Friday, June 19, 2015

Maggie and I have a lot in common

by Lorraine Bartlett / Lorna Barrett / L.L. Bartlett

If you've been reading the blog on a regular basis, you know that Maggie recently lost her mother.  Well, now so have I.

Maggie's Mom was in relatively good health until recently. So was my mother, except she'd been living under a death sentence since August, with the oncologist (a particularly unpleasant woman) telling her in September that she had six months to live.  My mother took the news with grace. She said, "I've had a wonderful life and I feel very lucky." She never cried. She never felt sorry for herself, and she rarely even mentioned when she was in pain.

So, we made the best of the time she had left. We spent time at our family cottage (until it got too cold). We went out to lunch and had toasts. She made her famous bread stuffing and creamed onions for Thanksgiving, and again for Christmas. She was happy. She had the greatest attitude.

I wish I could say I felt the same way. I woke up every day with dread. When will I lose my mother? 

Mum did well until mid-February when she started saying, "I don't feel right." The cancer was beginning to spread, but we went out to lunch one last time and she ate her entire fish fry. I think that was the last decent meal she ate.  Soon after, she had to deal with nausea that wouldn't go away. Those in chaerge of her care kept insisting my mother use over-the-counter meds. They didn't help. She started losing weight. She lost twenty pounds in about three weeks because even the thought of food made her nauseous.

I did everything I could to find something she could eat.  I even learned to make the perfect poached egg Julia Child style. (Although it was actually a Gordon Ramsey video on YouTube that make that possible.)

Then she entered hospice care.  A nurse came to visit her twice a week. Things didn't get better. The nurse had no better luck at getting someone to treat Mom's increasing pain and the nausea.  I had to throw a temper tantrum to get SOMEBODY to listen, and my mother was finally put on a different medication that made a world of difference.  But by then she'd lost the will to eat.

Mom started feeling weaker, so my brother and I asked her to abandon her cane and use my Dad's old walker if she was alone in the house. A week later, we hired home health aids to stay with her at night, while my brother and I kept after the social worker about finding a bed in a hospice home.  Ten days later, Mum was invited to go to Mt. Carmel House.  A place to die.

The day I drove her away from her home of 15 years for the last time, she never even looked back.

For me, it meant I no longer had to run down the road four or five times a day to make sure she was okay. That she was eating, that she took her meds. To put on and take off her compression stockings. I was pretty frazzled, but then suddenly -- she wasn't in my care anymore. Though I went to visit her twice a day (put a lot of miles on my car and listened to a bunch of audiobooks on the way to and from the home), it was very stressful ... because once she went to Mt. Carmel, she gave up. Every day she slipped away a little more. Every day I left Mt. Carmel in tears. 

Mum stayed at Mt. Carmel for six weeks. Six weeks where I felt helpless and like I'd failed her.  Our last real conversation happened about ten days before she passed.  In her own way, she knew if she didn't say what she needed to say, I would never hear it. It was difficult for her, but she told me she loved me. She told me she was proud of me.  She told me she wanted me to have a lot more success in my career.

The nurses gave her exceptional care. I know how my Dad suffered in the hospital and the nursing home. The care he received was adequate (by their terms, not mine). The nurses and volunteers at Mt. Carmel were absolutely selfless. If there was anything my mother wanted (such as Bird's Custard), someone jumped in the car, went to the grocery store, and bought it. She wanted lemonade? They made her lemonade.

Mum passed away last Saturday evening, nine months and three days after the oncologist gave her six months to live. She used to joke that she didn't know if she should die sooner or hang on much longer just to thwart that woman who couldn't seem to muster an ounce of compassion.  (Believe me, she will die horribly in one of my future books.)

Mum asked me not to talk about her publicly until she was gone. She didn't want her Facebook friends to feel sorry for her, as a bunch of them were also my readers. That was the kind of person she was. She never wanted to stand in the limelight, but she supported me in everything I ever wanted to do.

But my Mum was a superstar to me. She and my Dad both were. My mother could sew. She made a lot of her own clothes when she lived in England, and when I was a little girl, she made a lot of mine, too. She once worked in a tailor shop and learned a lot. She made beautiful quilts, like this one I gave to Mt. Carmel so that other people would know that Valerie "Pat" Bartlett was an extremely talented needlewoman. She like to hand- and machine knit and made some beautiful sweaters. (For more than forty years, she hand-knitted all my Dad's socks.)

Mum was a great cook.  Her prime rib dinners were the stuff of legend. The only thing that eluded her was baking cookies. For some reason, hers never came out all that good -- but who cared, because everything else was great.

My Mum also had two green thumbs.  She was a great gardener. She could grow anything. She and Dad were organic gardeners long before organic became mainstream. Her orchids bloomed again and again. She kept African violets for years and they bloomed and bloomed and bloomed, too.

My Mum gave me the wonderful gift of a love of reading. She introduced me to mysteries (well, romantic suspense) when I was 11 or 12.  I was bored one summer day and she thrust a Readers Digest Condensed book in my hand and said, "Read this."  It was Ammie Come Home by Barbara Michaels.  I loved it so much, she bought me the hardcover (unabridged) edition (and probably another eight or ten of Ms. Michaels books--in hardcover!).  I'm a writer today, because I came from a house where reading was encouraged. We took both newspapers, Time and Newsweek (and a bunch of other) magazines, and our house was filled with books. When I brought Mr. L home to meet the parents, he knew he was going to like them because there were so many books on their shelves.

Not many people I know would have wanted to take a vacation, let alone 10-15 vacations, with their parents.  But I did.  Mr. L and I traveled with my parents to England (Scotland and Wales) twice; Italy, Canada (several times), Washington, Williamsburg, San Francisco, Lancaster PA, Bar Harbor, Portland, Boston ... I can't remember them all right now, but we kept going with my Mum and Dad because they knew how to travel.  We always had a great time.  Mr. L did not have a happy relationship with the in-laws from his first marriage.  He considered my Mum and Dad to be his best friends. (How lucky is that for a daughter?)

My Mum was almost 80 when she got her first computer. She loved to play Mahjong and do jigsaw puzzles online. She checked her email a couple of times a day, and she loved to read about what family and friends and her favorite authors were doing on Facebook.  (The last book she read was Duffy's Demise in Denim. She told me, "That Bruce Willis is always up to something!")

I have many, many happy memories of my mother. Like this picture that I took last summer at our family's summer cottage during a "girls only" weekend. Look at that smile. That's how I want to remember my Mum.

But right now I'm hurting. Like Maggie, I haven't been able to do much writing for the past couple of months. Back in January, I started a piece that came out earlier this week. Thinking about death so much, I knew the only way I could get through what was to come was to write about it. I turned to Jeff Resnick to channel my upcoming grief.  I literally wrote that story one paragraph at a time.  One day I might write 100 words, the next I might write only 25.  I kept going and tried to work on other projects, but as my Mum weakened, it was all I could do to get through the day.  (Thank goodness I have the most compassionate and the best editor on the planet.)

As Maggie blogged earlier this week, she's trying to adjust to the new normal without her mother.  Me, too. Like Maggie, I'm trying to find some structure, a new routine. It's still too new and raw, but I'm hoping that I can find that new normal and adjust. Time is my best ally right now. I need to get back to writing. It's what keeps me going. What keeps me sane. Tricia and Angelica are waiting. So are Katie, Tori and Kathy, and Amanda.

Mr. L (and Leann and Ellery) keep telling me to stop beating myself up, and it was actually Mr. L that said something that really resonated. "No matter what you or anyone else did, the outcome was going to be the same." And I can hear my Mum telling me, "Oh, Lorraine--please don't cry."  (But I still can't help it.)

I'm not the only person who ever lost her Mum, and many people left lovely condolences on Facebook that made me cry and made me smile. The ones I like best were the shared memories of their mothers.

Do you have a memory of your mother you'd like to share?  If so, please leave a comment.

(P.S.  I promise to have a shorter post next week.)