It is the unresolved complications that torture us the most.
I wasn’t there when my Mom died. She was 92-years-old and living on the west end of Toronto, where she moved to be close to her sister and family after my Dad passed away November 7th, 1995. She knew no one except me on the east side where I lived, and would be dependant on me for everything. Mom didn’t drive. Mom truly enjoyed her last 18 years there, but time and a lifetime of smoking were not on her side.
We had visited a cardiologist in the 2009 time frame to find out she had severe calcification of the heart. She refused the surgery. Startled, the cardiologist looked at both of us to reply “Then you have a twenty percent chance of sudden death in the next five years!”
She looked at me, then at him and said “Sounds pretty good!”
I nodded. My Father had suffered with complications from stomach cancer surgery. He died a mere shadow of himself, both in body, mind and spirit. My Mother and I spoke about Do Not Revive – DNR – and I understood and helped her formalize her wishes.
She was fortunate … her slide into poorer health happened within a fairly short time frame of 2-3 years. Sure she slowed down, but she still wanted to go out for shrimp dinners and shopping. She still got on her exercise bike to keep her legs strong. Mom was a spitfire. Once approached in Mississauga to ask if she was Mayor Hazel, she barked “DO I LOOK THAT OLD?!” Hazel was only six months older than my mother.
She endured so much. The loss of her mother at fourteen who lost two children on the steamship to Canada. The death of her eldest brother in WWI. Raising another brother’s kids. The mental illness and loss of my brother. Bleeding ulcers. A new baby in the house when she was forty-four (that was me). Family deaths … all of her siblings gone before her. My father passing away at seventy-four.
She didn’t want to suffer. Her biggest fear was being a burden or being stuck in a home.
I was a single mother, going through a divorce, working downtown, living in the east end and trying to commute up to two hours to the west end to take her to doctor appointments for flu shots, COPD, bladder cancer and her heart condition. She was relatively healthy for her age.
My biggest regret? I never once went to radiation with her for her bladder cancer. My God, she was tough.
She landed in the Emergency Room in Credit Valley hospital for a third time. I had been working from home and showed up in my much beloved ripped jeans.
“You couldn’t dress better to come see me?” She asked. “What does your boyfriend think of those jeans?”
Dungarees – as jeans were called in her day – were what the poor people wore. And not even the poorest would be seen in ripped dungarees.
“Mom, I paid good money for those rips. And Brock loves them.”
My Mom was born on December 7th, 1921. She had just turned twenty when Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7th, 1941. She never felt like celebrating her day again because all she could think about was the people who lost their lives on that day.
A year later she met my father while he was stationed in her home town – Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada – before going overseas with the Navy as a signalman on a ship. They were engaged quickly and married September 20, 1943. Once the WWII ended, she followed my Dad to the suburbs of Montreal, Quebec, Canada where he was born and raised. They raised three kids, with me coming twenty years after the first two. There were twins in between who were lost in the second trimester and they almost lost my Mom. She was scheduled for a hysterectomy, and became too ill for surgery. That was eighteen years before I was born.
My earliest and loveliest childhood memories are of my Mother. Opening the curtains to my room to let the sun stream in while picking me up out of my crib … letting me play with a jarful of buttons on her bed … brushing my hair and teaching me how to count. She was the best of the best. I’m proud when people tell me I’m very much like her. Hellion of a temper. I have the same impatience, and started her euology with a tap on the mic and said “We need to start this on time because if you knew my Mom, you knew how she felt about starting on time …”
Her last day alive, we’d had a conference call with all of her health care doctors, nurses and care team, family and friends. I had to conference in. The call ended just before noon or just a little after. My plan was to work, grocery shop to feed my 14-year-old then head to Mississauga to see my Mom before traffic got too bad.
As I was leaving the grocery store, the hospital called. My Mom had just passed away. Just like that. I cried right there on the front steps, sad that I didn’t get to say goodbye and that I loved her, although we had told each other that many times.
My last words from my Father were “Take care of Mom.”
“I will,” I promised. But I wondered if I didn’t do a good enough job. Because on the day my father died – November 7th – just eighteen years later – my mother died.
I like to think he came to get her. And that my Mom had the guts and the gumption to just pick her time and place.
I accidentally erased her voice from my answering machine, but I can still hear her in my heart and head.
Happy Birthday, Mom. You would be 96 … and I know you would hate that.
I love you.