Thursday, May 26, 2011

Saying Farewell To My Mom

One of my earliest memories of my mom comes from when I was four, or possibly five. I was playing with one of those toys where kids pound plastic objects of different shapes into the corresponding shaped holes. As usual, I was trying to put a square peg in a round hole. My mom came outside to say she was going to the store and asked if I wanted to go with her. Normally I would have jumped at the chance and the prospect of perhaps talking my way into a piece of candy. But this time I said no, I would rather stay home and play.

She looked vaguely disappointed but said OK and left. I’m sure my dad was in the house or perhaps perched over his artist’s easel in the converted barn behind our house that served as his studio. She wouldn’t have left me alone at that young age. And as she turned the corner and started the car, I came to the realization, for the first time that I was separate from my mother, that I would always be me until I left this sphere. And she would always be my mom, until her time came.

Sadly, that time has arrived. My mom passed away at night last week with family at her side, fighting until nearly the very end. As I wrote a few months ago on her 81st birthday, my mom was a tough old bird. But it was time for the fight to end, for her to have peace. Our family came to accept that. After more surgeries than we can recall — heart, hip, tailbone, gall bladder, neck — her body shut down over four days until she just slipped away while unconscious.

My mom was hell on wheels when I was a kid. There’s no getting around that. She was tough and willing to go toe-to-toe with me when I was a smart-aleck teenager. (Short as I am, I still had four inches on her. I come from a long line of short people, including my mom.) I learned to avoid her wrath, and truth be told, I was about half scared of her. So were my brothers.

I became independent financially and personally at a young age, 17, similar to the path my mother took and probably for the same reasons. Neither of us liked being told what to do, though of course you eventually learn someone is going to be telling you what to do the rest of your life — boss, spouse, caregiver. The latter term is what best describes my mom’s greatest achievement. She was trained as a nurse but didn’t work much outside of the home when we three boys were under the roof, though she did teach nurse aides classes in Longview for a few years.

In 1990, my father became disabled at 59 because of a botched surgery. That is when my mom became truly a shining star. For the next 17 years, until I took over and placed them both in assisted living, she cared for my father at home. She took him to doctor’s appointments, cooked, cleaned, and made sure he took the medications that covered an entire shelf in the kitchen. She paid the bills, filed insurance claims and continued to take pleasure in her six grandchildren.

It wore her out. By the time we figured out neither of our parents could safely stay in their home anymore, she had become a brittle diabetic. Worse, she kept losing her car in the parking lot of the doctor’s office. Even worse, she thought she owned a black Maxima. It was a bronze Altima.

In her final years, my mom mellowed tremendously. After my dad’s death a little over two years ago, she lived alone in nursing care, loved by the staff for her good humor and even disposition. Even in the last days, when she could still talk, she invariably answered the question of how she was feeling with, “Pretty good.”

She cared for my dad and lived out her last years with dignity and grace. That befitted her name: Grace Adrian Bourque Borders.