I spent her last birthday with her 11 years ago in a hospital in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. She had been in and out of the hospital since the previous August with an infection whose source could not be pinpointed.
The doctors, bless their hearts, were guessing. And on this day in January 2000, the “guess” was that she may have something growing behind her heart.
So they scheduled an esophageal electrocardiogram, a procedure in which she would literally swallow a camera that would take pictures of the area around her heart.
What a way to spend a birthday.
I don’t think I wanted to believe that it would be her last birthday but I knew she was really sick and no one had any answers. I was the one who questioned the doctors endlessly as my mother tended to treat them like royalty. She was of a generation who didn’t question “them.”
But I did.
After years of being in and out of hospitals with my parents, always wondering if “this” would be the time they didn’t come home, I took on the role of protector and advocate. Doctors hated when I was around, whispering to my mother after I’d leave the room, “Where is she going to med school?”
I asked the tough questions. I demanded straightforward answers.
No one had any answers for me this time. She was getting worse and no one knew why.
That day we sat and watched TV. As the World Turns. She told me about the dreams she’d been having. She napped while I read. She’d wake up to smile at my husband and daughter when they’d come into the room. She picked at her food and wished she could go home.
She never did.
Vera Modiessa Miles died on March 6, 2000 at 1:50am in that Ft. Wayne, Indiana hospital. I became an adult orphan at the age of 34.
I’ve been trying to find my own way since.
When I was little, watching Lou (as I called her) navigate illness after illness as a result of kidney failure, I marveled at her strength. I stood in awe of her faith. When I would accompany her to dialysis treatments, the other patients would say how wonderful she made them feel and that I must be so proud to have a mother with so much spunk and optimism. I would say yes and that I hoped that someday I would be a fraction of the woman she was.
I think I can finally say that I am.
Thank you, Lou, for being the light I needed in the darkness you knew I would someday face without you.
I love you, Mom.