A tsunami of pain

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by SUSAN ESTEP

Jim and Alice Scott, longtime residents of Harrisonburg, are the parents of the author, Susan Estep. Her father had a heart attack last summer. Photo prvided

On May 2, 2016, I was out shopping for a Mother’s Day gift with a friend. It was a beautiful sunny day and I looked forward to a fun day. Since I don’t drive anymore due to my macular degeneration, I rely on friends and our city’s para-transit system to get around.

After shopping at a few stores, I purchased the Mother’s Day gift and suggested to my friend Sylvia we stop for ice cream on the way home; it would be my treat.

Sylvia and I were enjoying our dessert when her cell phone rang. She didn’t recognize the number so did not answer the call.

About an hour later, we arrived at the retirement community where we both live. Sylvia’s phone rang again. This time it had a message with the number; whoever was calling was looking for me.

The person calling was a friend of my mother’s. She told me my father was in the hospital and my mother needed me there right away. My mother’s friend picked me up a few minutes later and drove me to the emergency room at Sentara RMH in Harrisonburg.

My father had been to the emergency room many times in the past few years due to his ongoing congestive heart failure condition. I thought this was likely another episode of CHF, and the ER staff were medicating Dad to clear out his lungs.

When we arrived at the emergency room entrance, another church friend was waiting. I was puzzled she had a wheelchair to transport me back to my dad’s room.

I had gone through total knee surgery nearly seven months before, but I was walking fairly well by then. However, my mother’s friend, Vicki, insisted I use the wheelchair. She said, “It’s quite a distance back to your dad’s room.”

When we came closer to his room I noticed the curtain was pulled. Vicki stopped suddenly and stood directly in front of me. That was when she announced, “Susan, your father died.” I began crying and she wheeled me into the room.

There was my father’s body, the color faded from his face. The room was still and unbelievably stifling. My mother was holding Dad’s hand, her head bowed in agony.

When we came closer to his room I noticed the curtain was pulled … That was when she announced, “Susan, your father died.”

My mother and I embraced and cried together. We spent an hour or so sitting by my father saying our goodbyes. Time stood still for us in that hour. When we left his room a part of us was left behind. I knew our lives would never be the same.

A long 87-year life had ended. Our loss was real; it is huge. My mother has now, in a way, become my child. Role reversal you might call it. This was a person who was dependent on my father during most of their 68 years of marriage. She is small and frail and has never lived alone. She is now faced with making decisions and being single again. I relate to her pain, for I became a young widow myself at the age of 38.

My mother is now my priority. I relentlessly work to ensure her financial wellbeing. Look up “bone tired” in the dictionary and you may find my picture.

The caregiver in me emerges. I comfort, support and bolster my mother’s courage. It brings back painful tinges of my own early widowhood.

My mother is needy. She clings to me with fear in her eyes. These things are normal, especially in the immediate weeks and months following loss. At times, I become irritated when I am teaching her things she has never done. Then I feel extreme guilt when I look at her quivering mouth from her Parkinson’s condition. I reassure her saying, “Mom, it’s going to be ok.”

I am a strong woman who has overcome many tragedies in my life. I can help my mother reach a higher plane of confidence and achieve a peaceful, comfortable life for herself. Confidence comes when it is nurtured. Courage comes when the tight reins of control are released enough to share responsibility.

My mother has now learned how to write checks, to make calls for doctor appointments, to call friends to set up times together for lunch or shopping. I also helped her apply for a credit card and set up direct deposits. She applied for para-transit and can now ride the para-transit system. I have gone with her several times, but I am sure she can do this on her own now.

Mom moved to a new apartment two months after dad died and with the help of friends, we got her set up, and the new apartment decorated. She is enjoying her new apartment and becoming more comfortable living on her own. And I have learned to use a cell phone, better realizing my own need for one.

Sitting here in my apartment and writing this story is still very painful. Dad’s death changed our lives forever, but my mother and I have a strong faith. God has thrown us a life preserver with assurance He is there through this tsunami of pain. God brings us to the peaceful, calmer seas of living once again.

SUSAN ESTEP was a social worker who enjoys writing and artwork; she now lives at VMRC in Harrisonburg.

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