Friday, December 20, 2019

My 2019 Holiday Letter

O Heavens, is’t possible
A young maid’s wits
Should be as mortal
As an old man’s life.

- HAM IV.v
I feel I owe you an explanation.

My mother has always been a humble and giving person, generous and thoughtful of others.

She is also proud, dignified, first to accept responsibility, to the point of guilt, the last to cast blame.

My mother can seem judgmental, when she is, in fact, the opposite. She reserves judgment to the point of seeming aloof.

This is perhaps why her demeanor has intimidated virtually every woman I have been with, all but one. My wife and my mother share a special relationship, the manner in which mom welcomed Toni into our family is a gift she has never taken for granted.

Mom's sense of privacy, and her respect of privacy for others has kept me from broadcasting her condition. But I thought it was only right, at this time, to share with those who care about her, and care about me, how she is, and what has happened.

Shortly after my father died in 2016 she revealed to me that she has Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). She was diagnosed almost fifteen years earlier, and she didn’t want me to worry. It’s the kind of leukemia you live with until it begins to cause problems.

This summer she discovered that her white blood count was generously high, and she was prescribed treatment to bring it down. At the same time, her immune system began to attack her red blood cells, and so it was that two months ago, in early October, she was hospitalized and nearly died.

She was provided transfusions of healthy blood to keep her alive, and a series of infusions to suppress her immune system so that her blood count might normalize, which it did.

And so the autumn continued, and we all tried to carry on as normal. That includes me, the son who never left Cleveland (my brothers live in Minnesota and in England), my immediate family those relatives and friends who commune with her daily, and also and her partner, Jacques.

Jacques and my mother were high school sweethearts, a romance rekindled after the death of my father. It is a touching and important story, but for now it is enough to say they had a lovely summer together, with hope to enjoy a few more.

But things were not normal. I received his calls; your mother has fainted, your mother took a fall. Each time she would say it was nothing, she did not wish to go to the hospital.

She had regular appointments scheduled with her GP, her oncologist, her cardiologist, and I planned to join her at these.

November I could see her becoming increasingly physically unsteady. But she attended my kids’ high school musical, their fall concerts. Every week or so she might call one off. I was becoming anxious about her condition, but I did not know what else to do. Please remember, she is a private person, and I have always meant to respect her wishes.

Thanksgiving was coming, and my brothers and their families were coming home and maybe then together we’d figure out a course of action. Plans were put into place to have home health care join them a few times a week, to look after mom and to take care of chores.

Over the course of a very noisy week, with two families sharing her home in Lakewood, I could see a sharp decline, not only physically but she was having increasing difficulty in finding the right words to express what she was thinking.

I began spending nights at mom’s house. It was exhausting, sitting with her while she struggled to speak, waiting for the moment in the evening when Jacques and I would muscle her to the toilet, and into bed, as while she stopped being able to send motor commands to her legs.

And I missed my kids, my wife, until that afternoon two weeks ago when she fell out of bed during a nap and we finally took her to the emergency room.

We do not know the course of events. It is enough to state the fact. My mother has developed progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) a rare infection of the brain which can affect those with a compromised immune system.

After more than a week in the hospital, we brought her home. We have converted her woody, carpeted dining room, where we enjoyed a large, Hansen family Thanksgiving dinner less than three weeks earlier, into her new bedroom. She is tended to around the clock, as necessary, by team of nurses aides and those from hospice.

Already there are things I miss. I miss her smile, her voice, her sense of humor. But she is still with us and I try to see her every day.

I worry about her, think about her, how this is affecting us as a family, her partner, and most importantly to me, our children.

Growing up I lost my grandparents over the course of four different decades, in 1976, 1981, 1989, and 2005. The loss of grandparents was to me occasional. Inevitable, to be sure, part of life, but infrequent enough to more easily process the grief.

My own children lost two grandfathers in two years, and only recently. Seeing them watch their beloved Tertia slip away is hard to bear, and it breaks my heart for them accumulate such pain during their teenage years.

We do not know what happens next. My brothers make plans to cycle through town. My wife and I make plans to visit my in-laws for the holidays, taking two cars in case of. The new year is a mystery.

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