Sunday, May 10, 2009

My Mom

I don't know how to even begin this post, and I apologize in advance for what may turn out to be a chaotic mess, but it's something I need to get out.

I was woken up at about 3:15 this morning to the news that my mother had "taken a turn for the worse." To back track a little, several weeks ago, my mother discovered a small lump in her armpit. Tests found that it was a malignant tumor. Her doctors, after considering my mother's medical history, recommended chemotherapy, telling her it promised the best results. For the past 13 or so years, my mother has been constantly battling her health -- primarily an irregular heartbeat that has exacerbated a lot of other issues and really ravaged her immune system. The doctors, though, were optimistic that this cancer would not be a huge issue. Last week, she went into the hospital for chemotherapy and it seemed to do the trick -- the mass was smaller, softer, and all the other things that indicate success. She went home last weekend, we made plans for her to come over for Mother's Day today, and all seemed well. As the week went on, though, her reactions to the chemo became more and more severe, severe enough that she returned to the hospital Thursday. We talked to her Friday and while she seemed a bit groggy, there was still no real cause for alarm. Yesterday morning, she called me about 8:00 to tell me that they were moving her to ICU. Again, no real cause for alarm -- Mom has often been put into ICU for additional monitoring because of her heart. I told her not to worry, everything would be fine, and that I loved her. I talked to the nurses in ICU later that morning who recommended I not come up to visit -- the fear being that, because of my job, I am a carrier monkey of germs galore and they were being really careful to protect her from exposure to anything.

And then came the call this morning. When we got to the hospital, we learned that my mom had coded and it took over a half hour for them to revive her. Once they did revive her, she was, for the most part, unresponsive. My sister and I had to make a decision what to do should she code again, and we followed my mother's wishes that no "extraordinary measures" be taken. The conversation soon became what to do about the myriad of machines to which my mother is hooked up. In talking with my uncle and my mother's fiance, we believe that my mother would not want to continue on the machines. So we had to make a decision whether or not to continue with the respirators and other machines to which my mother was connected. The doctor has asked us to wait so that they can run an EEG tomorrow morning which will determine what, if any, brain function is going on there. He's not optimistic, but he does not want to take any action until we have a definitive idea. The family decision, though, is if the tests show no activity, then the life support has to be discontinued because that is what my mom would want.

People who know me know that my mother and I have not always had the best relationship. It is a relationship that has been fraught with frustration, annoyance, and even hostility at times. And yet it was also a relationship filled with a lot of unconditional love and support. I was my mother's firstborn, and even though I took more after my dad, my earliest memories are all of my mother -- the days we would spend together while my dad was at work, the walks to the library, the hours she would spend reading to me (to the point where she finally recorded herself reading several of my favorite books on tape to appease my demands for more), the movies she and I would go see, my joy when she FINALLY gave into my demands for a little sister (and my subsequent disappointment when I realized that baby sisters are, for the most part, pretty useless when they first arrive). I remember the day she agreed to have a "Freaky Friday" with me and let ME be the mom for the day -- an experiment that lasted all of two minutes when she saw me attempt to stick a piece of bread already covered in peanut butter and jelly into the toaster.

There were the times when my mom made me cringe with embarrassment -- like the time she and I went to see Fatal Attraction and during the kitchen sink sex scene, my mother, apparently remembering my childhood loathing of my freckles, leaned over and said, "Now look at all HER freckles." Like watching a scene like that with my mother wasn't horrifying enough!

There were the times my mom proved herself to be the toughest, scrappiest person out there -- like the many times she stormed into the school office to fight some injustice, whether it was the school's refusal to let me take driver's ed during summer school because of huge enrollment numbers and my birthday falling 10 days after the cut off they had devised to address the huge numbers or fighting to get my sister removed from the class of a woman who followed my then-4th grade sister into the bathroom to "verify" she was really going.

There were the times when my mom made me burst with pride -- like today when my sister told me that the reason my mother had stopped attending her church (a church which she had RAVED about for months on end and then just dropped out of the blue) was because the minister had gotten up and given a sermon preaching hell and damnation against homosexuals.

So much of who I am stems from the upbringing I received from my parents -- my love of literature, my passion for theatre, even my writing. My parents showed me what unconditional love is -- whether it was their love of me and my sister or their love for each other. Even those areas where I rebelled against them (rejecting my father's Republicanism for a life as a liberal Democrat) was made possible by their support -- and the fact that my mother was apparently a closet Democrat all those years.

I am choosing not to have regrets even though my mom and I spent a lot of time the past several years (and especially the past couple months) butting heads and getting into arguments with each other. I am choosing instead to think about all the good times -- and how all of those good times most definitely outweigh the stupid, petty bullshit both of us got wrapped up in. I know my mom loves me, and I know my mom knows that I love her, and in the end, that's what matters most.

Update: My mom died about 9:00 tonight. They called us to tell us she was deteriorating, but by the time we got there, it was too late. She had already died. The last favor my mom did for me was sparing us from having to make the decision to take her off life support. I think I'll be forever grateful to her for that. Even in the end, she was a great mom.


Danielle Mari said...

This is a most touching and beautiful post-- not at all a chaotic mess. I think it shows true love, the best kind of love, when you can always be honest and butt heads like that... knowing that underneath it all is a strong, unbreakable bond.

I love you, Mel. You're the closest thing to a sister I have. My heart is with you, with Ju, with your mom.

Jen said...

Oh Mel, I'm so sorry. Danielle is right--your post is beautiful. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Mike said...

I'll always remember going to see Waiting for Guffman with you and your mom -- so many good times. She was always such a wonderful woman to me.

You and Julie and the rest of your family are in my thoughts and prayers. Love, Mike

Peter said...

Mel, if the rest of us human beings could have your strength and outlook, the world would be a better, more beautiful place.
You did your mother proud with that post. Give yourself a pat on the back and know that our love, thought and prayers are with you and Julie!

NICKI said...

This comment is delayed, but no less heartfelt. You know how to put life into perspective. My thoughts are with you.