Tuesday, March 3, 2015

How Ann Patchett Helped Me Deal With My Response to My Mother's Death

This recent piece by Ann Patchett helped me deal with the conflicted feelings I experienced over the death of my mother. In 1976 she suffered a stroke following the placement of a pacemaker. She never walked, spoke or moved her right side following the stroke. She was 82.
 At that time she and my father had lived in St. Petersburg, Florida for 10 years, following a move from Massachusetts. I lived, and still live, in Pennsylvania. When my brother called and gave me the news about her stroke, I flew to Florida to see her.
On my first visit the doctor said, “Shall we stop the blood thinners so she’ll have another stroke and pass away?” I said absolutely not.  I had hopes that, with speech therapy, she would regain at least some speech.  That never happened.  
As long as she exhibited some signs of improvement, Medicare provided good coverage, and she was housed in a rather nice room in a nursing home in Florida. When it became clear that her situation would not improve, the coverage ran out, she was moved to a dismal little room in the back. I was horrified.
With the encouragement of my husband Bob I flew to Florida and had her moved to a nursing home in Ambler, Pennsylvania, not far from where we were living. This was a nicer place, and she was kept comfortable there. I was teaching high school at the time, and I visited several times a week after school.
Mother lived there for two years until she suffered heart problems and passed away. I clearly recall visiting the hospital after work and being told that she had passed away during the night. I did not feel sad. My overwhelming emotion was relief that her two very difficult years were over.  
Mother had grown up in a Catholic family in Cleveland, but had not been a practicing Catholic since marrying my father, an agnostic. However, in her heart she never stopped being Catholic. So I arranged for her to have a Catholic service at a local church.  I believed, and still believe, that was what she would have wanted.  My four children, then all in their teens, came from all over the place for the service. We enjoyed the reunion. It was not a sad occasion.
Ever since that day when I learned from the doctor that Mother had passed away in the night I have looked back on receiving that news and wondered at my inability to feel grief. “What is wrong with me,” I asked myself? Ann Patchett’s piece has helped me to put those sentiments to rest.