Friday, October 9, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mom

My mother, Annie Louise Chapman Skelton, would have been 86 years old today. She died two years ago of renal failure. Grams could go into a lot of details about my mother and her life, but I'm going to try to resist the urge to air my family's "dirty laundry." Suffice it to say that my mother's life was hard and our relationship was often strained. Some of her life's difficulties were beyond her control and many were the result of her own actions. I'll just leave it at that.

She was a stay-at-home mom with six kids, two of whom had severe handicaps. She raised us in an age before dishwashers, clothes dryers and air conditioners. She made us do chores and she took us to church. While our friends ran the neighborhood from dawn to dark, she made us stay inside during what she called the "heat of the day." And we were not allowed to play until our chores were done.

She always had to know where we were going and who our friends were. When we got older, we were never allowed to go "cruising" like our friends. Anytime we left the house we had to have a specific destination and you better know that she was going to call and make sure we were where we said we were going to be.

She made us go to bed on time and she woke us up early. The girls learned to sew and keep house. The boys mowed the lawn and raked leaves. She made sure that those of us who could got at least a high school diploma. The possibility of incurring the wrath of our mother kept us out of serious trouble. We all knew that if we got in trouble at school, we'd be in even more trouble when we got home.

And she spanked us ... often making us go out to the tree and cut our own switch. But the tree was not necessary, we were often spanked with whatever was handy including but not limited to the back side of her hairbrush, the fly swatter, or the bottom of her flip-flop.

I can honestly say that many times the knowledge in the back of my mind that I would have to answer to my mother kept me from doing things that would have been stupid, wrong, illegal, immoral and just generally bad. I never understood the term "god-fearing" but if you had said "mom-fearing" I would have totally gotten it. I had a healthy fear of my mother that kept me on the straight and narrow.

Two years ago today my sisters and I spent the day at my mother's hospital bedside. We took presents and her favorite cake and celebrated her birthday with her. She was already slipping in and out of consciousness and could only take the tiniest taste of her birthday cake. It was the last day she had any signs of awareness.

Two days later I was called upon to make that decision that we all hope we'll never have to make. My mother's doctor wanted to start dialysis ... and without it, she would die.

Mother had been ill for a long time. As she got older, mom had trouble with falling. She was diabetic and didn't eat right. She had fallen many times and not been able to get up on her own. We had moved her into a senior citizens apartment complex a couple of years earlier hoping she would at least be able to get help when she fell. Her health continued to decline, but she was determined to live independently. After one hospitalization, her doctor admitted her to a nursing home. She promptly called a friend to come and get her.

The real decline began the week of Thanksgiving in 2006. As the result of one of her many falls, she broke her hip. A few months after that she also broke her leg. During the last year there were numerous trips to the hospital and she was in and out of diabetic shock and diabetic comas repeatedly. Ultimately, she did end up in a nursing home, but she was never content with life there and always thought she would move back home.

Mother had lived for more than forty years with only one kidney. One of her kidneys had been removed sometime around 1962 as the result of a kidney stone that severed an artery. At the time we lived way out in the country and she almost died before they got her to the hospital. All of my life I remember her saying that there were two things she never wanted ... one was for one of her children to give her a kidney for transplant and the other was to be on dialysis. I think she always knew that when she died, it would probably be from kidney failure.

My mother's doctor recommended dialysis immediately telling me that it would only be for a couple of weeks and then they would be able to stop it. He had been my mother's doctor since the mid-1960s and, in my opinion, they had become friends and he was no longer objective about her care. He actually told me that he believed she would want dialysis. I was shocked to hear this in light of what she had always told me.

I spoke with both the urologist and the nurses who both told me that once they started dialysis it was highly unlikely that they would ever be able to stop it. Her one remaining kidney would not become healthy and start functioning as a result of dialysis.

I called all of my brothers and sisters who all concurred with me ... no dialysis. As I passed this word on to the hospital the nurse I spoke with reassured me that this was the best decision. There were many people who did not concur, among them my mother's doctor and the chaplain at her nursing home.

I have agonized over this decision many times over the past two years. I know that it was the right decision and, moreover, I know it was what my mother wanted. But that doesn't mean it was easy and there is always that little doubt in the back of my mind that maybe she had told her doctor something that she never got the chance to tell me.

I spent the next week shuttling between the hospital my husband was in and the hospital my mother was in. Mother died on October 16th. Because of my husband's illness and the fact that she was buried about 500 miles from here, I did not even attend her funeral. I tell myself that I did what I could for her while she was alive. I call to mind the scripture from Luke "Let the dead bury the dead." And I am at peace.

And now, some advice from Grams ... make sure your loved ones know your wishes. It doesn't matter whether you are young or old, healthy or ill. Some day you or someone you love may be called upon to make a similar decision. The greatest gift you can give them is the knowledge that they did what you wanted. Don't make them decide for you. Tell them in advance what you want.

Happy Birthday, Mom ... I just want to let you know that ... Grams made it!

1 comment:

  1. I just read this post about your mother -- after I first read and commented on your post for Thursday, September 9th 2010 called "Bluebonnets May Be A Brilliant Idea." This post really peeked my curiosity and I wanted to know more about why your relationship with your mother was so often strained. This is the hardest part about blogging -- deciding how much you want to reveal and what you want to leave out. Yes, I can understand that your mother's life must have been hard being a stay-at-home mother and raising six kids -- two who had severe handicaps. Still, I could not help thinking as I read your post and caught glimpses of how strict and what a disciplinarian your mother was that I never feared my mother. I kept looking up at the picture of your mother as a young woman before life happened to her. In that picture she looks so young and beautiful like a girl who might have had dreams of her own -- dreams apparently that never came to fruition. I found this post to be an intriguing piece, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and it was a moving tribute to your mother.