Monday, September 2, 2013

A Letter For My Mother

September 2, 2013

September 2, 1985. A day that changed life as I knew it forever.

Yesterday I wrote about my experience of September 1, 1985~ leading up to my mother's death. You can read about that here if you missed it.

My life has changed again and again and again in these last 28 years.......when I became a mother myself I learned first hand how hard it was. I have not always done it right~ but I have done the best I can with what I have at the time......this is a lesson I learned from my mother.......this and SO many more.

This is the letter I write to my mother today~~~

Dearest Mom,

I'm not sure how to start a letter to you~ but I'll just speak from my heart~ and we'll see where that takes me.

I want to tell you that I love you. I have always loved you and I always will. I believe that you loved all 4 of us.......I know that it must have been hard for you to express love for your son~ when he looked and acted so much like our father.....but if you could~ would you please let him know in some way that you did love him just the same. He is struggling mightily last I heard........I fear it won't be long until he is lost forever.

I still grieve for you.....and now your namesake~ my sister~ has joined you in the cosmos. Her life mirrored your own in so very many ways. It seemed as though she could never escape from that the end they say she was happy~ I hope this is true.

I am not as close to my baby sister as I would like to be~ it seems as though we live a world apart~~ and in many ways we always have.

I want to apologize for always being so hard on you. I know that you always believed in me. I know that you had huge dreams and plans for how my life would turn out. Although my life today barely resembles your life plan for me....... I hope that you are proud of the woman and mother I have become.

I never really understood *why* you did the things that you did......never fathomed *why* you made the choices that you is ironic that I would now use one of your favorite momisms to describe me: I couldn't see the forest for the trees.

When I became a mother~ the whole world changed ~ I promised myself that I would not end up like you. I promised my daughter that she would have a better childhood than both you and I did. I hope I lived up to those least the one about the I age ~ I have learned that we share lots of qualities and I am no longer afraid of what that means.

A short 5 years after you died I looked around at my life~~~ and I was horrified to realize I had~ in fact~ mirrored some of the hardest parts of your life: I was uneducated, jobless, divorced, single mother, hated my ex husband and his new wife and I was involved in an abusive relationship with a man who resembles your last husband far too much for my comfort.

This was a terrifying realization on SO many levels......but it was also a turning was also the point at which I decided to take some of your advice and pick myself up~ dust myself off~ and start again.

It was YOU and your words that I heard in my head when I enrolled in college. It was you and your sister who ALWAYS told me I could be whatever I wanted to be......and I believed you both. You used to compare me to that sister when you were feeling like I was getting a little too sassy or 'big for my britches'. At the time I always thought of that as a compliment~ in fact I still do. I had the opportunity recently to spend a good deal of time with your sister~ she said that she thinks I am "a beautiful combination" of you and grandma in looks and mannerisms........that made me cry~ tears of joy to be sure. I shared with her the story of the day of your death~ she has so much pain associated with that day and the events that followed. I told her that even though you were jealous of her and you thought she was somehow 'better' than you~ you loved her very much. I'm not sure she believes me......she too could use some reassurance of your love.

When I realize that the only grandchild of your own that you ever got to meet is also dead now~ it makes me very sad. I don't know *what* happens when we die~ but I *have* to believe that *something* does......THIS simply cannot BE all there is. If you are with your mother, Jason and Elaine please tell them how much their family loves them. I believe that you all died so very young because your pain here on earth was just too much to endure. Childish maybe~ but I believe it to be so.

I lost my own son not all that long ago~~ and I remember very distinctly grandma's words standing beside your casket. She said "a mother should NEVER have to bury her child" and now I know that lesson all too well.

I want you to know that I am happy. I have had the opportunity to see and do things that I once could only imagine. I have 4 beautiful and amazing living children. They are, in large part, the reason I am who I am. You are a great-grandmother now. Your great-grandson is absolutely beautiful~ blond hair, blue eyes, amazing smile~ he looks so very much like his mother and her father.

Thank you for teaching me *not* to make disparaging remarks to my children with regard to their father.
Thank you for teaching me that I did not have to remain in any relationship that is toxic~ no matter the nature of that relationship.
Thank you for teaching me that I had worth.
Thank you for telling me that I am beautiful.
Thank you for believing in me.
Thank you for helping to shape me into the mother and woman I am today.
Thank you for teaching me that children NEED responsibilities.
Thank you for teaching me that yelling and screaming at my children almost always does more damage than good.
Thank you for putting a woman in my life who has become like a mother to me and a grandmother to my children~ she will never take your place~ but she has loved me as if I am her own~ and she has 'mothered' me when I needed it the most.
Thank you for teaching me that I must stand on my own two feet.
Thank you for teaching me that the only person I can and should control is myself.
Thank you for teaching me that I should always be responsible for myself~ that my financial and emotional well being should *not* be controlled by ANYONE but me.
Thank you for mothering me and my siblings even when it was hard.
Thank you for loving us the only way you knew how.

I forgive you for the things I once hated you for. I forgive you for the shortfalls in your parenting.

Please forgive me for judging you. Please forgive me for being so hard on you. Please forgive me for thinking even for a moment that your life or choices were EASY.

Please know that no matter where I far I travel in the successful at anything I ever am.......I will *always* remember from where I came. I will always remember that you did your best. I will try to tell my children about the GOOD things you did~ and the funny things you would say~~~I will do my best to remember you in the best possible light as often as I can.

Though you are gone~ I still remember your smile, the way would laugh at your own jokes, the way you smelled when you hugged me and the image of you holding baby Jason for the first time.

I hope that you have found the peace you struggled for your whole life.

I hope that I make you proud.

I see you in my dreams~ you are young and pretty and happy~ those are some of my favorite dreams.

I love you with my whole heart.

Be well mom~ you more than deserve it.

Love Always,
Your second daughter

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Flashback: 28 years Ago Today

Sometimes I remember the day as if it were yesterday.....

I was sitting in my living room this morning~ watching my young children play. I *just happened* to look at the clock~ it was 10:35, mid morning on a hot, humid Sunday morning~ Labor Day tomorrow~~~ and it HIT ME.........28 years ago today was *also* a hot, humid Sunday morning~ and Labor Day was the next day~~~ but *that* morning was vastly different than today. I knew the anniversary was tomorrow~ I have been thinking about it for 2 weeks now.........but today: TODAY it ALL came flashing back......

28 years ago today my mother woke me up in the morning and said that she had a terrible headache and her back hurt.......she had frequent headaches and back problems, so I thought nothing out of the ordinary with that statement. She said "will you please rub my back?" and I said "yes". I did not know that those would be the last words my mother would ever speak.

This is my recollection of that day~ 28 years ago~~~

I was rubbing her shoulders.....there was no cry of words spoken....nothing in the that bedroom or the universe that could have prepared my 14 year old self for the horror of the next 15+ hours.

I had no idea why~~ but suddenly something was different. I asked her if she was okay~ she did not answer~~ it was then that I placed the palm of my hand on her back~ and it was then that I discovered she was not breathing.

The events of the next 15 hours have left scars on my heart and so very, very many painful images that cannot ever be unseen. I relive them sometimes~ in my nightmares~ and I always wake up the same~ covered in sweat, feeling like I am gasping for breath ~ and screaming.

In my heart of hearts I genuinely believe that my mother left her earthly vessel ~ a body that had endured a lifetime of struggle and more pain than I could imagine at the time~~~~that morning in the bedroom........I felt it then and I still feel it today. She was not there~ she never came back~ she was gone and though I could not comprehend the magnitude of the situation~ I *knew* it to be true just the same.

It would take the world another 15 hours or so to accept that and begin to process it. The paramedics came......quickly......they were just down the street.......they tried~~ gods know they tried ~ I remember them working so feverishly to bring her back. I remember that every time they got her heart to beat ~ they would pick up the stretcher~~~ move 3 feet~ only to have the monitor flat line indicating that her heart had stopped again. And they would put the stretcher down and try again. Now I don't know if you have ever seen or participated in doing CPR on a person~ but it is grueling and very HARD work. And it is a brutal thing for a child to watch~ especially when it is their mother.

I have no idea exactly how long this went on~~ but it seemed like forever. Eventually they did get her heart to beat and stay beating and they had intubated her~ and then I was in the back of the ambulance~ and it seemed SO LOUD~ and there was so much happening~ and I think I was crying silently~ at least I am in my nightmares.

Screaming down the street she was transported to a hospital nearby. A team of clinicians used everything that was available at the time to try to bring her back.

For a brief while (a couple/few hours maybe) they were successful in getting her heart to beat again and stay beating. She was placed on a ventilator and transferred to the ICU. But as the day wore on it was becoming more and more evident that it was not going to work. She remained unresponsive.

The waiting room near the ICU is VERY small~ and only 2 people could go in to see her at a time. It was in that small waiting room that we cried and talked and cried and talked and then cried some more.

My mother had always been very adamant about not "living like a vegetable" (her words~ not mine). She had endured WAY more than her fair share of medical issues and had many surgeries. Always she had expressed that if it came down to it~ she did not want to live the rest of her life on a ventilator in "some goddamned nursing home somewhere" (her words~ not mine).

Late in the evening two doctors asked us all to gather in the tiny waiting room. From there they escorted ALL of us into the ICU (you *know* it's bad when the let the whole damn family in at once). In her room one of the doctors explained to us that during the LONG length of time that her heart was not beating and she was not breathing~ her brain was deprived of oxygen. That deprivation had most likely left her with a significant amount of brain damage~ there was no way to tell for sure as she was far too unstable to be transported to radiology for a CT or MRI. But, based on his years of experience and the tell tale signs that my mother was displaying ~ or not displaying as the case may be~ it was his estimation that she may never recover to her previous self. And he asked us to begin talking over the options (which really~ we had been doing all day). He said it may not come down to a choice for US to make~ if her heart did not respond to all of the meds and efforts~ there would be nothing more that they could do.

So crying and sobbing like a pack of wounded animals we returned to the tiny waiting room and we talked. We talked A LOT. Her mother, father and sisters were on there way~ once they got word they packed and started driving what must have been a really grueling and horrible 11 hour trip. There was no way to reach them on the highway~ these being the days long before cell phones. We were (and I'm certain they were too) praying that they would get to her in time.

Now I have no love for the man who was my step-father at the time. He was cruel to my mother and to us..........really just a horrible human being. He did very *little* RIGHT by us.............but I have to give credit where credit is due. He did *this* one thing right.....

We decided together~ her four children and husband~ that we would take a wait and see approach~ knowing the doctors needed to prepare us for the worst~ we decided to hope for the best.........

And then he came......the doctor whose face I can't even remember......and his voice was urgent. He rushed out with the words telling us that my mother was now having periods where her heart would not beat correctly (it's called ventricular fibrillation) and this heart rhythm directly precedes her heart stopping. Since she was in the ICU and connected to more machines than I could count~ when her heart entered this rhythm~ they would "shock her back" before her heart stopped. But at this point they had shocked her roughly every 10-12 minutes and the cycle was just repeating. He said that he needed us to make a decision *now*. He said they *could* keep shocking her~ and as long as her heart beat came back this cycle could repeat......however he said eventually that would fail too~ could be a few minutes or a few hours~ but her heart was too badly damaged as was the rest of her body~ her systems were shutting down. He reiterated that he felt that her brain had suffered a tremendous amount of damage and that she would not survive. 4 pairs of children's eyes~ red and swollen from crying~ stared back at him in silence as he told his tale. Once again~ he asked us to decide which path to take......SOON....did we want them to keep shocking her or did we want to let her go?

We talked very briefly after he left the waiting room~ for we had been talking about it for 15 hours now.........and we all *knew* and agreed what was both the right thing to do and what she had always conveyed that she wanted. It was time to let her go.

Back into the ICU we streamed *just* as they were shocking her ~~ I'm sure you've seen it on TV~ where they goop up the paddles and yell CLEAR and everyone moves back and then KABLAMMO......and then they stare at the monitor to see if it worked.......did not ~ CLEAR and KABLAMMO......check again~ did it work? yes...ok heart beating. Well let me tell you what~ if I live to be 120 I swear I will never, ever be able to get that image out of my mind~ the image of her body~~ connected to a ridiculous number of tubes and machines~ *literally* coming up off the bed from the electric haunts me in my nightmares~ but not nearly so often as it once did.

In we streamed to her bedside. Conveyed to the doctor that we knew (for real and for certain after seeing the HORROR of they were doing to her poor body) she would not want this. And we did not want this. And as hard as the words were to say we said: when it happens again~ please don't shock her......and he expressed sympathy and understanding and left the room.

Around her bedside we gathered~ we held hands~ we cried quietly~ I know I was praying~ though I wasn't really sure what to pray for.....

And then all of the monitors started alarming~~~ and you can see the tracing of her heart beat on the monitor~ it was not the beep, beep, beep that the monitor had been making all day~

I'm not sure which of us in the room asked, but someone did "is this IT" they said...."yes" the nurse said "this is it"..........holding hands with the person next to us we all reached out to touch her....and I remember thinking in my head (though I do not know if I said it aloud)'s okay mom, we love you, you can go, your suffering is at peace.

And the monitor that had been tracing her heart now made one continuous screaming bbbbbbeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeppppppppppppp...........and the line was flat.

And she was gone.

She was my mother, she did the best she could with what she had.
I believe she loved us all and wanted us to have a happily every after life.

Her name was Donna..... and just after 1 in the morning~ September 2, 1985 surrounded by her children she died.

She was 37 years old.