The Slow Goodbye: ‘Those Days Are Over’

 

I just returned from visiting with my Mother for a week.  She was 89 when I stayed with her for 40 days in March and April 2020; she is 91 years old now.  She is slowly slipping away.  Damn.  She stopped driving last year when she felt that she posed too great of a risk to others.  Damn.  Her car is there if she has an emergency.  But now she relies on paying others $20 a hour to drive her around in her big Chevy Impala, and to wait.

When I was with her in 2020, we went for daily walks.  Now she doesn’t have the energy to do that.  It is harder for her to go up the ramp to her door.  My mother used to travel.  She has been to Africa and has driven cross-country to Oregon and Arkansas to see her children and grandchildren.  My sister would like to take her to the beach one last time.  My mother has declined; have you ever tried to push a walker through sand?  “Those days are over.”  Damn.

My brother asked me to take plastic bags to my mother.  “You know Gary, we are all going to end up there sooner or later.”  After being with her for 40 days as the pandemic was hitting, I drove to see her on Christmas Day 2020.  We stayed in separate cars, facing in opposite directions, talking to each other as police officers often will do.  That was one of my best Christmases of all time; I brought her McRibs and Subway sandwiches.

In 2021, after getting vaccinated, I visited with my mother for up to a week every 6 or 7 weeks or so.  In April 2021, I was there when my sister had all four of her children and her three grandchildren there.  The home was packed with people, and the squeals of children.  I was going to leave when my siblings left, but had the realization that that was not right.  I stayed an extra night, so that she did not go from a dozen people to none in only a few minutes.  I traveled there for Memorial Day week, a week in August, a week at Thanksgiving, and a week at Christmas in 2021.  In 2022 I was there in March for “Spring Break” in the schools, when the Court does not schedule family law cases.  On April 21, 2022, my Judge said at a conference that she would be taking a two-week break so that her judicial assistant could have her first vacation in over two years.  Great, I told my judge, “I will be visiting my mother for Mother’s Day Week!”  My judge has a 94-year-old mother.  Once she knows my schedule with my mother, my judge will not set any hearings that week for me.

My mother used to take her walker out onto the deck to wave goodbye to me.  The last couple of visits, she just had me hug her as she sat in her La-Z-Boy chair.  Damn.

I don’t have any children of my own.  So, I have the time and focus on my mother.  I will bring her favorite foods with me.  I will bring her $500 in cash in 20’s which is one heck of a lot less than the college tuition my siblings faced.  She said that she gets spoiled when I am there.  I toast Eggo’s when I am there.  I will bake a couple of potatoes one night.  She can no longer lift a pie to put it in the oven or to take it out, so I will hard-boil eggs when I am there.  She knows what needs to be done, and I am her arms and legs to get it done.  I take out the trash, fill her car up with gas, and do the dishes.

This trip I arrived on Mother’s Day at my sister’s home where she had gotten a ride.  She was exhausted after being with the crew for several hours.

On Monday, I took her to visit with a close friend and they watched “Outlander” together.  My mother’s home is in a wi-fi desert.  I have to leave her home to be able to go online.  I went to Denny’s, then the bank, then Olive Garden for Lasagna for her and Spaghetti for me, along with $6 Take-Out Meals.  She took a nap when we returned.  During her nap, her friend called, her IV line had fallen out so she would need to go to the hospital so they could set a new PIC line.

On Tuesday, I got up early and drove to the Chiricahua National Monument.  Then I took the back road to Portal, Arizona, and slipped into New Mexico for a few miles before driving back.  When I returned, her friend had gotten her IV set again.  We returned to Sierra Vista and I went to Denny’s and caught up with the Ukraine War and my reading while she watched “Outlander,” not feeling rushed since she wasn’t spending $29 an hour for her driver to wait.  I was as happy as a clam at Denny’s.

On Wednesday, my sister came to visit.  We were going to go to the Cooper Brothel Brewery, but when I mentioned that my mother and I had gone to Olive Garden, Nancy had a sudden pang for “the Olive.”  My mother wanted Chicken with White Sauce; we realized that that meant Chicken Alfredo.  I brought home three more $6 Take-Out Meals.

On Thursday, she had a massage set.  We drove to Patagonia.  She showed me where the libraries were in Sonoita and Patagonia so I could go there during the day to get wi-fi.  We had time to kill, so we drove 15 miles toward Nogales.  My mother said how lucky she felt that she was to drive the 40 miles from her home nine miles east of Sonoita to Nogales.  She noted the trees there were deciduous so she got to experience all four seasons.  (There are only two seasons when I grew up in Phoenix, warm and hot.  Ugh.)

On Friday, we drove to Sierra Vista so she could be fitted with new braces.  She wears a foot brace on each leg which has a hard plastic shell that curves around her calf and is cinched in.  Her old braces were a half dozen years old, and it was time to get new ones.  These braces cost hundreds of dollars, but they allow her to walk with a walker.  “But Gary, I look like a drunken sailor.”  “But Mom, you can walk.”

I drove home on Saturday.  But here is the good news.  With the new braces, she declared that she wanted to see me off from the deck.  That was delightful.  So, while I had seen the two steps back, I was now seeing the one step forward.  This is very good news.

I am planning to spend another week over the Fourth of July.  I asked her if she wanted to go to the parade in Patagonia and then fireworks at night.  “Those days are over.”  Okay, I hear that, but maybe, if we watch the parade and/or fireworks from the car, perhaps she will change her mind.  I will offer.  And I hope that she will accept.  And whatever she says will be perfect, and in divine order.

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  1. Django Member
    Django
    @Django

    My mother’s words were, “Honey, I’m coming into the last turn.” 

    • #1
  2. Gary Robbins Reagan
    Gary Robbins
    @GaryRobbins

    Django (View Comment):

    My mother’s words were, “Honey, I’m coming into the last turn.”

    I am the oldest of six children.  Two of my siblings have died, Liz of a head injury at age 12 after being thrown from a horse and Suzie who died of COPD at age 50 after being treated for a month in the hospital for leukemia.  My mother terribly misses my sisters and my step-father who she was married to for 26 years.  She is ready to go whenever God calls her.  She has a big sign on her fridge saying “DNR” for “Do not resuscitate.”  (She has said jokingly that any of us orders that she be resuscitated, we will be cut out of the will.)  Her bags are packed and she is ready to go.

    • #2
  3. Django Member
    Django
    @Django

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):

    My mother’s words were, “Honey, I’m coming into the last turn.”

    I am the oldest of six children. Two of my siblings have died, Liz of a head injury at age 12 after being thrown from a horse and Suzie who died of COPD at age 50 after being treated for a month in the hospital for leukemia. My mother terribly misses my sisters and my step-father who she was married to for 26 years. She is ready to go whenever God calls her. She has a big sign on her fridge saying “DNR” for “Do not resuscitate.” (She has said jokingly that any of us orders that she be resuscitated, we will be cut out of the will.) Her bags are packed and she is ready to go.

    Can’t “like” this, but I understand. 

    • #3
  4. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Gary, this is a wonderful post, and you are an amazingly dutiful son.  She must have been a wonderful mother.

    • #4
  5. Gary Robbins Reagan
    Gary Robbins
    @GaryRobbins

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Gary, this is a wonderful post, and you are an amazingly dutiful son. She must have been a wonderful mother.

    I was a very “spirited” child, and gave her ulcers.  It is time for me to pay back a debt that I can never fully pay back.

    • #5
  6. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    Gary, when your Mom’s time comes to go Home you will have a lot of golden memories from these recent times you have spent with her. You’ve been a loving and caring son.

    • #6
  7. Nohaaj Coolidge
    Nohaaj
    @Nohaaj

    Gary, we are in the same boat.  my Mom is now 93 1/2.  Prior to Easter, she was living fully independent.  Then her world turned dark.  She has spent the last weeks half in the hospital, half at home with realistic fear of immanent death.  

    i have spent a considerable amount of time with her the last 6 weeks. She hopes to return to normalcy, which for her means independent living.  Playing with her garden, playing cards with friends and neighbors, going to grandchildrens softball games.

    My Mom, like yours, has witnessed so many things. I was hoping she would write them down in a ledger/book to be shared with the younger generations.  She likes telling stories, and is a great writer, but has no desire to enscribe those for our future generations.

    Stories:  My Mom was very suspicious of my Dad, her stalker, a player, a James Dean type, with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his T-shirt sleeve, already engaged to another women… But he persisted and they celebrated more than 50 years of marriage.

    She tells of growing up always in homes that had hot water and toilets, but visiting friends that had no hot water, nor toilets, in the “city of Buffalo”. 

    She traveled the world, taught English to Japanese while in residence in Japan, toured Europe many dozens of times, led tours of vacationers in the Bahamas, Africa, Mid East and Europe.  

    While in Japan, she took up the arts of flower arranging, making silk dolls, and water color painting. (NB: she was not successful in the last endeavor.

    As we grew up, our finances were always a bit sketchy, Dad always worked, but they wanted to send us to Catholic schools, which required tuition.  Our typical Christmas gifts were PJ’s and the next size of school uniform pants. Like the Blues Brothers song, we ate a fair share of “bone soup”.  But we never knew we were “poor’.  

    And Mom, she always had a job to help.  She was a bank teller, RN working at the local Psych hospital, and finally a travel agent.  (that is another story, for another day…) 

    Over the last few weeks, my Mom told me a story about a guy she dated before Dad.  The guy was unusually tall for the time, maybe 6’4″. She stopped dating him because he was too tall. She used to be 5’2″. today she has shrunk. 

    Tell us stories of your Mom, not what she had for dinner.  These are the things we should remember. And Share and Love.

     

     

    • #7
  8. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Nohaaj (View Comment):
    My Mom, like yours, has witnessed so many things. I was hoping she would write them down in a ledger/book to be shared with the younger generations.  She likes telling stories, and is a great writer, but has no desire to enscribe those for our future generations.

    That’s why God created tape recorders.  And then, mp3 recorders, etc.

    • #8
  9. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    My father lived to be 93.  I’m not sure I want to.

    • #9
  10. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Some people leave all at once, and others leave in stages. The latter is a bittersweet gift, but you are receiving it graciously. I wish you both the best. 

    • #10
  11. Buckpasser Member
    Buckpasser
    @Buckpasser

    Gary, my mother is 87.  I can relate to a lot of what you said.  Prayers for both of you.

    • #11
  12. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    Thank you, Gary. That struck home.

    The slow motion anticipation of a greater grief is a hard thing to carry. My mother declined slowly for many years, then very rapidly towards the end. Her first yahrtzeit was a few weeks ago.

    • #12
  13. MWD B612 "Dawg" Member
    MWD B612 "Dawg"
    @danok1

    Gary, we disagree on some things, but you are a wonderful son and your mother is blessed to have you in these years. You truly carry out, “Honour they father and thy mother.”

    • #13
  14. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    @garyrobbins

    This is a great post, Gary. 

    Your life and family experience has been the opposite of mine in many ways. I lost my mother quite unexpectedly as a result of cerebral aneurysm when she was 40 years old in 1959. I had just turned 21. The single regret of my lifetime has been the fact that I really never had an opportunity to know my mother as an adult as I would have liked.

    On the other hand, I still enjoy the company of my wife of 56 years, three children, seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren, all in good health and blessed in many ways. 

    We just moved back to Alpine, Utah to be close to the youngest of this family group after spending the last 4 years in Phoenix, where the youngest is turning 18 soon.  My daughter in Phoenix used to live close but last year they moved to Tempe so that seeing each other meant a lot of driving in conditions I don’t really like. We are still getting settled but it has been fun so far, we have spent several days with the little ones already.

    I hope you yet have more good times with your Mom and I’m sure she is thankful for the time you spend with her.

    Bless you and your Mom.

    • #14
  15. Sandy Member
    Sandy
    @Sandy

    Well done, Gary—not that you make this appear to be a chore, because you are clearly laboring for love, every minute of it. To slightly rewrite Dickens, it is the worst of times but also the best of times.

     By the way, I have no doubt that your actions would not be different, though you might have more challenges, if you had children. 

    • #15
  16. Red Herring Coolidge
    Red Herring
    @EHerring

    It is hard. Been there and now my husband is dealing with that with his dad. My heart goes out to you. I am adding your post to my bookmarks in case you want to share more with us.

    • #16
  17. Laura Gadbery Coolidge
    Laura Gadbery
    @LauraGadbery

    I don’t know your religious background, but this is a wonderful example of “honor thy mother.” My husband is doing the same for his here in Phoenix after his dad passed about 8 years ago. Drives to see the roadside flowers in bloom, Mexican food takeout, and “pills and bills” day when he organizes the Sun-Sat pill boxes and pays the household bills. What gems of children you are. ❤️

    • #17
  18. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    A touching Post, Gary. Thank you for sharing. It sucks to see your parent like this. 

    • #18
  19. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    Thank you for the touching post. I am grateful that your mother could stand again and see you off. 

    • #19
  20. OldPhil Coolidge
    OldPhil
    @OldPhil

    I lost my Mom 6 years ago, at 91. She was in very good physical condition until her last 6 months, largely because of a very poor medical diagnosis. 

    Now, living to 91 is a great life, especially if you can enjoy it, which she did until very near the end of it. Savor the good times.

    • #20
  21. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Nohaaj (View Comment):
    My Mom, like yours, has witnessed so many things. I was hoping she would write them down in a ledger/book to be shared with the younger generations. She likes telling stories, and is a great writer, but has no desire to enscribe those for our future generations.

    That’s why God created tape recorders. And then, mp3 recorders, etc.

    Seriously, I’ve read in various places such as Dear Abby, and seen TV news reports too, where children/grandchildren record the memories and stories from their parents/grandparents, then transcribe it to writing, and sometimes even publish books of them which are given to the parents/grandparents and the children/grandchildren.

    • #21
  22. Nathanael Ferguson Contributor
    Nathanael Ferguson
    @NathanaelFerguson

    What an incredible post about a difficult time. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    • #22
  23. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    God bless you.

    • #23
  24. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    It’s the simple things like “the olive” that will always be in your memory I’m sure.  My mom passed suddenly from a stroke far too young and in a strange way I am envious of you spending this time with your mom now…..although it’s gotta be tough to watch her decline I’m sure.  God bless you and your mom.  

    • #24
  25. Gary Robbins Reagan
    Gary Robbins
    @GaryRobbins

    Thank you to everyone.  

    Gary

    • #25
  26. Tedley Member
    Tedley
    @Tedley

    Gary, your post is touching and appreciated, as part of your mother’s history touches on mine.  My parents are in their early-80s, living in MI, and meeting the infirmities that accrue at that age.  I would love to do what you are doing, but being the son who joined the Navy and, having fallen in love with Japan and a certain Japanese woman, I ended up retiring from my last Navy job and staying in Japan.  My last visit home was almost 4 years ago.  I planned to go home sometime in 2020, then the pandemic hit.  The pandemic-related travel restrictions that are still being wound down prevented me from being with my mother when she had to leave the home she’d been in for over 40 years and move into an assisted-living facility.  It would have been great had she been able to continue to live independently for as long as one of her grandmothers, who stayed in her house until she was in her late-90s, but it was not to be.  Thankfully. my mom now lives in the same town as my sister, so she is able to see her often.  I assuage my feelings by trying to provide the same type of care for my wife’s mother. 

    My blessings to her and you.

    • #26
  27. JohnWilson Coolidge
    JohnWilson
    @JohnWilson

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):

    My mother’s words were, “Honey, I’m coming into the last turn.”

    I am the oldest of six children. Two of my siblings have died, Liz of a head injury at age 12 after being thrown from a horse and Suzie who died of COPD at age 50 after being treated for a month in the hospital for leukemia. My mother terribly misses my sisters and my step-father who she was married to for 26 years. She is ready to go whenever God calls her. She has a big sign on her fridge saying “DNR” for “Do not resuscitate.” (She has said jokingly that any of us orders that she be resuscitated, we will be cut out of the will.) Her bags are packed and she is ready to go.

    God Bless You!   I helped my mom’s transition and it is hard.   She’s a very good mom and I respect her as much as my own.  DNR is a big deal.  

    • #27
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