May 6, 2010

My first Mother’s Day without mom

I have finally reached that age when I no longer have either of the people who brought me into this world. That really makes me realize that I am indeed older than I thought. I often think of my dad, who passed away 21 years ago, as I find myself so much like him. My mom lived a relatively healthy life for those years since, even though she lost her life time partner. I don’t know how she did it! 

At least it was a good, happy life until the last three years of her life, when she slipped into the living nightmare of Alzheimer’s Disease. We all started seeing signs of Dementia but as most families do, dismissed most of her actions as just old age. After all, she was 89 years old, and she still had good physical health, had regular doctor appointments and was only on medication for high blood pressure and a supplement for good bone health. Even her high blood pressure only began in the last couple years of her life. She never had a serious health issues, could see without glasses most of her life, with the exception of reading since the age of 50, which is normal. In her last decade, she had issues hearing and could never quite get used to finding a hearing aid that worked as well as she wanted.

As mom became more fearful of driving and living in her long time home that she and my dad bought when they first married, she willing wanted to make changes such as selling her home and stopping driving. These weren’t really issues that we had to argue with her about. She didn’t want to drive when she began fearing losing control or not seeing as well. She wanted to sell her house when she realized that it was becoming too much for her to keep up with cleaning and repairing. She fortunately found an opening in a newly built retirement home that was in her community and rent was determined by income, so her monthly rent was affordable to her. We all felt better that she was in a secure environment and she made many new friends as well.

Then when she hit 89, we saw her begin to withdraw from some of the friends at the retirement residence. We saw just little signs of her showing her age, even though she still kept walking on a treadmill every day and often sat with and took care of others who had bad health and no other family to be with them. Mom would often deliver daily newspapers to many and keep them company. 

Then the dreaded fall. It was only in a carpeted hallway and was just one of those things, but she broke her hip. As many people have often observed, something about the anesthetic from the surgery seemed to flip a switch and she began a relatively quick short term memory loss. After some time passed and all pain medications were stopped, she did very well with her recovery of the broken hip and did well in physical therapy. Still, something had changed as she often slipped into forgetfulness of many small things. She repeated things often. Still, we all took into account her hearing loss and recovery process and age and thought that this was probably all normal. Well, it wasn’t!

The real first sign of what was happening to her brain was that she fell again. She did not get hurt this time, but went back to physical therapy, during which it was observed that her mind was probably affecting her physical walking. Her muscles were forgetting how to walk. It went downhill from there. Between my sister and myself, we tried to have her live with us for quite a while, as we continued paying rent for her apartment as we hoped she would recover and be able to live there again. This unfortunately never happened. 

As her mental condition became worse it finally became apparent that she now needed 24 hour professional care and we moved her to a nursing home. This was something that we never wanted to do, and bothered us daily, but we faced that she needed care that we could not do for her. The partially good thing about her memory loss was that time was a confusing thing to her, as it was both never ending and yet standing still. We hoped and prayed that most of her time in the nursing home wasn't apparent to her as every moment was the same as the next moment. She was known as one of the most loved patients at the home who always wanted to make everyone else happy, although when we visited her, she would mostly unload the troubles of her world and mind on us, most likely as she felt comfortable enough to not hold those thoughts in. It was always hard to visit her there and harder to leave, not knowing how long this would last. Her physical condition remained fairly healthy, which during Alzheimer’s, only makes the nightmare last longer for the victim.

During this last winter, due to many snowy days making it difficult for us to get there, we missed a couple of weeks visiting her. In January of 2010, when we finally visited her, she looked like she had taken a turn for the worse. The staff also told us the same about her condition. She wanted to stay in bed most of the day and seemed much weaker. We happened to visit her on January 24, 2010, on Sunday and she was weak and in her bed. She could hardly speak but seemed to snap out of it for a while because she was so happy to see us. It seemed as if she was waiting to see us that last time. 

When we left, I knew it would be a matter of a short amount of time for her to last, but I didn’t think it would happen as fast as it did. That night, January 25, at about 3:30 AM, we received a call from the home. The nurse said in a very quiet voice, “I sorry to let you know that Hannah passed away a few moments ago”. Although I thought it may happen soon, at that moment, it shocked me. I called a local funeral home and hoped they would guide me through what I needed to do. I hung up the phone and laid in bed thinking of the life I had as a young boy, living with my parents in our small home. I thought about how I didn’t have a care in the world, while they made all the difficult decisions of life that parents do. I realized that both of my parents were gone from this world and felt a deep emptiness inside that I had never felt before. I was always closer to my father and my mom seemed to always be closer to my older brother, but now that she is gone, I know she did all that she could to give me the mind, heart and emotional soul that I possess. Who I am and how I am in this world, is because they had an unexpected surprise one day of finding out that they were having another baby, ten years after their, what they thought, was their last child. They gave me the happiness of a 1950’s, Baby Boomer, middle income life. I was blessed to have been born where I was, and to whom I was from.  I had the life of a child of the seemingly innocent 1950’s, of television, suburbia life, neighborhood friends, baseball, toys and freedom to be happy as a child should. 

This Mother’s Day will mean probably more to me than any other, as I face the first time that I know.... I no longer have a mother! 

I wished I could place my hand on my children’s hearts and transfer the knowledge of what it feels like to no longer have your parents, not to make them sad, but to awaken to how blessed they are right now, to NOT have that feeling.

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone. Give them your time more than anything and perhaps one of the biggest hugs you have given them for a long time. It will be among their greatest gifts and memories!

Happy Mother’s Day Mom! I pray that you feel nothing but complete happiness every second of time, now that you are released from the pains of your last years. 

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