Some Thoughts on my Mom, Deena Baird 12/12/11
My mom died about a year ago. I had seen her around two weeks before she passed away. I thought she was getting stronger. She was in a rehabilitation facility next to Lankenau Hospital. I spent three days there with her. She was successfully performing and completing physical therapy. I watched her do it and I thought she was doing better.
The prior four months had been rough. Mom had either been in the hospital or in rehab. She had only been home for a short stint. Before I left Philadelphia to return to Alaska.my brother Rob and I had a meeting with her. We pitched optimism. Even though Mom had lost Dad and Lise, we tried to persuade her and pump her up that she could have a good quality life, living independently. I did think she would be going home soon.
While the end of her life remains a mystery to me, she was gone two weeks later. I honestly do not know why she died. She had a diagnosis of congestive heart failure, a condition that seemed to be able to be treated. She had never previously had a diagnosis of diabetes but that problem appeared and she was prescribed insulin.
Her medications were constantly adjusted but the right mix was never found. In the last two weeks her condition ping ponged greatly. Among multiple other medications, she was getting Prednisone. The combination of prednisone and insulin threw her system out of whack. It is hard to know if the doctors knew what they were doing. Her doctors changed constantly. I am reminded of the Chekhov quote: “Doctors are the same as lawyers; the only difference is that lawyers merely rob you, whereas doctors rob you and kill you too.” My brother had intervened to try and get better continuity of care. Mom had earlier tried to locate a treating physician who would know her case. The results were not reassuring.
I have my doubts that any doctor knew her medical history more than superficially. There was not much evidence that any medical professional knew or cared that much about what happened to an 85 year old woman. When Rob called me to tell me that Mom had had a heart attack, my heart sank. I wondered if we had intervened differently if she would still be alive.
I guess this was supposed to be high quality medical care. I was not left with a good feeling although admittedly I was at a distance. The anonymity of care, the overmedication, the sense no one really knew what was happening or cared that much – I suspect this may be more the norm for medical care.
Ironically, Mom thought that doctors had killed her mother, Molly Keiser, by botching her medications. That was a theme I had heard my parents discuss for many years. My Nana, Molly Keiser, had trusted her treating physician who was a long time friend. Mom was bitter because her mom’s death was both early and unexpected. Mom had an acid view of doctors, beginning with the death of my brother Richard. There were questions about Rich’s medications too.
I should note Mom’s depression which she did a good job of hiding. She was not forthcoming about her feelings. Even after Dad died , Mom did not show that much. She may have been life weary. Life without Dad, her partner of 60 years, was not life. Add the death of Lise and the prospect of further life dimmed considerably. I do wonder if Mom’s seeming positive tone when she met with Rob and me two weeks before she died was just an effort to placate us, to tell us what we wanted to hear.
Mom did have a sense of humor about death. When I visited her (and earlier when I visited both Mom and Dad) she used to rise early to read the Inquirer which was delivered to their apartment door in Wynnewood. Mom would first turn to the obituary page. She and Dad both used to joke that they read the obituary page to make sure they were not in it. Then they would talk about who they knew who was featured that day. Invariably they always seemed to know someone and usually an interesting discussion would ensure about the person, their connection, personal history etc.
After the obits, Mom would often turn to sports. She was a big fan. She and Dad turned me into a life long Phillies and Eagles fan. Mom was more a Phillies fan than an Eagles fan but she had much to say about both teams. (I can only imagine what she would say about the Eagles this year!) She and Dad watched pretty much every Phillies game. I remember when Charlie Manuel first became the Phillies manager. Mom said. “I think he is a moron”. Charlie did seem to talk dumb along with his tobacco chewing bit. After the Phillies won the 2008 World Series, Mom revised her view. “Charlie Manuel is a genius”. Mom was a pretty typical Philadelphia sports fan with very high expectations almost never to be realized. She was a tougher critic than Dad.
I remember one time Mom, Dad, and I went to the Vet to see the Phillies play the Red Sox in interleague play. It was in June, five or six years ago, shortly before the demise of the Vet. The game was almost sold out and we purchased tickets at the stadium box office. The only available seats were in the 700 section in the right field bleachers. The seats were way back and high up. When we made our way there, I have to say it was a debauched scene. Heavy drinking was going on, some fights broke out, fans were loud and rowdy. I saw people throwing beer on each other. Mom turned to me, without missing a beat, and said, “You are with your people.” That was Mom. She knew her son well. The game turned out to be very entertaining and the Phillies won in extra innings. We had a ball.
We had some very good times together watching baseball. We attended the no hitter pitched by Kevin Millwood in 2003 against the Giants. We used to stop in South Philly and get cheese steaks at Tony Luke’s or Pat’s. Sometimes we would get stuff at Carlino’s in Ardmore that was to die for. When we went to the Jersey shore in recent summers, we watched some memorable Phillies-Mets games. After all the bad years, it was a delight to have a Phillies team with the likes of Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.
While Mom was quick with barbs, I do not want to create the wrong impression. Kindness was probably her defining quality. When I would come home, Mom cooked. She always made my favorite things, including her crumb cake, apricot noodle kugel, and her brisket. Really almost anything Mom touched in the kitchen turned to gold and that is not an exaggeration. She was gifted in the art of food preparation. She was a Mario Batalgia Food Network fan. I joked with her about liking Giada but not for her recipes. I think of Mom getting my sons Josh and Eric their “little boxes”.
When I was sworn in as a judge in Washington DC, Mom was there along with my niece Molly and my nephew Lou. She and Dad were such good, dutiful parents. They came to NH to see my NH Supreme Court arguments. They were always at any important family gathering. They were always there when it counted.
I suppose it takes longer life experience to gain more perspective on your parents. My current job has given me broader perspective on the range of parental behavior from abysmal beyond belief to the other end of the spectrum. I was an incredibly lucky kid. Mom was the best of the best. I give Mom much credit for hanging in with Dad too through some extended bad times. She cared for him and loved him through good and bad. Since I like to end with poetry, here is a poem from David Ignatow. I miss my mom.
Kaddish by David Ignatow
Mother of my birth, for how long were we together
in your love and my adoration of your self?
For the shadow of a moment as I breathed your pain
and you breathed my suffering, as we knew
of shadows in lit rooms that would swallow the light
Your face beneath the oxygen tent was alive
but your eyes were closed. Your breathing was hoarse
but your sleep was with death. I was alone with you
as it was when I was young but only alone now
and now with you. I was to be alone forever
as I was learning, watching you become alone.
Earth is your mother as you were mine, my earth,
my sustenance, my comfort and my strength
and now without you I turn to your mother
and seek from her that I may meet you again
in rock and stone: whisper to the stone;
I love you; whisper to the rock, I found you;
whisper to earth, Mother, I have found my mother
and I am safe and always have been.