Sunday, November 20, 2011

When your mother dies

My mother passed away just over a week ago, and I've learned many things about myself and her, since then.  I've learned how important my roll as a mother is to me.  I thought I knew, but, there's always room for more knowledge, especially self knowledge, I guess.
My mother was 83, so she had made arrangements to cover the cost of her cremation, etc.  She had written emails for my brother to send, once she was gone, telling each of us how much we meant to her, and what she wanted us to do with a few hundred dollars she was leaving each of us.  My mother never had much money, and her favorite gift was the checks I sent her, on special occasions, holidays, etc. when she could go shopping for something she wanted and the pictures I sent her. Otherwise, she seemed content with the visits, emails and cards we all sent.  She was elderly when she learned how to email, and happily forwarded everything that was sent to her.
After she had taught herself how to use an older computer, my brother bought her a new one, and it opened up the world for her.
This past year, she was having more confusion, especially at night, and falling.
As she lived far from all of us (it wasn't that we never tried to get her to live closer or with us, it was just that she enjoyed living near her sister.  Even when she briefly lived with my one sister, she was glad to return to Texas).
Then, my aunt started making irate phone calls to my brother because "you all aren't doing enough.  One of you needs to move here and take care of your mother."  Needless to say, with family commitments, jobs, etc. of our own, that wasn't practical.  So with the help of the internet, my medical training (I'm an RN), telephone calls and some fighting with my aunt, we started doing what we could.
We found out part of the problem with our intervention, was medications my mother was taking.  My sister spent several days there, trying to figure things out with my help, and just when everything seemed under control, a day after she returned to Kansas, my mother fell, breaking two bones in her leg.
She didn't react well to medications they used for pain, and then after a long distance family meeting, my brother drove from Georgia to Texas and convinced my mother that the rehab hospital in Georgia near his home would be better for her.  She also agreed to live near him, with a live in caregiver, "since Georgia is warmer than where the girls live" (Pennsylvania,  Kansas)  We all helped with the move, either physically or financially.
So he moved her there, got medical care for her that didn't involve multiple doctors prescribing for her, and she got better.
My mother asked if she could move in with him, after the hospital, and he agreed.  She was so happy living with him! We thought we would have her for awhile longer.  One of my sisters was going to stay with her for a couple of weeks in December, so my brother could go on a vacation he had been planning for over a year.  I had planned a trip to Georgia in the spring, when I could afford to go.
Then, she started having TIA's (mini strokes), one after the other, until, within a few days of getting her hairstyled, going shopping with a new friend, having a great time in general, she no longer knew who my brother was.  It was his birthday, and she had no idea who he was.
The doctor gave choices - aggressive treatment that wouldn't change her condition, or hospice.  My brother, at this point was making all the decisions about treatment, but, we all agreed, hospice was what she would want, so it started.
As the strokes got worse, she became more and more confused.  I talked with her on the telephone, and one of the few understandable words she could say, was my name. 
Then abruptly she was gone, with her decline, and hospice all within a week when the trouble started.
Regrets are the hardest.  I wish I'd done more, understood more, let the past go sooner.
That I did what I could, with what I had, matters to me.  That I wrote her a long letter before her health failed, telling her that our arguments and misunderstanding from the past didn't matter, and I loved her, and that she read it, meant much.
I wish she would have lived a while longer, so that I could see her again, selfishly.  Not, to suffer, but, to enjoy the peaceful place she found the last few months of her life.
I finally realized that she just didn't know what I needed from her, and I never told her, because I didn't realize what it was myself, until now.
Mother and daughter relationships are fraught with love, misunderstandings and memories.
I have three grown daughters, and I will be telling them, that they need to tell me what they need, if emotionally I'm not giving it, because I don't always know the right path, the right words.  I have a good relationship with them, and love them dearly, but, I don't want them to regret anything about us, someday.

Perhaps, that is the true legacy of my mother leaving.