pure unadulterated joy: crossing

This will be the last in a series about my mother. February 20th, 2012 will be the one-year anniversary of her passing.


The source of her constant pain that forced her into a nursing home? My fear of recurrent cancerous tumors was WAY off. She had multiple fractures in her spine. Maybe caused by taking steroids for years for her COPD, who knows?

I recall her last trip away from the nursing home. She was to go to the local hospital for an MRI of her spine. I could no longer transport Joy because her pain was intense and she couldn’t make it from the wheelchair into my car. Arrangements were made for the nursing home van to take her to the hospital and I would meet her there. I waited in the large lobby as sunlight streamed through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The van approached the door and the driver got out, went to the back and slowly lowered the silhouetted figure in a wheelchair to the ground. He wheeled her into the bustling lobby as I met them. Mom was severely hunched in her chair and she donned a pained smile when she saw me. In her hands was a large manila folder containing the doctor’s orders for the procedure she would undergo today. Her name was written in large print on the outside of the folder. The thing I noticed most about the folder were the 3-inch tall letters, written in bold black on a fluorescent green sticker DO NOT RESUSCITATE! 

Mom….you look like a school kid holding your report card.

Joy glanced down at the folder and replied, Yeah, and it looks like I failed!

The inscription inside the Big Book of Alcoholic’s Anonymous Joy gave to me in 1980

We tried to control her pain. Joy was on a cocktail of meds to regulate her failing systems; any change was a high-wire act performed without a net. The pain patch didn’t help much.


Two other developments lowered my spirits to their nadir:  Joy kept having bouts of pneumonia requiring treatment with strong antibiotics. One morning she pulled me close to her face as she lay propped on her bed. In desperation she revealed,


Kath, I can’t see!


I squeezed her hand.


I know Mom…..I’m so sorry.

I sat with her as we both absorbed the cruelty of Joy being deaf and now blind. Freakin’ macular degeneration…they say if you live long enough, you’re gonna get it.

I won’t go into details of her last days. Made the decision to call hospice, as she had given me her medical power of attorney. She trusted me to make the right decision and I did the best I could. Maybe we could have gotten her through this episode, but I didn’t see the point. It was time to let go and let Joy move on.

A letter I cherish, written to me after a girl’s trip to Dallas. We saw an art exhibit ‘El Greco of Toledo’.

One of her last lucid moments was talking to the hospice nurse. He got close to her face and told her he was from hospice and they were going to take good care of her. She was resigned, but she was definitely not HAPPY to see hospice and she told him as much. The nurse thought she was hilarious and full of spirit. Said he loved her spunk.

Thankfully, Joy wasn’t in hospice care for long….only 2 days. Not sure what I expected from a dying person. Maybe I thought there would be lots of hand-holding and Joy would slip quietly into the night. That turned out to not be her dying ‘style’. Joy fought tooth-and-nail for every last precious breath and moment on this earth. I really didn’t expect this, but her dying was like her living:  she’d overcome many setbacks and she wasn’t going west without a good fight! She didn’t need or want any hand-holding or hair-stroking…..the battle was hers to wage. I was simply an onlooker. Good thing we hadn’t left anything unsaid.

What did I learn from Joy? Here are some things I keep in my heart.

1. It’s never too late to start over.
2. Never….ever….stop learning.
3. Don’t judge a person on their possessions or lack thereof. It’s a gift to be comfortable around all sorts of people.
4. My children are extraordinary.

One of my last little notes, written in Joy’s increasingly shaky handwriting.

5. The Texan is a Saint, and I am never to bad-mouth him.
6. Surviving awful experiences can make one stronger.
7. Always trust your Higher Power…this is the path to true serenity.

Thank you, dear reader for sharing my remembrances of my mother. I wanted to write some truths of her life to help myself and hopefully shine a light on the difficulty of alcoholism and addictions in general. Seems no one is untouched these days. Redemption is always out there. Joy found it through God and Alcoholic’s Anonymous. I spent many-a-day in Al-Anon trying to find answers for myself.

This has been a difficult, but ultimately triumphant series, I hope.

Please check back, as I will be posting some lighter, more humorous blog posts. Oh…and lots of pictures of a certain grandson and an adventurous wiener dog! Did I mention I caught Roxy-Doxy Tebowing after a spectacular tennis ball catch the other day? Oh….lawd-eee, that dog!

Redemptive love to all.

pure unadulterated joy: alcohol

(the third in a series about my mother)

The honest depiction of your past may be the courage for another’s future.  Danny Gokey

Mom….would you like to go see the new, beautiful nursing home I’ve been telling you about? The Texan’s mother is out there and she ADORES it!

Joy about age 14

Nice try. No old, dying person really wants to see the inside of a nursing home no matter how avant garde you promise it to be. Joy was a practical realist, so we scheduled an appointment. Wouldn’t you know I had some very important business out-of-town with the Sprout on the day of the nursing home visit.  Who do you guess wheeled Mom around on her fun nursing home tour? That’s right…the steadfast, rock-love of my life….the Texan! Mom loved the Texan and she trusted him completely. The Texan reported Joy took copious notes and inquired as to the cost of everything. How much were meals? Did they charge extra for the oxygen? Did they charge to give her a bath? Could she bring her computer without an extra charge? Was toilet paper in the bathroom included in the price? Could she get her diabetic meals and what would they cost? The Texan finally got through to her that everything was included and she didn’t need to worry about anything….she could be right next door to his mom. We placed a deposit and scheduled a move-in day.

Joy had always been smart. She had a good head for figures and business, too. But during my growing-up years, Joy didn’t always make good decisions. You see, for my formative years….as far back as I can remember, Mom was an alcoholic. Of course, when I was little I didn’t know what ‘alcoholism’ was. I had no name or way of communicating what was wrong with my mother. Call it a progressive revelation.

Me with broken arm as a baby. Something about a run-in with my 2 older brothers.

circa 1962

I knew she was able to work her job OK, but when she came home in the evenings, she passed out on the couch. On weekends, she might pass out earlier. I knew she and my dad argued about what was wrong with her. (My dad was an alcoholic as well, and died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1978. That’s another tale and beyond the scope of this story).

Dad and Mom early 1950’s

One of the earliest recollections of realizing my mother was sick was when she checked into the Oklahoma State Mental Hospital. It was the early 1960’s and I’m not talking the Betty Ford clinic, I’m talking One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. She was gone for weeks and I remember going to the foreboding place for a visit. Never went back. Guess the adults in my life figured it was too much for a youngster. They were right. The clenching fingers of fear gripped my young psyche and held tight for decades.

When Joy found sobriety with the help of A.A. in 1980, she began the task of turning her life around, making amends and building a new, productive life for herself. I was a young mom with small children as Joy embarked on her journey and I was hedging my bets. I’d witnessed many ‘recoveries’ and she’d have to prove she could be trusted. Her attempt at transformation felt like turning back a freight train speeding towards a cliff. I’d never known a sober mother and I would reserve judgement, thank you very much. Jump forward to her funeral in 2011….she celebrated almost thirty-one years of sobriety.

We enjoyed our sober Joy so much, we moved her from Oklahoma to Texas 1985. We loved her and yes….we needed an extra baby sitter for our three rug-rats. The raging freight train had turned.

Now….back to her smoking addiction I told you about. She knew I detested her smoking. I’d grown up with it. Gone on endless road trips in an old station wagon with the windows rolled up…both parents smoking. I have allergies and asthma and become ill when exposed to cigarette smoke. Wanted to become a sleazy lounge singer, but I couldn’t handle the smoke. My lungs have spoken…..ENOUGH!

In our conversations over the ensuing years, Mom told me giving up drinking was the hardest thing she EVER did. Alcoholics always crave a drink and that’s just the way it is. She honestly and boldly told me after giving up alcohol, there was no way in hell she was ever gonna give up cigarettes. She simply could not do it, no matter my pleading. No matter the lung cancer. No matter living in a smoke-free retirement home. No matter needing oxygen 24/7. Mom had spoken.

She almost made good on her promise. She was about to move to the nursing home. I would gladly have handed her a smoldering cig if it would relieve her pain…even for a moment.