Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hi, Mom ... I love you.

Sorry to be so long between postings, but I'm sure you'll understand ...
((( hugs to you, Liz )))
Two days after Christmas my mother was admitted to the hospital with severe abdominal pain which was thought at first to be the recurrence of ulcers. After ten days of "hospital shuffle" and testing she was diagnosed with stage three pancreatic cancer. Surgery removed all but a stubborn 1% left behind and clinging to an aortic vessel.

I stayed with her in her hospital room every day/night except nights in ICU - when I would drive the hour back from Shreveport to Ruston - and if I couldn't be there my wonderful brothers were.

Between the hurtings were some good times for talks ... laughs even. A few times she had to tell me, "Stop making me laugh; I'll burst the proverbial stitch!"

Together we mourned the Cowboys' elimination from the Super Bowl and then celebrated the Saints win with the nursing staff; we agreed on our choice for the new Miss America and pouted together when she didn't win. We hooted over "What Not to Wear"; she beat me at every turn of Jeopardy and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" and after one HGTV episode she completely redesigned her bathroom and was hoping for my son-in-law Richie to put in new tile. We visited with family via "Skype" on the little netbook we had recently purchased together and she finally was able to "meet" 3 mo great-granddaughter, Lena, see the squiggling 9mo old Lukas and admire his new toofs, giggles and songs from Kenzie, Zach & Madi ... shy smiles from Trey. After one call she told the nurses that she had the most beautiful granddaughters ... "they just couldn't get any prettier!", she testified.

She loved my large red apple on the windowsill "such a pretty spot of color in this dull place". I couldn't bring myself to eat it and took it with us to the next room ... and the next.

Finally, after more than six weeks in the hospital we returned home for her post surgery recovery and to begin a "wellness" regime to prepare her for upcoming treatments. While I had been studying and taking notes in the hospital I learned much more "hands on" about cleaning drainage tubes and changing dressings and medication/meal schedules/testing/injections - because of the complications wrt to her diabetic condition. I also learned how it could be necessary to be aggressive - even downright fierce with insurance companies when vital meds were denied, with medical admin when appointments were "unavailable" or needed test results were missing from a file, etc., etc.
Most of all I learned to be humble and amazed and proud as I watched my sweet mom fight pain to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion. I saw this modest, little woman endure countless and repeated indignities of her illness - with more concern toward her caregivers than to herself and always with a "thank you" and even a joke if she was able.
After we established a workable routine of shared care between family and home health I was persuaded to return home for a brief rest and visit with my own family. I created a large tabbed binder and filled it with every iota of info regarding "the care and feeding of a Dottie" as she joked. I went shopping: baby monitors, portable extension phone, a large whiteboard to note contacts, apts & schedules, fave easy-prep foods & snacks to entice her to eat. I wracked my brain trying to think of every little thing that must/should/could be done to ease her days, offer some security - and I know that really what I was doing was in effort to postpone my leave taking.
Ice and snow were in the weather forecast and the push was on for me to get on the road and home safely. I prepared lunch for mom and my step dad, Baker, and loaded the car. It was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, this goodbye - that turned out to be my last to my mom. But what an exquisite hug ... it said so much between us and I feel it even now. If not for the worries wrt family situations at home I simply could not have torn myself away. I think she knew and feared ... and yet she still insisted I go.
The promised snow came in a big way ... such a rare event for us in this part of Texas - even knocked out our power for nearly two days. The week was filled to overflowing with family "stuffs" ... sledding & snowmen, Valentine-making, catching up on bills, grocery shopping, housework -- and of course my daily talks with mom.
The evening of the 15th we talked for over an hour ... she sounded a little tired, but more animated and "her old self" as she recounted the special Valentine box she got in the mail - cookies and artwork from my daughter, Kelly and her great grands, McKenzie, Madison & Trey. She was so pleased and was glad she had seen them via the "Skype chats" so that she could picture them better in her mind as they were right then and was plotting to use it to view my niece's upcoming wedding together and having our own "reception" along with them in their honor. I heard a wistfulness in her voice that alarmed me and asked her if she was ok - if she wanted me to come back in the morning ...
... "I can and I will", I told her. She insisted no, no. She wanted me to wait for Madi's 6th birthday on Sunday ... come back on Monday. So it was decided - "Monday, then, but only if you'll promise to call me if you change your mind and need me sooner."
We talked until 9:30 p.m. ... at 11:50 p.m. we were awakened by my ringing cell phone. Few people have my cell number or would call at this hour; it was my sweet brother, Greg, bless his broken heart to whom fell the task of confirming what I already knew.
Instantly, in my mind's eye I saw her ... as this way ... the last photo taken with my brother's cell phone.

We were in a waiting room at LSUS Oncology. She wore a soft, grey velour jogging suit and I commented to her that she looked too beautiful to be sick ... my brother agreed and she smiled and graciously accepted her children's adoration.
No goodbyes for me. Just "Hi, Mom, I love you" in every rainbow, new buds, sounds of a laughing child, with every Maltese puppy I see, with every crowning of a new Miss America and every red apple.


  1. so heartfelt . . . .
    she is beautiful, S.

  2. Susan, what an eloquent and wonderful post. Thank you so much for letting us see your Mom one more time. And thank you for being there for everyone, all the time.

    Liz (boud)

  3. I am so very sorry for your loss.

  4. Thank you so much, my friends ...