A Little Unsettled

I’m feeling a little unsettled today. It’s the fourth anniversary of my mother’s death.

I’ve studied grief, interviewed grief and loss experts on the radio and talked with friends about their various losses. I know we never really get over the loss of a family member; over time we do process the loss differently and over time there is usually less sadness than when the loss first occurs.

All of that is true for me too; I usually feel some sadness on this date but I also smile when I think about Mom. However, on this date each year, I get a little more pissed off at the nursing home officials who decided they should ride out Hurricane Katrina rather than evacuate their residents, three of whom were over 90 years old. None of the residents died that day, but a day or two later, the residents had to be moved across the street to a hospital because there was six inches of water in the nursing home and no electricity, food, running water or working toilets. The hospital wasn’t much better and when the generators ran out of fuel, someone finally decided to transport the residents to another facility out of the hurricane zone.

After hours and hours of travelling (we never did get the complete true story about how many hours and what kind of vehicle they were in), they finally made it to a temporary facility in northern Louisiana. Mom survived the hurricane and the travel but died the next morning. Did I mention she was on a feeding tube that needed to occasionally be plugged in to recharge? Did I mention her dementia was significant enough at that time that she probably didn’t know what was going on and probably couldn’t really communicate whatever needs she may have had during that ordeal? Maybe I should be grateful that she didn’t know what was going on.

Mom was one of the three residents of that nursing home over the age of 90. Those three died within a few weeks of Katrina. Maybe they would have died of natural causes that month even without a hurricane; or maybe not. Not enough evidence for a law suit but definitely enough for anger.

I really do want to get past this blame crap, but today it’s still there – part of my unsettled feeling today. Another part is the guilt I still feel sometimes when I think that I only visited Mom twice during her last year-and-a-half. On my last visit, nine months before her death, she didn’t remember who I was until the day I returned home. Fortunately my second-to-last visit was a happy occasion. My sister and I held a birthday party for her (the picture below is from that party and is my last with her).

Mom is who I get my story-telling from; and my sometimes obsessive behavior and my curiosity. My sense of humor and love of travel too.

I know this is a long post, but just one more thing. This is what I said at her funeral, six weeks after Hurricane Katrina. It says a lot about her and maybe a little about me:

When we met with Father Ralph a few days ago, he pointed us in a wonderful direction for today. He said this should be a celebration of Mom’s life.

Ann Marie and I are so lucky to have had her as our mother, and there are so many things we could say about her. But in my mind, four things stand out above the rest:

1) She had a great sense of humor. She loved a good laugh. One of Ann Marie’s last memories of her was a few days before Katrina. Mom was sitting there at the nursing home laughing. Ann Marie doesn’t really know what she was laughing at, but she was having a good ole laugh.

2) Mom loved to travel. And with the evacuation to north Louisiana and her return here in this casket, she traveled more during her last three days of life and the weeks since her death than she had traveled in decades. She is probably having a good laugh about that right now.

3) Mom paid me and Ann Marie the greatest compliment a mother could pay a child … many times. She married late in life, especially for her generation, at age 39. She told us many times, including at her 94th birthday party, that her life really didn’t begin till she was in her 40s, when she had us.

4) One of the most important things in life is family. Up until the last year or so, she kept up with what was going on in your lives … the cousins, your kids, your grandkids. The Mary Kay sisters, the red car ... she even got to ride in the red Mary Kay car and she was aware of things that day.

And it means a lot to Ann Marie and I that you are here sharing this day with us.

Mom, we love you.

Wow, you’re still reading this? Thanks. It means a lot to me.