My mother was the most influential person in my life

by Rod Labbe
(Waterville, ME USA)

I moved back home after college (in 1985) and lived with my mother and father. Dad had been sick for many years with heart and circulatory issues. Mom, however, was very strong, very vital. She went to an exercise class three times a week, was working, stopped smoking (and drinking) and even earned her high school degree through adult education when she was 60! Dad's condition never got better, and finally--in 1998--he passed away from congestive heart failure. My two sisters, both of whom live in NH, have their own lives and rarely saw our parents. I, however, saw them every day, except for my time at work. I'd go out to eat with them, talked with them, was there when the ambulance came during the middle of the night, accompanied my mother to the hospital to visit my dad. You name it, and I was involved.

After he passed away, I told myself that I'd open up my mother's world. She'd devoted so much time to dad that she'd become a prisoner in their house. He was sometimes grumpy and didn't want to do anything but sit and watch, she did the same. The shock of his death (a life event I dreaded experiencing, and when I did, it was surreal, like a dream) eventually wore off. I began taking my mother and her widowed two-years younger sister on road trips. We traveled everywhere, to malls, to restaurants, just through the wilderness, to the place where they'd lived as little girls, etc. All the while, there'd be conversation, lots of laughs, and a great feeling.

Then, in 2004, my aunt suddenly died. We were all taken aback by this, but my mother, especially, was affected. No more daily phone calls, no more reminiscing with someone she'd grown up with. Though I never saw her cry, she oftentimes told me how she missed Florence. I took it upon myself to keep my mother's world open and free. I hated seeing it closing, but as her loved ones expired, the walls moved in. We carried on without my Aunt Flo, but my mom began having health problems. Small ones, at first: the gout, mostly. Then, it got worse. She was diagnosed with breast cancer, had one breast removed and recovered completely without chemo. In 2003, a pacemaker was installed. There were more and more trips to emergency rooms, again mostly from gout--which was very painful for her.

Nonetheless, my mother was still working and began a new phase of her life as a crossing guard at age 74. She did that for 6 years before retiring, but she always talked as if the retirement was only temporary. We'd go for rides where she used to cross the kids, and I enjoyed hearing her stories. In 2010, she had her pacemaker replaced. Then, in 2011, I received horrifying news: she was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure, the same ailment that had killed my dad. Her disease was slow, at first, but as 2011 progressed, so did the illness.

By year's end, she'd been hospitalized three times (short stays) and was on oxygen at night. She began 2012 with another hospitalization in February. Now, she was on oxygen 24/7, which she hated. Through it all, I tried to keep her spirits up, but at times, I'd find myself staring at her (without her knowing) and wondering, is my lovely mother going to die?

In May of 2012, she was hospitalized again, for breathing issues. A stay in rehab came afterward because suddenly she had difficulty walking. I watched in horror as her limbs began swelling, especially her legs and feet. This went on for 2 and 1/2 months, until August 3rd, when I brought her home. She was incontinent and somewhat hazy from the massive amounts of Lasix they'd been giving her. She still had swollen limbs and couldn't climb the stairs--so the living room counch became her bed.

I was totally at her beck and call. I cooked her meals, washed the soiled sheets and clothing, combed her hair, washed her face, stayed with her, comforted her. She had home health care for a short time. It seemed like I was constantly fighting with medical personnel. Though I had my mother's power of attorney, I found the document meant nothing. Nurses, social workers and doctors would do whatever they wanted, sometimes with disastrous results. I was so incredibly angry over this and had many, MANY confrontations with nurses, physicians and social workers because of what I saw as poor and inattentive care. My complaints, though officially logged, were never acted upon.

Amazingly, my mother snapped back to health by the end of August. She could walk unaided, could go upstairs, take a shower, even dance. She'd lost forty pounds and was proud of her figure, though the Lasix had caused her hair to thin. She always had beautiful hair, and now it was white and lifeless. Her hairstylist suggested a wig--we sent away for one, it arrived a size too small, and we laughed as she tried to pull it onto her head. She continued, through the fall months, to improve. I kept a close watch on her weight. Anytime it went up three pounds, I gave her an extra half Lasix tablet. That didn't happen often, thankfully. We began going out to eat again and taking drives through the beautiful Maine countryside. I'd become self-employed by then and worked at home and devoted all of my time to mom.

We had a wonderful Halloween, and she sat with me on the front porch as we handed out candy to kids and their parents. In 2012, we had 50 people, which is amazing considering that for years and years, there'd been no one. She was very happy about it. But disaster was waiting around the corner.

On mid-November morning, I checked on her, and she was confused. She thought my younger sister, aged 53, was still in high school. I brought her to the emergency room, and they said she was too "dry." They had to rehydrate, and it seemed to do the trick. But that week was a turning point. She became confused again and had difficulty walking, resulting in a very scary fall. I call 911, and she was transported to the hospital for observation.

This resulted in a LONG series of hospital stays,both in my home town and away. Then, again, she couldn't walk, so they sent her to a rehab facility. Through all of this--as I had in the summer and all other times--I visited everyday for an hour to two hours. On January 31st, a Thursday, I brought her an Almond Joy, and we sat and watched an old rerun of a Julia Child "French Chef." We used to watch her when I was a kid. After two hours, I kissed her forehead and said I had to go, to run errands. She asked me to stay, but I wanted to get to the store and home. The next day, I went to see her again, but no one answered the call box at the nursing home (the receptionist leaves at 7 PM, and visitors must ring a call box). I hit the button twice then decided to go home. "I'll visit tomorrow," I said to myself. "What's one day?"

The next day, at 4, I received a phone call from the nursing home. My mother had very suddenly passed away. When I heard those words, I screamed. Literally. I felt like the world had spun away from me. They asked if I wanted someone to come and get me, and I said no, I'll drive. I hung up, called my older sister, then sped off for the nursing home. All the way, I was crying and talking to myself, saying, "no, ma, please don't be dead. Please, don't be dead!"

When I got there, I went upstairs and they led me to her room. She was lying on the bed, on her back. I felt her hand, which was very warm. "Are you sure she's dead?" I asked the nurse. She nodded yes then left me alone. I held my mother's hand, rubbed her forearm, kissed her forehead. Then I pulled up a chair and sat beside the bed, holding her hand. I looked up at her face, so still, and suddenly the enormity of the situation overwhelmed me. I got up, threw my arms around her and cried like a baby.

I'm crying now, just typing this. I couldn't believe I was actually standing there, looking at the body of my mother. She looked peaceful but very ashen. Her lips were gray instead of pink. But this was my mom. I stared at her face for a very long time, committing to memory. I remembered how, as a little boy, I'd sometimes ask if I could make her up. I'd comb her hair, put perfume on her, try to put lipstick on her without messing it up. She'd always laugh, and then I would, too.

Now, it's been a little over a week. I've cried every day. Only one sister came up, and that was almost three hours after she passed. I stayed in the room on and off in the meanwhile, and each time I came in, the enormity would sweep over me again. My poor mother. She died alone. I so wanted to be there for her. But, strangely, I felt a presence in the if her spirit was lingering, so I could say my goodbyes.

Since then, I've thought many times of my mom. Of the road trips, her singing, the shows she used to watch on TV. In the spring, summer and fall, I'd sit with her outside, before the flower garden I always made. All of that is in the past. My life has changed forever.

And it's the oddest thing: I always thought I was my mother's companion. Truth is, she was mine.

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Feb 17, 2013
It's been two weeks, as of yesterday
by: Rod Labbe

Well, two weeks have whizzed by since the death of my mother. I've been pretty much on autopilot through it all. The house is very big and very empty, but I see and sense her everywhere--sitting in her favorite chair and looking out the window, traveling with me in the car, getting a glass of water. Yesterday morning, I woke from sleep to hear her distinctly calling my name. It was my mother's voice, no doubt. Part of a dream or reality? So hard to say.

I went for a ride today, through the countryside. It was one of our usual routes. In the early evening, I'd always say, "ma, let's go for a little drive," and she was up for it. First, we'd stop for an ice cream. I'd get out, buy her a small Butterscotch Royal cone, and we'd sit and talk, looking at all the people and the scenery. Then we'd go for the ride. I can still see the sunsets, the corn fields, the old homes that once housed people she knew "way back when." No matter how many times we passed by, she'd tell me who'd lived there and what significance they'd had to her family. Fascinating stuff, really. On the countryside drive, we'd end up at her mother's old house, long sold to someone else. I'd gaze at the green lawns and remember the times we'd all shared there, when my life was new.

Time marches on, they say, and it's true. But I'll never forget and will forever hold dear the experiences I had with my lovely mother. She knows I miss her terribly. And I do.

Feb 16, 2013
your special
by: terri

You are such a special person, God Bless you.My mom just died a month ago, and I cry all the time . thank you for sharing your story, it help me know I'm not alone.

Feb 14, 2013
My mother was the most influential person in my life
by: Doreen U.K.

Rod you are a very brave and mature person to know that you must carry on with your life. But don't attempt to be so brave that you don't cry and grieve your loss. don't store this up so that you appear to other's to be coping and strong like they would all expect of you. Part of our humanity is to have emotions and grief is part of giving expression to these emotions. THEN. HEALING STARTS TO TAKE PLACE IN US. don't deny yourself this normal healing.
Whilst living in the same home it is difficult seeing these personal possessions of the loved one you have lost. What I did was to put most of my husband's belonging in the closet until I could deal with this loss. I took his photo frame off the wall. (too early to put up) I then started to change the DECOR in the home. A new wall colour. New Drapes. Perhaps a new carpet or rug. A new light. It doesn't have to cost a lot of money. These subtle changes will help you put your mark on the home and cheer you up. Now this is only if you feel like a change or doing the work and spending the money. This is just my experience. I can't bear to see my husband's things. BUT. I remain in the home HE BUILT UP. I will put his belongings in the LOG CABIN HE BUILT. and didn't get the chance to use. We have a memorial in the garden newly landscaped for my beloved husband. When the pain gets less. I will put his Photo's up in his log cabin.
Lastly I say that most people can express the love and compassion from strangers as being better than from family. I don't know why this should be. But a lot of people feel the same way. You are not alone. DEATH brings up a lot of anger and change in people you wouldn't expect to change. But I find that in time this changes and may reverse itself as it once was. Best wishes.

Feb 13, 2013
by: Rod

Thank you so much for your kind comments, both of you. Reading through them, I realized that mine wasn't an isolated experience. Of course, we all know that Life eventually leads to Death, but because it's something we assume will happen "in a long time," we give the situation very little thought.

This is still very raw and difficult for me. I live in the same house where my parents lived, and I see my mother everywhere. Last night, I passed by her upstairs bedroom. The door was closed. I opened it up, looked inside, and saw her digital clock in the darkness. "Ma?" I asked, "are you here?" There was no answer, though I could picture her lying on the bed, covered up and asleep.

I realize we all must go through this, but it so incredibly painful. I almost wish I'd gone first, but then I think, well, what would've happened to Ma then? She'd have no one. The poor woman was abandoned by almost everyone in her life. I've received more sympathy cards from her physicians than I have from loved ones! It's ridiculous, but also a very revealing example of human nature.

So, I'm attempting to pick up the pieces and go forward. I know it's what my parents want from me. They wouldn't want me to grieve and mourn and sink into despair. I must be strong...for them, and for me.

Feb 13, 2013
my mother was the most influential person in my life and my everything
by: Anonymous

Your post touched me so much because I did the exact same thing with my mom..we were partners in crime and did everything together and especially after my dad died 20+ years earlier. I was my mohther's power of attorney and too was horrified at the treatment in the nursing homes. I had to work full time so the best I could do was call every single day to let the staff know that my mom was not a deserted island and that she had someone that loves and cares for her. I learned that if you didn't make yourself heard and seen, they would treat your loved one like dirt. Alot of folks that have loved ones in nursing homes never come to visit them so unfortunately the staff just assumes that when someone new comes in. I spent most of my time arguing on the phone to the staff as well and my poor mother was livid, as long as she was lucid, but because she had a brain tumor and needed 24 hour care and couldn't walk and rapidly deteriorated, that was the best place for her. I felt so sad when she went there and she had watched her mother go to the same nursing home many years before and the look of terror in mom's eyes meant that she knew it was the end. It's been five months since mom died and I cry every single day. I feel for you and am hugging you because most people don't have that special magical relationship with their mom like you and me did and I thank God for that. My siblings moved far away so they didn't realize the closesness and when I tell them things that Ma said or did, it's like they are learning about her for the first time.

Feb 13, 2013
My mother was the most influential person in my life
by: Doreen U.K.

Rod I am sorry for your loss of your mom. Reading your post brought back the same feelings I had 9 years ago when my mum died. We all got to the hospital too late and my mum lay there and I screamed I felt this great sense of loss and desperation. It is the most painful feeling ever to lose some and now they lie there with no life in them.
I lost my beloved husband of 44yrs. 10 months ago to lung cancer and I had to watch him die slowly over 3yrs. then watch the body of a former body builder shrivel and die emaciated. Then to see the body lie there with no life in it. Death is such a cruel experience but one we can't escape from. But nevertheless it is very surreal and makes one feel so very desperate to have that life back again. You were such a good child to have done so much for your mom and to make such a difference in her life. You cared well and did what you could. You made the best of the time of the latter years of her life and you should feel happy about this. You have little to feel regret about. Don't feel your mom died alone. She must have been so out of it in a state of sleep that she would know nothing. When she was awake she would have had you on her mind and soaking up all the memories that would have comforted her. Then she would have had the presence of angels around her to carry her home. Your grief won't last forever but whilst we grief it is a long and hard road for us till we are able to find our way back again in life.

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