I received a call on a Monday night from a nurse about my Mother. I was at work at the time. I was on an overtime shift. I was tired in every sense of the word. My mind was tired. My body was tired and so was my soul. I had life things going on. I had responsibilities that needed my attention and list of bills that needed to be paid. Work was busy and life was busy. Everything was busy at the time.
The call itself was not an unusual one. Unfortunately, calls from nurses became a normal thing. They all began the same way.
The first question was always, “Is this Ben Kimmel.”
The second question was, “Are you the son of Alice Kimmel?”
Age is not always fair and Mom was old for sure.
She was shutting down. After years of pain and living with five diseases in her spine; after years of pain management, which completely changed her outlook and personality, after surgery upon surgery, after loss upon loss, move upon move and disappointment after disappointment, Mom’s health was steadily declining. She was often hospitalized and often disoriented.
If it wasn’t one thing with Mom, it was another.
The medication literally took Mom away from us.
She was extremely paranoid. She was belligerent.
The role reversal here was incredible to me. At one point in life, it was Mom receiving calls about my behavior; however, in the twilight of Mom’s life, the roles switched and it was me getting calls about Mom misbehaving.
This was tough . . .
Mom was entering into the stages of dementia, plus, Mom was on Dilaudid. She had a surgical pump installed inside of her body to deliver a pain medication directly into her spine. She was on other mood stabilizing medications, benzos, and other opiates.
Mom was in pain and lonely. She missed The Old Man who may have been my Father but to Mom, he was the love of her life.
After Mom’s toughest bouts and hospital stays, I recall sleeping in the hospital room with her (or at least, trying to sleep) and Mom would scream out at the top of her lungs.
She would scream in pain. She would beg God to come and take her. She was delirious and would call out The Old Man’s name, “Ronald!” and then scream, “Bless us and save us.”
“Just let me go,” Mom would say.
“Please God, just take me away.”
No child should ever have to endure this.
In fact, no one should have to endure the sound of someone scream and plea for death.
However, with experiences like this come the frequent phone calls. They come from doctors and assisted living directors. I would get calls from nurses and calls from Mom, arguing about the treatment Mom was getting.
“You have to come down here, right away,” said Mom
But Mom was in Florida and I live in New York.
This was certainly not convenient but life does not care about convenience.
After a while, I became accustomed to the phone calls. They were just more of the same.
I was used to the phone calls and used to the questions. Usually, I would be asked to speak with Mom and try to have her be nicer to the nursing staff.
This was not like my Mother.
She was always a kind woman. She was very nice and never racist; however, I repeat the fact that medication had severely altered my Mom and her perception. She had not been Mom for a long time now.
And this was tough to see.
There were times when I was frustrated. It was hard to speak with Mom. She was frantic. She was angry. She was moving closer to a new stage of dementia. Her memory and recollection of events was frustrating and poor.
I would receive calls throughout the week, which were all the same.
Is this Ben Kimmel?
Are you the son of Alice Kimmel?
These calls came often.
I would roll my eyes and think, “What is it this time?”
There is a line that I remember hearing which comes from Matthew 24:36. But about that day or hour, no one knows, not the Angels of Heaven or even The Son. Only The Father knows.
I knew Mom was going to pass one day.
Intellectually, I understood the process of life. I understood the calls from doctors and nurses.
Intellectually, I knew what I had to do and I knew what my responsibilities were. I was Mom’s healthcare proxy, which meant all calls came to me. And this was fine because I wanted Mom to receive the best care possible. I say this was fine but it wasn’t easy.
At the worst times, I was frustrated and angry. At better times, I responded logically and not emotionally because intellectually speaking, I was handling Mom’s affairs.
Emotionally, however, I was her son.
Emotionally, I was sad that I was losing my Mom.
Emotionally, I was still that kid who believed Mom made the best mashed potatoes in the world and that her cinnamon toast could heal a broken heart.
The conversations became difficult at best. She was argumentative and sometimes, I responded out of frustration. This hurt Mom. I know this because she told me so.
That night at work, I was working an overtime shift. I was tired and I was heavy hearted for several different reasons. I just finished writing a farewell piece for a personal friend of mine. She was about to lose her husband and as a loving gesture, I wrote to her with hopes to help her in such a difficult time.
To the best of my ability, I submitted my best inspirational thought. I discussed the blessing of life and the understanding of afterlife. I offered my best suggestions to help my friend find peace in a time like this.
As soon as I sent my thoughts out, I received a call.
“Is this Ben Kimmel?
“Are you the son of Alice Kimmel?”
I remember thinking, “What is it this time?”
The woman introduced herself as a nurse from the hospital, which I was used to. I expected her to tell me that Mom was being belligerent again. I expected her to tell me Mom wouldn’t listen or that she was shouting at the nurses again.
I was expecting to hear they found another infection or maybe that Mom had pneumonia again.
I expected this call to be just like all the others.
What I didn’t expect was the serious tone, which was delicate and comforting. I didn’t expect her to tell me to come down as soon as possible. I didn’t expect her to tell me that Mom was intubated. She was on a machine, which was against Mom’s wishes. Above all, I didn’t expect the nurse was about to tell me that my Mom was about to die.
I thought about the irony of my task before the phone call. I thought about what I wrote to my friend while trying to prepare her for the death of her husband. I never expected it would be me that would have to follow my own advice.
But it was . . .
Life is a funny thing. It is eventual and inevitable. There is a beginning, middle, and an end to each life.
There are things I wish were different. I wish the end of Mom’s life was different. I wish I was less frustrated with her. I wish I laughed more with her and reminisced more. (Mom always liked that.)
I wish I said goodbye longer on the phone when we spoke and I wish I saved some of her voicemails so I could hear Mom’s voice when I needed to.
Life is too short no matter how long we live. And I agree, no one knows the hour or the day.
All we need to know is that life is truly precious.
All we need to consider is that trivial things are only trivial.
We need to understand that we need to make peace with people; whether we are close or if the relationship is good, bad, or otherwise, a time will come when our regular means of communication will switch to quiet whispers and thoughts.
Mark well your days.
Love with all your heart and leave no stone unturned.
Leave no story unwritten or untold and never miss an opportunity to tell someone you love them because these words will be comforting when their eyes shut eternally.
As I write this to you, I send this with hopes to close an old chapter. I send this to pay forward the chance to move on from a previous relationship. I cannot say why people get along or don’t. I can’t say why people treat others well or not. All I can say is effective yesterday morning on January 14, 2019, a man I know has crossed over and passed away. I wish him well on his journey and I apologize for my part in our miscommunication. Sometimes my flaws get in the way. I’m sorry for this
are now, please look after your granddaughter.
You were certainly a hero to her.