This is what I wrote in August 2012. My mother faced more challenges since then. She nears end of her challenges.
What to do when you run out of options?
I try to write about the courage of my clients. However, this time I feel compelled to right about someone else, my mother Ruth Wells. Mom is in ICU right now, running out of options. We just discovered that in addition to the COPD from which she suffers, she also has a long history of Coronary Artery Disease, about which we knew nothing. If she doesn't get the bypass surgery, she will almost assuredly die. But, if she has the surgery, with the current condition of her lungs, she will almost assuredly die or be condemned to breath only with a respirator for her last remaining days.
Three days ago, we knew nothing of this. We knew she had COPD, but the Coronary Artery Disease, which had been part of her, had been present and undetected some fifteen years. Only last Sunday, when she called me with severe chest pains, which she hoped to be a hiatal hernia, did we discover the pernicious condition hidden inside her blood vessels.
My mother left Germany at the age of 6 in 1938 with her mother, father and grandfather, fleeing the Nazis who were bent on killing the family. My mom almost didn't make it. She was sickly with ear infections and a hole behind her left ear. My grandmother prayed that my mother's physical deficit would not impede their life-prolonging escape to America. In 1938, Jewish children were banned from attending school and my mother was intelligent and knew she was being set apart. Every Friday night, during the family Shabbos service, the Brown Shirts barged in their house to conduct searches. When Mom walked down the street with my grandmother when the Hitler Youth marched past, Oma (my grandmother) ordered my mom down an alternate street to avoid the mandatory salutes to the boy militia. By then, the Nazis ran my mother's grandfather out of his cattle business and opportunities to feed the family were diminishing fast.
Oma ripped the family from their home in German, a land that had rejected them, to a home in a foreign place, America. On the ship ride to America, my mother was literally sick about the events, she was seasick during most of the trip.
Once in America, the family decided to migrate to Kansas City, certainly not a Mecca for German Jews, because other relatives were there. Mom was enrolled in kindergarten, but spoke no English, even though she understood some. The bad girls of kindergarten, whose names my mother remembers to this day, tried to trick my mother and told her not to complete an art assignment that was due. They told Mom, "You"re not supposed to turn this in.". They defaced her artwork and derided her in English, which she, unbeknownst to them, understood. Rather than give in, she fixed the paper and gave it to the teacher, all the while smarting from rejection of the mean girls in class. Just as Scarlett O'Hara declared, "I will never go hungry again!" I imagine my mom's unspoken declaration, "I will never be unpopular and rejected again."
And in high school she achieved her challenge. Mom had raven hair, dark eyes, indulgent parents, and a curvy body at the age of 15. She was at no loss for popular boys to date. Mom was in the cool Jewish crowd, and she was happy. She made good grades, looked good and had friends. And then she met my dad, a tall, handsome, funny, smart boy with a crazy mother. They married when Mom was 18 and Daddy was 21. Next, I came when Mom was 20, then Joyce, and five years later, Bob. The perfect family, or so she hoped, but perfect was not in the cards. In the 1950s mothers stayed home and fathers worked. My dad worked most of the time, but all of the responsibility at such a young age was overwhelming. Daddy cracked under the pressure. He wanted to have fun, not be saddled with a complaining wife and three little kids. So he ran around on her, over, and over, and over again. In later years, on his death bed he apologized and by then he was a different man, but in the 1950s, Daddy, the Boy/Man could not cope. The marriage lasted ten years and Mom felt disgraced in the Jewish community. Her dream of JAPhood, for those gentiles unfamiliar with the therm JAP is short for Jewish American Princess, lay destroyed And she again endured rejection and abandonment, her two greatest enemies.
Mom's first reaction to the rejection was not her wisest. After knowing Jack, a widower with seven kids, she blended our two families in marriage a mere month after the two had met. Perhaps blending is not the right word because it implies harmony, and those four years of hellish wedlock were anything but harmonious. Jack turned out to be a wife-beating alcoholic and we were happy she got out with her life.
My mother is a very intelligent woman, the kind who learns from her mistakes. And she is very hard on herself, needlessly. She still apologizes to Bob, Joyce and I for her mistakes in that period. I like to think I am unscathed, but we were all learning that adversity makes one stronger.
They say three is a charm, and it is for my mother. Her next husband, to whom she was happily married to for 33 years, George, was kind, gentle, frugal, outgoing and charming. He was wonderful to everyone and to her. She had few obstacles to overcome during those 33 years, their marriage was good.
In the meantime, I had married and my husband, son and daughter and I travelled 3/4 of a mile, the distance between our houses, to see them every Friday night. My husband and I, since George's death, still travel to her house on Fridays, now 5 miles away.
Unfortunately, Mom's blissful marriage had to end. George lay sick in the hospital with two bad heart valves for six months until he died in March 2005. Mom visited daily in the hospital. She so desperately did not want to lose her love George, but George died anyway.
Remembering Mom's loneliness between marriages when I was a child, I was scared that she would revert to her unhappy, insecurity, no man in the picture self. But she didn't. She had learned how important she was and she could be happy alone. I was surprised, but then realized how much she had grown from those early days. Plus, the love Mom and George shared infused strength into my mother. She would make a life for herself as a single woman. She joined bridge clubs, went to the gym, had regular lunch dates with high school friends, learned to post on Facebook, to pay the bills online, to text, to live in this modern world. She is smart, resourceful and outgoing. She makes the best out of her situation.
I, the only child still in Kansas City, have grown very close to Mom. I see her weekly, when I have a problem, she is the first person that I call, we go out to dinner, to movies, to New York with the rest of the family last February for her 80th birthday. She has adjusted well to losing the love of her life, though she misses him daily.
Last week, I had ACL reconstruction surgery for a torn ACL and two meniscus tears. I would like to tell you I got my sports injuries engaging in a daring sport, but such is not the case. Mom wanted to take me to the surgicenter, but I refused. Instead of my 80 year old mother delivering me to surgery, I thought the job was better assigned to my young 60 year old husband. Two days after surgery, I did go to Mom's house to spend the day with her and take my first post-surgery shower. I had fun, watching the bad television she is prone to watching during the day. We sat on Mom's leather couch, discussing politics, the Colorado shootings, the ridiculousness of plastic surgery and more politics. It was fun.
Then, I received the anxious telephone call from her on Sunday, "I am really having chest pains.". I hopped in my car, though I hadn't been cleared to drive, and delivered her to the ER, where the news keeps getting progressively worse. The doctors tell us this is a life or death situation, or more accurately they imply this is a death or death situation, and we are all terrified. I don't want to lose my wonderful mom. I need her the rest of my life. How can I let her go?
This news is hard on Mom and the rest of us and we do not know what is going to happen. My mother hates uncertainty. But through my mother's life, she has learned to turn rejection, uncertainty and pain into strength and courage. Even if we don't have enough time to go through a process, Mom has always figured out a way in the end. I just hope that I can help her get to where she needs to be, instead of only focusing on my pain of possibly losing her.
Losing my mother is probably the hardest thing I have had to deal with in my life, and I haven't even lost her. I hope I learn to have the courage to go on.
Hang in there, Mom, you mean the world to me. I want for you the peace that comes from outwitting adversity, even if that means outwitting the pain of dying by dying with love and dignity. Just know, I will love you always.