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Mom, Part V


It’s Friday morning. I’m at my mom’s home by myself, my brother somewhere in southern Wisconsin on his long trek back to Oklahoma. The furnace just clicked off and the house is now silent aside from the occasional metallic sounds of the heating ducts contracting in the basement. I had originally been planning on leaving today, but there’s still so much to do here that I’m probably heading out tomorrow morning instead.

We had the funeral and reception on Tuesday. What is there to say? We had 60-70 people turn out for the funeral, which strikes as me as pretty good considering it was scheduled right in the middle of the work day. Everyone said the same things: That she was caring, that she was a great friend, that she was selfless. Work colleagues referred to her as a proxy mom. A former head of the company said she was the most influential person there who wasn’t part of the family that owned the business. The son of a close family got up to speak, broke down crying, and brought many of the attendees to tears with him.

The reception was good. We bought too much food, but whatever. There was laughing, there was crying. There was targeted gifting of mom’s belongings. Cousins Mike and I haven’t seen for years–since our dad passed, actually–drove up and reconnected. We all vowed to get together again more frequently, and not wait for some other death to bring us together.

Since then it’s been working on mom’s house, going through her things, figuring out what we want to keep and what will need to be discarded. Tonight I’m going to take one last hack at her office, grab what I think is necessary and pack it up to be sifted and sorted back home in Minneapolis.

Guess I should get back to work. More later.

Posted in Mom at 10:29 am

Winding Down The Estate, Part I


We’ve officially started winding down our mom’s estate. In addition to just trying to get a grasp of what accounts she has where, there have been small tactical things like cancelling her in-home medical checks and permanently stopping the newspaper.

Stopping the newspaper. The Herald Times Reporter, a paper for which I was once a delivery boy and an extremely intermittent stringer. They weren’t open when I called on Saturday, so I called again this morning. I got an automated message.

“Thank you for calling the Herald Times Reporter Media. Your number one source for local information. We record our calls for quality assurance. Which of these can I help you with? A subscription start, a delivery issue, a temporary delivery hold, your account, discontinue delivery, get help with our digital products, or something else?”

“Discontinue delivery.”

“You can say ‘Subscription start,’ ‘delivery issue,’ ‘temporary delivery hold…'”

“Discontinue delivery.”

“Delivery issues. Did you receive your paper this morning?”

“Discontinue delivery.”

“You can say ‘yes’ or ‘no.'”

“Fuck you.”

“Was your paper wet, late, or missing?”

I hung up and dialed back in.

“Which of these can I help you with? A subscription start, a delivery issue…”


“Discontinue delivery. We’re sorry, to cancel your delivery you must speak to a customer representative. Current wait time is 12-15 minutes…”

15 minutes later.

“Thank you for calling the Herald Times Reporter. How may I help you?”

“I’d like to cancel a subscription.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. We…” blah blah blah blah blah. “What’s your reason for canceling?”

“Well, this is my mom’s subscription, and she just passed away.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. My condolences to you and her. I mean your family.”

“I know what you mean, thank you.”

Two minutes of account and address info ensued.

“OK, you final day of delivery will be Friday. Do you know what your mom enjoyed best about receiving the Herald Times Reporter?”

“Uh, local news?”

“OK, thank you. Again, sorry for your loss.”

The intersection between commerce and death is a bit awkward.

Posted in Estate at 11:11 am

Mom, Part IV


I never thought my mom bore a huge resemblance to my grandmother—my mom’s mom—but in death she looked just like her. I wasn’t there when my grandmother died, but she did have an open casket, I suppose as that was the way at the time and also so her Catholic friends could see she was going to rest with a rosary chain clasped between her hands. When my mom passed, the transformation happened in minutes. She was still my mom, but there was now a resemblance there I hadn’t seen before.

My grandmother was the first person I knew who passed only when it seemed that she was ready. My brother and I were up in Green Bay with our parents so we could be by her bedside. I was 10 or 11 at the time, my brother four years younger. It was a weird age to see someone close to you pass. We knew she was nearing the end, and after a couple of hours our parents made the decision for Mike and me to head home with our dad, and for our mom to stay in Green Bay with her mom and her brother. I walked to her bedside one last time before we left. “Goodbye, grandma,” I said, and she opened her eyes, looked at me for a moment, and closed them again.

The drive from the hospital down to Two Rivers was short—just 45 minutes—but between the time we left and reached home our grandmother had passed. Our mom was there when she died, and our parents later spoke of their belief that she had waited for the grandchildren to leave before she let go.

~ ~ ~

It’s been a weird few days. I think we were ready for mom to go as early as Wednesday night, but instead she made it to today. The last real conversations we had with her were on Sunday, which we now know was her rally day. With the exception of a single sentence on Wednesday, Tuesday and Wednesday were limited to three words: No, OK, and wow. By Thursday we were down to just the barest of expressions and facial movements.

The sentence on Wednesday was something. It had been clear she had been trying to say something for a while but couldn’t get the words out. I leaned down by her ear, and, finally, there it was: “I missed nothing.” Some of those I mentioned this to saw it as a statement of satisfaction of life, but for me there was ambiguity. I suspect it was actually something more practical: Communication had been tough for days, and part of me thinks this was her way of letting us know she had heard the conversations with the oncologist she liked, the oncologist she didn’t, the doctors, the people from hospice. I took it that she understood the conversation Mike and I had with her that we were out of options, that there was nothing that we could do, that we were sorry. And that she understood.

My mom’s friend Jean stayed with her Wednesday night while Mike and I went to a hotel in a futile attempt to get some rest. After discussion on Thursday, we decided to leave her by herself that night. This was both practical—Jean hurt her arm staying at the hospital, and Mike and I were no longer in any real condition to pull such a stunt—but also out of deference to mom. Many people, including some from hospice, had told us that those in the process of dying often wait to be alone before they let go, possibly out of not wanting to damage loved ones by making them see someone close to them pass. While we struggled with whether we were abandoning her, we wanted to give her that opportunity if that was what she wanted.

She had different plans, of course, and was still with us when we arrived this morning. Jean and I were the first to arrive, around 9:30 or so. Mike arrived a short while later. For an hour we sat and talked to her, much as we had for days. Eventually our words ran out, and for a long while we just sat with her in silence.

And then, a short time before 11:00, she came alive in a way we hadn’t seen in days. With a huge gasp of air she opened her eyes, slightly but clearly arching her back and raising her arms as she did so. It was like she was willing herself out of whatever declining body she was trapped in to be with us for a few more minutes. “This is it,” said Jean, and the three of us gathered by her bed and talked to her, telling her all the usual things: That we loved her, that we didn’t want this for her, that she was a great mom and friend. We then took turns talking to her individually, first Mike, then me, then Jean.

I spent about ten minutes saying goodbye to her. She couldn’t speak, but instead communicated with her eyes, movements of her mouth, and, most of all, her always-expressive eyebrows. At one point I said I wished I could read her mind, and she raised her eyebrows for a long time as if to say, yes, that would be quite useful right now. I told her that I hated this disease that was taking her, that I knew she didn’t want this, that she wasn’t ready, that none of us were. I told her there was a whole manufacturing company in Manitowoc that loved her like family. I told her while we had been separated for a while, it wasn’t her fault, and I was glad we were together now. I told her my brother and I had each other, that we loved each other, and would take care of each other. And I told her I loved her.

She quieted down after our conversations and became more calm, much as she had been when we had arrived in the morning. Mike headed out to take care of some errands and be with his family. Jean and I stuck around and a bit after 12:30 I noticed a change in my mom’s breathing. I stood up to stand by her and look at her. Jean came beside her as well. At this point the social worker came in and started chatting. The timing of the staff over the past few days had been impeccably bad, and it looked like they were going to finish off that way as well. I gently encouraged the social worker to leave, and then turned my focus back to mom.

Her breathing didn’t slow, but instead became more gentle. It went on that way for five minutes or so, and then there was another change. She started closing her mouth briefly between breaths, and then a few minutes later appeared to be more swallowing air than breathing it. I continued to look at her, and she at me. I gently stroked the side of her head with my thumb, not speaking, as there really wasn’t anything else to say.

And then she took a breath a bit deeper than those before it. The exhale that followed it was complete, deep, and full of purpose and commitment. With it she firmly closed her mouth and eyes, and at 12:50:04 on Friday, April 17, embraced oblivion.

Posted in Mom at 10:27 pm

Mom, Part III


She’s gone.

Posted in Mom at 2:10 pm

Mom, Part II


Another day at the hospital. We’ve moved upstairs to the oncology unit now, room 712, up from the cardiac level that was the only one that had a bed open when we transferred her here. The view is better, but she can’t see it from her bed. She’s resting about as peacefully as she can right now, although true rest no longer seems possible. She’s under a do not resuscitate order, so we could be near the end.

Yesterday was a tough day. The hardest thing about all of this is she wasn’t ready to give up yet, but everyone we talked to, including the oncologist my mom trusted most, told us we were out of real options. The option of surgery was one only in theory–considering the risk she’d be under in her condition, and the very small chance of a meaningful recovery, it’s unlikely that we’d find someone to actually willing to proceed with it.

We tried to explain this to her yesterday, and it was hard to do. At one point it seemed like she understood where we were going with the conversation, and Mike asked her if she wanted to be with dad. We got the biggest reaction we saw from her yesterday–a sharp look and vigorous shaking “no” of the head. A short while later, I had to explain that we were out of options, and the main thing we needed to do was make her comfortable. I broke down crying as I told her, and she looked at me not out of shock or anger or disagreement, but of concern for a son who was crying.

This sucks so much. I’m angry but have no one to be angry at. She’s so young–68–and there’s so much she wanted to do. Just days ago she was talking about travel, about being at Mathias’ birthday, about visiting her close friend Jean in Marquette. And now she’s here and may never leave the building.

Friends and family are coming here today to be with her, to tell her they love her, and say their goodbyes. I hope we get a few more lucid moments from her–we had a great one this morning–so she can see everyone who is here for her, and how much she is loved.

Posted in Mom at 9:57 am

Mom, Part I


I’m sitting here in room 310 of the Appleton Medical Center watching the reading on my mom’s oxygen levels and keeping an eye on her labored breathing. She looks like a woman who is dying, and she is. The question is when, and what kind of life she may be able to have in the meantime.

Everything has been up in the air. She was admitted to Holy Family Memorial in Manitowoc on Thursday after a long afternoon of throwing up. The diagnosis was quick: She has a bowel obstruction. Usually these will pass given some time, but she has cancer, and there was–and is–a question as to whether the blockage was something in her digestive system or a tumor. It’s now been over three days since they started waiting, and we’re still waiting. That doesn’t mean it’s is a tumor, but it does seem to make the chance more likely.

If it’s a tumor, then there may be an option to put in a stent to open up her intestinal tract, but that’s just buying time. Surgery may also be an option, but everyone we have talked to has said it’s an extremely risky one. My mom is in extremely bad shape and there’s a good chance she wouldn’t make it through it. Surgeons have discretion of course on whether they’ll operate or not, and they’re not going to do it unless they think there’s a reasonable chance for a positive outcome.

Today we meet with palliative and hospice care specialists. We should also be speaking to her primary doctor and oncologist. After a weekend of waiting, today may finally be a day of perspective and decisions.

She isn’t looking good. It’s hard to watch this, this woman who cared for my brother and I for so long, and who loves us very much, as we do her. There’s so little we can do for her, and so much she still wants to do.

Posted in Mom at 6:58 pm

System Note


WordPress is out of date. My installation has problems. I’m worried that I’ll lose what I write here, so I guess I’ll have to make manual backups for now.

You go to blog with the installation of WordPress you have, not the one you want.

And I need to write today.

Posted in Site Admin at 6:25 pm

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