Life teaches us many lessons. A lot of the time it’s our mistakes we learn from, but not always. Sometimes it’s the things we do right. And, in the process, if we’re lucky we also find out about ourselves, at the same time. When we decided to close our agency, it was a very tough decision. But that was just the beginning.
There were a lot of very difficult conversations that had to be had; and they all fell on me. First, with the man who ran our parent company. And then with our staff, with our clients, with our suppliers and alliances and with the industry, in general. To say it was challenging and intense would be an understatement.
The biggest revelation was what I discovered about myself: I was much more of a grown up than I thought I was. I didn’t hide. I didn’t cower. I accepted responsibility. I faced it.
I did what had to be done. I told who had to be told, despite the butterflies in my stomach, the nausea, the sweaty palms and my heart pounding in my chest so strongly, I would have sworn people could hear it. And we took the high ground. We helped staff find other jobs. We helped clients make other arrangements. And when it was all over, we had the comfort of knowing we’d handled a very challenging time with as much grace as we could muster. We had done the right thing, the right way.
In that particular case, the lessons learned were immediate. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes it takes a while.
Yesterday’s WordPress Daily Post asked bloggers to “tell us a moment or an incident that you treasure — not necessarily because it brought you happiness, but because it taught you something about yourself”.
Of all the lessons I’ve learned in my life, and trust me, there have been many, one stands out. Not just because of what it taught me, but because it is also a treasured moment.
As I’ve written several times, my mother had a lot of serious things wrong with her. You’d never have known it but she did. She didn’t look sick. She looked like she was the picture of health. She didn’t act sick. She had tons of energy, an incredible zest for life and she was out and about all day, every day. Cognitively she was fine. But physically, not so good. Diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Diabetic retinopathy, diabetic neuropathy as well. Less than a year before she died we also learned she also had coronary heart disease. And then, there were her kidneys.
One day I happened to go with her, to one of her appointments with her endocrinologist. I don’t know why, to tell you the truth, because she was very independent and was more than capable of going herself. Her health wasn’t at a critical stage at that time. She still drove and was very active. So all I can think is, we must have been going somewhere, together, after her appointment so I tagged along.
During her pre-exam with one of the doctor’s residents he found her to be out of breath when she walked. He asked her if she’d noticed it and she said, “Occasionally”. Because of her age, and various ailments, he referred her to a specialist for an echocardiogram. Needless to say, I told her I wanted to go with her, which I did.
We were relieved to hear the results were fine. But imagine my surprise — make that shock — when the cardiologist asked her, after looking at her file, if her doctors had told her she would, most likely, end up on dialysis. The question was mind-blowing enough. But my mother’s answer almost caused me to have a coronary.
Very calmly, without flinching, she said: “Yes, they have.” She then went on to say, “It’s not exactly what I would have wished for myself, but if that’s what I’ll have to do, that’s what I’ll do.” My jaw hit the floor. My eyes were bugged right out of my skull. And I can still feel the pain I got in my neck when I literally snapped around to look from the doctor, to my mother. I think I gave myself a whiplash. I could not wait for the appointment to end.
“Why the #*^& didn’t you tell me about your kidneys?” I hissed at her the second we were out of the doctor’s office. “I didn’t want you to worry. I figured there was plenty of time before I had to tell you. I have it all under control”, she answered.
Ironically, from that moment, her health went into a state of rapid decline. I was blindsided. Our lives went from one extreme to the other in a matter of a few months. She started feeling sicker and sicker; and the need for dialysis became imminent. Suddenly, my mother announced she was finding it difficult to manage on her own; and she said she wanted to move into an assisted living seniors’ residence.
It turns out, unbeknownst to me, she’d been doing some research. She knew which one she wanted to live in. I insisted we check out a few others as well, just in case. They are privately run and very expensive and I wanted to make sure we’d done our due diligence. In the end she picked the one she’d wanted all along and I agreed with her. An added benefit was, it was a couple of blocks away from both my condo and my office. I could even visit her at lunchtime or on my way home. Perfect.
My mother took a lot of medication. She had it all listed out. And once a week she organized all her pills in those plastic boxes with all the compartments. But when she started dialysis it all started to unravel. She went three times a week, and each and every time they changed her meds. I was getting confused, so you can imagine what it was doing to her.
One day I got a call from the ‘nurse’ at the residence. They had noticed my mother was mixing up some of her meds. He mentioned that, for a fee, they could take over the responsibility. I agreed to let them, obviously. But really, they weren’t capable of doing it. My mother’s schedule was too complicated for them. They dispensed meds twice a day. Before breakfast and before dinner. Well my mother had pills that had to be taken at specific hours. She also had different types of insulin that each had to be taken at specific times.
So my mother, whose brain functioned just fine, would call me to tell me how they were screwing up from time to time. I spoke to them and they promised to do better. Which they did. Until the night my mother called me at 10:00 pm to tell me the nursing assistant had just given her insulin when her blood sugar was too low. She could have gone into a diabetic coma and died. Within minutes.
What saved her — or who saved her — was Cecilia, a personal support worker I’d hired to go to dialysis with my mother. She was still there, because my mother hadn’t been feeling great that evening. Anyway, Cecilia had a lot of experience dealing with diabetics. So she immediately gave my mother a large glass of orange juice and made her toast with peanut butter and jam. Her blood sugar went up right away, so she was out of danger. I ran over there like a lunatic and Cecilia and I took turns checking my mother’s blood sugar every hour on the hour, all night long.
You won’t be surprised to learn that was the last straw for me. I yanked my mother out of there and decided to bring her to live with me. Which brings me to the point of this story.
About two days after my mother moved into my condo, I awoke to the smell of coffee and something sweet, something being baked. I walked into the kitchen and there was Cecilia, making blueberry muffins, from scratch. My mother was sitting at the dining room table, with a huge smile on her face. She was also singing at the top of her lungs. The song was one she was composing as she went along. It told the story of how happy she was, how lucky she was to be living with me. What a wonderful daughter she had. What a wonderful life she had.
Cecilia started to snivel. So did I. I felt this rush of warmth wash over my entire body. I cannot explain the joy I felt, knowing I had given my mother so much joy. What started out being something I did for her, turned out to be something I also did for myself. Who knew?
That’s the part I treasure. The lesson came later, the night my mother died. When my friends, and Cecilia and I were sitting around my dining room table reminiscing about my mother, and our memories of our times together. When, out of the blue, I suddenly blurted: “I’m sad, but I’m not guilty”. It was only then I realized what a role guilt plays in grief; and how much worse it feels, and how much longer it takes to get over sadness when you’re guilty.
Happily for both of us, as it turned out, I was always there for my mother, in sickness and in health. There was nothing left unsaid between us. She knew I loved her. She knew I didn’t consider her a burden. She knew I was happy, and relieved, she was living with me, where I could make sure she got the proper care. I knew I had done everything possible to make sure she had the best quality of life it was possible for her to have. To make sure she wasn’t alone. Lonely. Or frightened. I had nothing to be guilty about. You can’t imagine the peace that knowledge brings. And the comfort.
Now that’s a lesson to be treasured.