Ides of March – My Mother’s Birthday

March 15, 2012

Happy Birthday to my mother, Florence Conlon. Had she lived past 2001, she would have been 96 today. It was really in everyone’s best interest that she didn’t stick around for the occasion.

I had a very low esteem day today, and I would imagine that on some level, it was related to this ghostly event. I work hard on forgiveness nearly every day. I really do think about it deeply on some days. But then, on a day like today I can hear my mother saying, “Ann, I deee-spise you, I absolutely deee-spise you” and my heart crumbles to bits. Forgiveness then flies out the window of pain. Although I have no visible tattoos for the world to see or to proclaim my coolness, I do have that one emblazoned on my heart. It is right next to the one that says, “Ann the worst day in the history of the world, was the day you were born.” Yep, that’s my loving, borderline personality mama…. These are some of the pearls she left me with.

My sister texted and reminded me that today was my mother’s birthday. I knew I felt odd all morning and could not figure out why. I was in the middle of a meeting at Panera in Durham, with a table full of very successful lactation consultants. I already felt quite inferior, quite under-educated as it was. It is typical for me to feel “less-than.” And then, when I realized the date, I felt worse.

I tried retail therapy after that. Stopped into Nordstroms Rack and browsed. Wandering around retail like that usually helps. I even bought a pair of out-of- character green heels. None of it helped.

As I often do, I make bad, get worse. So, from Durham, I hit the interstate and went to Hillsborough, NC to the assisted living where my friend, Jen has ended up following a stroke. Jen was one cool woman. I have always been intrigued by her. She was one of those church friends who really helped me out when I my twins were born 13 years ago. We laughed for years because Jen could never get over the fact that I had no cribs for the twins. We co-slept, so I saw no need for two cribs and Jen was just shocked by this. Whenever she would see me at church, she would hug me and say, “Oh Ann, how are those cute twins of yours? I still cannot believe you don’t have cribs!” Jen is about 20 years my senior and we would often talk about how much she disliked old people and preferred to be around young people. She got great haircuts, wore natty clothing from Belks and great leather shoes and bags. I think she loved when I commented on her fashion sense and great hair.

I always had intentions of having a cup of tea with Jen, but somehow, as life goes along, it never happened. We had this mutual appreciation for each other that felt good and kind, and full of admiration. We laughed a lot too when we met at church on Sundays. I knew she had a daughter who struggled with depression and another daughter and a son. None of her children seemed overly close to her or she with them. It was rare to see them with her and I wondered why. The thought crossed my mind more than once that they did not appreciate her. One must be careful with that train of thought, because I often imagined that many people thought that about me and about my relationship with my mother.

Unbeknownst to me, Jen had a stroke in her home a couple of months ago and lay there for who knows how long, until someone found her. Isn’t this all of our worst dread? Following a hospital stay and a stint in rehab which she disliked, she ended up in the Carrollan Assisted Living facility in Hillsborough, NC. I made the long trek there and came in hoping, as I always do, that I would come upon a hip and humane senior residence. Instead, I met with the usual nightmares of the propped up, nearly dead, wheelchair bound vacant humans, being spoken to in loud, condescending voices of staff members. “DO YOU WANT A SNACK NOW? LET’S GO. WE ARE GOING TO BLOW BUBBLES NOW.” Blow bubbles??!! One lady tried to rise up from her chair (if you don’t need to, why WOULD you want to sit all the time?) and an alarm went off from the chair which met with the admonishment, “Nadine, you will fall if you get up! Sit back down, right now.” Got to prevent that potential lawsuit at all times, even at the expense of human beings. Shit. Shit, shit, shit. Why does it always have to be like this? Is there a cool facility in say, Berkley, California? In Austrailia? In Iceland? There must be some one place, somewhere that they do not think that blowing bubbles or eating screaming green cake with colored flecks in it to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day is the thing to do with old folks. It was dismal. Jen was thin and frail and barely a shell of herself, propped in a wheelchair with wide eyes glazed over with glaucoma. She was happy to see me and held my hand throughout our visit. We talked about folks we knew from church. She randomly used the wrong words in sentences but used the cover up technique I have often seen memory loss victims employ. It’s a smoke screen and easy to see though, but there’s an “A” for effort. She thought my home was beautiful and said twice, “What a nice place you have here, Ann.” I would respond with, “No, Jen, I don’t live here, you do.” “Oh no, she said, I live in the park.”

I cannot exude fake joy at a situation like this. I say things like, “It must be confusing for you being here” or “I bet you miss driving.” I want the same treatment for me someday, which seems to be coming sooner and sooner. Don’t hand me platitudes or false cheerleading. Be real and be honest. My own delirium will protect me as needed.

My eyes filled with tears more than once while I visited. When the aide came and said that it was “time for Jen to have a whirlpool bath”” and Jen said, “I don’t like taking baths. I have never been a bath person” the aide responded with, “You don’t have to do anything, just let the water do it for you.” I spoke up and said, “Miss Winslow does not want to take a bath right now so we will continue visiting instead, thank you.” We hugged and kissed and I left, but of course, I cried all the way to my car and most of the drive home. This is how it happens. One day you are shopping in Belks, driving yourself home, having lunch with friends and attending an evening Lenten series at church. The next day you are laying on the floor drooling and barely functioning faculties. The following day you are in a facility, in a wheelchair, watching someone blow bubbles while eating screaming green cake. Like I said, “Shit.”

So, things weren’t bad enough and then I came home, to my chronically ill son, who no longer lives with us, but was visiting. He had spent the day in agony and misery, feeling a level of hopelessness that scares me to death. I stared at him with this fleeting vision of him in his black cashmere coat, having graduated from Harvard, home from his work at the NFL and owning the world, feeling on top of it. My Golden Boy who I always felt everything came to with ease. Did I jinx him? Did my bragging about him go over the top resulting in a crash to hell? Can I blame myself for this or simply the randomness of the universe that had a bug, this damned tick, the size of a poppy seed, bite him and change history? I ache for my boy, believing in the day of redemption and recovery still coming, but wondering how much longer the wait will be. His eyes are also blank and hazy and hopeless. Please God, restore his hope. At the very least, restore some hope….. keep him going…..

So, Happy Birthday Flo May. It has been a stellar day of reflection and feeling deeply sad. Tomorrow, we begin anew. I will work with five newborns and five newly created mothers. I will do my best to bring them to their bliss, so that I can renew my own hope in a more rewarding and encouraging day and in my own vague self worth.

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Mother Mary Can You Help Me? Help my Son?

My son, Peter, the Chronic Lyme sufferer, is now in what he says is “the worse pain he has ever felt in his entire life.” He cannot sleep, he can barely eat, and writhes in bed all day and night. He cannot stand it much longer despite the 42 meds per day that he swallows. Those are in addition to his PICC line administered IV mega-antibiotics and intramuscular shots of morphine with still, no relief. I cannot stand this much longer either. I am sick with the yearning, the begging, the pleading with Jesus Christ at the very least, for relief for my son. Mary, Mary, you know. I know you know. Can you help, short of death, or is that the only distance you know for pain and suffering? I have already given up one son. I cannot lose another.

What is it I need to do? What do I need to not do? What do I need to know? What am I missing? I pray so hard that my teeth clench. I went to the Lenten series last night at my new high falutin’ church with soul. I sat, I kneeled, I buried my face in my hands. I listened to the heartfelt music, some hymns, some more modern sweetness and one rendition of that angelic girl in the heart wrenching movie, In America, singing, “Desperado.” It made me cry once again. If everyone wasn’t so perfectly dressed and coifed in that church, I might have considered (for more than a moment), throwing myself on the marble floor and wailing, sobbing, and begging out loud for God’s mercy on my son. I try different words in my prayers. I try bartering. I try being firm and I try allowing my weakest self to beg shamelessly. My son gets worse instead of better. God, can you not hear me? I am screaming? So many are praying. Still, still, still. Help me, help me, help me…. as Anne Lamott would pray.

Yesterday — I stared at my son sitting in the medical office for his exam to qualify for disability. I cringed with sadness at his unwashed hair, his messy clothes, his emaciated body that was once that of a star athlete – captain of every high school sports team. I stare at him, mostly in disbelief, wondering how on earth he could have gotten to this limp, devastated state at 26 years old. How, how, how?

Today –changing meds, changing pain killers at the direction of a seemingly very smart pain specialist, invites some withdrawal into the picture. That makes the pain worse while getting off the high doses of opiates switching to lower doses of methadone which one can only increase at a slow and safe rate. She says, “I can’t increase the methadone faster because I could kill you.” I wince. Adding more sleep meds now, the doc suggests we “listen at night to be sure he isn’t having sleep apneas. Check for deep snoring, or irregular breathing. Get a baby monitor and take shifts with your husband to be sure your son is breathing.” Great. I am already barely sleeping. I am in that constant, itchy, someone-please-rip-my-skin-off state. I now need to listen for breathing patterns. My son mentions that this will drive his mother crazy. “She is your mother. That is what mother’s do.” Doesn’t every mother have a breaking point or are we made of something other than normal blood and guts?

Which is worse? Being in searing relentless physical pain yourself or watching your child, the one you love with all your heart and soul, in that pain? Has anyone ever answered that question? Mother Mary come to me, bringing words of wisdom, let it be.