Four months later I wrote the following at Small Reflections
(Click on link above if you like to see the original):
I’m even more certain Mom would approve.
My mom died of an aneurysm when I was 44 and she … just 78. Writing about her challenges me whenever I make the effort. I struggled with the preceding piece back in January, and mention her only 2 or 3 times in my 101 Things about Me. It’s 6:20am and I’ve spent 12 minutes staring at the blinking cursor … trying to decide where to begin and what to share. I guess I’ll see just how long it takes me to write and publish something ;–)
I ‘happened’ as a total surprise. My dad had assured her that he was ‘sterile’ due to hospital treatments … and she must have believed him. I overheard her (later in life) retell the story of the day she realized she was pregnant with me … how she cried as she shared with a friend while hanging laundry, lamenting ‘she didn’t know what she’d do or how they’d manage’ … so I suspect if it hadn’t been 1945 (when abortions weren’t easily available nor talked about) I might never have ‘arrived’ at all. That said …
part of me fully understands.
Mom already struggled against great odds … with two ‘sickly’ kids she almost lost to ‘medical complications’ as babies and a husband who had just been released from the hospital … had no job (or prospects for finding one) … and who was adamant that SHE not seek work outside the home. Nothing came easily for mom, but somehow she held on … steeling herself as she humbly accepted ‘charity’ from extended family and church to keep us fed and clothed even as she would have preferred to get a job herself … and most likely would have been able to use her considerable secretarial skills effectively to succeed!
She was a product of a strict ‘Dutch’ upbringing in Michigan … youngest of 5 children born to immigrants from Holland who spoke no English themselves who wouldn’t let their kids speak anything but English because they wanted their children to be ‘Americans’ and felt ‘language’ essential for success. Her father ran a grocery store across the street from Leonard’s Refrigerator … and when my sister & I visited decades later the ‘store’ was still there with a huge Kelvinator plant across the street.
Her family moved to California when she was 12 or 13 and she met my father at church when she was in her early 20s. He was 10 years older than her … born & bred in Kansas. They couldn’t have been different from one another, but they shared deep love from the start … and when he died of cancer in February of 1976 … she was devastated.
My fondest memories of mom return to times she played with me when I was young … turning rope … teaching me ‘double Dutch’ and ‘jacks’ …(she was unbeatable always). She learned to drive a car when I turned 14 … about the same time my brother was teaching ME to drive his Plymouth ‘stick shift’ … w/o my parent’s knowledge. (I can’t believe I forgot to mention this in yesterday’s post about him, but I’ll need to share that story another time).
We had some ‘difficult years’ in my late 20s & early 30s … I suspect because she was disappointed I gave her no grandchildren to ‘dote’ upon and because she didn’t understand ‘me’ as ‘separate (or different) from her’ for a while … but those ‘rifts’ passed and we became close in my mid 30s. I’m grateful for that decade or so of ‘authentic connection’ … when each of us could ‘speak our mind’ … agreeing to disagree on some issues … valuing the relationship above all.
Our last breakfast together was at ‘The Belgian Waffle Inn’ during Spring Break of 1989 in March. We had a wonderful visit that morning and laughed often while sharing memories. My sister & her husband had taken their kids ‘camping’ for the week so I drove mom to the hospital for the ‘routine test’ to determine whether the ‘aging replacement valves’ in her heart (from heart surgery a decade earlier) could be replaced. She put her engagement and wedding rings on my right hand and asked me to wear them until she was finished with the test.
As I sat in the waiting room on that Monday afternoon by myself I heard the code … knew it was her w/o being told … listened to the doctor explain that her aorta had ruptured during the test but they were doing everything they could to save her … moved to the waiting room of the ICU … called my sister-in-law to let my brother know as I wondered how to reach my sister & her husband. My ‘ex’ figured that one out … changing the message on our answering machine at home to provide the number of the pay phone at the hospital.
The doctor told us later that she coded multiple times but they revived her successfully … and we faced the decision of what instructions to give them. All three of us knew ‘quality of life’ was the reason mom entered the hospital for the test … so we signed the DNR and waited as she ‘rallied’ … getting our hopes up for recovery after all. They rescheduled her for the surgery on Friday morning.
My sister & I arrived at the ICU around 8am … heard ‘the code’ shortly after and once again I knew it was mom … told Barb (who wasn’t convinced) … and we waited for the doctor to join us. When he did he apologized … explaining that mom ‘coded’ at the ‘change of shift’ and no one consulted the instructions before reviving her yet again … so she was alive but surgery was no longer an option.
We called our brother … he arrived around 1:00 in the afternoon so we all had the chance to say ‘good-bye’ and were with her as they removed the respirator. She died about 3pm on Good Friday … with an amazing expression of joy, delight, and peace on her face. As I sat with my siblings afterwards … we decided we needed a plan to remain connected now that we wouldn’t gather with mom for special occasions.
Then & there we committed to ‘sibling night’ … the 1st Friday of each month we’d meet for dinner in San Juan Capistrano … midway between where my sister & I each lived and my brother’s home in Oceanside. We followed through until my brother grew to ill to make the monthly trip. That’s when my sister & I designated Thursdays as ‘sister night’ and started to meet weekly around 4:30-ish.
Mom’s buried in Mesa, Arizona next to Dad …
just where she wanted to be.