No, I haven’t forgotten about the blog — I’ve just been swamped. Gradeapalooza continues apace; I finished the research papers from my freshpeeps last night. I’ve got my Seven Deadlies papers on deck for tomorrow, but I’m taking today off.
Today would have been Mom’s 69th birthday. Unlike a lot of folks, she was not shy about her age. She considered it a triumph to have made it that far. And given her history of ailments, ranging from heart trouble in her childhood (corrected by surgery when she was 17) to the M.S. that plagued her for more than 30 years, to a skull fracture suffered in a minibike accident that left her with some facial paralysis, to an allergic reaction in a doctor’s office that left her clinically dead for a few minutes (she came home and cooked supper that night), she was right.
In October of 1990, she was in the hospital for what proved to be a pulmonary embolism. At some point during her stay, the doctors asked her about the heart attack that her tests indicated she had suffered at one point. She didn’t know what they were talking about — she hadn’t had a heart attack. Then, as they checked old records, they narrowed it down to a specific range of dates, and she said, “Oh! That‘s what that was. Well, hell, if I had known it was a heart attack, I wouldn’t have gone back to work the next day.”
All that punishment had a price, of course. She was an artist, but her illness (and I think a sense of inferiority to my dad’s intellect and talent) took her ability to draw away from her. Her physical decline meant that she spent a great deal of her last twenty years essentially as a shut-in. She had to stop driving because of the MS, and vision problems (specifically, a loss of binocularity) that came with the disease made reading difficult-to-impossible for long periods of time. And the medications she took for her problems exacted a toll as well, both physically and mentally.
In her later years, she was often difficult, easy to offend and hard to appease, capable of nursing a grudge as if she were Florence Nightingale. She would lash out at people for slights real or imagined. On occasions, she could be icy (which she saw as self-defense) or deliberately cruel, which she would disguise as frankness. Some of this was due, I think, to the cognitive effects of the MS, and some due to the medicine. But in retrospect, all the pain and frustration had to go somewhere, and I suppose the wonder was that it wasn’t more vicious and more frequent — although it was more than abundant for those on the receiving end, which I was from time to time, and Mrs. M much more frequently.
She mentioned on occasion that she had basically spent her whole life being ill, but there was a window of a few years during which she felt genuinely good, before the MS was active enough to notice. There were people who never even got that much, she said, and she said she was grateful. There’s nothing I can really give her now, but since it would be her birthday, here’s a moment captured from that window. Would that it could have been open longer, and I trust that it is wide open now. Happy birthday, Mom.