I wrote an
essay once about my mom with the alarmist title “I’m Turning into My Mother,”
and it chronicled some silly and scary things that I got from her. But the truth is more complex, because I also
got a lot of really fine qualities from this woman.
I got an
instinct to rescue abandoned baby birds and dogs wandering on the side of the
road, to listen to young people who were having trouble with their parents or
other parts of their lives, to offer shelter to friends and strangers.
I got a
strong sense of social justice, too: my mom always stood up for what was
right. She was one of the champions
right here in Rockville of a project to bring access to the town’s center to
residents of a predominantly black neighborhood on the “wrong side of the
I got a
pretty good sense of humor—we were neither of us ones for telling jokes but we
did enjoy them, and we both tried to appreciate the ones life played on us. When something set us off no one could reduce
me to tears of laughter the way Mom could.
I got an
excellent grounding in how to be a good friend by watching my mom be one as I
grew up. And I’m a better mother for
having been parented by her. Mom always strove to do the best for her children,
even as we became older adults, and she loved Jeff and me ferociously.
I got an
artistic sensibility though not as much as Mom had. We were all surprised and
thrilled when while doing her Associate’s degree at Montgomery College she
turned out to be a talented painter. And
she had her hand in all kinds of handiwork and other artistic endeavors with
her church crafter’s group.
I got a
penchant for sociability and sharing other people’s stories from Mom, too. Turns out she was quite the writer, as she
proved in the writing group she attended here at the church. And her
sociability was evidenced in things like her zipping around her beloved Fresh
Market on her scooter (a gift from her cousin Annetta) talking to all the
department managers about their respective days.
I got a
sense of civic responsibility from her from the time I was in elementary school
stuffing envelopes for political campaigns and hanging out the back of our
station wagon stumping for candidates.
Mom ran many political campaigns back in Holliston, Massachusetts where
Jeff and I grew up, and was highly respected in political circles there.
I got a lot
of strength and resilience from Mom, who weathered many a storm.
just a few things I got from my mother.
I also got imperfections and foibles, and a tendency to anxiety I could
do without. But in balance I wouldn’t have wanted to be anyone else’s daughter
other than Suzanne Marie Kullgren’s.
Sorry my blogging has been less than prolific in recent
months. Since my mother’s second stroke
late last October, my responsibilities as dutiful daughter have increased
manifold and my creative juices have not flowed.
After her second stroke last autumn, Mom had a hellish stay
in rehab punctuated by daily calls to me begging me to intervene to get the
aides and nurses to respond to her often-urgent needs. She emerged from that stint in rehab more
traumatized than when she went in. The
benefits of the speech and physical and occupational therapy she was receiving
were diminished by how rattled she was multiple times a day fighting for
attention and her dignity while trying to meet needs as simple as going to the
She also emerged a changed woman, still competent but
sometimes struggling to find the words to express herself and sometimes
confused in that effort and in absorbing information. She had two falls this spring, one on the scooter that is her
lifeline as she no longer can walk. Mom
has been to the emergency room more than four times in the past six months for
various problems—once for a third small stroke. It seemed like every week I could count on a call from her alarm
monitoring service telling me they’d dispatched paramedics.
Twice in the ER they found she had urinary tract
infections. I found out that in the
elderly, UTIs can cause confusion or a delirium-like state (that can be
mistaken for Alzheimer’s or dementia) and agitation and that certainly was the
case with my mom. This has confused
efforts to understand what her current baseline state of mind is, though she’s
definitely improved since her last infection.
I used to call my mom once every two days, then every day,
but now because of her heightened agitation she calls me sometimes several
times a day and I have to talk her down from whatever whammy life has thrown at
her: like the transit van not returning her keys when she came home from the
hospital last time and then apparently losing them, like having to deal with a repair phone call to and visit from Comcast, like her shower aide not being able to come, like a doctor trying to explain to her how he is going to change her
medication. Between this and the midnight calls from the alarm monitoring
service it’s gotten so I go into fight or flight mode every time the phone
rings, my stomach clenching and the adrenaline pumping.
One nice thing that’s come out of this is increased
communications between my brother, who lives in New England, and I. He has really stepped up this year, taking
over some of my mom’s doctor’s communications and calling my mom every day.
He’s making spreadsheets like crazy to try and get a handle on her care.
For now, Mom is able to live independently. She can still manage her medications, attend
to her personal needs, prepare meals for herself and so on. She still scoots over to the shopping plaza
near her to get her hair cut or to go to her favorite market. She still goes downstairs in her building to
chat with neighbors. I admire her
courage and her spirit. And I pray for
my own as I help her navigate this journey through aging through which I will
follow in the coming decades.