Be Open
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Be Open

The Year I Lost Both Mothers

In response to Dennett and Harry Hogg ‘Be Open’ 100 word prompts

My mother, left; my mother-in-law, right.

The year 2016 was not a great year for me. I lost…

I lost my wife, briefly. Maybe not so much “lost” as “temporarily mislaid.”

I temporarily mislaid my mind. Or at least my happy outlook.

I lost my mothers. Both of them.

My mother-in-law went first. She’d been diagnosed with metastatic ovarian cancer the year before, went through chemo, decided life with chemo wasn’t worth it, bounced back to the point that she mused that maybe she hadn’t really had cancer (not uncommon with patients coming off chemo), then declined rapidly and died under hospice care.

Deb had spent most of the last year of Mom’s life helping her to stay in her apartment, the one Mom had shared with Dad before he died six years earlier. She took Mom’s loss hard, not surprisingly. Even after Deb “came home,” there were times that felt like she wasn’t really home; a part of her was still with Mom.

My own mother left me that summer. When we visited my parents at their townhouse, my mother greeted us warmly, asked us how we liked our cabin, shared how nicely the cruise was going and made other non-committed small talks that showed she had no idea who we were, or where she was. Even though a full dementia diagnosis was yet to come, my mother’s “cognitive impairment” meant she thought she and my father were on one of their cruises. Or (other days) she was working at the retirement home where she’d been director of healthcare¹ (and from where she’d retired almost twenty years before).

She mostly seemed to know who Deb was—one of her subordinates at the retirement home. Or a fellow passenger on the cruise she and my father were taking. And I was… Deb’s husband. She always treated me nicely, because she was a very pleasant lady, very personable, and that was how she treated all people, even ones she didn’t know very well. Even the ones she didn’t know at all.

She would retreat within herself when our father would mock her² for her “imaginary friends” (she would refer to coworkers at the retirement home as if they had just stepped out of the room), but she would also stand up for the grandchildren against our father (she seemed to know who my sister’s kids were, mostly). Other times she was just pleasantly there.

After four days of our mother not recognizing me, I knew she was gone, at least for me. My sister visited her several times before her death, but I never did. “You just need to sit with her! If I sit with her long enough, I still can see some flashes of Mom, she’s still in there.” She may have still been in there, but to her, I was no longer out here.

¹And you may be thinking, “Wait! She was senior management at a retirement home… but she didn’t move thereafter she retired? Why not?” Excellent question. One we never got answered. The move was planned, a deposit had supposedly been made, everything was supposed to go smoothly… and then one day it wasn’t. Attempts by the family to sort out what was really supposed to have happened resulted in missing paper trails, dead ends, and explosive reactions from our father who was furious that we doubted the ability of our mother to handle things after decades in the business.

²In hindsight, this was one of the early signs of our father’s dementia. He had seldom if ever, done anything hurtful toward our mother. Our focus was on our mother, and we missed it. And it was not always easy to separate our father with creeping dementia from our father the general asshole.



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Jack Herlocker

Jack Herlocker

Husband & retiree. Developer, tech writer, & IT geek. I fill what’s empty, empty what’s full, and scratch where it itches. Occasionally do weird & goofy things.