Saturday, October 05, 2013

13 years an orphan


My mother, Eileen Flora, died 13 years ago this evening in her room in a Zionsville, Ind., retirement community. This is the eulogy I wrote for her a few days later:

Saturday evening, two nights after my mother died, I got around to going through her purse.
My initial thought was to make sure there wasn’t anything important or valuable there, but I think I was really looking for my mother – for some trace of her and her personality.
I found it.
Tucked into various pockets and pouches were the little notes that had become her memory in recent years, notepad lists of information she wanted to be able to recall as Alzheimer’s cruelly robbed her of her ability to retrieve all but the most basic information.
There was a yellow Post-It note to remind her of a beauty shop appointment she won’t be keeping at 10 a.m. tomorrow.
There was the list of meal times at the retirement center nursing home: 7 a.m. breakfast, noon lunch and 5:15 p.m. dinner.
And there were several little slips that listed my name, my address and my phone number, some with talking points she wanted to bring up when she next spoke with me:
• “Blank checks” – She wanted me to bring her some checks because she felt powerless without a way to pay for things she was sure she needed.
• “My car, where is it?” – She had places to go.
• “Ready to go home.” – She desperately wanted to get back to the house that had been her home for 46 years.
Going home was the dominant theme of all of our conversations and visits from the time we moved her to the retirement center last April. After asking if I had a by-line today and telling me I needed a haircut, she always reminded me she had work to do and the house on Columbia Street needed her. I would assure her that I’d checked on the house and everything was just fine, but she never really believed me.
My mother was a woman who needed to be busy, going places and doing things.
For a lot of years, that meant being a Registered Nurse and helping people. I remember when I was a kid and she was a nurse in Dr. George Wagoner’s office how patients would call our house on weekends and late at night with questions they didn’t want to bother the doctor with.
She was proud of being a nurse and she made sure everyone knew it, especially the staff at the retirement center. The director of nursing once told me how my mother would listen to the health complaints of the other residents there and how, more than once, they noticed her sitting wheelchair-to-wheelchair, checking the pulse of one of her neighbors.
I never expected this moment to come so soon. When I described her to friends, I usually compared her with the Energizer bunny who keeps going and going and going.
That’s why I couldn’t believe what I was hearing Thursday night when the nurse called to tell me my mother had just died.
How unlike mom.
I learned she died in her sleep and then it made sense. Her 85-year-old body betrayed her and death took her unaware.
I was sad until I had a vision of her emerging from the fog of Alzheimer’s and being welcomed into Heaven by Dad, her brothers and sisters and her parents.
Maybe, without knowing it at the time, that’s what she really meant when she scribbled those memos about “ready to go home.”
I’ll miss her, but there’s not the slightest doubt in my mind that this separation is only temporary. In the meantime, I have her notes to remind me of a mother who was proud of me and loved me unconditionally.

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