I'm not that person who recognizes life lessons on a regular basis. It's fair to say I've been bitch slapped by a life lesson or two in my time yet moseyed on undeterred.
Not this week.
This week, I'm paying attention.
Spoon feeding a dying mother has a way of changing a person's perspective. As much as I hate clichés there are several that apply to me right now. I won't bore you with most of them.
But there's one...
It's the small things.
It's been a week of those. The minor and mundane that might go unremembered if not for their timing. While I struggle to come to terms with losing my mother, I'm soaking up the moments that feed my soul.
Camping out with two of my babies. Well, we're at the Marriott with room service but there was no valet so you can understand my confusion.
Adelia: "Mimi, can you get out my way? I have to go number three."
Me: "Can I have a kiss first?"
Madison, my oldest granddaughter and her mother tussled most of last evening. The usual mother daughter tug of war fueled by pre-teen angst. Madison couldn't wait to shake off the parental bonds and head to the hotel room, mother-free. Right before bed...
Madison: "Can I call my mom?"
Me: "Sure, how come?"
Madison: "To tell her I love her and good night."
At the hospital sitting by my mother's bedside:
Mom: "The last time I went to a party wearing lingerie there was that stripper."
Me, fingers in ears: "I can't hear you, I can't hear you."
Mom to my daughter Kayla: "You never were very funny."
Mom, not able to stand, pulling a copy of my book out of her purse for the doctor: "Have you read this? My daughter wrote it."
My husband's hand at the small of my back. Propping me up like he always has and always will.
Finding out my daughter has reserves of strength similar to Hercules and a heart to match.
Whose motto is: "My mom's crying. Someone's gonna pay."
My son-in-law Che sneaking in McDonalds at the hospital sitting next to Mom's bed sharing french fries with her and watching Family Feud, kissing her on the forehead before he left.
Kissing my one year old grandson a bunch of times even though he doesn't really like it. Breathing him in.
My son Daniel calling every day this week to check up on Grandma and see if I'm okay.
So, when I look back on this terrible time, I'll have the sweet as well as the bitter.
In the midst of all the painful, unpleasant business of dying, we are banding together. A family. Still living.
This is our baby Adelia.
She's 6 years old.
She's hilarious. She's smart. She loves to say "butt cheeks" and "sucks to be you."
She wants candy for Christmas and means it. She won't open any present that doesn't sound like it's candy. She shakes the box then hands it back with "Nah...that's okay."
She yells at her baby brother. For nothing in particular. It usually involves "butt cheeks" or "sucks to be you."
She wears her shoes on the wrong feet. I'll say, "Your shoes are on the wrong feet." She says, "It's okay. Don't worry about it."
She likes to one up her dad with fart noises or bad jokes and say, "Sho you right."
She has Cerebral Palsy.
We don't know what that means in the long term. We only know that the long term will be shorter because of her disease.
Her mom and dad have always worked hard to make sure Adelia lives her life like other kids. She does most things for herself. She's just not fast. She rides the school bus. She plays softball. She dances. She sings...badly, but loud. She fights with her older sister. She gets in trouble.
I got to thinking the other day about what kind of life Adelia can have with a disease that gets progressively worse.
Other than the obvious cure, what would I wish for her?
I think I've proven in the short time I've been a blogger that sentiment is not my strong suit. So, I'm not one of those people who think that the disabled are inherently endowed with mystical, magical or pure qualities.
I'm certain there are disabled assholes.
I realize that's not a popular view. Not in a world where we are all in the stranglehold of political correctness. But, I stand by it.
I say, good for them. There're plenty of non-disabled assholes, so please, feel free.
And, I think only idiots say things like, "I don't want her to be defined by her disability."
Have you ever seen a person who struggles with major disabilities?
It defines them.
They don't like it anymore than you do. So stop patronizing them.
But, it all got me thinking...
I want Adelia to fall in love, get her heart broken, make big mistakes, celebrate small victories, say the wrong thing at the wrong time, say the right thing at exactly the right time, hurt someone's feelings, kiss someone to make them better, cry like the world will end and laugh like it never will.
I want Adelia to live a life in full, in all its glorious, messy, and complicated wonder.
Years from now, I want her to visit me in the old folk's home with her shoes on the wrong feet, chocolate all over her face, making fart noises, telling bad jokes and saying, "Sho you right, Mimi."
I just want her to live.
My relationship with my mother is complicated.
Get in line, right?
My mother struggles with a non-treated mental illness and has for all of her adult life, I would guess. Maybe longer.
She is a slave to her destructive, damaging impulses and addictions. They've stripped her of her health, her financial security, her relationships, her dignity.
As her only child, my feelings for her jerk back and forth between love and hate, empathy and disdain. I want to slap her or hug her. I never want to see her again, I want her to move in with me. Sometimes I rail in anger at her, sometimes I beg in desperation - for sins committed, for the awareness and improvements I know will never come.
I've often said to my husband, "Peace won't come for either of us until after her death."
Last week, she had a heart attack.
My mom has long enjoyed a mind-boggling relationship with suffering. She revels in it, she insists on it. Nothing, and no one, can keep her from it. She felt pain in her chest and arm, called 911 herself, got helicoptered out of the middle-of-nowhere, had surgery, and told no one.
I heard it from her neighbor, who called the fire department when she finally noticed something was wrong over at my mom's house - it looked too still, closed up.
Coincidentally, I'd just talked with her doctor the day before, a patient and caring man. The kind of doctor you want but never get. He'd been concerned, as we all were, that she could no longer live alone. It was a conversation she and I had many times, or I should say I had it. She tuned it all out. It's a conversation that went like most I've had with her since I was 13.
A 40 year wrestling match. I always lost.
"Please stop giving everything away."
"Please don't insist on buying dinner."
"Please don't insist on buying everything for everyone."
"Please stop enabling your alcoholic husband."
"Please respect the rules I've laid out for my children."
"Please stop smoking. I'm allergic."
"Please stop smoking. You've had cancer 3 times."
"Please stop gambling all your money away."
"Please respect my boundaries."
All fell on deaf ears.
"Please don't live alone in god forsaken nowhere when you're in such poor health," got the same negative reception as everything else. Or, no reception. She simply pretends I'm not talking.
Her doctor suggested I write her a letter. She might take it better. So, I did. She still hasn't seen it since she is still hospitalized. But, I mailed it.
I put a lot of effort into trying to lay it out to her gently. Without rancor or resentment. I used phrases like:
"I care about you."
"Your living situation scares me."
"You have options."
"We want this chapter of your life to be safe."
Blah, blah, blah.
Even though it was a letter all about her lifestyle and several options for better ways to live, it was really all about her death and dying. A round about way of asking, "Please, let us make your dying easier than your living."
It's been painful to watch her lifelong, deliberate and relentless self destruction. She's frail yet tough. Meek yet stubborn. Until very recently, she moved at a frantic pace, a race to spend, gamble and smoke until the very last second of her life.
She's done a bang up job of it too. She's got nothing left.
I am angry at her. I resent what she's done to herself. I resent what her untreated illness has done to our family. I find her refusal to acknowledge it infuriating.
Yet, last night I realized that when I wrote her that letter, spelled it out as carefully as I could, I left out what I really wanted to say, but couldn't.
Please don't go. I'm not ready.
Sometimes I say things.
I guess they're embarrassing.
My oldest son Daniel is frequently called upon to tell me, "Mother, you shouldn't say that out loud."
He always calls me Mother. With that tone. You know the one.
I've already confessed I was a young mother. A too young, 17 year old mother. I was the best mother a 17 year old could possibly be - which is pretty much like being the smartest moron in the room.
Two weeks before Daniel was born my dog got run over. Distraught with 17 year old grief I said, "I'd rather have my dog than a baby."
I've told this story a few times. My son says, "Mother, normal mothers don't say things like that."
He's forgetting that I always close with, "Imagine my surprise when I saw my kid and liked him waaaay better than that dog."
I'm not a complete loser.
Another favorite reminiscence of mine (well, it used to be. God forbid I should tell it) is when said son's turtle fell off the balcony to his untimely death. I knew Daniel's heart would break. Desperate to soothe I told him, "You know, he had a lot of bills. He lost his job, his wife left him. That's why he jumped."
He responded sobbing, his little face scrunched up in horror, "My turtle committed suicide?"
"Well, if you put it like that..."
What I didn't say was, "I told you not to leave that damn turtle out on the third story balcony, didn't I?" Do I get any points for NOT saying that? Guess not.
When my daughter Kayla was born she was a homely little thing.
I shit you not. She cried constantly and had no forehead. I loved her and all, but contrary to common belief, love isn't blind.
"She's not that cute," I'd say.
Daniel, age 4 would chime in, "Mother, you're not very nice."
Today, Kayla is a stunner. Seriously. A beauty. I tell everyone. I love her and all, but love still isn't blind. Just calling it like I see it.
I'm overcome with similar sentiment about my grandkids. Whom, I make no secret, I adore. However, I thought I was a little on the YOUNG side for grandma-hood. Not to mention, I thought my oldest daughter was too young for motherhood.
She wasn't as young as I was...but still, not yet 20. Ack. But, ever stoic, I adjusted.
When Kayla was pregnant, all kinds of women would say with glee, "Aren't you so excited? Grandkids are so awesome."
I'd answer with, "I'm sure I'll like it just fine."
Daniel would scold, "Mother. You don't say 'you'll like it just fine' about a baby. You say that about carpeting or a car. NOT a baby."
To my astonishment, Kayla insisted on my presence during her labor and delivery. Let me tell you my friends, if you haven't had that pleasure...count your freaking blessings. I didn't want to be present for my own labors and deliveries, much less...
I kept escaping. Then they'd find me. I told Daniel, "She was like the Mafia. Every time I tried to get out, she pulled me back in."
"Mother, you just said that out loud."
But, I have to admit, when Madison was born, she was every bit the miracle they said she'd be. I fell hard for her. I didn't have a prayer.
My daughter still says that day, and her childbirth experience, was in the top five of her best memories. So, that's enough to melt even my black heart.
Then came Adelia, Kayla's second baby. Not thrilled with the prospect. Said so. Then she arrived, and like a snuggly, cuddly worm, she crawled right into my heart. I don't think there's a kid more loved than Adelia.
Good God. Would they ever stop?
At least this was a different daughter's baby.
"You're going to be a grandma again? That's so fantastic," some idiot would crow.
Daniel would lecture, "Mother, you know as soon as you see them you're like jello. Why don't you just try to enjoy it?"
"Did I ever tell you about my dog?"
Then, there she was. All red hair, big blue eyes, little gap between her teeth. She loves feather boas and crowns. How precious is Amelie?
Then, yet one more.
Kayla announced another imminent birth.
I bit my tongue.
I kept my mouth shut. So shut. Until...
"Mom, I know you're not happy about this, but-"
Then I said a bunch of stuff out loud that I shouldn't have.
Daniel nagged, "Now you've done it. I told you not to say anything."
Yeah. Got it.
Well, as grandkids will, Che Jr. was born. Our first grandson.
Oh my goodness. What a joy he is. A delicious bundle of all things fabulous. Just when you think your heart can't take it all in, it expands and grows and fills with all kinds of mushy love.
Daniel said, "I told you, Mother...I knew as soon as you saw him you'd be crazy for him."
Kaya said, "Isn't he so handsome?"
"I hope he's not an asshole."
Where were we?
Right. 12 year Doc said: It's your hips...torn labrums. I don't do that surgery. No one here does. You have to go to UCLA.
Me: Surgery? What about physical th-
Doc: Nope. They're torn. If you want to fix them, its surgery.
It took two months to get an appointment at UCLA.
Weird UCLA Doc's assistant tells me: She'll want to see your MRI.
Me: Ummm...well...I don't have that in my purse or anything. Can she get it from my last doctor?
Weird Assistant: We don't do that. You have to get them and bring them with you.
Now, I don't know about you, but the last I heard this was the 21st century. The digital age. I can take a photo with my freaking phone and email it to my kids. Has this news not hit the medical profession?
Me: Don't they just email them or something?
Weird Assistant: No. You have to bring them. If it wasn't film you could FAX them.
FAX? Should I just strap them to a pigeons leg and have them flown over? WTF?
Two months later in UCLA Doc's office. My appointment was at 1:00. She saw me at 3:00
UCLA Doc: I looked at the MRI and you do have torn labrums on both sides.
Me: I know.
UCLA Doc: But, this isn't the right kind of MRI.
Me: There's a wrong kind?
UCLA Doc: Yep. I need the kind with contrast. This one doesn't have contrast. So, you'll need to get that done at your local doctors office and come back.
Me: This is UCLA. You don't do that here?
UCLA Doc: No...yeah...well...it's best if you just do it there and bring the films with you again when you come back.
Me: It took me two months to get this appointment. It's a two hour drive, one way. Plus I waited two hours in the waiting room.
UCLA Doc: I'll have my assistant give you priority.
That was reassuring.
I head for the door.
UCLA Doc, pointing at my feet: You'll need to stop wearing those.
Those would be my stilettos.
Me: That's not gonna happen.
UCLA Doc, smiling: No, I'm not kidding. You can't wear those. You have a serious hip injury.
Me: I'm not kidding either. It's not gonna happen. Who's in charge now?
I thought she should know who she was dealing with.
Everybody knows the way you look is WAY more important than your health. Duh. I wasn't born yesterday.
Another month later in UCLA Doc's office with the right kind of MRI, stilettos ON. My appointment was at 2:00. I saw the doctor at 4:00.
UCLA Doc: You need surgery.
Me: I know. I knew that before I got here. With the wrong kind of MRI.
UCLA Doc, not really listening: I do one hip at a time, three months apart. My assistant will book it.
Me to Weird Assistant: I need to book my surgery.
Weird Assistant: She books 2-3 months out.
Two and a half months later, surgery day arrives.
It's been almost a year since my first doctors appointment.
Hubby and I are driving to UCLA, my cell phone rings.
Voice on phone: This is blah, blah, from Blue Shield.
Blah, Blah from Blue Shield: I'm afraid your hip surgery isn't covered by your current insurance plan.