My mom spent roughly an hour last year on February 13 “on hospice.” Then she was gone.
The story leading up to that hour was complicated and ran through three hospital stays, two intubations, a broken wrist and about 24 hours at home. The final hospital stay started when she fell and broke her wrist, but deteriorated into the breathing issues that had characterized the first of the three stays and landed her in the ICU.
When she developed severe breathing issues on February 13, a decision was made not to intubate her and that closed any door except letting things play out until she passed away.
I didn’t know “hospice” in this case meant, essentially, leaving her in the same bed at the hospital and changing her treatment plan. I suppose it didn’t matter, because she passed away within an hour of the plan’s change.
It’s difficult to believe it has been almost a year.
I am thinking back on the year, and how I can honor her in the way I apply her lessons to my life. Here are the five things that come to mind when I think about her:
This was my mom’s admonition every time I left the house. I hated it. It felt so … inclined toward the polite. Of course being polite is often a good thing, but it has been challenging for me to square that admonition — especially as I grew older — with the fact that having an influence on the world, especially being a part of making things better for people who have been wronged, by its nature involves getting in people’s and organizations’ faces.
Even though she and I were different about that, I also know that her biggest goal was that I have a “pretty” inner core. The deeper admonition was that I should always try to see things fairly, kindly and empathically.
Anyone who ever watched my mom sew a garment has seen patience at work. Each pleat, seam and hem was perfect. One of my strongest memories was of how she sat in a recliner in our living room, holding my newborn son, in the dark, the first night we were home from the hospital. I have no idea how she kept him occupied and satisfied, but she persevered, all so I could get some sleep. She was the most patient person I have ever known. Maybe the patience accompanies the “polite.” Again, this all works counter to advocacy efforts — you have to be impatient with the rate of change to be motivated to address it.
Even though patience doesn’t impel us to change things in our world, I’ve also learned to chip away at issues one constituent email or tweet at a time, and to not give up the first (or tenth) time I am told “no,” so maybe patience does pay.
The “be positive” header here is a bit misleading, given what I want to address. But I’m going for all “P’s,” so “positive” it is. My mom never pursued an official diagnosis, but I lived with her and am certain she went through several lengthy periods of clinical depression. The most surreal thing was watching her affect change to normal/upbeat as, for example, she answered the phone to talk to someone outside of the immediate family or dealt with them in person. This is pretty deep to unpack (a word I hate but that fits for this context), Here’s what I struggled with during (and between) these periods: How can a person whose primary goal in life was to be a wife and mom not be as happy as she sounds as she’s talking on the phone and putting on her “happy” affect? Why can’t we help her out of this? Is this somehow about something I am doing to make this worse? Why, why why?
Now you can undoubtedly see why “be positive” is not exactly the right header for this passage. You can possibly see why I got a graduate degree in mental health and spent time as a counselor/supervisor on a crisis counseling line. What you may not be able to see but is likely true is that I became a voracious reader to escape some of that, then a writer to somehow work through it all (and honestly my love of editing/accuracy probably correlates with her attention to detail back when she was making all those perfect pleats and tiny stitches). But the main thing is this all made me a mental health advocate and explains why I am such a dogged believer in therapy and getting help. No one should have to carry the weight of untreated depression, especially someone as wonderful as she was.
Another misleading header — I don’t think my mom and I ever spoke about my favorite word, “perspicacious.” However, it was clear to me from the time I was a young child that she was an extremely smart lady. She downplayed her intellect publicly, but it was there.
I wish the world could have seen more of her intelligence.
There goes the string of “p” words! I couldn’t find an equivalent “p” word for kindness. But anyone who ever heard my mom’s voice can attest its tone was “kind.” Even during the most challenging conversations of my teenage years, there was so little animosity in her voice.
I am inspired to kindness every time I think of her voice.
My mom talked sentimentally about her “career” days. She was very young (17, I think) when she took off for the relatively “big” municipality of Lake City from Lake Butler to start her career.
Her eyes lit up when she talked about that time. One of the stories she told most often was about the first time she “took a letter” in shorthand. She arrived back at her desk and couldn’t make heads or tails out of it. She talked about how nervous she was telling her boss that she needed to start over.
Having just made a midlife career change, I think about that often. I have had to ask so many questions. It has been humbling, but it has helped us all turn out a better product and it has given me confidence (and, truthfully, JOY) as I got a handle on things. What if she had walked away from that job and returned to tiny Union County, resigned to a life that didn’t involve asking for do-overs?
I can’t get a do-over on whatever water was left under the bridge between my mom and me, and I can’t thank her more directly and sincerely for all she did. But I can remember that “pretty” is a more versatile word than it seems on the surface.
I can also, guided by her example, be patient with others and myself.
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. My pronouns are she/her/hers.
Mona Andrei (aka Moxie-Dude) says
Beautiful. Thanks for sharing.
Paula Kiger says
Kathy Wilkes says
Your story “Be Pretty. Lessons from Mom” was special to me. I recently, October 21, lost my mother. Maybe I need to write my own version of “Lessons from Mom.”
Paula Kiger says
Hi Kathy. I think I extended my condolences on social media but regardless — sending lots of support your way. Do consider doing your own “lessons” version (whether you publish it or not). Mine came after a year of letting it percolate, and I feel I’ve only scratched the surface.
Paula I am sorry for your loss. What a lovely tribute. She sounds like a woman of her time, exercising her strengths in the world that was acceptable at that time.
Paula Kiger (Big Green Pen) says
That is such an important point, Haralee. She came up in such a different time. Thanks for reading/commenting.
Taming Frenzy (@sasmerchant) says
This is beautiful. I think all of us who have lost our mothers can relate as we also look back on lessons we were taught.
Paula Kiger (Big Green Pen) says
Thank you. I appreciate your support and sending mine in return.
Caroline D Collins says
Thank you for sharing, Pretty Perspicacious Paula. I am fortunate to still have my mama (whom you know as Margarete – is “whom” right here? It sounds wrong…) on this earthly plane. She turns 86 tomorrow.
Paula Kiger says
Who/whom/whatever! I adore your mom and what a blessing that she is celebrating a birthday; please give her my best! 🙂
Deana Coyner says
Paula, how beautiful! The loss of a parent leaves such a void…so much space for regret, wishes for do overs and longing for just one more touch or interaction, I am sure your mother lives on in and through you.
Paula Kiger says
Thank you, Deana. Yes there are many things I would like to do again, including showing so much more appreciation. Hopefully she knew.