Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Who my mom is makes a difference

Tuesday evening. I came home from our divisional product launch celebration about 4pm and called my mother. I didn't expect her to be home, because she works Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, but I wanted to leave her a message telling her how sunburnt I was (owwie) and how glad that it is (finally) cooling down. Hence, when she actually answered, I was pretty surprised.

I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but my mom is a nurse. She's said that she "always" knew that she wanted to be a nurse, and I've always been envious. I've never felt called to do anything, but she knew all along that she wanted to be a nurse so that she could help people. Helping people is something that my mother is exceptionally good at. In any case, Mom retired from nursing a few years ago after surgery for colon cancer (she's clean and healthy now - knock wood), but was persuaded to come back on a very part time basis just a few months ago. She just loves being able to help her patients and the other nurses so much that being away wasn't making her as happy as she'd thought it would.

In any case, Mom told me that, on her way to work this afternoon (she works the second half of a 12 hour shift, starting at 1pm), she stopped by to see a friend who's in hospice for care of several types of cancer. When Mom walked through the door and saw her friend, she knew immediately that she was dying. What was worse was that no one had told her friend's husband anything, so he wasn't prepared and neither of her children were there with her. Mom removed the booties from her friend's feet and her feet were already blue, so that removed any doubt from her mind. She took her friend's husband out into the hallway and told him what the situation was, knowing that hearing is the very last thing to go, and not wanting her friend to hear what she was about to tell him.

The RN that was assigned to her friend told my mother that her friend was scheduled for a procedure later in the afternoon. Incredulous, my mother told the nurse that she probably ought to call and cancel the procedure because the patient was dying and wasn't going to be around to keep the appointment. I'm flabbergasted that a RN wouldn't know that, but I'm so glad that my mother did. She started rubbing her friend's feet, and she got her friend's husband and both sons into the room to talk to her friend and tell her that they loved her.

At a certain point, Mom remembered that they were Catholic and asked her friend's husband if a priest should be called. They unfortunately sent a priest who didn't know her friend at all and (according to Mom) just stood at the end of the bed and said some prayers for her friend's recovery. After the priest left, Mom asked her friend's husband if that was what was considered last rites, to which he replied that it was not. Thinking quickly, Mom went into the bathroom, filled a glass with water, and proceeded to give her friend the last rites as best she could remember them. She made a cross on her forehead, said a Hail Mary and an Our Father, asked God to prepare a place for her friend and remove her pain. I don't know for certain, but I feel pretty comfortable that it was close enough, and I know that her friend heard her words and was comforted.

Mom told me that the end was fairly brief and about as painless as could be hoped for, under the circumstances. Her friend's breathing grew slower and slower, as her friend and family members told her that she was loved, that she would be OK, and that she could let go and go toward Heaven. Once her breathing stopped, my mother took her pulse, then went to tell the hospice RN that the patient had died.

I am so proud of my mother. What she did today for her friend, she has done hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times in her 40 year career as a nurse. She was never motivated by the compensation she received (which is fortunate because it was never enough to make up for the time and energy she gave), but, rather, by the good that she could do. Many times, as a girl growing up, I sat at the dining room table listening to Mom talk about this patient or that patient and the work she'd done to help their families cope with the inevitable. That wasn't part of her "job description", it was just what she did. So many people have had a better, more dignified death, without fear or remorse, because my mother was there for them. So many grieving families have found solace in my mother's unwavering faith and strength.

Our relationship has, at times, been rocky - I suppose most mothers and daughters are the same. Sometimes, her spontanaeity and lack of caring what others think embarrass the life out of me. Other times, her frustrating inability to sit and listen to someone else's thought before interrupting with one of her own makes me want to scream. Nevertheless, I know with absolute certainty that I will never be alone as long as my mother is alive and I know that she is there for me, just as she is for her patients and their families, no matter what I've done or what I've left undone. Her love for me is as strong and immovable as her faith in God, and that knowledge alone has gotten me through several times in my life when I wondered if I were worth the effort.

Who my mom is makes a difference and that's why I'm writing this entry - to wish her an early, and most heartfelt, Happy Mother's Day. I love you and I'm so very, very proud to have you as my mother.

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