You Just Never Know…
Can I tell you a very personal story? I apologize in advance: it’s sort of long, but I promise there’s a point…
My mom, who turned 80 in September, apparently caught the flu or something early last week. She actually hadn’t been feeling great for a while but as of Tuesday, when one of my sons stopped by, she seemed pretty good.
My wife, who talked with her about every other day, said she seemed okay on Thursday and that she was looking forward to our weekly visit on Sunday after church (Donna and I started doing that with my paternal grandmother while we were still dating, and after my step-dad died almost six years ago, we restarted the tradition with my mom).
I tried to call her Saturday a.m. before a meeting, but couldn’t reach her on her house or cell phone (she could almost always locate one or the other), and neither could my wife. But, just as she was leaving to go to mom’s house to see if she was okay, I got a call from her saying she was in the hospital.
Seems she’d gone in by ambulance the night before after passing out and falling, and then gave directions for the hospital not to call us, so we weren’t worried or bothered or something.
Anyway, we visited a while Saturday, which was uneventful but forward looking and positive, and then again on Sunday. Sunday had been a rough night. In fact, she was sure she’d been kidnapped and was being held against her wishes without food or water on the second floor of Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. At least she was in a good hospital there, too.
She also had the idea that her nurse and another staff owned the place. She thought they were doing “quite nicely.” Further, she was sure she was at home, and was mad at the nurse at one point because she had “the downstairs bathroom” tied up four hours (making her wait to use it). Anyway, it went on like this. Humorous, but troubling, as this was very new behavior.
So she was obstinate with her nurses, and yet funny at times, too. One time the nurse walked in doing nurse things. Mom turned to look at her and said, “There’s nurse ‘fuzzy-wuzzy’,” under her breath. The nurse, who was so patient and kind, didn’t hear it, but we had several good laughs like that at her spontaneous wit.
She was plenty talkative and eventually we helped her sign the needed paperwork for a pacemaker – probably on Tuesday, they thought. We passed time like you do in a hospital, laughed at her delusions, and when she was able to see the humor (which was most of the time) mom mostly laughed with us. That was really good…
Sunday evening, about 9:30, Donna called and mom seemed to be struggling. Her heart was tachy and there were pauses that lasted far too long. As she started to destabilize further, the cardiac floor sent her to the ICU. They called and advised us of this move, and while they were obviously concerned, did not seem overly worried. We tried to sleep.
Then, around 11:45, we got a call from the ICU. We should probably come – mom’s heart had stopped shortly after the move, and while they got her going again, it wasn’t looking good. She was crashing, it seemed.
Wait, what? Wasn’t she getting a pacemaker in a couple of days?
By 3 a.m. she was really struggling – kidney failure was evident, hemoglobin falling despite three units of blood, an unidentified problem in her gut which appeared to be bleeding somewhere, and a machine was breathing for her at least a third of the time. A decision was made how to proceed, and we hunkered down to wait. It was suddenly “a matter of time.” It was surreal, and it would be soon, now – very soon.
And so at 6:15 in the morning on Monday, January 19, she died, peacefully, in her sleep. The way she told me she wanted to, during a Sunday visit just two weeks before. She was not alone, and we were blessed to be there, though she never regained consciousness after her heart stopped six and a half hours before.
You just never know, do you?
Anyway, that’s what happened to her. It’s what we went through. But it’s not who she was. There’s a tsunami of personal and family business that’s already beginning to rise on the near horizon, and if I’m not careful that stuff, the stuff that has to happen, could consume me the next weeks and months.
And you never know, but I could forget something important I just learned yet again.
Which is: what happened to my mom, even how she went through it, isn’t who she was. Though heartbreaking and unexpected, it’s not what is ultimately important. Neither is what’s coming, with all the business and family stuff – though in the busyness I could forget what is important, which is: who she was.
I need to remember that every day. Because, well, you just never know.
Anyway, there is, of course, no way to describe someone’s life in a blog post and do it justice.
Her quirks and idiosyncrasies sometimes obscured a clear view of her, the real person in there. If you focused on behavior, and what she did, you could get the wrong impression. I sometimes did.
For example, she got very angry at times and could be unforgiving. She was admittedly stubborn. She wasn’t always nice, and she certainly wasn’t always easy. Picky, particular, snobby even, at times. Outspoken and opinionated, too.
Mom did not have an angry heart. She could be very kind, and loved to be generous. To a fault, at times. She hated being wrong, but she loved life and made gobs of mistakes with great abandon, it seemed, in part because she was always doing something. It’s not that she did not care about people or the affect her choices had on them, which sometimes hurt, but she cared sometimes after the fact, and sometimes too late.
She usually came to see she’d acted badly, and to her credit often owned it. It usually took a lot for her to turn someone away, though she did at times in her own hurt. She loved beauty, and beautiful things, and art, plus a wild variety of music, and she thought what she loved was best and often better than what others thought. Sort of like a lot of us, I guess.
Anyway, like I said up front, I know this is a long post. But here’s where I land this plane.
It occurred to me that over the years I spent with my mom I came dangerously close (too many times) to forgetting who she was. I almost forgot to look for the person, as the human being became obscured by her behavior.
In the midst of conflict or frustration and the challenging situations in life, the person she was could get lost. Her actual loss, now, is a sharp reminder of how close I came at times to losing that… to missing her, and seeing her behavior instead.
I’m glad I came to (mostly) see her, especially over the last several years, as she became more comfortable in her skin and thus, at times, more difficult. Because despite the fog that could hide her when she was being difficult, she was worth seeing. Worth looking for.
Worth the trouble sometimes involved in loving her.
Like I hope I am.
So what’s the point? And, my encouragement to you? Keep your focus on what’s important. Who people are is important; much of how they act, and a whole lot of what you have to do, really isn’t when measured against what truly is. Like, really seeing the people in your life, not just being busy around them, or with them, or doing for them.
I hope I remember this again. I hope I let it change me in profound, real ways.
Because you just never know.
Finally, I’ve included a second closing for your consideration: a note from my daughter to her grandmother, who masterfully summed up a complex and enigmatic human being with the following:
RIP Grandma. You will never be forgotten: your humor, sailor’s mouth, generosity, and loving heart. Your sad lack of ability to cook, but unworldly ability to bring humor and love… even into your last days… even if you didn’t know it. Haha! Say hey to the gang up there; I’ll even let you take Knight (a horse she loved who also died suddenly last year) for a spin around the pearly gates. We love you; I love you. You will be missed, Dragon Lady (a title mom inherited from her mother and grandmother before her, and wore with pride and humor).
Love ya, mom. I’ll miss you for sure.
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