Welcome to your favorite blog on death and dying. What can I say?
Here’s something: I have a wonderful family. I’m not sure what happened to the family I grew up in- that dysfunctional mess with divorced parents, the one where we moved every fifteen minutes, and where people just left each other: to go work in another state, to live with a different parent, to fend for themselves at 16. But that family was nowhere in evidence this past week. Instead, I found myself in a family where we are all together, in our love and sorrow. We’ve been generous and flexible and ultimately caring about each other’s feelings and most especially, Bud’s.
My mother died Saturday evening about 10 pm. She had been on a ventilator since her sudden slide a week before- something she always insisted she never wanted. But I now suspect that pre-planning is a wonderful preoccupation for those who are alive and kicking. I think that by the time you’re alive but not kicking the best-laid plans can go to hell in a hand basket, as my grandmother would have said. Who could know that once on the ventilator she would never be strong enough to come off?
Six days of that seemed like an eternity but, in the end, I guess it proved to be the right amount of time for Bud to come to understand that the love of his life was truly gone, at least from that frail and lifeless vessel. In the end, once all of the paraphernalia of the ICU was removed, he was able to sit quietly through one last night and tell her it was okay, she could go and he would go on.
The niche that they carved out for themselves, the one we’ve always referred to as the Jan and Bud Show, was so about the two of them. For years now, it’s been about their powerful love for each other, their love for the environment and nature, their mutual disdain of narrow-minded and shortsighted thinking and their obsession with the viability of the water pump. For years, Bud has been my mother’s guardian and caretaker and his life has moved around the routine of maintaining both her fragile health and razor sharp mind. To turn her over completely to the care of others- doctors and nurses and the Lord above- has been the most difficult thing of his life.
These long days allowed my brother and sisters and I to come together and talk and plan for the days, weeks and months ahead. We got punch drunk with fatigue and laughed and cried inappropriately. We took turns holding up the patient multiple-choice sign, pointed to “I want to be suctioned” and “I want to make a call” and thought it was hysterically funny. On one of the trips between Marquette and Ann Arbor, when I had hit an emotional brick wall, the flight attendant pushed her little beverage cart by and asked if I would like something to drink. This was on the 10 rows SAAB prop plane where every passenger hears every word spoken. I said, I’d like some white wine please and she looked and said, “I’m sorry, we’re out of that.” I collapsed into the most amazing heap of weeping, wailing, shaking and sobbing and couldn’t speak for five minutes as she practically threw other small bottles of liquor at me. All I could do was shake my head in my lap and wail. She served the other somewhat alarmed passengers and came back and said, “Are you sure I can’t get you something else to drink?” I raised my head and said, “Diet Pepsi, please” and I had those trails of snot between my lap and my face.
Betsy and Laurel hung in, day and night, all week long. They ate cafeteria jello and made infrequent trips back to the Holiday Inn, where we concluded it was entirely possible every bed comes complete with it’s own spider. The two of them watched those monitors and took phone calls and played good cop-bad cop with Bud when it came time to make him eat and rest. All with gentle good humor. I’m quite serious when I say that by midweek, I felt as though I had been telling people- or avoiding telling them- for months that my mother was in a coma. We were in some kind of time warp. When I called Betsy Thursday morning I asked, “How is life in the ICU?” and she responded, “Absolutely riveting.”
On Thursday evening they went out and bought a lovely nightgown, robe and slippers for my mother so that, after the end, she could be dressed in more than a hospital gown. When I spoke with Bud he talked about how beautiful she was the last time he saw her. My sisters were my heroes last week and for the foreseeable future.
Now Bud is back at Lost Loon Lodge, with the cats and his memories of my mother. Laurel and her husband and son are with him until Rich and I relieve them mid-week. When we talked with Bud yesterday he sounded wounded but whole. He and Daniel talked about fishing together as soon as the weather allows and he was able to say, “I’m going to need some company, some help.”
When spring comes to the Keweenaw we will have a memorial service. I’ll share my mother’s obituary with you in the next few days because she was truly a woman of many achievements and leaves a wonderful legacy. As of yesterday, we were still trying to remember her father’s middle name- somehow, we all drew a blank on that one. His first name was Richard so I suggested Milhouse but no one bought that.
Other than that, life goes on. I am thankful for her peace, sorry for myself that I am a motherless child and more sorry for Bud. I’m in love with my husband and children and the family I grew up in, more than ever.
Our next door neighbor, a delightful and distinguished retired physician, came over yesterday to offer condolences and departing, looked at McCloud and said, “Well, it will be nice to have a litter of kittens; she looks due any time now.” McCloud, being the affable guy that he is, wasn’t the least bit offended.