Sunday, July 17, 2016

I miss my mom

I miss her in ways I didn't expect. I think, "I should call mom today." And then I remember that she's not there. She's not here, she's not anywhere. No where I can call, anyway.

I miss her when I go to call my dad, and my phone says "Mom & Mick" on the screen. I missed her last week after I had a tearful talk with the 18 year old daughter of a patient dying from cancer. I missed her when I had a sick, 78 year old woman who was scared, I missed her when I had a funny ER story to share with her. I missed her when I couldn't remember where Grandma was born.

At the same time, I have the weird and also unanticipated sensation that I can't believe she's dead. It's like I'm fine and then all the sudden I'm plunged into icy water. It's not sadness. I'm not sure what it is. How is it possible that she can be dead? How can my mother be dead? I have never lived one second of life without her until 28 days ago. I knew, from a certain age, that theoretically she would die, it just didn't seem likely. Now I live with the conflicting sensation that she is both dead and that her being dead is not possible.

But still, she is not here.

I lived with the reality of her mortality from the minute I heard her diagnosis. Her one doctor took me aside to make sure that I understood the enormity of her condition and that we'd get her to a leukemia specialist. I knew it when that specialist reviewed everything with us and said that he had one patient who lived two whole years while receiving cancer treatment. When your doctor is optimistic about a two year survival rate, you know this can't be good.

She did not get two years. She got seven months from diagnosis to death. Nine, maybe ten months from when she started not feeling well. Here's the kicker-the chemo was working. It was keeping the leukemia down (but not remission, there's no remission for a 78 year old with AML). It's just that it was killing everything else: her heart, her lungs, her bone marrow. Every treatment resulted in hospitalization, in blood product replacement, in fluid overload and heart failure. Every time. I'm not enough of a nurse to know oncology, but I know hearts. "Mom, why didn't they give you lasix after the transfusion?" "Mom, why are your numbers still low?"

"I don't know," She'd say, "That's what the doctor ordered." She was an old school nurse and had complete faith in medicine. You didn't challenge the doctor or maybe she didn't want to know. I only know that they only had to mention hospice once to her and she made the decision to come home. She was tired of spending every other month in the hospital and I guess she just knew. She told my brother, "Look, either the cancer's going to get me, or my heart will. One or the other." So she came home.

My mom was not my best friend. I hated every mother's day when people would post these sickly sweet things about their mom and how she was always there for them, or whatever. My mother was not always there. I said if you wanted to hang yourself, she'd make sure you had enough rope. That's an ungenerous thing to say, but she did say that she thought it was best to mind her own business and stay out of her children's affairs. I always wanted to ask her why, but I didn't want to challenge her, or maybe I didn't want to know. And she didn't really want anyone to know about her problems either. One day I was over her house and found insulin in the fridge. "Oh, yeah, that's for my diabetes." I asked her how long she had had diabetes and she just waved her hand, "For a while." It wasn't denial. When we cleaned out her stuff I found notebooks dating back at least 20 years, written in her neat, Palmer Method cursive. Dates, blood sugars, amount of insulin injected. She never wavered. She may not have questioned her doctors, she did not question her 1950's ideas of nutrition, but she was meticulous about keeping track. She probably had diabetes for a decade before I found out. It just wasn't really important enough to talk about.

She'd nonchalantly bring up information about herself, so the best thing, if you wanted to know something, was to hang out, ask a few innocuous questions and get her talking. One day, when I was about 10, she was talking with some women at a party. We had migrated into the kitchen, as women used to do, and she mentioned that she had had 2 miscarriages. I was stunned. I thought I was nine years younger because I was an accident. I never asked for too many details. Decades later we were discussing women's rights and, out of nowhere, she opened up about how hard it was to carry a dead baby inside of you for 5 months, because in the 1960's they wouldn't give a woman drugs to induce labor, nor would they do a D&C on a woman who had fetal demise. They "let nature take its course." I was horrified. She waved it away, "That's how they handled things back then."

I know she was proud of me. She told me. She was proud that when I struggled through being a single mom and finished nursing school. She told me how proud she was that I was independent. She told me how proud I was when I went back to school and got my BSN, something she couldn't see in person because she was hospitalized again.  And I was proud of her. I was proud that I had a mom who went out to work and was a nurse and did cool things, like help operate on people. I was proud that I had a mom who never batted an eye to anything I did, who I brought home, or what I spouted off about. "Just don't go on Jerry Springer and tell the whole world." Which, to my credit, I never did. Thank you, mom.

She didn't say I love you, much. A handful of times, I think I can remember them all. She always made sure I had food, had a place to do my laundry, someone to watch my kids. When I was single mom she and my dad drove all over NJ to pick up and drop off my daughter when I worked. But she did say it, now and then and before she died.

You didn't tell me a lot of things, but you showed me. And I miss you.

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