Monday, August 15, 2011

Blue Eyes

I think that most, if not all, of the small handful of people who visit my blog are friends, and so they’re already aware of where this story comes from. But just in case a non-friend stumbles onto my blog, I wanted to give a little background to this post about my mother.

My brother took our mother to the hospital this past May 17 with what we thought was a severe kidney infection & perhaps a stroke (she had suffered a minor stroke a number of years ago and was exhibiting similar symptoms). After about a week in the hospital, they diagnosed her with terminal cancer; that they were certain of, it was already in her brain, lungs, liver, lower back, and uterus (she was also in renal failure due to the high levels of calcium in her system, which is apparently a symptom of cancer). She was given six months to a year to live. She lasted less than one month.

I live several states away, so I went to see her for what we all knew would be the final time about a week after she landed in the hospital.

One other important tidbit: I’m not sure what my mom’s job title was, but she worked at a hospital, delivering items from the supply area to different departments. The hospital she was admitted to was the same hospital that she worked in.

So that’s the important background info. I’m writing this because I’ve had a particular memory on a loop in my head now for the last week or two, and it seems to want to be written down. I’m indulging the impulse.


On the last day of my visit, I went with my mom to her radiation appointment. Due to dialysis treatments, she was fairly lucid for the most of the time that I was visiting. Although the rest of her cancer could not be treated, she chose to try radiation for her brain tumor.

Anyway, on our way down to her treatment, we ran into a man that she knew. This happened a lot when we were out and about in the hospital.

“Is this your daughter?” The man asked her. My mom said that I was. “I thought so,” he replied. “You have the same pretty blue eyes.”

My mother and I exchanged a confused glance. When the man was finally out of earshot, I said to her, kind of laughing,

“Since when have you had blue eyes?”

The thing is, my mother didn’t have blue eyes. Her eyes were hazel. I get my eye color from my father’s side of the family. I’ve always taken after his side looks-wise, but the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve started to look like my mom – a fact of life to which most ladies out there can relate, I think. But the moment struck me as really funny, that this man could make such a huge blunder. Unless you’re color blind, you couldn’t mistake my mom’s eyes as being blue.

At any rate, Mom just kind of laughed and shook her head in answer to my question.

The moment passed. We spent a few more hours together after that. My uncle (mom’s brother) came. So did my sister-in-law with two of the grandkids. And then I had to leave.

I never spoke to my mother again.

Later that day, they moved Mom to a nursing home for the duration of her radiation treatments. After that, the plan was to move her home to live out her last days in hospice care. But she didn’t last that long; she died a little less than two weeks after entering the nursing home. Her room there didn’t have a phone and while my brother bought her a cell phone, she wouldn’t turn it on (she was frugal to a fault). So the last time I spoke to and saw my mother was really the last time.

I’m not entirely sure why the above memory keeps playing over and over in my mind. It could simply be because it was the most memorable thing that happened that last day, but I think that it’s more than that.

Mom and I had a strained but polite relationship, for a variety of reasons that I don’t care to blast out into the blogosphere. I loved my mom & I cared about her, but I’m not sure that she ever really got that. Watching her face her sudden death at the age of 63 was heart breaking, to say the least. She was scared, she was depressed, and she didn’t want to die. It’s terrible. I hate it that more people don’t get to go when they’re good & ready.

I felt like she deserved to enjoy herself as much as she could before she died. I get that dying is never fun, but I think we should all have the opportunity to laugh in the face of death. So I tried to keep the mood light while I was there, to keep her laughing, to help her forget for a moment or two that it was all going to be over soon. Now I’m not so sure if that was the right thing to do. Maybe it’s not what she wanted. I did it because I felt like it was what she needed.

Anyway, I think maybe the reason I like the memory of her co-worker’s gaffe so much is because it was completely unexpected. It wasn’t a laugh that I sought out. It just happened. I really kind of appreciate that. The last day I saw my mom alive, we got to share a chuckle. I’m glad for it.

As I sat down to write this blog, I realized that today is the two-month anniversary of her death. I like the accidental symmetry of that. The other day, I was out walking the dog & I saw a hummingbird, the only one I’ve seen in the nearly 9 months we’ve lived in Texas. Mom loved hummingbirds. I’m not saying it was a sign or anything, but it’s nice to know that the reminders are there, all around us, all the time.