The adventures of a New Jersey college professor with very strange friends, colleagues, and family members.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Mother And Child Reunion Is Only a Motion Away

“Salve Regina, mater misericordiae. Vita dulcedo es pes nostra, salve, salve regina. Ad te teclamamus, exules fillir heavae, ad te sepstumatis gementes, et flentis, o clemens o pia.”

--Traditional Catholic prayer

“Doctor, doctor, will I die?
Yes, my child, and so will I.”


My mother died two months ago.

For my entire life, I’ve looked with a sort of wonderment at people whose parents are deceased because all I could think was: “They’ve been through it. They’ve been through the worst thing that I can imagine and they’re still functioning. How do you do that? It would kill me if one of my parents died.”

She was in the hospice for 114 days, admitted with serious pneumonia. But she was terrified that if she went to the hospital, she would get wore pneumonia and die.

She did not leave her bed to do anything except use the bathroom and get the occasional snack. She was 20 pounds underweight—101 pounds at 5’%”. She was so weak she couldn’t feed herself.

Finally, I snapped. “Mom, you are a 76 woman with a 60 year smoking habit that has ravished your lungs. You are technically anorexic. You cannot ride out bronchial pneumonia with Tylenol and Mucinex! You need a doctor! You need antibiotics!”

Long story short, she ended up going to the hospital. And she did die there.

Once they confirmed the pneumonia, they discovered a whole hoard of other life threatening diseases such as:

--pleural effusions
--cancer (we already knew that one)
--congestive heart failure
--severe kidney failure
--ischemic strokes
--severe edema
--unexplained rectal bleeding

I knew, on day four, she was never walking out of that place. No amount of prayers, no amount of rosaries, no amount of get well cards was going to do it. And all I could do was look at her, swollen with edema, her eyes sometimes recognizing me and say, “why did you do this, God? She had mental problems but was far from evil. I’m the bad one in the family. It should have been me. It should have been me!

Imagine having to watch your own mother on her deathbed for five horrible terrifying months, most of which she didn’t know me Pretty awful right? Now imagine that when you have Borderline Personality Disorder (very first diagnostic criteria: “Irrational fear of imagined or realistic abandonment.” That’s probably worse, right?

Now imagine how it felt go to through that completely alone.

My father is emotionally neutral. Mom died on April 24th and he is absolutely astonished that I’m not “over it” yet. Well, I’m sorry, I’m not. I haven’t found my emotion switch, Dad. I kept reminding him that when his mom passed (he was 28), he had an older brother, a father, two sisters, all their husbands and wives, his Navy buddie, and, oh yeah, a frigging spouse! I HAD NO ONE!

My mother was not always loving, She found my weak spots early on and she played into those fear. (What’s that line from The Wall? “Mother’s gonna make all your nightmares come true / Mother’s gonna put all of her fears into you.” And she did. She made me paranoid. She had a one-way intercom installed in my bedroom just so could hear what was “going on up there.” (With a female friend?) .She blatantly admitted to reading my journals, which is how she a She is largely responsible for my own mental illness.
Oh, yes, the psychiatrist gave me a little extra chemical help, but

But there were so wonderful things about her. I can hear her voice so clearly it’s scary. I break down when I smell her perfume. We would watch movies from the 1940’s and it was she who made me fall in love with Cary Grant and Gary Cooper and Gregory Peck. We traded books we knew the other would like—and we always did.

She taught me how to knit, just for fun. Even though she hated sewing machines, it just look so neat that she taught me, too. We played games, horsing around on the floor, then my dad would come in and then all three of us would start roughhousing and it would be…love.

She taught me how to wear makeup. She taught me how to pluck my eyebrows, shave my legs, and of course when it came time for the sex talk, she was stellar. She had charts. And audio-visual aids. And she loved to play dress up, and bride and groom, and game show.

My absolute favorite thing she used to do, though, was whenever I was upset, she would make me lie my head down on her lap and stroke my hair with such love and she smelled so good, but weirdly rarely wore perfume. And it was so comforting and so loving and tender that it almost was like being part of her body again or something and now..

and now…

and now…

I’ll never feel that again! Her gentle, warm fingers with those long nails will never make me feel better again. The very last words she spoke to me were, "it'll be okay," and then she started yanking on my long hair. I was confused, but then I realized what she wanted and I laid my head on her hospital bed in her lap and she gingerly started stroking my hair. I sobbed and sobbed. Even on her deathbed her FINAL THOUGHT was to COMFORT ME.

Get over it in three months? If something funny or weird happens in class my very first thought is, “Oh, I have to tell this to Mom right now!” If my department Chair gives me a merit raise or a commendation, my knee-jerk reaction is “I can’t wait to tell Mom!” I once so far as to borrow a cell-phone from a student and start to dial.

If something bad happens I have no one in whose arms to cry. My father tries hard, God love him, but he so obviously hates physical contact that our “hug” is about two feet apart.

Did I mention he’s got lung cancer?

Next time: The Powers That Be send three people into my life to help me.