The doctors told us that if she were younger and healthier they would have recommend surgery. We faced a decision that thousands of families are presented with each year. It's a terrible precipice to be standing on knowing that with three words or less a person's complete life; the entire road they travelled on to this point is now in your hands.
We consulted family members who were physicians who intimately knew my mother's history and had treated her numerous times over the years. They assured us that due to her age, medical history and current condition she would not survive surgery. We trusted them if not the hospital's doctors and told the one caring nurse to, "Let her go." My brother, sister and I along with their kids said our goodbyes and the life support machines were turned off. I looked for signs of my mother's spirit leaving her body, ascending towards the ceiling but there was nothing. She didn't even look dead, just very quiet and still.
My mother's mental illness caused her and her family a lot of pain - it's not just the patient that suffers. But if you were to strip away the mental illness you would see a generous, loving, woman who loved her friends and family dearly and was as tough and courageous as the eastern European landscape that her father escaped during the Pogroms.
|White Water Rafting on The Colorado River, 1982|
I was prepared for my mother's death. She surprised me by living as long as she did with as sick as she was. She never thought of herself as brave or courageous but anyone who survived thirty sessions of shock treatment, endless courses of drug therapies, the loss of her husband at an early age while consistently battling depression has got to be a little tough if not resilient. I like to think that she passed on some of her resiliency along with a dash of tenacity.
The greatest unspoken fear we human-beings have is the fear of death. I know that one day I too will die. I've always known this but not until both parents passed did I realize it to be true. I wasn't yet an adult when my father died. I was a very young twenty-four years old living a ski bums life in Colorado. Due to the sixteen hundred miles that separated us I hadn't seen him for close to a year. During what would turn out to be our last telephone conversation I was curt and probably rude. I just had a fight with my then girlfriend and I abruptly hung up the phone.
During one of my mother's many hospital stays she said to me, "Bruce, getting old really sucks." When she made that comment she had already mourned the loss of many good friends and relatives. Like most seniors, she hated the fact that her body and mind had slowed and that she wouldn't accomplish all the things she wanted to do. I empathized with her and told her that I can't imagine how frustrating it must feel. She paused before saying, "There were so many things that I wish I did differently. I'm sorry if I wasn't the mother you needed me to be."
Years before she died I told my mother that my deceased father had appeared one day at our NYC apartment. Both my wife and I saw him sitting on the sofa. I thought that this bit of news would make her happy but it only scared her and left her anxious and in tears. "But you'll see him again," I promised. She responded, "Maybe but I'm not ready right now."
|Newlyweds Leaving For Their Honeymoon - 1956|
With all the hospitalizations, her alarms of suicide, and family arguments, she managed to travel, go to the theatre, laugh, play cards with friends and work until she was eighty. I do mourn her. It hurts. All of it. But it's all part of "it" and in some way my mother's life was a lesson in love, determination and understanding.
We were lucky in a way in that a month before she died my mother came to visit my wife and I in Chicago. It was a cold and moist weekend and she had a lot of trouble walking and breathing but she insisted that we go and see the city. It took us what seemed an eternity to walk one block and my wife and I tried to hide our impatience. Her frailty focused us once again on our own short fading lives and how we wanted to live it.