by Janet Gilmore
It’s been a year since my mother died. A tough year. I tried very hard to be better than ever this year. I didn’t kill, steal, make graven idols or commit adultery. I coveted once or twice, but nothing serious. I was nice to almost everyone. So at the end of the year I thought, “I’ve been very good for an entire year; now can I have my mom back?”
Of course the answer is “no.”
Sometimes people miss their parents for the lost opportunity to get one last word of praise or gratitude or love that they never had. I don’t need that last chance. Except for a rough patch during my adolescence, I had praise, gratitude and love from my mother my whole life. I miss other things. The way her face lit up when I walked in. So amazing; all I had to do was show up to make someone happy. What a gift.
I miss putting my head down in her lap, since childhood, and feeling her fairy fingers stroking my head while she said, “Jankie (an ancient nickname), your hair is so pretty.”
My mother died at Abington Hospital last June from a gastro-intestinal bleed due to hardening of the arteries. Rydal Park, where she lived her last few years, called me just as I was on my way to sleep and in no condition to drive, to tell me that mom was “throwing up coffee grounds,” and they were sending her to the emergency room.
I had no idea what they were talking about. “Why would my mother eat coffee grounds?” I thought. “She doesn’t even like coffee.”
They said they were sending her to Abington Hospital and would keep me posted on her progress, which they did. They called me twice. The second call was the one during which they told me her heart had stopped; should they try to re-start it? Now that’s a question to make every hair on your head stand up at attention.
Three weeks earlier, my mother had had a leg amputated. It had become gangrenous because of her artery problems, and the gangrene was advancing quickly. My sister and I had to decide about amputation. My vote was to go ahead with surgery and possibly buy mom some more time. My sister couldn’t decide what to do. Thomas Paine said, “Lead, follow or get out of the way.” Great advice for life, but my sister couldn’t to do any of those three.
That’s when she started waving legal papers at me. “Look, mom signed a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order!” she cried. “She doesn’t want any drastic measures. We could give her morphine and keep her comfortable …”
“And just let her die of gangrene?” I asked. “I can’t do that.” Then I stopped for a second. “Do you know what the word ‘resuscitate’ means?” I asked. “Mom isn’t dead yet, so put that paper away.”
“Put it away.” Now I knew that my mother didn’t want any drastic measures taken, but if the hospital called you at midnight and asked you if you wanted them to try to re-start your mother’s heart, what would you say? What could you say? “Of course,” I said.
What would my mother do if I had signed a D.N.R. order and my heart stopped? Would she want the doctor to try and re-start it? She would. She loved me.
The emergency room called me at about 12:20 a.m. and told me they couldn’t save mom. Adrenaline started pumping, and I was fully awake and aware. My husband, Hugh, and I got dressed and drove the drive of the newly panicked to the hospital. Fast and silent.
Mom was alone in the room into which we were shown. “Oh, mom!”I sobbed. I hugged my mother’s body. She didn’t look alive, but she still looked like my mom. She was cold. I tried to warm her, but I couldn’t. I looked at her. I saw the marks of the defibrillators that had tried to save her. I saw the big mole on her back that fascinated me when I was a kid. I put my head down on the bed, put her hand on my head and tried to feel her touch. Then we sat with her for a long time, doing nothing in particular, just feeling the loss.
A man in a pastel-colored suit came in and introduced himself as the chaplain. “Is there anything I can do for you?” he asked.
“No,” we said. Hugh and I kissed my mother, left the hospital at about 4 a.m., went home to sleep. Of course I couldn’t just leave mom in the hospital forever, but I didn’t think of that. I had never lost a mother before and didn’t know what to do except go home. The chaplain must have called my sister, because a funeral was arranged, and I didn’t arrange it.
After the funeral festivities were over, I emailed my sister a few times, but didn’t hear from her. She called on Thanksgiving. “Why are you calling?” I asked.
“To wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.”
“I thought you believed that I killed your mother.”
“Well, there were some anger issues,” she said.
I hung up. I don’t need to be forgiven.
Seems like I lost a sister, too. Looks like another tough year coming up.