For Crying Out Loud is a series of essays about grieving, especially grief about the death of my mother. On this second anniversary of Mom’s death (June 26, 2013) I am still actively grieving. It seems harder this year than last as the loss seems more intense in a different way. I’m still angry she’s gone. I’m angry about a lot of things in her life and my life and our lives together.
I’ve read about the anger stage of grief and this essay is about the anger. I’m angry my mom is dead, angry I can’t pick up the phone and call her, or go drop in on her, or spend the week with her. There is nobody in this world who welcomes everything I have to give, good or bad; she did. I’m angry because I needed her to help me grow older gracefully. Now I have to grow older on my own and I don’t like it one bit.
Mom should not be dead. She was only 83, which is a young elder these days with modern medicine and technology. Her mother was 95 before she died and her grandfather was 110. She should have lived longer, at least reaching the age of her own parent.
Who killed my mother? I’m going to point a lot of fingers, but please let me say to my siblings if you should read this: I do not blame you or find fault in you in any way. I may sound negative, accusatory, use shocking ugly words and phrases and language and scenario creation, but this essay is an exercise for me to release grief feelings. If I thought you did anything wrong I would tell you up front, to your face. If anybody is at fault, I blame only myself as her firstborn. I trust our blood and our upbringing to know all my siblings behaved in the best and most loving way they knew. Forgive me venting sadness at your expense.
So who killed my mother? The truth is cigarettes killed my mom. Mom died from emphysema, a horrible lung disease she’d been fighting for more than 20 years. She started smoking in her early 20s when she was dating young men and going out with girlfriends to dances and bars. She smoked through 4 pregnancies and smoked all the years we were growing up. Mom looked so beautiful and glamorous we would practice elegant pretend smoking with toothpicks to be like her. My sister and I and two girl cousins got caught by grammy and grampy once while pretend smoking and boy did we get told what for as they told us what a nasty habit it was.
As we got older we tried different tactics to get both parents to stop smoking. We hid matches and lighters. We marked the cigarettes half way down with a heavy black marking pen that left a nasty taste on the paper. We broke cigarettes inside the packs in half so a cigarette with a ragged end would come out, or the two parts held together by a slender thread of paper and tobacco bits falling everywhere. All this resulted in pissed-off parents. Cigarettes cost money and we were wasting their money.
A person has to be ready to quit to make it effective. Sometime after I left her home to get on with my adult life, Mom decided she wasn’t feeling good and quit smoking. She felt a little better for quitting, then she started not feeling well again. Her emphysema was diagnosed; the damage was already done from the years of cigarette use.
Cigarette companies, advertising companies, and early media sources killed my mom. Cigarette companies made cigarettes even though they were already in possession of and actively hiding hard evidence of the dangers of using tobacco. Cigarette companies paid advertising companies to make commercials for print magazines, radio, and TV glamourizing cigarette use.
Magazines, radio, and the new household media, television, ran those glamourous commercials and stories and programs making smokers look hip, elegant, and cool.
Adventurous women, single women, wives, mothers, working women, and movie stars smoked and look how sexy they were.
Having children killed my mother. She had four of us before my 5th birthday. That’s way too much being pregnant, and breastfeeding, and not sleeping, and washing cloth diapers, and nursing sick and teething babies in way too short a period of time. Even though she was a strong hardy farm girl, she was worn out before she was 30. Her mother had six children but over a period of 18 years. It’s all about the spacing and giving the mother’s body time to recharge between pregnancies. In the 1950s child birthing was all about “twilight” drugs to relieve the pain; I doubt there have ever been studies about what those drugs did to women or their children after the fact, and in the long run.
1950s dentists killed my mother. During the five years she was pregnant dentists insisted her teeth were in bad shape and would only get worse from pregnancies (we know that’s not true now); she needed dentures. So while she’s enduring the body stress and changes in physical chemistry trying to cook up 4 perfect little humans, dentists are ripping the teeth out of her face and fitting her with her first pair of several sets of poorly fitted dentures. She lived with the challenge of false teeth the rest of her life, eventually opting for surgical post implants in her jaw to anchor the dentures on. Mom was always insistent we take care of our teeth and started us out early with dental instruction and care. Trying to imagine not having teeth gives me a knot in my stomach. Now dentists do everything they can to save your natural teeth.
My father killed my mother. They were married when she was 22 and he was 27. When my youngest brother was almost out of high school Mom left Dad. They had a separation. It wasn’t pretty, but I wasn’t living at home to see the worst of it. Dad complained she wasn’t the woman he’d married. Well, of course not. People grow up, grow older, learn stuff. She was insatiably curious, read constantly, and once she started working outside the home she wanted to better her job opportunites. She started taking a night class every term at the community college. When Mom asked him to go to couples counseling with her, he said if there was anything wrong with their marriage it was all about her. That was the end of it; she divorced him. He remained the man she married. He didn’t stop smoking until many years after they’d been divorced when he started having his own health issues. Part of her died when she knew she would not be growing old with the father of her children. (I don’t blame my father.)
Her second husband killed my mother. He was a prince charming who swept her off her feet. When I met him he took the both of us out to dinner. Mom had recently stopped smoking and he insisted on sitting in the smoking section and smoked through the entire meal, choking me with his smoke. He creeped me out and I told her so, citing his inconsideration. He bought her things, and took her places, wined her and dined her, and after the wedding took her to their honeymoon room and beat holy hell out of her. A few weeks later she came over to my house for me to perm her hair and when I made her change her nice silk blouse (which he had bought for her with her money) for an old shirt I discovered the bruises on her upper body. As I wrapped her hair around the permanent wave rods I found huge bald spots where he had forcefully ripped her hair out. In front of one of her best friends who was brought so I would be intimidated about saying anything I told her she did not deserve for any reason to be abused in this way and if he ever came near my house I would kill him. I also told her if I was at her house and he was there I would either kill him or call 9-1-1 on him. She knew I was serious. He robbed her of all her money, and with his business he even took the checks she made out for employee withholding taxes to be sent to the state and cashed them. He left the business bankrupt and disappeared owing the employees back wages after taking everything except my mother’s house which she fortunately had never signed over to him. She worked for three years after he left to pay his company’s employees their back wages, even though it wasn’t her company. He may have done this serially to several women as Mom received calls looking for their “husband Bill”. He was a blatant abuser and deserves to be blamed for the damage he did to her soul.
Modern Medicine killed my mother. Her doctors scared her on a regular basis with strong language about health issues of small import and underplayed other issues. Doctors would prescribe one medicine and when there were side effects prescribe another for the side effects. She had several doctors and if she didn’t take every pill bottle with her, they never seemed to know what she was taking. Did they even have a clue what worked with or against what? They filled her so full of drugs I wondered if she was sick from her illness or sick from taking all the prescription drugs and with all their interactions and side effects. She took so many antibiotics, they didn’t work anymore. She was so full of steroids her skin broke just looking at it. All the side effects of the drugs and constant applications of antibiotics to fix the side effects multiplied to the point where none of her natural immunities functioned anymore. Then her doctors pressured her to lose weight, a side effect of all the steroids and drugs she was given to manage her illness.
Big Pharmaceuticals killed my mother. These people will sell you anything that fits into a pill shape. They think they do, but they really don’t know what any of the “medicines” they market do nor how they interact. Few drugs on the market do what they say (for me anyway); I’ll admit I’m a blatant disbeliever nearly to the point of pharmacuetic-phobia. There are a few exceptions, but then there are exceptions to those exceptions. Penicillin is a tried and true bacteria killer, unless you are allergic to penicillin, then the penicillin kills you instead of the bacteria. Or until the bacteria mutates and the penicillin no longer kills it. Mom was given many experimental drugs, and given drugs off-label in attempts to give her relief. How do you measure relief against debilitating side effects? What killed her first, the emphysema or the accumulation of all the drugs and their effects?
Hospice killed my mother. They gave her relief in some ways, cutting some expenses for her in exchange for the expense of hospice, and providing some in-home nursing and housekeeping services. They hooked her up with a chaplain who came to her home once a week and they talked. Mom enjoyed the chaplain because she could talk frankly and freely about her fears and feelings about her impending death. Speaking for me, I was hesitant to hear that kind of talk from her and resisted it and I suspect that’s true with my siblings as well. I’m glad she had somebody to talk about dying with.
Hospice came into her home and intruded on her privacy in a way she finally found intolerable. She was used to being alone most of the time and doing what she pleased when she pleased. Though my youngest brother lived with her, he worked full time and still does. She had her routines and her ways and to a certain extent hospice wanted to say different. Nurses and housekeepers and chaplains and counselors and drug or oxygen delivery people wanting to come into her home every day at their convenience, not hers, was too much for her to handle. For example, mom had to wear oxygen to be able to move around her home, to sleep at night, or whenever she went out. Hospice changed her oxygen equipment so it was harder for her to get around rather than easier. It seemed counter-intuitive to the tenets of the program and it was one of her deciding points when it came to disengaging from hospice care.
Hospice-provided housekeepers killed my mother. The housekeepers would not move furniture so if mom wanted under furniture vacuumed she moved all the furniture. Really? An 83 year old woman sick with emphysema ON HOSPICE CARE wearing oxygen to breathe and they can’t get a housekeeper who is insured enough to do the whole job? The housekeepers used so many chemicals it was hard for me to breathe in the house as they worked. Perhaps they had never heard of green cleaning. Mom tried to give me the bum’s rush on housekeeper day once when I’d gone for visit, so I dawdled on purpose to see. I caught Mom moving the furniture. The housekeeper used one chemical for the toilet, one for the tub, another for the sink, and another for the bathroom floor, then another for the kitchen surfaces, a different floor cleaner for the kitchen floor, and something she sprayed on a cloth to dust with. I could barely breathe. Then she vacuumed the hardwood floor with the old fashioned kind of vacuum that pours the dust it just gathered back out into the atmosphere through the cloth bag.
A vacuum on a hard wood floor doesn’t quite equate to me when a nice swiffer would pick up the dirt and dust and throw it neatly away. There’s certainly no reason the housekeeper provided by hospice should bring a Dyson or some such with a hepa filter that traps the dust and detritus of the average household in a sealed bin.
And I’ll be really judgmental here, the housekeeper looked like she’d never thought for one minute about how the aerosol propelled odors from any of the chemicals or the dust created by the antique vacuum would affect somebody who already struggled to breathe. She was doing a job exactly as she been taught. Just doing a job. Period.
The Oregonian killed my mother. Mom loved her daily newspaper. First thing she did every morning was get the paper and her cup of coffee and either crawl back into bed or curl up in her favorite chair with it. She read the paper cover to cover, the ads, the obits, the classifieds, the news, even the sports. She may not have read every word, but she scanned every page and read all the interesting bits, often cutting out articles or cartoons she though I’d like and mailing them to me. She did the daily crossword puzzles, the word acrostics, the Word Jumbles, and Sudoku when it was added. She cut out coupons to use on her weekly shopping trips. When she was done with the paper she picked out sections she knew I liked to read and the clipped over coupon pages and would put them in a bag to save for the next time I visited. Every few weeks I’d come home with a bag of newspapers to catch up on the news, with the added bonus of a few scavenged coupons.
The Oregonian, like most daily newspapers these days, is struggling to stay in business. They announced they would no longer be offering daily home delivery. Though they would publish a daily paper plus Sunday, home delivery would only happen on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Mom still drove but going out each morning to get the paper cramped her style. I’d just found out there were arrangements you could make if you were home-bound, but I didn’t get a chance to tell her. Their change in schedule was another blow for Mom’s constitution.
My brother killed my mother. He had different beliefs than she did and it gave the impression, whether true or not, he thought he was better than her. He called her on his schedule rather than when she wanted him to. He paid more attention to his wife’s parents than her. He would travel from wherever he was to visit his in-laws who live just a few miles from mom and not visit or call her. He called her and got to talk to her by phone the day she died. They talked of his son and daughter’s upcoming July weddings which she thought she would not be able to attend because of the difficulties of travel for her. He did not come racing down from his home in up-state Washington when he heard her voice on the phone as she was weakening. (I do not blame by brother.)
My sister killed my mother. She didn’t go running when mom called the day she died. Sis had carried the greatest burden of work and care with my dad, getting him moved out of his apartment, arranging all his care, and being the closest to his care center she visited the most. She carried most of the burden of helping Mom when she needed it because she lived closer. Maybe she was tired of running at the call of an elder. Sis was working. Her place of employment is 45 minutes away; she works a flex schedule and often works from home, only 20 minutes from Mom’s. Perhaps she could have gone; there are details I don’t know. Only Sis heard Mom’s voice on the phone that day; she had to make the decision on what she heard.
Mom always chose to call Sis first instead of me, so I don’t know how I would have reacted to her voice. If she had called me at work I likely would have thought it unusual enough to leave. My employers had been informed of her being in hospice care; death was imminent and I may have to leave at a moment’s notice. Work wasn’t happy about that attitude, but at least I had bothered to tell them what was happening and how I’d behave. In the end I didn’t have that choice.
Sis said Mom asked if she thought she should go to the hospital. My sister advised Mom to sit down and have youngest brother, who was home on his day off, bring her a glass of water. Mom hung up the phone and called out to brother as she became weak in the knees and grabbed onto the bookcase the phone was on. Brother came to her aid and helped her to her chair, and got her a glass of water.
I’m sure Sis questions herself – if Mom had gone to hospital would we have had her a while longer? I’m glad Sis didn’t tell Mom to go to the hospital or rush over to take her. Medical personal would have employed their typical medical applications despite Mom’s Do Not Rescucitate orders. That’s what they do; it’s their job; it’s what they get paid for. By not going to hospital Mom died peacefully in her own home in her own chair. (I do not blame my sister.)
My youngest brother killed my mother. Being the youngest he had rarely had to take care of anybody. Even though he had three children, he had a skilled and devoted wife who was mother to his children so I imagine his contribution was stereo-typically male. Perhaps he didn’t know how. He helped Mom to her chair and got her the glass of water but he was having his own physical issues and rather than sitting down to watch her a few minutes he went back to his room to sit in his own chair to catch his breath. He might have sat on the couch and watched her, even held her hand. At least he was in the house with her. (I do not blame my brother.)
All of my siblings talked to my mother on the day of her death except me.
I killed my mother. I was neglectful, busy, selfish. I was her first at so many things. Her first conception, pregnancy, delivery. Her first live birth, first breastfeeding. First to go through teething and losing them again. First of her girls to shave her legs, to need a bra, and get her cycle. First to drive and first to date. And first to leave home, for school, and summer camp, and adulthood. I didn’t call her often enough. I was too busy living this pathetic life. I didn’t visit her enough; I was tired and selfish with my time dealing with my own medical and other issues, trying to keep my own strength up.
In July I was in the habit of spending the first or second week of the month with her when her raspberries came on. I’d get up early and pick them, and spend the rest of the day either freezing them or making jelly. That June I was busy; I had been ill, and I hadn’t called her for three weeks at least. I had so much on my list to talk with her about. She’d sent me a couple envelopes of cartoons with little notes about keeping my chin up and how she loved me. She knew how I struggle with confidence and self-esteem, and was always trying to build me up. My vacation time was a few days away and I was going to call that night to have a chat and confirm my visit. The dreaded call came first.
I killed my mother. I didn’t spend my time with her when I had her. I neglected a treasure and a library. I mistreated the person who bothered to spend nine months with me before anybody else did. I failed the only woman in this world who accepted me as I am, who yet encouraged me to grow and improve. I disagreed with her and was often a disagreeable child and adult child. During my adult life I borrowed money from her and was unable to pay it back when promised and then embarrassed I would delay calling or seeing her. I took for granted the only person who gave me what I have and nearly everything she had. I am guilty of avoiding my responsibility to the woman who gave me my very life and did the best she knew to raise me to take care of myself. After all is said and done, I blame myself because I killed my mother and I am crying out loud.