“Your mother is dying…” read the email in black and white. Plain and simple. I am writing this on “April Fools” day, yet it is no joke. There they are. Words.I.don’t.want.to.hear. Or say. Or believe. Words I know are true, words I have been preparing for gently, and here they were in my email yesterday. Hard to avoid them.
While it’s a fact that the woman who I came into this world through has been given a terminal diagnosis, I have hoped she would prove it wrong. Fight against it. Be the exception. Exemplify the answer. Beat the odds. Show them.
PSP. Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. Blah! Who’s ever heard of that?! No treatment. No cure. People tend to live about 7 years from being diagnosed. Mom was ultimately diagnosed a couple of years ago after receiving several other potential diagnosis’. This is the one they eventually landed on. It has been going on longer than we know.
My step-father is requesting we gather to discuss potential outcomes and scenarios. Make memorial plans. Time is limited, but it could be weeks, or months or years still. My mother tells me it will be soon. She wants me to take her clothes. I tell her that she will need something to wear. She disagrees. She is very cognizant. She is very uncomfortable. She is worn out.
This is a woman of only 70 years. Brilliant. Member of MENSA. Ph.D. Educator. Linguist. Teacher. Counselor. Consultant. Gifted and Talented Coordinator. Curriculum Creator. Singer. Travelor. Wife. Friend. Neighbor. Daughter. Sister. Aunt. Grandma. Mommy. Mom. Mother.
My first best friend. My first teacher. The woman I loved to smell as a small child. (I still stop and smell that perfume in the deparment store when I pass it, and I remember her looking radiant, getting ready to go out with my dad. I did not want her to go). My first hugs. The first person to love me. My First grade Room Mother. Who made me finish my milk, but not clean my plate. A woman who didn’t have a nice mother, and kept her abusive mother away from us. The person who dropped me off for a week at Girl Scout camp despite my tears and protests, and who picked me up after a week–again in tears not wanting to leave the camp. My summer Vacation Bible School teacher. The beloved teacher I helped grade papers for and erased her classroom chalkboards. (The same teacher who brought her entire 6th grade class home one afternoon to clean up the eggs and toilet paper they had bestowed upon our house the Halloween night before). My cheerleader when I won my 8th grade Spelling Bee. My sunbathing companion at the lake. My photographer before the Prom. My personal Martha Stewart; decorator and gift giver extrordinaire. My confidant. My nemesis. My hardest driving teacher. My biggest critic. The woman who needed to find her self while I was trying to find mine as a teen. I watched her read as much as she could, and when she was done I read her books. I don’t think she knew that. The woman who always hated my curly, frizzy hair, and ordered me to remove my nose ring if she saw someone she knew. The woman who told me never to show my belly button ring. She often misunderstood me, took the sides of others when I complained about them, and there were many times I felt she just didn’t like me. And this made me not like her. The woman who turned around and drove 8 hours back from her vacation when I went into labor, and kept vigil with me at the hospital for the 5 days afterward because my baby was jaundiced, rocking my newborn when I slept. The woman who ordered pizza’s for the nurses on the maternity ward to say thank you. The woman who disapproved of my parenting choices, scolded me through my divorce, blamed me and was embarrassed by me. The woman who showed up at my divorce court with my ex husband. The woman I most wanted to have approval from. The woman who just didn’t get me.
My mother, in my eyes, began to show some unusual signs several years ago. I remember wondering if she was depressed? Angry? Apathetic? Just didn’t like me? I would call her to share something I was excited about and then wonder why I did. As the years passed, she would lose things, become very nervous, panic, make demands about finishing the hors d’oeuvre’s she had made or to not be too early to her house but not be late either. I would not allow my young daughter to ride in the car with her and my mother was deeply wounded by this; and others around me made me feel guilty for being so “over protective”. But I knew something wasn’t right. I have known this woman all my life. She just wasn’t like she used to be. Something was going on. Things weren’t always clicking. She would forget her purse and then think she left it at my house. She ran over a neighbors mailbox. I wasn’t comfortable leaving my small child alone with her. This made me the “bad guy” for several years.
Now I know what I was seeing. PSP. It’s progressive. Being the person who has known her the longest, I saw it but couldn’t identify it. No one else did until she fell backward down her basement stairs 3 years ago, followed by at least one stroke, and then many doctor consultations to figure out what’s going on. She seemed to be improving after the fall. Then, she wasn’t. Speech began to slur. Walking and balance became increasingly difficult. Eating without choking is tricky. She cannot smell. She is easily tired. Reading is difficult for her. Her attention span is short. She is in pain a lot.
I attempted to get her excited about chiropractic, acupuncture, energy healing, Pranic healing, essential oils, coconut oil, meditation, forgiveness to aid healing. “Have you used the $95 bottle of Frankincense oil I gave you for Christmas? It passes through the blood/brain barrier to heal at the cellular level”. “Really”?, she says. But she isn’t interested. She doesn’t want to be here anymore. Her beloved father died 3 years ago, her treasured sister died last year. It fascinates me that they all seem to be leaving the planet at a similar time.
I visit her with my kids. We bring her something yummy. We laugh. We play. She sits in a chair with a blanket over her, or in bed. Not the way I anticipated her at this age. The gift of her fall has been that it slowed her down enough to listen and it expedited me in clarifying things I needed to clarify with her. I think she understands me now. I think I understand her. I love her for all she has been. I know she loves me.
I am now back at the days where I can smell her perfume, see her radiance, and I do not want her to go. And yet she will go. And I will cry like I did as a little girl, wondering if I will see her again. I always did see her again. And I know I will this time, in a different space. In a different time. We are all made of energy and energy never goes away, it simply shifts it’s form. So in the meantime, we will gather together, with my mother, and we will make plans for her exit. She was there to bring me into this world. I will be there as she travels back into the next. I have asked her to come back and talk to me if she is able. She said she will if she can. It will be hard, but as my brother says, “Reality is a bitch”. He is right. Our mother is dying.