Posts tagged ‘elderly parents’

Angels Among Us

First blogged January, 2010

My mother passed away several months ago and it has taken me this long to write about it.  She was the most wonderful mother in the whole world, (and I am not just saying that because that is what one is expected to say about their deceased mother.)  In addition to being kind and loving, she was also very spiritual.

I remember when I was four years old and we lived in Opalaka, Florida, right behind the Hialeah Race Track.  We had a cement swimming pool in the backyard which my father built, and next to it was a palm tree my mother had planted crooked so it was growing sideways.  I had a green parakeet whose name I certainly don’t remember, and I loved watching Howdy Doody and Captain Kangaroo on our little black and white tv with the rabbit ears antenna.  My brother was born one day in March, and life suddenly changed for our family.  My brother was born with serious disabilities due to Rubella Syndrome, (supposedly my mother had been exposed to someone with German Measles.)  With a cleft palate, he could not nurse or drink from a bottle, so he was fed by a large eye dropper. He could not such on a pacifier and he cried constantly.  He was blind and deaf and was obviously going to be severely developmentally delayed. My joyful childhood was suddenly overshadowed by a sadness of which I had never seen from my mother.  I would witness her throw herself across her bed and sob. A deep sadness enveloped our family. I looked at my little brother, who looked so innocent and little to cause such a fuss.

One day, when the sun was shining brightly and Curtis was asleep, my mother called to me to come sit in the rocking chair with her.  She squeezed me and held onto me tightly, rocking  and crying.  It was a different kind of crying, though.  A happy cry, if I could describe it as such.  From that day on, the gloom lifted from our house and I went back to living my happy childhood with my new baby brother.

Many years later, when I was a young teenager, my mother shared her experience of what happened to her that very day.  The doctors had been encouraging her to put my brother “away”, institutionalize him as was the custom in those days. “Forget about him,” they said, “You can have another child.”  She could not bear to make the thought of doing this.  Then, on that sunny day while rocking in her chair, she told me she was visited by an Angel, a beautiful, bright white Angel.  She told me she could feel the weight of the Angel’s hand on her shoulder, reassuring her that everything was going to be okay.  Although the Angel did not speak, she knew what the message was.  She did not have to worry anymore, her son would be fine, and he was.  He wasn’t fine in that he suddenly became perfectly healthy, but he was fine in that he has led a happy, fulfilling life. Clearly, she had been touched by something spiritual on that day to turn her torrents of tears into smiles of joy over her new baby.

Several years later, while camping high in the mountains, my mother woke up from her sleep and sat up in her sleeping bag.  She was joyous!  She told me she had been to see God, whom she described as a bright and beautiful. She said it felt real, not like a dream at all.  She was confused as to the experience because it seemed as though she was there to help a friend pass over into heaven.  She did not understand because of course her friend was healthy.  It was not until we returned home from vacation that she learned that this friend had died from a brain aneurysm on that very night at that very time.

My mother lived a life of  great happiness and contentment, always seeing the good in people.  Near the end, right before she died, I stayed with her 24 hours a day.  When we knew death was near, the nurses let me lie in bed with her and she passed away in my arms.  I don’t know what I expected when she died.  No…that’s not true…I expected to see some of what she had experienced!  I expected to see her pass into heaven!  I expected there to be some reaction from her body, some knowledge that her lifetime of spirituality would somehow, through osmosis, pass through to me.  But there was nothing.  She just stopped breathing. And there was nothing.

It took me a while to accept her death, and I became angry that there was no sign from God that she was with him.  Realistically I knew this was silly, but I was hugely disappointed.

Christmas time came soon afterwards.  As the parent of 5 children, I had this habit when the children were younger of taking a picture of their sleeping faces on Christmas eve.  As they aged, they hated the existence of these pictures!  (They were usually sucking on a “binky” at the time and girlfriends and boyfriends who saw the pictures in old photo albums would always go “Awwwwwwwwwwww, how CUTE,” the most mortifying thing that could happen to a teenage macho boy!)  This Christmas eve, filled with nostalgia, emptiness and sadness,  I again went into each of their bedrooms and gazed at their sleeping faces.  I was suddenly filled with a great sense of purpose and contentment, much like the type of contentment my mother might have felt when she felt the Angel’s hand upon her shoulder.  These were MY Angels.  These were my children who had endured so much when younger, either with their disabilities or with indescribable child abuse. They have not only survived, but they have THRIVED.  They are happy and loving and successful and they have bright futures as adults.  This is miraculous to me!

How Do the Blind See a Tree?

Most people can look up and see a tree.  To a child who is blind or visually impaired, their concept of a tree is the bark they can feel. Their concept of a tree is that it is” rough”.  If they have some vision, they can tell that a tree is brown at its trunk, but “a blob of green” above the trunk.  They could grow up and their whole lives not know what a tree “looks” like.  Expanding such basic knowledge of their world is called expanding the core curriculum. It consists of concepts that are not taught in school, but are still important lessons for that child to learn in order to grow up as an educated adult who is blind.

One topic covered by the nine students, ages six through thirteen, at an April vacation program, was the concept of trees and their differences.  During a nature walk, students found that some trees were so small they could fit their hand around the trunk.  Some trees were so large that it took all nine students holding hands to encircle the trunk. Some trunks were very rough, with deep groves, and some were smooth, with little lines barely traceable by their little fingers.

They learned that evergreen trees stay green all year, and they giggled as they carefully touched the sharp needles. They never knew that trees could be so prickly!  Under the tree, they found the pinecones from which a new tree may grow.

They learned that oak trees, in the spring, have no leaves.  They closely examined the branches of an oak with a few dead leaves still attached, carefully feeling them and making the connection with the leaves they see on the ground in the autumn. Acorns which were still attached to the tree branch were felt with much enthusiasm.  They had collected acorns from the ground underneath the tree, but to actually see it attached seemed to be a surprise. They felt the new buds on the ends of the small branches, buds which would soon bloom into leaves.

Students learned about flowering trees, in full bloom during their springtime visit.  Most students were amazed that a tree could have flowers.  In their minds, trees and flowers were two entirely different things.  But there they were; pink blossoms on the end of a cherry blossom tree branch, gentle, sweet smelling little flowers.

As they were feeling and looking at the trees up close, students were in awe.  So many different types of trees!  And they would not describe a single one of them as “rough” because they were finally able to look beyond the bark.

Good Luck or Bad Luck Can Be in the Perception

My father was an artist/architect/carver.  He designed beautiful buildings that to this day are still city centerpieces, painted flattering portraits that still hang proudly in people’s homes, and carved a large variety of creative items.  His favorite, and my mom’s least favorite, was a statue of a Tiki god.  A squat, dark man with wild pointy hair, red eyes and a huge, pure white, toothy grin that was almost as big as the body itself.  My mother said it looked evil and it gave her the creeps.  My dad proudly sat it on the fireplace mantel “for good luck”, he said.

Shortly after he placed the statue there, he fell down the basement stairs and broke his leg badly in three places.  He recuperated slowly, but managed to get back to work.  Because he had just returned to work, he ignored stomach pains because he was trying to get caught up on a project.  He finally had to be rushed to the hospital and almost died because his appendix had burst and he had become septic. Whether he was going to live was up in the air for days.

He finally recuperated and returned home from the hospital, although he was still not entirely healed.  He had to get up every few hours to take pain pills.  Late one night when he got up to take medication, he found the kitchen of the house engulfed in flames!  He woke everyone up and managed to scoop my brother out of his bedroom next to the kitchen before the flames reached him.

The fire trucks arrived quickly and more than 1/2 of the house was damaged.  The house was burnt from the back bathroom, the laundry room, the kitchen, my brother’s bedroom, and all the way down the hallway up to the mantle of the fireplace in the living room where the fire damage had stopped.  After the firemen put the fire out and surveyed the severe smoke damage, they were struck by one oddity…the smile of the Tiki god was glowing bright white.  Everything around it was burnt or blackened by smoke, but the statue appeared to be untouched!

Our local newspaper did an article on this phenomenon and we were local celebrities for our 15 minutes of fame.   My mother insisted the Tiki statue was bad luck.  My father fell down the stairs and broke his leg.  His appendix had burst and he’d almost died.  And 1/2 the house burned down!  My father had another take on the situation.  The Tiki god was GOOD luck.  When he’d fallen down the stairs, he could have broken his neck instead of his leg.  When his appendix had burst, he could have gotten to the hospital too late and died.  And if his appendix had not burst, he would not have gotten up in the middle of the night to get medication and the whole house, including his family, could have burned!

The statue remained a fixture in my parent’s house as long as my father lived.  When he passed away ten years ago, my mom got rid of the statue, or so I thought…

Some of you may know that I have been dealing with the recent death of my mother. Cleaning out her house these past few weeks have been the saddest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.  How does one begin to decide what to keep, what to give away and what to throw away?  Cleaning the kitchen I found the grinder she used to make bologna salad with.  Cleaning the bedrooms I  tenderly sorted through pictures, mementos, costume jewelry and I not so tenderly threw away her clothes that had become threadbare and worn.

I had managed to finish cleaning most of the house except for the basement.  I put that off until last.  In a family like ours without any wealth in “things”, I could only expect to find in the basement “memories” not worth keeping, but too sad to throw away.  All of the old Christmas decorations, the threadbare sheets, blankets, chenille bedspreads and curtains that my mother thought might “come in handy one day”, old televisions with rabbit ear antennas,  8 track tape recorders, posters from the 60s that had faded and crumbled with the moisture,  and a whole lot of other worthless “junk” that would cause me further sadness.  I was dreading cleaning it out!  As a working mother with kiddos who I have to drive back and forth to doctor appointments, soccer practice, friend’s houses and such, I did not really have the extra time I needed to devote to this depressing task.  Plus, I hated cleaning my OWN house and I resented the fact that this task lay ahead of me.

At work my husband called me frantic!  The water heater had burst in my mother’s basement and there was 2 inches of water everyplace!!!  I had no time to be bothered with yet another unpleasant task, I thought as I left work early to take care of the situation.  As I opened my mother’s basement door, I could hear the water gushing, and see items floating freely in the water.  “UGH!!!!”  I thought, as I started to cry, overwhelmed by the task ahead of me.  Now I not only had to clean, but I had to mop up the mess! When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I surveyed the damage…everything was dank, dripping wet and depressing.  Then, a familiar face smiled out at me through the dampness…the Tiki statue!  It was up on a shelf on a wall way across the room, but even through the darkness I could still see its smile!  I stopped crying in amazement.  It made me think.  I finally realized that this was NOT bad luck, as my mother would have said, but GOOD luck, as my father would have said.  With my mom’s basement flooded, her homeowner’s insurance company would pay to have it cleaned up!  I called them and they sent over a cleaning crew right away. With everything ruined, it would have to be thrown away, not by ME, but by the company which would haul it all away.  Suddenly the dismal vision of me standing in a foot of water and bagging after bag after bag of old, wet memories disappeared, replaced with a sense of giddiness! I don’t know why, but just the fact that this huge daunting task of cleaning her basement had been taken care of by this flood lightened my mood. Isn’t life strange?

Although some of our old stuff MAY have been salvageable, I knew it would just sit in my basement and become more junk for me, so I asked the clean up crew to clean it entirely because everything was “moldy from the water. They went in and scooped everything away and cleaned the basement spotlessly!  The thing I saved from the basement was the Tiki god.  Not that I “believe” in him, but I believe that sometimes luck is all in how incidents are perceived, and life is a whole lot less stressful if you can look at the lucky side of things!  I know my spirits were lifted that day…


My Brother Says Goodbye…

I took my brother who is developmentally delayed, legally blind, autistic, profoundly deaf and schizophrenic to visit our mom for the last time before she passes away.  I was worried about how it would go.  We walked into her room and she lay in bed.  She seemed to perk up a little when she was told Curtis, her beloved son, was there to visit with her.  She didn’t perk up enough to open her eyes, but she did start to talk, albeit mostly nonsense.  Curtis held her hand and rubbed her back.  He was talking to her, and because he could not hear, he did not realize that she was not really talking to him.  He was talking about himself, of course.  Was there a restaurant around the nursing home where I could take him to eat?  Did they have pie?  He then went and got her a soda from the soda machine and opened it for her.  Soda is Curtis’ most prized item.  He gave it to her, saying he wanted to do his best to make her last days better.  He then told her she was lucky because she had the pleasure of his visit because he was good company and he rubbed her back.  After an hour or so, I had him say good bye.  Not being a demonstrative person, he did not know how to hug.  I felt it was important for him to hug her and kiss her good bye, so I helped position him so they could hug.  It would have been laughable under any other circumstances.  He was stiff like a robot and clearly was not comfortable showing affection.  So he took her hand and shook it, and said “It has been nice to know you.  Let me know when your funeral is because I might want to attend!”

On the way home, Curtis was quiet for a while.  He said “Something has been missing all week and I didn’t know what it was.  Now I do.  I was afraid I would miss saying good- bye to my mother.  Today I was able to give her a soda and rub her back,” (2 things she had always done for him when he was sick.)   “I feel better now.”  This was such a profound statement coming from someone who usually did not think rationally.  Of course, true to his character, he asked to stop for pie.

I Miss My Mom…

This entry will not be about my kids.  It is entirely about me wallowing in sorrow over the loss of my mother.  No, she is not dead, but she has become ill with dementia and today was the first day she did not recognize me.  My “mommy” is gone.  I suddenly have great empathy for those who have lost their parents.  Because I did not have a great relationship with my dad, I was sad to see him pass away, but I did not feel the sadness I feel now.  My mom used to come over and help me with my kids.  She made me custard pudding, (my favorite.)

She has taken me and the children on many vacations and we had great fun!  Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize, London, and the Grand Canyon.  She loved to travel and we were more than happy to keep her company.  She liked to go to places where she could really experience a unique adventure.  We stayed at a resort in Costa Rica where we were the only non-Costa Rican people there.  NO ONE spoke English.  We spent the week laughing hysterically at this “problem”.  We ate Costa Rican food, (boiled turkey, roasted rabbit, and lots of great fruit.) She and Dinora took a white water rafting trip, level 4.  My mother had always wanted to go white water rafting.  She did not, however, know that she was going to get wet. There she was in her long pants, socks, sneakers, and sweatshirt, standing next to Dinora in her cute little bikini.  Of course the raft flipped over a few times, and it was a good thing my mom had her life vest on because the weight of her clothing would have pulled her under and she would have drowned for sure! During our trip to Guatemala we stayed at out-of-the way places.  At one place, they did not have electricity and no built in heat or hot water.  We were given a “manservant” to keep our fire running and to heat hot water for a bath.  And on our long trek up the mountain to get to Mayan Ruins, we were all exhausted.  The guide said to watch out for jaguars which lived in the area.  My mom, who was exhausted from the climb (at age 80) said “I almost with a jaguar would get me so that I could lay down.” In Belize, we went to a zoo that had chicken wire fencing around the animals and we almost lost pieces of Steven a few times when he reached his arm into the flimsy cages to pet the lion or the alligators.  She came with us on the trip to London to settle Francis in at Cambridge University.  We spent several days sightseeing.  We ate pigeon.We ate pigeon and we had tea every day. My mother cherished the tea set.  I bought it for her from the inn where we stayed.  I told her it cost $25 (because she was always against spending money on “things”.)  I actually paid $250 for it…One fear of mine came true…I have always had this fear of being poked in the eye with an umbrella, so I would never use an umbrella.  During a double decker bus tour of London, we stopped at Buckingham Palace.  As it was raining, my mother had an umbrella and I didn’t.  Francis took a picture of us, and just as we said “Cheese”, my mom poked me in the eye with the umbrella.  And I have a picture of it! My worst nightmare came true and I lived to tell about it.

My mom has the most beautiful insides of anyone I know.  She was always upbeat, optimistic, encouraging and pleasant to everyone she met. She never ever had an unkind word to say about anyone.  She always took the “high road”, and she has devoted her life to making life better for my brother, Curtis, who is developmentally delayed, legally blind, and totally deaf.  She always felt guilty because he went to live in a group home.  You could not convince her that he had a full and happy life living with 3 other guys.  A great deal of her dementia has including her insisting she was going to take Curtis home to live with her.

She was my role model, my cheerleader, my friend, and she always took care of me.  And now I have to take care myself.  I know I am selfish, but I don’t like it very much!  I feel so sad to see such a vibrant, bouncy, vivacious woman slowly slip away.  I try to visit almost every day, even if she is “out of it” and I just sit there and rub her back or hold her hand.  When I leave, I always hug her, kiss her, tell her I love her and that she’s the best mother in the world. She has always told me she loves me back.  Not today.  For the first time, she didn’t know who I was. I feel lonely.  Scared.  I miss my mommy…

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