Mom epitaph

Date: Fri, 26 Jul 2002 16:41:09 EDT
From: Frank da Cruz <>
Subject: Grandma Vivian
Message-ID: <CMM.>

My Mom died this morning. She had been unconscious all this time so it was like falling into a deeper sleep; no pain or suffering.

For the past year, the staph infection in her groin kept coming back. This goes back 12 years when she had her first femoral artery graft. She had so many big operations to regraft and clean it out in the last year I lost count; it seems like one each month. Finally the surgeon said there was no way to get the infection out — it resisted all antibiotics. They were considering amputating her legs at the waist, but the infection had spread all throughout her vascular system so it wouldn't have helped, plus she could never have survived the trauma, and wouldn't have wanted it anyway.

It became moot when she had a big stroke last week that paralyzed her and shut down what little was left of her conscious mind. She didn't comprehend anything or respond to anything; she was asleep all the time, like in a coma. She had already stopped eating days earlier; they had put a feeding tube in her stomach but she pulled it out. (She hadn't been able to speak coherently or write for over a year, but she could still pull out feeding tubes and IV's in a final act of self-expression.)

There was nothing else doctors could do. Ten years ago she made a handwritten living will that says no life-support measures if she became terminally ill; we were not to fly out to be with her; no vigil, no funeral, no "spectacle". She wanted us to remember her as she was last time we saw her, healthy and aware. Last week they released her from the hospital to a hospice where she was kept comfortable and free of pain. Of course Frank Rider stayed with her; I've been speaking with him all this time; it's hard on him because he adores her; it's hard on me because we never were close. She had a horrible nightmare life with my dad, and I never got to know her because of that; she kept herself hidden the whole time.

She never did anything bad, mean, or cruel. Unlike my dad, she never prejudged people on their race, religion, wealth, or anything else, and never looked down on anybody. She did not deserve all the suffering that came to her. She couldn't stand up against my father, who was huge, powerful, and vicious. Although she tried, she couldn't protect my brother and me (or herself) from him. She attempted to kill herself repeatedly and my dad committed her to long stretches in mental hospitals with straitjackets and electroshock "therapy", even though nothing was wrong with her sanity. Finally after I left home at 17, she took my little brother Dennis and left my dad for California.

She and Dennis had a good life there, where she got a job as a medical secretary and met Frank Rider, who always treated her like a queen, but then fifteen years later her baby, Dennis, died — still in his 20s. She never felt good again. Two years after that she had a stroke that affected her memory and speech. From then on, she had more and more health problems, including more strokes and mental deterioration, embolisms, thromboses, and in the last few years dementia, the staph infections, and more strokes.

She worked hard as a mother, always cooking, cleaning, mending, caring for us. When I was little, we were so poor that she even made our clothes, baked bread, did laundry with a washboard and soap scraps. She never complained, never talked about herself at all, never showed affection or any other emotion that I can remember, never seemed to enjoy anything. I never knew who she was. I only recall a handful of incidents when it didn't seem like she was suffering silently through life. The one that stands out most is an afternoon when some girls her age (late 30s) came over. I say "girls" on purpose, because they and my Mom were giggling and laughing and cutting up like schoolgirls — I never saw her like that before or since. It turned out they were patients from her ward at the mental hospital; they had all gone through hell together.

She was one of eleven children (counting one who died) who grew up freezing in a tiny shack with their mother in rural Minnesota; they all slept in the same bed and lived on welfare. Her Mom was a good but stern woman who spoke Norwegian, made some extra money by taking in washing; I don't know much more than that about her. Her dad was a drifter who only showed up occasionally, usually on the run from the police (and usually managing to make her Mom pregnant again). He had about 100 aliases. As soon as Mom finished high school in 1940 she went to her big sister Polly in sunny warm California, got a job as a drafts(wo)man at the telephone company, and had a blast as a bobby-soxer crazy over jitterbugging and big swing bands, out on the town every night. I think it was the only time she was happy. When the war broke out in 1941 she joined the Navy right away, where she became one of the top American code-key operators. That's where she met my dad.

I spent all this time by the phone, speaking with Frank, the doctors, the hospital, and the hospice, and sending papers and forms back and forth by fax. The last time I spoke with Mom was over a year ago; I didn't know it would be the last time, but after that she couldn't use the phone any more; it frightened and confused her. At least we sent her lots of letters, pictures, flowers, and stuffed animals. Frank read the letters to her; I don't know if she understood them or knew who they were from. She had a ton of flowers in her room from us this past week in case she could sense them. I wish we could have been there but I had to respect her wish, one of the few things she ever asked of me.

Mom's living will made all the decisions for me and Frank so we didn't have to agonize over what to do. She totally spelled everything out. Her letter is so clear and definite and strong and thorough. I never knew she could write like that. She was full of secrets.

I'll still be doing this for probably another week — phone and fax, forms, authorizations, etc. She'll be cremated with no ceremony. She's survived by us and one sister, Ella (about 85 years old), the last of the eleven.

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