I posted a couple months ago about my ‘stepmother’ (Dad’s second wife), and her struggles with Alzheimer’s. My parents had moved out of their home of the past 35 years, and into an assisted-living facility. They chose the place they did, because of its proximity to a level of care for Mom that would allow them to live together for as long as possible.
Well, it turns out that ‘as long as possible’ was about a month-and-a-half. Something about leaving her familiar surroundings and into a new-and-unfamiliar place seemed to ‘disorient’ Mom, and she fairly quickly started up with some more ‘difficult’ behaviors that just made it impossible for Dad to take care of her, so in September, she moved out of the assisted-living place, and into a full-out nursing home, about a ten-minute drive from Dad.
She seemed to do well enough at the nursing home, and the staff there complained, just a bit, that she was always ‘on the move’, and they spent more time than they’d have liked just ‘tracking her down’. Then a couple months ago, she just stopped. She wouldn’t get out of her chair, she didn’t want to get up and walk around at all. And nobody seemed to be able to tell us why. Finally, a couple weeks ago, some tests were run which determined that she’d had a pretty significant stroke, probably right around the time when she stopped walking.
And since then, her health has just continued to deteriorate. My sisters are now telling us to make sure that everybody comes down for Christmas, because it’s starting to seem like we won’t have her around for much longer.
It’s quite sad for my dad; he put a lot of thought and effort into finding a place that would keep them together for as long as possible, and it just seems cruel that it couldn’t have been just a bit longer. But, as we well know, there are no guarantees. . .
I’ve blogged about the fact that I have three mothers – my birth-mother, my ‘stepmother’ and my ‘first mother’ – my dad’s first wife, who adopted me, along with Dad. I’ve had a few things to say about my ‘first mother’ in the past, but I haven’t given a very full account of her story, so perhaps it’s time I did that, just a bit.
My ‘first mother’ was born in Germany in the 1920s. She was a pre-teen when the Nazis took power, and that fact pretty much set the tone for the next decade-and-a-half of her life (as it did for virtually all Germans of the time). Because her mother was ill, her father was able to keep her out of the Hitler Youth, to care for her mother. She was a young adult when the war started, and by the end of the war, she was working in a field hospital somewhere in Austria. She told us once about the last days of the war, and how everyone she worked with simply headed west as fast as they could, so as to fall into the hands of the Americans, if possible, but anyone besides the Soviets. Which she managed to accomplish.
After the war, she got a secretarial job working for the US State Department in the postwar reconstruction (which was only possible because she had never been a Nazi, including the Hitler Youth), and it was there that she met my dad. They were married in Germany just before Dad’s tour of duty ended, and she came to the US with Dad when he returned home to finish his college degree on the GI Bill.
They were married for nine years without any children, before they finally adopted me, and two years later, my brother. When I was little, we lived in the Detroit suburbs, but when I was seven years old, we moved Up North.
I’m not sure exactly what sort of marital difficulties they were having, but during the winter in which I had my ninth birthday, she left. I remember my dad sitting down with my brother and me, telling us that Mom had left, and she probably wouldn’t be coming back. And that was effectively the last we heard from her, until many years later. There were a few awkward phone calls, and she sent us birthday cards for a few years – I recall that the last one was for my 13th birthday.
My brother and I lived a kind of ‘bachelor’ existence with Dad for the next year, but he pretty quickly took up with the woman who would become our ‘new mother’ (and would instantly add three more children to our ‘new family’), and they were married before my tenth birthday (the ink was hardly dry on the divorce papers).
Fast forward now to my early 30s; Molly and I had been married for a while, and 3M had just been born. 1F had started school, and she was also exhibiting some fairly remarkable musical aptitude. And it caused me to think of my ‘first mother’, who had been quite formative of my own musical abilities – she had insisted that I start piano lessons when I was five, and she had brought music into our home (my dad, on the other hand, was pretty thoroughly tone-deaf), and that had always stayed with me.
Somewhere along the line, I thought that I wanted to thank her for having brought that into my life, so I decided to try to find her, and re-connect with her, if possible. I followed a few leads, but mostly ran into dead ends. But I did register with a ‘people-finder’ service through Social Security, where they would, blind to me, and if possible, contact the person being sought, and inform them that I was desiring contact with them. At that point, any contact would be up to them.
And, over Thanksgiving of 1988, she called me, and we re-established our relationship. I learned that she had remarried in 1969 (roughly corresponding to when the birthday cards had stopped). She and her new husband had no children; and he’d had no children with his first wife, who had died a few years previously. In the 70s, they’d moved to a warm-weather state 1000 miles from Michigan, and that’s where they’d lived ever since.
She had never told her new husband that she’d had children, so when I came onto the scene, she had some ‘splainin’ to do. (I think this was partly to do with her insecurity over her own infertility; even when she was still married to Dad, I don’t think she really, deep in her gut, thought of herself as our mother). But, in the fullness of time, we formed a warm friendship with her and her ‘new husband’ (to whom, by the time of our reunion, she’d been married nearly 20 years).
The following spring, we went Down South to visit them (and swim in the ocean for the first time), and we had roughly annual visits with them for several years afterward, until her husband’s death in the mid-90s.
Since his death, she has lived as a widow, independent and active in her church. She moved to an assisted-living facility a few years back, but she has always had a strong network of relationships.
I have been in the habit of calling each of my mothers during the major holidays. This year, when I called my ‘first mother, she didn’t answer her phone. I didn’t think much of it – I figured she was probably spending the time with friends from her church, and we’d eventually hear from her. But she didn’t call back, and after a couple days, we started to get worried. Fortunately, she’d given us the phone number of one of her neighbors, and told us to call the neighbor if we couldn’t contact her, for some reason. So Molly called the neighbor, and we learned that she’d fallen three times in the week before Thanksgiving, and was in the hospital. She didn’t have any broken bones, but she was sore and bruised, and her legs had essentially stopped working. And then, while she was in the hospital, she’d contracted pneumonia.
We had quite a bit of difficulty getting to actually talk with her, and by the time we did, this past weekend, we found out that she was being moved to a temporary nursing home, and her nephews (her late husband’s brother’s sons) were working on moving her to a home back in Michigan (God bless her nephews; they have treated her as a beloved family member since the day she married their uncle; it is a little bit daunting for us to think about contacting them to ask them to keep us in the communication loop).
It will be nice to have her closer at hand, and to be able to visit her much more easily than when she was Down South, but it is clear that now both of the women who spent any amount of time raising me are in the ‘end game’ of their lives at the same time. I’m absolutely glad that we were able to be reunited, and to be part of each other’s lives, to whatever degree, for the past 20 years.
It’s a little bit difficult to sort out just what the demands of ‘Honor your father and mother’ are, when referring to multiple mothers in various situations and relationships to us. But I do want to give each of them the honor, and gratitude, that they are due, and that God requires of me. But it’s not always clear just what that is. . .
And, just in case anybody is wondering, my birth-mother’s health is just fine; at least, as of a couple days ago. . .