Monday, April 18, 2016

Too soon?

We lost my mother last week.

If your first response is either Did you check under the couch? or Now you're halfway to being Batman! well, I'm right there with you. It's not even a defense mechanism -- not yet, anyway. It's just that the whole event seems so improbable that even after watching the medical examiner remove the body and having grieving friends and family (including me) show up at my parents' house on Thursday, it's a little hard to accept that it really happened.

Basic facts:
My parents went up to Tulsa, Oklahoma over Easter weekend. My mom's sisters live around there (including a couple who aren't, strictly speaking, sisters or even blood relations -- as if that makes any difference). While they were up there, she came down with some sort of really bad cough. Then, something (either the disease causing the cough, or something that they used trying to control it) caused her heart rate to speed up[1] to a point where the heart started to fibrillate. Somewhere in there, she ended up in the hospital. After several days of treatment, they got her heart rate back down and the fibrillation settled out on its own.[2] At that point they went back my aunt's house to recuperate for a couple of days, after which my brother and a family friend drove up to retrieve them.[3] They spent most of another week recuperating and seeing their own doctors back here in Dallas/Fort Worth, since apparently Mom's energy and physical strength were very low, and they were discussing a procedure to "zap" her heart and reset its rhythm.[4] And then, last Thursday[5], she just didn't wake up.

(If I sound a bit uncertain about the timeline and the exact medical events/diagnoses, it's because I am. When it came to anything that might be a major medical issue, my mother tended to kind of... freeze up ...and not admit that anything was wrong until it was absolutely undeniable/inescapable, finally seek medical attention in the most unwilling way imaginable, and not tell anybody except my dad what was going on until they were safely past the crisis.[6] So the first I heard of all this was on the Monday after Easter, when Dad called to say that they weren't back in town yet, and would be staying in Tulsa for a few more days. I didn't even ask why; if they'd wanted me to know, they would have told me.)

So Thursday morning, as I was getting ready to take Firstborn to his school and then head to a dental appointment and then to work, I got the news from my dad. We didn't tell the boys; we didn't tell them until after school on Friday.[7] I sent an email off to work, went to dental appointment, and then drove down to my parents' house with one side of my face still numb. (If you're thinking, I'll bet that wasn't his best day ever, you'd be right.) When I got there, around 10:30 or so, the medical examiner and her assistant were in the bedroom with the body[8] and a very nice police officer was... I was going to say "being solicitous" (and he was, and that's a part of an officer's job that I have never in my life imagined) but I think he was also there to keep us out of the medical examiner's hair. There was a long-time friend of the family there too (another one of those people who isn't technically part of the family except that they are or might as well be), and he'd made a pot of coffee and offered his condolences and support.

He left shortly after I arrived, so it was only my father and I who got to stand by the window and watch as they wheeled the body out. It was carefully impersonal, just a body bag on a stretcher, like you'd see in a movie[9]. The medical examiner and her assistant drove it away, while the officer came back inside to say nice things and let us know they were done.

After that my father went back to calling everybody who needed to be told directly, and I did what I could to help (which wasn't much -- looking up a couple of phone numbers, mainly). My brother and his wife arrived with lunch, and various family friends stopped by in various states of shock and/or grief. And somewhere in the early afternoon, I think around 2 or 2:30, Dad kind of called a halt to it, and sent us gently back home, and (I hope) went off to take a nap.

And now it's Sunday morning and I'm typing this in my little work-area with the door closed, and I think maybe I'm finally starting to really feel it.

More than anything else, this is how my mother wanted to die. I don't think she was really afraid of dying. If she was, it was absolutely nothing compared to her fear of becoming helpless or being a burden. She didn't want to outlive my father, either. How much of that was a fear of grief, and how much of it was an extension of this desire not to become a burden, I don't know. I suspect there were large doses of both involved. This was... I don't know if it was her wish, exactly, but as far as she was concerned if she had to die this was the least bad way to go about it: quietly, ahead of her husband, while she still had her mobility and her dignity.

I may be writing more about my mother. I may not, but I probably will: writing is how I process things. I may write things here, or I may write them and put them away in my files. I haven't said anything about her history, or who she was as a person, or much of anything that really matters. I haven't talked about polio, or Warm Springs, or relationships with her sisters, or her work, or what she was like as a parent. As you can probably see, I'm still coming to grips with the fact that she's dead.

It's 11:23 on Sunday morning. I'm going to set this post to go up tomorrow. Then I'm going to go pour myself a glass of Jameson and water, and go stand in a hot shower for a while.

[1] "Up to 190" I was told, which I assume is beats per minute, but I don't have enough medical knowledge to say that with any certainty. For comparison, though, they were trying to get her heart rate "back below 100" before they would let her go home.

[2] As, apparently, it sometimes does in these cases.

[3] By taking two drivers, they could retrieve my parents' car as well. I could have gone if I'd really been needed, but in terms of work and who could best afford to take the time off, this seemed the best arrangement.

[4] Apparently it had stopped fibrillating, but it was still a little erratic, or something.

[5] Looking at the calendar, that would be April 14, 2016.

[6] There were reasons for this -- solid, understandable reasons why this sort of thing would be a huge personal issue for her -- but that has never made the behavior pattern any less irritating.

[7] It's not that we didn't want them to know. It's more like... we couldn't tell them Thursday morning, because we weren't about to drop that bombshell and then send them off to school -- that wouldn't be fair to anyone. We couldn't tell them Thursday night, because we were celebrating Secondborn's birthday and I sure as hell didn't want him associating his birthday with his grandmother's death. We couldn't tell them Friday morning, because of the tell-and-send-em-off issue again. So it was Friday night.

[8] I can't believe I just typed that. Death -- and grief -- are so deeply surreal and weird.

[9] Except that in the sort of movies I generally watch, the bodies usually sit up and try to eat the living.


  1. *Hugs, and love and prayers. My mother died last June. It seems such a short time ago. Keep writing. Write the memories and the good times, her achievements and who she was, how she made a difference to the world, and to you.

  2. Hugs to you chap, jolly great big British male HUGS!

    I remember the difficulty in telling my daughter that Grandma had died. The right time seems to never fully arrive.

    You have my thoughts for the coming weeks and I'll raise you a glass next time there's one in my hand.

  3. Hugs and good thoughts. Your messages helped me so much when my dad was dying, and I am so very sorry you're having to face this. Take care of yourself.

  4. I'm so sorry. The one-year anniversary of my grandmother's death just passed. It was on my niece's birthday, and just as unexpected. It's not a thing I'd want to associate with anyone's birthday, but math says that when families are big it's not that unlikely, I guess.

    Again, my heartfelt sympathies to you and the boys. I'm sure you know this but don't be surprised if it takes months before you feel what is easily recognizable as grief, and years to fully process.

  5. I'm so sorry. The one-year anniversary of my grandmother's death just passed. It was on my niece's birthday, and just as unexpected. It's not a thing I'd want to associate with anyone's birthday, but math says that when families are big it's not that unlikely, I guess.

    Again, my heartfelt sympathies to you and the boys. I'm sure you know this but don't be surprised if it takes months before you feel what is easily recognizable as grief, and years to fully process.

  6. Michael, I'm so sorry. I feel your sadness-- I'm grieving for my mama and I hear her voice, see her smile, and I so want to talk to her. ((((((BIG HUGS)))))

  7. {{{Big Hugs}}}

    This, too, is a process. It might not seem real for a bit. Then suddenly it is all too real. You have my deepest sympathies.

  8. I'm so sorry Michael. I look forward to hearing more about her if you ever do decide to write in the future. ((hugs))

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  10. I'm so sorry, Michael -- you and your family are in my thoughts.

  11. I am so very sorry for your loss. I wish I had more to offer than virtual hugs.


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