Friday, June 9, 2017

She Never Saw the Flood Lights

As most of you know by now, my mother passed away on May 27th and was buried earlier this week. Without going too far into detail, this is a transcript of the eulogy that I read on June 7th:

"For those of you didn’t know my mother, allow me to give you an idea of the person she was:

Where my father was well-traveled, my mother spent 95% of her life in or around Downers Grove. She was born at Hinsdale Hospital, grew up in Downers and Westmont, graduated high school from Downers North, spent 17 years working at the Marshall Field’s at Oakbrook Mall –where, incidentally, she met my father—and lived nearly her entire life in DG. She did some traveling, though her idea of a distant, faraway excursion was either Lake Geneva or the family farm in Coldwater, MI.

My mother was quirky. She was fascinated by rubber ducks, and when we moved into our current residence in 2004, she gave the hallway bathroom a rubber duck motif. When the Egg Harbor Café in downtown Downers started giving away mini-rubber ducks, my mother adorned them all over the dashboard of her 2010 Mercury Milan.

At the same time, my mother and I did not have a lot of shared interests. She was fascinated by classic cars, I was not. Her record collection was loaded with Barbra Streisand and original Broadway cast recordings, and I had no interest in either. I like baseball and hockey, but she vehemently hated sports. She liked sugary snacks –she had a sweet tooth—and I was cautious about what I ate.
Sharon watched a lot of TV, but as I just alluded to, our tastes in TV shows varied significantly. She liked old school, rural-based shows like “Green Acres” and “The Beverly Hillbillies,” and even though I don’t hate either show, the appeal was lost one me. My mother and I did have two shows in common: “M*A*S*H,” which is an evergreen, but we were both surprised to discover we both liked “My Name is Earl.” That might have been the only TV show we made a note of watching together, more often than not. On the other hand, there was no hesitation deleting “Two Broke Girls” from the living room DVR. We didn’t have the heart to tell her the show had been cancelled, either.

My mother knew how to push my buttons. Half the time it was hard to tell if she was oblivious but well-meaning, or she knew precisely how to annoy me. She had a tendency to forget to tell my sister and I about a special event like, say, a neighbor’s anniversary or a block party, until the last minute. If Ma was upset about something, she would make Bridget test me or call me to tell me she was upset, rather than doing it herself.

Sharon was also a luddite. Her distrust of modern technology bordered into irrational hatred. Maybe it was because her side of the family were farmers and mechanics, and had no need for such things, I don’t know. Regardless, because of her stubbornness we didn’t have a PC in our house until 1998, we didn’t have the internet until 2002, and we didn’t have cable until 2008. She had a cell phone, the most basic phone Verizon could make, and she turned it on maybe once a month, in case of emergency. Ma didn’t even have an email until maybe three years ago, and it was my sister’s responsibility to check it once or twice a week.

As some of you know, Sharon had a laundry list of health issues. She had been in and out of hospitals since was five or six years old. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. At one point in the early 1980s, her immune system failed and she spent three weeks in a plastic bubble. To her, a hospital stay was somewhere between an annoyance and a diversion. Please forgive me if I sound like a broken record, but my sister and I were convinced that regardless of everything she had gone through, she would somehow persevere and live into her 80s.

The last chapter of her life more or less began in February 2015. She had a cardiologist appointment at Good Samaritan Hospital here in Downers; during a routine check-up, the doctor discovered 70% blockage in four of her arteries, as well as an aneurysm emerging in her aorta. They performed quadruple bypass surgery immediately, but because Sharon was underweight –I don’t want to say fragile—they held off on treating the aorta until she was on firmer physical footing.

Earlier this year, my mother was complaining of dizzy spells and blurred vision. A visit to a prominent neurologist revealed that she had an aneurysm in the right hemisphere of her brain. In early April, she was underwent brain surgery at Rush Medical Center on the near west side of the city; even though it was an elaborated and complicated procedure that only a handful of neurosurgeons could perform, it has been perfected, and best-case scenario my mother would have been out of the hospital in three or four days.

Then complications arose. The brain surgery was a success, but it inadvertently ruptured the aortic aneurysm, so two days later my mother had heart surgery. She had two stents placed in her body in the span of 2 ½ days. She went home over a week later, but the moment she walked into the house, she complained of abdominal pain; she couldn’t hold any food down, and within 2 ½ hours Bridget had called the paramedics, my mother was sent to Good Sam, and then 12 hours after checking out she was back in the ICU at Rush. She ended up getting a third stent, connected to where she had heart surgery less than two weeks before.

After nearly a month at Rush, my mother was cleared for rehab in early May. The process of getting back on her feet had its ups and downs, but she did the maximum 20 days covered by the insurance and finally home –for good, we thought—on May 24th. She was exhausted and still not holding food down, but she was adamant that she didn’t want to go back to the hospital. Sharon insisted she needed to get back into her daily routine at home, and she needed a few more days. I had left for the Omaha Improv Festival that Friday morning; Mom was “hangry” but moving about the house. I said “I love you” one last time just as she lied back in her bed for a late morning nap.

When I was on the road, my sister called to tell me that she called the paramedics again; she was battling the abdominal pain that she had six weeks earlier. She spent the night in the ER before going into the Critical Care Unit at Good Sam. My sister visited her that Saturday; Mom was being fed through an IV, and she was gradually becoming her normal self again. When my sister drove home, the physician on duty called to tell her Mom had gone into code blue. My sister rushed back to the hospital; she had stopped breathing and suffered significant brain damage. My mother was wired to a phalanx of machines, and just for a moment she was able to breathe without artificial means. However, she stopped breathing again soon after, CPR was performed, and in spite of the nurses’ best efforts she flatlined.

It would be remiss of me to not mention that Sharon was a “dog mommy.” We have two dogs, Duke (a Maltese-Poodle mix) and Henry (shorthair Dachshund). The older of the two, Duke was originally a Sweet 16 present of my sister’s, but soon enough became my mother’s dog. Duke would follow my mother around, sleep on her bed, and whine whenever she left the house. With the health issues my parents had, it became too much of a hassle to take the dogs out on walks. We had no choice but to have the dogs do their business in the backyard, which was a hassle of sorts after dusk because that side of the house is very dimly lit. When my mother was in rehab, my cousin Tom installed a small panel of flood lights with sensors in between the shingles and the gutters. Even though my mother was home for 2 ½ days after –notice the recurrence of two and a half in this eulogy—she never had an opportunity to see the lights. Whenever I’m out with Duke or Henry at 10 o’clock at night, I’ll look at those flood lights and think of Ma. She would’ve been quite impressed.

Ma, you’re going to be missed. To those of you who attended today, thank you for coming."


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