My mom died last night at 8:30 after many ups and downs over the past few months when her health really took a turn. The reality of it all is slowly percolating through me…but we had ample time to say good-bye’s and be at peace with things. I never really got to say goodbye to my Dad so I’m grateful for that at least, although the past few months were really hard on my mom.
Mom was born in Appleton Arkansas, June 18th 1941, right at the tail end of the dust-bowl and Great Depression. She was one of three kids. My grandfather decided to move the whole family to California when my mom was very young, hoping for better work and opportunities for the kids. It’s tough to tell if that worked out all that well. The only work he could find was in mining and logging camps which were at best seasonal and offered little stability. My mom had some pretty interesting stories of growing up in these camps and small towns.
Mom never finished high-school and was married to her first husband at the age of 16, with her first of 4 kids to follow not long after. I never got much of the story but apparently my moms first husband was an incredibly abusive bastard. So much so that my mom squirreled away money over several months and then right after he left for work, she loaded up my 2 older sisters and brother, and left. She was staying with one of my uncles families when her husband found her, and he very nearly killed her. Both of my uncles happened on the scene (Both were over 6’2″ and ~210 lbs…big strapping lads) and dispensed some RedNeck Justice. They tied the guys hands together, hung him from a tree and used him for a punching bag for the better part of an hour. They made crystal clear to him that if he ever came near my mom again he would leave without his reproductive parts. I guess in today’s world this might constitute “kidnapping”, “torture” and perhaps a few other infractions, but in those days it was two brothers protecting their sister from an abusive shit-bag who might have killed her and her kids.
Mom spent nearly 10 years alone, raising three kids, and at a time when there were virtually no programs to help moms in a situation like this. She had her faults, as we all do, but my mom was nothing if not tough and willing to fight. She met my dad via mutual friends, and their first meeting ended in a heated argument…it never really altered from that course over the 30 years of marriage they shared.
I think I’ve related that my mom had a number of health issues for a long, long time. I believe she had her gall bladder out before I was born, or perhaps when I was very young. Heavy smoker. And wound TIGHT. Looking back I’m pretty sure my mom had severe bouts of depression which would leave her anywhere from catatonic to tearing around the house in a rage. I never knew what I’d come home to when I’d go outside to play or return from school. Clearly, there was some gluten intolerance/celiac which would take decades to diagnose. It’s interesting…my mom had weight problems off and on her whole life, but one time she got down to her all-time lowest weight. She was walking daily, attending this diet support group TOPS (Taking Off Pounds Sensibly…I’m not making this up) and seemed to really be making some progress. She was eating virtually no fat, her snack was air-popped popcorn with this butter flavored spray on it…and then “something” happened. She could not get out of bed, was exhausted, and this seemed to be the beginning of what would be about 20 years of layered, escalating illness. I worked at a B.Dalton Books, and I read every health and alternative medicine book I could find. Her symptoms seemed like chronic fatigue, or perhaps candida overgrowth…some of the candida books were not that far off of what we’d call paleo at this point, but all the pieces never came together in a way that she’d actually get healthy. I suspect that missing piece was gluten avoidance…but I’m just not sure. One of the big problems of the past two years with my mom was recurrent pneumonia. She would finish one course of antibiotics, and within days, she’d be sick again. It was only a few weeks ago that a doctor I was talking to listened to me enough to consider her difficulty swallowing as a possible issue in that. Poor swallowing allows food to enter the lungs…constant pneumonia has been the result. Dysphagia is common in celiacs…I found a link to CCK dysregualtion+dysphagia+gluten intolerance back in 2001 when I was working with Prof. Cordain…yet another paper that needs to be written when we get enough grad students on this stuff. Mom started on speech therapy about 2 weeks ago to try to address these problems, but unfortunately she was too far gone. Wednesday morning she had a heart attack, went into a coma and then died last night.
I feel really good that my work has helped people avoid the problems my mom faced. That I was never able to reach my mom in a way that would allow her to be healthy and happy…has been a tough learning experience for me, but also good in its own way. I am really, really grateful she got to meet Zoe…I managed to get my mom to navigate an iPad well enough that we could Skype with her most days so she could chat with Zoe, and I think that gave mom a serious boost.
I’m not sure how you honor a parents memory, or pay homage to what they have done for you…the sacrifices they have made. Mom loved Johnny Cash, so that seems a fitting way to close this chapter. I love you Mom, I’ll miss you.