Eleven Years of Silence, 52 Ancestors #158

My mother, Barbara Jean Ferverda Long, passed away 11 years ago, today.

Some events and the surrounding snippets of time are indelibly burned into your memory, forever, like a movie for replay on your internal screen.

However, looking back those 11 years, it’s not so much what happened then, but the 11 years of silence that has followed. Of all the things, I miss Mom’s voice the most.

The voice who chastised me, a lot.

The voice who congratulated me.

The voice who called in the middle of the night to tell me a family member had unexpectedly died.

The voice who called me just to chat.

The voice I knew would always answer the phone, be there, on the on the other end of the line.

It was Mom that I called from the hospital when crisis hit my young family.

After moving away, it was Mom’s voice that connected me so often.

It was always Mom. Always the rock.

For a long time, I saved one message on my voice mail where she told me she loved me. I replayed it over and over, when I just needed to hear her voice. Then, one day, my carrier made a change and that was gone too – and the silence got a bit deeper and more permanent.

We think to take pictures, but few of us, at least not before the convenience of cell phones that take movies, thought to make recordings.

The last time I talked to Mom before she had a massive stroke in April 2006, she was laughing about me stopping traffic to escort a goose family off the road. Well, she wasn’t laughing at first, she was admonishing me to be careful out in that traffic because there were crazy people who would hit me. Or was I the crazy person for being out there in the first place, she asked. Then we both laughed.

I often called her on my way home from work. Mom couldn’t have a short conversation, and I certainly didn’t have a short commute, so hands-free cell was a blessing for both of us.

Then, one day while I was at a customer site, my cell phone rang and it wasn’t mother, but my sister-in-law, telling me that mother had fallen, crawled into the closet where they found her, and they had called the ambulance and taken her to the hospital. I left immediately and went home to quickly pack a bag and then begin the three and a half hour drive to where she lived.

When I was leaving the house with my suitcase in tow, my sister-in-law called again to tell me that mother had slipped from consciousness. I knew, in the pit of my stomach, what was going to follow.

By the time I arrived at the hospital, they confirmed that mother had suffered a massive stroke. The next 24 hours were critical. She would either get worse or get better. I knew mother’s worst fear was that she would be disabled and reliant on others – read vulnerable to abuse in a nursing home. She feared that far worse than death.

At that time, mother would rouse slightly to my voice, and I think she squeezed my hand once, but she didn’t seem to be able to respond to any requests. When we moved her from a gurney to the hospital bed, her eyelids flew open and much to my horror, I realized that her eyes were entirely sightless. She was blind, couldn’t talk and could only move one hand slightly.

I remember my abject horror at seeing her so terribly impaired – and knowing in that instant what she would have wanted.

She didn’t improve the next day, nor the next.

Then, we had to make a decision. My brother left, unable to deal with the situation, and my sister-in-law and I followed my mother’s advance directive and removed life support.

In spite of my mother’s well-known wishes, it was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made. I am extremely thankful that there were no family members opposed and I am incredibly grateful for Mom’s signed directive. We don’t think she could hear us, given the depth of her coma – but still I felt someone needed to tell her what we were doing and why, just in case – and that someone was me. Part of me desperately wanted her to sit right up and object. There was no response at all.

Then, the waiting began – for her to dehydrate/starve to death. It took 7 more days. What passes for acceptable care for humans would be viewed as unwarranted torture for a much-loved pet. Until you sit those 7 days and watch the painfully slow process, you don’t realize how barbaric it is. I’ll spare you the details and hope fervently you never discover for yourself.

Mother lived near the hospital, so I stayed in her apartment during my visit. I’m so eternally grateful that my daughter took time off work, which she could ill afford, and joined me for the wait. We took turns sitting watch at the hospital, comforted knowing the other person was no more than 5 minutes away. The initial days of hoping mother would recover and survive were replaced by hoping the call that she had been released would come sooner than later.

My daughter’s dog came along, because there was no one at home to take care of her – and walking Chica, who has now joined Mom across the rainbow bridge, was such a welcome respite from the hospital. There was a little woods behind the church a block from Mom’s apartment, and that walk in the woods provided us some much needed relief.

In contrast to our dark internal gloom, springtime was popping out all over. I vividly remember the cherry tree in front of Mom’s apartment resplendent in all of its pink glory. It’s amazing what we remember in highly emotional times of stress. I can’t see one today without thinking of mother.

Mom didn’t have a computer, so she didn’t have wifi either, but a coffee shop a block or so away did. By the time Mom passed, my daughter and I were regulars and every day when we walked in, the staff looked at us a long time, waiting for a yes or no headshake. The day it was yes, they didn’t have to ask.

April 30th was on Sunday that year. Mom finally breathed her last a little before 9 that morning. My brother, sister-in-law and I were with her, holding her hand, caressing her, telling her to let go – that her mother was waiting for her and so was Dad.

The night shift had been mine, and my daughter was sleeping. I didn’t call my daughter for the end, because I really didn’t want her to remember Mom like that. Seeing death is not anything you ever forget.

As I was leaving, my daughter was coming in the hospital door. She knew immediately when she saw me, and I suggested that she didn’t want to go up to the room. Mom wasn’t there anymore, thankfully. She was free.

We turned around together, returned to Mom’s apartment and went for a long walk with Chica. The church bells rang, and we cried together in the rain. Our already small family, now one person smaller.

Later that day, my daughter packed to drive home and go back to work on Monday, while I began to pack mother’s things into boxes and prepare to go to the funeral home the next day to make final arrangements.

Thankfully, mother had taken care of many of those details. It was her way of removing the burden from the family, and I was oh-so-grateful that she did.

There is no such thing as an “easy” funeral for me, but I got through it as best I could.

We celebrated Mom’s third career of more than 25 years as an Avon Lady. Many former customers came to pay their respects and tell stories about how Mom had helped them over and over again.  Mom viewed her Avon work as her “home visitation” mission, not as a job, which is why she never felt she could take any extended time away. It’s also why she never made a profit. She would drive across the county to deliver a tube of lip gloss and take a gift or food too.

I tucked a tube of Avon’s lip balm in her hand in the coffin – just so she doesn’t run out in the afterlife. She was always so concerned that her family would run short that she was constantly giving us a tube. The last one sits beside me at my desk today.

A couple weeks later, I celebrated the first Mother’s Day without Mom by loading her furniture into a rented truck to bring my portion home. Not exactly how I had planned to spend Mother’s Day. I ate the chocolate I had purchased for mother on the long drive home. She loved chocolate and I know she would have approved!

As I look back, there are several things that make me sad:

  • That I never got to take Mom back to Germany to visit her ancestral homeland. She never felt she could take the time away, and by the time she did, she was suffering from the early stages of dementia and was frail.
  • That Mother died in such horrid, abysmal circumstances – having to lay there and dehydrate/starve until dead. We prayed for another stroke to take her. Had we not discontinued the IVs, they told us it could be 30 days, or more, instead of 10. We had no good choices.
  • That some relationships she cherished were never repaired in her lifetime.
  • That she can’t share the genetic discoveries made since her death – both in general and relative to her ancestors. I would love to tell her about my finds. We enjoyed sharing so much.
  • That I didn’t coerce her into going on even more trips.
  • That I didn’t take advantage of some opportunities to do things together due to my schedule conflicts.
  • That I didn’t call and visit her more often – although I don’t know after someone is gone whether there is an “often enough.”
  • That I found so much literature about loneliness and depression in the elderly among her things. My heart aches knowing she was lonely when it’s too late to remedy.
  • That I was not more forceful in insisting, as in taking her kicking and screaming if necessary, that she see a neurologist. She was apparently having small strokes that went undiagnosed before the big one, but she did not want to admit she was having issues and became very angry with anyone who suggested otherwise.
  • That I had to spend the majority of my adult life living several hours distant, although I came home several times each year. However, coming home to visit is not the same as living a few blocks or miles away where you can pop in and out regularly and be a part of someone’s daily life.

As I look back, there are several things for which I am very grateful:

  • The last time I talked to Mom, we were laughing. That goose adventure makes me smile even yet today.
  • That I talked to Mom often, but not often enough.
  • That I made her several quilts because she covered up with them all the time and they could hug her when I could not.
  • That Mom gladly took every DNA test I asked her to take, and that she was genuinely interested and encouraged me to pursue genetic research. Had it not been for mother’s encouragement, I don’t know that I’d be doing what I do today.
  • That Mom and I went on several trips together, visiting where her ancestors lived, to libraries for research, to antique shows, to quilt shows and to the State Fair. Those days are golden, irreplaceable memories now.
  • I’m glad that I took my daughter, then a child, on many of those trips too – even though she didn’t necessarily want to go at the time. I’d wager that my daughter is glad now too.
  • That Mom and I had the terribly difficult discussion about end of life choices and where things I needed were located – before we needed to have the discussion – because we couldn’t have had that discussion when we needed to have it. I tried not to cry, but I just couldn’t help it that day. She cried too, because I was crying. Then we both laughed at ourselves. I’m laughing and crying just thinking about it!
  • That my daughter simply came to stay with me when Mom was hospitalized. I didn’t realize how much I needed her, and I would never have asked.
  • That my daughter’s dog came along. Fur family members can be infinitely comforting in times of distress.
  • That my son and his wife and child came to visit with Mom one last time – even though she may not have known. Then again, she may have known at some level.
  • That Mom’s funeral arrangements were, for the most part, already made. Thank you Mom.
  • That I knew unquestionably what Mom would have wanted under the circumstances.
  • That the springtime flowers were blooming furiously, because they lifted my spirits, even if just for a minute or two, from a very dark place. I somehow realized they spoke to the future and that there would be life after…

I have far more regrets about what I didn’t do than what I did. Life is about spending time together and on each other. Our time is the most valuable and loving gift that we have to give. Time is what makes memories that at some point will have to be enough to last us a lifetime.

Now, 11 years distant from that rainy spring morning, what remains, aside from those memories, is the loudness of the silence that never ends.

52 thoughts on “Eleven Years of Silence, 52 Ancestors #158

  1. Remarkably, touchingly, substantively beautiful expression, Roberta, of the wonderful conversations, trips, and visits with your mother. And the poignant, excruciating paind and regrets – all part of our human journey. Your mother was a good woman and you a good daughter. I want to share your message, which is so pertinent and vital for all living today, young and old alike. Please allow me to share with my friends.

  2. Just wow…thank you for sharing. Tears in my eyes.

    My father’s passing was very quick – a heart attack in the hospital. My mother’s was fairly quick and painless for her – she declined having her lungs drained and a month later died at my brother’s home of lung cancer and congestive heart failure. She had had enough operations and procedures and chose to go her own way. She did a great job of managing the estate and we three brothers really appreciated her for all of it. Lucky. Our daughters should be so lucky.

    Hugs — Randy

  3. Roberta, We all get caught up in life and have regrets. My husband died last week and I will carry guilt until I die that I let him go to a nursing home for two weeks.

  4. Dear One, From 47 years of experience, let me tell you one comforting thing: you will NEVER get over it, but you WILL learn how to live with it! I do not know which is worse: my beloved Mother died suddenly of a massive heart attack at work, at age 62, I was 33…and I STILL needed her so very much..still do; OR like you, KNOWING the end was coming and wishing it were not true. Just remember that the scientists now believe that the mind is energy. They also say that energy never dies, just changes form..

    My heartfelt sympathy, Donna Crosby

  5. Thanks so much, Roberta, for writing about your experience with your Mom’ death. I am so grateful to her that she encouraged you to pursue DNA. Your blog is a treasure. My mom died of a stroke 26 years ago and I still cry remembering. Bless you

  6. Your every word, deeply moving, incredibly beautiful and heartfelt. Grief has no set time for any of us. Thank you so very much for sharing.

  7. Roberta you are a remarkable writer as I have told you in the past. Thank you for sharing this once in a lifetime experience. You make your mother proud.

  8. So touching, Roberta…it brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing because this hits home with me. I just passed the 8-month mark of my mom’s passing. She had a massive stroke too, and we went through the same horrible waiting period. I’ve been really missing her, especially the sound of her voice! I also have similar regrets and feelings that you write about, so it felt therapeutic to read this! Thanks

  9. Roberta, this is a beautiful, loving tribute to your Mother. My Mama also made a living will and without it my brother and I would have been lost. I also have made a living will making sure that each child has a copy and that my grandchildren also know my wishes. Our Mothers set the example for us. We can only be thankful to them.

  10. What a beautiful loving tribute – thank you for sharing it.

    Your message on the answering machine reminded me of my Dad. He loved to leave slightly off-color jokes on my answering machine at work. I kept his last message on my machine, and replayed it, as long as the provider allowed. Laughter is always good.

  11. Thank you Roberta. I have been through the experiences of my mother, father and mother-in-law dying in similar circumstances. I’m so happy we as their children had the opportunities to discuss their dying wishes well before the time came to carry them out. I think of them every day and am so thankful they are at peace.

  12. Thank you for sharing. I lost my mother 8 years and one month ago to ALS. A horrible illness and a sad death, too. Three years later, my dad suffered a stroke, congestive heart failure and contracted leukemia. I think the kindest thing we can do for each other is to ease our exits from this life. Sadly, this is not the case. I, too, have a long list of regrets. So much I should have done differently. And at least once each day there is a moment when I regret I cannot share a comment, a question, a discovery or a grandchild with my mother.

  13. Thank you for sharing your loving story. Losing a Mom doesn’t necessarily get better, it gets different. Sending you love and hugs this Mother’s Day.

  14. Roberta, I would echo everything the others have said. I, too, have many regrets, and I miss the same things you do. My mother also died in April 2006, on the 18th, after a stroke. What vivid memories we retain of those final days and hours. On the last night I played hymns for her and read poems to her even though she was unconscious. We feel alone in our pain and grief, but are comforted in knowing that others do really understand and that this is very much our human condition.

  15. Not until I read your post, today’s date had gone unnoticed. Then while reading, it dawned on me. April 30th has a couple of milestones. Happily, a first date and marriage proposal years apart. Sadly, between the happy dates, it was also the day my paternal Grandma passed on peacefully. I had visited her the day earlier, before returning to college. A stroke had taken her speech, à week before, she said so much with her eyes and hands. Eighteen years earlier, she had been left a widow. Coincidentally, she also found a wonderful, sometimes aggravating, career with Avon. Looking back now, I think the ordering/delivery schedule kept her engaged with family and friends. After her funeral, her last order came in and we chuckled knowing she was watching from above. Avon calling. A few years later, her younger sister, also started with Avon- I think to stay connected to her sis. Thanks for the posts.

  16. Thank you. My Mother died under similar circumstances last Summer. And yes, she had been helpful and interested in our genetic testing. And she had laughed when her FamilyFinder test and Dad’s (posthumous), showed her with with way more Central European than he, who had been proud of being 3/8 German— he would have been so annoyed!

  17. Thanks Roberta for that lovely story. It brings back memories of my Mother dying after a stroke and it took 30 days after all the assistance was removed. I remember the doctor saying she was certainly a very tough lady. She was and also reserved. As I work on genealogy now I do regret so much not asking her questions.

  18. Thank you for this, even though I can hardly read my typing through my tears. My mom passed last year. Today I finally broke down and replaced my very old phone which my family has cursed because of all my problems with it. I was hanging on to it because I had a voice messages from my mom and my sister (passed a couple of years ago). I’ve been so worried I’d lose the messages in a transfer (not trusting the cloud) so I wanted to copy the messages and then get a new phone when I felt I could start fresh. I kept putting it off, but finally copied the messages to a couple of other locations, and then got the new phone. It appears my messages transferred, although I’ll probably delete since I now have them elsewhere.
    Unfortunately, my favorite messages from my mom, on my landline, were lost recently when I mistakenly deleted “all” instead of just one…my yearlong procrastination caught up with me. How I cried when I realized I lost my mother’s “Hi, it’s just Mom” messages. I keep playing that phrase in my head since it had such a lovely ring to it. I have realized, however, that even years ago I apparently saved it another way….I often catch myself prefacing my messages to my kids, “Hi, it’s just Mom”….

  19. Oh, my…you just don’t know how the tears are flowing after reading your article. My mom died in Sept 2012, the day before her 75th birthday. She had been so sick for so long, with heart disease, diabetes, and end-stage renal failure. On Sept 12, she had dialysis and then her pacemaker replaced. At around 1:30 a.m. on Sept 13, she experienced ventricular fibrillation. They brought her back, but could not keep her alive. We were thankful she did not suffer long.

    I am the oldest of 4 girls, and in Sept 2015, my next younger sister experienced ventricular fibrillation and her heart stopped. They resuscitated her, but she never regained consciousness. She only had brain stem activity. She was in ICU for 2 weeks when her husband found her DNR, and life support was pulled. She lingered one week.

    My daughter died as an infant, so it was very unexpected. It was sudden and I am glad she did not linger and suffer. Needless to say, we had not made any funeral plans ahead of time.

    Funeral plans for both my mom and sister were not made beforehand, but we did not have trouble making the plans for my mom. My dad and all 4 daughters went to the funeral home together, and we agreed on everything immediately. We knew what our mom would like. This is what my daughter wrote, as we were making the arrangements:

    “I’m sitting here listening to my mom, her three sisters, and their dad in the next room making arrangements for Nanny’s funeral. Amidst the talking, there is also laughter, as is usual when we’re all together. For this is the life of a Christian…joy and peace in the midst of sorrow. We are sad for ourselves, but that sadness does not supercede the rejoicing for Nanny. ~ Bethany Hartman, 9/13/2012, at Forest Lawn Funeral Home.”

    I wish my mom had lived long enough to see her 7 living great-grandchildren. I am sure she has met the three great-grandchildren we lost.

  20. Ah Roberta this arrives at such a horrible time for me and my brothers….My mom passed away on the 28th from a stroke she had earlier in the week. I can relate to every word you said and it really offered me a lot of comfort. I kept trying to get mom to go back to Scotland but I think she was afraid she would never want to leave – I would have understood but she was always putting us first. Her voice is the thing I miss most – hard to believe that I will never hear that sweet sound again. Paula

  21. I relived the loss of my Mother while reading this. Tears still come easily. Your description of your Mom is exactly the way I would describe mine. She had everything prepared – even a note on the dress that she wanted for her burial. She lived with me the last seven years of her life but she always wished she could have been in her own home.

  22. We are only frail human beings, Roberta. We can never do enough, but remembering the good times is what keeps us going. All that we do is a tribute to them, and our genealogy discoveries are a legacy to those who follow. I like to think that life for us is not so much a circle as a continuum.
    Doris

  23. Thank you Roberta…for the story about your mom.

    On Sun, Apr 30, 2017 at 3:06 PM, DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy wrote:

    > robertajestes posted: ” My mother, Barbara Jean Ferverda Long, passed away > 11 years ago, today. Some events and the surrounding snippets of time are > indelibly burned into your memory, forever, like a movie for replay on your > internal screen. However, looking back those” >

  24. I spent at least as many years looking after my parents, and later just mom, as they did raising me. It was a long journey, and the details are way too long to share. I lived close enough to visit frequently

    Mom died in 2013, at 98 years old. Her age was not remarkable in my family. I am sad to say the last eight months she was in a nursing home near me, where I visited very often.. Mom fell and broke her other hip. I found her about thirty minutes after she fell. She broke the first hip about eight years earlier and recovered. She was a small woman but tough. The second time, she never recovered completely, although she could walk short distances. Physical therapy does not go well when a person is ninety-eight. She had much greater dementia after hip surgery, and it increased rapidly. Something else happened to mom. I tried to have her at the place I was then living, but I could not care for her properly. I am not young myself, and I was afraid she would fall down stairs. She would get wild. All she wanted to do was go home, but that was not possible. I could not live at her house, as it was a maintenance nightmare. She needed to be watched 24 hours a day, and I had to sleep sometimes. One of the saddest days in my son’s and my life was the day we coerced her into the car and drove her to the nursing home. I was very grateful for my son’s physical help, and emotional support. My daughter had a lot going on in her life, and did not live as close. I am grateful for her emotional support, and her visits to mom.

    Every year about this time, I brought flowers for mom’s yard, and did gardening under her direction. Once she asked me why I did this. I told her I would rather she had flowers when she could enjoy them. That sounds a bit cold, but it was the truth. She did enjoy her flowers. I miss taking her shopping. Sometimes it was hard for both of us, but we did it. Mom stayed in her house as long as possible which was important to her..

    Today, I am sharing my homemade chicken and noodle soup with my little granddaughter, who I babysit regularly. My other grandchildren are in school, and one more is on the way. Babysitting grandchildren is not a chore for me. I always think of mom when eating my various soups, which often are a bit thicker than soup. The last couple of years mom would not eat well, so I kept her alive with buttered bread and soup. She would lick her lips and delve in. I inherited her soup mug that says “grandma” on it.

    I have a word for other caregivers. You do what you can when you can, but there may come a day when you can do no more. Do not give yourself a hard time for not doing more. Feel good because you did what you could. Remember, no one is perfect.

  25. Such beautiful testament to your dear mother Bobbi. It had me remembering my beloved mother in-law, Lola. She also did not want any life support if there was no hope of recovery. She had Alzheimer’s and what caused us to stop all care when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. It too broke our hearts. I was feeling the same emotions as you….crying, crying and having a hard time withdrawing all support. I wanted to stop it and called Hispice crying. She told me my mother in-law was far beyond wanting eating or any other treatments to prolong her life. Her message helped me through this, but it has never been forgotten as the most difficult thing we had to do for her. One day Don told his mother it was okay to go to God. She died the next day. So heartbreaking and sad yet also with so many wonderful memories that dull some of the pain. Love to you cousin Bobbi. Kathy

  26. Roberta, I admit I cried a little reading this. She sounds like she was an amazing mother. I hope you still talk to her as I am sure she’s watching over you.

  27. I don’t think it’s possible to “get over” the loss of a parent. I certainly haven’t. The sharp pain of those losses is gone, but there’s this bittersweet twinge in my heart when I think of them and my maternal grandmother as well (she lived with us from before my birth until just days before my 21st birthday). I’ve lost the family stories, since they all refused to write them down, let me do so or record them which would’ve been best of all. It makes the genealogy harder, but more important than before. I have made sure to write down what I did remember of the stories and information about ancestors. I decided that the regrets were not helpful to me or anyone else, I did note them but that’s now a document filed away. The things I’m so grateful for are the ones I keep in mind, the wonderful times, the strength, love and compassion my parents and grandmother always showed and I know they are waiting for me, as well as the family pets, across the divide between the physical and eternal life.

  28. Your not alone in all of these thoughts. My younger sister just passed away last month after a 15 year battle with cancer
    and now my older sisters husband just passed away one month later. All we have are our memories and what better way to keep them
    growing their DNA. God Bless.

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