January 19, 2015 – Another Kind of Passing

Well, got through today without any pain until about 4:30 and then I knew it was time to head for Urgent Care. Indeed turns out I have one of those wonderful urinary tract infections so now it is antibiotics for 10 days.  As the kids would say “Sucks to be you Mom” But at least I have the treatment and can get on with my life.

Pictures: above, my mom is on the right. Left side is her sister Margaret and the other two are cousins Frank and Lottie Stevens.  The other picture below is of mom and her siblings – Ferg being the only guy, Mary next to him and the front row, Margaret, Mom and Sheila. That was at mom’s birthday party in Schenectady.

I was thinking today about how different it was when my mom died.  She was 92 and had been having little strokes for about 10 years which slowly took away her ability to function – they were in a part of her brain which ended up causing her to have dementia. It started slowly and she was really good at covering up what was happening to her but thankfully her friends who saw more of her on a regular basis saw things such as how bad her driving was and let me know. I arranged for her to go to Baltimore to visit my brother Jim as he was very good with her and when she got home, although he had explained to her that she could not drive any more, I was branded the car thief of Niskayuna.  We gave the car to my brother Bill for his kids or whomever to drive.   From then on I did her driving for her. We went grocery shopping together, picked her up for church etc and her friends got her to her clubs etc.  She was pissed but hay, better than that her killing someone or herself and my having to live with that guilt.

Then at some point it became clear that she could no longer live alone.  She had left a pot on the stove and the apartment was filling with smoke and she was laying on her bed and did not respond to the fire alarm.  I had a long talk with her landlady who was very nice and kind and we started making arrangements for her to move. My brothers did not seem to get how bad it was getting so I took Mom with me to a family reunion in Canada and arranged for her to share a room with her sister Mary. Then I walked away.  I believe my aunts and uncle had a chat with the others because by the Sunday of the reunion they said we needed to talk and it was decided that we would move her.  Lucky for her there was an opening at the Heritage Home for Ladies – the place she always said she would go when she could not longer live on her own. OF course, she did not remember this and was again very angry with me. But at the Home was Sister Helen Dillon who was a saint and my savior. Helen was so good and took such good care of my mom. They were buddies. Mom did not talk to anyone and pretty much stayed to herself but I had fun visiting there because we would sit with the other ladies and I would interview them about life when they were young etc.

One day the phone rang and it was Sister. Mom had walked out and headed up Union Street. Sister went after her and asked her where she was going – “home” she answered. Where is home? ” Gananoque” So that put her at 9 years or less since the family moved to Kingston when she was 9. She could no longer live there. So we were on the hunt for an alternative.

First we put her in the place right near my house, it was brand new and suppose to be state of the art. What we discovered over the few months she was there was that they did not provide enough food for the residents and the staff were going up to Stewarts in the evenings to purchase peanut butter and bread so they could feed the hungry folks. And lots of people were walking out of the place since the windows opened up to the outside with no provisions for alarms or any other way of keeping the people in the building. One woman, Ginny, climbed out her window and got as far as the airport road where she stopped at a gas station and called her daughter in law to come and get her.  Guess that was not a good thing???

One of the aides had very long finger nails and at some point mom got combative with her and ended up with a large piece of skin peeled off my this woman’s nails. I had had it and called the State Dept of Health with my list of complaints. They took them and later I wrote them up as well and after that they started to improve things but by then we had found a much better place. The Rockwell Center in Cohoes. It was wonderful. Mom stayed there until she fell and broke her hip.  She had a special place right by the fireplace where she curled up every day to nap. I could make us a cup of coffee in the kitchen if I wanted or even if I had wanted we could have made cookies in there or what ever. It was lovely and homey and the people who worked there were delightful.

But once she had fallen they moved her into the nursing home. That was a nice place but sad and sadder as time when on.  No place is perfect and this was not for sure. But I knew at some point the end would be coming. At some point her pacemaker ripped through the fragile skin on her chest and when I took her to the surgeon he and I agreed not to replace it. No one in either place were happy with that idea but in the end her heart worked just fine until the day she died.  At some point in the summer of 2000 she got an infection – urinary tract – and they wanted to give her antibiotics and she refused. She clamped her mouth shut and refused. When I came to see her I tried to give her ice chips and she would not take them and would not look at me at all. It took me a while but I finally figured out she had had it.  Only problem I had was I had a commitment to go to a training with a bunch of community folks for four days down in Westchester County. I did not know what to do. The nurse in charge sat with me and said – “look, there is nothing you can do, her instructions are clear in her paperwork that she is to have no extra treatment at this point. You go and we will call you if you need to return home’ Denis also encouraged me to go so I did.  She waited for me to get back, thank God.  I would not have wanted to make that drive by myself.

And so I came back, visited with her. Then we all went home and she died during the night. We got the call and Denis, Bill and Gail and I went over to say a final goodbye. It was sad but at least I knew she was no longer suffering silently from the ravages of old age. She died having been on no medications for anything. She might have been getting her drops for glaucoma but I don’t even know if she was getting them.

I guess what I wanted to get to was that compared to my dad I had plenty of time to prepare for her passing.  One thing I had done for myself was to write to all her old friends going back to her childhood if I could find them and ask them to send me a memory of her. I received a lovely set of letters from relatives, and old friends. I worked in the evenings putting together a booklet we could use when she died. I called it something like “the quiet one”. Mom was such a quiet person. I am nothing like her.  It helped me having those memories as it reminded me of the person she had been not the person she had become in her final years. And her grandchildren and great grandchildren will have those memories as well to help them know about her. I have given my granddaughter and some great nephews some of the clothes and sweaters she made for my kids when they were young. I still wear the Aran Isle sweater she knit for me decades ago, it is in great condition and fits just fine.

Mom was a very nice woman. She quietly served others in ways most people have no idea about. She used her sewing and knitting talents to make things for people in nursing homes, and items to sell at fund raisers. This was in addition to making things for all of us in the family every year.  She would start after Christmas and make a list of what she was going to make for various people over the year for birthdays and Christmas. In fact that was one of the ways we knew she was having problems – she made a sweater for my nephew Darron and the arms were way too long and the body short. I got a call after he got it from his parents telling me something was wrong. Sure enough, there was.

So, I lost my parents in two very different ways. My Dad got the easy out by dying fairly quickly and Mom had a few long years knowing that things were bad and not being able to do a darn thing about it until the end. The first way was harder on us and easier on my Dad, the second gave us plenty of time to prepare but my Mom suffered terribly mentally, I fear. She did not have Alzheimers Disease so she was aware and that was very painful to watch. But there were some highlights – Ian brought his girlfriend Maya to meet his grandmother. He loved her so much and wanted her to meet Maya. At the end of their visit she kissed him and kissed Maya and Ian felt he had his blessing to marry this wonderful woman he was in love with.  It was rare for Mom to kiss anyone. You were more likely to get forked by her for annoying her.

Enough on this topic. Just thought I should give Mom equal billing since she was a much bigger part of our lives growing up since Dad worked out of town a lot and she was the one of carried us along day by day.

Aunt_Lottie__Margaret__Norah_and_Frank StevensO_Connor_siblings


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