I loved her for more than 40 years, and then one day, she did the unimaginable – she broke my heart.
I can’t describe my relationship with my mother. We barely had anything in common. But she was what I thought all mothers were, and that is, immortal. I also saw her as invincible, sometimes the enemy, always a nurturer. Never a woman – much less a woman with problems and experiences similar to mine.
And then she died.
It wasn’t until that day that I realized she was a person who experienced pain, just like me. She felt sorrow like I did. She held regrets, endured loneliness, had bad habits, addictions, held grudges, and had a laundry list of mistakes under her name. She had feelings. Turns out, she was like me, and I was like her. She was more influential in my life than I realized. With every passing year, I like to think our relationship grew and evolved into a newer, more significant, grander relationship. Until she abandoned me.
But deep-rooted issues are the least of my problems. It’s the cause of my mother’s death that has me wrecked.
It was three months before she died. I had just turned 40, filed for divorce, quit my job, and was hitting up neighborhood psychics and tarot readers daily. I didn’t have a plan for my future. I didn’t even have an idea for Tuesday. I assumed leaving a lousy marriage and starting over was the answer. Instead, it stirred up a weird animosity toward my family.
The day I moved into my new place is the day I’d take back.
My mother and I were making a quick trip to the store for cleaning supplies. Only ‘being quick’ didn’t happen. It wasn’t one of her ‘good days.’ She had a lot of medical issues brought on by her weight. Obesity comes with a slew of health issues. Our quick run was more like a gradual stroll with many rest breaks.
Still, I was happy she offered to help. My mother was nothing if not a clean freak – and my floors were sticky and the ominous dark spot on the bathroom wall needed diagnosing.
Patience isn’t one of my virtues.
I drove a Jeep Wrangler – a nearly impossible vehicle for her to climb in and out of.
After five minutes, and that’s all I was giving her to get in the car, I noticed her struggle. No matter how strategically she placed her hands or angled her body, she couldn’t lift her leg and hoist herself into the passenger seat.
Thinking back, I am ashamed at how invisible she was to me.
It wasn’t until her legs gave out, her arm nearly pulled out of the socket, and she lay flat on the pavement that I jumped out to help her.
The sling was one thing; the black bruising was another.
Weeks later, she was still unable to bring her right arm above her head. And the skin from under her arm and across the front of her chest was turning blacker every day.
We ended up at Urgent Care – several times over the next month.
I was at work when the paramedic called.
They were in a helicopter and headed to St. Joseph’s. The paramedic spoke so slowly. He assured me the facility they were headed to was the most advanced (but also the busiest) stroke center.
My mother suffered an ischemic stroke early that morning, but it had been several hours before she was found. Siri gave me the 411: An ischemic stroke is a type of stroke that is caused by a clot, or some other blockage, within an artery leading to the brain. The patient’s prognosis after an ischemic stroke is good. More than three-quarters of people who suffer a stroke survive for a year and over half survive for more than five years. Many survivors recover their independence.
They found clots in my mother’s lung.
Three days later, the doctor handed me a form that was signed by my mother the day she was admitted. It was a scribbled signature, but it was a completely legal and fully-witnessed document naming me my mother’s trusted medical power of attorney.
And then her doctor presented me with a medical decision.