Summer 2018 was the beginning of the end for me. I was on top of the world. My business was doing well, I was treating myself to vanity luxuries, and taking my mom to the movies. I had made more money than I ever did working a regular job. I finally felt a breakthrough in my life. Then, in the middle of July that year, I awoke and saw the bathroom door closed with the light on. It was obvious that my mom was using the bathroom, as always, so I went to sit at my computer and glance at the work I needed to do for the day. Some time went by and my mother had yet to come out of the bathroom. I heard heavy breathing, and I assumed she must have fallen asleep.
I went into the bathroom to check on her. I found her slumped over to her right side with her head between the countertop and the toilet. Not much space to say the least. I tried to wake her up and get her to get up so she could get in bed and go back to sleep. She responded slightly incoherent, fussing that she was awake but would immediately fall back asleep.
I figured she was exhausted, but I knew I couldn’t lift her up and get her back in bed by myself. So, I called 9-1-1 to help me get her back in bed. The EMT’s arrived and checked her vitals. Her blood pressure was extremely low, her temperature was 105, and her blood sugar was over 200. When we got to the hospital, we learned that she was septic from a urinary tract infection (UTI) that had entered her bloodstream. The bacteria discovered was e. coli.
While she spent the standard five days in the hospital being treated and literally brought back to life and baseline function, I lost most of my clients. One could no longer pay me due to a tax bill. Another contract was canceled for no clear reason. Another contract, I ultimately couldn’t keep up with any longer and had to let go. I had a political campaign client left, and that was a local level campaign with a limited budget. In one week, all the glorious progress I made and the hope I built for a better life for my mother and myself was gone.
After that initial visit, my mother had a hospitalization every two to three months. Her falls and incidents gradually increased, and we finally decided to try a rehab facility in November 2019. She stayed in the rehab for two months, made minimal progress, and came home with a bedsore no one informed us of.
Don’t worry. I promptly reported the facility, even against the advice of someone who thought herself the ultimate authority on what I was capable of under my circumstances. This social worker was nice and meant well but was ultimately wrong in that respect.
In any case, mom was home from rehab for a day and a half and then went right back into the hospital with sepsis and respiratory failure. She came out of rehab in January of this year sicker than she went in. From then on, she was hospitalized virtually once a month except for the stretch of time that I fought to keep her home during the COVID-19 outbreak. Even so, she only stayed home for about two months with constant calls to doctors to get outpatient treatments.
In May of this year, we confirmed her Parkinson’s diagnosis, and adjusting to the medications was quite the trial. Eventually, mom began to sleep more and one day – the day Kamala Harris was announced as Joe Biden’s running mate – I went to check on my mother and she appeared to be choking. She wouldn’t speak or turn her head. She held her head back and just froze. I called 9-1-1 for the last time and got her to the hospital. She had the usual and antibiotic-resistant UTI along with aspiration pneumonia. She was finally released to go home on August 21, 2020 – the last day of my master’s program. It was a fight, though, as she hadn’t made any progress over the ten days she was in the hospital. I advocated for her wish to go home and she was discharged with hospice. She transitioned on September 5, 2020.
The journey toward her transition was ominous in the last few months. The home health agency could no longer find any viable aides to help us. The Managed Long-Term Care insurance company could no longer find viable agencies due to location and COVID. Yet, I knew that in the end, my mom didn’t want anyone else to care for her but me. She was tired of being poked and prodded and fed and talked down to by mediocre healthcare know-it-alls who were only in the field for a check. In every action, every phone call, every feeding, every changing of her diaper, advocating for quality care, getting her home, making sure she transitioned on the mattress she had gotten used to, and making sure she saw her youngest living son and heard from her grandchildren, I made sure to fulfill my mom’s final and dying wishes as best as I could on little to no sleep, a lot of stress, and the ever-present reality that I would have little to no time to get myself on my feet once all was done.
I sacrificed my health, my sanity, and my financial earning potential to love and care for my mom – to get back much valued time and bonding that I missed as a child. I do not regret my choice at all. Even though I still have moments when I feel I failed, I know that in the end, I did everything right.
Indigenous cultures, such as my own Native American tribe – Ramapough Lenape – call being with someone and caring for them as they leave the earth plane “seeing them out”. I first heard this phrase while watching the film Apocalypto, and I heard it again as one of our tribal elders performed the sending off ceremony when we buried my mother’s cremains with her mother. It was nice to experience that a phrase that always stuck with me had genuine meaning and relevance. (Good job, Hollywood!)
Seeing my mom out of this world and into the next is the greatest honor that I will ever come to know. In life and in death, I fulfilled her most important, relevant, and accessible wishes. Though I have moments when I feel that I could have done better, I remember taking her to see her Avenger’s movies in the theater, her last concert in Lincoln Center to see her favorite artist, Eddie Palmieri, and I took her to her last tribal gathering and festival. Though I couldn’t do everything she desired (and she had some unrealistic wishes at times), I gave my mom the things that meant the most to her in the best and safest way that I could, and I will always be proud of myself for enduring and delivering. I know she is proud of me too, and when her remains were buried, I could feel the happiness of her spirit.
Fulfilling the Third Commandment to honor our parents is not only a commandment of obligation to respect our elders, but it’s also a sacred gift of sacrifice and returning the selfless love to our parents that they once gave to us.