Friday, March 29, 2013

40 Years Together – 40 Years (And Now 3 Days) Gone

I planned on writing this entry between January 20 and March 29 for some time. The relatively narrow timeframe saw two of the most important events in my life. Now, another one is on the record.

The joyous occasion was January 20, 1973. Janet and I were married at Temple Israel on E. 75th Street in New York City. The following blog entry, which I also reposted, details how a cold and allergies conspired to bring us together. 

Barely two months later and a week after my birthday, on the day we were supposed to have dinner at my parents’ apartment, I received a call from my father’s office that he’d been rushed to a hospital near his office. My blog entry about that day has also been reposted and is here again, sparing me another recitation.

The two dates are forever linked and, although this would mark the 40th year commemorating both happiness and sorrow, it figured to be routine. Then March 5 dawned.

It began simply around 8 a.m., with my mother’s daily call to my brother, Frank, in Denver. All seemed normal, as he related that a condominium conversion would result in her grandson, Grant, finding a new residence. She mentioned this to Janet, who told her our sister-in-law Rita’s father had passed away at age 99. Her speech was rather garbled, which we attributed to some heavy-duty medication she has been taking for chronic back pain. Shortly thereafter, her caregiver Ann, who had been with her since a two-day hospital stint in early February, called to say mom seemed confused because she thought her 101-year-old brother-in-law, Adolph, had died. We then went for a 9:30 meeting but just before it began, Ann called and said she needed to call 911 because my mother had become disoriented and her speech was completely garbled.

All signs pointed to a stroke that affects the ability to speak and process speech. Her motor skills were unaffected but those hadn’t been good recently. Mom had finally consented to seeing specialists for her chronic pain. The diagnosis was a compressed vertebra, although she felt pain on her side as well as her back. The day before entering the hospital, a neurologist prescribed a new medication, which she took that night and the following morning. The original CT scan showed no signs of a stroke, and one theory was the new medication could have caused this terrible reaction. When normal speech did not return within 48 hours, stroke was again the suspected culprit. A Thursday evening scan confirmed it.

During her stay at Northwestern Memorial, the staff ran a battery of tests. The attending physician sat us down on Thursday afternoon to inform us that what was supposed to be a routine scan of the lungs found pervasive malignancies for which no treatment was warranted for an 89-year-old woman. I found this akin to being hit over the head with a 2-by-4, then getting kicked in the gut. The doctors gave us a time frame of weeks, maybe a few months. She came home to hospice care, getting the very best help from Ann, her assistants and the hospice staff. After rallying somewhat, she showed a rather sudden decline and passed away peacefully on March 26. She didn’t want a rabbi at the service, so I led the graveside service two days later, using passages from the Union Prayer Book, copyright 1923, that my father received for his religious school confirmation in 1932.

My mother lived a long and wonderful life, with a few bumps in the road along the way. She was never big on medical care in the first place – claiming she was basically Christian Scientist – and eschewed anything more than routine physicals in her later years. She practiced “ostrich medicine”: she hated scans and MRIs, deciding that if something were found she was too old to treat, so why bother looking? On the other hand, she didn’t take her reduced mobility during the last year too well, for she loved to get around and had seen the world.
The response from family and friends has been overwhelming, Mom had a strong personality, and she didn't hide her feelings. Her oldest friend, Joy, who lives in Los Angeles, called me when she heard about mom's health setbacks. They met at age 6 at O'Keeffe School and listened to "Little Orphan Annie" on the radio together. I started to apologize to Joy for my mother being short with her over recent months, atrributing it to her aches and pains. She interrupted me with a laugh: "She's been short with me her whole life!" Somehow, from a friend of 83+ years, it sounded like a compliment.