Thursday, March 06, 2008

In memory of my mother

Dee Satterlee Giles
June 1943-Feb 16 2008

On Valentine's Day, I threw a bunch of dirty laundry into my suitcase, snatched up my two littlest kids, and with a "hot off the press" same-day air ticket, rushed to Seattle to see my mother. I should have had a bag packed and ready because I knew her health was poor, that her cancer had taken over, but the speed of her decline that last week surprised all of us. Each day she seemed to progress exponentially worse, so on Monday when we last spoke there was talk of me not coming until March, and by Wednesday, when we had scheduled to speak again, she was unable to carry on a conversation and could hardly sit up when carried out of bed.
Friday morning I hurried over early, hearing that mornings were her most lucid times because she wouldn't be on any painkillers, but after 13 hours unmedicated she was hardly communicative, opening her eyes only a few times, and I'm doubtful she had even a short term memory of my presence. She answered my questions properly, seemed to know who I was, recognized my children's names, even made a few comments on what I was wearing, but it was all confused with her own mindless ramblings and nonsensical statements. I returned 3 times that day to a progressively worsened state: by lunchtime she was silent and appeared unconscious, after dinner was highly agigated and mumbling, and even making out a few words here and there was difficult. We attended to her until after midnight: she had become very dehydrated from lack of food and water, refusing our offers and being unable to swallow well. The hospice nurse visited Friday morning saying that was the last sign of "active dying" and she did not expect to see us again. At that, Mom interrupted her own mumbling to call out, "I don't want to die," and then returned to her other conversations.
That night, as she became more agitated, we rubbed chapstick into our mother's parched lips and nostrils, sprayed her mouth with a hydrating mist, and even near the end she would still respond to our commands of "open your mouth," or "do you want more?" between her mumbles and chatter. She moved very little those last two days, and the fluid being stolen from her blood and organs by the cancer cells was oozing into her tissue causing blisters, especially on her legs and feet. It was unclear whether she would die from cardiac arrest having no more blood pressure, or respiratory arrest from the pressure of the fluid on or in her lungs. After midnight, everyone was in the living room talking except me, as I had fallen asleep on the sofa near her. She woke me every so often with talking, and the last thing I heard her say before everyone came back in and all the sisters left was a slow moan of, "I just want to die." She had resisted death so hard, she feared it, felt she had not been able to fulfill all her earthly desires. Even near the end she seemed so unaware that was why she had come home from the hospital. I had always told her at the end, in pain, she wouldn't fight so hard, but it took almost until the last moments for her to surrender the fight.
After we left my brother and brother-in-law remained to care for her overnight. He arose every hour to give her morphine drops, dreading she might be in pain and unable to ask for relief. By 6:30 Saturday morning I received a call from my brother that Mom's breathing had "changed" and we should hurry over. No one made it: she passed away at 7:05am on February 16 at age 64 after a 6-year battle with ovarian cancer.
Her passing has left a hole in my soul. I found the past 2 years I purposely refrained from building any type of routine around her, like not calling at any particular time, or even resisting the urge to call knowing that someday I'd have to get used to not being able to talk to her. It was silly, like a pulling away so I wouldn't miss her so much in my daily life, and I knew I'd be sorry I didn't spend more time on the phone or sending photos to her. When Troy's mom moved to China, the first time I couldn't call her for some silly little question settled on me suddenly and heavily with the realization that someday my own dear sweet mother would be gone. No more phone calls, no more emails, no more questions, no more answers, no more sharing. Just gone.
My children have almost no recollections of her: Taya remembers a few visits, Levi and Julia will remember nothing, and Liv's only memory will be of her ill and unconscious grandmother whom she kissed on the cheek during a momentary visit to her room the day before she died.
My mother could do anything she wanted with an incredibly keen intelligence coupled with a drive and passion for learning and creating. In fact, we used to tease her the only thing she couldn't do was sing no matter how hard she tried. She took up the piano at age 50 and was actually pretty good, sewed amazing clothing and quilts and embroidery, even tiny 6" doll clothes after she nearly completely lost the dexterity in her fingers. She decorated cakes, wrote poetry, cooked, drew, painted, went to school, substitute taught, worked in nursing, knitted, crocheted, drafted and sold patterns, a computer whiz, and took up nearly every pursuit that caught her eye. We used to call her the walking dictionary and would never play any word games with her because she could snatch seemingly balderdash words from the air that were always found in the dictionary when we challenged her. We accused her of cheating, of taking advantage of our trust, but we never found a word she "made up" that was actually made up! She knew the answer to any question off the top of her head and could help us with any subject or level of homework we could bring to her. She was incredibly self motivated, never needing pushed to accomplish anything, even as a child, yet amazingly fickle moving from one project to another as the desire drove her. She did what she wanted, when she wanted, and did it with excellence.
Yet through it all, she was a wife and a mother to 8 children! Her real dream, her true lifelong passion was to have a large family, despite her family's discouragement. She cooked mountains of food and washed mountain ranges of laundry and dishes. She put up with our whining and our bickering, teaching us to control our impulses and look to the future, always keeping our highest priorities in view. She taught us about faith and trust in the Lord, about resisting temptation, and about dedicating our lives to something more than petty or selfish desires. She taught us to be good spouses and parents. She had faults, many of them, which unfortunately provided us with too much entertainment, but overcoming all she taught us to forgive ourselves for our own faults by never allowing her own to slow her down, always striving to improve.
Her legacy is not only left by the items she created, but stored in us, her family, in memories and values and lessons and love.
We miss you, Mama. Go with excellence as you always have.


Catharine Decker said...

I am so sorry for your loss. Your tribute to your dear mother was beautiful. She sounds like a remarkable woman. May she rest in peace. My prayers for comfort go out to you and your family.

Catharine (from NMSL)

Karen said...

Beautiful Emma, just beautiful.

Tink said...

My condolences, Emma. She sounds like a very interesting and strong person. God bless you and your family through this time.

The Lundys said...

aw emma, i wish i'd have known her. from hearing your family, i know she was awesome! ((hugs))

CompooperTeacher said...

From Compooperteacher (I can't remember my login name).

Hugs to you Emma. Reading your blog reminds me so much of my mom and our loss. When my mom died, I can remember telling a friend that I was now a "member of a club that I never wanted to join". It's been more than a year that mom died, and I can tell you that you will always miss her. Yet, your creative spirit, your love for your husband and your children, and your strong family ties are such a testament to her influence on your life.

Once again, hugs to you.

Amber said...

HUGS Emma! Your mother sounded like she was a beautiful person and Im so sorry for your loss.


scrapgeek said...

She sounds like she was a wonderful woman. What a lovely tribute to her.

Leslie said...

Oh Emma. :) :(

I am without too many words here, but - what you have said is beautiful. My condolences too.

Tammy said...

I'm so sorry Emma. I recently lost my father the very same way, very quickly and very silently. Your mother sounded like a wonderful woman and you will always have wonderful memories of her. I too have a hole in me without my dad, but each day gets only better. My prayers will be with you and your family through this. God bless and big hugs.

loonyhiker said...

Emma, I'm so sorry. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

Anonymous said...

Emma, you have written a wonderful tribute. Your mom must have been truely special if you are anything to go by.
Mandy Tregaskis

Alison said...

You are very lucky to have had her, and I'm so sorry you lost her. Sixty-four is too soon.

Alison (from NMSL)

Dave Carr said...

Emma, I can't even imagine what you've been through. I can imagine what influence my own mom has had on me, and what an event like this would bring out. I am glad to see that you have found some modicum of peace in your experience.

Anonymous said...

Im so glad you got to be with her, so sorry she didn't get to be one of the ones who got better...I wish there was some way to make this one certainly did a beautiful job of making sure we got to know the wonderful lady who got to be your mom. I would love to see a picture of her before she got took me years to stop seeing my mom so sick and now I see the woman she was when she was crazy, or funny or just plain beautiful. I don't think the hurt ever goes away but I am glad that it can start to be mixed in with lots of happiness too. Anyway...

Wuzzygirl said...


Your words bring tears to my eyes. I am SO sorry for your loss. Your mom sounds like a wonderfully strong woman and you will most certainly miss her. But know that you will take great comfort in your memories. I lost my daddy 14 years ago and not a day goes by that I don't smile at some memory of him. My heart goes out to you and your family in your time of grief. I will keep you in my prayers.

Pam Douglas

dobegal said...

I'm so sorry, Emma. I know what you are going thru, because I lost my mom that was in 2001. I can only say that the grief will go away and will be replaced by your wonderful memories of your mom. I guess the "turning point" was my DH saying "your mom wouldn't want you remembering her that way and putting yourself thru that." He was right. Your mom was a wonderful person and so are you.
God Bless,

Anonymous said...

Big hugs Emma.

I'm so sorry for your loss.


Anonymous said...

Emma, I lost my mother 4 days after you lost yours. Same age. Breast cancer. I am so very sorry for your loss.
RutgersAlum @ DSP

Groverfam said...

That was a beautiful tribute. Your mom was a fantastic woman and i will always be grateful for the example she was to everyone around her. She was encouraging, creative, enthusiastic and in her own way loving. Thank you for you words.

Anonymous said...

I am so very sorry for your loss. That tribute was beautiful! May she rest in peace and fly high with the angels. Peace and gentle healing to you and your family. I know what you are going through,
just take it a day at a time..month at a time..year at a time..they are gone, but NO, we will never forget them.