Jane Summers (1929-2016)
Mom was breathing really hard. But she was still alive. She had waited for us:)
Mom had not been conscious for four or more days. She had eaten little the week before and stopped taking fluids. But she was resilient, just like her Mom before her.
Today was Christmas Day. We arrived in the afternoon. I went into see her. She thrashed her arm a bit. I tried to re-cover it. But, she didn’t want it covered. The Visiting Angel who was watching over her, gave me space and time to be with Mom.
Mom always wanted to have her family home for Christmas. My wife and my children and I were there with her. My brother’s family was there with her. My Dad, and two other extended family members and alternating Visiting Angels traded off spending time with Mom during Christmas, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups.
The Angel shared, she can’t talk with you, but she can hear everything you say. So we started chatting with and about Mom so she could hear us and know that we were with her. We could hold her hand and feel the warmth.
One of Mom’s favorite holiday songs was Silent Night, so my son and I sang a duet of Silent Night for Mom, this went well. Then we tried a second song, this one was off pitch a bit and we were stumbling over the words… Mom’s armed thrashed and she made a noise. We stopped… leaving well enough alone.
In the other rooms of the house, we celebrated the traditions that Mom had established… catching up on family news while sharing cheese and crackers, admiring Mom and Dad’s Christmas tree, watching some sports, the dreaded Pittsburg Steelers came back from behind to defeat the Baltimore Ravens, knocking them out of the playoffs. This to the glee of a few and to the groans of many.
We opened gifts, retold the story of how Mom hand-knitted and then sent the huge Christmas stocking with presents to Dad while he served in the Army during the Korea War, this before they were married. We cooked Mom’s favorite dishes and shared Christmas dinner together while the Angel watched over Mom.
We continued to stop back in Mom’s room, visiting, looking in, and saying prayers. For me, many of the prayers were thank yous for the extra three months we had with Mom. We thought we would lose her in September. However, the support from the Angels, combined with Mom’s resilience and Dad’s love kept Mom alive. We were all blessed with time for visits and talks by phone. Mom was even able to get up and come to the Thankgiving table by wheel chair for about fifteen minutes in November.
All of this extra time was a series of blessings. In Mid-August Mom stopped eating and started sleeping most of the time. Her biological clock started winding down. We all started wondering, how much time do you have… Mom? How much time do we have? We all focused on visiting more, on getting her to eat when she was awake, and on offering her fluids to drink.
Dad, Mom, me and my three brothers
Just before Mom’s birthday, in early October, I was up for a visit. I found a box of old style – Brown-Sugar-Cinnamon (Non-Frosted) Pop Tarts at the store. Well, I had fixed one of these Pop Tarts and boiled a cup of tea for Mom every morning before school in the later 1960’s and much of the first half of the 1970’s. Inwardly, I smiled and brought a box home.
The next morning Mom woke at a reasonable time. I asked her, Mom, would you like a Pop Tart? “What kind,” she asked. Brown-Sugar-Cinnamon (without the frosting), I replied. She said “I haven’t had one of those in years!'” Would you like one?” I responded. “Sure,” she said. So I toasted one and brought it in for her with a cup of hot tea, with two ice cubes in it. An Angel helped her to eat and drink.
Later my Dad shared privately, that it did not really have a the right type of calories for Mom. He was of course right, but we all sort of knew we did not know how much time we had with Mom. She was resilient, but her biological clock continued to tick towards the end. Later on, Dad or one of the Angels gradually offered her the rest of the Pop Tarts. It was with mixed feelings that I saw the box of Pop Tarts was finally gone when I visited in early December.
How much time do you have Mom? Back at the end of August, I was able to talk Mom into going for a swim in her backyard pool. This after much resistance. She was weak but still able to get her swim suit on and walk out to the pool. “I don’t think I want to get in,” she demurred. Sure you do, I had already gotten in. “I think I’ll just watch,” she added. The water is a perfect temperature I responded. “I don’t know if I can get down the steps,” she deferred. I can help you, and I did. Mom eased into the pool, eventually her natural buoyancy took over and she was relaxed, floating on her back, she was Mom.
Mom and her sister Joan
She loved her pool. She had taught most of her grandchildren how to swim during “Grammy Camp” during summers past. Her first job as a teenager was teaching children how to swim at a summer camp. She taught her four boys how to swim, then later drove us to a pool for lessons and to the YMCA for swim meets. It was great being able to spend time with Mom in the pool. She was back in her element.
The next time I came up to visit. Mom didn’t want to swim. Thoughts of putting a bathing suit on were now beyond her. But Mom, I shared, I need someone to watch me. I can’t swim alone. Well, Mom, knew this well since she had instilled this precept in each of her children from an early age, never swim alone. So I went out to the pool. Mom followed up the stairs to the pool area and sat in a chair so that she could watch me. I swam for a long time, often talking with Mom, and then even after my brother came out to visit, Mom stayed there watching over me. This, despite her propensity to sleep most of the day away and night away, she would not let me swim alone.
During a visit in September, Mom lay propped up on the couch. I went through the 1996 photo album that she had curated. I showed her the pictures, she smiled a bit remembering when her oldest five grandchildren were little. My daughter was just a baby. There were lots of smiling faces as we visited with “Grammy” and “Pop Pop” (with Mom and Dad) at the pool, at the beach, at family gatherings, and during holidays, these often organized by Mom. I re-shot images of the photos in the album and reflected on the amazing memories my Mom had preserved, but also of the indelible memories and experiences that she had fostered.
Though I continued to wonder how much time Mom would have, I was also very glad that she had so much time to share her love of her family. I realized that there were shelves full of memories, dozens of curated photo albums, and all those family pictures on the walls throughout her house. As a professional Personal Historian I had started recording Mom stories and Dad stories and Their stories back in 2012. I have well over 100 hours of recorded memories and stories on audio tape. Mom had shared with me the queued response book that she had filled in – over 170 pages of handwritten responses to questions about her life. These, to complement the hours of recordings and the photo archives.
This helped me to reflect, that though Mom was not able to respond to my questions now, she could now interview us – asking us what’s new, how are the kids doing in college, in jobs, in grad school, and in sports. She continued to be proud of us all. She had given us an amazing legacy of memories and a legacy of love and shared family experiences.
Christmas to Mom was family time, we were playing a family game as Christmas came to a close. Other family members were back in Mom’s room as Christmas and the game came to a close. Just after Christmas ended, Mom was ready and she went home. She was at peace, we said our final goodbyes. Afterwards, I pictured her sitting in heaven with two of her lapdogs sitting on her lap watching over us.
We do not know how much time we have… but thank you Mom for loving us and for investing in us your values and all of that quality time. The memories will last.
Blog by Bruce Summers, Personal Historian, Summoose Tales, Summersbw@gmail.com
Bruce also is a Board Member of the Association of Personal Historians, also Regions and Chapters Director
There were two mice, different generations, two different houses, three hundred yards apart…
Mother’s Day and Memories