Monday, January 26, 2015

2014: It was the Worst of Times.

There is so much that I could write about that occurred in 2014 but the year is remarkable for me because I experienced the incredible joy of realizing in September, a life-long dream to own a farm and the complete despair of losing my mother in November.  Both events explain my prolonged absence from blogging.

Warning:  This post is not about horses so I'll understand if you move on to a blog on a more interesting subject.  

My mother at age 75. 

My mother was 92 and while she led a long life, I can't say it was an easy one.  For the past 20 years, she endured pain from osteoporosis, stenosis, or as I used to say, every "osis" that you could think of.  And in the 18 years since my father died, my mother seemed to involuntarily frequently flirt with danger or death.  She suffered broken arms, a broken leg, panic attacks, bleeding ulcers, two strokes and at the age of 84, a fall that resulted in a brain bleed.  She had to be taken by helicopter to the area hospital that could perform the craniotomy.  (Ever concerned about money, she asked me who was going to pay for the helicopter! I assured her it was free and told her to lie back and enjoy the ride since it was probably the only time she would ever ride in a helicopter).

My mother's medical adventures were so numerous that when I would take her to a new doctor and they would ask me to tell them about her medical history, I would always respond, "how much paper do you have?"   To save time and trees, my sister and I wrote a several page summary of her medical history that we could just hand to the doctors or hospital staff. 

Remarkably, my mother lived independently (with twice daily help with basic care) in a retirement community until she was 89.  I partly credit her incredible stubbornness and determination but also the morphine pump that was implanted in her spine to control what would have been debilitating pain.  She received her first pump in 1999 and the replacement in 2008.  We considered the device a medical miracle.

In 2011, my mother was put on supplemental oxygen which meant she could no longer live on her own.  Monthly nursing care at the Maryland community where she was living totaled at least $10,000 per month.  My sister Monica, lives in Oklahoma City.  She researched and found comparable care within a block of her home for $4,000.  It was a no-brainer—we moved my mother to Oklahoma.

The pain management doctor there continued to fill her pump every three months until October when he informed us that the pump would cease functioning at the end of its six-year life span by January 2015.   Her previous pump also had a six-year life span but actually lasted nine years.  The second pump, however, was designed to expire automatically after six years (shame on the manufacturer for revising the technology to guarantee pump failure at the 6-year mark).

The doctor informed us that the treatment options were surgery to replace the pump or wean her off the morphine.  My mother was 92 and frail so we knew surgery was not an option.  The doctor assured us that he could slowly wean her off the morphine and we (naively) agreed with the plan.  He had been reducing the dosage over three years but it was still at a level that was controlling my mother's pain.

In two visits, he reduced the morphine to the point that she went into withdrawal and as a result, had at least one stroke. She continually cried out that her back pain was agonizing so the nursing facility called the doctor and asked him to prescribe medication that would ease the symptoms of withdrawal and reduce her pain levels.  The pain management doctor refused to prescribe any medication. (May you rot in hell, Dr. A).  

We called for hospice to provide end-of-life care and support (and they were wonderful!!) since we knew that my mother would likely not survive the withdrawal and strokes.  The hospice physician prescribed morphine but it was not sufficient to control her pain.  

For two weeks, we watched her struggle with the pain and effort to breathe.  The strokes robbed her of the ability to speak so we would ask her to blink if she could understand us, which she often did.  That was comforting to some degree because we knew that we could still communicate with her but we also realized how horrible it was for her to be fully aware of just how dire her situation was.  

While Monica played my mother’s favorite songs on the piano, I held her, talked to her and stroked her face and hair.   She died on November 7 at 10:45 pm.  

As Monica and I talked about funeral preparations, we remembered that my mother had an incredible sweet tooth, with donuts being particular favorites.  In the final two years of her life, she had swallowing difficulties and had to eat only pureed foods—none of the cookies and cakes that she so loved. 

Monica and I wanted to send our mother out of this world with a smile on her face so we put a box containing ½ dozen chocolate donuts into her casket.  When I went to Dunkin' Donuts to buy them, I asked for any six chocolate donuts.  After the young girl put them in the box, she asked, "will these be okay?"  I assured her that she wouldn't hear any complaints from the recipient.  We asked the funeral director if anyone had ever put donuts in the casket. He laughed and told us no but that quite a few people have sent their loved ones to the hereafter with some form of alcohol.

I like to picture my mother  now in heaven with my father.  She’s busy decorating her spot in the great beyond, planting beautiful gardens and cooking my father’s favorite foods (since he was diabetic, I see him eating dozens of the many varieties of Christmas cookies that my mother baked each year.  He was always so disciplined that he never gave in and sampled from the platters of cookies that would appear at every holiday celebration).  I’m also quite certain that she is watching over all of her children and grandchildren whom she loved so much.  

What follows are the slide show and eulogy that my sister and I put together for her funeral in Oklahoma and her memorial service in Maryland.

 Slide show

Eulogy for Hattie Evelyn Greene Longen

We do not remember the woman whose earthly shell was ravaged by osteoporosis and strokes.

My mother in her WAC uniform
We remember an adventurous, fashionable young woman of 20, who left her North Carolina farm family in 1942 to join the Army. You landed a plum job at World War II’s nerve central, the code room of the Pentagon. You are one of the cornerstones of the World War II Memorial!

We remember a country girl who used your middle name, Evelyn, instead of your given name, Hattie, when you moved to D.C. You never wanted to return to the hard work of farm life. 

However, we never saw you sleep in late, lounge in a housecoat in front of the TV, or take much time off. In fact, one of your favorite sayings was, “This isn’t getting anything done!”

We remember a wife and mother whose interests were husband, home and daughters and a gardener whose front and backyard was filled with beauty - June Cleaver without the pearls! 

We remember a co-builder of a secure safety net. You and Dad were deeply affected by the Great Depression and were outstanding managers of your modest resources. 

We remember magical Christmases with cookies and milk for Santa, beautifully decorated trees, Rudolph’s nose print, gifts for the dog and toys we reminisce about even today. 

We remember an outspoken personality, especially when it came to getting an honest deal from a car dealer or mechanic and protecting her family. You taught us to stand up for what is right.

My parents at their 50th wedding celebration in 1997
We remember you as the one neighbors summoned in emergencies when infants stopped breathing. Before CPR and Heimlich maneuvers, you turned kids upside down by their heels expertly and shook life back into them and even did it to Kathy when she swallowed a penny! 

We remember a skilled seamstress who made us evening gowns, look-alike dresses, ballerina tutus, and when Kathy married, a pearl-encrusted wedding gown. 

We remember you as a committed Christian, first a Baptist, then a Catholic. You were a true helpmate who always bragged about what a great guy Dad was.

In retirement years, you and Dad finally enjoyed some free time to pursue hobbies and travel. This golden era was far too short. You were a widow from 1997-2014. Even in these years, we remember a fighter who refused to give in to infirmities. 

Most of all, we remember a loving mother, grandmother, wife, sister-in-law, aunt and friend.

Celebrating with my son, Brendan on her 90th birthday
We cannot imagine what it is like to have once been so capable and then lose so much. We picture you youthful and restored, and reunited with your beloved husband, Ed. May the good Lord keep you until we all meet again in a place where joy and laughter are endless.