Friday, September 14, 2012

My State Right Now

My mother is dying.  I know that is a shock to read, when you expect to see ordinary game notes, but I can tell you from experience about these things that the more often you say it clearly and directly, the closer you come to being able to cope with it.  It helps to remember we all lose our mothers.  Some early, some later, but the plan your mother had from the beginning was that you would out-live her.  Sooner or later you come to the point where you transition from having a mother to remembering that you once had a mother; for me, it has been a long expection of something that was expected to happen years and years ago.

My mother was born in a Regina hospital in Saskatchewan, in June of 1935, while a labor riot was brewing in the empty lot next door.  Some 2,000 protesters had arrived in Regina the day before my mother was born - they had been marching onto Ottawa from Vancouver to protest the government's treatment of the unemployed, and over the next two weeks anger gathered as negotiations panned out.  When my mother was a bit more than two weeks old, on July 1st, police rushed the crowd and hand-to-hand fighting broke out.  I know from my grandparents that my mother was still in the hospital at the time, as she had not been a strong baby.  Eventually the police would start firing into the crowd of unemployed - according to the police, no one was killed except one police officer.  There were 39 injuries.

I don't know why that it's important that I know that.  There's something in it, I think, that goes towards my deeper instincts as a Canadian and as a child raised by this woman from Saskatchewan.  Her father Martin was a union employee, a truck mechanic who worked for the city of Regina.  He drank, heavily; he was an alcoholic, and later I learned he'd hit my mother often when she was a girl.  My memory of him was that he was a right bastard to the day he died, a stiff-necked eastern European version of Archie Bunker, without any of the likeable characteristics.  I resent every day I was forced to  be in his company; but my mother backed him 100% in that blood-is-thicker-than-water family mindset that causes so much suffering in the world.  I never saw Martin give her anything but pain ... but I never saw him hit her, either.  I guess she'd gotten to big for that.  He died about twenty years ago.

My mother escaped her home to work in a mental institution in Weyburn for two years before meeting my father as a blind date.  My father was going to the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, though he'd been born in Alberta (there were no engineering schools in Alberta at the time worth speaking of) and he was friends with a fellow named Jerry Enich.  Enich was from Saskatchewan, and he and my father were there working for the summer of '57 when Jerry and his girlfriend supplied the extra date for my father.  My mother and father did not get along.  They hated each other from the start, so they told me.  Naturally, they could not stop thinking about each other.  My father asked her to come down to Colorado after Christmas that year and she finally went. They married on Valentine's Day, 1958.

They had two children before me, my brother and my sister.  My mother's pregnancy with my sister was touch-and-go; she had her first heart operation, an artery graft, and the doctors told my Mother that because of her heart, another pregnancy would kill her.  This was 1962.  Things went along as they do, however, and without birth control and without the social option of abortion, when my Mother got pregnant around Christmas 1963 there was nothing to be done about it.  I was born September 15 of '64, which happens to be tomorrow ... these things come around.  I did not kill her coming out, so that was a good thing.

I'm not going to talk right now about the day-to-day things - they don't matter much right now, and they don't come to a point where I would grow up seeing eye to eye with my mother.  I would say that it's because there's too much Saskatchewan in her; you have to be truly Canadian, and truly urban to understand exactly what that means.  An American might say there's too much Kansas, but its not the same thing, since its without the religious overtones.

I want to talk about how she got where she is right now.  In 1977 my mother had her first major heart surgery.  It was open heart, difficult for 1977, and high tech stuff.  They replaced her natural heart valve with one that was mechanical, to enable her heart chambers to properly open and close, in the way that yours and mine do without trouble.  When they did the procedure, it had an expected lifespan of 3 to 5 years.  There was nothing, they told my mother and father, that they could do about it after that.  When the valve gave out, my mother would die.

I did not learn any of this, of course, until I was 31, sitting at my parent's kitchen table and finally getting the whole story.  I remembered at 13 my mother being in the hospital a long time.  I remembered my mother coming home and having to walk and walk to build up her strength; she did not like to go outside, so she would walk in a loop around the main floor of the house, kitchen to dining room to living room to hallway to kitchen, forty times an evening.  I used to walk with her.  She had to give up sodium (all salt) and she was on blood thinners and other pills that severely limited what she could do and how much life she could take big bites of.

She did not die.  That valve kept clicking along for 18 years; it finally gave out in 1995, and she was back in the hospital again.  Technology had moved on and now they could do something about the valve that had quit on her.  They replaced it with something newer and shinier ... only there was a major issue.  There had been several procedures on her heart by that time, and now there was not enough muscle tissue in the area around the new valve to attach it.  The very clever doctors solved that problem; they created a sort of 'purse' ... they tightened the muscle tissues around the valve like a drawstring on a pair of sweat pants, so that the valve would sit itself into place.  It wasn't actually 'attached' - and as the doctors explained, there was always the chance that it would 'pop out' of place.  If that happened, it would leave her with a big hole in her heart and she would simply collapse and die, within 30 seconds my parents were told.

So they hung on and time passed.  By seven years later, my mother's heart had adopted the new valve and had actually grown around it.  Being able to look inside her chest, they could tell there wasn't any danger that it would pop out, not any more.

It is now 17 years since her second valve was put in place, and it is still operating fine.  But my mother is 77, and her body has long been run down by pills and endless co-existing conditions, all of them chronic, that stage by stage she has gotten weaker these last ten years.

She has also gotten miserable, abusive, sullen, mean and  ... it must be said ... unloving.  We three children, my brother and my sister and I, none of whom speaks at all to each other, have all thrown ourselves into this emotional morass and all of us have been rebuffed to the point where to keep our sanity, we've pulled back.  I have even heard from my mother's six grandchildren, all torn up and all helpless to know what to feel about this inevitable decline.

Life isn't always a television movie.  Some people go down heartlessly; I would like to think my mother has been a fighter these past fifty years, but unfortunately she has spent more time crying "why me" than she has gamely taking on the challenge.  That has been my father's job, and he has done it with the cold calculation of a machine.  When I think of myself as someone who works like a machine, that is from my father.

So I'm writing about this because this is how I cope with life.  This is my gyroscope.  When things finally fall apart, and I go through the long dark tunnel that is bound to start very soon, on the other side I'll find my balance again by reading this post.  That all of you are out there reading too is really a matter of indifference; but one of the strengths I have found since first publishing back in the late 80s is that I am never alone, because some poor bastard reading this is going through exactly what I'm going through.

I wouldn't have made it if some other bastard had once written about it for me to read.


rainswept said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nine-toes said...

Sorry to hear you're having such a rough time of it. Thanks for your honesty and your courage in sharing your experience.

Christian Walker said...

Powerful words, Alexis. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little choked up after reading it. Be well and stay strong.

Eric said...

Rough, I recently lost my father, who I barley knew, to ALS, my mother passed away well over 20 years ago, I would say, "I know how you feel", but that crap always pissed me off when folks told me that when my mom died, then again when my dad died. How the piss does anyone know how I feel?

Life marches on though, I have a wife and kids, and at some point I will die, I hope I will leave this plane with more loving thoughts from my children than I do for my parents.

Anyways, you hang in, buddy.


Arduin said...

As someone who's mother has and continues to have brushes with death, I cannot express the amount of empathy I have for you.

We're internet strangers, always will be, but as someone who's voice has been an involved part of my life for years now, I still feel the pang of mutual loss.

My condolences.

Ahmet said...

Sorry to hear about this, Alexis. My thoughts are with you and your family.

Jack said...

Intense. Because it's the traditional thing to say, Happy Birthday. Thank you for reminding us that life is more than dice and charts and figures. God (your choice) be with you...

- Jack

Bluebear Jeff said...

You have my sympathy for the ordeal that you are facing, sir. And my respect for the honesty with which you are facing it.

Not every relationship we have is a pleasant one but it is still a part of our lives and feelings.

Yes, you will come through this. I think that this post is a very good positive sign as to that.

The grief that we go through with losses like this are generally for what didn't happen rather than what did . . . so looking at your honest feelings is a good thing.

Death will come to all of us . . . but that doesn't mean that we have to fear it or obsess about it.

Right now I'm going through chemotherapy as follow-up to cancer surgery earlier this year . . . and it will supposedly double my chances of a 5-year survival (still less than 50/50) but I'm not worried about it . . . so I suspect my chances are better because of that.

I think that you, too, will get through your mother's passing as well (or better) than you expect.

Again, you have my sympathy and respect.

-- Jeff

János said...

My thoughts are with you too, Alexis. Just last year I lost my grandfather, who had managed to stay with us longer than anyone could have expected. Hang in there, man, and I'm sure you'll be alright.

Alexis said...

Thank you all.

It proves what I said in the post. None of us are really alone. We just need to speak, and others will understand.