We have taken every day as a blessing to have our parents for another day. Quietly, Andrea, Laurie and I have continued to prepare ourselves for the unexpected. But no matter how well we are prepared, we are not truly ready when it happens.
The unexpected came again one month ago. Though we were bracing for this very real possibility for several weeks, we had hoped it wouldn’t come this soon. My mom, Ethel, passed away during an early afternoon nap on Saturday, March 5th.
In the days preceding her passing, mom’s frailty was quickly advancing. In her final days, her final hours, she still maintained a clarity of mind. While mom had an appetite, it was not nearly enough to offset her weight loss. Along with it, a loss of energy. Not a good combination by any measure. Laurie quietly spoke to dad several times that our time was likely very short. Dad relied upon his knowledge, experience, and skill as a former medic to become mom’s primary caretaker and to make her comfortable as possible. He strongly believed mom would do better at home rather than a care facility. Dad also prepared himself mentally that we could lose her soon, and with little warning.
Both Laurie and Andrea tended to mom’s immediate medical needs, which were very few. Also, Laurie consulted with her former geriatrics professor from medical school to determine which options were available. Her former professor said the options would be very few at this stage. The best course of action would be to make her comfortable as possible, be encouraging as possible, and encourage her to eat and drink water. A dose of tough love could be helpful to urge mom to fight ahead. “Most of all, be hopeful. The odds may be poor, but keep a positive outlook. Knowing that you cared and loved to the very end will make it easier to cope when the time comes.” This became our supreme effort over the last half of February.
I spoke of mom, on behalf of our family, at her memorial. She had a love for reading. It was her favorite class while going to school. Mom’s teacher tried to impress upon the class that each of us has a story, and to a degree we all are storytellers.
What is the story my mom would tell of herself? She’d probably say her story would be a short one. Though she would talk some of growing up in Hawaii, her storytelling would bring us back to where we are here today. It would be one sharing of good memories and her many experiences. In reconnecting, it would be one of smiles and laughter. Funny moments, a few serious ones. Moreover, she would speak of the endless bounties of life.
In the late night quiet, on the back deck, Andrea, Laurie and I softly talked about the days ahead and becoming all grown-up. We would soon be relying upon ourselves entirely to know what we needed to know.
Stories That Go Bump In The Night
In Hawaii, the oral tradition passing along stories, legends and traditions is very strong. So much so, they have an expression called “talking story”. It can range from chatting with the next door neighbor to actual story telling.
Mom, she liked a good story. If it was scary, so much the better. She had a fondness for Stephen King novels. However, she was far different from the “Number One Fan” character found in his novel, “Misery”. Of his many works, she liked the Dark Tower series the most. Composed of eight novels, mom loved the interconnectedness of the story and plot lines. The main characters on a journey akin to the quest for the Holy Grail, the Dark Tower. Also, bits of the Dark Tower series could be found in his other stories. They were the kind of stories, however, you did not want to read just before bedtime.
Similarly, she liked the “Friday the 13th” and the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie series. Yes, they were campy movies but they appealed to her. Another favorite of hers was the classic gothic horror soap, Dark Shadows, which she dutifully watched with my sister, Ginny, every afternoon during its original run. When the SciFi Channel resurrected the original series as part of their initial programming, mom found the time to watch the episodes.
While I like “Ghost Adventures” and “The Dead Files” on TV’s The Travel Channel, it took mom some time to warm up to these programs. The scare factor on some episodes was considerable. One of the scariest on “Ghost Adventures” was the Poveglia Island episode. The first and second time was, “can we watch something else?” When it was repeated a third and fourth time, she was okay with the episode and the scare factor of the overall program as well. With “The Dead Files”, it took her longer to like the program. What finally made the show a favorite of hers, roughly 18-20 months ago, was Steve DiSchiavi. A retired NYPD homicide detective, mom liked his straightforwardness and his reassuring demeanor. He took the edge off the more scary parts.
Remaining on her reading table, five Stephen King novels and two autobiographies. The autobiographies, are not about things that “go bump in the night“.
Among Horses, Among Cats
When Deborah and Elizabeth were getting into riding, mom asked, “isn’t that pricey?” We said it was, but the girls are having fun. They’re also learning about horses. At the time, our girls weren’t thinking about competitive equine sports. If they were, perhaps along the lines of barrel racing. When they came home from a lesson, both would talk a mile a minute about what they learned.
After we purchased Edward the Great (Mr. Ed) and Comet Rider for the girls, mom asked about how serious were the girls in horse riding. Horses, after all, are a major investment in both time and money. Her questions, though, seemed to be more along the lines, “I’d better read up on horses.” The moment she met Mr. Ed and Comet, she loved them. Both horses were friendly and had good temperaments. She worried more about Deborah and Elizabeth falling off if either horse refused a jump or landed awkwardly. They were petite girls on tall horses (Ed at 17.1 hands, Comet at 17.0 hands). The falling off concern faded away as she saw both girls deftly handling their mounts.
Mom was quite proud of her granddaughters. The oldest, my niece, became an attorney, while my two were becoming accomplished horsewomen. Our addition of Lilith and Captain Andrew spoke volumes on how Deborah and Elizabeth were becoming very talented riders. Horses, and riding them, are the dreams of many young girls, including mom. It had to be special – the bonding, the trust, and the understanding.
As much mom liked the horses, she liked cats more. First, you didn’t have to travel to a boarding stable to visit with cats. And, the cats she loved the most were my Dino and Pebbles. Dino, he was a natural lover boy. Pebbles, you had to earn her affection. The one thing that earned Pebbles’ affection was fine gold jewelry. We’re not talking gold overlay, and we’re not talking 10K.
One day, Pebbles saw her grandma sitting in a chair and the sparkle of her gold bracelet. Pebbles took a taste, and decided the 14K white gold bracelet mom was wearing met her standard. Of course, mom’s reaction was, “hey Pebbles, it’s my bracelet!” We laughed about how Pebbles had good taste. Dino, though, was the cat mom loved the most. He had a loving disposition, and it didn’t matter whose lap he chose for a nap. Mom would rave of how handsome Dino was.
Of my current crew, she liked Susie though kitty had eyes for someone else. Miss Egypt, a very sociable cat that likes everyone. Tuxie would sit with mom. But, when he wanted to nibble on her fingers, she told Tuxie to find someone else to sit with.
Daughter of Hawaii, Daughter of Colorado
Mom left Honolulu, bound for the mainland in 1953. Her first stop would be California to meet her young man, my dad. In the days before leaving, many friends and several family members had beseeched mom not to leave. They knew mom and dad were going to get married, but did they have to leave Hawaii? Short answer, yes. My dad was in the Army, and part of military life is moving around. Those friends and family begging her to stay heard stories of girls growing up on the islands and then experience their military husbands desert them on the mainland (or elsewhere).
When mom arrived in the farming town of Rocky Ford, she loved the place. It was exactly how she imagined. Dad’s maternal grandma, my great-grandma, taught mom how to cook on a wood-burning stove. She also taught mom how to make some of dad’s favorites like enchiladas, green chile pork and stove-top cornbread. Homemade, flour tortillas, mom didn’t quite master making those.
The one thing mom did not like was winter. Her first winter experience, her first sight of snow, was a heavy snowfall in November 1953. Mom asked if these type of snows were commonplace during wintertime. (Not always, of course.) Driving from Camp Carson to Rocky Ford after the storm, already a long drive on a two-lane highway, nearly became an all-day experience. Two weeks later, with most of the snow melted away, was Thanksgiving. On the way to his grandparents farm, dad stopped at a turkey farm and bought a live turkey. Mom wondered how they were going to get the turkey there. Dad said easy, he rides in the trunk. When they arrived at his grandparents farm, the turkey hopped out the trunk (probably complaining about his travel accommodations). The turkey did not make it to the dinner table, but ended up as a longtime fixture in the barnyard.
Though mom got back to Hawaii to visit with family and friends a few times, it was much like the Thomas Wolfe saying, “you can never go home again.” While mom, my sister and I lived with our grandparents (mom’s parents) for several months in 1961-62, mom anxiously awaited for our travel orders to join my dad in Germany at his new duty station. Apart for making her own journeys home when her parents passed, the other trips were mostly to get away and relax. Those trips lasted for no more than a week. On the last trip in 1993, mom said she would have come home the next day after arriving. The heat and humidity simply smacked her in the face.
Colorado had become home, and was the best place to live. And, if you wanted to go somewhere, you could jump into the car and drive far into the day. (In Hawaii, 15-30 minutes later, you were on the opposite side of the island.)
Daughter of God
Mom grew up Methodist in Hawaii, partly because her closest friend was a Methodist. The other part was my grandpa saying they needed to be more American after the attack at Pearl Harbor. My grandparents and several of mom’s siblings, however, remained Buddhist.
When mom married dad, she thought about converting to Catholicism. She didn’t take the step until my sister and I began our catechism lessons. Seeing it was time, she decided to convert while we lived in Hawaii for those few months. Since mom wasn’t sure when our travel orders would arrive, the priest, at the parish we were attending, said he would give individual instruction. He assured mom she would be Catholic before we left for Germany. And, she did with plenty of time to spare.
Maggie, Laurie’s mom, found mom’s conversion to be an inspiration. “To become Catholic,” Maggie said, “is you have found something more than those of us born into the faith.” Mom loved attending Sunday Mass. It was the time you are one with God, alone in thought and prayer. It cannot get any better than that.
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We will miss you mom, ever so much. Kind and loving, yet so very strong.
Be well in the company of angels and saints. Love you always.