Tag Archives: mother

My mom

“I want to live until I die,” my friend Jim said when he understood that an incurable brain cancer would soon end his life. He did not want to be kept alive by artificial means; he also did not want to live or die in a hospital.

My mother felt the same. When the doctor offered her a pacemaker after her first heart attack three years ago, she said, “No.” He explained that her heart would probably give out while she was sleeping and she would just not wake up one day. “That would be a blessing,” she said.

At the time of that first heart attack, my mom was ninety-two, still driving, going to card parties every week, living in her own home and enjoying life.

After that heart attack, she began to slow down a bit and cut back on some of her activities, but she continued to live on her own and to cook, clean and do her laundry. She was very independent.

Over the past three years, she has had several medical issues that landed her in the hospital for a week at a time, and each time, she returned to her home determined to live as fully as possible.

After an internal bleeding incident in January, her doc took her off heart medicine, and she went on hospice. Then we knew it was only a matter of time until her heart gave out.

When she started falling a few weeks ago, we knew she was getting weaker every day.

Her consistent wish was to live and die in her home.

With some help, my sisters and I were able to make that happen. The past three weeks, someone was with my mom 24/7.

Giving up was not an option for my mom. She had known people who did just that—they stopped doing what they had always done and just waited for death. She would say they stopped living before they died. That was not my mom’s way.

Just last week, she looked at a silk flower arrangement on top of a cabinet and asked me to bring it down. “I want to wash the flowers and rearrange them,” she said. I brought down the basket and helped my mom get to the kitchen sink where she washed the flowers. It was exhausting for her; it was also her way of living her life.

Last Wednesday evening, she ate her last supper. On Thursday, she was too weak to get out of bed and too weak to swallow. We made her as comfortable as possible and kept vigil over the next two days.

Hospice nurses came every day, and each one said some version of, “You girls are doing a great job with your mother.” We are not medical people, and their affirmations were appreciated.

After only two days in bed, my mother died peacefully on Saturday morning, surrounded by family. She truly lived until she died—a role model for living a full life.

Celebrating a life

We are celebrating my mother’s 90th birthday today. Her mother lived to be ninety-six; good genes.

My mother still does her own grocery shopping, cooks her own meals and takes care of her house. She loves to play cards, and every summer she plants and harvests a large garden. She still drives and even cleans her own gutters. A few weeks ago, she shoveled snow. Until a few years ago, she walked three miles a day, six days a week.

She is indomitable and fiercely independent. I once called her stubborn—only once. “I am not stubborn,” she admonished sternly. “I just know what I want,” she added. And that she does. She goes after what she wants, no matter the obstacles.

If someone was looking for subjects for a “mind-over-matter” study, I would recommend my mother. She is amazing in her ability to keep moving forward, surmounting every hurdle.

My mother does not like change—or, as she would say, she likes things to stay the same (she is a pro at the positive spin). My dad used to say you could set your watch by my mother’s schedule: breakfast by 8:00 a.m., lunch at noon and supper at 5:00 p.m.

Her parents emigrated from Poland at the beginning of the twentieth century. They had been farmers in Poland and were farmers in northern Michigan. My mother is the seventh of ten children.

As a young adult, she moved to Detroit and got a job at a Polish restaurant. There she met my father, a cop whose parents were also Polish immigrants. My parents spoke Polish as their first language, and I grew up hearing them speak Polish to one another and to their parents.

Frugality was a way of life on the farm, and my mother did not moved much beyond that, even when her finances would allow. Frugal and resistant to change, my mother repaired rather than replaced most everything. We darned socks and replaced stretched-out elastic. She composts directly into her garden and flower beds, and I think she was the inspiration for the motto, reuse, reduce, recycle.

The habits my mother learned on the farm also shaped our lives, and even though we lived in the city, we were awakened every morning by 7:30 a.m. “You’re sleeping the day away,” she would say. There were no cows to milk or eggs to collect, but that made no difference. Rising early is a virtue in my mother’s eyes.

Every day started with a full breakfast—usually pancakes, waffles or eggs—and we had meat and potatoes most every night for supper (fish on Fridays being the exception).  My mother cooked for us kids and then she made another meal for my dad, something traditionally Polish, like picked pigs feet or something with sauerkraut. Taking care of her family is what my mother has done for the past seventy years.

Today we celebrate a long life and say, Sto lat—that’s Polish for happy birthday and many more.

 

Emerging Images

On a recent flight to Philadelphia, I sat next to a woman who was on her way back to Europe after having shown her documentary at a film festival in Ann Arbor. She explained that the idea for this film had been germinating for a long time and she finally decided to make the film—whether anyone ever saw it or not, or whether anyone liked it or not. She needed to make this documentary for herself.

She told me that her film is about the process of developing photos, what we see and how images emerge and change through the chemical development process. One of the images in the film is of her mother’s hands. I asked if her mother had seen the film. Yes, she had, and she liked it. She also told her daughter that she was proud of her.

My writer’s mind immediately went to her mother’s reaction to the film. I wondered if her mother had insights about how she saw her daughter before and after watching the film and if her image of her daughter had changed because of the film. I wondered if the film was a metaphor for her daughter emerging through her work and if the film was a catalyst for her mother to openly express her pride. I wished I could talk with her mother to hear first-hand how the film impacted her.

The mother-daughter relationship can have all kinds of complexities and complications, and I am always grateful for the opportunity to hear a mother’s reflections on her daughter and their relationship. I remember being at an Al-Anon meeting where a women expressed her regret at not standing up for her daughter; she told us, but could not bring herself to tell her daughter. How happy I was to hear this mother’s confession—and how sad to know that her daughter had not heard it.

I wanted to speak with this woman and encourage her to talk to her daughter. I wanted to tell her that her daughter would be grateful to hear her mother’s confession and know her regrets. But, of course, I did not tell her that, because I did not know how her daughter would react. I could only insert myself into her story and envision how I would react. And even that was supposition since she was not my mother and this was not my relationship.

The woman on the plane had won an award for her documentary, and I was happy for her success. I was even happier that her film was an occasion for her mother to tell her that she was proud of her—what a great gift.