Has it really been NINE months since I’ve last written on my blog? Gee, nine months. Wonder what ELSE takes nine months…oh yeah: birth.
Anyone remember the TV show Ben Casey? The opening line was “Birth, Death, Infinity.” That’s the true order of things. I was born many, many years ago. That was the beginning of the ride. Now, I’m facing death, and a whole lot of it recently.
My mom died on October 8th, just over a month ago, at the ripe old age of 97. The last few years of her life were rough. She had delusions. She feared that someone or someones were out to kill her. There was no good way of consoling her or denying her reality. It would be like someone telling me my dogs were cats. In her brain, those delusions were REAL.
She’d had a difficult life. Born and raised in a tiny town in Hungary, she was a Jew when anti-Semitism was alive and well in her country and in the entire continent of Europe. Her parents, my grandparents, ran the town’s bakery.
When her parents were no longer able to work, courtesy of Nazi Laws in Hungary, my mother and two sisters moved to Budapest to find jobs and to send money back to the rest of their family. To hide their Jewish affiliation, one of the sisters managed to get them all false Christian papers.
Mom managed to survive as a hidden Jew until someone voiced suspicions to the authorities. The gendarmes revoked her paperwork and took it back to headquarters to verify the authenticity. Meanwhile, Mom waited for them to return and to take her into custody. She said she wasn’t afraid to die. She was afraid of being tortured.
What I’m getting to is that, in her past, there were MANY someones who she feared were coming to kill her. These later in life delusions might have been fears she’d repressed from those horrible days in Hungary. Her parents, brother, sister and her family were murdered in Auschwitz.
Unlike today, people in the late 1940’s and ’50’s didn’t share everything that was on their minds. They had no access to facebook, and going to see a psychologist to “process” what had happened was not an option. So she did what most “sane” people did under those circumstances: she shoved those fears down, way down into her subconscious.
I suspect in her later years, those memories broke free from the web of horrible memories and emerged as real “boogey men.”
Towards the end of her life, Mom was incredibly hard to be around. She locked her house with chains around the door handle. She wouldn’t let anyone she didn’t know really well come into her place because she was certain they were stealing from her.
At one point, she was certain her neighbor in Leisure World was sending ants carrying poison on their backs into her home. She suspected the ants had spread the poison onto all her dishes and food, so she had stopped eating. She smelled gas in her bathroom and was certain someone was piping it into her ventilation system.
She wanted to move, and she wanted to move immediately. VERY long story short, under intense pressure, I quickly located a senior living home with only four residents fifteen minutes from my home.
Maybe a week or two later, she convinced my daughter to sneak her out of it because she was convinced the owners had stolen her I.D. and were smuggling foreign relatives into the country. She stayed about a month with my daughter. When that didn’t pan out, my son moved her up to Spokane, Washington to live with him. That lasted about a couple months before she moved into a seniors apartment complex where she lived all by herself for three years.
She was completely independent, cooking for herself, taking buses to get groceries, and finally admitting she needed a walker to get around.
The night I called her to see how she was doing, she told me with real earnestness that she had been expecting, that very night, that the “killers” were coming for her. She had stacked a bookcase filled with heavy objects against the sliding glass door of her balcony to block them from getting in.
I asked her again, as I’d asked her so many times before, if she wanted to move back to California. At last, she admitted she did. We made preparations for my husband to fly up to Spokane, to pack up her few belongings in a U-Haul, and to drive it back here. I’d arranged a new senior apartment less than ten minutes from my home where she could live.
I flew Mom back to John Wayne Airport in Newport Beach, where she arrived at 6:00 pm. I picked her up, and she was ecstatic to be home. We kissed and hugged and were sincerely glad to see one another. I suggested we have dinner at a Norms restaurant. My teeny little mother hadn’t been eating much in recent times, so I didn’t even know if she was hungry.
I ordered us both fish dinners, and she managed to eat half the portion, along with salad and other vegetables. She had our server pack up a doggy bag so she could eat the remainder the next day.
We were talking and laughing like the old days. We reminisced about some of her funny old friends, and her memory was spot on. Because we were having such a pleasant time together, I asked our server to take a picture of us after we’d finished our meal.
We got into the car and headed home. Not even fifteen minutes later, she suddenly slumped forward in her seat. Her top denture fell out of her mouth. I could tell this was serious. I shook her and asked her what was wrong. She managed to utter, “I don’t know.”
Those were to be her last words.
I pulled into a fire station and laid on the horn. Several firemen rushed out. One took her pulse and said it was faint. They loaded her onto a stretcher, slid her into the ambulance, and told me to follow them to the nearest hospital.
Although I didn’t “know,” I knew. She was gone.
The on-call doctor told me that they’d tried CPR in the ambulance. In the hospital, they tried to shock her heart back to beating.
She was gone.
I got a chance to say a final goodbye in the hospital room, where Mom lay lifelessly. She didn’t look like she’d suffered. It was quick and easy, just as she would have preferred it.
It was a “perfect” way to die. There she was, back in her home state, having eaten a good fish dinner, and in the company of the daughter who loved her so much and whom she loved just as hard.
Birth, death, infinity. Wherever you are, Mom, I hope you have found peace.