I’ve been meaning to get back to blogging. It’s something I enjoyed. But last spring I contracted pneumonia, then ongoing health issues, then work load increased, and on and on. I just never seemed to be able to carve out time for blogging despite my best intentions. I decided to begin again with the new year 2017. But life REALLY took a turn and blogging was the last thing on my mind. I spent the winter of this year helping Dad care for my mom during the last months of her life.
Momma had a few rough years beginning in 2014, or maybe it was 2013. She was diagnosed with cancer and had a mastectomy. After months of recovery she could boast of being cancer free! But not long afterward she fell and broke her hip. Again, after months of recovery and rehab she was back on her feet albeit with the help of a walker. She and Dad resumed their outings and Mom had great hopes of traveling once again. My parents were avid campers most of their married lives. But as fate would have it, Mom had another bad fall resulting in a crushed right shoulder. Recovery this time was slower and pain filled. But Mom was a fighter and she worked hard and continued to improve . . . slowly.
By Thanksgiving 2016 however, Mom began experiencing severe abdominal pain. By December and after exams and tests she was diagnosed with a ruptured diverticula, or something to that effect. In addition there was water around her heart and lungs. The only surgery Mom could possibly survive was a colostomy. As before, Mom fought hard to recover. She had good days, good enough to convince us all that as in the past, she would be traveling and enjoying all the things that brought her joy. But there were the bad days, too. On those days we worried. Nurses, therapists of differing modalities, social workers, home health, and a flurry of others began making their daily visits to help Mom recover and regain functionality. UTIs (urinary tract infections) were the bane of her existence and sent her to the hospital on more than one occasion. I made several trips back and forth spending weeks at a time in Kentucky helping Dad care for Mom.
Caring for Mom was a most treasured and humbling experience. In all honesty I do not know how to articulate the impact of that experience on my life. It was intimate. It was tiring, It was enormously loving. It was angering. I enjoyed conversations with Mom and Dad. I laughed. I cried. I was afraid. I knew exactly what to do and I did not know what the hell I was doing. I was patient. I was impatient. I had a meltdown once that to this day I have been unable to forgive myself for. I love, loved, and will always love Momma.
About Momma, she learned to fly a plane when she was 16 years old. Evidently there was a program during WWII where anyone who was old enough and was not fighting in the war could learn to fly. The thought was that in case of national emergency these young pilots could transport supplies for the troops cross country at a moment’s notice. Of course none of the newly trained pilots were ever called upon but it was Mom’s way of supporting the war effort.
Mom was the more adventuresome one between her and Dad. She met Dad in college at a motorcycle club. Harley Davidsons only. Two years later they married and for the first six or seven months of their marriage the motorcycle was the only mode of transportation they had. By then Mom was pregnant with twins, my brother and me. They had to get a car, but they never ever lost their love for motorcycles.
Their love of camping came about because Mom and Dad wanted to vacation to different parts of the country. Finances being what they were, camping was the only way they could swing it. By the time they started camping there were four of us “ankle biters.” Starting with a baker tent, our first camping trip was to Falls Creek Falls in Tennessee. And Mom and Dad discovered that camping was the only way they wanted to travel! Soon however, they knew that they needed a bigger tent to accommodate this family of six. So Mom ordered 60+ yards of nylon tent material and began sewing. Meanwhile Dad cut down a bunch of Pine trees on his Dad’s farm and they fashioned a Teepee modeled after the Lakota Sioux . . . mostly. From then on the family enjoyed camping across the country in that teepee and can tell many stories about it. Once when Dad was between jobs and we had no place to go (as in homeless) we headed to the high Rockies of western Colorado where friends had staked out a gold claim to homestead. We set up the teepee and lived there for four glorious months, frolicking in the mountains, driving into Crested Butte when necessary for supplies. This adventure ended when it was time for the school year to begin and we headed to Kentucky to stay with family until Mom and Dad secured jobs and we could get our own place. About a year and a half later (1968 or 1969) Mom and Dad bought a house that they live in to this day.
Once my siblings and I were grown and moved out to pursue our own adventures, the teepee was too large for just Mom and Dad. That is when they transitioned to backpacking. They backpacked from the Rockies to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, from California to Maine and even into Canada. The two of them took youth groups on camping trips across the country, always learning about the area and the people they visited. In all their travels Mom never lost her avid desire to learn. She saw the world as a wonderful, awe-filled place to be.
Momma was a lab technician in local hospitals during her early adult life but by the time I reached high school she had “re-careered” to teaching middle school life science. She taught first in the “burbs” where she lived. After a few years however, she got restless and felt she could do more with her life. That is when she volunteered to teach in the Portland area, the “hood” in Louisville, Kentucky. Everyone told her she was crazy, it was dangerous, she was wasting her time, etc. But in hindsight the naysayers were all wrong. Mom made a great impact on many inner-city kids lives and was even awarded for her teaching skills and love of her students.
When Momma retired from teaching however, she still had more to give. She once again “re-careered” and became a naturalist at Falls of the Ohio State Park in Indiana, across the river from Louisville, Kentucky. She loved working there and was truly in her element in nature, teaching groups of school children about the geology and geography of the area. Mom stayed there for years, finally retiring when she was closing in on 80 years old.
Mom’s final years were quieter. She and Dad still traveled, but the trips became shorter and further apart. Day trips took the place of weeks-long camping trips. They maintained deep relationships with friends and family that were forged through years of shared experiences. Life was rich and full to the end. Mom left this world for another on the first full day of spring, March 22, 2017.
I discovered this unfinished blog today as I explore resurrecting my site, or maybe creating a new one. I was still raw from Mom’s passing when I started this blog, and was unable to finish it at the time. Since then, the family has grown through marriages and births. We’ve celebrated the joyful times and grieved our losses as well. The family continues to experience all that life offers, or at times throws at us. We are in the midst of a pandemic that has already claimed over 730,000 lives in this country alone. The country is torn by politics and ideologies based in, and goaded on by politicians who capitalize on our fear of “the other”, whoever the “other” happens to be. I’m glad that Mom doesn’t have to see this state of affairs. On the other hand, I imagine she would look beyond all that rancor and vitriol to see the wooded hillside, the crocus poking up through the snow, wild animals in their habitats, sunrises and sunsets. She would share the delight of hearing birds warble at the backyard feeder, or point out the various plants growing in her yard. It was her yard. Dad detests yard work but he loved Mom, so she pointed and he planted. If she were alive today, Mom would be sewing doll clothes for the doll ministry that provides beautiful dolls and stuffed animals for children in hospitals and domestic violence shelters. Rather than wring her hands about the immigrant problem, Mom would be squirreling away money to send to programs that support indigents around the world.
My brothers and I wondered how Dad would get on after Mom’s passing. She was an extrovert who managed to find the positive in just about anything that came her way. Dad, on the other hand, can be melancholy as he ponders deep existential questions. He is the classic introvert. We needn’t have worried though. Dad is still going strong. He misses Mom and speaks at times of when he will join her, but he has clearly stated that while he is alive, he will continue to live. Dad takes day trips now, to parks and places of interest where he can hike and sightsee, or sit by a fire in a lodge somewhere enjoying a cup of coffee. He remains active in his church. And he walks a mile or two almost every day at the local Meier’s where he greets workers who know him by name. Dad will celebrate his 92nd birthday this winter.
We have been blessed, my brothers and I, with amazing parents who through the years demonstrated by their actions, how to embrace life, all of it. I started this post shortly after Mom died, and now, four+ years later, I’m not sure how to finish it. But maybe that is the way… Death is not the end. Life goes on, and death comes along as part of that experience. Dad continues onward, continues to live, and when he passes, others of us will continue the living. So I’ll end here, celebrating life and death and life. Remembering Mom. Enjoying time with Dad. Choosing, as did Mom, to seize ways to live more fully.