Honor Thy Mother
mother was sick. She had undergone open heart surgery four years previously,
but now whatever increased energy had resulted, was ebbing fast. Her side hurt;
she could not recover from this long term bout with the flu; she was coughing,
and she was losing weight. She was going to the doctor.
mother made an appointment with the surgeon who had performed her quadruple
bypass, a man with whom she had maintained a friendship and mutual respect. The
doctor sent her home with prescriptions to knock out the viruses he felt
certain were behind her lingering cough and general malaise.
weeks passed and Lydia’s
mother worsened. Her friends convinced her an internist might be more
experienced with her symptoms than a heart surgeon. A visit was scheduled and the
report was not good. Her mother’s lung cancer had metastasized throughout her
body. She was too sick to undergo chemotherapy, but radiation would help to
shrink the tumors in her brain and make her more comfortable. Lydia
should probably come home.
The chaplain notified the
hospital that she would be gone for at least two weeks and would be in touch
with them when she knew more. She made reservations to fly south, which the airline
lost, delaying her trip for another 24 hours. Eventually she found herself on
the stoop of her mother’s home.
building was locked and no one answered the buzzer. Lydia
waited by the security door until another resident came by, whom she convinced to
let her through. The man followed her to her mother’s unit and when there was
no answer, called for assistance.
president of the condominium association arrived with a ring of master keys and
unlocked the door. Standing there was a terrified woman, who had no idea who
was attempting to break into her home. When she saw her daughter, she broke
was then that Lydia
realized her mother could no longer hear. The recent radiation treatments had
knocked out what little auditory ability she had left after years of increasing
deafness. She could not hear the buzzer but she could feel the violent thumping
on her door.
mother’s usually immaculate and elegant home was in need of a good in-depth
cleaning. Trash was in need of disposing. And the refrigerator was virtually
empty except for the bags of almonds. Her mother had eaten three almonds a day
for as long as Lydia
could remember – to ward off cancer.
older woman had always been tiny, but never frail. She was a spitfire
businesswoman capable of holding her own in most real estate transactions. Now
her body was painfully thin and her sunken facial muscles accentuated bulging
eyes, due in part to the tumors playing havoc in her head. The doctors said the
daily ten-minute radiation treatments would reduce the size of the tumors and
that her mother’s eyes would regain a more normal appearance. This eventually
proved true, but on first sight, Lydia
was terrified for her mother.
learned that her mother had been driving herself the ten miles for the
radiation treatments, but the last several days she had become too weak to
chance navigating the aged Cadillac through local traffic. She who had driven
many friends to many doctors appointments, did not know how or whom to ask for
assistance for herself.
chaplain began making telephone calls. She called the radiation center and the
primary doctor. She called some friends of her mother for recommendations for
in-home help. She called Hospice. Hating to leave her mother alone, she
nonetheless drove to the grocery store and purchased some easily digestible
foods, drinks and ice cream. After this flurry of activity, she sat down with a
pad of paper and began communicating with her mother about more personal
things. Her mother was afraid, but she was glad Lydia
was there. She finally went to sleep.
I am here, came the familiar feeling. Lydia
Two brought a visit by two cheery beings from Hospice, as well as a Hospice
chaplain. The Hospice chaplain was just so pleased to meet another real female
minister, but Lydia
was not in the mood to talk shop. Undaunted, the woman wrote a note to Lydia’s
must be such a blessing to have a real chaplain for a daughter.”
mother wrote back,
And she’s right, thought Lydia.
It is very difficult to minister to your
own family. How many different roles can I play? Neither one of us wants to
talk to this chaplain. I wonder how many people I have annoyed over the years. It’s
horrible to even think about.
had less than two weeks now to get things in order. It never crossed her mind
that she should just quit her job and stay for the duration. After her mother’s
death, it was her biggest regret.
provided a visiting nurse twice a week, and a weekly visit from the chaplain. Lydia
could see her mother needed round-the-clock care and began looking for a
live-in care-giver. These were in great demand and very difficult to find.
hundred dollars a day minimum,” the agency told her on the telephone, “more if
you need someone who speaks English. Your mother does speak Polish, doesn’t
Well, no, Lydia’s
mother didn’t speak Polish, but then again she couldn’t hear English, either. They
would set up an interview.
turned out perfect. She spoke Polish, Russian, and some English. Actually, her
English was pretty good, but heavily accented. The accent didn’t make a bit of
difference to Lydia’s
mother. She couldn’t hear anyway. Josie was gentle, kind and had experience
with taking care of the terminally ill. The little Polish-Russian and Lydia’s
mother got along famously.
was time for Lydia
to leave. She would return in two weeks and give Josie a break.
attempted to work and primed her family to take care of each other during her
upcoming extended absences. For the most part, they rose to the occasion.
and the airline were now in synch – two roundtrip tickets a month, please, we
can do this. Her employer mailed her paperwork for family medical leave and
told her by what date her mother must die before the leave ran out.
flight south found Lydia’s
mother weaker. Lydia
learned that she could not doze off during the day while caring for her mother.
The older woman would attempt to walk to her own kitchen – fall – and Lydia
would find her crawling in the hallway. Once, Lydia
tried to steady her mother and both women fell against the door jam, drawing
blood from both their foreheads. They cried together. Eventually, Lydia’s
mother could not leave the hospital bed which had been installed over her
objections in the room she had always used as an office. Lydia
would stay two weeks, Josie would return, and Lydia
would leave. The process repeated itself for six months.
stupid could I have been,” she rails now.
We can only do what we can figure out to do
at the time, comes a gentle response.
had just returned home after spending two weeks with her mother when she
received a late night call from the Hospice chaplain. Lydia’s
mother had taken a major turn for the worse and was not expected to live but a
day or two more. Lydia
must return now.
flew through the night not knowing if it was the thoughts of her mother’s
impending death or the shaking and groaning of the aircraft that made her feel
so sick, even frightened. A Midwestern snow storm had risen up, growling, with
an angry eye on the intruding plane. Its goal:
Close O’Hare. But even a storm cannot be
everywhere. A hole opened and the
determined 747 descended. Bump. It hit the ground, slid through the deepening
snow, and stopped. The storm lashed and whined but the plane was safe.
hired a cab to inch the thirty miles to her mother’s home. When she came
through the door, her mother whispered,
Josie, she made it,” and closed her eyes.
was not yet dead, but she was in great pain and ready to die. Josie hated to leave,
but her niece had arrived to take her home. If they waited much longer, no one
knew what the storm would do.
Hospice nurse appeared with a large bottle of morphine and an eye dropper. The
instructions were that if her mother appeared in pain, squeeze another drop of
morphine under her tongue. Her mother was in constant pain, thought Lydia,
but she would do her best.
That’s all you can do. I’m here, said
nurse left. The snow kept falling. And another night closed in. Lydia
sat with her mother using the eye dropper whenever her moans worsened.
the dark window slowly turned a lighter shade of gray, Lydia
knew that morning was near. She decided to take a quick shower before coming
back to make her mother more comfortable.
wet and in her mother’s bathrobe, when Lydia
returned to her mother’s bedside, the woman was dead, a tear in her eye.
sat frozen for a long while. She rummaged around for the Hospice telephone
number. Because of the snowstorm, a number of staff members had called in and
there was no one who could come to pronounce her mother dead. Lydia
did not need this service and called the community funeral home.
of the storm, they would not be able to come either. They needed a plow and it
would be at least two hours before they could travel the six to eight blocks to
home. It was just Lydia
and her mother, just like it had always been. As a child, Lydia
and her mother had weathered many storms, many broken furnaces, frozen pipes, a
couple of floods, and a sometimes painful mother-daughter relationship. They
would weather this last, long wait together.
job was to pick out an urn for her mother’s ashes, conduct a funeral service,
and host a luncheon in her mother’s honor at a popular, nearby museum. During the service, a family friend had likened
to a leprechaun, sprinkling magic into each life she touched. Lydia
silently recalled that an encounter with a leprechaun could also bring a less
than pleasant magic.
snow finally ceased falling and the plows pushed it neatly to the side of the
roads. If only life was so easily managed.