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Our webmaster at Aneurym and AVM Support, Susan Spera Weinholtz, today posted a beautiful narrative about her parents and her father's early death due to a brain bleed. It is a heart-felt narrative and it moved me to pay tribute to my parents as well. Just as Susan, I lost my father to sudden death when I was young, soon after my 21st birthday in 1971. Just as Susan, II keep his picture near the computer and have missed the grandparent he would have been to my five children, the eldest of whom looks like him. However, my father's death was not due to a brain bleed but rather to an allergic reaction to penicillin. It was my mother, pictured here at age 85, who died of a massive AVM thirty-two years later in 2003.
7 February 2009
My mother, Marguerite Johnson, was born in Iowa, studied to become a teacher and taught fourth grade until marrying my father and moving to Washington, DC in 1940. They had a demanding and exciting social and political schedule in their first years of marriage. When we children came, she stayed home until we were all in school before returning to the classroom. At age 58 she earned her Masters of Education at the University of Maryland and became a school counselor. At age 61 she was a widow. After Dad died my mother never stopped missing the love of her life but pressed on with a positive attitude as mother, friend and school counselor. At times she would bring her students home for a weekend, never saying why it was that they couldn't be in their own homes. She was a great cook and entertainer. No holiday went by without a crowd around our table, many without families of their own. There was always a full plate to deliver to a shut-in neighbor or friend. She always looked younger than she was and had friends of all ages. When a friend went to a nursing home, Mother was an advocate and regular visitor. She found services for her ill friends that the friend's family did not think to pursue. I remember one she employed was a woman who would visit patients with her affectionate lab. When Mother retired from the school system, she began to tour the world with friends. As I had my first and following babies, she would come and stay, insisting I get lots of rest and time with the baby while she made perfect little meals and brought them to me in bed. She enjoyed her grandchildren. When I think of our visits to her house in Chevy Chase, Maryland, I get misty and wish we'd made an effort to get their more often; as the children started school, it seemed we were so busy at home. Each time we pulled in and parked after a ten hour drive from Kennebunk, Maine to Chevy Chase, Maryland there she'd be, watching for us from her kitchen window. Then, the door would open as wide as the smile on her face and we entered the welcoming warmth of her home and love. Each time she had some new toy for the children and cookies just out of the oven. Her house was light and fresh and full of creature comforts- immaculate linens and soft bedding. She was beautiful inside and out, a devoted friend, loving parent and grandparent. I was lucky to know this person and uniquely blessed to have her for my mother.
When my mother turned 95, she had been living with my family in Connecticut for just over a year, A few dizzy episodes and falls had signaled that it was best that she not live alone any longer. Still young in appearance, sound of mind and body, and great company, she made friends in our community and soon had a social calendar to keep. We planned a birthday celebration that fall of 2003, and every relative but one came to be with her from all across the country. I'm so happy we did that because two months later, she died quite suddenly of a massive SAH. Looking back, it seems likely that the dizzy episodes of recent years and a few days of nausea and headache near her 95th birthday were indicative of an aneurysm seeping, threatening. She was no stranger to headaches. She had had chronic sick-headaches, particularly when she was working and raising us. They were often debilitating, requiring bed rest, dark and quiet for hours. At some time, she learned that a Coricidin (which is an antihistamine and the equivalent of a Chlor-trimeton plus a Tylenol) taken at the first hint of headache would often chase it away. When I began having similar headaches as an adult, her remedy would at times work for me, too. Her headaches and mine, her SAH and mine- are they genetic? Are such headaches indicative of the existence of an aneurysm? Time and testing will tell.
The day of my mother's aneurysm event was November 7, 2003. That morning at about ten, she was up and dressed, feeling well and looking beautiful as usual. She and I had plans to go to the mall with some things she wanted to exchange. She had done some wash, had a long and pleasant phone conversation with an old friend, dressed and "put on [her] face" as she described the act of applying her make-up. I was tidying up the morning kitchen when I heard Mother cry softly, "Ohhhh!" and repeat it again in a more alarming way. I hurried in and found her sitting with her hand to her head and her eyes closed. She complained of a sudden, terrible headache. I suspected stroke and said so. I called 911 and, in the few minutes before the police and ambulance crew arrived, I massaged her shoulders and neck hoping that would detract from the headache; I don't think it helped much. I asked her if she had anything she wanted me to say to my brothers.just in case this was the end. She did not attempt to answer. She was able to answer the EMT's standard questions but entreated them to give her something for the pain. The EMT's were outstanding in their care for Mother. She was in good hands with them in the ambulance. I followed in my car. En route, my emotions became overwhelming. I stopped by Fern pond in West Hartford to sob for a bit and then thought to call her doctor, my brothers and husband before continuing to the hospital.
At St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, CT, the EMTs were still with my now unconscious Mother when I arrived. They and ER staff amazed me. Together, we encircled my mother on her gurney in a little room. A priest arrived together, we all prayed the Lord's Prayer. The circle was wonderfully comforting. I can feel it now as I type this. I requested and was given a phone from which to call Mother's closest relatives, her brother, sons, nephew far away. I explained to each the situation and held the phone to her ear while each said some private, last words to her. I hoped that, on some level, she was able to hear them.
Mother was wheeled off for a scan of some kind which showed a massive hemorrhage from which there was no return. At 95, she would not have wanted a return. In fact, she had lately expressed a wonder at why she had been kept on earth so long. She was never afraid of death. Quite the opposite, she looked forward for thirty-two years to a reunion with my father. Her one wish had been to die peacefully in her sleep with no lingering illness. She pretty-much got that wish. She lingered, comatose, in the hospital until three the next morning.
My husband arrived and sat with me/us in the little room in the ER for a while and brought me some lunch. [It was in the same little room that he sat with my unconscious body on a gurney five years later. He recalls being a bit shaken by that coincidence.] He went home to be with our youngest children as they arrived home from school. Two friends came to sit with me/us for a while that afternoon. When the little room was needed for a new emergency, there were no rooms to be had and my mother's gurney was wheeled into the busy ER hallway where we stayed for a couple of hours. As night fell that cold November evening, Mother and I were ushered into a quiet private room high up in the hospital. She was moved into a bed and appeared comfortable. I had been concerned early on about possible pain, and her doctor had ordered a drip to prevent that. She still had her "face on" but I freshened her lipstick as I knew she would wish. She looked peacefully asleep all the while. It seemed fitting that she would be dressed and ready for her passing. It was just like her.
Those hours Friday night into Saturday morning were long, sad and lonely. At times, I talked and reminisced, at others I sang some old favorite songs. There were no indications that she was able to hear, but I did not want to risk her feeling alone; comas and death are so mysterious. After their long journeys, my older children and my brother arrived at Mother's bedside in the wee hours of the next morning. Feeling exhausted and knowing Mother was in good hands, I excused myself to go home to bed. Within an hour, the call came that she had died. It seemed as if she had waited just long enough for my brother to be with her. I have ever since regretted having left.
Sunday followed quickly. We held an impromptu memorial after the regular service at our church in Hartford. Much of the congregation remained for it and our neighbors and friends came too, even some from our years in Maine. I made many calls; emailed those I could, and sent out an announcement with photos and a biographical piece to everyone in her address book. Later that week, according to her wishes we held her funeral in Washington, DC, her home for sixty one years. Her circles of friends: teachers, church, neighbors, various clubs and charities, people of all ages who knew and loved her lined up for the visiting hours at the funeral home. Grace Lutheran Church was full for the funeral of this ninety-five year old lady. That and the outpouring of notes that followed were a tribute to the kind and loving person my mother was. She never failed to put on a happy face and lived life by her favorite motto; "Life is a mirror; smile at it."
Deborah's Narrative: Deborah
© Copyright 2009 Deborah Nye
Discussion, comments, or questions: Deborah Nye Corgan