Three to five days? At a huge loss
“Three to five days. Or less.”
For perhaps the first time in my adult life, I failed to edit the words repeated to me.
After all, I figured, it was at least second hand.
The message, however, was equally humbling.
Three to five days.
That’s what the registered nurse in charge of hospice said Wednesday, the first time she visited my mother.
It is with great difficulty I write this column.
My mother, to many, was all things.
Her sister-in-law said, upon the death of my father, “She has to understand she cannot be all things to all people.”
That was 1998. Only a few years after we heard those words from some doctor along the trail of many.
Through the ailment and through that score of years, she has remained all things to all people.
A distant social network friend wrote to me once that “you will never know what your mother and father meant to me.
“They saved my life.”
Being a cynical sort, I figured the woman was overhyping things a bit.
Then I got to thinking. My mother and father were the last strands of life for many in southwestern Oklahoma.
She was my mentor. For years I heard her say she planned to “paper my office walls with rejection slips.”
She came close to doing just that.
The fact it was a tiny little writer’s garret — even by tiny little writer’s garret standards — is not important.
Mom wrote. Not always good. But she wrote.
And she taught me and many others.
Educator. Writer. Attorney. Public speaker. Seamstress.
She was all those things.
Did I mention “activist?”
I don’t guess I knew what an activist was until, as I grew, I watched my mother in action.
I remember once she was a public speaker at some event in Oklahoma City, maybe. For effect, she dropped the armload of books she carried to the podium.
Intentionally. But those who knew her suspected otherwise.
One, in fact, leaped from her seat in the front row and began cursing at my mother while helping her pick up the books.
The short version: “I can’t bleeping believe you bleeping did this!”
Today is Friday. I write this not knowing my mother’s fate.
Well. I know her fate.
On a whim, we visited her last weekend. The wife and I. We saw her three times in a span of 24 hours.
She never said a word. For all intents and purposes, she did not recognize her only son and only daughter-in-law.
That was the part of Parkinson’s that dragged me down.
The physical part, I always said, would not bother me. “Just don’t mess with the greatest mind I’ve ever known.”
A dear, dear friend in Claremore began to call her that: “the smartest woman in the world.”
I smiled every time. Because, despite her brilliance, she was as down to earth as they come.
She often was paid legal fees from bankrupt clients in goods. Clothing. Dry goods. Fishing tackle for a family that has never fished.
Various and sundry items.
She went to law school at 50 and graduated near the head of her class. She became a go-getter lawyer who specialized in agricultural bankruptcy.
Three to five days? Fewer?
She showed signs of Parkinson’s as far back as 1989.
She lost her sense of smell and taste. She had tinglings in her arms and hands.
The doctors in Smallville said nothing was wrong.
Today: We know better.
It is a confounding disease.
It has won its battle with my mother, the strongest-willed woman I’ve known.
You have made me the man I am today, Mom.
So many things you have taught me and shared with my sisters and friends. You were, without question, the boldest, most feared woman in Kiowa County.
You were brutally fair with your children and the children of people they attracted.
You were way more than a teacher or author or public speaker.
You were, to many, a source of inspiration. A beacon of light cutting through the darkness of ill-fated lives.
As much as I have struggled to write this piece, I struggle to finish it.
Thanks for teaching me when the end a tome. Thanks for ... everything.
I love you, Mom.