Mom at 22.
My mother died in the early morning hours of May 6, 2017 after a long, hard-fought battle will illness, injury, and a life that, beginning in reduced circumstances, was filled with hardship and pain. She never had it easy. Never got a break. Not even for one day.
Today’s post is one I posted some time ago and feel is particularly fitting now.
She was weak before the accident and more severely weakened after it. The orthopedic surgeon said her arm was shattered and because she was high risk for surgery, he chose Option #2 – putting her under for the 10 minutes it would take to reshape her arm and hold it in place while they cast it. It would not afford her the mobility she would otherwise have had, but she would have some use of it even if it didn’t work quite as it once did.
There was a time when her hands did what she wanted them to do. When we were kids, Mom didn’t have a lot of free time, but on Sundays she played games with us. Our favorites were Sorry, which we played over and over again, and Monopoly, one game sometimes taking an entire afternoon, and a card game called War – so fast-paced we played it even more times than Sorry. Sometimes Mom made popcorn on the stove, put it in a big bowl, and we’d eat it as we sat around the game board on the floor in our tiny living room. When she was able to set aside a few extra dollars, she would walk us downtown to the Park or Lake theaters to see a movie and by us milkshakes at Isaly’s across the street. Sometimes we’d go to Edgewood Park to play and swim.
She was always busy: cooking, cleaning, making our clothes, washing and ironing, keeping the shack we lived in as clean as possible. She made curtains to cover the scarred window panes so it looked more like a real home.
When my sister came home from school with lice in her hair, Sunday game time was put on hold, and Mom spent the entire afternoon and evening going through my sister’s long, thick, black hair, one strand at a time, picking out the nits. It was a painstaking process, but her fingers were deft then. They could do anything.
But those same fingers that once pushed our clothes through a hand-wringer washing machine, now struggled to push the buttons through the buttonholes on her blouse.
Her hands ironed my father’s work shirts for his shift at B&W, and later, after he left us with nothing, they ironed a bushel basket full of white dress shirts each week for the men of other wives with easier lives. Each bushel basket contained 20 damp shirts rolled up like newspapers. Twenty white dress shirts had to be starched and wrinkle-free. A pristine job earned her $5 for the basketful. If the owner was dissatisfied with even one shirt, no remuneration was forthcoming for Mom’s efforts.
Those same hands that made most of our clothes using material selected from the pile of remnants on the bargain basement table at Marshall’s in Barberton, now have difficulty pushing a button on the tv’s remote control because the arthritis in them is so painful.
Mom’s hands have wallpapered, cooked, sewn, crocheted, and knitted for far more years than they haven’t. There is a picture of a flower-patterned, intricately crocheted tablecloth on top of a drop-leaf table in front of which my sister and I are sitting when we were about 4 and 6 years old. Mom had placed a small Christmas tree on top of it, and Christmas icicles were dangling from its branches creating a prism of sparkles behind our heads as the photo is taken. Mom made that decorative piece the year before I was born. Now it graces my own dining-room table.
Those hands that took care of us and once did so many things with such ease falter now trying to push the nurse call button. They can no long push her up from her chair or pull a blanket over her in bed. She’s a little better after all the physical therapy, but not enough.
She tries to lift her left arm so she can use her fingers to utilize the utensils she needs to cut and pick up her food, but it proves difficult. She tries again and it’s hard to watch her struggle and not jump in to help, but we are told not to. It is something she must do herself. The fiberglass cast stretching from her shoulder to just below the first knuckles of her fingers is too heavy to lift with her good arm, which isn’t strong either. The fingers on her good hand shake as she attempts to grab those on her other hand, semi-contained by her cast. I want to cry.
Her entire life has always been a struggle.
For a long while Mom worked hard to get strong enough to go home, and she finally made it. But she threw some clots a few months later and suffered several TIAs. She spends her final five months in Hospice.
I feed her dinner. She cries because her hands and feet ache so badly; most of the time she can’t hold a spoon in her hand. All she wants to do is go home, unable to accept the fact that she isn’t going to make it back.
She doesn’t always recall who I am and sometimes refers to me as “the nice lady who comes to see me every day.” One day she says she hasn’t seen that lady in awhile and wonders where she is, what’s happened to her. She cries because she likes her so much and says “that lady was so nice to me.” She couldn’t make the connection between me and “that lady” and it made me so sad. For her and for me.
But during those five months together, we carved out a mother-daughter relationship I will treasure the rest of my life. I love my mother and have a deeper understanding of her and all she’d been through. I know she had to die; we all do. But I didn’t want her to die alone and spent the last week of her life sleeping beside her – she in her bed, I in the recliner pushed up against it.
I will miss our talks, Mom. Our playful banter, even the tears we shared. I know you’ll miss my dancing (a private joke between us). I hope I brought you a measure of happiness and helped you make the peaceful transition to a better life with Grandma and Aunt Toni who have been waiting for you for so long. And I hope you know, now, how much I have always loved you.
Now I know, for certain, that she loved me, too.
She had to do the dying herself, but I wasn’t going to let her be by herself when she did it. I was there. I kissed her, telling her it was okay to let go. She would be all right, and we would all be okay. She chose to leave this earthy plane later that night as I slept by her side.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. You will always be in my heart.
Your loving daughter, Linda.
“If you can remember me, I will be with you always.” – Isabel Allende