My dear mom, Edna “Bette” Costello, spent the last year dying.
What I’d envisioned as a warm and memory-making time together was stolen by COVID.
Despite straining to catch her breath from COPD and emphysema, up until January, she still had spunk.
Spunk enough to be sarcastic. To weigh in on matters of politics and the love affairs of my friends. To complain about the food delivered to her door or the occasional caretakers who she felt lacked true caring. Or to drive by the Amish area of Sarasota on the way home from a doctor’s appointment, because she loved all things Amish.
2021 began with a hospital stay, which left her depleted. Then pneumonia struck, leading to a longer hospital stay and a brutal two weeks at a rehab facility where her downhill spiral gained momentum.
Worse, we weren’t allowed to visit except for one half-hour, once a week. And the visits had to be outside. Separated so far, we practically had to shout to be heard.
The second visit; the second week…she didn’t want to see me.
I tried not to take it personally. I knew she didn’t like being seen not as the perfectly coiffed and styled Bette we always knew.
February turned to March and my sister and I took drastic action because we couldn’t bear to be so separated from mom. We needed to see firsthand what kind of care she was – or wasn’t – receiving. We researched the best skilled nursing in Sarasota, and set up a new “home” at Bay Village; a place that allowed COVID-free visitors who adhered to stringent visitation rules.
All the hopes and dreams that a new residence would bring mom back to life were also quickly dashed. She could no longer do the simplest tasks herself. And that she couldn’t brought her – and us – to despair.
This fiercely independent woman was undone by her dependence.
But the point of this post is not to dwell on the end. The end and its memories brought me to a place of such darkness, I never thought I would emerge.
Believe me, there wasn’t an ounce of inspiration in all of 2021 to write to you or pick a new word of the week. I was consumed with trying to help mom and when she finally died, I was consumed with grief.
At her memorial service, I shared her beautiful life story and how, at the very end, I saw her say, “Oh…oh…oh!”
As if she recognized something long-gone and beautiful and finally wasn’t afraid to make her transition.
But that was no comfort for me. I saw the days where she cried, “No! No! No!”
And the agony of COPD-infused hallucinations.
I couldn’t shake the images from her last days. They haunted me.
People said I’d get “a sign” but none came.
I searched for cardinals…or feathers…or something.
Something to know not just that she was alright; but that she was alright with ME.
I think many children caretakers face the torment of, “Did I do enough?” “Did I make the best decisions?” Then there’s the guilt of being relieved that I no longer had to live in fear of a middle of the night call from a doctor.
I’d wait for dog walks or solitary car rides to cry, because I didn’t want Mark to be upset by just how bad I was. I’d call Shirlee every day because – of all people – she KNEW. And we’d cry together.
But she also knew I was especially tormented.
Because I was the daughter who would talk back.
Oh, mom loved that I would fight FOR her – and I was a fierce advocate when any matter needed correction. But I’d also fight WITH her, and those memories also haunted me.
I sank into a darkness unlike anything I have known in my adult life.
Then, exactly one month to the day of mom’s death, she came to me.
I believe God gave her a hall pass from heaven.
In the dream, I was doing my makeup and turned around and THERE SHE WAS.
Smiling – grinning, even. Shining. Radiant with love and joy.
Startled, I held her face and said, “Oh you are so beautiful!”
I felt complete, unconditional love and acceptance.
And that was the gift from mom’s hall pass.
No doubt, she was better than ever. Enjoying a long-overdue reunion with the love of her life, my dad, Sal. Visiting with her own mother, Edna, and cousin Mary. Free from the constraints of a broken body and free from all fears and worries.
I saw a glimpse of my mom in pure happiness, which is all my sister and I ever wanted for her.
So the new word of the week?
It doesn’t need to be pulled from a bag.
It is to LIVE.
While you have breathe and while you can love, LIVE this life.
It all passes too quickly.
I want to live again. To giggle again. To discover things that inspire me again.
I know mom wants that for me.
I believe God wants that for all of us.
Thank you for your patience as I took all of this year to find the light again. I see it, beckoning me to a new chapter.
But as a different person. Still me, but with a new understanding of life and death. A deeper sense of caring for the caregivers, the elderly, the infirmed.
A disenchantment with material things or superficial aspirations.
A deep desire for meaningful exchanges and true connection. To contribute and create in ways that feed my soul and spirit.
So I’m not too sure about future blog posts or words of the week.
But who knows?
Because you’ve all been so kind throughout the years as I’ve shared this sort of online diary with you, I felt that you deserved an explanation for my absence.
I wish you health and happiness and everything your heart desires.