The Surreal Experience of Watching a Person Die

(and other things they don’t teach you in school)

Well, so my Mom died. I guess you’ve figured that out if you saw my last video, which I forgot to post here when I recorded it (been a bit preoccupied and I’ve gotten my posting order all mixed up. Sue me). I really thought we had more time. That’s been the most shocking part of it all for me.

When I arrived, she wasn’t doing great but she seemed far from dying. I thought all she needed was a dietary fix and a bit of time. I kept forgetting the fact that when she started dialysis 5 or so years ago she was already Stage 5. Stage Five. That’s Kidney Failure.

It was all due to gold treatments she’d received when she was only a little older than me for her rheumatoid arthritis. It was known at the time that it could cause kidney damage, so there was always extensive blood work done with each treatment. The moment there were signs that yes, her kidneys had been harmed, the treatments were stopped.

She should have sought dialysis then. But no.

When she would speak of it, the mental image I’d get would be of being stuck in some kind of iron lung for hours, or even days at a time, with no mobility, no freedom, one’s life held hostage by machines. Dialysis was the last thing she could possibly want.

I was at the doctor’s appointment the day he came and told her the bad news: that her tests showed her disease had advanced to Stage 5. I asked, “What’s the next Stage?” He answered, “There is no next Stage.” I turned to my mother in accusation and said, “Mom!”

When we got back to her house, I immediately started researching dialysis to find out if it was, in fact, as awful as she thought it was, and if at Stage 5, there was any point in pursuing it. It turned out that even at Stage 5 there was a great deal of hope, and HEY BONUS!, there’s even a way to do it in the comfort of your OWN HOME.

I told her about it and immediately signed us up for an informational seminar.

Although she tried the home dialysis, it turned out to be uncomfortable and difficult. I ended up hearing this from quite a few people who had tried this. Bummer. But, my Mom was open to going to a center, which she faithfully did for roughly the following several years.

At first, it was a revelation! While the treatment tired her out when she got home, the following day she was peppy and energized, feeling quite back to her normal self. Weekends, she could go out to dinner and the movies again, or the opera, like she used to. She had much of her old life back—or at least so it seemed, for a time. But it was just staving-off the inevitable. She was in kidney failure after all. She was already dying.

I know I already wrote a post where I spoke quite ill of my mother. We had a complicated relationship. Let me take a few moments to tell you of her talents.

She could knit, crochet, and sew amazing things. Growing up, her hands were never still. She even took sewing lessons, to learn how to make custom patterns. She made my brother’s girlfriend’s prom dress, which was this gorgeous one shoulder taffeta creation. She made needlepoint. In the evenings, during family TV time, she would pull out whatever she was working on, and I loved to watch her. I never had the talent or patience for this work. Sadly, arthritis took this away from her, along with vision problems.

She loved to write poetry. I don’t know if she had any talent for it, but she would spend hours with a legal pad and a pen, musing away late into the night. I think she shared something with me once, but I was too young to appreciate it. I prefer free-verse, anyway.

She could tell stories! Oh my, the stories of her life were so interesting! From weekends on her grandmother’s farm in Chile, to moving to New York in the 1950’s, then taking a bus trip to visit her brother in San Francisco—and getting stuck there because she ran out of money!—and taking a job as a bank teller for BofA, and, while getting the medical screening for health insurance and just by chance swallowing while the doctor was palpating her throat to discover, of all things, thyroid cancer, which back in those days involved removing half of her neck! She literally could not hold her head up for months, as they had removed not only the tumor and her thyroid, but all of the tendons and muscles on that side of her neck just to make certain they had gotten it all! It left a massive t-shaped scar along her jawline, down her neck, and across her collarbone. This was a beautiful woman in her early twenties who went on to feel deformed for the next decade. Devastating. Plus, the physical therapy involved just to hold her head up, turn her head, compensate for what was lost—just incredible. I have never been able to imagine what that must have been like for her.

Obviously she found men to love her and marry her. She created a family. She was conflicted. Perhaps she never felt worthy. She and I spoke somewhat of this, but never directly. She could only ever allude to mistakes she had made and wishing she had done things differently. Don’t we all?

This was also a woman who loved history. She adored historical novels. She could retell historical events as if she had actually been there. She could bring them to life in such a way that I think she missed her true calling as a historical author!

I will miss this cantankerous, impossible, vivacious, lovable lady. I wish you had known her. You’d have felt the same.

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