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Archive for April, 2009

I have this memory. Mom says that there is no way that I can remember this, given the fact that I was about three years old when it happened, but I do. I remember it as clearly as if it happened yesterday.

I had been given one of those toy bow and arrow sets that were once popular. A cheap bow that shot cheap, rubber suction cup tipped arrows approximately three feet from where you were standing. My sister, who is now deceased, was lying on the couch. I, the fearless Indian brave, was standing in the middle of the living room floor, firing my arrows at the wall above her. Over and over, my mother told me not to be firing those arrows near my little sister. Do you think that I would listen? Not very likely…

After some time of this, of constantly telling me to stop shooting those arrows near my sister, my Mom got completely frustrated with me. She walked into the room, and snatched the bow and arrows out of my hands. As I followed her, screaming, into the kitchen, she stopped at the trash can, opened it, and, as I jumped up and down screaming at her, she broke the bow and arrows over her knee, and threw them away. It’s probably my very worst memory of my mother.

It took me some years to recognize why she was so upset with me. It had nothing to do with disobedience. It had everything to do with my sister, who was, quite literally, in some danger with me firing off these toy arrows near her. Looking back at it, it illustrates to me the lengths that my mother would go to in order to keep her children safe.

And now the one-eighty…

Fast forward some mumblety-mumble years. My mother is now dying. And for the first time in I can’t even count how many years, I’m getting ready to leave her for a little bit, and as I leave, I hug her, and tell her that I love her. She said to me, “I know you do, Baby. I love you, too.”

We have never been one of those demonstrative families. I suppose that we all just assumed that we each “knew” that we loved each other. We didn’t see the need for saying it. But the flood of emotion, when she spoke to me, and said those words… There really is no way for me to describe it. I have always known, beyond any doubt, that my mother loves me. There has never been a question about that. But, knowing it, and having it said to you, I realize now, are two completely different things.

I’ve mentioned in a past post that my mother has never been afraid to verbally smack the shit out of me when it’s needed. Mom is an Irish-Catholic matriarch, and those of you who have experienced this type of personality before will know what I mean. These are not women that you cross. And when I have been a major fuck up – which has been more often than I like to think about – my mother has always been the first to give me holy hell.

At the same time, she has also always been there for me. When I’ve needed someone to listen to me, when I’ve needed to cry, she’s been there. And she’s never complained about it.

The world is preparing to lose someone who is going to be, in my opinion, irreplaceable. But on the other hand, she will be leaving a mark here. In her children, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren, she will live on. And while the world will be a bit dimmer because of her loss, it will also be a bit brighter because of the legacy that she’ll leave behind.

I love you, Mom. That will never end, never change…

I love you…

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I’ve been learning some things over the past few days.  The things I’ve been learning have served to point out to me that in my initial surprise and shock, I was very focused on how this whole thing was hurting me.  And I understand that this is only natural, particularly when the person you’re losing is a parent.  But I’ve heard some things, both from my mother and from some of the people around me, and I’ve begun to see things in a new way.

I went to visit Mom the other day. Brought her some fruit to nibble on, because she doesn’t have the appetite that she had not all that long ago.  And, some foods just hurt, physically, for her to swallow.  When I got there she was up and moving around, and in good spirits. She had been out to do some errands – a little shopping, to the bank and drug store, etc.  She had also been to see her oncologist, and while there are a few more tests to do, mostly to examine the extent to which this may have spread through her body, her prognosis is as follows:

She will be starting chemotherapy.  Depending on how successful that chemo is, she may have up to about two years left to live. If it is not successful, she looking at something on the order of eight months to one year. When she told me this, I kind of let it just settle in to the back of my mind, to be looked at later.  I did not want to make her uncomfortable with some huge display of breaking down.  And honestly, by letting myself sit with it there for a while, that never happened.  Because in the course of talking to her, she said a couple of things that stayed with me.

My sister has told her that  she feels like Mom is giving up, because she won’t go hunting for every available and possible treatment that there might be.  My mother points out that she trusts her doctors, and that she has accepted what’s happening. She then said, “There’s a big difference between giving up, and accepting.”  She didn’t elaborate, but she didn’t really need to.  The other thing she said, which surprised me given her religious background, is that she doesn’t want any “damn priests coming to see her.  I’m not sure what that was about, really, except that she followed it up by saying, “Me and God? We’ve made our peace.”

I’ve begun to realize something here.  My mother is a very unique and amazing woman.  In many cases, when someone is faced with the knowledge that they are going to lose a parent, that parent is often so ill, so utterly out of touch, that they don’t get to spend that good, quality time with them, really.  Or, they have a parent who simply dies suddenly, without warning.  In both of these cases, the people left behind are quite likely to have a lot of regrets about things that were left unsaid, and probably always will remain that way.

My family has been given a gift here.  We know that Mom is going to die, hopefully not soon, but most likely within two years, at the very most.  We have a chance that many people never get.  We can sit and spend time with her. We can share memories, both good and bad, with her.  We have all this time in front of us in which to say all the things that kids and family usually don’t get said out in the open.  I’ve mentioned that I never told my Mom that I love her enough.  And while this remaining time won’t make up for all of the lost opportunities, I still have this time to say it to her, to show it to her.

But more than anything else, I have this time to spend with her saying goodbye.  And she gets the same thing. She gets this time to say goodbye to each of us in the way that she wants to do that.  This is going to be one of the hardest periods of my life.  But, I’ll get through it.  And that “closure” that everyone always talks about, that thing that so many people never get when a loved one dies?  I get to start on it now, and work with it, through it, and come out on the other side knowing that I did my very best to try to make my Mom’s remaining time with us the best time that it can be.

So, I need to take the focus off of myself, as much as I can.  Of course it will affect me, if it didn’t, there’d be something insanely wrong with me.  But, I can make this a good time with her. Focusing more on her will help to ease my own pain over this.  That’s how these things work, and it’s part of what they mean by Karma, I think.

It’s going to be a long rough road.  And I’m sure I’ll trip up from time to time. But I owe it to her to be as strong as I can for her.  She deserves to leave us all knowing that we’re going to be okay.  That’s always been her main focus – making sure that the people around her are okay.  We need to let her know that we’ll be okay when she’s gone.

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Reality Check – Continued

I think that my posts will be a bit more prolific for a while here. This will probably be my outlet for now.

It has struck me today that I am, at this moment, awash in self-pity. All of my thoughts have been about how I’m going to find it so hard to deal with watching my mother die; about how much I’m going to miss her when the inevitable happens; about how I don’t know if I can figure out how to get through this. That’s not to say that they are invalid thoughts and feelings – they are there, they exist, and they will have an effect on me. But, I need to keep sight of something here.

I am not the one who is dying.

While I have never actually witnessed it first hand and close up, I know that lung cancer is a long and painful way to die. My mother is facing an ordeal that I can barely conceive of. Quite frankly, she is facing it with a measure of courage, grace, and dignity that I don’t know if I could muster were I faced with the same thing. Were she anyone else, I would have to think that her statement about not being afraid is a load of crap. But I know my mother. She’s not afraid. She may not be looking forward to this, but neither does she fear it.

My Mom is a complex, and yet a very simple woman. I watched her cling to her religious faith, even when her church turned its back on her, until she managed to find a way to quite literally force them to change their findings of her situation, and allow her to receive the sacraments again. Trust me – there aren’t many people who can take on the Catholic church and win. I have watched her bear the grief of dead children and dead parents; watched her suffer through a myriad of trials. The operative word there is “through.” She suffered through her ordeals, and she did so with a grace and dignity that I have rarely, if ever, seen from another person.

I know that she has regrets. We all have regrets about our lives. But my mother has always been a person who can admit to the mistakes that she may have made, do whatever she can do to correct those mistakes, and then move on. She has always known that there is only so much that one can do. That the past is the past, and that we cannot change it. But she was never afraid to admit to her mistakes, and to accept complete responsibility for them. There is a valuable lesson there.

And true to her lifelong way of living, she is now handling her impending death with grace and dignity. She is facing it squarely, admitting to her own responsibility for what is happening to her, and quite frankly, she is showing more concern for the people around her than for herself. She has taken the time to speak to her grandchildren, cheerfully, to speak to myself and my sister, to talk to her own siblings, and she’s done all of this without a shred of self-pity. Most of us, when we think of “putting our affairs in order,” think of things like life insurance, funeral arrangements, etc. My mother is thinking in terms of making sure that she has some quality time with everyone in her family.

I know that every one of us probably thinks this way, but, I believe that I have been blessed with having the very best mother in the world. At least, she is the best mother that I could have hoped for. She has laughed with me, she has cried with me, she has shared in every bit of joy and pain that I have experienced.. She has stood by my side through everything that has ever affected me. She has also never hesitated to verbally smack the shit out of me when I deserved it.

I will make no apology here. For any woman I have ever known, no matter how wonderful a woman you may be, I have to say this.

I have been blessed to spend my life with a mother who is, without any doubt, the most amazing woman I have ever had the honor of knowing. That honor is only increased by the fact that she is my mother. ..

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Reality Check

Those few of you who are familiar with this blog know that my typical posts generally consist of a rant about one thing or another that has for some reason irritated or annoyed me. I like writing things like that – they help me to sort out my own thoughts about whatever topic I may be writing about. This post is not a rant. But I hope that it will have the same effect for me – to help me sort out and come to grips with my thoughts at this moment.

For the past several years, I have been increasingly faced with something that just about everyone eventually has to face: The aging of their parents. I know that my mother and step-father are getting old, they’re in their seventies. Today, though, I felt something that I was not prepared for, and really, I’m not sure if there is a way to fully prepare for it.

I went to visit them today, my parents. My step-dad was doing well. But I was unprepared to walk in the door and find my mother sitting on the sofa with an oxygen tube at her nose. She has long had COPD, having been a lifelong smoker. She patted the couch and had me sit next to her, because she has lost most of her voice. It was then that she told me that she has been diagnosed with lung cancer.

There is no prognosis as yet. We won’t have that until she speaks with an oncologist. At this point, all we know is that there are two tumors in her lung, that it is what she called “progressive,” and that this has, in a very short span of time, sucked a lot of the life out of a woman who just a week ago was the feistiest little skinny Irish-Catholic matriarch you could ever meet. Now she can barely climb the stairs. As she sat next to me, she was slumped sideways, leaning on the arm of the couch.

Somehow, I have always had this delusion in the back of my mind that my mother is immortal. That she would be here, kicking someone’s ass, long after I had died and turned to dust. Reality has stood up and punched me square in the teeth today. I am faced with my mother’s mortality, and I know more surely than I have ever known anything in my life that watching her die will be the hardest thing that I have ever had to face.

She is in remarkably good spirits.  She is not afraid – in fact, when asked that question, “Aren’t you afraid?”  she responded by saying that she’s lived a good life, that she’s now paying the price for refusing to quit smoking, and that she wants to put her affairs in order. I spent a short time with her today, not wanting to tire her out any more than necessary, and when I was leaving, I hugged her and told her that I love her. I felt a knife run through my heart as I realized how few have been the times that I’ve told her that.

It struck me in that moment, I mean, really struck me hard, that I’m about to embark on a journey that I am not prepared for. Unless something truly unforeseen happens, I am going to be spending as much time with my mother as I can, so that I can be sure that I will be with her when she dies. I don’t want her to die – I want her to be immortal. But she is not immortal, and her time to cross over is now approaching, and it is, it seems to me, frighteningly close.

If I’m truly honest, it is the selfish little boy inside me who is so frightened.  My mother is probably the strongest woman I have ever known. She has been, through my entire life, the person who was the rock when someone needed a steady and solid person to lean on. That little boy inside of me is absolutely terrified of losing his mother. She has always been there when I needed her, for whatever reason. She has loved me with the fierce kind of love that only a mother can display towards her children, and compared to which, every other form of love will fall short.

I don’t know what I’m going to do when she is gone. But for now, having been blessed with some warning about this, I will spend as much time with her as I can, and I will try to do everything in my power to let her know that if I have managed to accomplish anything in life, if I’ve proven to be of some value to others, if I’ve managed to leave some small mark on this world, it is only because of her that I was able to do so.

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