My Valentine

Well hello.

I know it's been awhile and I am sorry for that.  Okay?
I could say that I've been busy.
I have.
I could say that I've been distracted.
I have.
I could say that I've had blogger's block (writer's block for blogger's).
I have.
All that would be true. 

But I've also been sad.  Because my Mom is sick.

But today is a happy day.  It's Valentine's Day!  So I decided to get on my blog and honor my mother.  My original Valentine.

As I've previously written, I was raised by my father and my grandmother--my "parents".  My Mom and Dad divorced when I was very young and although my brothers and I initially lived with my mother, she decided to relinquish custody about a year later.

I really didn't see my Mom much after that.

Until I was in high school, that is, about my junior year.  I became difficult for my father. He just wasn't sure what to do with me.  It wasn't because I was wild, or willful, or out of control.  Okay, maybe a little willful.
No, I was a NERD.  Yep.  Bonafide.  I was overachieving as fast as I could and my Dad just didn't know what to do.  He became resentful and, looking back, maybe a little defensive, because he really couldn't understand the things I was doing or what the hell I was even talking about half the time.

For God's sake, I was studying Latin.  Biosynthesizing polymers from bacterial byproducts.

Who does that?

So, in stepped Mom.  She was ready.  I was ready.  I had missed having a mother and she had missed having a daughter.  She was supportive and available in ways that my father wasn't at that time-and she wasn't embarrassing like he was either.  She seemed sophisticated, smart, and beautiful to me.  It didn't occur to me at the time that I was so enthralled because I had craved her for so long.  It was like taking a long, cold drink of water in that hot, hot Missouri sun.

I fell head over heels in love.  For the very first time.  With my Mom.

We became friends, I see now.  My friends were always commenting on how close we were, on how they wished they could have that kind of relationship with their mom.  I explained it was our unique beginning that allowed us to be such a cool "mom and daughter" now.  I went off to college and my Mom took me and spent the whole first week with me while I blew off Freshmen week.  I will always treasure that time I had with her.  It was the only time I have ever had with my Mom one-on-one in my lifetime.

All to myself.

Our connection became uncanny. We developed a sense of when to call or visit.  You know, people are always talking about soul mates in the sense of lovers.  My soul mate is my Mom.  We are as bound in this lifetime as I believe we will be beyond it.  I believe in souls.  I believe they are what make us more than the sum of our parts.  And I believe it is the soul of a person that lives on.  It simply cannot be destroyed.  So, I take comfort in knowing that my soul and my mother's soul are interwoven and interconnected.  We would never have not 'found' each other.

So, it was kind of inevitable that Mom and I would start sending each other Valentine's Day cards.  You know, the kind that a Mom sends her daughter and the kind that a daughter that has finally grown up would send her Mom?  Yep.  We did.  Mom started it, of course.  But it has continued through the years.  I always thought that was so cool.

But then Mom got sick.

And everything started to change.  She was diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer over two years ago.  Miraculously, she has battled on this long.

But she is sick.

And rather than our relationship being better and stronger for it, it has been tested and weakened in ways that I cannot begin to describe.  But the biggest thing has been my determination to get her to 'do her bookkeeping'.  I wanted my Mom to get her 'affairs in order'.  Get things ready.  Blah. Blah. Blah.

I realized in the last few months that every single conversation we had amounted to my telling her what she needed to do.  And her being stressed by some of those things because she couldn't see her way to doing them as they involved her husband, and there are challenges there.

So, I decided, nobly, to let up on her.  I decided I could not let every conversation be about those things.  I needed joy and laughter to be back in our relationship.

I needed her to know that I loved her.  As she was.  As she is.  And that it really didn't matter if she got 'everything done'.

Well.  Except for a POA (power of attorney for healthcare decisions) and an advanced directive.  I decided I couldn't give up on that.  So, I continued to talk, and nag, and cajole.  I argued, and debated, and begged.  I bribed.

I. Tried. Everything.

Until finally my mom was admitted to the hospital where she told the staff that she would do the paperwork "later".  I got on the phone and just yelled at my mother.  I cried.  And yelled.  And cried.  Until finally she broke down and said, yes, she would fill it out.

Of course, I didn't believe her.   My mom is notorious for agreeing to things and then forgetting about them later.  Or not really forgetting but wanting to.  She's simply the queen of denial.  What she does not want to deal with, she does not.  My brother and I refer to it as "turtling up'.  So, I was pretty confident that she wouldn't really fill out the paperwork.  We had talked about it so many times before, but this time it was just so....critical. I simply could not get my head around the fact that my Mom, a nurse in her career, would allow such critical decisions to go unmade.  I was shocked by her passiveness.  Her husband has problems and not least of them is fairly significant dementia.  It was unbearable to me to think that he could suddenly be in charge of some of the most critical decisions facing her ongoing health.

I was just pissed at her.

And you really can't be pissed at your Mom when she's sick.  So, after yelling and crying and yelling and crying, I made a decision.  I decided that all of this was going to 'happen' no matter what I did and I would just have to deal with things as they came.

I let go of the struggle.

I realized that loving Mom was letting her live her way.  And be sick her way.  But to respect her wishes even if she wouldn't write the damn things down for us so we knew, definitively, what they were.

So, we have been rebuilding.  And now it's Valentine's Day and I really didn't think much of it until I came home and my husband told me I had mail.  I looked at the envelope and immediately recognized my Mom's handwriting.  I was smiling as I opened the letter, until I realized that I didn't have the usual Hallmark in my hand.

No.  As the sheets of paper came away and I read the standard legal jargon of my mother's Durable Power of Attorney and Advanced Healthcare Directive, I felt my heart shatter.

She had done what I asked.

I could read her wishes outlined clearly so that no mistake could be made, no room for misinterpretation.  And I have never hurt so badly in my life.

As the words blurred and my breath hitched, I never anticipated how painful it would be to get what I wanted.  And I wanted to send it back.  To somehow fold it up, and seal it back into that envelope, so I could act as though I had never seen those words, never read those wishes.  In that horrible, horrible moment, I realized what I had asked my Mom to do.  And I realized part of the reason why she didn't want to do it.

Because in that moment, and not before, I realized, really, really realized that my Mom was not just sick.  She could be dying.  And I forced her to face that and plan for that and confirm in writing that because she knew it, there was no point to any life saving or prolonging actions should her condition worsen.  It was a bad moment. 

But then I saw the stamp she had placed on the envelope to seal it.  In my rush to open my letter, I hadn't really noticed it at the time.  It simply said "Love".

And I realized something else too.

My Mom.  My beautiful, smart, sophisticated mother had sent me a Valentine after all.  I got it.  And I knew that no matter how hard things have been--no matter how hard I've made things, she still loves me.

And I am still in love with her.

And that will never change. 

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