Brush Strokes

Life continues to provide challenges and opportunities to learn and grow. I should begin by telling you that my mother passed away on New Year’s Eve morning after an illness of almost exactly a month.

It began right after Thanksgiving with an episode of shortness of breath and  unexplained pain in her midsection.  X-rays revealed some healing fractured ribs, which were most likely the result of a fall about a month prior.

Between the pain from the ribs, COPD, and a pronounced curvature of her spine due to osteoporosis, her ability to breathe deeply was compromised. She went from hospital to rehab, and then back to the hospital. The doctors were confident that she’d recover sufficiently enough to enter an assisted living facility. Unfortunately, she just got weaker and weaker. She started to refuse to eat, the carbon dioxide level in her blood resisted all efforts to lower it, her heartbeat became irregular, and the decision was finally made to keep her comfortable and just let her go.

Six of her eight children were able to spend time with her in the hours before she left; she was able to say her goodbyes and let go peacefully.

The next few days were a whirlwind of discussions, decisions, phone calls, family gatherings, and visits to her apartment to figure out what to do with her personal effects.  The minutiae of death is mind-boggling.

And through it all, I felt surprisingly calm. I’d spent enough time with her to connect on a deeper level than I had ever experienced with her. She even talked to me briefly about s-e-x and acknowledged that she realized that we held different opinions about politics.

I had always assumed that I’d feel a huge rush of relief when she died. I’m just happy that her end wasn’t even more protracted and painful.  She was a die-hard, old-school Catholic who wanted all heroic measures performed in the event of a serious illness. During the final day of her life, my sister and I had discussions with her doctors who confirmed our suspicions that performing CPR on a person with such brittle bones would have a disastrous outcome. The hospital chaplain reassured us that the Church would endorse our decision to make her comfortable and let her go.  She later verbalized her desire to be freed from her suffering – telling us, point-blank, “I want to die.”

All of us contributed brush strokes to the portrait the pastor painted during her eulogy. She was a convert to Catholicism as a teenager.  She was fiercely devoted to our Dad.  She believed in and followed the Church’s teachings.  She was a die-hard Buffalo Bills fan.  She was an avid – more like rabid –  follower of politics and a true conservative, who loved a “lively debate.” (Ha – there was no debate with her. Just evisceration.)

But what I’d like to leave you with are these thoughts:

Don’t smoke.

Do weight-bearing exercises and get enough calcium in your diet.

We can get through really hard times – 100% sober.

As for me, I’m fine.  Kind of waiting to feel…… more.  If I’m being totally honest,  there were many aspects of her personality that I disliked intensely. We absolutely did NOT see eye to eye on most social issues.  She didn’t tolerate other people’s opinions with grace.  She could say breathtakingly cruel things. She fought dirty.

But she was surprisingly compassionate and supportive at times when you most expected judgement. She had a great sense of humor and loved slapstick – the sillier, the better. She was my mother and I loved her, tough old bird that she was. And I’m so glad her suffering is over.

Onward, friends – wishing you health, serenity,  peace, and a very Happy New Year.