The mirror reflects back a “me” that I no longer know. She isn’t young, My health was decimated by the loss of a child. Even my youngest child has a car, a job and a girlfriend now. The years since I lost my son and health have completely changed me. I have known this for a long time, but held out hope that time would at least partially repair the wounds .Allow me to explain the crisis that lead to these reflections.
I have come to a point where I do not see that happening. I raised six children. Raising them, loving them, teaching them was not only my dream, it was my life. I home-schooled them on vacations, Saturdays and in summer. The youngest one was home-schooled full time for several years. With a large family, there is little time to worry about what “yu” want or even need. I lost my best friend to cancer when we were 48-two years before I lost my son.
I worked in the children’s schools as they grew up, as an assistant, a volunteer, and a substitute. My life was filled with ball games, dance lessons, band and activities that revolved around them. Since i was a stay-at home mom in summer, I would have up to 14 kids at my house in one day. I admit it was hectic. I suffer from migraines and it often took everything I had to be the kid of mom I strived to be,
Even today, my kids say that I was a terrific mom, that now as parents themselves, they don’t see how I did it. I worked my way through a university while raising two kids as a single parent. It seems I found endless energy and patience somewhere. I only wish I could find that place today.
When I lost my health from Cushing’s Disease, it was determined to be from the trauma of my loosing my son. Being a mother WAS my life. Loosing him was unthinkable, unbearable. It was at a time when my older kids were going to school, getting married, having their first child, and I was at that age a woman faces when she realizes that “youth” is no longer with her. My grief, my problems were not recognized by anyone but me. I would hear, “It’s natural that you are greived over your son, that your children moving away is difficult, but you will, in time adjust.” I didn’t believe it then, and when I had heart failure eight months after my childs death, I knew that I had been right all along. I really was sick. The heart doctor started doing tests and wrote a report to my regular doctor that month, saying that I had the classic symptoms of Cushing’s and should see an endocrinologist. Evidently, my regular doctor never read it. When I went to my cardiologist in January and he asked me what the endocrinologist had said, I told him that I had never been referred to one. He was astounded. I ordered a copy of my medical records from my regular doctor, and there, right on top was the letter from my cardiologist. Apparently, it had never even been read, just stuck in my file.
The cardiologist immediately sent me to an endocrinologist and after many test, Cushing’s Disease (sometimes called Cushing’s Syndrome) was confirmed. She told me the only way to get well was pituitary surgery, which meant going into my head through my sinuses, and into the area right below my brain, where the pituitary gland sits. I was terrified. Why was all his happening to me -loosing my son and then my health as well?
When I was finally accepted at an out of state facility for pituitary surgery, I was told that the tumor was wrapping around my carotid artery and I would have probably had less than 3 weeks to live. It had now been a year and a half since my son died. Not long after he died, I started a slow process of gaining weigh, although I couldn’t eat and watching my long hair thinning out, I was nauseous all the time. I could hardly walk, using a cane to steady myself. It took months after the surgery to even begin to recover. The joyful events I should have been enjoying had been taken from me, yet I felt that no one could really comprehend what I was going through.
As I mentioned, my youngest child was only eight years old when his brother died, He was my rock. He needed me, he didn’t care if I didn’t have a lot of energy, he played with friends, with siblings, and most of all supported me. Now, he, too has grown up. I wonder, tearfully , how much he remembers about his brother. They were so close. His brother and I were so close. When the time came for my son to get his drivers license, he was going to college in the afternoons and high school in the morning. He started dating, and, like all children growing further away from needing mom.
I continued to try to make a small garden. I had been taught the love of gardening as a child and loved sharing the study of nature, plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles and even arachnids with my children. Even when pregnant, working and and tired, I would find time to have a large garden. It soothed my soul. I could enjoy the bounty of anything from spring strawberries to autumn pumpkins. Now, I was so weak, I could hardly make it to my garden. I was not able to work in it long at a time. I watched as my beautiful garden got less and less attention.
Cushing’s affects your whole body, especially if left untreated as long as mine was. My endocrinologist described my bones as like “chicken bones”-terribly fragile. I broke my hip in a simple fall simply because I went down at an odd angle on my fragile leg. My digestive system has continued to be a problem. I feel sick when I eat, I have severs scoliosis and and in constant pain. from my neck and back to my hips. My feet are numb, my face is numb from the pituitary surgery, my hip has cramps so bad, i can only compare it to natural childbirth-without the joy of your baby at the end of the immense pain. Even though I have made some improvements in my strength, I know I will always have the symptoms of Cushings knocking at the door. For a time, It took small steps and a cane or holding on to something to navigate a room, My goal was to reach my son’s grave, on a hillside, without help. I felt like I was climbing a mountain, but one day, I made it and it became a place of solace for me. I find letters and mementoes there from others-his many friends, even now, after eight years,a wedding invitation, a Carolina memento, a black rose. I put Victorian statuettes of a mom and son watching younger children sleigh ride, or laid a baseball there, maybe holiday rememberances. Even though I never liked baseball, he died between innings in a game he didn’t want to play, so I had “Safe at Home” carved on his black obsidian stone to help us remember that his last hit was one of the best he ever made. Many years ago, I put a heavy chain with eight links on it around the flower pot-to symbolize that there would always be eight people in our family. I find messages from him there, I have written about them in other blogs-things only he and I would understand. Black widow spiders that we studied, dimes,(that one is secret), feathers from a bird killed by predators.
Every day is a struggle. I feel like I was cheated out of enjoying the years of my other children’s lives when they were maturing, going to college, marrying, having their own children, living, laughing, just regular things. I am having a difficult time accepting that my youngest child is not now, that youngster who helped me so much and needed me-no matter how poor my health is. Now tthat he is older, I depend on him for other things. He is just doing what young people do-grow up, just as my older kids were doing when their brother was so wrongly taken. I know that, but it still hurts. I have to find the strength to do things with him that I am often not really able to do. I have had to learn not to expect to be “mommy” after 40 years. It is more difficult than I can describe.
Looking into the mirror of my life’s struggles has affected me in many ways. I think of my friend who died at 48, after struggling with cancer for 15 years and I am thankful that I was a least here to witness the maturing of my family. I fight the anxiety and stress of not being able to do for my family what my heart longs to do. I smile when my older children sing the songs to their kids that I sang to them, or one of them remembers a book we read together. I walk in the park with them as they tell them the names of insects and flowers we studied so many years ago.
I have given up on having even the people who love me, and that I love, truly understand what I have been through and why I am less patient, more emotional, not as strong as I once was. I can only hope that one day, when they remember “me”, they remember the “me” that I was when I had all of my children, when I was young, healthy and strong. I hope that as all of us grow older and struggle to keep up with the things that made us who we are, that our children, our loved ones, realize that those thing are still there, inside of us. Our hearts have not changed, our love is just as strong, even when our bodies have failed us.
Once in a while, I have a good day, and can almost do the things I once did. What a joy to be “me”, if only for a while. I still listen to my Lynyrd Skynyrd and other Southern Rock music. I still love long hair and blue jeans. I am still me. Those who know me, please, remember that. Inside, I am strong, proud, loving. Outside, I still manage an incredible amount of accompishments, difficult, though they may be. If the sun is covered by clouds, it is still there. I am still there. Remember that.