For Whom the Bell Tolls, Part III

It was a sad week last week.

It was the eight year anniversary of my father’s death. It was also the eight year anniversary of the death of Lea’s father. He died exactly one month before my dad. Hard to believe that much time has passed by so quickly.

I lost both of my parents in May. My dad at the beginning of the month. My mom at the end of the month. It’ll be twelve years this year.

My mom was diagnosed with cancer in October of 2006. Eight months later she was dead. My dad had suffered from a laundry list of ailments for years. He had stuff standing in line waiting to kill him. In the end, it was his heart. It was the only thing we didn’t expect.

I miss talking to my dad. He was a funny guy. But I miss everything about my mom.

* * * *

If you live long enough, you might reach a point where you have more friends that are dead than living. I might be there right now. It’s hard to say. I have a long list of people I knew who are no longer among the living.

One of my former patients had that happen to her. She had four great female friends. They went to school together. They stayed close even after they all got married, and had kids. And all that stuff.

They had a catchy name for themselves, but I can’t remember it anymore. They had Girl’s Night Out. Girl’s Weekend Getaways. Sometimes they took vacations together to get away from their families and decompress.

“We used to have so much fun together. And then I woke up one day, and I realized that I was the only one left. That was five years ago. I’ve been depressed ever since. Then I started drinking. I hardly leave my house now. That’s why I decided to come to the hospital. I just don’t have the energy to fight it anymore…”

* * * *

Last week, Jim Ryan passed away.

When we came here the first time to visit Phyllis, she introduced us to her circle of friends. From my perspective at the time, she was the common thread, so I called her group The Phyllistines.

There’s another name for the group. The Usual Suspects.

That’s how we met Jim and his wife, Ronni. Well, that’s how we met almost everyone we know here.

Jim was an interesting man. People who knew him better than I did might say he liked to argue. He was an attorney, so it’s what he did for a living. Arguing creates the wrong impression in my mind. Jim liked to debate.

“Hey, I ran into a friend of yours the only day.”

“Really? Which one? I have a lot of friends.”

“He was a short guy. Kinda bald. He had a camera. I think his name was Mark.”

“Yes, I know a guy who matches that description. He’s been over to our house several times. I’ve been to his house a couple of times. But are we friends? That might be open to speculation or interpretation. We don’t really know each other that well, so…  How do you define friendship?”

That conversation is a figment of my imagination, but I know this would have been true: If I somehow found myself in a situation that I couldn’t handle on my own, Jim would’ve been the first person to say, What can I do to help you, my friend.

He had also been a political lobbyist. Unlike me, when Jim talked politics, he knew what he was talking about. He was probably the only man I know that when he talked, I felt I should be taking notes.

Jim was a wise and wonderful man. He loved dogs and children. Anyone who has that on their resumé should get a warm welcome at the Pearly Gates. Jim was incredibly generous, especially when it came to children. He used to buy Christmas presents for all the children at one of the local orphanages every year. He opened the doors to his house and hosted celebrations for everyone in his neighborhood.

Jim’s health started deteriorating about a year and a half ago. He never really fully recovered once that process started, but he didn’t let it stop him. He adjusted and adapted to the things he could no longer do, and kept doing the things that he could.

In true fashion, he was pragmatic about the whole thing.

“Forty is a tough age for men. Lots of us drop dead when we hit forty. If you survive your forties, you’ll probably live to be sixty. That’s another tough age. But if you survive your sixties, you’ll probably live to be eighty. And after that, you’re just living on borrowed time.”

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I think Jim was 79. He knew that his time had come, and chose to exit with grace and dignity. As the song goes, he did it his way.

Vaya con Dios, amigo. Maybe we’ll meet again someday. I’d like that.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

It’s been a quiet week here in the Lakeside area. My golf wife, Phyllis, is in Phoenix, so it’s even quieter than usual. She’ll be back on Friday, so maybe we can get a couple of rounds in before she takes off on her next adventure.

Thank God I have Facebook to keep my life interesting.

One of my real friends is getting married in about a month. She’s been having wedding showers, and she’s really happy and excited! I used to work with her. She was one of the best nurses I ever worked with, but I won’t be going to her wedding. She’s getting married in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, which is almost impossible to get to from where we live in Mexico.

Seriously. If we took the bus, it’d take three days to get there. If we drove, it’d be about a fourteen hour drive. Neither my lovely supermodel wife nor I have any desire to spend that much time in a car on Mexican roads.

The easiest way to get there from here is to fly to Phoenix, then drive back down into Mexico to go to the wedding. Then we’d have to drive back up to Phoenix to fly back to Guadalajara. At any rate, it’s too complicated and too expensive for us this year. I waited until the last possible minute to call her to let her know we weren’t coming. I think she took it better than I did.

Back when I was a nurse, if I needed some extra cash all I had to do was pick up an extra shift or two. Now that I’m retired, I suppose I could pick up an extra shift of doing nothing, but I don’t get paid anything extra for it…

Another one of my real friends just broke off her engagement. I think she found out her fiance cheated on her. On the bright side, I won’t have to call her to tell her I won’t be coming to her wedding…

Yes, it is all about me.

That’s actually kind of funny because this blog is probably the only area in my life where my opinion is actually a factor.

Two of my virtual friends are traveling in Africa. One is in Nigeria, the other is in Ghana. Well, they were my virtual friends. They asked me to send them money, and I had to say no to them. I did what any good virtual friend would do, and wished them the best of success. And I added I’d say a prayer for them. Neither of them were very pleased with my response, so I suggested they learn how to speak Swahili.

I haven’t heard from either of them since.

One of my virtual friends is a nursing student who was possibly being evicted from her apartment. She also wanted money from me, and I haven’t heard from her either ever since I told her no.

One of my virtual friends is working in the Ukraine. His wife died from cancer, and his daughter is in school in England. We probably aren’t virtual friends anymore either because he wanted me to buy him an iTunes card so he could talk to his daughter, and I don’t do that either.

Why not? You can buy them at any store all over the world! he replied. So I pointed out to him there were probably a lots of stores in the Ukraine. He could buy one himself.

I’m pretty much immune to these kinds of requests from people I don’t actually know. I was a psych nurse. I’ve heard every sob story known to man. And woman. Twice. And there was a very interesting thing I learned about people. People lie, or at the very least, distort the truth all the time.

As a result, I tend not to believe anything my virtual friends tell me until it can be corroborated by a second party. We used to do that all the time in Psychiatry. We were like unto cops. We would call family members, employers, landlords, roommates… Seeing how I can’t easily do that now, I’m probably not a very good virtual friend to have if you actually need any help.

Another one of my virtual friends got dead. She was about ten years younger than me. She has a daughter who is probably twelve or thirteen years old. Alicia worked at a healthcare facility on an Indian reservation in Montana. She was being treated for a heart condition, and had been posting about all of her frustrations regarding her treatment and how lousy she felt, and how she just wanted to feel better and live her life again.

Vaya con Dios, Alicia. I hope you’re finally at peace.

* * * *

We put our kit-ten down a couple of weeks ago. Her advanced age finally caught up with her, so we asked Dr Betty if she would make a house call. We didn’t want to put Samantha through any more stress than necessary. Dr Betty graciously agreed.

That was a very sad day.

I think we’re getting used to the fact that we don’t have a kit-ten anymore. I cleared out Sam’s office, removing her litter box, food bowls and water fountain. But we still look for her, and Lea misses her, especially at night.

Like a lots of cats, Sam slept in our bed. She would cuddle up next to Lea and rest her head on Lea’s arm like unto a pillow. She would purr contentedly and they would sleep like that all night.

Back when Lea used to travel for work, Sam would sleep in bed with me, but she never rested her head on my arm. We were friends, but we weren’t that close.

I sat on the couch next to wife the other day. I hadn’t done that since we moved to Mexico. Sam had essentially claimed the other cushion of the sofa as hers. Maybe one of these days I’ll remember there’s no longer a cat sleeping on the couch and sit there again someday.

We won’t have to share our food with the cat anymore, and Lea won’t have to wonder if what she’s cooking is something kit-tens will like. We won’t have to make sure we bring something home for Sam if we go out to eat.

We’ve talked about getting another cat. Lea even went to the Cat Orphanage in Ajijic last week to look at cats. She’s not ready for another kit-ten yet. Probably later this year, maybe in October. That’s my prediction.

* * * *

I know I react differently to death than normal people do. Part of the reason for that is what I did for a living. Nurses have to deal with death more frequently than most people do on a daily basis.

Yeah, you kind of get used to it in a way.

This is not to say that I haven’t been deeply affected by losing someone in my life. I have been a total emotional basketcase because of a loss for extended periods of time. Like, you know, a decade or more. The extravagance of my reactions has given me reason to question my sanity more than once.

Another part of the reason is my Christian beliefs. If we’re all going to resurrected someday, then I’ll see all of my dead family members and friends again eventually. And then I can tell them how pissed I was at them for dying. In all honesty, I still want to kick my mom’s ass for dying the way she did.

But mostly, I think it’s the whole grieving process. I fucking hate it. And that’s the most honest reason I can give you.

I’m not comfortable feeling uncomfortable. It just doesn’t work for me anymore. I’m not sure if it ever worked for me, but I know enough about me to know I’m a total wuss when it comes to being overly emotional about…anything. I can work through all five steps in the Grief and Loss process in about twenty minutes. And then I’m done.

Be that as it may, I still miss Samantha. I see her sometimes out of the corner of my eye. But it’s not her. It’s something else, and that sucks.

Last night when we were going to bed, I turned off the lights in the living room. And I found myself in front of Sam’s cushion on the couch. I reached down to pet her, and there she was, lifting her head, craning her neck so I would scratch the right part of her ears. And she purred contentedly.

She seemed to be happy and healthy once more. That made me smile.

Vaya con Dios, Samantha Rachel. You really were the best kit-ten buddy ever. I hope there are a lots of lizards to chase in Kit-ten Heaven. And maybe I’ll see you again someday, too.

Divine Intervention

Hola, amigos.

I’d apologize for not writing more often, but I have no regrets about not writing, so I won’t. I hate receiving insincere apologies, so I hate giving them, too. I’ve been busy working on my golf swing with my golf wife. Judging by our scores, we’ll both be busy refining that aspect of our games for awhile.

If you thought this story was going to be about the miraculous hole in one I shot the last time I played, you’re going to be disappointed. Not as disappointed as I was, but still…

I’m not sure why I love doing something I’m so mediocre at, but life is full of mysteries. Golf is but one of them. I might feel the same way about bowling, but there aren’t any bowling alleys here, so I can’t fall in love with bowling.

I broke down and joined the Chapala Country Club a couple of weeks ago. I was spending roughly the amount of my monthly dues there anyhow, so it seemed like the thing to do.

I hear membership has its privileges, but I have no idea what they might be. I got a membership packet when I joined, but I haven’t read it. I figure if there’s something important, Phyllis will tell me. Phyllis is my golf wife, and she reads instructions.

And there’s our Spanish lessons. I think I’m picking up Spanish about as quickly as I’m improving in golf.

There are basically three types of gringos here. The ones who spoke Spanish before they got here. The ones who have no intention of learning Spanish, and act like fools when they go to the Telmex® office. And then there’s the ones like us who feel they have an obligation to learn the language of their new home.

We’re probably the minority of those three.

Poco y pinche poco. It’s a slow process, and frustrating at times. But it’s not like I have all that much on my schedule anymore. And the money we pay to learn Spanish is donated to help pay medical expenses for needy children.

As Lea says, at least someone is getting something out it.

* * * *

How’s everyone doing?

Life is still pretty sweet down here south of the border. It’s been chilly enough for us to use the fireplace, but seeing how someone who reads this might have actually frozen their ass off this winter, I’m not going to make too big a deal about the weather.

I’m still not sure how we ended up here when we did, so I tend to attribute wondrous things I can’t understand to God. If I didn’t believe in God I might attribute them to our cat, but I’ve never seen her do anything I could remotely call miraculous, so that’s too much of a stretch even for me.

I’m not sure I’ve ever outlined the chain of events that led us here in my blog. I’ve told the story a lots of times, and I’m too lazy to go back and read through my previous posts to find out…

I’m pretty sure all of this started when we moved from Minnesota to Arizona in 2007. My lovely supermodel wife became Phyllis’ boss. Phyllis, as in my current golf wife, Phyllis. Lea and Phyllis worked together for several years and eventually became good friends. In 2012, Phyllis and her husband, Max, were getting ready to retire. They were thinking about North or South Carolina because they were big NASCAR fans, and there’s a lots of race tracks in that part of the country.

Max has a brother, Rick. Rick was living in Ajijic, and he suggested Max and Phyllis come check the place out before they moved to either of the Carolinas. And that was the end of that plan. Max fell in love with Mexico. When Phyllis returned to work, she put in her notice, and my wife just about had a heart attack. Six weeks later, Max and Phyllis jumped in their car, and their retirement days began.

And that was almost the end of this story, except Phyllis sent Lea an email at work long after she moved away, I think it was 2014. A lots had happened in a couple years. Max had died. Phyllis missed her friend, and really wanted Lea to come visit her. After multiple invitations, we decided to check the place out in September of 2015, and flew to Guadalajara.

Phyllis had a little party for us while we were visiting. We met all of her best friends, and we listened to the promotional speeches they gave about why we should move to Mexico. We liked the Lakeside area. It was as pretty as a picture. However, at that time, neither of us were thinking about retiring, not for several years at least. And neither of us had even remotely considered retiring in Mexico. But it was certainly something to consider.

And then a whole lots of kooky things happened in rapid succession. In February of 2016, Lea’s company went through a major reorganization, and Lea found out she was going to be reorganized out of her job.

Just. Like. That.

Thanks for all your hard work and dedication. Please clear out all of your personal belongings by the end of business today.

Lea called her daughter, Gwen, who just happens to be our financial planner, and Gwen crunched some numbers. Gwen told her mother based on our savings and our Social Security income, Lea didn’t need to work anymore if she didn’t want to. And by virtue of that fact, neither did I. That memory still makes me smile.

It was at that precise moment that moving to Mexico started looking like a very real possibility.

Lea called Phyllis and they would have a lots of conversations over the next several months. Phyllis was instrumental in helping us navigate the obstacles of moving to a foreign country. Additionally, our landlord, Planet Janet, and all of Phyllis’ friends have been a great resource in assisting us in our transition. We haven’t had to face most of the pitfalls many expats run into when they move here.

Getting back to my story, we put our dream house in Surprise on the market and sold it in seven days.

Lea flew to Mexico and found a very spacious rental house three doors down from Casa del Phyllis. And she met Janet, who has become one of my favorite people.

The Mexican Moving Company came and packed up all our stuff, and headed south.

We rented a condo about five miles from the hospital I worked at and stayed there for three months until I retired at the end of September. Our furniture was waiting for us in our house when we arrived.

Everything that happened in this process fell into place so neatly. If we had planned it for years, it still wouldn’t have happened so perfectly. It was that slick.

Some might say it was nothing more than a series of coincidences. But I tend not to believe in coincidence. I’m more of an everything happens for a reason kind of guy. Besides, it’s more romantic when there’s a reason.

And that’s how we ended up in Mexico. I had a vague feeling something devastating was going to happen, you know, like unto a natural disaster. The Yellowstone Supervolcano was going to explode. That’s why we needed to get out of the US as quickly as we did.

Yeah, that didn’t happen. See? Still not a prophet…

Also, the fact that nothing terrible happened has left me wondering why we needed to get here so quickly. Well, Trump was elected President…  And however tragic I might view his election, it still wouldn’t have added up to anything equalling imminent danger to myself or Lea.

I’m not complaining about being here. I’m merely curious about the why.

Lea says that God is blessing us with this time together because we worked hard and we’ve been granted some peace and relaxation time.

It makes more sense than the volcano thing…

* * * *

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that almost everyone that believes in God has a Divine intervention story, and if it weren’t for God, they wouldn’t be here right now. We have, all of us believers, certainly prayed for divine intervention for any number of reasons.

Health. Illness. Love. Relationships. Life. Death.

The Bible is full of stories about God interceding for his people. There’s a lots of stories about prayers being answered by God and lives being changed for generations. I might write more about those someday. I spend more time thinking about that kind of stuff than anything else.

Lea’s not a big fan of my spiritual/ religious ramblings. She thinks it makes me appear, you know, crazy.

When I was a nurse, I used to pray for my patients. I used to pray for personal patience, understanding, and wisdom. When I was drunk I used to pray for a life changing intervention. Or death. And then I realized that’s one prayer that will always be granted, eventually.

It just never happens at the moment that you’re praying for it.

I see a lots of divine intervention in my sobriety. I doubt it’s an achievement I could have done on my own. Something greater than myself or my addiction came into play, and without that, I shudder to think what my life would be like now.

You can think what you like. For me, God saved my life, though I often wonder why He chose to do so.

* * * *

If you know me personally, or follow me on Facebook, you know my lovely supermodel wife and I are Minnesota Vikings fans. The Vikings had a very good season and are in the playoffs this year.

If you know anything about the Vikings history, you know the Vikings haven’t had the best results in playoffs. I have drowned many gridiron sorrows back in my drinking days, and celebrated scores of regular season wins. The Vikings have been to the NFC Championship game ten times. They’ve been NFC Champions four times. In their four Super Bowl appearances, they’ve come away with exactly zero Lombardi Trophies.

Divine intervention hasn’t been on the Vikings side in the playoffs. Miraculous plays always happened to the other team. But all that changed last Sunday night when the Vikings came from behind to beat the New Orleans Saints by scoring a 61 yard touchdown with ten seconds left on the clock.

The Vikings played a perfect first half, scoring seventeen points and shutting out the Saints. The Vikings defense was stellar, intercepting Drew Brees twice and keeping two of the best running backs in the game out of the end zone.

The second half was another story. The Saints scored twenty four points. The Vikings only six, and with twenty five seconds left in the game, the Vikings were down by one, and their season was about to end.

Lea and I were devastated. I was trying to figure out if we had enough medications to successfully overdose.

And then came the Minneapolis Miracle.

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For once, God decided to favor the Vikings. For a brief moment, Jesus wore a Vikings uniform, and as Stefon Diggs trotted into the end zone, there was surprise and disbelief, then jubilation! Even the players couldn’t believe what happened. You can Google® it if you haven’t seen it. It really was incredible. And beautiful.

On Sunday, the Vikings play the Eagles for the NFC Championship. The winner goes to the Super Bowl, which will be played in Minneapolis this year. The Vikings might be the first NFL team to play a Super Bowl in their own stadium.

It could happen. Hopefully, they won’t need any miracles to beat the Eagles because there were at least three miracles involved in the winning touchdown play last Sunday. It was kind of an Angels in the Outfield thing. Seriously.

I’m not sure how much more miracles they have left.

I don’t know how much God has to do with the outcomes of football games. Personally, I’d think he’d have bigger fish to fry. But if God truly orchestrated a miracle or three to beat the Saints, then please keep the miracles coming for two more games.

I’ve never prayed for something as trivial as a football victory before. Like I said, I think God has better things to do, but I’m going to pray for not one, but two more wins for the Vikings this season. Let there be any number of miracles, and let the Vikings win just one Super Bowl, before I die.

Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed to any of us. Just because the Vikings had a great season this year doesn’t mean they’ll have an equally impressive season next year.

I’m not getting any younger, so they might as well do it now.

In Memoriam

Mother’s Day is almost upon us. I decided I’d try to write about my mom, but it hasn’t been easy. I have a million memories of my mom, but I’m thinking mostly about her death today. She died at the end of this month in 2007, and this year will mark​ ten years since her death.

You’d think this subject would get easier over time. I thought it would, until I started writing about it. I’ve had to chop this into very small bites, with a whole lots of breaks in between. At the rate this is going, I might be finished by Mother’s Day. Next year.

* * * *

It was in October of 2006. I think it was a Friday. I got a phone call at work from my youngest sister, Julie. My work day at the MVAMC was almost over, and I was checking my notes at the nursing station. Our mom had been visiting our oldest sister, Colleen, in Montana. Julie had gone to the airport to pick up our mom, but there was something wrong with our mother.

“She’s really confused and acting strange.” Julie said.

“Is she drunk?” I asked. My mom had been sober for at least ten years, but she could have had a relapse. I did, maybe a month before all of this happened.

“No. She’s just weird. I want to take her to the ER.”

“Do that. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” I replied, then called my lovely supermodel wife to let her know we’d be taking an unplanned trip to St Cloud. I’m sure my memories of this are muddled, but I know I had a bad feeling about this situation, and I’m sure I tried to tell Lea that as we raced up Highway 10 to the St Cloud Hospital.

I think this is what I really said.

“My mom has cancer.”

* * * *

I wasn’t an Oncology nurse, or even a Med/Surg nurse. I was a Psych nurse, so you might think I would’ve thought my mom had had a psychotic break, not cancer. And you might wonder how I came up with that diagnosis when it was so far out of my wheelhouse, so to speak.

My mom smoked cigarettes, and she had smoked for something like unto sixty years. You hardly have to be a medical professional to know that smoking is bad for you. And I might be wrong about this, but one of the first major lawsuits against Big Tobacco was filed by a nurse, and in her sworn testimony, she stated she had no idea that smoking was harmful. If that is correct, she has to be the most stupidest fucking douchebag nurse, ever.

I already knew what the ER doc was going to say before I ever saw him. Be that as it may, I have to admit I was stunned to hear his pronouncement when he showed me my mother’s CT scan.

The first stage of the Grief and Loss process is denial…

“You’re the nurse in the family, right? Okay, well, the news I’ve got for you isn’t good. Your mother has lung cancer. She has a nodule in her lung, right there. Normally, we’d need to do a biopsy to be sure, but that’s not all. There’s another one right here, in her liver. Once cancer metastasizes there, well, I probably don’t have to tell you how bad that is. The oncologist can tell you more, but from my experience, your mom has about six months to live. Probably less.”

“What’s causing her confusion?” I asked. I think I saw my mom before I met with the doctor, and my sister wasn’t joking about mom being confused. She didn’t seem to have any idea where she was.

“Oh. That’s from SIADH.” he replied, like I’d know what the hell he was talking about. I didn’t.  So he tried explaining it to me. I tried to comprehend what he said, but even after his explanation, I still didn’t understand what he was saying. I would have to call my nursing buddy, Don Nelson, for some clarification. He had worked in ICU, and he was the only person I could think of who might be able to translate this into understandable terms, but even his explanation left me confused.

If you want to try to understand this, you’re going to have to Google it, and even that may not help. I don’t think it helped me much. This surpassed me, and it confused me almost as much as it did my mom.

Even now, I doubt I’d understand it any better. The only thing I’ve been able to come up with is something like unto this: it’s probably similar to what happens when an elderly person gets an UTI. Somehow, a bladder infection more or less scrambles their brains. Treat the infection, and they’re better in a couple of days. So, I figured that would happen with my mom.

It didn’t.

* * * *

My mom was admitted to the hospital so she could be monitored and treated with Lasix to get rid of some of the excess fluid in her body, and then, hopefully, she’d be less confused. That’s what the nurses said, and they were confident she’d be better in a couple of days.

I can’t remember how many of my siblings were at the hospital that day, but we helped mom get settled into her room. She didn’t seem to be the least bit concerned about being in the hospital. All she cared about was her purse, and going to the bathroom, and the first thing she did once she was in the bathroom was light up a cigarette.

She was so pissed when I took her cigarettes from her and gave them to the nurses, she wouldn’t let me kiss her goodbye.

I probably had to work that weekend. I had every other weekend off, and I know I would’ve been with my mom if I wasn’t working. She was released from the hospital on Sunday. I think Lea and I took another trip to my parents’ house. The Lasix didn’t appear to have made much difference. My mom seemed to be every bit as confused as she had been on Friday.

I have a vague memory of my mother when she returned home. She was sitting on the couch, so I sat down next to her and held her hand. Then I smiled, and said softly, “You realize that you’re fucking up everything, don’t you.”

“Yeah, I probably am. Your father was supposed to die first.”

* * * *

I know my dad asked me to be present when they met with the oncologist. After all, I was a nurse, and if anyone would understand what was going to be said, it was probably me. My dad wasn’t very medically attuned. He rarely listened to his own doctors, so why would he start listening to his wife’s doctor? Plus, my dad was essentially deaf in one ear, and he couldn’t hear so good out of the other one.

The oncologist was a nice guy from India. He outlined his plan of attack, but what surprised me the most was he seemed to think he could save my mother’s life, which I thought was a total crock of shit.

“Your mother needs this treatment, and she’ll get better as long as she stays on it. If she doesn’t agree to the chemo, or if she decides to stop treatment, she’ll be dead in two weeks.” And then he left the room while I discussed the options with my parents.

“Realistically, the best this guy’s gonna be able to do is extend her life for a few months.” I told my mom and dad.

“Well, I’m not ready to let her go.” my dad said.

“I don’t think any of us are ready for that, but it’s not your decision, or my decision. It’s her decision, as long as she understands what she’s doing.” I said, then turned to my mom.  “Mom, do you understand what the doctor said?”

“Yeah, I think so. I have cancer, and I’m going to die.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty much it. The only question is, do you want to go through chemo or not. It’ll keep you alive a bit longer, but there are a whole slew of potentially serious side effects from the treatment. This doctor thinks he’s going to cure you, but I don’t think he’s being very realistic. I think the best he’ll be able to do is keep you alive a bit longer, and you might spend most of that time feeling sicker than a dog.”

“But the doctor said he thought he could cure your mother,” my dad said. “And you’re just a psychiatric nurse.”

“Fair enough.” I replied. “But if this guy thinks he’s going to cure Mom, he’s fucking crazy. Mom has metastatic cancer, it’s already in her liver, and God knows where else it’s spread to. This is not going to be a life saving intervention, Dad.” I looked him squarely in the eyes until that sunk in, then turned to my mom. “But it’s your decision, Mom. I hope you can understand your options, and if you do, we’re going to support you, no matter what you decide.”

“What do you think I should do?”

“I can’t advise you what to do.” I replied, and I turned my gaze to the floor. I may have held my breath. She turned to my dad. “What do you think?”

“I don’t want to lose you, ever.”

“Okay. I think I know what I want to do. I’ll try the chemo.”

* * * *

To be honest, I’m not sure if any of that actually happened, other than the visit. I don’t have any clear recollection of the conversations we had. Whatever it was that was actually said, my mom seemed to be able to understand the situation, and she opted for the chemo. That was good enough for me. We called the doctor back into the office and let him know.

* * * *

If you never had the opportunity to meet my mom, you would have loved her. Sally as a good old gal. She’s one of the few people I’ve known that everybody loved. She was smart and sassy, and sharp witted. She was a dynamo, always doing something, always working a project or two.

And then, in seemingly one day, that person vanished, like unto a magic trick gone terribly wrong. The person she once was made sporadic visits over the following months, but those visits were brief. What I remember most was my mom sitting silently on the couch, staring out the window at nothing, or playing with the remote control, flipping through the channels without watching anything.

One of the local hospice programs came over to do an assessment, and they were critical in helping us manage my mother’s care at home. I cannot thank them enough for everything they did for us.

They set up a pain management program for my mom that was miraculously effective. Prior to that, it was a goddamn nightmare. We had to buy a lock box to put her pain meds in, or she would’ve taken all of them at once. The hospice program also set up an adjustable bed in the living room, and that’s where my mom slept. She would fall asleep watching TV, and that was the only time she stopped clicking through the channels.

According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, there are five stages in the Grief and Loss process. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I know we all got together as a family to discuss what we going to do once we all found out our mom was ruining everything by dying. I didn’t have a lots to say, but I offered a brief rundown of Grief and Loss, and asked everyone to remember that our emotions were going to be all over the map.

“It’s not a linear progression, you bounce back and forth, and it can take a long time to work through.”

As a family, we decided to do whatever we had to to take care of our parents. My mom had taken care of our dad forever. Healthwise, my dad was pretty much a trainwreck, and all of us thought he’d be the first to check out. Even him. There was no way he could suddenly become mom’s caretaker.

We had a meeting in the dining room at our parents’ house to discuss our plan of attack. It led to the most memorable reappearance of ​my mom that I remember during those days. As we were discussing how we were going to care for Mom and Dad, and make sure they could stay in their house, my mom got up from the couch and walked into the dining room.

“If you’re planning on putting me in a nursing home, I’ll kill each and every one of you fuckers!” she said. There was real fire in her eyes.

“Mom, we’re not going to do that. We’re trying to find a way to take care of you here, at home.” everyone replied at once.

“Oh. Well, okay then.” she replied, and returned to staring aimlessly out the window from the couch.

After we all stopped laughing, two of my sisters, Denise and Julie, would walk point, so to speak. They lived the closest to our parents. They would manage everything Monday through Friday. The rest of us would fill in when we could, and on the weekends.

* * * *

Sally would go through two rounds of chemo before she decided enough was enough. It would take seven months for the cancer inside of her to kill her to death, but my mom essentially died in October, leaving a shadow figure of the person she’d once been.

We got to spend one last Thanksgiving together, one last Christmas. One more New Year’s Eve, and we got to celebrate her birthday in February. I wish I could say these were happy, joyous occasions. I don’t remember them that way. I’m not sure anyone in my family does.

My mom was drastically different in personality, and then in physical appearance. The chemo changed her so much. By the time she got dead, she was hardly recognizable as the person I knew as my mom.

It’s beyond ironic. I know people who suddenly lost their mother who wish they would’ve gotten an extra six months of time. For me, I’d probably swap places with them.

* * * *

My mom loved Perry Como. I bought a couple of his CD’s, and played them over and over on the weekends I spent as caregiver in Little Falls. Taking care of my parents wasn’t physically demanding. Our duties as caregivers mostly entailed cleaning the house, doing laundry, and cooking meals–and making sure my mom didn’t accidentally walk out the door and wander off.

As a nurse, I had cared for a lots of patients who were dying, but none of them had been my mom. I had no idea how emotionally exhausting it would be. I remember returning home from those weekends being too exhausted to even cry.

I remember one weekend clearly. I was semi-asleep on the couch. My mom was sound asleep on the hospital bed. It was about 3:00 AM, when I heard this:

“BILLY MAYS HERE, FOR OXICLEAN!” 

I just about had a fucking heart attack. I leapt off the couch, and fumbled around, trying to find my glasses. Once I could see again, I located the remote and turned the TV off.

“Hey!” my mom said, sitting up in bed. “I was watching that!”

* * * *

Times of crisis bring out the best, and worst, in people. And sometimes within five minutes of each other. It’s a good thing I had quit drinking before this happened. Otherwise, my reactions wouldn’t have been pretty…  As it turned out, the collective reactions of my family certainly had their ugly moments.

Watching our mother die took a toll on all of us. My youngest brother, Bob, couldn’t take it, and asked to be taken out of the caregiver rotation. My brother, John, couldn’t even come to grips with the fact that our mom was going to die. I can’t remember if he ever attempted any caregiver roles.

I don’t hold that against him. It wasn’t an easy task. I don’t hold what he couldn’t do against him. It’s what he did, and what he did was criticize everything the rest of us did while he drank himself into an ambulatory coma. I don’t hold his drinking against him. Drinking was pretty much the only coping strategy my family had. There was a whole lots of drinking going on during that time. If I hadn’t quit drinking before my mother died, I might be drinking still.

I remember spending a lots of time trying to reason with my unreasonable brother. And I was not always gracious, nor very professional, in my sometimes not so private interactions with John.

For that, I am eternally embarrassed, and very sorry.

About the time that my mother was dying, my lovely supermodel wife got a job offer in Phoenix, AZ. I encouraged her to accept the offer. If the position worked out, it would be a great opportunity for her. As for me, I needed to get as far away from my brother as I could.

For the longest time, all I wanted to do was kill him.

I’m better now, and I probably won’t kill my brother if I ever see him again. But I’m not going to lie. It’d probably be better if we never saw each other again.

* * * *

My mother endured two rounds of chemo. I think the side effects were worse for her the second time around, maybe. They certainly were for me. My mother no longer resembled herself. She had gained what looked like one hundred pounds on her tiny frame, and her face was bloated. As terrible as this is going to sound, she looked like Jabba the Hutt’s wife.

Her oncologist was right about one thing. She died two weeks after stopping her chemo treatments. Her condition rapidly deteriorated. Lea and I drove up to Little Falls to see her before she died, but she had already slipped into something like unto a coma by the time we arrived.

I held her hand, and told her all the things a mom would want to hear. And then we drove home. And went back to our life, and our respective jobs. And waited.

* * * *

My mother died early in the morning on May 28, 2007. It was the Memorial Day weekend. I worked a twelve hour shift on Friday, a double shift on Saturday and Sunday, and another twelve hours on Monday. I was at work when my dad called at around 5:00 AM.

“I just wanted to let you know your mother is gone. And I knew you’d be awake.”

We talked for a few minutes, there wasn’t a whole lots to say. I wasn’t the only person on my unit that lost someone that weekend. One of the nurses lost her mother-in-law. Another lost her cousin. Bad things happen in threes…

I took a break after talking to my dad. I went outside. The birds were chirping, the sun was starting to come up, a gray-blue light filled the sky. I looked up, and three Canada geese flew overhead. They honked, as if saying goodbye, and disappeared from view.

* * * *

I did my mother’s eulogy. I’m not going to repeat it here, but it was beautiful. Lea and I stayed at the Country Inn Suites in Little Falls. I had a dream about my mom the morning of her funeral.

She was driving our old car, a faded green 1963 Chevy Impala station wagon. My mom learned to drive when we were living in Modesto, CA. She drove that station wagon when we moved from California to North Dakota. When we  arrived in Grand Forks, she handed my dad the keys and never drove again. As the car neared me in my dream, she rolled down the window, and waved as she drove past. And then I woke up.

“Really? That’s how you’re going to say goodbye!” I said to the ceiling of our room. “Couldn’t you have at least stopped? At the very least, couldn’t you have found a nicer car?”

* * * *

It’s been almost ten years. I miss my mom. I’m sure I always will.

Wherever she is, I hope she’s at peace. And I hope she’s driving a better car.