they took her to the ER and mom was admitted to the hospital - again. Thankfully, enough time had elapsed since her last hospitalization, that MediCare kicked in again (whew!).

Unfortunately, things just started to take a tumble from there. Mom was 86 years old, diabetic, hypertensive, yada-yada, yada-yada. She managed to get a staph infection, and some kinda blood-clot something-or-other, and emergency-surgery (which necessitated reversing her "No-Code Status" DNR/DNI thingie temporarily), followed by an inability to swallow, followed by aspiration pneumonia, then an NG tube, and Gawd-knows what else...

Basically, it was a sh*t-storm.

Urgent phone calls from doctors, nurses and social-workers. "We need to meet with the family this afternoon" calls - with me driving madly up and down the Peninsula.

Super-Low-Lows, followed by Super-High-Highs...

Doctors calling me on the weekend "You're mother has contracted pneumonia again - do you want us to treat it?" "Well, she's surprised us before. Let's give her one more chance..." (Followed by "Did I do The Right Thing, or am I just prolonging her suffering?")

Later that afternoon I went up to see her and I was actually able to make her laugh - so I felt good about my decision.

A couple days later - a call from the case-worker: "Your mom says she is ready to die."

Me calling my sister out of work and racing up the Peninsula - yet again. Thoughts of hospice running through my head. Walking into mom's room to have her proclaim - quite fervently - "I want to LIVE!"

Well, gee. What do you say to THAT?!

Come to find out, Mom was being "difficult" with the P.T. and didn't want to do her walking exercises that day (Gee, THAT'S a shocker!) (You'd have to know me, and my mom, to truly grasp the irony) and she basically told the P.T. to go pound sand and she'd rather DIE than be subjected to more of that torture!

An abridged version of that exchange got communicated back to the doctor, then down to the social worker, and so we got called in for another Family Meeting.

That also resulted in me scolding my mother (after everyone left) "Ma! You gotta be careful what you SAY to people around here! You told 'em you wanted to die and they BELIEVED you! DON'T DO THAT AGAIN!"

Drama continues... Mom's still on an NG feeding tube, and then there was talk of a PEG tube... And telling mother that she, most likely, will never get to eat food again. She was lucid and agreed to it...

Then I'm looking into Nursing Homes and trying to figure out how we're gonna pay for it...

Then another Family Meeting. The doctor is saying, basically, that there's nothing more they can do for her. PEG tube really won't gain her anything because she'll most-likely aspirate and contract pneumonia again...

Conversations with God, in the meantime. Yeah - I'm pretty much a heathen for the most part - but I basically asked God to let Mom go on one last cruise with Marjie. "And if you're not gonna let her do that, then just take her already! Quit f**king around!!!" (Yep, I'm a heathen!)

Another Family Meeting - this time with Mom. Trying to explain how we're switching to "Keeping her Comfortable." (Ohhhh, so euphemistic!)

It was weird though. Toward the end there - after the Big Meeting with Mom - she waited 'til everyone left the room so she could talk to me.

What followed was, quite possibly, *the* most difficult interaction in my life. I mean, through all of the bullsh*t leading to this point, I managed to hold it together surprisingly well. Somehow-or-other, I found it in me to be The Strong One. Logic was My Friend (shudder!).

So mom waits 'til everyone leaves the room...

"I know YOU'LL tell me the truth" she said. "I'm not going home, am I?"

"No, mom. You're going someplace even better..."

"But! I did what you said! I didn't tell them I wanted to die!"

(GULP!) "Well mom... They gave it all they've got. And YOU gave it all you've got. But the fact of the matter is: You've just got too many miles on you and, well, you're out of warranty!"

Even though that sounds like I was being glib - I was really quite serious (and bawling my eyes out) when I delivered the message. And mom "got it."

Shortly thereafter, after my BFF, Sharon, returned, Mom switched gears and started giving us her Final Wishes which Sharon, dutifully wrote down. I'll skip the details of all that because it's kind of esoteric - although "No Red Coffin" is kind of noteworthy. Mom always said that she wanted to be buried in a metallic red coffin - to match her fingernails (and the color she WANTED her car to be!). I'd found a fire-engine red coffin on the internet - and sis had found a auto-body shop that was willing to custom-paint a coffin, but mom was adamant at the end. "No Red Coffin."

Okay then! (Her coffin was deep metallic-blue)

Then, after that, mom and I spent hours talking about everyone she was gonna get to see again: Dad, Uncle Gene, Uncle Sharp, Grandma and Grandpa, and HOW MANY DOGS? "Ohhhh, Heidi will be SO thrilled to see you again! You'd better watch your step up in heaven so you don't step on any of those dogs!" and so on and so forth... So we had a good (albeit difficult) several hours together...

They did refrain from medicating her too heavily until after Aunt Marjie arrived from Washington DC. So she got to see Marjie one last time (even if they didn't get to go on a cruise) - so that's good.

Then they put her on morphine and... Well, I really don't want to relive that last couple of days (that felt like a lifetime).

Mom passed away peacefully at 12:30am on Saturday June 12.

I can honestly say that I have no regrets. We said all that needed to be said and I supported her to the very end.

I still can't decide whether it was a Blessing or a Curse that I was the one she turned to - at the end - to "get the truth." I guess it's a mixture of both...

I got to deliver part of her eulogy and maybe I'll post that later. Or maybe I won't. I dunno. I did print-out the 3-page version (with EVERYTHING) as well as a 1-page outline (Mom would've been SO PROUD!). I did manage to share The Fun Side of Mom with everyone - and even elicited a couple of laughs from the congregation. Not disrespectful - mind you. Just some fond, funny memories of Mom...

And though it all - I discovered that I really do have some VERY GOOD FRIENDS/Loved Ones who were extremely supportive of me. This was an extraordinarily difficult time and it's always nice to know that you've got people who've "got your back" - no matter what!

One more note: My cell-phone is with Verizon, right? And, if I'm not mistaken, Verizon only stores "saved" messages for 21 days... Well, well-over a month after mom had passed, I decided to go through and delete my old messages. Well, the first (oldest) saved message was from back in February! It was my mom calling to tell me she was doing much better, that she'd made it upstairs to sleep in her own bed and that "things are looking up - we're gonna go have that Louie in no time!" Needless to say, I bawled my eyes out when I heard it - but I took it as a message that she'd made it "upstairs" and all was well...

I *do* believe in getting messages from "the other side" (I got a clear one from my dad - after he'd passed). So I do take comfort in that.

I did have DH (the Electronics Wizard) figure out a way to capture the file from my phone and save it to an .mp3 file (Thanks Honey!) - so I'll have my mom's voice "forever." Although - even today - that message is STILL on my phone. In fact, I just listened to it and I am crying - yet again!

Wow. I really didn't intend to go on like this. Yeah, I guess this blogging thing *is* pretty cathartic!

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