Before I was a caregiver for my Dad, I was a caregiver for my Mom. She had idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis with hypersensitivity pneumonitis and died August 17, 2012. Seven years ago today, she was in her second day at the McGraw Hospice facility and I had finally relented to allow the staff to tell Dad she would not be coming home this time. We had two more days with her before she slipped into a coma. Just like with Dad, I was her medical decision maker. This week, I have her on my mind.
I’m going to attach a copy of what I said at her celebration of life at the end of this article. Maybe only because I want to read it once again. But I also wanted to share some things I learned along the way.
First, my Mom died in a peaceful, respectful manner surrounded by her family. My son, the physician and philosopher, came to that conclusion quickly. I, on the other hand, was completely devastated and could not see past my own loss and pain for months, perhaps years. Since Mom has been gone, I’ve rarely remembered or concentrated on the difficult times when caring for her. The many, many times she or Dad called me at 3 a.m. because she was not breathing and I drove to her, in spite of the fact I had to work the following morning. The times we had to figure out how to travel with oxygen tanks, wheelchairs and frequent breaks so Mom could move her legs. The times Mom and I butted heads because a physician had talked to me instead of her about her blood work, even though I knew what the results meant (nothing good) and called to relay them to her immediately. The times I felt frustrated that I could not do more. The times she was frustrated because I did too much. Nope, those memories are not what I carry with me.
What I do carry with me are questions, like: “Why didn’t I talk to her more?”, “Why didn’t I ask her more questions about how she was feeling?”, “Why didn’t I take her to the beach one last time?”, “Why, even though I knew she had a terminal illness, did I always assume there would be one more day?” And I wish I was here to offer you the answer, how to find peace to all of those questions, even after seven years, But I’m afraid I am not. Thank all the stars in the heavens that hospice offers free bereavement counseling. Both Dad and I went. They offer needed help with giving yourself permission to grieve as well as learning how to forgive yourself, or perhaps more accurately, learning that you do NOT need forgiveness but perhaps, a halo instead. Because us caregivers almost always think (whether rational or not) that we could have done just one more thing.
There’s a quote from Joe Biden about losing his young wife and baby daughter in a car accident that I’ve kept in mind: “There will come a day—I promise you—when the thought of your [loved one] brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye.” And he is absolutely correct, just not this week of the year.
Service of Celebration for The Reverend Marilyn Louise Finch Alamsha
I have spent a lot of time staring into space trying to decide what to say. How to encapsulate everything Mom was to each person she touched. And I finally decided that the only thing I am capable and qualified to talk about is what she meant to me. And hopefully many of the same things will ring true for others as well.
My Mom was scary smart. She loved to learn, she loved to debate intellectual or theological ideas. She was a sucker for the pursuit of knowledge, and the pursuing was often more exciting to her than the finding. She loved language. Mom was a gifted writer, as all of you that were fortunate enough to receive cards with personal messages or Christmas letters knows. And she loved crossword puzzles and especially Scrabble. It was always a big day when any of us could win one measly Scrabble game when pitted against her. How she could consistently get the “z” on a triple letter while making a seven-letter word, I’ll never know. It was that love of the pursuit of learning that led her to seminary-two days after our wedding. Lew and I left for our honeymoon and when we returned, the entire family had moved away!! But what a preacher she became. I don’t think I’ve still ever heard anyone who could preach like my Mom. She’d walk into the service with a little notecard containing five words-and preach the most masterful sermon imaginable. I’m sure she is looking down at me shaking her head and saying, “Annette-talk to the people, don’t read”. Sorry Mom, it is the only way I can get through this today. The day she died was the 32nd anniversary of the day she was ordained. There must be symmetry in that somewhere.
My Mom was creative. She always had a project going; sewing all my clothes and hers, arranging flowers, cooking, making fudge or baking dozens and dozens of Christmas cookies, crocheting, painting a room… or the entire house. One summer when we lived in Stow, Ohio -Mom and I painted the entire outside of our house while Dad and Tim went to see the Cleveland Indians play. Actually, I think Mom bought the tickets and insisted they go. And when the ambulance personnel lifted her onto her bed at Hospice, her first remark was that the light fixture was lovely, she’d like something similar in her house. Sometimes her projects were “lost” souls. Our family collected them and Mom was always willing to allow yet one more in the door. From teenage boys who were thrown out of their house, to exchange students who had trouble with their host families, to business men who needed a place to stay while away from home to seminary students who seemingly had no one else. No matter who the person or the circumstances that brought them together with Mom, she showed them respect and dignity and love. Is that not living your faith?
My Mom cared extravagantly about her family. Nothing else came first. And we all knew it, felt it, treasured it. She was a daughter, a wife, a sister, a mother, a grandmother, a great grandmother and a friend. Her father died this past June. He was 99. It hurt her deeply that she was not physically able to go. She never missed anything when it came to her clan. Her three sisters came from three different states last month so that the four of them could be together. It was Mom’s primary wish on her bucket list. And thank heavens Aunt Ginger said no to waiting until October for them all to fly in. Mom was thrilled with that visit. She recounted the details to numerous people. Mom said that the four of them had never really had an opportunity to sit down and chat and reminisce without kids or jobs or life getting in the way since they had all left home. She treasured those days together greatly. And for anyone who has had the thrill of being around the four Finch girls, you know there were loads of jokes, giggles, crazy stories and hilarity. To me and Tim, Mom was simply Mom, yet that was never simple. She was a rock, she was always a shoulder to lean on, but she wasn’t afraid to say, “Now go stand on your own two feet” when the time was right. She gave her kids wings with which to fly. And sometimes we tried our wings and took immediate nose dives into the ground. But most of the time we’ve done pretty well. Mom always had a special bond with her grandkids. She’d often say that skipping a generation made for a tighter connection between grandparents and grandchildren. She made fudge for Levi, discussed black holes over spaghetti with Sam and wrote lengthy personal missives to Jonah Bug in his cards. She watched Jess and Becca sing and perform, worked jigsaw puzzles with Lexie and talked often about how much Andrew was his father all over again. There was never a title of being an “in law” in this family. Lew, Barb, Kasey and Jasmine were simply and complexly—family. She loved each one. To me, My Mom was my role model, my friend, the voice in my head steering me. My Mom taught me that life is not about learning to weather the storm, but learning to dance in the rain. She loved angels and had at one point collected over 900. She would lead workshops on angels all over the state. She is my angel.
And Dad--My sweet Dad—I can’t imagine what it is like to love one person for 56 years and then wake up one day and be single. You and I have said to each other that there is a hole which will never be filled. One day while Mom was at Hospice when you had gone home to rest, she was talking to the young Chaplin. She was a bit teary eyed when she said she was worried about you being on your own when she was gone. She was explaining to the Chaplin that she was the detail person and you were the dreamer. But then she said, “Lloyd was the best thing that ever happened to me. I’ve always needed him.” She would not want us to mourn too long. She’d want us to celebrate.
Let me leave you with a story My Mom would tell. It is the story of footprints in the sand. According to Mom, we all walk through life in sand that is made of the remains of the footprints left by all that went before us; our parents, grandparents, great grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. Those preceding footprints shape and mold our own footprints. Without the sand left by the others’ footprints, our footprints would not exist. And our footprints likewise shape all of those yet to follow. One of My Mom’s final hopes was that she had left good enough footprints for all of the rest of us. It is my hope that I can live up to the large footprints she has left in the sand for me. I love you Mom.