August 28, 2012

Today, we are waiting for Hurricane Isaac to reach the southern coast and New Orleans; and while we  wait, memories are flooding my head.

Seven years ago today, Hurricane Katrina hit and destroyed New Orleans.  Seven years ago this coming weekend, I went to Rochester to visit my 92-year old mom.

My sister and her husband joined us for the traditional Sunday dinner on the porch of the house Mom had lived in for over 70 years.  I don’t remember WHAT we ate, but I am sure that most of it had been harvested from her garden, cleaned, and prepared by Mom just that day.

As we finished dinner, she looked at us and said she was glad we were there that day, as she had been watching the destruction in the Gulf and she had a question for us….considering the damage to the oil rigs down there, did we think that perhaps we should reconsider our position on drilling for oil inAlaska?  I also don’t remember the ensuing conversation, but I do know I at least said that I didn’t know that was going to be the question of the day, and I had not done my homework.  I expect my brother-in-law gave her a respectable answer.

That was the last time I saw my mom in her house.  By the next week, she called my siblings to tell them she was too sick to cook; by Sunday, she wanted to head to the doctor, and by Monday, I think, she was in St. Mary’s Hospital while they searched and searched to no avail, for what was causing her pain.

And almost before we knew it…she was headed to Bethany Samaritan for physical therapy to regain her strength so she could return home…..she refused the therapy; she did not come home; and we started the ten month journey of saying goodbye.  

Fortunately, I was still in physical therapy recovering from my fall three years before, and working only part time at MSP Resources, so I had the flexibility to be in Rochester Friday-Monday; I will always be grateful to my friend JJ for that help and understanding, and to my sister Nancy for a place to stay every week in Rochester.    

Slowly my siblings and I came together; created a schedule that worked for each of us so that among four of us and a dedicated sister-in-law, my mom had one of us there every day.   A fifth sibling came when she could. And interspersed were visits from grandchildren and great grandchildren and even singing performances from the great-great grandchildren – that according to my mom’s way of thinking, made her “Queen of the Nursing Home”.   And in between, we managed to “finish some business” for her: the Rochester team helped her with her own last act of independence, as she changed her will to reflect what she wanted rather than what my father had thought best oh-so many years before; and, since “houses don’t do well when they are not lived in”, most of us pitched in to do what we could to sort and clean and distribute her lifetime of possessions and memories…and what was left was  disposed of in a garage sale handled by my brother and his wife.

The house went up for sale, and was sold; and for my mom, she could cross that last task off her to-do list of life.  It was finished; and now she was ready to move on. 

Mostly for our own benefit, we kept a journal at Bethany-asking each sibling to record their visit, how she was doing that day and any significant incidents.  Sometime along the way, my mom started writing her own entries in that journal, starting first with just a shaky “BK” to tell us SHE was there, too, and slowly she added her own thoughts.  It was a precious thing to all of us; little did we know that as she was declaring “her purpose here was done” and dealing with her own loose ends, that one night she would destroy the journal because she had written “crazy” things in it.

In her own way, I think she said individual goodbyes and gave us our final marching orders; to me she said “I’m not worried about you; you were born independent and have been that way all your life, but there are two that I am worried about…take care of them.” 

And when, after a couple last few weeks, the goodbyes were said, she simply got up one morning, got dressed in one of her “nicer” outfits, laid down on the bed and quietly passed on from her life here on earth.  I am sure she is disappointed in me for not being able to fulfill her wish to take care of her two needy babies, but at the same time I hope she understands, they rejected my attempts when I tried.

So here we are, seven years later.  And on the very day seven years ago that Katrina unleashed its wrath, we are now watching another monster storm head once again to New Orleans.  Again,  I am struggling with repercussions from my fall ten years ago, have been through five months of physical therapy, and know the diagnosis is not good.  I’ve not worked for a year, and have determined the event career is most likely ended-at least as I now know it…and am contemplating whether I can muster the energy to reinvent myself one more time for one last career, or simply give in.

So where is my mom when I need her to help me find my way?   Maybe I am just not listening hard enough…or perhaps the return of the storm threat to New Orleans is meant to remind me that I should not give up, that I can do it and somehow I will create a new path into the future.

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