|Mom and her hero, Eleanor Roosevelt|
Life was good.
Not perfect, mind you. I knew my mother was ill, and facing a serious operation, but the doctors were confident, she was prepared, and we had just completed a fairly strenuous week in D.C. We thought she was ready to battle the tumor that was discovered just before our trip. It was a fresh start, the beginning of a new chapter for her, after two years of constant care-giving as my dad lost his battle with dementia, and a third year of dealing with residential care before he passed away last August.
I struggled last year, trying to write about Dad in a way that made sense. I never could, and I said very little about his death at the time. The loss was greater than I could have imagined, even though he had been slipping away a little at a time over several years. Even now, I find myself getting teary-eyed when I try to write about him. He really was a fine example of what Tom Brokaw dubbed The Greatest Generation.
|At the WWII Memorial, remembering Dad|
My two sisters and I did not want her to go to a nursing home to recover. She wanted to come home, and we wanted her to. So we banded together, worked out a schedule, and started sharing around-the-clock care so that she could recover in her own home. We helped her in and out of bed until she was able to get up by herself. We cooked meals, urging her to eat "just a little," even when she had no appetite. We did laundry, washed dishes, cleaned floors, whatever needed doing. My shift was from Friday afternoon to Sunday night, so that I only had to make the 150 mile roundtrip once a week. For two months, I left work every Friday afternoon, drove 75 miles to Mom's and relieved my sister. On Sunday afternoon my relief would arrive and I'd drive home so I could work the next day.
Unfortunately, she wasn't the only hospital patient this summer. On July 14 (my long-suffering, incredibly patient husband's birthday), I became violently ill. A trip to the emergency room confirmed that I was, indeed, very sick, and they loaded me into an ambulance for a 90-mile trip to a regional medical center - our small town didn't have a qualified surgeon. I can tell you that "Code 3" really does mean they use the lights, and siren if needed, all the way. I can now take that little item off my bucket list. Probably shouldn't have been there to begin with.
I was immediately poked, prodded, pictured, and prepped. Six hours of surgery later, I arrived in recovery minus a gall bladder, an intestinal blockage, and at least four major hernias - silly me, I thought I had one hernia.
For the next nine days my husband lived in a small motel room a few blocks from the hospital, spending his days with me as I tried to recover from surgery. He was my rock, my security blanket, and the one person I trusted absolutely during that time. Several times he sat at my bedside and read to me when I didn't have the strength to hold a book or focus on words, and I often fell asleep as he read, comforted by the sound of his voice. Hearing him made me feel safe; nothing bad could happen while he was there, watching out for me.
My sisters stretched themselves to cover the care of my mother, since I couldn't help. In fact, just three days after being released I was back in the hospital with a post-operative infection. The next four days were a round of IV antibiotics, short walks around the ward, and exhaustion, but eventually I was released again, and allowed to come home. That was August 1. For the next six weeks I had a WoundVac and an open incision, which kept me fairly immobile.
My husband immediately drove me the 70 miles to the hospital, and I spent the afternoon talking with her. She was in full control of her senses, she knew what she was doing, and she had very good reasons for her decision. Devastating as it was, I had to admit she was making the right choice for her. For the rest of us, it was heart-breaking. But seeing her relaxed and smiling, even cracking jokes with us, made us all realize how right her choice was. She was happy again, for the first time in months, and that meant more to us than we could say.
My sisters, bless them, stayed with her through it all. My aunt came to stay, too, and the three of them were with her around the clock. I went several times, and each time I had the chance to tell her I loved her, and to hear her say she loved me. The last words she spoke to me were "Love you bunches."
Mom passed away peacefully on the morning of September 1, just two weeks after the first anniversary of my father's death. As I wrote in her obituary, "A strong, remarkable, woman, she faced her final illness with grace, courage, and amazing good humor."
Physically, I am still recovering, and the doctor tells me it will probably take the rest of the year before I am fully healed. I am back to work at the day job, but have yet to work a full week - thankfully, I had a lot of vacation time accumulated, and my bosses have been amazingly understanding.
Thanks for bearing with me through a long, serious post. This last year has taken a lot out of me, but I will eventually recover my usually-optimistic outlook, and my sense of humor. With luck, they will both be on display when I make the next post.
And I certainly hope that will be sooner than another three months!