Sunday, March 04, 2007


10 years ago this May by father died. He had been having a series of heart attacks. He's had bypass surgery done in 1990. He never changed his habits, so 7 years more was more than we could've hoped for. I remember the day he died. It was sunny. I was 2 months pregnant. My mom called me at work and told me it didn't look good to get to the hospital. It took a while. We lived about 60 miles away. We pull into the parking lot of a small hospital there. My brother was waiting for us. It was too late. I remember falling into his arms.
I was mad, stunned, stricken.

Daddy, I need you!
Seeing him in that bed, saying goodbye, holding his cold hand, man that was hard.

The next several months were so terrible, going to visit my mother, crying the whole way, trying to help her. She spiralled down so quickly. I guess it took about a year and a half before she's lost her job.
Sold her house, it barely paid off her bills.
She moved in with us.
She went to work as a door greeter, "Welcome to ...."
She and Pete were so close, man my mother loved that girl. Always had Tootsie Rolls for her, they would race for my mother's chair, or Pete would "hide" behind it and my mother would look for her.
Life got darker for my mother. A 12 pack, then more, of beer a day. She stopped paying for her car. They took it away in the middle of the night. Left two very long skid marks that I spent hours scrubbing off the driveway.
One Thanksgiving she went to work drunk and got sent home. Things got worse.
By 10 am she was drinking, by noon she couldn't be trusted. She's pinball through the house, bouncing forward from the couch to the wall, telling us the same stories over and over. My son wouldn't, couldn't speak to her, Pete still adored her, not really understanding
I was so mad at her.
With all the shit we'd lived through- shootings, evictions, homeless, hear attacks, birth defects, deaths, she was the strong one. And she had given up, she was weak, and I didn't like it.
I'm so ashamed of that now.
She had a cough that wouldn't go away. Said it was allergies.
Finally, she made an appointment. I called her doctor secretly and told her that my mother was slowly killing herself and to please help her.
And guess what? My mother checked herself into rehab! She had six sober months before she died.
I was pregnant this time too. While she was in rehab, they gave her physicals and stuff, x-rays for that cough. Found some spots, might be TB.
Shit, I was scared! My mother put her head in the sand and won't go back, after it was discovered not to be TB.
Towards the end of my pregnancy the docs told me to take it easy after work. I told mom I was going to need her help around the house. She moved out that weekend.
Looking back, I would have moved out too, I was the bitch.

Fast forward to the beginning of March. My sister in law calls on a Friday night. My mother is so sick, not getting better. My aunt was coming the next day to go the hospital, but maybe that was too late. I drove the 60 miles there and took her to the hospital. After many hours, they said she had pneumonia, checked her in.
Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, she gets better and better.
Wednesday morning, they tells us she might have cancer- they found a mass the size of a grapefruit in her lung, which is what caused an obstruction that lead to the pneumonia. I'm talking to my mother about treatment options, DNR's, what do you want? She can't tell me, I'm just so pissed.

Then, all of a sudden, she can't breath, just like that.

They rush her up to ICU, tell us there's nothing we can do, the cancer is too far gone. I say let her go, that's what she would want. My older brother trumps me and says put her on life support so we can explore treatment options. We fly my sister in from Washington State, go to the hospital Thursday morning. The nurses have had to pump her full of fluids to keep her blood pressure up to keep her alive, Her lungs are full of fluid, the cancer is Stage 4 and has spread to her liver.
The pneumonia, it seems, is a blessing.

She will not have to die of liver cancer. The docs tell us she is not in pain, but nothing we can do.
We let her go, they turn off the machine, my brother, sister and I stand vigil as her strong heart keeps fighting, fighting. 15 minutes her body fights. The doc says even now her heart is strong.

That woman didn't know the half of it.

To Karen Veronica Shortell Johnson
September 30, 1942- March 6, 2003
A woman with a strong heart
who knew the meaning of every word
With the strength few people possess

I miss your stories
please forgive me.


Erica said...

Man, that was a rough read.....inspiring, still, no doubt.

Nothing more I could add; you totally took my breath away.

pet campbell said...

In a perfect world ..
Our needs are met...
We are assured of our parents love..
In an imperfect world.. we do the best we can..and hope we are loved....
Now start healing for you and your family..
Thank you for sharing this...

Chappy said...

We were never equipped to deal with death initially, the separation is more than we can bear, and until a person experiences it there just isn't any way to understand or explain it. My daughter died in a car accident at the age of 17 - my wife's world was shattered and still is - there's not a day that passes when she doesn't think of her. It took my a year before I could grieve for her because I 'thought' I had to be the rock and provide stability for the family. The timing is wrong - a child isn't supposed to pass before the parent. My wife's grandmother outlived all three of her children - she was the living example of faith. I watched my dad die of small cell carcinoma of the lungs, my mom of congestive heart failure...and I wonder how I'll go and if I can be as gracious in death as they were. Life teaches us to be stronger than we can ever imagine - the old cliche is correct. Thanks for sharing, it blessed me.