Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Remembering Mom One Year Later

I haven't had much occasion to post anything too personal here lately -- I work a full-time job and have been plugging away, writing for a Padres minor league site, but today marks a significant day in my life. It has been one year since my mom passed away.

The death kind of came out of nowhere; a potentially strangulated bowel, turned into an ordeal that led to her death. My mom suffered from COPD as well, so the combination of anesthesia, surgery, and virtually no lung capacity was too much to recover from. She was 62.

Four months prior to that, I lost my father after a lengthy battle with multiple myeloma, a real bastard of a disease. He fought like hell, but ultimately it was just too much. Three weeks before my 30th birthday both my parents were gone. I suppose it could be worse, but my mom was and has always been my hero.

I so wanted to write some beautiful tribute shortly after she passed but I just couldn't. My usually opinionated mouth had little to say. The words never really came and I felt whatever I chose to write would not be good enough. I was completely lost. Hell, I still am.

My mom, Kathleen Wooddrick (later Charity) was born on August 29th, 1952, outside of Chicago. She moved to California when she was 18 and spent the majority of her adulthood working as an LVN. She was a nurse for nearly 40 years. She was also a single mother for most of my life.

My parents split when I was 4, my dad remarried a year or so later but my mom never did. She was in a relationship with a man for 12 years, but they never married. For the last 15 years or so of her life, she chose not to enter another relationship, perfectly content to be on her own.

My mom worked long hours, so she wasn't one of those moms you see on television. She would work a ten hour day, come home and hang out on the couch. Every now and then she would check out my homework or we would just sit around and watch television until it was time to do it all over again. She wasn't a great cook but we never went hungry. Every now and then KFC or McDonalds happened. Those were good days.

Her weekends were full of joyful activities, such as laundry and picking up after me. A toy here, a t-shirt there. She would constantly complain. I thought she was being mean. I was just being a stupid kid. At some point, she would step on a Ninja Turtle or Power Ranger then curse at me to pick my stuff up. This pattern repeated every Saturday. We were both creatures of routine.

I witnessed my mom stop at nothing to provide for me and my older sister. Her car got stolen once and she arranged for rides from co-workers. A few times she would walk to work, which was a six-mile trek one way. If she was sick, she went into work, rarely taking a sick day.

Vacations rarely happened for her -- she cashed in her vacation hours at the end of the year to buy us Christmas gifts. She lost sleep and downtime so I could have a stupid Nintendo and useless action figures. The sick days were cashed helped her pay bills and keep a roof over our heads. As a child I just expected video games and Nike tennis shoes to fall into my lap; as an adult, all those things were sacrifices of sanity from my mom.

As I hit adulthood, I stumbled through my 20's. I was always a smart kid but I was also incredibly lazy. I did poorly my first few semesters of college and ultimately put in on the back-burner. I spent the next 5 years of my life working as a "sales specialist" at Office Depot making $11 an hour to sell products I didn't fully understand. I spent most of my shifts finding ways to goof off and prolong my adolescence as long as humanly possible. At times, I felt like an absolute loser who was on the path to nowhere. My mom stood in my corner and never made me feel like a loser. She was one of the few people who believed in me.

Eventually, I got my stuff together, got a Bachelor's degree and found a real job. She encouraged me throughout the process and I mainly pushed through all the obstacles because I wanted to do it for her. She deserved to get rewarded for everything she put into me.

A few months ago, I reflected on the fact that I really didn't establish myself as a true adult until I hit 28. Many people find their path earlier in life, start careers and move out in their early 20's. While I certainly didn't maximize my potential, my "burnout" years became a blessing for me; I got to spend more time with mom. Looking back, I wouldn't change those days for anything.

I lived at home from 24-28 and boy did I bitch about it. I wanted to have my own place but $11 an hour doesn't go very far in San Diego. Once I made the return to school, mom never charged me a penny for rent, nor did I pay any bills. She allowed me to save money and have some spending money to have fun.  All she asked for was my loose change and a chocolate bar when I returned home from hanging out with friends or running errands. If a Payday bar was not received, she would light me up with curse words. Sometimes I'd neglect her sweet tooth to hear the wild things that would come out of her mouth. Her generosity was baffling, considering this woman gave me everything I had.

In those adult years, our relationship changed greatly. I would say that we bonded and became friends. My mom was a lot like me: sharp-tongued, sarcastic, reclusive, but with a heart the size of a watermelon. While she hated interacting with most people, she would also do anything to help a loved one in distress. Best of all, she wouldn't make you feel like crap about it. Cross her, or me, and she'd run you down with a Hyundai Accent.

Sure, she and I would butt heads. She would curse me out, I'd snap back with a sarcastic comment. She would hold back laughter and make another comment, sure to get in the last word. Her pet names for me included "dickhead," "asshole," and a variety of other filthy one-liners. Most people would be horrified at the way we'd talk to each other. For us, it was a term of endearment and how we bonded as adults.

At the beginning of February last year, my mom developed an umbilical hernia. The irony is that I too, had a hernia repaired a few months later. As a relatively healthy man in my late-20's I recovered in a few days. The procedure was much more risky for my mother.

Sometime in the recovery period, she lost the ability to breathe on her own and needed a breathing tube. The doctors told us her lungs were failing and that she would likely never be able to breathe on her own. The options were to have her on a tube for the remainder of her life or allow her to go peacefully, without any pain.

Knowing what I did, I knew my mom would never want to be kept alive that way. She always told me that she would rather go than to be forced into that kind of life. That was it. Her life was ending.

My sister and I spent the last few moments of her life at her bedside. It was a rainy day and I looked out the window in despair. I reflected on all the things I learned from my mom. The times she made me angry, the times she did unbelievably selfless things and I didn't know what I would do without her. As the rain fell, I watched the drops smack against the buildings outside. It rarely rains in San Diego, but the sky wept that day.

I thought about how I would live my life from here. Mom has always been the only stable force in my life. I clutched my mom's hand tightly as she took her last breath. It is surreal to know that we spent 60, 70, 80 or more years on this Earth and everything can be broken down to a few precious moments. That was it, the last time I got to spend with my mom.

I had the unfortunate pleasure of delivering the eulogies at both funerals of my parents. I don't remember every word of what I spoke because I had to fight through unbearable depression to address the rooms of people. I fought my trembling knees to stay composed and honor her in a way that seemed appropriate. I spoke a few words about the person she was.  I always describe my mom as selfless, simple and fiercely independent. She instilled the independence and tireless work ethic I have today. I owe everything to her.

So, at the one-year anniversary of her passing, I reflect on all of the memories I have. The good times as a child. The time she saw me club a home run in Little League. The trips we took to Disneyland. I reflected on the values and lessons she engrained in me. She taught me that kindness is important, working hard is essential and taking care of family trumps everything else. While she didn't have a lot in this life,  I know that my sister and I were the reason she kept going. She worked up until her last hospitalization, despite needing to be connected to oxygen 24/7. I still don't know how she overcame the things she did. She is the most remarkable person I have ever known.

I choose not to mope but remember the nearly 30 years we got to spend together. I could never repay her for all she did for me. As an adult, I realize the sacrifice our parents make for us. I am not a religious person, but I know my mom is somewhere, hopefully, relaxed and care-free. Rest easy, mom.