Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

Call Your Mom

That’s right. Pick up the phone right now and call her. Call your dad, too. Tell them you love them.

In the last three weeks, four of my friends have lost a parent. Four moms or dads gone. And even for those whose parent suffered for months or years leading up to that final moment, the moment comes fast. And you are no way prepared for it.

I find myself thinking about where my family was last year at this time. Still struggling with my mom’s ongoing illness and issues following an elective surgery.

Mom had elective back surgery. The actual surgery went very well. However, she did not come around like they would have liked. 24 hours after her surgery, they were afraid she may have been having a reaction to the pain meds. So they reversed the narcotics and she proceeded to heal from back surgery, without the benefit of pain meds. The next morning, the physical therapist was there when I arrived and helped her to the recliner. She fed herself breakfast and while she was in pain, she was present. She was reactive and could carry on a conversation.

By the end of the day, she started to regress. She stopped responding. It was excruciating to watch and we were helpless to do anything. Each day she drifted farther and farther away from us. She went from mumbling the rosary on day 3 to moaning on day 4 to silence on day 5. Her oxygen levels dropped; her kidneys started to have problems. She was non-responsive. They tested her for stroke, hypoxia and every infection they could think of – all negative.

Through all this, I would arrive at her room by 7 am and spend two hours trying to connect with her and talk to her doctors before going to work. I remember sitting in the parking ramp bawling like a baby on more than one occasion, begging God to bring her back. Begging Him to allow us to keep her in whatever state we could. My sister and I spent hours googling her symptoms and looking for answers.

After a full week of this, she slowly started to focus on us again – just for brief moments, but it felt like such a victory every time. It took her a week to be able to respond to us and then she couldn’t find the words. They tested her again for stroke – negative. Yet, cognitively and verbally she continued to struggle. She was transferred to an inpatient rehabilitation facility three weeks after her surgery. She was there for another three weeks. This was followed by a couple of months of in-home physical, speech and occupational therapy. Every time she has met a new nurse or therapist or physician, we made it clear that this was not her. This was a woman who drove herself to the mall two days before surgery to buy some cute outfits for rehab. This was an independent woman who talked… a lot. 🙂

Now a little over a year later, she has come a long way. Physically, she got stronger, but only to a point. She has balance issues and often uses a walker. She struggles to stand and sit. She walks at a new snail’s pace. She no longer can drive. Her speech and cognition have come so far in the last year but she still struggles to find words sometimes. Reading and writing are now difficult for her. Some days she seems to be very alert and following conversations. Other days not so much. She can keep it together for brief conversations and doctors’ appointments, but she is depressed and struggling. This breaks my heart. I wish with all my heart that there was a way to help her back to who she was before this happened.

Surprisingly, I no longer care why this happened to her. For the first three months or so, we focused on why this happened. What drug or procedure may have caused this? I have come to realize that this doesn’t matter any more.

I am so very thankful to have my mom still. There was about a week there when we didn’t really know if she would come through it. And then there were some very long months when we wondered if the new normal was mom trying to have an entire conversation using only the words to the Hail Mary. I know she has been frustrated with her progress and her limitations. But she being alive is something to celebrate.

Now there will be times when the world feels like it is rushing around me, and I feel myself slowing down. I find myself catching snowflakes on my tongue instead of complaining about the slush and the cold. I find I am savoring that last bite of pie and not worrying so much about the extra calories. I am enjoying the laughter of those around me instead of watching the clock and checking items off my to-do list. I am allowing myself to wallow in my spare moments instead of fretting about everything that needs to get done. It will either get done, or it won’t. And either way it is okay.

The last year and half has been a time of major changes for my family, and I have found myself grasping for something to anchor me. I think of my friends, going through this incredible loss of a parent, and I feel an indescribable fear well up within me. That is the one thing that truly terrifies me about growing older. That profound loss. Love of family and friends is the only thing that truly matters in the end.

So call mom and dad. Now.


  1. Sending you a big hug. Thanks for sharing your experience. It must have been hard to write about it. It is strange you write about it because I am again struggling with my mothers death. It’s one of the hardest experiences no matter how old you are.

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