Sunday, February 22, 2009

Losing Mom

We lost Dad in March of 08, Mom struggled with it, not just the loss of Dad but her memory of him passing. She always asked politely, gently, knowing she should know, sensing something was wrong or different but unsure what it was. We would always recite to her what happened that night, how we had all gathered round his bed, how he had pursed his lips for one last kiss from her, how he had passed peacefully.

She would nod her head, hang intently on every phrase, every word, trying so hard to put it somewhere safe. For some moments or even minutes the memory was hers, then it would float away like a balloon slipping into a cloud.

Caring for Mom never felt like a job, certainly she should have went to a home, we had planned on it. We just could not pull the trigger on the deal.

We patched things together, my son Alan stayed for awhile, My sisters Laura had a friend needed a job and was willing to pull some duty, my nephew Travis, his girl friend Mellisa and her 8 year old daughter Katlin took Saturday and Saturday nights, myself I came early every Sunday taking Mom to Sioux Falls for dinner with Laura and her family. Every month or so my sister Karen and Jeff would drive up from Kansas City. Mom loved her coming, Karen always gave Mom a manicure&pedicure. Mother would often look at the length of her fingernails and comment it must be time for Karen to come again.

It was the best team I ever worked with, we covered each others backs, no one ever complained, we called audibles, made running changes smoothly, little 8 year old Katlin dotted on Mom, she would stand by her while she used the bathroom, help her get cleaned up, pick out her clothes, help her get dressed, do things no 8 year old was expected to do. And little Katlin loved it. Watching her and Mom made my heart sing.

And Mom made it fun, we went for long drives, she loved to get out, , we always took the long way home, the road less traveled. We got our burgers in sacks and ate at old sand pits with the window open, I told Alan of my old haunts, he found them all plus many of his own. If Mom couldn't hike out and see the birds Alan found they could park at the river by Klondike and listen for them, catch glimpses of them flitting in the trees. Our trips were only limited by Mom's bladder and she had a pretty good one. Her smile was never bigger then before leaving town you asked if she would like to stop and get some ice cream. Her face would beam as she responded,”Oh, that would be nice.”

We made it through the summer, the fall was long and glorious the good weather holding on clear through October. When Mom lost her ability to walk any distance we shifted gears and started to use the wheel chair, far from being a hindrance we found it to give us a good deal more freedom. Once in the wheelchair my stamina was our only limit. My grandchildren Briana 10, Kayla 8 begged to come on Sundays, I always said no feeling there was no way I could handle both of them and Mom.

I started letting them come, taking turns one at a time, again everything fell into place, Mom loved having the extra company, things seemed just more fun, we searched out new places to go every weekend after our Sunday dinner. Downtown Sioux Falls was our oyster, with the wheelchair we could prowl the streets, look at all the sculptures, the kids loved to push Mom. My favorite thing to do was let her go on a slight decline like when we left the Washington Pavilion, I would run right behind Mom as she coasted, ready to grab the chair if things went amiss, knowing there was risk, that I could stumble and lose her, I was unable to keep myself from letting her go though, loved to hear the school girl excitement in her voice as she coasted free.

The Washington Pavilion was a favorite of ours, with three stories of science exhibits and fun things for the girls to do they always wanted to come. They had double features at the Cine Dome theater that were only about 40 minutes long, perfect for us. We went nearly every week. We were sitting watching kids and their parents work around a climbing wall, just Mom and I , I said to her “ it's a nice place to come isn't it Mom?, lots to see”. She responded, “It is nice but I wouldn't want to come every week, once or twice a year is nice though”. Cracked me up.

We drove by the war protesters every week, they set up out in front of the federal building only a couple blocks from the Pavilion. It seemed only decent we go pay them a visit. A friendly bunch, about ten or twelve strong,, one young man in a wheel chair the others perhaps my age, a little older, a little younger. We asked if they minded us joining , they welcomed us with open arms quickly supplying us with signs, Kayla was in her element, marching up and down the sidewalk lifting her sign, cars waving and honking at her, we gave Mom a sign, she had a little trouble keeping it straight, I looked in vain for a camera, it would be a priceless picture to send to Larry my conservative brother in Orange County Ca. I carry the image in my minds eye, smiling to myself every time I visit it.

When winter hit it hit hard, Mom's card playing was a good barometer of how she was doing, she loved Gin Rummy, at first I had to help her a little, now it was getting so we just laid our cards in front of us and I played for both of us unless Briana was there in which case she would help Mom with her hand.

I got the call from Travis about 8 o”clock Saturday night the weekend before Christmas. Mom was having trouble keeping her food down and Laura had taken her to the hospital in Rock Rapids seven miles away. I sat on the bed and thought it through, it didn't sound serious but might just as well go now, would be going in the morning anyway and in case there was trouble better for two of us to be there.

It wasn't fit for man or beast outside, blowing snow, a hard driving northwest wind. My first stop was the police station for a road report, I was headed 80 miles due west on highway 9, gal at the police station reported poor visibility with drifting snow but, yes, 9 was open.

The truck made a popping, thumping noise as we drove through the fingerling's or small drifts starting to stretch across the road. Alone on the road I drove as fast as I dared. At the halfway point I got a call from Laura, it was serious, Moms pulse was low, her temperature dropping. The roads being somewhat better as I got further west I cranked it up, the second call came in as I hit the county line 18 miles out. The Doctor wanted a answer right now, do we keep her in Rock Rapids or move her to Sioux Falls where they would pull out the stops. Laura was on the spot, all drifting was now gone, just blowing snow. I pushed it to the floor and told her I would be there in ten minutes. I called both my brother and my sister, Larry and I were inclined to go to Sioux Falls, I recall the wind absolutely howling around the drivers window making conversation difficult.

Finding the front door locked I hurried around to the emergency room door to get in. It was a relief to see Mom, chipper as ever even with a swarm of nurses over her. She recognized me and we made some small talk, somehow I understood immediately upon seeing her that Laura was right, staying put in Rock Rapids was the right thing to do.

The medical staff put Mom under a plastic sheet which was hooked to a heater/blower which blew hot air around her, they had IVs going to get her hydrated, they gave her a heart stimulant, the numbers started to improve. Somewhat stabilized they moved her into a room next to the nurses station.

With the nurses talking about what Mom could eat the next day both Laura and I thought we were over the hump. We both visited with Mom, her recall of times long gone seemed the best so that is what we talked about, her childhood, memories of her mother.

Laura, from God knows where, pulled out a gem, “ Mom do you remember the lady Grandma Oliver used to buy fresh green beans from, how she told Grandma that when she went out to pick the beans she never wore her panties so if she had to go while straddling the bean row she could simply pee on the row and keep going. And do you remember how shocked Grandma was, and that she never bought green beans from the lady again, ever?” Mom nodded, yes she remembered it well.

I was surprised, surprised they would keep a story so good from me for so long, also a little surprised that of all nights, this was night I would hear it. I smiled to myself, good stories are like nice smooth throwing stones you find them were they lay, I picked it up and put it in my pocket for later.

We watched the monitors, her heart rate was dipping again, they gave her more heart stimulant, again things improved. They also gave her some medication to let her relax, we were both by her side now, talking with her, holding her, her eyes closed, Laura asked if she could still hear us, Mom nodded yes.

Perhaps another hour passed, her heart rate dropped off again, the nurse came in and shook her head, we could give her more stimulant she said but it would only prolong what they felt was the inevitable. Laura asked if I would like to change places and stand at the head of the bed. We held her in our arms as she slipped away.

I was so thankful I had came, so thankful two of us were there for her. That Laura and I could be there for each other. It would be a hour or two before the undertaker would arrive, Laura wished to stay, after 45 minutes she said she was ready, we stepped into the waiting storm and drove my old Chevy back to Mom's.

Perhaps the toughest part was telling little Katlin, it was so hard for her to understand Mom was gone. At four in the morning we sat around the kitchen table, the same table we gathered around when Dad passed eight months earlier. With tears in our eyes and lumps in our throats we sang, ”You are My Sunshine, My Only Sunshine" .

Mom was Sunshine. Even when she had lost nearly all her memory her gentle sunny way remained as though it was so beaten into her being it was independent of her mind. It makes me feel good to know when Briana, Kayla and Katlin are 80 years old they will still warmly remember my Mother and all she taught them in her last six months.

I thank your for listening, Roy Gage, 2-22-09


  1. Jim Blachly, vovojimFebruary 23, 2009 at 4:57 AM

    Roy: Life and Death are as natural as the tides, up and down, and finally the last down, and we are gone somewhere else, another adventure, another being. God recycles.

    Your story(s) echo the feelings of all of us, and I can only say that condolences from me about your mom are given, and you will continue on.


  2. Thank You Roy, your talent for writing pays the highest respect to your "Mom".. I think I know her better than my own grandmother, and we have never met! It's a pleasure reading your stories, only YOU could make the pain of losing a loved one a positive moment... Prayers to you and your family, and to Mom...

    ...and thank you again for raising Alan, the only Gage I have had the pleasure of meeting in person, and a truly 'stand up' man.