Amid the beginnings of a new normal, my mom died suddenly on March 30th. We knew she only had 6-12 months to live unless she could get the surgery she needed for a heart valve replacement, but unfortunately the hospital in Portland canceled her surgery date to prepare for the forthcoming pandemic. We hoped she could hang on until they resumed regular surgeries again, but that did not happen. She died 6 months after being diagnosed.
My mom and I were very different people, and we certainly weren’t as close as I think both of us would have liked, yet in some ways we were silently bonded, and I believe she knew that. It took her death, however, for me to realize it. Fortunately we had wonderful closure in a Starbucks parking lot, where I’d bought her a latte. We’d sat there drinking it, just as social distancing was gearing up and all businesses had closed – except for carry out and drive through windows. How fortuitous that God gave us this visit I’d somehow felt compelled to follow through with, despite warnings to begin isolating from aging parents.
Something about those two hours was magical. We didn’t say anything profound, heart wrenching, or pivotal. It was bigger than words. It was a feeling… like she knew. Like I knew. Love and understanding was in the air. It settled peacefully between us in the from seat, and when I dropped her back off at assisted living I gave her a big hug – despite employees monitoring the lobby to nix such displays of affection in these troubled times… when we need hugs most.
I’d like to say I grieved her loss, but honestly, I didn’t have time. The week she died I was quarantined with my 90-year-old father who is in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s, while we waited for his COVID19 test results so I could place him in memory care. I’ve been face-timing him weekly ever since, in rotation with our children and my brother. Nonetheless he is declining rapidly. After living with Mom for 72 years, he is lost without her.
The man is my super hero. He has influenced my life more than any other person on earth. His sweet, gentle spirit is still alive and well within him, despite not knowing who he is, where he is, or why he’s there. I don’t think he is long for this world, especially considering he can have no visitors. Although he is in an excellent care facility, without regular visits from his children and grandchildren, what does the man have to live for? Of course, the catch 22 is that, amid a pandemic, such visits could also cause his demise.
My mother’s sudden loss was a game changer in many ways, causing me to reflect upon my lifelong relationship with her — how it formed and shaped me in so many admirable ways, yet was a conundrum in other ways. I miss talking to her on the phone, and I miss her unconditional love, which I somehow knew I had, even though words were not her strength. I think my biggest takeaways are to be sure and use my words to uplift and inspire, and to reassure my loved ones about what makes them special.
Watching my father slowly decline in mind and body is more agonizing than life changing. No one ever believed in me as much as he did, not even me. So while sorting through wills, estates, and powers of attorney, I have been reflecting upon the true meaning of life — which I have decided is love in the form of faith, family and forgiveness… especially for ourselves.
And there is one more thing…. the most difficult thing of all.
The Friday after Mom died, my husband Dennis had a heart attack while mountain biking. The paramedics saved his life. They took him out on a stretcher behind a quad. Four stents later we learned that he’d had a 90 percent blockage. The man is lucky to be alive. He called me after dialing 911. Couldn’t breathe. Me or him! So I called his cell phone every 2 minutes until the paramedics arrived.
When he was finally in the ambulance, I drove to the Redmond hospital where they took my temperature before entering, and asked me questions regarding possible virus symptoms. It was there I found out they had bypassed our local hospital for St. Charles in Bend. When I arrived, they wouldn’t let me out of the car at the emergency entrance because of the corona virus. Someone wearing what looked like a spacesuit said I could wait in the parking lot and they would call me about my husband’s condition. My view from the car was of temporary tents set up for patients with the virus. Time went by very slowly waiting for that phone call.
This man is my whole life.
I know I have had moments of taking him for granted, moments of frustration for having met and married so young, moments of angst from us being very different people, yet in all honesty, he completes me. Someone once said you should find someone you love and then hold on tight because it’s going to be a bumpy ride. I believe there is a lot of truth in that. I am grateful that our almost 50 year ride has been more smooth than not. He is recovering nicely, and we are enjoying our time together. We are definitely not taking it for granted.
On the same day as my husband’s heart attack, I found out I’m going to be a great grandmother. The call came through as I was racing to the hospital. Once again, God’s timing! I couldn’t help but think about the circle of life and how he had taken my mother just as a new generation was forming, and my own generation was suddenly vulnerable in so many new ways.
And just like that, my life was forever changed.
My husband and I can no longer think of ourselves as invincible or that we will live forever. Instead we are updating our will. I can no longer pick up the phone and talk to my Mom about everything and nothing. I am now in charge of my father’s care, which is a daunting responsibility, and if God is willing, late this fall I will hold my first great grandchild in my arms. I have somehow transitioned from a carefree slightly rebellious daughter to the matriarch of my family. In. One. Week. —and during a global pandemic.
In truth, everything happening within my family lately has consumed me more than a virus ever could. There are many more blessings in all of this besides Hailey’s announcement about our soon-to-be great grandson, but the most immediate that comes to mind is how our children have been there for us. Our oldest son Ryan was always available with wise and much needed counsel for decision-making regarding all the legalities of an estate. Our oldest daughter Sasha stayed with me while being quarantined with Dad and it was a godsend to have her there, while our youngest son Jonathan ran frequent errands for us.
They were a wonderful support system, as was our youngest daughter Anna, who was laid off from her job in Colorado and chose to quarantine with us here at Eagle Crest. We spent our time cooking healthy meals and mixing fancy cocktails, when not reflecting upon everything that happened, and everything that needed to be done in a practical sense, when dealing with a death, and my father’s end of life care. Everything would have been much more difficult without her company during this trying time. Needless to say Dennis’s heart attack brought us all even closer together. There is nothing like two heart attacks in one week to make you appreciate how precious and fleeting life is.
I hope that in this difficult time for our whole world, you have been safe and well. I pray that 2020 will not be the darkest winter in modern history, as the epidemiologists believe. But regardless of what any of our futures hold, cling to those you love. They are your life raft in troubled waters.
- Visit Amazon’s Kathryn Mattingly Page
- Visit Kathryn Mattingly at goodreads
- Visit WGP author page at: Kathryn Mattingly