My Mom died suddenly and unexpectedly in our home a week ago this past Thursday. Without warning, my dear Mother was plucked from our lives, and we are all devastated. I am an only child, and my family is tiny. It only consists of myself, my husband, and our two adult children, and, of course, my Mom. Up until now, I have already lost all of my family on both mom’s and dad’s sides, so I am no stranger to death. But losing Mom is harder than all the rest put together.
Mom loved to joke around, and said outrageous things. She was spunky and got a kick out of almost everything. She was known as “The Candy Lady,” a name she proudly wore for many decades. On Sundays, she took an assortment of candy bars, and candy she had purchased to give out to the kids after church. Little and big “kids,” some in their seventies and eighties, flocked to her after the service to get a treat.
She even got in trouble sometimes these past few years at church. Her “posse,” her group of friends, liked to sit in the back of the church together during the Sunday sermon. They would dig into candy she had brought just for them, and sometimes all that paper wrapping from undoing candy would earn them glares, or even sharp words latter.
When I was growing up, Mom would dress up in the most outrageous costumes for our church’s annual Harvest Party. She made it from stuff she threw together from around the house. More often than not, she was the winner of the costume contest. She loved to cook and made wonderful dinners, especially for the holidays and someone’s birthday. She would literally spend days making the different dishes she would serve on those special occasions.
Mom loved to make faces for the camera, we have many treasured pictures of her doing that. She helped me with every hard thing I ever had to do, and I don’t remember ever asking her for help. She just showed up. And whether it was a school play or one of us was in a talent show, or anything else, Mom and Dad, and latter just Mom, attended every one. Barely a month ago, she set on the front row to watch a play my daughter was in, and heartily cheered her on.
I was a painfully shy child, who grew up into a not quite as shy adult. Even today, I find myself at a loss for words, when I desperately want to talk with others. I would like to call people, but I hesitate for fear my call would be an interruption. Or worse yet, that after saying “hello,” and a couple of sentences of greetings, I won’t be able to think of another word to say, and suffer dead air. I find it easier to communicate with the written word. But Mom was a shining star who could strike up long conversations with perfect strangers. Everyone knew when she was in a place, and making friends was a piece of cake for her. She had many friends she talked to daily on the telephone.
Her telephone calls were a joy. No matter what was going on in her life, she would call with real happiness in her voice. She cheered me up often. Especially in the last decade, when chronic illness trapped me inside my home for months on end. Her daily calls were a lifeline for me that kept me connected to her and to the world. I wasn’t lonely despite my life being confined to my home. Lots of times she had something really silly to say that would make me laugh, and bring chuckles to the rest of the family when I passed it on to them. She longed to find something that would improve my chronic condition, along with my son’s. And if we had any good thing happen to any of us in the family, she was overjoyed. You would have thought this wonderful thing had happened to her, she was that happy about it.
Mom was a hard worker who grew up during the Great Depression. Her father wasn’t always able to get a full week’s pay during that bleak era, so Mom and her family knew how to do without. Despite that, she was always generous to a fault. She often gave up something for herself, to make sure a family member had something. She made a commitment to Christ as a young teenager, and a short time later, saw both her parents do the same. She hopped around both the tennis and basketball courts in high school, earning letters in sports. During the war years of World War II, she volunteered in the local hospital, and worked in a dime store. Later she worked for Ma Bell, known as AT&T in those days.
I arrived barely a year and half after she and Dad married. My birth almost killed her, literally. Her heart stopped twice that night, but they were able to bring her back. She also needed two complete blood transfusions during a blood shortage. Phone calls were made and many people from our church got out of bed in the middle of the night to come donate blood, and pray that Mom and I survived.
Survive she did. Not just my birth, but twelve years later when she had a grapefruit sized tumor in her chest. After a radical mastectomy to remove it, along with the long tentacles that stretched down her arm, she refused chemotherapy, and became a cancer survivor of over forty years. Mom even survived twelve years ago when, by God’s grace, it was discovered her blood was so thick that the doctor said she probably had only a matter of hours to live if she hadn’t gotten treatment.
A couple of years after that, she found Dad, her husband of more than fifty decades, hit with Macular Degeneration that took more than ninety percent of his eyesight, along with Parkinson’s Disease that took away his ability to walk and many other functions. He became bed bound, and she did everything for him. Despite how much work that was for a woman in her eighties, she was determined to keep him home, and that is what she did. Often when attempting to move him into his wheelchair, he fell on her, causing them both to fall, and her to get hurt. His passing left her a widow the past eight years. Her dog, Lucky, became her constant companion, and she even cooked special meals for him!
Since January, her blood thinning medicine had been causing her lots of terrible gastro side effects. But at first we thought those gastro problems were her from her diet. I suggested lots of things she should avoid to get rid of it. She also called her doctor numerous times but was told she should just expect things like that “since she was old.” Finally it came to me to check the possible side effects of the medicine she was taking, and bingo, that was it. My husband was able to get her reluctant doctor to reduce the dosage, and mom’s numbers, we had not known were bad on her blood tests, improved, and the gastro side effects were about ninety percent better. We were all so happy, and I really thanked God, thinking He had pointed me to looking up the medicine’s sides effects.
But then last Tuesday night, she called me saying, in the most pitiful sounding voice, that she had something new: terrible nausea. My husband drove over to help, after which she told him to go on home. In the middle of the night, she called again saying she was worse. My husband took her to the hospital where she was given IV fluids and nausea medication, and Mom perked up immediately, her color returned, and she felt so much better. Long a hospital hater, she surprised my husband when she said she wanted to stay at the hospital, but the doctor insisted she go. Mom asked again to stay, but the doctor discharged her, telling her to go home and rest. At this time, they had both been up all night. But my husband was shocked by the very weakened condition she developed on the way back from the hospital.
Another call from mom brought my husband back to her home where he found her even weaker. He brought her to our house where she immediately went to sleep. Twice during the night she was checked on, and again at eight when my husband went to work. She appeared to be sleeping. Two hours later, when my husband found her in the very same position, he discovered she had left us. Less than forty-eight hours after receiving her first phone call, we found her passed away. Less than forty-eight hours after that, we were having her funeral. In the midst of that nightmare, we had police swarming the house after my husband reported her death. They have to make sure there isn’t foul play when someone passes away in a home. But it made the shock of her death even more surreal.
Later we learned that nausea can be a major sign of heart attacks in women. Why, oh why, didn’t I think to look up heart attack symptoms? I am full of regrets and what ifs. If she was indeed having a heart attack, what if we had pushed for the hospital to keep her, would we still have her? Should we have taken her to a second hospital? I regret all the time we spent trying to change her diet, and she would tell me her symptoms hadn’t changed much. My response was to tell her to give it some time, when in fact, food wasn’t causing her problems at all. I feel I failed her. I should have prayed more. Maybe then, she would still be here. I have shed buckets of tears, and I am racked with guilt….
Our Christian faith gives us the hope of seeing each other again, but in the meantime our grief is deep and wide, we are brokenhearted. Our love for her was enormous. If feels as if all the color has been drained from life, and my once Technicolor world, is now black and white. Many have told me she was lucky not to have a period of prolonged suffering. In my head, I know that is true, but my heart only breaks over this. I feel far from God, and upset with Him. Yet I know He is the only one who can help.
As difficult as it was facing her death, and then her funeral, the hardest part is here now: living each day without her. Words keep playing over and over in my mind, from the song One More Day, by Diamond Rio. They sum up a lot of what I am feeling, it is my heart’s cry, and I share them here with you:
One More Day by Diamond Rio
Last night I had a crazy dream
A wish was granted just for me
It could be for anything
I didn’t ask for money
Or a mansion in Malibu
I simply wished for one more day with you…
One more day, one more time
One more sunset maybe I’d be satisfied
But then again I know what it would do
Leave me wishing still for one more day
Leave me wishing still for one more day
Leave me wishing still for one more day with you
Mom & I thru the years:
2 Samuel 12:23