Love Letter to my Momma

I am beginning to not like the phone.  The phone is not my friend anymore.  As I was leaving work, my sister calls to say, “Hurry Gretchen.”  Is today the day you are leaving us Mom?  “Lord,” I pray, “please Lord, let me make it to the hospital on time.”

After consulting with the family, the doctors are removing tubes and medicines from you Momma.  They fully expected you to fade away quickly.  Your BP immediately dropped by half.  But those doctors don’t know you, Mom, like we do.  You stabilized yourself and kept whispering, “I love you, I love you all.”  Then you started saying your prayers.  I really think you were saying the rosary.  And, of course, you were talking to your deceased children, Donna and Eric.  You will be seeing them soon, Mom.  I know you miss them so much, and we had you far longer than we could have ever imagined.  We are at peace with letting you go.  But it still hurts, DAMMIT!  (That brings a laugh.  DAMMIT was your favored curse word.  I think that was the first word all of us kids muttered.)

We are all in your hospital cubicle, Momma, up here in SCU at West Jefferson Hospital.  The staff is the most wonderful staff in the world.  They had all been celebrating your fighting spirit and your will to live.  They are all as heartbroken as us.  We are watching every breath you take.  We are watching the monitors.  Surprise, surprise, your BP climbs a bit and your oxygen is at 100%.  Every little sound you utter we jump up and surround you.  Please Momma, please, open your eyes one more time.  I have got to see your eyes open one more time.  Nothing.  The priest visited earlier to give you your Last Rites, and that seemed to be the end for you.

Late at night, everyone has gone home except me & Paw (my most wonderful step-dad of 31 years).  I feel a sneeze coming on.  I always said I had a sneeze that could wake the dead. Time to test that hypothesis.  Achoo!  Sure enough, you open your eyes wide and stare at me surprised.  Then you look a little angry.  I say, “Sorry Momma.”  You grumbled something and shut your eyes, possibly never to open them again.  But that is okay.  I got to see your eyes open one more time.  God granted me that wish.  And a little lagniappe, your BP rose even higher.

Paw and I call it a night about 1:00 in the morning.  Paw starts to cry on the way home talking about you.  It hurts to hear Paw cry.  He goes home to his empty, over-sized Paul Bunyan bed.  You have shrunk so much in recent years, Momma, and Paw always had those little, short legs.  The little set of steps on each side of the bed are so adorable.  It was always cute to watch you two, tiny elderly people climb in that big, old bed.  Now Paw doesn’t even sleep in the bedroom.  He sleeps in his recliner, missing you, Momma.  Your laundry basket with the rope tied to it sits empty by the dryer.  You were always so cute dragging that laundry basket behind you all around the house, dragging clothes to and from the wash room.  Your presence will live on forever in that house.  Please, Momma, please wake up and come home.

I open my eyes to a new day, Momma.  Our new life without your lively self.  Before I head back to the hospital, I have to go see your friend, Mrs. S.  You don’t know this yet, Momma, we haven’t been able to tell you that Dennis passed away.  Like you, Mrs. S is burying a 2nd child.  As I am walking across the street to her house with tears in my eyes, my mind wonders back almost 37 years.  I was 19, home alone, after visiting Donna in the hospital.  I had to come home.  I couldn’t take watching my sister die.  Everyone else stayed at the hospital.  I was home alone and the phone rang.  My phone was not my friend that day either.  It was your aunt, Momma, calling to say how sorry she was Donna had died.  But I had not known that yet.  I was home alone, after just burying my daddy a year before, and I hear my sister died.  I panicked.  I ran out of the house to Mrs. S’s house, crying the entire way.  I ran into her house and into her arms, and she hugged me and took care of me until you got home.  Today, once again, I have tears in my eyes.  Donald, Dennis’s older brother, opens the door for me before I even knock.  We look into each other’s tear filled eyes and don’t have to say a word.  I rush into Mrs. S’s arms and we cried and cried.  We cried over Dennis and we cried over you.  We remember good times and finally part, but we each have a little lift in our step.  Please, Momma, please wake up, your friend needs you.  Mrs. S needs her friend.

Kris and I are headed to see you again, Mom, wondering if today is the day.  We stop to buy a muffaletta for Paw and Cindy (our beloved step-sister of 31 years).  Today is the day you are being moved to a private, hospice room.  I do not like that word – hospice – so final.  I do not want final when it comes to you, Momma.  Your BP was down to 60/33 when Cindy first got there in the morning.  But her hugging you and rubbing your hand raised it back to 70/33.  The family is ushered up to your room to wait for you while you are being prepped for the move.  I hand Paw a root beer and he says the root beer is really big and will last him well into the night (he’s used to sharing his root beer with you).  Then he knocks it over and spills most all over the floor.  Well now it won’t last you all night, Old Man.  Then Cindy drops her muffaletta on the floor.  Well I tell you, Momma, that was the best fed floor.  We were having a good laugh when your bed is rolled into the room.  You look so tiny.  I had to tell you about Paw and Cindy how they were misbehaving and you should get up out of that bed and fuss.  Please, Momma, please wake up and fuss at Paw and Cindy.  But you chose not to comment on that.

Paw’s legs are swelling, Momma.  He’s not taking care of himself like he should.  We convince him to rest with his legs up in the recliner.  He is struggling with those little short legs and Cindy is trying to help him.  Well, lo and behold, the recliner is on wheels and Cindy inadvertently sends Paw rolling across your hospital room.  I tell you Mom, we can’t take these two anywhere!  We are belly roll laughing as the social worker walks in the room.  He must be wondering what kind of nuts we are.  We diligently listen to him speak about hospice and we become somber.  But, it doesn’t take long before we are belly roll laughing, again, and the social worker walks in, again.  We are filling your room with laughter, Momma.  Please, Momma, please wake up and laugh with us.

You have a visitor, Momma.  It’s Bradley.  Well, of course, I had to tell the nurses all about Bradley.  Remember, this is one of our favorite stories, Momma.  I remember coming home from first grade at St. Anthony.  I said, “Momma, there is this bad little boy named Bradley at school.  He’s really, really bad.”  Remember you told me to stay away from him?  Then one day I am looking out of the window from our house and I yelled, “Momma, Momma, that bad little boy Bradley is across the street!  Momma, Momma, come see.”  You told me to just stay inside.  Little did we know that 24 years later that bad little boy Bradley would become my step-brother.  Poor Bradley (my beloved step-brother of 31 years).  We never let him forget that.  But he is a good sport and let us laugh, at his expense, to make you happy.  Please, Momma, please wake up to hear the Bradley story one more time.

Kris decided to share a Katrina story.  You remember this one.  This was when you, Paw and Kris were hurricane refugees in Beaumont, TX.  Paw wanted to fill up Kris’ car and get it cleaned so he took her to a quarter machine car wash.  Well Kris is handy with a sewing machine, but don’t give her anything else mechanical.  She has never held a car wash wand in her hand.  She put the quarters in, and had no idea of the water pressure that was about to come out of that wand.  Paw happened to be standing in the wrong spot at the wrong time.  Paw was now covered in pink, blue and white suds from head to toe.  Kris is still trying to control the wand and continues to squirt suds all over him.  He said Kris wouldn’t point the wand the other way.  Cindy asked Paw why didn’t he just move.  He said he was in shock.  After the spraying quits, Paw and Kris are laughing and he removes his eyeglasses.  Kris said all she could see were two big eyes staring at her from a mound of pink, blue and white suds.  They said you were so shocked when they returned to the apartment and Paw was soaking wet.  Oh Momma, please wake up and laugh with us.

Look Momma, you have more visitors, your nephew Rusty, his wife Gladys, and one of their daughters, Ingrid.  Now Erica is here, or as you lovingly call her, your first bad-egg grandchild.  And then Shawn (our beloved niece of 31 years) stops by.  Your room is full, Momma.  We are all reminiscing, laughing and filling your room with lots of love.  Please wake up, Momma, and join us.

Well Mom, it is time for me to return home.  I have to go to work tomorrow.  I leave the hospital crying crocodile tears.  I want to call my daughter, Kodi, but I cannot get that lump out of my throat to speak.  I finally get my act together and call her, but she doesn’t answer.  So I continue with my cry-fest, Momma.  I am already missing you.  I am in full blown hysteria mode and my phone rings.  It’s Kodi.  I summoned your strength, Momma, and got my act together to talk to my baby.  Well I could have kept crying for the blubbering mess me and Kodi were.  She doesn’t want to lose her grandmother.  Please, Momma, please come back and live with us a little while longer.  Eventually, our phone conversation turns to fun times, but she has to go to tend to her young family.  Rowen, your youngest great grandson, has taken off his diaper with poop in it.  Shane and Kodi must go search the house for poop.  I am once again left alone to my memories of you.

Life is still rolling along whether I want it to or not.  I stop to see my Avon sister and we discuss our Avon booth at the upcoming Picayune Street Fair.  I called Kris to let her know I made it home.  Home – to Spooky Hollow – and the tears start flowing because you will never be able to visit here again.  Your son-in-law, grandson and great-grandchildren are all waiting to greet me in my fragile state.  Please, Momma, please wake up and come visit me at my crazy Faux Farm.

But I know that will not happen.  The phone, which is not my friend, will soon bring the dreaded news.  When that does happen, please, Momma, please come and see me in my dreams.

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As a Strong Woman Hovers Between Life & Death

I get the call no one wants to hear.  You need to get to the hospital, your mom might not make it through the night.  Wait – What?  Is my Mom’s life going to end in the same hospital where she gave me life – almost to the day – 56 years ago?

I sit at my Mom’s side, 2 weeks after I buried Frank the Faux Pug.  Her breathing is terribly labored and ragged.  Her blood pressure and oxygen levels are critically low.  The doctors say the odds are stacked against her.  My step-dad is telling me I need to spend as much time with her as possible.

In a very weak voice, Momma starts calling for Eric and Donna, over and over, my dead brother and sister.  Chills run up and down my spine and I think they are coming to take her away.  Mom told Paw (my step-dad) after her kidney surgery, she had dreamed about going to heaven and Eric turned her away, saying it was not her time.  I wonder if it is her time now.  Lord, I pray, Mom’s breathing is so bad, please take her quickly.  Please don’t let her suffer.

I sit there and think about a conversation we had just the previous week.  I, as her Avon lady, supply Mom with all things beauty.  She says in her thick N’Awlins accent, “Dawlin, I need some of that Natural Beige Cream to Powder Foundation.  I’m almost out.”  I re-assured her that I had a compact waiting.  My Mom has the tiniest face, but for some reason, she sops this stuff up.  My big, round face does not use the exact same product in the short span of time she does.  Maybe her 95 years of well deserved wrinkles need extra foundation, I don’t know.  This thought carries me even further back, 37 years, to a conversation I had with my dying sister in the hospital.  I was an Avon lady back then also.  I told my sister to order anything she wanted out of the book and I was getting it for her.  I was desperate to keep the conversation as normal as possible.  My sister didn’t even look at the book.  We both knew she wasn’t getting out the hospital.  Was history repeating itself.  As with my sister, would my last conversation with my Mom be about Avon?

I am trying to prepare my sister that Mom is not coming home from the hospital.  My sister keeps nudging my Mom to open her eyes and look at us.  She tries.  She even nods sometimes to our questions.  Mom’s little hands, with her painted red nails, are so swollen, and leaking fluid.  My Mom is leaking.  Why is my Mom leaking?  Mom’s don’t leak.  The nurse explains this is her body getting rid of excess fluid.

My mind drifts back again, probably about 46 years.  My Mom came home from the doctor and said she had diverticulitis.  I grabbed our “D” encyclopedia and looked it up.  I was terrified because the encyclopedia said my mom could die.  I told her that.  She said, “No Dawlin, I just need to watch what I eat.”  When you are from N’Awlins, how do you stop eating Corn & Crab Bisque soup?  You don’t, and you end up in the hospital over the years off and on.  Then you end up in the hospital with scar tissue from severe diverticulitis, have to have a colostomy, right after you just had a cancerous kidney removed.  See Momma, I told you this diverticulitis could kill you – the dictionary told me so at 10 years old – just took 46 years – but it is happening.

We try to make sure my step-dad is eating and resting.   His daughter and family are terribly worried about him.  My husband fries him chicken tenders, mashed potatoes, gravy, Ceaser salad and deadly corn.  Paw eats and tears up as he tells us before the last surgery, my Mom told him to kiss her on the lips because she was probably going to die.  My husband said don’t count Mom out.  She is a tough little lady.  But me and Paw are not holding out hope.

That very same night, I found out a childhood friend had died.  I sit on my Mom’s porch looking across the street at my old neighbor’s house.  Another momma in this neighborhood is going to bury a child.  And this one, like my Mom, will now have lost two children.  The Angel of Death is surely lurking over our old neighborhood.  My heart is so terribly heavy.

The next morning, Paw is heading to hospital.  He picks up his WWII Veteran cap and his Retired U.S. Navy cap, holding one in each hand.  What is going on in that adorable, little bald head of his?  Is he wondering which cap will make him look most dapper?  He decides on one and heads out with tears in his eyes.  Lots of us descend upon the hospital.  Me, my sister, step-sister, her daughters, one son-in-law and our step-brother.  We are all gathered around my unresponsive Mom.

Eventually, we end up chatting about everyday stuff.  My crafty sister and the crafty niece start discussing embroidery machines and how she will go to the crafty niece’s house to show her how to use it.  Me and the non-crafty niece said we will join in and drink Bloody Mary’s that the nephew-in-law will make.  Then, a miracle happens.  Mom is turning her head this way and that, like she is trying to listen to the conversation.  We ask her to open her eyes.  She does.  She looks at all of us.  She responds to our questions – somewhat. She tries to smile.  The nurses are shocked.  The nurses said she obviously needed everyone around her.  I guess Mom wanted an audience.  Heart rate went up, oxygen levels went up. We are cautiously rejoicing.  Other family members came throughout the day – grandaughter – great grandaughters.  With each visitor, Mom responded even more.

That evening, the nurses are turning my Mom and trying to get her to respond.  Mom opens her eyes and asks, “Am I alive?  I thought I was dead.”  We leave the hospital with better spirits.  The nurse said he would call during the night if anything happened.

At almost midnight, the phone rings.  Paw and I almost have a heart attack.  Turns out it was a nun friend that didn’t realize the time.  Phew.

The next morning, Paw picks up both caps again, picks one, and said “Well, we made it through another night. I am dreading heading in.  I am afraid your mom will be unresponsive again.”  Well not so.  The drain tube was removed.  The oxygen mask was removed and replaced with the nostril tubes.  Oxygen and BP were higher.  They are feeding her warm broth through her feeding tube.  Mom was opening her eyes more, responding more, excited to see her grandson and more great-grandchildren.  Then she yells out loudly, “WATER, WATER, WATER.  Swab my mouth.”  We all almost jumped out of our skins.  The doctors and nurses are astounded at this turnaround.

Yes the odds are against her, but my Mom has met the odds many times and showed them who was boss.