That's the question the family therapist asked me when we met with her a few weeks ago. I just don't even know what to do with that question.
I was always a daddy's girl - always. I always felt like he and I were so much alike, our glass was 1/2 full, deep down we felt like we could do anything if we really wanted to. We were the kind of people that just plunged in, if we wanted to do it we'd find a way! And we'd most likely find a way to enjoy accomplishing it, too - to hell with those silly nay-sayers out there. My mom - and my brother as well - they were more careful. Watch out! Don't you see the dangers there?? THIS could go wrong, and THAT could be bad! It was good he and I had that balance with them, but we knew that forging ahead could gain us anything. I've always said I won the Lotto in the parent department, I loved them unconditionally my whole life - and knew they loved me as well, no question. As my mom always said "we may not always like what you do, but we'll always love you, no matter what." I'd have to push "what if I killed someone?" She'd say, "well we'd hate what you did, but that wouldn't change how we love you one bit. We will love you always - no matter what." So my dad would encourage - dang near anything I wanted to do - my mom would fret, warn and lay out all the dangers. And I would feel secure in my life of trying whatever came my way, always knowing that my amazing parents were just right behind me, ready to catch me if I tripped, comfort me if I was hurt. But I was a daddy's girl, I knew he and I really had it all figured out. All that worrying and fretting was mostly a waste, wasn't it?
My dad got sick in 1988, he had a cough he couldn't kick. We took him in for a tonsilectomy (he'd never been in a hospital before, never had anything removed before) after surgery the doctor came out and said it, instead of bad tonsils he'd found cancer. Those first few weeks I was really worried it was going to kill my mother, I didn't really believe anything could get my dad. Either did he, the prognosis was not good - but he was going to do everything and anything they had and he was going to beat it. For 18 months he did just that - any and every awful, horrible cancer treatment his doctors could think up. For the last 10 months he could not eat via his mouth or speak - and he and I both lived to eat and speak - but he kept at it, he never gave up. My mother came to terms with the fact he would not survive long before I did - and I don't think he ever did, even that last week when hospice came in, I know he thought he was going to find a way to beat it. Whenever we'd ask him what his wishes were for after he died he'd either say "freeze me and drive me in the ground like a stake" or "put a bone up my ass and let the dogs haul me off". Those were the only instructions we had to go on when he finally passed away. See where I get that? Hell, that was 20 years ago and I couldn't say yes to have I come to terms with HIS death, much less my mother's a year ago.
When daddy was sick and after he died, my mother announced to anyone and everyone that would listen that she would not ever take cancer treatment, nothing no way no how! My sweet husband would try and talk to her - Hey Katy! Remember the whole bone up the ass thing Leroy said? Remember how not useful that was when we were in the casket room at Sparkman? She'd just say "call Dr. Kervorkian if anything happens. He'll take care of me." She pretty much did not see a doctor for 20 years - and this was from age 62 to 81, mind you. When they put Dr. Kervorkian in jail, we were living in California. Stephen said "Call your mother. Ask her for her Plan B". You need to understand, Stephen loved my mother so much. From shortly after my dad died until she died last year, he always tried to talk to her about living with us. And she always rolled her eyes, blew him off. "you don't need me in your hair! that would be awful!" But he did mean it, he very much knew how special she was, and that she was just the most precious thing to me.
I may have been a daddy's girl, but after he died my mom and I became as close as a mom and daughter could be. We spoke on the phone every day. I guess we built up to that, I don't think it started out as every day - but those last 10-15 years? Pretty much every day. Some days more than once, it started while we still lived in California, and was even more so once we moved back to Texas. It went both ways equally, she called me, I called her - we just talked, every day. About everything and nothing. My son was saying not too long ago - I remember that Meemaw called us everyday, the phone would ring and I'd just know it was her all the time! He said he misses that. Yeah, me too.
For over a year before she died we knew she was getting more frail, not doing so well. She was always the picture of health - spry, energetic, so very self-sufficient and independent. She always said my dad and I were hard-headed - HAH! We had nothing on her. She did what she wanted, when she wanted - and if she dug in? There was NO CHANGING HER MIND. I constantly wanted to take her to my doctor - who is an old friend AND her best friends doctor as well! No way. Her feet hurt - I have a foot doctor! No way. But that last year she just seemed to ... fade. That Thanksgiving I spoke with her best friend, we were both worried. The week after Tgiving we started making calls, got a Senior Social Worker lined up, were getting meals on wheels lined up (she was getting frail) and we planned to do a "senior citizen intervention" the following Monday - she was getting help whether she wanted it or not! But as per usual, she did it her way. She had her other best friend take her to the emergency room that Friday before our scheduled intervention. What an awful phone call, "we have your mother here in ER, she's extremely anemic, we are very worried....". And so it went. She had water in her veins she was so anemic. So weak she couldn't walk without assistance. We ran test after test. She didn't argue, wasn't uncooperative - but offered up no clue as to what was going on. She'd been there 5 days when they did a bone marrow biopsy, and it showed cancer. It showed breast cancer. The next day we took her down to do an ultra sound to see if there was a tumor, when they opened her gown...there it was. Her breast was malformed, she HAD to know - but never said anything. And she got her way, once again, it was far too late for any treatment at all. We moved her to the nicest care facility I could find, I'd hoped they could give her some physical therapy, that she could get stronger for a while, maybe we'd have a few months with her. It didn't happen. We had her with a pretty sound mind for 3 more weeks, thru Xmas, but 12/27 she started to fail - she was in pain, I signed off on having her medicated. We brought in 24 hour hospice on 1/3/08. On Saturday 1/5 they called me first thing in the morning and said "we think this is it, she's showing signs that she'll go very soon." my brother & I, his oldest son and his wife all went there right away. She was in a coma, not responsive at all - but I said "let's just talk about how great everything is, how well we all are." The 4 of us spent the entire day there around her bed, laughing, telling stories - being happy as we could be. The hospice nurse said "she hears you. her vital signs have strengthened right up. she's peaceful and no longer failing...". Finally that night we all went to dinner, my brothers & my family's, all the kids. Within 2 hours of us being away from her I got the call. Right after we left she started to fade again, and she just peacefully slipped away. I should have known. She would never die in front of her kids! She would think that was somehow rude, or that it would cause us pain or distress. All she ever wanted, her whole life, was for us to be happy, to have anything we wanted. So she had to slip away when we weren't watching.
Have I come to terms with my mother's death? Hell, I don't know if I've come to terms with my father's death almost 21 years ago - I don't even know what "coming to terms" means. But I do believe this - my own condition is making a difference in my dealing with my mom being gone. That gigantic hole she left in my life, that time I spent with her every single day - for a year I just had no clue what to do with it. I didn't reach out to anyone, who could take that place? To make matters all the worse, her passing left a problem with my relationship with my brother, leaving another huge hole in my life. So I guess I can say - for that first year, until I had to deal with my own breast cancer - I was not coming to terms, I was biding my time. So if there's one thing my diagnosis has done, it has jerked me - sometimes kicking and screaming - into the present, into "dealing with" everything once again. There is no hiding, not my feelings, not anything in my life really. I feel quite the open book these last few months. With old relationships and brand new ones - I feel so much more.....free with it all. I'm learning a lot, what's important and what's just totally not. If you feel it - say it - time is precious. My mother said to me in the hospital, "I've just been waiting every year to join your dad. I never thought I'd last this long." That was the one thing she said that made me CRAZY. It makes me crazy to this day every time I think of it. My father never got to see my son, or my brothers 2 youngest sons. He never got to see my brother & I finally happily married, finally in relationships that some how honor our parents relationship that we were lucky enough to grow up with. What he wouldn't have given to stay, to be there for all those things my mother got to do! She was such an enormous help to me those 14 years she was around whilie I raised my son - how much I would have suffered without her help, her guidance!
So I know what I'm not, I'm not her and I will do whatever it takes to be here for my family. But I'm not my dad either, I'll be realistic if more health curve balls are thrown my way. I have come to terms with what happened to their health, I have learned from the way they each handled it - so very differently. What I wish is to find strength in their struggles, to learn from them still, even tho they're gone. I'm lucky in my legacy, I want my son to feel that same way some day, when he recalls me. I hope that is far, far down the road, but whenever it is I hope my struggle gives him strength one day.
I can so see he and I on the phone all the time, I hope my relationship with my mom modeled THAT for him as well. How selfish is that of me? SO WHAT. I will expect those phone calls...I'll expect him to remember how much we missed those Meemaw calls when they were gone.