Monday, April 09, 2018

Reflections: 10 years ago...

Evelyn Frances Gustafson Eggebroten with Irie in 2007
Ten years ago today my mother died.  

She would have been 99 years old now, if she had lived.

She died quietly, peacefully, with my sister and I holding her hands.  

That day and the next few days were very stressful as my sister and I went to the mortuary to make decisions and sign papers, cleaned out her room at Sunrise Assisted Living, and arranged plans for her memorial service.  

But she is at peace.  

I am grateful not to have had continued responsibility for her care over the last ten years.  There were so many doctor visits, care decisions, arguments, and sad moments....

I don't miss her now as much as I did at first.  There is so much else to think about--my kids, my own health, my writing, travel, and politics during this terrible era post-November, 2016.

I haven't gone through her twenty boxes of papers and photos and mementos--they still sit mostly untouched.   I need to do that, but I have postponed it in favor of gardening, cooking, cleaning, reading, blogging, classes, travel, and political demonstrations--in a word, my own life.  Also I was still teaching through June, 2015.

I feel sad when I think of my mother.  There are things I couldn't tell her if she were here. 

There are things she couldn't do because of being wheel-chair bound and being incontinent.  She would want to be fully part of my life and my kids' lives... but it wouldn't be possible.

I love her.  I feel so much compassion for her--she tried so hard, she had so much gumption.  

  • She got out of her small town, Telluride, Colorado. Some didn't.
  • She became an R.N. and served in the Women's Army Corps in World War II.
  • She married and raised four kids.
  • She earned a Master's degree in public health nursing while I was in fifth and sixth grades, writing a thesis on visiting nursing of people with tuberculosis.
  • She taught at Bakersfield Junior College and the University of Maryland.
  • She volunteered with the Red Cross, Meals on Wheels, and visited senior care facilities in Boulder to evaluate them.
  • She completed an autobiography--with my help.
  • She survived two broken hips, ten years apart, as well as multiple embolisms in her fifties.
  • She loved her grandchildren, visiting them and smocking dresses and shirts for them.
  • She cared for her elderly parents.
  • She joined PEO and the DAR in her sixties and seventies.
  • She even took part in a women's circle at church.
  • She cared for her husband until he died at 79, when she was 74.

When I was in my twenties and thirties, and she was in her fifties and sixties, I thought she was so old.  Now I am turning 70 this summer and don't feel a bit old!  I have so many things I want to do before I die--mainly write and travel.

I'm acutely aware of how short my remaining years are.

She was diagnosed with dementia at about 80 years of age... and I'm close to 70.  So I probably have about ten good years at most to do the things I want to do.  That feels short.  I'd rather have twenty good years of reading, writing, traveling, sorting and giving away my belongings.  

Unlike her, I have had breast cancer nearly four years ago and I have atrial fibrillation.

Like her, I am now on a blood thinner.  That's scary--I can't fall and hit my head, but I love to be alone in the mountains hiking.

I just finished reading Being Mortal by Atul Gawande--a powerful experience.  I read it slowly, thoughtfully.

"What makes life worth living when we are old and frail and unable to care for ourselves?" he asks on page 92.

Mom holding up a string of holly with berries, Christmas 2007
Self-actualization, he says, using Maslow's hierarchy of needs.  Those needs change as we age.

By the end of the book, he is discussing "palliative care"--a new term meaning care that focuses on making the most of each day rather than on curing us.  

People still want "the chance to shape one's story," he says, to have some autonomy and control (p. 243).  And to avoid suffering.