The Long Goodbye
07 April 2015
April 3, 2015
I am writing this entry out of the timeline sequence because no matter where one takes up residence in life, no matter how we choose to live our lives, nature prevails, and the circle of life continues.
Yesterday, we lost my dear, sweet mother. She was 84 years old.
Some of you may have read an earlier blog, "The Long Walk Home." This story was just one chapter in the digression of an illness that attacked my mother's brain, slowly and consistently, taking her from us one piece at a time.
It started about 15 years ago when I received a call from Mom. She was crying. When I finally got her to say what was wrong, she admitted that she could no longer make sense of her checkbook. What might look like simple confusion on the surface was, to us, a huge red flag. (Although neither one of us spoke the words out loud.) And Mom was scared. In fact, we both were.
Some families have histories of breast cancer, others might have heart disease. Our family has a history of Dementia. And this first sign, was the beginning of a very long journey. One that has been heartbreaking and yet, at times, full of tenderness and joy. Like in the early stages, when Mom still had an appetite, my brother, Jack, would come over and barbeque. While standing over the grill, he would tell stories of my father, reminding Mom of her life with her husband and our Dad. Or like the times I would massage her neck and she would sigh with such relief. Or when my brother, Jim, would make her laugh. Or Jay would get her to sing along with him while he played the Ukelele. Or when my brother-in-law, Michael, would wash, cut and style her hair. All these small acts of kindness made her days just a little bit better. And up to the last month or so, I could call Mom and say hello. She couldn't really put words together to make a coherent sentence, but would giggle and say, "Oh!" And I knew she knew who I was. These memories mean so much to me. I will carry them with me always.
It has been challenging too. On so many levels; emotionally, physically, and financially. And with it has arisen some very troublesome questions.
I don't believe in the death penalty. I don't believe we have the right to take another human life. And, therefore, I have never quite accepted the idea of assisted suicide. And yet... Watching someone I love suffer when I know there is no hope of recovery has made me see, with a clearer understanding, how one might consider this final act, an act of love.
This is very difficult for me to admit. But it is true. Uncomfortable, but true. I am struggling with this because I don't believe it would be okay for me to make that decision. Even if the person agreed to it when they were coherent. It is against everything I thought I believed.
Trying to reconcile these emotions with my moral principles has caused me many a sleepless night.
Seeking counsel, I wrote to a dear friend of mine who is a priest and I asked him, "I know I should be praying, but what is the prayer?" He wrote back with some quotes from the bible and prayers that we could recite, but that didn't really answer my question because I didn't ask the real question I wanted to know.
"Is it wrong to pray for someone to die?"
So my prayer became to ask for God to take Mom home. Soon. Her suffering had increased. So my prayer was to ask for her not to suffer. Then she moved into the last stages and no one in our family was physically (not to mention emotionally) capable of taking care of Mom any longer. So another prayer was added - for God to take Mom home before we had to put her into a "care" center. Because none of us wanted that. No one ever does. When it became clear that there was no other choice than to put Mom into a home, my prayer changed again and became for her not to have to linger weeks, months, years in this place.
And if I am honest, the prayer was not only for Mom, but for the family, for the caretakers; especially Jim and Michael, but for Jay and me, too. It would have put an emotional and financial strain on all of us that would have been devastating.
Then there is the guilt one feels when getting to this point.
I dare say this journey will take months, if not years, (if ever) to fully understand the scope of how her illness, her life - and the process of her death - has touched and changed my soul.
I don't know why some prayers get answered and others don't. I know we are not alone in having to make these decisions. I know the difficulty in accepting that there comes a time when no one in the family is capable of caring for their loved ones. It just becomes physically impossible. I know that many people are dealing with this and other horrendous diseases where they have to make impossible choices. And my heart goes out to each and every one.
Fortunately, for our family, our prayers were answered and Mom was able to live with Jim and Michael all but the last nine days. And those nine days, the hospice took good care of her and made her comfortable. Living only two blocks away, Jim and Michael made sure of that.
So, there is much to be grateful for. Namely, for this lovely lady in my life who I was fortunate enough to call Mom. I would like to share with you a little bit about my mother.
First, check out the photos of Mom in the gallery. Wasn't she absolutely beautiful? I especially like the one of her and I when I was probably nineteen and Mom was in her forties. I have no memory of the moment, but I just love the expression on her face. I am thinking she is thinking I am some sort of rascal. And I probably was. You can also see she had a good sense of humor and didn't shy away from being silly.
Mom was a quiet and private person. She was an introvert. A shy person in social situations. Which is interesting because one of her favorite tales to tell was that she won the lead role in her high school senior play, "Our Town." Later, she went off to Rutger's College, but met my father and married with only one year of college completed. I often wondered if she wished she had finished college or went on to be an actor, or both. Maybe she had some fleeting thoughts, but I think she was where she wanted to be and that was to be a wife and mother. Through the years, she had various jobs, but her primary responsibility was to her family. And for that we all benefited.
She was smart, too. A straight-A student in all her years of school. Her specialty was accounting. She enjoyed working with numbers. And she was always home to help me with my homework. It is because of her that I take such care in my choice of words as she was constantly correcting my grammar.
"If you are going to do something, Terri, do it right."
It was Dad who taught me to love jazz, but it was Mom who taught me to love classical music. In fact, she and my Aunt Dorothy instilled a passion for all music. In Mom's earlier years, she played piano and she always loved to sing. She was an alto and loved harmonizing. In her later years, she joined the choir in her church.
She loved children and volunteered in pre-schools and elementary schools. She also worked with one of the hospitals in Tucson to help to care for babies that were born to drug-addicted mothers. They needed to be held and fed and she got immense joy from soothing the hearts of those little ones.
But her special joy was loving and caring for her grandchildren. Watching them grow. She was quite proud of both Alex and Talia as she shared in their achievements along the way. Although Mom lived in Arizona while we lived in California, she still flew in for all the special occasions; holidays, graduations, Talia's dance performances and Alex's concerts. And in the summer, the kids would fly to Arizona and stay with her for a month or two at a time. She would take them to the zoo, the local pool and to the movies. Summers in Arizona bring monsoons and together they would sit on her porch and watch the lightening over the mountains. Later in the evenings, Mom would allow Alex to stay up late and watch TV and she and Talia would go to bed and giggle themselves to sleep. These simple but sweet memories are a gift we all cherish.
Oh, we had our ups and downs, like all families. I was a rebellious teenager and caused my mother great concern. But once I became a mother, we instantly bonded on a deeper level and we became the best of friends.
While I shared all things water with my father (my mother never learned to swim), Mom and I would go to the theater, concerts and museums together. She liked to walk so we would take long walks in her neighborhood and sometimes in the mountains and canyons surrounding Tucson. Or at the beach in Santa Monica where I lived.
There is only so much one can say about a person's life than can be put into a few paragraphs, but there you have a glimpse.
I will miss her every day of my life but I have enough faith to believe she is in a better place. For this, too, I am grateful.
After hearing of my mother's death, I took a walk. I passed two men on the dock and overheard their conversation. One was congratulating the other on the birth of his child.
"Yep! A beautiful little girl. Mama and daughter are doing just fine." He said with a huge grin.
I smiled at his joy and couldn't help but think I was meant to hear his words.
One life passes and another one is born. Nature prevails. The circle of life continues.
Irene Janice (Jan) Ziegler Potts - Born, July 26, 1930 - Died, April 2, 2015. RIP
PS: Thank you all who sent prayers her way during these difficult years. xxoo