If you had told me, a year ago, that I would not be celebrating Mothers Day this year, I would likely have scoffed. It’s true, my mother was then 94, and it’s true, she had experienced a couple of health challenges, but I had just ordered flowers and balloons for Mom. All was well.
And then November 1st came. I had just gotten out of the shower when my phone rang. Phones that ring at 7:00 seldom bring good news. It was my brother, telling me that Mom had died that morning. She had told my dad she had a headache, and he’d gotten up to get her a glass of water so she could take an Ibuprofen, and while she was drinking the water, she died.
My brother lived next door, and he’s a doctor, so he was immediately on the scene when Dad called. He knew Mom was gone at once, and he called me as soon as he’d set the machinery in motion—the ambulance, someone to sit with Dad. He was crying.
You expect death because it’s inevitable, but when it happens, it is a bolt out of the blue. I’m thinking about Mom’s death now because my local NPR station is running a fund drive, and one of the gifts that they flog without mercy, is a bouquet that you can have delivered for Mother’s day.
Dad took Mom’s death about as well as could be expected. I think he had known more than we did that Mom was approaching the end of life, but. My brother arranged for a helper to stay with him during the days, but less than a month after Mom’s death, Dad was diagnosed with ALS—which most people know as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It’s a fairly rapid paralysis that ends with the muscles that operate your lungs. We’d noticed it because Dad was having trouble using his hands and walking.
My brother called in favors and shepherded Dad through the health care system, and the diagnosis was confirmed. He had about six months to live. Not that he wanted to live that long.
In December, Dad flew up to visit me and stay with my family over Christmas. Due to a massive storm, his flight was diverted to JFK, and it took me four hours to make the two-hour trip through the snow. He came off the flight in a wheelchair, thinner than I remembered, quieter, and for the next couple of weeks, he and I spent time together. We went to a couple of movies with my family, my law partner and I took Dad to a casino—which he navigated on a small electric cart. He read, we watched a Mel Brooks movie or two, we talked.
And then I drove him to the airport, and said goodbye.
My brother and I knew that Dad didn’t want to wait to die, so we looked into states that would permit physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill; we even went so far as to look into flying to Switzerland, which has rather liberal laws on the topic—I applied for a passport on an emergency basis.
But Dad was having more trouble, and one day in late February my phone rang at work. My brother told me that Dad had developed an intestinal blockage due to narcotic painkillers he was on, and had elected not to have surgery to remove it.
The next day I was in Florida. I arrived around 9:00 and went straight to the hospital, where Dad was a patient in the hospice wing.
My brother and his wife were there with their younger daughter, (their older was scheduled to arrive late the next day) and my three sons were there (T and my youngest stayed in New England).
Dad was pretty much unconscious, but I think he knew I was there. That night I sat in a chair next to his bed and held his right hand until morning. My oldest boy stayed with me, and we talked about music, guitars, kids (he has two), art, that sort of thing. Each of us napped a little. Around 7:00 I went to get breakfast from the cafeteria. Dad hadn’t shown any chances.
March 1st. Family came in and went out. At noon, all of us were there except for my brother, and we went out for a quick bite.
We were back by 1:00, and not long after that, I noticed that Dad was taking long pauses between breaths. I called my brother, and he hurried to the hospital. The pauses became longer and longer, and something like two hours later, he died.
So there’s no Mother’s Day for me this year, and no Father’s Day, either.
A friend of mine told me that it took him over a year before he was no longer struck with periods of depression after his father’s death. I’m hoping in some respects that this will be my last entry on the topic. I don’t know how long it will be, though, before I see something on the news or take a photo of a flower and don’t think that I should send it to my folks.
As I said, a bolt from the blue. We all know it’s going to happen, but we don’t know when. So enjoy time with your parents, if it’s something you can do.
That’s it for now.