I had lofty plans for this blog. And then life happened. And death.
I retired from teaching full time to help care for my elderly mom. I thought I’d start a blog to keep my creative and intellectual sides working, even though I wasn’t bringing home a paycheck.
About a month after my official last day of work, my mom took a tumble going to the mailbox. A few days after that, she announced it was time. Time to sell the house she’d lived in for 57 years–the only home I’d known until I left for college. It was too much for her and too much for us. And even though we’d renovated part of the main floor of our house into a guest suite with the thought that she might come to live with us, she never did move in. She said she thought the changes at our house were nice, but she thought it would be best for us and for her if she moved into an independent living facility. She said, “We’re too close and have too good of a relationship to mess it up by trying to live together.”
Of course, that statement had a whole history of “it’s complicated,” but she was right. It was for the best.
Over the course of the next six weeks, we went through her entire house, sorting things into trash, sell, and keep piles. We had a massive yard sale. We cleaned out the whole house, and we were able to get Mom moved into an independent living facility about a mile from the house she’d lived in since the early 1960s. Same grocery store, same pharmacy, same doctors, same hospital, and virtually the same neighbors.
Life in the senior community went well for a while until things began unraveling. There was a power struggle over the library: readers vs. socializers. There was an argument. Things changed. Mom changed. She started saying things so outrageous that sometimes I’d have to leave to keep from saying something I knew I’d regret. We were confused. Was it a mental illness? Was it dementia? Was she having strokes? As we set out to find the underlying cause of the change, mental deficiencies evolved into physical deficiencies.
She had an accident in the laundry room–bumped into a chair propping open a hydraulic-hinged door. The door closed, hitting her right shoulder. We never could figure out exactly how it happened because her account of the story was always a little jumbled. She had x-rays that showed no injury. She followed up with doctors who couldn’t find any physical signs of impact. Along the way, she quit using her right arm altogether. She talked constantly about being in pain, but the focus of her pain traveled from arm to shoulder to back to hip to feet and around again. None of her pain medications helped.
The medical professionals were as flummoxed as we were. The injury was followed by colds; colds turned into long-term stomach ailments. She refused to go to the dining room for meals, saying she had an upset stomach. She refused dining room delivery of food to her apartment. (We later discovered she’d ordered food from several different restaurants during the course of her digestive woes.) She claimed the housekeeper quit coming to clean. (The housekeeping had come by her apartment twice the day Mom made that claim.) I cleaned her apartment for her. She got upset.
We called in more doctors, but before we could figure out the underlying physical ailment, she fell.
The night she fell her spiral of decline tightened, both mentally and physically. The ED visit turned into an outpatient stay for observation, which turned into a visit to rehab. Rehab led back to the hospital, thanks to a raging UTI. The UTI treatment resulted in C.diff. C.diff under control, she went back to rehab. The back-and-forth between hospital and rehab lasted about a month. She quit eating and refused to drink unless the water was ice cold. The straws were too short for the cups at rehab, so I ordered her longer straws. She still wouldn’t drink water on her own, so CNAs and nurses helped us make sure she was drinking throughout the day.
On Friday, April 5, we found her in her rehab room, unresponsive. The nurse in charge called EMS. Mom’s blood pressure dropped so low during transport that they had to rescue her medically on the way to the hospital. By the time she rolled into the ED, she was stable, but her kidneys and heart were fighting each other to see which would completely fail first. She regained coherence enough to tell us and the doctor that she was tired of fighting and ready to go home to see her mom and dad and my dad, who had all passed years earlier.
Our entire family gathered at her bedside that Friday night. She had something to say to each one of us. And then she said good-bye. Her thoughts and words were clearer in those last conscious moments than they had been in the past few weeks. She drifted off to sleep, aided by morphine. We stayed with her round the clock.
On Sunday morning, April 7, the nurse woke my husband and me and said Mom was getting close to passing. We held onto her, told her we loved her, and a few minutes later she was gone.
The six months since she died have been a lot. Actually, the past couple of years have been a lot. Looking back I can see clues that her mind and body were failing, but I always thought she’d rally. She’d faced challenges before–big challenges like a shattered pelvis–and she’d always fought her way back. But not this time.
Grief is a road paved with second-guesses. I wonder what I could have done differently.
Yet there is also grace. I loved my mom dearly. Our relationship was close and complex. I think many mother-daughter relationships are. We shared a faith in Jesus Christ and I am confident that I will see her again one day, in the presence of our Redeemer.
In the past few days, though they’ve been the most emotional days since her death, I have sensed that it’s time to move forward. I started this blog the month after I retired from teaching, which was right before my mom decided to sell her house. I’ve posted a couple of times, but life and death have a way of bringing projects to a halt. In contrast, healing has a way of getting things moving again. So here we go.
I’m recasting the vision for this space from an education-focused blog for parents, students, and educators to a broader scope of content, which will cover all sorts of things I’m learning, from books I’m reading to courses I’m teaching to resources I’m developing to projects I’m attempting to, well, who knows? That’s the adventure.
I don’t mean to be selfish, but instead of trying to gauge what readers want and getting all stressed out about pleasing other people, I’m doing this for my own growth.
If you’re up for it, join me. Let’s see what we can learn.
P.S. Mom, I love you and I miss you.