I have a confession to make.
During the past year I have been living a double life. For most of the week I was doing my job like I always have. On the weekends and many nights I helped take care of my mother's needs.
My mother, Madaline, had a massive stroke June 21, 2011. She died June 21, 2012.
Unable to speak during the past year, my family was only able to assume that she gave herself a make it or break it year.
No one that knew her was surprised how tenacious she was to the end. Mother might have said wouldn't, but she wasn't the kind who would say couldn't.
It was an interesting and educational 366 days. It started on Day 2 when a doctor I named Kevorkian suggested I send her straight to hospice. After she left the room, I looked over and mom was giving herself therapy on her then-paralyzed right arm.
There were lessons on physical versus occupational therapy, VA benefits, good moods and bad moods, the financial cost of living and of dying, medicines and advocacy.
I learned the importance of those who took care of mother when the family couldn't be there. There was never a moment we didn't appreciate and respect them. It is a hard job because to be honest, people don't move into facilities like that to leave alive. It may be weeks or it might be years. It has to be hard a hard job knowing that.
The most important lesson came five weeks before mother's death. That was deciding that even though someone was living it wasn't the life they would want. Knowing when it is time to let someone go is the ultimate exam.
Doing it by signing papers as coldly as buying a car can be a little disconcerting.
Born in the railroad town of Altoona, Pa., mom would have been 92 if she had made it to August.
She found her way to Texas thanks the U.S. Army. After graduating from nursing school, her class hoped a train for Brownwood's Camp Bowie. From there her ship sailed to Cairo for about two years. It was in the sand dunes of Egypt that my parents became engaged. Her return stateside was sidetracked to Italy when her ship was commandeered for D-Day.
Talk about different people. My father was a laidback Texas farm boy with a dry sense of humor. My mother, the Yankee, was driven. Daddy was a Texas Democrat. Mother the Republican.
“I don't know why you are going to vote,” he would say every other year on that second Tuesday in November. “I am just going to cancel you out.”
Mom worked as a registered nurse, and when not working or getting three kids to various activities she was an active volunteer. She was a lifetime member of the PTA. She dressed in her nurse's white and gave out polio vaccine placed in sugar cubes during the nationwide immunization program in the early 1960s. She spent six summers working as a nurse at Camp Stewart so my brother and I could both attend. She was an elder at her church, Oak Cliff Presbyterian.
Later, at times walking with a cane, she would deliver Meals on Wheels and was still visiting the “old people” at Grace Presbyterian Village in her 80s.
It was at Grace where she had her stroke and would later die. She often said it was the only place she would leave her home for. Unfortunately her stay as a healthy resident wasn't long enough to enjoy its offerings.
Both my parents were sports fans. However, my mom once admitted she really didn't like baseball until she got married. It was good she switched since my dad was a one-time minor leaguer before joining the Army and stayed active in semi-pro ball after the war.
Mother loved to travel, but my father died too young for them to make all the trips she might have wanted. He, I am thinking, had gone far enough from his Texas roots.
Fortunately for me my father liked to hunt and fish. Even more fortunate was that my mother never objected to us going or bankrolling the gear I would need.
She was that way. Whatever my sister, brother or I wanted to do, mother made sure it happened despite not learning to drive until she was 64.
It was a good last year. Mother tried. She learned to swallow again, and the skill to feed herself, and she regained the dignity that came with that.
She certainly knew what was being said and going on around her even if she verbally couldn't get involved. Her facial expressions told you what she thought.
She kept her sense of humor including a salute to her picture each time she passed the military memorial wall created at the Village.
Mother never really acclimated to Texas' heat, but it was on a hot, sunny day that we buried her in an old-timey Texas country cemetery.
And just like I do with my dad, the next time I go fishing or when dove season rolls around in September, I will think of my mom who never said I couldn't go.
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