February 7, 2008

This One is Called "Marie"

Each event in our lives is treated like a single occurrence. We all conceptualize them differently and look deep within each vignette for meaning. I have an example of what I am trying to say. This was a powerful episode in my life; one I will never forget. However, in all of the pain and anguish I experienced then, there were poetic and heartfelt moments which make the suffering bearable.

Some background information is necessary here. My mother was a fighter. Not in the physical sense. She had to endure pain for most of her adult existence. She battled problems with her back which necessitated at least two surgeries which I can remember; one of them was to fuse her spine. Her numerous ailments over the years loomed ominous and were treated individually by specialist after specialist until the name Systemic Lupus took over and she was treated correctly.

Then there was cancer. She braved chemotherapy and three enormous operations to save her life over the span of ten years. One of her care givers, a physician's assistant told me on the side after her surgery: “Your mother is one brave and tough woman. Really, I’ve never seen anyone fight so hard.

Her last fight came in the hospital following a life saving surgery to remove one of the tumors blocking her small intestine. The danger was she would die during the procedure. The alternative was she would starve to death. Her choice was to have the operation and come out alive.

During recovery, things never looked so grim. On a respirator, she would greet her family with a drowsy nod. We comforted her, staving off the notion that these were her last days. With the fanfare of a minor miracle, she was taken off the respirator the next morning and moved to intensive care. And, with her spirits raised, she proved everyone wrong and was transported to a step-down unit after a week; and then, ultimately, home.

Hospice workers are extraordinary people. Morphine, palliative care, and sun-setting, were all like odd pieces of furniture in our collective family vernacular until we saw them put into practice. Without the compassionate souls from Hospice, our mom would never have had the opportunity to view her garden from her living room window during those last days. We placed the bed there because there was no room in the house put it anywhere else. There had to be space for all of us to move in and about, taking turns at her side, caring for her wants and needs, and ultimately, consoling her. It was the perfect spot, because many of our relatives and friends made the sad journey from all over the country to visit her as she faded.

One scene which sticks out in my mind, which causes me both heartache and a curious sense of emotional gratification, is when our mother’s lifelong friend came to visit her. Two days before mom passed, she was drifting in and out of consciousness. Phone calls were made by all of us to those concerned for her to “get here.” All the way from Nevada, came my mother’s best friend. Mom knew Marie since they were both five years old. We kids called her “Aunt Marie,” and her children were our “cousins.” They shared everything, and were close for as long as each of them could remember. Mom and Marie went from Kindergarten through high school together, got married around the same time, had children, watched their parents die, and became grandparents. All the while their bond never faltered. When Marie moved across the country to be close to her children, they did not lose touch, and they were always on the phone together. The news of mom’s latest situation brought Marie out in a hurry.

By then, mom had no strength. It was all she could do to keep her eyes open. Time was short, and the rest of us were coming to grips with the reality that we would end the week without a mother and her grandchildren would be without their loving grandma. Quietly, Marie and Uncle Bill entered through the front door. Knocking was a mere formality and they never had to do so before. Marie carried herself with a brave face. She put her pocket book on a chair, walked quietly over to mom who was asleep, and took her hand. I was seated on the couch, watching as this reunion was about to take place.

Marie?” Mom’s voice was weak, gravelly, her breathing tortured. “Marie …
Shhh. It’s okay. It’s okay. I’m here.

No one needed to be asked to leave the room. I retreated to the backyard and kept an eye on them through the large bay window mom was situated by. I saw them clutching each other, and sharing private words encoded in a secret language of over sixty years of friendship. There were tears, and I thought at one point I saw mom smile. I watched them. I was a voyeur. Maybe I was trespassing and I didn’t care. This was my mother, and for the last few moments of her life she was able to reconnect with all of us; to stay here for just enough time for her friend to arrive and they could be pals again, children holding hands in the school yard, talking about boys, marriage, children, grandchildren, and finally what Marie was there for.

For me memories are shaped like bubbles; and, from the moment I learned my mother was going to die and up until her last breath, I can pick out small shapes, recollections. Every once in a while I reach out and grasp one and gaze into it like a crystal ball. This one is called Marie.

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Anonymous said...

Very powerful Mike. Once again a truly fine piece of writing. I like your take on memories being bubbles. Your words are very descriptive...I could feel the sadness and tension that accompanies this kind of scenario that you can only write about through personal experience. Well done.
We must have shared an epiphany. My latest post is also about my mother. I swear I had no idea until after I posted it and came to look at your site.
Have a great weekend. Take care my friend.

Kathy said...

I can barely muster a comment through my tears. Mike, thank you again for a wonderful story. I'm lucky enough to also have a friend who I met when I was five years old. Some 40 years later, we are still close. I'm happy to read Marie made it back to see your mother at a critical time. I appreciate how difficult this must have been for you to write, but what a beautiful way to honor your Mother and show us how comfort and compassion enveloped her in her last days. I agree with JD. This was very powerful.

Bob Johnson said...

Wow, very moving story. Brings up emotions and memories for me. It is very tough loosing a loved one, tougher still putting it into words. Thanks for sharing this with us.

Lisa McGlaun said...


The love you have for your family is palpable. I can feel it way out here in...Nevada, just like Marie. This is a special story. Thanks for sharing it. Your writing is so smooth and thoughtful. I really hope you are pursuing some sort of publication.


footiam said...

Life may be filled with pains and suffering but with people like Marie around, it's worth living. There may be sad instances in the past and there's always a tendency to look back. We should look back and see Marie lighting up what could otherwise be a gloomy world.There shouldn't be room for regrets or sadness.

Peter said...

To die with dignity at home amongst family and friends, is all that we ask and hope for.

To be given a chance to say our last good byes to the ones that we love and care for would be the icing on the cake.

I pray and I hope we all get those chances. Thank you for sharing this memory.

I am sorry for your loss.


Mr. Grudge said...

Hi JD,
The fact that we posted pieces about our mothers at the same time is a mere coincidence. Great minds think alike. Yours is a fine poem, full of heart wrenching angst, and I will comment on it properly on your blog.
Two recent events in my life prompted me to write this story. My son has had a terrible time dealing with the loss of his grandma. Although my mother died in August of 2006, he still misses her, and lately, he's been crying about her a lot. This has caused me to reflect on her passing and to visit my feelings and to try to come to grips with what happened. The second event which caused me to write this post is that you presented me with the unconditional friendship award. In reliving the moments leading up to my mothers death, I examined each scene in my mind, imagining them like floating bubble, and I'd step in, allow one to land on the plam of my hand, and then I'd peer into it looking for meaning. The friendship my mom shared with my Aunt Marie was enduring and faithful. It was a blessing to watch them share their final moments together, to witness them say goodbye. I am not ashamed to say that I wept when I wrote this. Thank you for your thoughtful comments about this post, JD. It means a lot. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

P.S. JD, Never mind the typos! -Mike

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Kathy,
I'm sorry I made you cry, Kathy. Yet, I am not ashamed to admit that I cried when I write this. You're lucky to have your life long friend, and my mom was lucky that her friend was able to make it there for them to spend some peaceful time alone together before she died. I miss my mom. I'm sorry, but one of the reasons why it is taking me so long to respond to these generous comments to this post is that it is too emotional to handle right now. Thank you Kathy. I mean it. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Bob,
It means a lot that you come by and read my blog. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, it helps deal with my loss. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Lisa,
I didn't know you were in Nevada? That's so nice. Marie is in Las Vegas. I feel I am able to share stories such as these with my readers because your responses, as generous as they are, force me to choose subject which have meaning to me, and force me to write it the best I am able to. I am trying to get published. I've written three novels, two of which have received sacks of rejection letters. My third one only received six, but I have just started to send it out. This blog helps me hone my skills and the feedback keeps me sharp. Thank you for your kind words, and thank you for reading this post. -Mike

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Footiam, I am grateful for your wise words and thoughtful reflections on my writing. I appreciate you coming by. Thank you. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Peter, Your comments here made me pause and realize that as painful as my mother's last days were, she indeed died with dignity. I want to thank you for providing me with this insight. You've helped me more than you know, and I suppose a health care professional such as you would have the wisdom to see this. Thank you, Peter. -Mike.

Swubird said...

Beautifully written my friend. I could feel your pain as I read through the story.


Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Swubird,
Thank you for reading my post and for the kind comment. Writing this has helped me deal with the loss of my mom. The nice folks who visit here and comment, such as you, have helped me much more. Thank you. -Mike.

Swubird said...

Mr. Grudge:

Thank you very much for the kind review you wrote about my blog at Blog Catalog. Since you're the man when it comes to story telling, plot, intrigue and danger, a compliment from you is truly golden. There's a ot of character in your writing.

Take care & have a nice day.

GO! Smell the flowers said...

Hey congrats to you Mike,

After reading this touching account we wanted to let you know
a Flower Smeller award awaits you over at the community...
Well done!

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Swubird,
I want to thank you for considering me "the man" when it comes to story-telling. However, I only visit and comment on quality blogs. Yours is so interesting, well written, and you interact with your readers. It's difficult to stay away from your stories. You hooked me with your post "The day I had Polio." This was atrue story with a lot of historical fact, and I am a fan of that style of writing. You have a terific blog. Thanks for the kind words and for visiting my blog as often as you do. It is much appreciated. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hello Flower People! I am honored, truly and deeply honored to have been awarded this fine award and given membership in the Flowers Community. I will proudly post the banner on my blog and do the right thing. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! -Mike.

angesbiz said...

Beautiful story Mike. It raised up feelings of love and hope when your mother got to see and speak with her best friend just before passing. Great post!

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Ange,
Thanks for your kind comment. Seeing my mother with her lifelong friend in her final moments somehow eased our pain. My Aunt Marie is very spiritual, and her words to us were soothing as well. Thanks again for reading my post, and I'll see you at Flowers!

AntiBarbie said...

It sounds like your mother had an extraordinarily special friendship. Has your family stayed in contact with hers after your mother's passing?

I'm also very glad your Mother was in a hospice that you felt had a caring staff. I wish I could say that all hospices were the same. I think sometimes the nurses work with the dying for so many years that they become very hardened.

I'm sorry to hear that your son is still struggling a lot with her death. It sounds like they had a very strong bond indeed.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Antibarbie,
Thank you for reading this post. It mean a lot to me. Writing about her death makes it more bearable. We do stay in touch with my mother's friend and her family. She is still in Las Vegas, but they check in on my dad. They've been through too much together to suddenly stop talking. My mom died at home under the care of hospice, the nurses and health aides went to my parent's home to care for her. She was lucky. When my father in law died, he was in the hospital, and he would have done anything to go home. My mother was a loving grandmother to all of her grand kids. My son is the youngest of all of them and does not know how tio deal with his grief and her passing. We've been doing our best, and I've asked for advice, and he's slowly making progress. It's difficult to answer some of his questions, but as parents we must, because if we brush aside his fears and concerns, he'll learn not to tell us anything and that could have tragic results. Thank you for your kind comment, Antibarbie. -Mike.

Arvind said...

Wow Mike!

I am speechless and wordless, but am writing this through misty eyes. What a wonderful experience for your Mum to be able to say her goodbyes to her best friend and her beloved family.

As you know this is a very poignant time for me due to the recent passing away of my father. So thank you for sharing this personal story from your heart.

You have made me want to spend even more time with my mother than before.

Kimchihead said...

Very, very powerful imagery here. It's never easy to say goodbye to an old friend or loved one..

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Arvind,
Thank you for stopping by and reading my story. The loss of your father is obviously very tough for you. It is also apparent that you loved him deeply. Take all the time you need to mourn your dad, and do spend time with your mom. Writing helps me deal with my loss, and you are welcome to come to my blog anytime to express how you feel. Once again, thank you fro taking the time to read my post. Be strong. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Kimchihead,
Thanks for reading my post. You're right, it is never easy dealing with the loss of a loved one. Writing about it helps me deal with my emotions. Your writing is full of emotion, and I appreciate you coming here to read what I have to say. Thank you. -Mike.