My mother began a blog which inspired me to start my own. She loved to read other people's opinions and always had very strong views of her own. To re-engage with this blog is way of honoring my mom, and ultimately a means for seeking deeper understanding of life itself.
My mother died from acute liver failure due to cirrhosis of the liver. She never drank a drop of alcohol in her life; in fact, to light the Christmas plum pudding she would use McCormick's imitation rum flavoring rather than buy a bottle of real rum. She was physically fit, exercised regularly and ate simply and sensibly. How this disease could strike her down is a mystery, and her form of cirrhosis is therefore idiopathic.
One of the liver's functions is to eliminate toxins from the blood. In my mother's case, her liver became unable to eliminate ammonia, which stayed in the blood and began to affect her brain. This is known as hepatic encephalopathy. Her doctors prescribed a medicine to control the ammonia and for a few months, she was able to function fairly well. But then she came down with a sinus infection that ultimately weakened her and brought about acute liver failure.
I expected my mom to live into her 90s, as did her mother and many of her relatives. Even when the liver problems were first diagnosed, her doctor said she had many years ahead of her and that she'd probably die of something else. I also found myself putting "faith" in modern medicine, for even as she was admitted to Cleveland Clinic for her final weekend of life, the doctors began to evaluate her for a liver transplant. We knew that since she was not an alcoholic, she had a good chance of being considered for a transplant.
She was admitted on a Friday, evaluated on Saturday and by Saturday night was placed at the top of the transplant list. By Sunday morning, her condition had worsened to the point that a transplant was no longer possible. She was all yellow and comatose. We agreed to a "natural death," which means only providing to prevent suffering. She was given morphine (which the nurse kept calling "medicine," as in "I'm going to increase her medicine." All other curative measures were stopped, except for her breathing tube, as the nurse said without it she could suffer from choking on fluids and coughing up blood. I think this last measure was more for those of us there for the death watch, as there was no chance at this point that she would come to and be aware of anything surrounding her.
Years ago my mother decided that after death, she wanted to donate her body to science. She was a teacher, and was happy in the realization that her body could be used to further learning. She also had a wicked sense of humor and delighted in the idea of "cheating the undertaker out of his fee!"
And so the Cleveland Clinic was gifted her body and which also gave her family the gift of not having to go through all the usual immediate and emotional hoopla of coffins, calling hours and funeral rites. Instead, we had time to mourn for ourselves, while relatives, friends and former students posted comments online and sent thoughtful cards. About a month later, we had a memorial for her at the University of Akron, the place she found herself first as an employee, then as a student and teacher. By then, all of the immediate family had time to compose our thoughts and words for her final tribute.
Last week, the Cleveland Clinic called to say that they were ready to return my mother's ashes. They came back to us in a small cardboard box and we had them placed next to my dad's ashes in Glendale Cemetery. On her gravestone, the following epitaph (borrowed from Henry Adams) will be engraved: