Friday, November 25, 2016


Dad once said that he would not want to live his life over because it had been too hard.  There is one part of my life that I wish I could live over:  the last six months of my mother’s life.

My Mom started to die the day Clinton won the election in 1992.  Dad was pissed off about Clinton winning and he apparently took it out on Mom. The stress resulted in her having a gall bladder attack.  The operation for the gall bladder damn near killed her.

It should have been a routine procedure.  A doctor who had done it many times before should have performed it.  Instead, she went to the family doctor.  The family doctor had just completed a training course in using a laser scope method to remove the gall bladder.  It sounded good.  Three little incisions and Mom would be out of the hospital in two days.

It appeared to work but a week after the operation Mom was in intensive care.  The family doctor accidentally nicked the bile duct during the operation.  Bile fluid leaked into Mom’s abdominal cavity.  It literally started digesting her from the inside out.   Her liver, intestine and pancreas had all suffered damage.  There was a major operation to correct the problems from the first operation.  Mom stayed in ICU for a week.

Even when she came home, she had a drain still in place, hanging out of her side.  A home-care nurse visited her to attend to the drain.  It was a year before Mom got back to normal.  But it was never really normal.  She lost something.  There were the things she did before the operation and then there was a different set of things she did a year later.     

Before the operation Mom and Dad went on bus tours with other senior citizens.  After the operation Mom had little energy for trips.  Before the operation my mother had a slightly stooped posture.  Years of bending herself over a sewing machine accounted for her stoop.  But after the operation, the stoop was a clear dowagers hump.  Raising her hands over her head was painful and finally not possible.

Mom and Dad saw a lawyer about suing the family doctor.  Mom was not cut out for her role in a lawsuit.  She did not have the spirit of the thing.  All she wanted to sue for was the cost of the second operation.  She thought that Medicare ought to be paid back for the $30,000 cost of the second operation.  She wasn’t interested in any other damages.    The lawyer firm turned her away.  She did not seek a second opinion.  It’s just as well.  Mom would have made a lousy witness.  She would have apologized for getting sick in the first place.  After all, the doctor would have never screwed up the operation if she had not been there.  Perhaps the lawyers sensed that about her character. I bet the lawyers thought she was nuts. 

After Mom died Dad often spoke about how many things he didn’t know about her.  “I never even knew who she voted for.”  Huh?  Who cares whom she voted for?  What has that got to do with knowing her?

It makes sense now.  In 1992, the day after Clinton won, Dad probably wanted to know whom she voted for.  Perhaps he imagined that she voted for Clinton.  He gave himself permission to treat her like dirt.  Dad was not a beater; he was a verbal abuser.  I expect he said some awful things to her.
The stress had stirred up the gall bladder attack.  It was 9 more years before she died.

I never had a good talk with Mom.  She did not invite conversation.  She was about work.  There was always sewing, quilting and mending; but only if all the sweeping, scrubbing and vacuuming was done.  Her home was humble, orderly and clean.  I must have been a frightful disappointment to her.
I never learned how to sew very well; I was never orderly and I approach clean as a relative thing.  She must have wondered whom she pissed off to end up with a daughter like me.

And so we continued for 47 years conversing in only the most functional manner.  If I had been interested in quilting and sewing we might have been close.  I did like to knit but unfortunately I am a process knitter.  I only care about the mathematics of knitting.  I don’t care if I end up with something useful.  This did not make sense to Mom.  Every time she saw me ripping out something I had just knitted, she would look sort of sad and perplexed.

Before Mom’s gall bladder operation, she could work me into the ground.
When she came to visit me, we never sat down to have a conversation.
The minute she got in the door, she started looking for something to clean.
At my house you didn’t have to look hard to find something that needs cleaning and straightening.  And so Mom would attack it.  She always had a place for me in her vision of what needed to be done.  She never ordered me to participate in her projects at my house, but how could I sit while she slaved?.  She wore me out.  The moment she left, I headed straight to bed.  My husband said we should have her visit more often; he liked the results.  My kids undid her good works in a few hours.  After the operation she still tried to work, but there were many things she could not do.  She could fold laundry almost to the end.

The summer before she died Mom and Dad had  problems with their central air conditioner.  The central air system was not well engineered.  The part that broke was up in the attic crawl space.
To fix it required going into the crawl space that was over 120ยบ F.  No workman wanted any part of it.  The air conditioning still cooled the bedrooms, but the kitchen and living room were too warm to stay in for long.  Mom had been very frail for the last year.  She had a couple ‘episodes’ of fainting.
The air conditioner problem confined her to the bedroom.  Dad put up a card table in the bedroom for Mom to eat at.  Dad put a portable commode next to the bed.  Mom was marooned.  Her back was in pain much of the time.

Dad started talking about putting Mom in a nursing home.  He didn’t know how to deal with her when she had an episode.  Her condition scared him.  I didn’t understand why he wanted to put her in a home.  What I didn’t realize until later was that Mom was putting on a good show when I was there.  Dad had to deal with a truth I never saw.

In late August Mom went into the nursing home.  I still believed that the air conditioner problem had just stressed her out.  She would get some rest and be home soon.  After she had been there for a few weeks, I remember visiting her on a Saturday morning.  When I walked in the room she said, “I can’t walk anymore”

“What do you mean?”

“I can’t control my legs anymore.  They won’t go were I put them.  They want to cross over each other.”

I had trouble taking it all in.


My mother never exposed her emotions.  I never saw my mother cry.  Now, even her subdued presentation showed how dismal she felt.  Then Dad came in the room.  He told me how Mom’s legs had collapsed from under her a few days earlier when he was helping her to walk to the bathroom.
It had taken several attendants to get her off the bathroom floor.

She would never walk again.

There were subtle things going on during those early weeks in the nursing home; things I did not grasp or understand until much later.  I missed a great and important opportunity.  In the next few months Mom lost the ability to communicate.  First she couldn’t make sentences; then she couldn’t make words.  But that day when she told me she could not walk, I missed the opportunity to talk to her.  There she was finally unable to work.  For the next month she was still able to talk.   But I wasn’t there for her.  I came on weekends only.  I didn’t stay long enough.

I failed her.