Friday, March 07, 2008

Warning: Rant Incoming

This post has been a long time in coming. I’m warning you now that I’m about to let loose on a lot of pent up feelings that I’ve been holding in for about the last 2 years.
I don’t think I’ve ever been able to come to grips with my mother’s diagnosis, her failing health, or her death. When she was first diagnosed with a brain tumor that turned out to be from lung cancer, I was pregnant with our 3rd child, living 2500 miles from my family, and I was busy. Aside from my husband, my mother was my best friend. I know, as a parent, you’re not supposed to be best friends with your kids. My mom & I had a different kind of relationship. From the time I was 2, we were pretty much on our own. My parents were divorced, and while I still had a good relationship with my dad & saw him frequently, he didn’t live near us, and I didn’t have daily interaction with him (this is not going to be a bash on my dad, just stating the facts). While my mother ended up re-marrying twice and divorcing twice, I always knew my mother was too good for them. She worked hard, she was an independent woman, and she raised me to be that way, too. She always taught me that I didn’t have to rely on other people; I was a capable person who could do things on my own.
That being said, she was a stubborn ox. She did NOT like being told what to do, as she felt she was quite capable to make her own decisions. This is what led her to be successful in her job, and, if I am not being too immodest, successful in raising me. I didn’t turn out to be a crack head, or a prostitute, or dropping out of high school. And while I had great respect for my mom, there were times, especially during her marriage to my ex-stepdad John D., where I thought she was only doing things to try & salvage her relationship. Sometimes I felt like I was the one in charge, because she made some pretty silly choices. She had fallen prey to the “you’re not a complete person until you’re married to the right person” trap that can happen to people in their late 30’s & 40’s. I think, after my dad, she never found the right person. I think this made her sad, but also made her more into the independent soul she was.
After her divorce, she was a 43-year-old single woman, who had a successful job, owned her own home, and thought she had life pretty figured out. That’s when she started traveling and trying to write a book about my great-grandmother.
My mother smoked from the time she was a teenager. She smoked my entire childhood. As a child, I tried to use the little amount of pull I had over her to get her to quit. I didn’t know about any health effects, to me it just made the whole house stink, and as a teenager I developed asthma that made it difficult to participate in sports. I didn’t like it, but being the independent woman she was, she didn’t want to have other people tell her what she should do.
When I got older, I tried using the health aspect of it. She had intentions to quit, but something always came up. Hers was a true nicotine addiction. Even with the prospect of going to Europe when I was 16, knowing that the person we were traveling with couldn’t tolerate smoke due to health issues, couldn’t give her enough incentive to quit.
Fast forward to after I’m married and now she’s going to be a grandmother. I’m living with her while Jeff is out to sea for 6 months. I’m pregnant, and she still won’t quit. It took until our 2nd child for her to even smoke outside while we were visiting.
She had so many plans for after her retirement. She was going to move to Michigan to be closer to us. She was going to spend her days playing with her grandkids, doing her crafts, and finish writing her book. She was going to travel, and do all the things that she had been working her entire adult life for. Then she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She had surgery to remove it, and it was found that it had spread from somewhere else in her body. That somewhere else turned out to be her lungs. She had lung cancer. I don’t give a SHIT what the tobacco industry says or what excuses people who smoke give, SMOKING CAUSES CANCER. We don’t have a history of lung cancer in our family, she didn’t work with asbestos, and she didn’t have any other risk factors for lung cancer other than smoking. I know there are people who get lung cancer who’ve never smoked a day in their lives. Dana Reeves for instance. But the kind my mom had was from smoking 2 packs a day for almost 40 years.
At the time, all I could do was cry. She was told the kind she had had a life expectancy of 2 years. 2 years, that was it. I was pregnant; we had so many plans, and we were told, get it all done in 2 years. I was in shock. But, we also had plans to beat the odds. She was going to keep this in check (because curing it was not on the table) for as long as we could. She was still going to move here, we would go on with our lives, and this was just going to be a “bump-on-the road” as Annette would call it.
But you know, she was still smoking. Even through all this, she was still smoking. I remember having a hard conversation with her where I basically PLEADED with her to quit. She quit drinking, which was good. But she still couldn’t give up what was killing her.
But then things got bad. Her tumor re-grew and she had to have another brain surgery. We thought we would lose her then. Then she had an infection in her lungs. We were told to fly out right away because she might not make it til Christmas. We spent as much quality time as we could. But she defied all the odds. At the time she told me it was because she couldn’t leave me while I was still 28, because her mom had died when SHE was 28. So when my birthday rolled around last year, it was a cause for celebration. Another victory on mom’s side. She was told many many times by many many experts that she kept forcing them to change their way of thinking because she wasn’t following the conventional way of doing things.
After Christmas 2006, I didn’t get to see her very often, due to whatever. I didn’t see her until May 2007, when she flew out here to live. She had decided that whatever was in store, she wanted to be by us. So she did. And when I saw her, I knew that our expectations and hopes of making it past the 2 years were probably not going to happen. She had lost almost 60 lbs. She was skin & bones. It took my breath away when I saw her. All I could do was try to remain positive, especially for the kids. When Katie was an infant, I cried because I didn’t think Mom would make it to see her 1st birthday. But she did, and she celebrated it with us. We went to a family reunion at Lake Tahoe. We had a great time. We tried to make each day count. She loved waking up each morning and seeing the kids first thing. They loved having her here. They’d never been able to spend that much time with Grammy in their lives. They spent 2 wonderful months where they could wake up & see her. It was more than I could have hoped for.
Then in July she decided to go back to CA because she felt she was deteriorating too quickly, and she didn’t want to make us go through that, especially since I was her sole caregiver while she was here. So back she went. We went on with our lives; I got weekly updates as to what was going on. She was slowly going downhill. I was able to fly out to see her in October by myself. It was great. We talked and watched home movies. We went through pictures, and we talked about things we hadn’t really brought up before. I knew it would be the last time I saw her.
Then on Thanksgiving, November 22, I got the call that I’d been dreading. She was gone. It hit me like a ton of bricks. We were visiting friends in Tennessee. I’d talked to her the Sunday before. She was in a hospice center. I have to say I got absolutely no pleasure from knowing that she was on oxygen and thus was unable to smoke. It took her until then to finally be able to stop.
Afterwards, I was really too busy to be able to grieve properly. There just wasn’t time to sit & feel sorry for myself. I’ll admit I was in a slump emotionally, but that’s about as far as I was able to let myself get. I think of her everyday, and I miss her terribly. But the feeling that I have mostly is anger. I’m angry about a lot of things. I’m angry that I lost my mother before I turned 30. I’m angry that my kids will grow up without their Grammy, with 2 of the 3 of them not remembering her at all. I’m angry that I didn’t push harder for her quit smoking a long time ago, and I’m angry that the people who were closest to her didn’t pressure her to quit. I’m angry that they enabled her addiction, because they suffer from the same one. My mom knew that I hated that she smoked. After I turned 18 and was legally able to buy them, my mom asked me numerous times if I would go to the store for her & buy them. I never did, not once. The only time I broke that rule was when she lived with us and was physically unable to get out of the house very often. The only time in 12 years.
I go back & forth between being mad at my mom for being so weak when it came to smoking, and reveling in her strength for fighting so hard when she was sick. I’m pissed off and hurt that she couldn’t put her only daughter before her addiction, but it breaks my heart to remember her being so sad, knowing she would miss her grandchildren growing up.
I’m not saying that we don’t all have issues we deal with. Smoking might not be my thing, but I’m far from the picture of health. I don’t eat the way I should, I don’t exercise enough. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to leave my kids when they’re young because I didn’t take care of myself.
I love my mom and I will miss her for the rest of my life. It shouldn’t have been this way, and I think I will be angry about that for a long time. She was my first best friend. I feel like I’ve once again joined a club I didn’t really want to join. Like when we first found out about Sarah having Down syndrome. Not a group I initially saw myself liking to be part of. I’ve now joined a 2nd club: People who’ve lost a parent. You don’t know what it’s like until it happens to you.
I don’t know if getting all of this out will help. I feel both satisfied & ashamed at having these feelings. I don’t like the fact that I blame my mother’s inability to stop a destructive behavior for why my kids will grow up without her. I’m not narcissistic enough to think that me blogging about this will somehow stop another person from dying of cancer. Maybe all I’m hoping for is for someone else who maybe knows someone who smokes, to have the courage to ask them to stop. Because I didn’t. I’m a weak person. I’m weak in many areas of my life. But that’s something I’m working on. All I can say is people need to think of others before themselves. It’s hard in this world, where we live in the “Me Generation”. What’s in it for ME? What are you going to do for ME? Maybe we need to think more about what we can do for others.

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