One month ago today, my mother died. Many of you already know that. But there was more to that day, that I haven’t told too many people yet. To be honest, I don’t even remember exactly everyone I told and who I didn’t. Because my mom died and I had to deal with that first. But it’s been a month now so I might as well share the rest of the story. It was also the day I got a pacemaker.
On the Friday of Art on Nepessing St. weekend, Cliff and I set up my booth, and I proceeded to have a pretty darn good day. In addition to selling a few pieces, I had a lot of people express interest in the Mandala classes I plan to offer later in the summer by signing up for more information via email. When we shut down for the day at 9pm I left everything in my tent except one box that I didn’t need, which I was carrying to my car, when I got so winded that I had to stop and take a sit-down rest only a couple hundred feet from my car. Damn, I know I had gained weight and gotten out of shape the past couple years, but that was weird.
I actually had been having some concerning symptoms for a while. An occasional fluttery feeling in my chest, as far back as last summer, was passed off as anxiety. My heart rate taking a bit long to calm back down after moderate exertion. And there was this nagging little cough, which started I think in mid-January sometime, that only happened when I was trying to relax or go to sleep. It was concerning enough that I had been to the doctor and had some test done: complete bloodwork, EKG, echocardiogram, chest x-rays. Nothing showed up, except my cholesterol was high and so was my weight. *sigh* Yeah I know, about 10 pounds a year over the past 3 years. Since my hysterectomy. So many women told me “you’ll feel better afterward”, but I really didn’t. It kinda kicked my ass and I got a whole slew of new issues afterward. But I digress …
Ok, so if the main problem was that I just needed to lose weight and get back in shape, fine. I could do that. Wouldn’t be the first time. I started walking. Got back up to 3 miles relatively quickly – not my former pace, but still. I felt like I was on my way.
Back to art fair weekend. The second day started well and I again had a fairly good day. Rain was coming so we all started tearing down a bit early, hustling to try to beat the rain … and I started to not feel well. I was getting way too easily winded, and kinda sick to my stomach. I just felt like I couldn’t do anything even moderately strenuous without hitting a wall. I even remarked to someone that day “I’m too old and fat for this shit” – which of course is not true; there are a lot of people older and fatter than me that seem to manage just fine. Something more was definitely wrong.
Monday I called my doctor, explained how I felt, that things seem suddenly worse, and I am sure we are missing something. They set up an appointment for me to see a cardiologist on Thursday. I went about my normal Monday routine – visiting my mom, doing her shopping, bills and medications for the week. She told me she fell on Saturday, flat on her back. My brother was able to help her up. She has a history of falls due to balance problems, so this in itself wasn’t too alarming. She said she felt fine, and seemed fine, so we assumed she was fine.
Wednesday morning my mom called me. She believed that something internal was wrong after her last fall. We went to the ER, and she was admitted with a bowel obstruction, likely a kink or a twist in the small intestine. Maybe from the fall, maybe not. She would be treated with “bowel rest” – nothing by mouth, close monitoring of vitals, and hope that the belly relaxes on its own and surgery could be avoided. Because at 90 you don’t want to do surgery if you don’t absolutely have to.
Thursday, after a morning visit to the hospital to see mom who seemed to be improving, I went to the cardiologist. He did another EKG and saw a definite change from the one I had in April. It was clear to him – the signals being sent by the top part of my heart to the bottom part to create a normal rhythm were not getting through properly. I need a pacemaker. ASAP. Really? But my mom’s in the hospital (a different one than where I was headed) – really, now? Doc said, we don’t need to rush you there in an ambulance, just go home, pack a bag, and head to the hospital - but, “I wouldn’t go out to dinner on the way” - and be admitted that night for surgery in the morning.
Well, shit. That was not at all expected. I’m 55, for pete’s sake – what the ??
Did I mention my mom’s in the hospital?
After I stopped crying, I followed the doctor’s orders. Didn’t stop for dinner but did stop to see my mom and tell her … I had to – I would be out of commission for a few days. We switched her emergency contact info over to my brother John, I assured her we’d both be fine and she’d probably be home before me since she was showing signs of improvement, hugged her and told her I loved her, and off I went.
The next morning as I was waiting to go into surgery, my brother called me. Mom had stopped breathing. They revived her and moved her to another unit for closer watch, and it happened again. She flatlined 3 times before they couldn’t bring her back any more.
I keep picturing John dealing with all of this on his own – being there while she was dying (at least he got to hold her hand for a bit at some point during all of it), having to get funeral arrangements started without me, etc. He reminded me that I was there with mom handling things when dad died while he was in Chicago, so it was his turn, and everything would be ok.
And I kept picturing my mom in her bed that night, worrying about me. She worried a lot about me and my brother. She worried that she was becoming an increasing burden on us, and we were getting to that age where we’re dealing with our own health problems. I pictured her laying there asking God - in German of course – "ach, Gott im Himmel! why am I still here? Please just take me." If it is possible for a person to will themselves to die, I honestly in my heart believe that’s what she did. I am crying as I type this. What a completely selfless person. I love you mom.
My surgery went well and I went home the next day. And then immediately to the funeral home to join John in finalizing arrangements. The next several days were of course filled with notifying people, condolences, visitation, flowers, funeral, burial … and then closing out retirement accounts here and in Europe (that was fun – glad I can still speak German well enough to get through that well enough!), bank stuff, cancelling medications, appointments …
Oh, I didn’t yet mention that we are in the middle of selling our house. The inspection was the day of the funeral, we have a closing date set for later this month, and we have to be out 30 days after that. And we hadn’t found a new place yet, so that search was hastened. We found a place and if all goes well we’ll get the keys 2 days before we have to be out of this one. And also, have to get mom’s apartment cleaned out by the end of August.
So now It’s full-steam ahead into sorting, purging, trying to sell furniture, give stuff away, whatever it takes, including having a garage sale next weekend. There is so much stuff! I need three garages! Or at least a tent on the front lawn, or two. We’ll see. I am bringing stuff home from mom’s place every day and rearranging and making room for more, and will be doing that until the night before the sale. At least I am now past the 4-week mark after my surgery and no longer have to “take it easy” (hah! What’s that?) I just keep telling myself that this will all be over soon. In September I will rest.
And someday, get back to making art, and sewing. I will. I have to. I have a lot of emotions to get out, and that’s the best way. Make stuff.