Learning to live without mom
December 27, 2007
My mom …
The hollow feeling deep in my soul brings tears to my eyes again and again and makes the air catch in my throat.
I know my mom is in heaven shaking her head at me telling me she is in a better place and for me not to cry anymore. But the tears fall when they will.
I know she is in a place where pain isn’t even a memory and her poor little body is once again strong and whole.
But I am no longer whole. A large part of me is missing, that part of me who remembers my first steps, my first words, so many of my firsts.
Today I took my first steps at home. I was stopped on the brick path, unable to move, to go up the stairs inside knowing that she wouldn’t be sitting on the couch watching CNN or the Food Network, at the kitchen table reading or around the corner digging in her garden. Those steps will be the first of many more I will take without her.
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So many times she was a phone call away with the answer to some inane question. Can you substitute baker’s chocolate for cocoa Ð how’s that work? What’s it mean when your grass is full of round brown spots?
She had so many answers. She could fix anything. On any given day you could find her with her tools fixing her washing machine, lawn mower, weed eater. But she couldn’t fix herself.
She could grow anything, heads of lettuce, flowers as tall as she was. She was the protector of all animals. We had deer, geese, sheep, pigs, innumerable rescued dogs and cats, chickens, even once a pheasant. But we couldn’t rescue her.
So many things we could do for her. So many things we did, but none of them could keep her here with us.
So many selfish prayers, so many petitions that said: “Let us keep her.” “We need her.” “We love her.” Unanswered.
I wish there were words to describe her determination, her will to fight, the strength with which she held my hand the day before she died. That strength again was enough to make me hope against hope that she would get well enough to come home and live. Not simply come home to die. I am so sorry I didn’t bring her home sooner. So sorry I didn’t tell her a million more times that I loved her.
I want her to know how I live in awe of her in so many ways. That she could laugh and smile through the pain and make us believe things would be better. And so many times they were. She battled her cancer like she lived her life – without fear, meeting each challenge with grace.
And when she lost that grace in the last weeks of her life she resorted to laughter. We said it was “all in her head” and she laughed. But it really was all in her head.
She died, not from the ravages of chemotherapy or radiation, or because the cancer ate away at her body. But because the cancer caused her blood to clot, which caused her to have a series of small strokes that slowly ate away at her grace.
We share this with you so that you can learn, sooner than we did, the first signs of stroke. We had been pleading with doctors, surgeons, radiologists for answers to what was happening to her. We got one standard and infuriating answer again and again. We were told “everyone responds differently – to surgery, to radiation, to medication.”
How the doctors, the nurses, the radiologists the surgeon missed the now obvious signs of stroke that she exhibited for more than a month before anyone clued in we’ll never know. We have to move on, and to do so we are sharing the signs of stroke with you so that you can know what they are. So that if you or your loved one shows these signs you can seek treatment immediately. This we’re told can make all the difference in rehabilitation. There is no guarantee treatment will work. It didn’t for my mom. But in our case it was started weeks after the first signs of stroke appeared. We’ll never know if catching it sooner would have made a difference. We will have to learn to live with that. To forgive those we trusted to know for not knowing.
The following was taken from the The American Stroke Association’s Web site.
If you notice one or more of these signs, don’t wait. Stroke is a medical emergency. Call 911 or your emergency medical services. Get to a hospital right away.
• Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
• Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
• Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
• Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
Mom had all of these signs, but she had just had brain surgery and nobody asked the right questions. We finally discovered the strokes following an MRI. But by then I think she had had too many and was too weak to battle on.
She rarely cried or yelled in frustration. Stripped of her independence, she would not be a burden and no matter our feelings she would go.
The generations of Du Fresne women on either side of me who have supported me and given me reason to live for the last 20 years since my daughter’s birth are now only two. And we are missing that stabilizing force in our lives. That third generation that allowed us to stand tall has left us teetering on two legs.
We will look now to each other, mother to daughter, sister to brother, brother to brother, and to our father to maintain the foundation of family that she built.
Together we will be strong. Together we will love as she taught us, without condition and without limit.
Love you momma.
Kelli Du Fresne is city editor at the Appeal. Her mother, Lorraine Smith Du Fresne, 68, Storey County Clerk/Treasurer, died Dec. 14. A funeral mass will be today at 4 p.m. at St. Mary in the Mountains. A reception will follow at the Fourth Ward School.
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