Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Something else I didn't know about my mother

We took my mother back to her hometown to be buried next to her husband (my father). We were told by the funeral director that there was no rush so after she passed away on May 11, we set the funeral for Saturday, May 21. Since the end came rather unexpectedly, it gave us time to contact all of our relatives and to make sure everything was ready instead of rushing. For as sad as I was that she died, I am glad that her pain and anxiety won't bother her anymore. As I said in a previous post, she is with God and my father and many of her other relatives and friends. I also hope she is with the pets that she loved in life. Heaven would be even better with dogs.

In a post from seven years ago, I told part of the story about my parents eloping during the Second World War. But there were two things I didn't know about that story. One was that my grandfather really did take a gun with him to stop my parents from getting married. The other was that my mother was supposed to marry another man. Now, some people say they were engaged and others say that my grandparents had just arranged for her to marry the other man. But now I see that this wasn't the funny little adventure I'd always thought and I now see why my mother didn't like to talk about it. She made a lot of people mad by running off with my father. At the funeral, I talked with one of my aunts about it and she said that she had seen the letters that her sister and her husband had exchanged about the event. It turns out that the man my mother was supposed to marry was the older brother of her older sister's husband! My Aunt Edith and her husband (my uncle) Bill must have had something to do with setting Bill's brother up with my mother. They say that Uncle Bill's brother was a good looking man but he was not really the kind of guy my mother would have liked. He was spoiled (they say) and rather self-centered. Those are not things that appealed to my mother. Supposedly, she tried to break up with him a number of times but her parents and her sister and brother-in-law kept pushing her into it.

So, as my Aunt June explained it, my mother really had no other choice but to elope with my father. I now see why emotions were running so high and that this really wasn't something my mother wanted to talk about because she did feel a little sorry for the other guy. But not too sorry.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Something I didn't know about my mother

Mom in 1942 or 1943
On one of my trips to see my mother, back in 2013 while she was still living in Pennsylvania, we were going through her high school yearbook and I noticed that a couple of her friends had mentioned something about modeling in their comments to her. More than one of them said something like, "Good luck with the modeling." This was something I'd never heard Mom talk about. How could I know her for over 60 years and not know about this?

As my mother explained it, she and a couple of other girls from her high school had been selected to model clothing at the company store in the town. A company store is a kind of department store that is run by the mining company - hence the name "company store". It was for the people who lived in the company-supplied housing in the town. Those people could buy things in the company store, including food and other necessities, using non-cash vouchers and it would be deducted from the paycheck of the person working in the mine. My mother had told me that often the workers would go to get their paycheck and find that there was nothing left after they had "purchased" food, clothes and other necessities and after their rent for the company housing had been deducted. You may have heard of the song Sixteen Tons. It's about working in the coal mine and how the person singing the song can't afford to die because he owes his soul to the company store. Here's a link to one performance of the song.

The company store also sold women's clothes and they needed the models to show new items. My mother said she enjoyed doing it and at the end of each show, they got to pick an outfit to keep. That was their pay. Apparently, she must have been somewhat encouraged to keep modeling (judging by the comments in the yearbook) but she didn't pursue it. I never got to ask her why but my guess is that she just didn't have anyone to talk with about it. She knew people did that for a living but she didn't have a path to making it her career. All she knew was what the people around her did for a living. In a poor mining town, there weren't a lot of role models of that type. Yet some people in those conditions did find jobs like that. That's why it's important not to limit yourself to what you know. It's important to look around a bit and seek out people who are outside your own little environment. You never know what you could be capable of.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

A sad and awful day

Mom with her 12-day old grandson in 1996
As you may guess from my last post, my mother has passed away. She died last night around 9:30 pm. She was peaceful and pain-free but she wasn't really aware of me being with her in the final moments of her life. But I am glad she wasn't struggling and I am glad she is now at peace. She is with God and with my father and I am happy that she is finally free of the body that gave her such anguish in the final years of her life. She was happy to see us each day but distracted by the aches, pains and anxiety. She was 91 years old.

Yes, she was anxious because she thought she needed to be doing things even when she couldn't do the things she wanted to do. She used to have a ritual at bed-time of getting her thinning hair in place and putting a hair net on so it would be easier to get ready in the morning. She liked to have a small felt throw (a 3 x 5 ft blanket) inside the bed so she could snuggle her feet inside so they wouldn't get cold during the night. She liked to have a small bag of cookies ready in case she got hungry during the night - and the cookies always had to be some Pecan Sandies, some Golden Oreos and some Lorna Doones. She needed to have a glass of water ready during the night in case she got thirsty. This was all necessary because she had trouble moving because the arthritis was so bad in all of her joints - especially her knees.

So, even though she depended on me to do those things for her at night (except for fixing her hair - she did that) , she would worry about it all day as if I might not be there each night to do them for her. I'd show up every day around 5:30 pm and she'd tell me she was worried that I might not get there. I specifically used that time to show up every day so she'd know to expect me at that time and not worry but she couldn't help herself. I think the worry and anxiety were as much trouble to her as her many medical problems. The bad knees, the weak heart, the water accumulation in her lungs, the weak kidneys, the overactive bladder, the frequent attacks of gout and cellulitis. And later the pancreatitis and the trouble swallowing so that water and food would go down her windpipe instead of her esophagus. She had so many problems it was no wonder she was anxious. Even when she felt relatively pain free, she worried about when it would return.

The picture here is one of her happy times. She had flown in an airplane all by herself (she hated to fly) to come to stay with us when our son was about to be born and she stayed and helped us as we learned to be parents. She is 71 years old in this picture but was so vital. There was little hint of the trouble ahead except for some worries about her heart and the fact that she'd had tuberculosis in her kidneys when she was very young. She went back to her home after a few weeks, though, with the promise she'd come back again for a visit and would think about moving up here. She didn't move here for another 18 years and by then, most of the problems she would later have were in full force.

I am thankful my mother was with us those last couple of years of her life so I was able to help her. It was hard seeing her so full of pain and worry. It's good to know she's at peace again.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Happy Mother's Day?

Mothers deserve to be honored. I am glad we set this day aside to do that. I bought my wife a small plant (to be planted later, not thrown away) and a card and, maybe soon, a gift. But this is the worst Mother's Day in a long time for me. My mother is in a nursing facility and is not doing well. She is having trouble breathing and chokes a lot when she tries to drink or eat. They've only been giving her minced food to try to cut down on the choking but it only helps a little. Fluid is building up in her body and collecting in her lungs but when they give her medicine to get rid of the water, it puts a further strain on her already weakened kidneys. I'm afraid she is fading and it is tearing me up.

I go to see her every day (and sometimes twice a day) but I feel so helpless. I know people that have taken their mother into their home so they can see her all day and give her help whenever she needs it. They have nurses come in to do the things they don't know how to do or cannot do given the other responsibilities in their lives. But I haven't done that. I have my reasons but I don't know if they count. I am leaving the day-to-day care of my mother to strangers. They are very dedicated and skilled strangers who can do more for her than I can but they are strangers. I wonder if I made the right decision two years ago to sell my mother's house and move her 650 miles to be close to me but far way from her three sisters and the town she grew up in and lived in for most of her life.

She was already in really bad shape when I convinced her to sell the house she had lived in for 60 years and I don't think she could have stayed in the house much longer. But maybe it would have been better if I'd found her an assisted living or nursing home near her town. It would have been cheaper than what is available where we live. But I would have worried. And her sisters could not continue to help her out because they are all near her age and have their own health problems. My cousins, who were helping her before I horned in, were angels. They were doing a lot to help her like buying things she needed and setting up her pills. They were taking her to doctor's appointments and helping around the house. But they also have lives of their own and the one who was helping Mom the most had health issues of her own. As I said, their parents (my mother's sister and brother-in-law) are getting older and need more help, too.

So, here we are about two years since my mother broke her hip and had to have it replaced. But before that, she had already started to decline. Her knees were already wracked by gouty arthritis (although her doctors didn't know that), Her heart was weakening more (she already had a pacemaker keeping her heart from slowing down too much due to the pills she took for her atrial fibrillation), she was getting up five to six times a night to go to the bathroom (which the doctors there were not treating) and she was found to need supplemental oxygen when she went in for the hip replacement surgery (which her doctors there had not known about). I don't see how she could have continued in her town without full-time help and increased trips to the doctor and hospitals. But I still feel like I'm responsible for the bad things she is going through.

When I was young, my mother made everything better. She helped me when I was anxious (which was pretty much all the time). She made the pain go away and always made me feel better. I can't return that to her and I am miserable on this Mother's Day.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Watching out for the second owner

I haven't seen the commercial recently but I remember seeing a car commercial where someone is about to enter their car and they are asked to be careful with it by a person they don't know. It turns out (in the commercial's strange world) that the person asking the car owner to be careful is the next owner of the car. The car company is touting the fact that their cars are well made and will still be in good shape when the original owner either sells it or trades it in on a new car. Then, the next person that buys the car will have to live with any mistakes or problems the original owner allowed to happen to the car. Did they get the scheduled maintenance? Did they drive it too fast or get in an accident? Did they lend the car to someone who didn't take care of it? Of course it's just a fanciful idea. Unless you promise to sell your car to someone or give it to them, you will never know who the next owner of your car will be.

I thought about this today when I saw a story on the news about a fellow who got a double lung transplant and had built himself up to be able to run a 5K race to help publicize organ donation. I am already listed as an organ donor and it made me wonder who might get my organs when I don't need them anymore. What if I was doing something and some people walked up to me and said I should take better care of their heart or their liver or their corneas or any of the other organs that can be donated. When I'm sitting at my desk at work and lunch time rolls around, maybe if I thought of the second owners of my organs, it would motivate me to get out and exercise instead of just sitting there. If I think about the second owners of my organs, maybe I won't have that second helping that I don't really need. Of course, those are all good things I should be doing anyway but by thinking of someone else, it may help motivate me more than just my own self-centered interest in staying healthy.