It's funny, I started my Livejournal in 2001 more or less in response to the death of my grandmother, and now here I am coming back because I want to talk about my mom dying. That's kind of morbid.
My mom has been ill with something or other most of my life. When I was a kid, she had low blood pressure resulting in frequent fainting spells. We had protocols for what happened if we found Mom on the floor -- go get a grownup, elevate her legs. She was diagnosed with diabetes when she was 33, which means she lived almost as many years with diabetes as she did without. She'd been kind of obsessed with her weight before that, not to the point of an eating disorder but to the point of being on diets most of the time, and her frenzy for dieting might actually have lengthened her life; for many years she was able to stay off insulin by carefully managing her meal plans. She studied so much about nutrition and diabetes she might as well have been a nutritionist. Once she became insulin resistant, though, various illnesses came in and took their toll. By the time she died, she'd gone blind enough that she read exclusively on her tablet, and started giving me all her physical books about 2-3 years ago. This is a woman whose ceiling's integrity was called into question because there were so many books piled in the attic, who had a floor-to-ceiling bookcase covering an entire wall of her bedroom and three bookshelves in the living room and then took over the old floor-to-ceiling bookcase that used to be mine from my old bedroom and also filled the garage with boxes of books, and yet there were still stacks of books everywhere.
I've been selling her books. Her passions were mostly for history, specific periods. The Plantagenets. Richard III and how much she believed he got a bum rap. Eleanor of Aquitaine. Mycenean Greece, and the entire ancient world of Greece and Rome in general, but obsessive about the era of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. She also had a lot of books of celebrity gossip and biographies of famous musicians and actors. She never got a college degree, mostly because of me (as in she got pregnant with me her freshman year of college and dropped out), but she could have easily had doctorates in history if she hadn't had children to raise and then was too ill to hold down a job, or school, after we were all grown.
She wrote multiple novels and never published any. We live now in an era where self-publication is respectable, so I aim to fix that, as soon as I can get her files off her hard drive.
Four years ago (I think it was four) her kidneys failed, with shocking rapidity. My brother donated a kidney. She regained most of her health, but she had pain and infections and herniations from the surgery for the rest of her life.
Indirectly, that kidney failure did do her in, in the end. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in December 2014. She used to smoke, didn't quit until I was in my 30's, so for a while I felt horrible, because I was angry at her for what she'd done to herself when I spent my entire childhood trying to get her to quit and yet what kind of a horrible thing is it to be angry at someone you love because they didn't stop doing something self-destructive quite fast enough? But eventually they figured out that the lung cancer was of a type that's generally caused by immune suppressors. The medications that prevented her from rejecting my brother's kidney gave her cancer.
There was some thought that it might have metastasized to her brain, but there was no way to really confirm it, because what showed up as a tiny blob on the MRI might have been scar tissue and you can't exactly do exploratory brain surgery. The lung was known, so that's wht they focused on treating.
In October, shortly before my birthday, she came down with pneumonia. Her lungs filled with fluid and she couldn't breathe. She went into the hospital and they drained the fluid, but her lung wouldn't re-inflate. Still, it seemed like she'd survived; as long as she was on oxygen she could move around. People have lived for years on oxygen, and maybe after the warm weather returned she would fully recover.
Except that yeah, that was a brain tumor.
When she behaved as if she was demented or confused in the hospital, before the lung draining, they put it down to the drugs and the hypoxia. Maybe then, that was what it was. But the confusion set in again in November. She didn't recognize my brother, one day. And then the doctors told us, it was the brain tumor and there was nothing we could do except make her as comfortable as possible.
It is so fucking unfair. She was one of the most verbal, alert, intelligent people I've ever met in my life, probably in the world. But Wernicke's aphasia set in. She would say things that were perfectly grammatical and made no sense. Such as "I don't think Jacob handled the situation correctly" in response to "Would you like some water?" Or "I don't understand the progression" for "Do you know where you are?" When she got angry at me because I wouldn't take off her slip-prevention socks for her, she said, "I'm going to sell two houses. All of the houses." I mean, it's funny, but it's also so goddamn tragic. She didn't get the last few weeks of her life that she got, because she didn't get to be herself. She didn't recognize her own bedroom because she had had it renovated when she got cancer, suspecting, I guess, that she might die in it, so mold in the walls and ancient 50-year-old carpets and books and clutter all over the place wouldn't fly. Except that when she went there to die, she didn't remember that she'd done all that, so she thought she'd been left in a hospital, exactly what she hadn't wanted. We kept having to tell her she was home, and she plainly didn't believe us.
I don't even know if she knew she was dying, by then.
I know there are people who live for years and years in such a state of confusion; my mom hardly had it the worst of anyone in the world. But we were expecting her lungs to kill her, and maybe they did, it was a race between her lungs and her brain by that point, but no one ever expected her of all people to fall into such confusion. It must have been so horrible -- no one understood what she said, which probably sounded perfectly reasonable to her, and she would have been having gaps in her memory, and she wouldn't understand most of what people said to her, and when she did understand it would have been obvious that they were talking to her like she was a child and she used to be a genius and it must have been horrible. I'm glad she's dead. Not because I ever ever ever wanted her to be dead but if the alternative was suffering like that, not even physically but her mind slipping away from her and she must have known it, it happened so fast. I don't even believe in an afterlife anymore but I know she's in a better place now because nonexistence would be better than that.
I saw her last on November 29th, a Sunday. We went up for Thanksgiving weekend knowing it might well be the last time we saw her, and it was. I scrambled to get the kids Christmas presents -- my dad gave me money for it -- because we wanted them to have as normal a Christmas as possible, in front of my mother, who loved buying things for the people she loved and seeing their happiness when they got gifts more than almost anything. I tried to buy the things she would have bought, like dresses for my daughter, and Legos for my son instead of video games -- we'd do the videogames at our own Christmas, but Grandjanie was never expected to be up on the latest of video games (we found out later she bought them two copies of Splatoon when we have only one Wii U, and also, they already own Splatoon). She sat in a wheelchair and watched them get presents and mumbled things so quietly only my dad heard her and I doubt they made much sense to him. I hugged her goodbye when we left. A week later I got a text at 3:45 am from my dad that she was dead.
Funny story about that. The text didn't wake me up. The phone rang, once, at 4:30, and woke me up, and then I saw the text. I'd been dreaming that we went back to visit my mom, and she was still sick in bed but her mind had recovered, she could talk to us, we could spend time with the real her and not the shell she'd turned into, one last time. My mom always believed in spiritualism and dreams; she thought the ghost of an old family friend appeared to her in her dream once and woke her up when she had a lit cigarette, and maybe saved her from setting her bed on fire. She heard my dead grandfather's voice and then something fell down and she took it as a message from him. So if I'd told her about it she would definitely have said that that was her spirit visiting me to say goodbye. I don't know if I believe in any of that shit but why did the phone ring? There was no call on my call log. No one called me but the phone rang, once. I wouldn't even have remembered that dream if I hadn't woken up then, because that's how dreams work.
I'd become used to thinking about her almost constantly because she was so ill and I was so worried, and I'm still doing it. I see a book, I think "Mom would be interested in that" and then I remember. I hear something on the news about how diet soda is worse for you than the regular stuff if you're dieting and I think "Haha, I was right, Mom, I totally have to tell you about this" and of course I can't.
I've put a system in place for tracking my writing, and it's helping me stay on track for a goal that's more ambitious than any I've ever achieved for myself in a year, and I can't tell her. She wanted me to get published, so badly, and aside from a few short stories I never pulled it off.
She was 65 years old. Jane-Vett Rogers. If I do publish her books I intend to let everyone know, because unlike me, she finished several of the damn things, but she had no self confidence so they sat on her hard drive for 20 years.
- My mother is dead.