I originally titled this “Gifting Dignity – The End of a Journey”. Really, the journey continues through the memories of her and the similarities I see of her in her grandchildren and great-granddaughters.
I don’t remember a beginning of the end of my mother’s earthly journey, we had watched out for each other for so long, it wove into the fabric we shared. She had a good run for someone who had survived a death sentence several times throughout her 83 years.
I will begin at the point mom was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure (CHF). Seventy-eight with a few heart attacks under her belt, as well as diabetes. I accompanied her to her first visit with a cardiologist. His response to my mother’s concerns were “What do you expect, you’re old”. She had no response. He clearly had no knowledge of gifting dignity.
What ensued over the next five years were visits with doctors, taking pills, shots, x-rays, hospital stays. Physically she slowed, but her mind was as quick as ever. We went to movies and shopping in Portland, which would include a visit with her best friend while I went off to do more shopping! Lunch every Friday at the local Chinese restaurant. She continued to bake goodies; the gallon of Thanksgiving gravy. Cookies were plentiful; biscuits were epic. She puttered in her vegetable and flower gardens or would sit in the lawn chair by the water and watch the loons and other wildlife.
I suppose the last year had the most effect on me. Mom became weaker. Less the mother I remembered as I became more of her. My transition to caretaker setting in. The passing of the baton from mother to daughter. Yet, as much as possible, she remained in control of her destiny. She stopped driving at night, giving the dignity of not having to force her to stop, and to herself of knowing when to quit. “I don’t care if I kill myself”, she would say, “but I will not be responsible for killing someone else, if I can help it”. Eventually, she gave up driving during the day.
Then there was the vacation we planned. A respite my family needed. My mother was in the hospital with pneumonia. Her doctor insisted I go. My friends and former co-workers at the hospital pushed me to go. So we went. And so we were called back, not 24 hours into our stay. “It’s likely you won’t make it back in time”. We did. Her first words as I stood by her bedside were “I am so loved. What did I do to deserve this care?” Her humility, I think, was one her greatest strengths.
My mother was not a great communicator. Not that she didn’t communicate, but she selectively retailed her communion with society; her thoughts; feelings and aspirations.
Sundays she would call her mother. Randomly she would call her sister-in-law. Every day she would make calls to check on a couple of older friends.
Online social media would not appeal to mom. She didn’t approve of e-mail. She wanted to hear someone’s voice or touch the words they wrote. Florence was her best friend for 78 years. When I saw them together in their later years, their age would fall away and you could picture them as young girls in partnership with life.
Overall, I believe my mother’s selective communication and reluctance to share her personal life was a reflection of her humility. She didn’t think anyone would be interested in her hopes, dreams and ambitions. Indeed, it was not until nearing the end of her journey when she shared them and stories of her growing up was I fully aware she had any. She was perhaps, the most selfless, humble and compassionate woman I have ever known. The first to bring a casserole.