The Will to Live

My phone rang fairly late one evening during the summer of 2000. I was in bed, but my son was still up. On the phone was a nurse from the nursing home in Vevay, Indiana. My mother was staying there recuperating from knee surgery — her left knee. She had

My phone rang fairly late one evening during the summer of 2000. I was in bed, but my son was still up. On the phone was a nurse from the nursing home in Vevay, Indiana. My mother was staying there recuperating from knee surgery — her left knee. She had her right one replaced a year earlier.

The nurse told my son that my mother, his grandmother, was suffering from a blood clot. She was trying to catch imaginary stars coming at her in her vision. I guess that’s what happens when you have a blood clot.

The ambulance was going to take my mother to King Daughter’s Hospital in Madison, Indiana. I needed to get there right away. As I quickly got dressed and made a pot of coffee, I called my younger brother with the news. Within half an hour, he and I and my son were on the road to Madison.

We didn’t get there in time. A doctor, in a small room located just off the hospital lobby, told the three of us she died of a blood clot in her left lung. He told us she hadn’t suffered.

Someone on the doctor’s staff called the nursing home in Vevay to give them the news. I called them too, the next day. I talked at length to one of the nurses who was extremely upset about my mother’s passing.

The nurse told me as my mother was trying to catch those imaginary stars, she knew what was happening to her. As the nursing staff frantically got her ready for the ambulance, my mother told them, “Don’t worry about this. If it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Just after her funeral, a preacher walked up to me — one from a church located there in Vevay. He told me about a conversation he had with my mother one evening in her apartment before the surgery on her left knee. She had invited him over. The preacher told me my mother had a few things to say. She needed to talk about some of the frustrations in her life.

She missed my father who had died three years earlier — missed him every day. She hadn’t been able to walk around well in recent years and it was becoming difficult for her to do daily tasks like going to the grocery store, cleaning her apartment or even doing laundry. She didn’t feel like burdening me or my younger brother with the increasing issues and struggles in her life. It was getting to be too much for her. The preacher told me my mother had lost her will to live.

I asked him if those were her words or his. The preacher said he could tell she was tired of fighting life’s battles. He said he encouraged her to carry on, said a prayer with her and stayed in contact after her knee operation.

Maybe what he should have done is contact me or my younger brother to let us know my mother’s state of mind.

I still think of this conversation I had with that preacher all these years later and it still upsets me. I wish my mother would have let me or my brother know how she was feeling.

I would have made more time for her, would have gotten her groceries, would have done her laundry, would have listened to her frustrations and concerns in her life and would have done whatever I needed to do to restore her will to live.

Like my mother, I’m a diabetic and, also like her, have neuropathy in my legs and feet. Now, 14 years after her death, I’m beginning to relate to what she was going through.

Like her, it becomes increasingly harder for me to get around. My mother used a walker. So far, I can still manage with a quad cane. Like her, I mostly stay inside during the winter.

Like her, I have to pay attention to even windy days when I can be thrown off balance while walking. Like her, I don’t want to burden my two adult children who have their own lives and their own problems to deal with.

Unlike her, if I can believe what this preacher was telling me, I still have the desire to live and when I feel the need to reach out to my children and other family members and friends for help, I do it. This is a two-way street, of course. They know they can reach out to me, too.

When this column is printed, I’ll be a month away from my 60th birthday. My mother was in her late sixties when she died. I’m approaching her age.

I hate the idea of her, toward the end, having feelings about giving up on life. I feel panic thinking about it. I didn’t want her to feel that way and, honestly, I wish that preacher hadn’t told me what my mother said to him.

I’m not her and she wasn’t me. She was never very good at communicating or expressing her feelings. It makes me sad that she could tell a preacher about her fear of slowly losing her independence and not her two living sons who would have done anything for her.

What’s done is done. We loved her and we wanted her to live. I hope she knew that.


CONTACT LARRY GROSS: [email protected]


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