Payback’s a Bitch

I wrote the following earlier this month and placed it on an “Embargo,” a print newspaper tradition from an earlier, gentler and more honorable time. An Embargo means the content is not publically released until after certain events occur, such as the delivery of a Presidential speech. In this case, I was waiting until my Mother could update my brother, who is in Australia (New Zealand? Bali?), during their next phone call.

In a stunning development, my mother opted for hospice for my father. I cannot state emphatically enough how unexpected this is. Not one member of my family, and I’m including more than a dozen relatives (my mom, my son, my brother and sister-in-law and their two sons, my cousins and their husbands and children — a group that includes a large number of long-term strategic thinkers) ever considered that my mom would outlive my dad.

The silver lining of this unanticipated event is blinding. For starters, my Mom — not me, nor my brother nor my sister-in-law — is making The Big Decision.   My Dad’s medical challenge is his inability to swallow food. My Mom’s choices were to insert a feeding tube or contact Hospice.

Before my Dad was placed in the so-called Memory Care Center (currently my favorite oxymoron) a while back, he occasionally spent a sleepless night mulling over how he could possibly live without my Mom. My Mom’s response always was, “Vic, there’s no sense worrying about it before it happens since we both know it will.”

Well, apparently, it won’t. That’s my Mom after 70 years of marriage to my Dad. Considerate to the end.

From a phone conversation with my Mom a week after I wrote the above:

 ME: Hi Mom. Have you heard from Gary yet?

MOM, cheerfully: Oh yes, days ago. I had time to re-evaluate what was going on and recover from my conversation with the doctor. (Note that she called ME immediately after hanging up with the doctor.)

ME: What’s ‘going on?’

MOM, still cheerfully: Oh Dad is so much better. I’ve been getting reports from the Memory Care Center that he’s been able to swallow liquefied food with his nutritional supplement. And now when I visit him, instead of finding him napping in his chair in his room, he’s out participating in activities. This man is not dying anytime soon. He’ll outlive me yet.

Some background information: My Mom’s Golden Rule is to never, ever interrupt my brother’s travels with bad news. More than once I’ve been reminded of an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm in which Larry David’s mother passes away and he misses the funeral because his mother’s last words to his father were, “Don’t bother Larry. He’s working.”

Well, my brother is pretty much traveling all­ the time. My mother shows no such reluctance to disturb ME during my travels. Nor, apparently, does she seem inclined to update me when the crisis passes. I suppose this could be interpreted as Payback or Karma is a Bitch.

Payback for what? Well, calls from college with me on the verge of hysteria over some incident or other. It seems I may have overlooked updating my parents when the situation improved. I vividly recall fielding a call from my son during his freshman year of college, trying to convince him that surely there were other options between flunking calculus and killing himself. He soon after opted to drop calculus and take advanced Spanish; however, he neglected to inform me of his solution. When I told this story to my mom, I received absolutely no sympathy. Instead she said, “There IS a God.”

So I’m curious as to just how man y times my Mom intends to demonstrate to me her belief in this Supreme Being. Come on, Mom, are you really entitled to double payback? I’m actually jealous since I’m unlikely to experience the time-honored tradition of assuring one’s child, upon watching the defiant behavior of one’s grandchild, “Oh you were EXACTLY the same.” I’ve always imagined this statement would be followed by a hidden, satisfied smile. But since my son has no intention of having children, I’ll never know.

My concern over my Mom’s behavior — forgetting to update me — stems from the fact that I’ve recently been assured by both my oldest nephew and my son that she and I are either very similar (my nephew) or exactly the same (my son). I distinctly recall hearing the word “clone” used. Not necessarily in a good way.

I staunchly contend there are worse people than my Mom to turn into. At 92, she’s a testament to healthy living and a positive attitude. Growing up in Chicago, I remember her serving fresh vegetable and fruit salads. My parents always played tennis, golfed or sailed. Using her walker, my Mom continues to take daily strolls and only recently purchased a scooter. Although I recall once seeing a copy of The Carpetbaggers, my Mom was far more likely to read books such as The Cancer Ward (by Solzhenitsyn) or Rabbit, Run.  She continues to play bridge twice a week — but only with the top bridge players in her building.

mom-in-grocery-storeIt’s all the more remarkable that my Mom has reached her 90s given her many and varied health challenges. Not that she complains to anyone outside of the immediate family, but her litany of medical issues includes a bad heart and, as is quite apparent, acute scoliosis. Plus her poor bent over body makes breathing difficult. Genetics and healthy living have contributed to my Mom’s longevity, but surely not beyond her mid-80s. The rest is purely attitude.

As I’ve said and written before, my Mom is remarkable. Really my only complaints are that she likely will predecease my Dad and plays a mean game of Payback.