Aging Healthcare

Who Is Left

In a world gone mad, a world where many are literally fighting for their lives against racism and police violence and a global pandemic, a world where many are unemployed or underemployed, uninsured or underinsured, and fascists build another fence around the palace to protect Dear Leader from the consequences of his words and actions, I’m pretty damned lucky. But luck doesn’t last forever, and neither do people.

My mother died last night.

We’ve known it’s coming for awhile as her memories dwindled and her weight dropped. She’s been telling me herself that she’s not well and didn’t have long. Mom had Alzheimer’s, but there was something else, too. She went in for a surgery years ago to have her gall bladder removed. She was a vibrant, quick-witted, intelligent person the night before the surgery, and like flipping a light switch, the next night she was lost and confused, forgetful and afraid. It wasn’t that she’d forget momentarily; she simply didn’t remember. She knew me, her husband, her sister, but she didn’t remember my adult son and others who’ve been around for years. She forgot pets, even current ones. She couldn’t remember something we told her for more than a moment. We’ve been telling her about events like moves and weddings repeatedly in conversations for years now.

Her husband of almost 30 years has been pleading with doctors since that gall bladder surgery to get to the bottom of her memory issues, to find out why her appetite is gone, to fucking fix it. And then a couple of weeks ago, weighing in at about 80 pounds (she got down to 72 at one point), Mom was in the hospital again with blood in her urine. She would bleed out if they waited too long to deal with it. Her husband couldn’t be with her, of course, because of the pandemic, so she was alone and confused in the hospital, pulled out all the IVs. They diagnosed kidney cancer and said she likely wouldn’t survive the surgery to remove the kidney. In the end, they did a less invasive surgery attempting to remove the tumor but were unable to get it all. She was given six months, tops.

My stepfather took her home. They set up hospice for her. This was a couple of weeks ago. He called yesterday in the afternoon saying she wasn’t eating or drinking anything since leaving the hospital, and he thought he’d lose her that morning. She couldn’t have much longer. I prepared my son and his wife. I prepared my father. Dad should know, of course, even though they’ve been apart for decades. He should still know. My stepfather was keeping Mom’s two remaining sisters, my brother, and his family apprised. She died in her sleep shortly before midnight last night though, I assume, the official time and date of her death will be sometime today.

Photo of mom (holding her little dog) standing with her husband in May of 2016.

The picture above was one I took from my cell phone as we were leaving the last time I saw Mom (in 2016). She knew who I was but was not able to process that the person with me was my boyfriend (now husband) of many years or that I had moved away from Kansas City seven years before, etc. Her appetite was almost non-existent even then.

Unfortunately, even before the pandemic a health issue has mostly kept me from traveling much. And as an asthmatic I have to be extra careful about exposure to the coronavirus. Mom lives a ways from everyone in the family and couldn’t travel because of her health issues, too, so the ten hours of travel time has kept us all apart.

When my car broke down last week as I made my last trip with stuff from the old apartment to the house – brakes went out literally at the last traffic light – I shrugged and thought, “just as well I don’t have extra money to fix the car since the pandemic will keep me locked inside the house, anyway.”

I’ve been reading stories and crying for people who’ve lost loved ones to the pandemic (or to other reasons), how they’ve agonized as they’re kept from the people they love in the hospital because of COVID-19, how they’ve had to skip funerals entirely because of the safety of those who are left. My heart aches for them, and now our family is going through it, too. My stepfather is alone in their home, far from family, dealing with this new and terrible loss. And I can’t do a damned thing for him, for me, for Mom’s sister, for my brother. We who are left grieve separately.

Mom, my brother, and I all suffer from depression. Some of my readers know that can mean we look at death a bit differently from those who don’t wish for it much of the time. Despite our differences, I’ve grieved for my mom for years now. Every time I say “good-bye” on the phone or in person I’ve been letting go a bit, hoping there’ll be many more “hellos” and “good-byes” but knowing that while the body still contains my mother, the mind is not the same as hers. Or anyway, the reactions and understanding and memories of this person are very, very different from those of the person I have known as my mother for 53 years. And every time I’ve spoken to her over the last few years she has said her “good-byes,” occasionally making an apology or asking for mine. We were as good as we can be, she and I. I guess that has to be enough though you can never really prepare for the loss of a parent.

I tried to call my stepfather to check on him just now. I adore that man like a father. He’s such a good and decent person, and he loves Mom, my brother, me, my son, as his own. I got the outgoing message. It was Mom’s voice, and it hit me all over again. This is going to take time.

So, here I am trying to do the next bit knowing I can’t go to the funeral if there is one. On the one hand, as a depressed person, I can feel relief for her. I can be happy for her because her fear and pain are gone, her suffering at an end. She would know what I mean as she felt the weight and the pain of depression, too, at times. But my heart breaks for my stepfather who is alone right now, grieving and separated from the rest of us who are separated from each other, too. I hurt for my aunt who doesn’t approve or understand why I can’t go to a funeral if there is one. The lockdown doesn’t seem to be a fact of her life. Perhaps she doesn’t know there are curfews and BLM demonstrations and riots all over the country, that with those crowded gatherings, with the beginnings of businesses opening (before any progress is made to slow the spread, to test, to trace contacts), there will be a new “curve” of COVID cases even though we never really got the last one under control. And this one is likely going to be even worse. My aunt doesn’t remember money issues, not since childhood. It seems she doesn’t grasp that even if there was no lockdown, and if my car would make the trip my health prevents me attempting it right now. She doesn’t have these issues (and doesn’t seem to be concerned about bringing COVID home to her husband, daughter, and grandson) so she can’t comprehend it. She thinks I just don’t want to make the ten hour trip each way to attend the service. She thinks I don’t care. She needs to see me hurting in person. I understand that helps people, but funerals right now are a bad idea; they lead to more funerals. I need to grieve, but I don’t need to endanger myself and my loved ones both here and in Missouri to do so. Mom is gone from us; her suffering has ended. But we’re still here, and we’re all we have left. We have to find closure in some other way, each in our own way. We have to grieve alone. It sucks, but this is the world right now, whether my aunt approves or not.

Person sitting on a bench looking at the sky. Text: Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

When it’s safe to gather, we’ll all do so in Warsaw. Together. We’ll toast Mom and tell stories and laugh and cry and love. We’ll celebrate her life.

Those of us who are left in this world are fighting our own battles to keep our homes and jobs, for equality, for the right to live unmolested, to keep those we love close and safe. We can’t know what others are going through. It’s hard not to judge – we are only human – but resist the urge to share those judgments. You don’t know the whole story, and you’re probably not entitled to know it. Trust that those you love have their reasons and are doing the best that they can with what they have.

Trust. Be safe. We’re all we have left. Be kind to each other and to yourself. Choose understanding. Choose love.

Mom holding baby me on Mother's Day, 14 May 1967 (in Sierra Vista, Arizona).

I can’t thank you enough for your support as I go through major life changes – marriage, moving, Mom’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent death, etc. – in a short period. These are hard times for us all. Please keep yourselves and those you love safe, and make allowances for each other. Love us as we are, not as you want us to be for you. Love who is left. Do what you can. Let them do the same. And I promise I will, too.

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