My Mom and Dad

Derek Hunter
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Posted: Nov 30, 2017 12:01 AM
My Mom and Dad

I love my parents more than I can explain, just as you likely do yours. You can’t quantify that love, or put it in words, but anyone with good parents understands without needing it explained. It’s universally understood by anyone lucky enough to have great parents.

My parents met when they were still in high school. They went to the same school in the same town I and my five siblings all graduated from. My mom and her friend were hitchhiking (it was the late 50s and you could still do that), and my dad picked them up. They knew of each other but didn’t know each other. The story, as my mom tells it, is she told her friend my dad was cute and she wanted to sit next to him in his ‘55 Chevy. 

They started dating, they made it official at a Dairy Queen when my dad asked her to go steady. He then proposed, though he always joked she asked him.

They were married in 1960, a year and a few days later my brother was born. Over the next decade-plus my 3 sisters were born. Then me, the last (and as I always jokingly say, best). I was the child they didn’t plan and didn’t expect. 

I always teased my mom that I was a mistake, she always denied it. “We always planned on four or five kids,” then she’d toss in the s-word with a “you little” ahead of it. The s-word is one of her favorites. In her life, she peppered it in what she said, always jokingly, when one of us would be smart-alecky. Never heard her say anything worse, though she did tell the family that she once said the f-word. That’s right, once. Not in anger, but alone at the dining room table. “I said it out loud because I wanted to hear myself say it,” she explained.

Her health has never been good, at least in my lifetime. When I was 10 she lost her right leg above the knee; they called it hardening of the arteries. She’s always had circulation problems, bad pipes. The doctor told my dad her health was so bad she wouldn’t live to see 50. At the end of December she would’ve been 77.

I had to switch to past tense because a little over a month ago she had a heart attack. Mild, but a heart attack nonetheless. She needed bypass surgery – two arteries were completely blocked, three more were blocked 70 percent. No options were good options. 

Her heath had gotten worse since she lost her leg. An artificial artery from her shoulder to her hip saved her other leg, but she never walked without crutches again. She’d put on weight, as happens with age, became diabetic, developed high blood pressure, and more. Throughout it all she suffered from horrible bouts of phantom pain – the feeling that not only is a missing limb still there, but someone is stabbing it relentlessly. 

Through it all she was strong. 

After the bypass surgery on the first of November, her strength started to fade. She had good days, but too few and not for a while. My father, who I can’t remember ever spending more than an emergency night or two away from her, picked up the slack – 57 years of marriage allows for that. 

But last weekend he saw she couldn’t fight anymore. She didn’t regain full consciousness for some time, she had been non-responsive, her kidneys were failing, the machines breathed for her. She never wanted to live that way.

My parents discussed such a scenario – 57 years of marriage allows for that, too. 

It always seemed morbid to me – no child wants to hear their parents talk about a time when they aren’t here. But they did it in front of us, partially to tease us, partially so we’d know. On Sunday we knew.

My dad called to give me the news, Wednesday the machines would be turned off and she would be allowed to join God in Heaven. 

Crying in my car on the side of the road, I argued for a reprieve I knew couldn’t happen. There are more surgeries they could try, more cuts they could make, more machines they could hook her up to, but none are likely to work, should she survive the procedures in the first place. And she would suffer, silently and unconsciously, the whole time. My father, who loves my mother more than life itself, couldn’t let her go through that for his sake. This was, after all, the point of the discussions they’d had. Her wishes were known. 

On Wednesday they unhooked my mother from at least a dozen machines and tubes. Baring a miracle or two from when I choked through tears and wrote this on Sunday, my mother is in a better place, happy and healthy again. 

The rest of us cry. My mother will always be the most amazing woman I’ve ever known. One leg and constant pain never stopped her from doing anything. I’d come home from school and she’d be standing on a chair washing the ceiling. 

She stayed home and raised five kids while my dad drove a forklift for 30 years. They are both the best examples of how to be parents I could have asked for and better than I deserved. I thank God I was born to them.

We never had much – my dad always worked two jobs, one driving the forklift for GM and part-time with the parks department in the town I grew up in – but they made it so we didn’t know what we didn’t have. I can only imagine what they went without so we didn’t have to.

I can take comfort in knowing my mother saw me grow up to be a man she could not have imagined when she was embarrassed by my haircut (I had some awful hairstyles as a kid), and I am grateful she got to meet my daughter. Born in May, she is her eight grandchild (she’s also a great-grandmother twice over) and my mother picked her name.

She’d lobbied each of my siblings to use the name she wanted – all seven previous grandkids were girls, too – and they all chose something else. But I liked the name, a family name, and not only sold it to my wife, we added my mother’s name as Quinn’s middle name as a further surprise. She cried when I told her, just as she cried when she held her.

I would’ve done the same for my dad had we had a boy, and who knows what’ll happen in the future. But she saw the name she wanted used, and her name too. I am forever in debt to my wife for indulging me in that, and to God for letting my mother live to see it.

She knows I love her, and my father knows I love him too. We say it to each other every time we speak, which is at least once per week, and we kiss and hug hello and goodbye every time we see each other. If your parents are still alive I suggest you do the same. You can’t do it too much or enough.

I am deeply sad, wiping away tears, and I know I’m rambling, and maybe this doesn’t make any sense. I’m still in shock and in no way ready, but I had to get something out of me for this column. One thing my parents instilled in me is a work ethic – if you have a job to do, do it and get it done. 

She’d been in and out of the hospital a lot the last few years for various things, and the last few months haven’t been physically great either. But every time I spoke to her, even the last, she’d ask me if I’d finished my book yet. I’d been contracted to write a book a few months ago by HarperCollins and they couldn’t have been more proud. Neither of my parents graduated high school, so to have a son writing a book was a big deal, they told all their friends.

I’d finished it, she knew I’d finished it, too, because I told her when she asked on one of her good days after the operation. I had hoped to give them the first copy, but that my dad will have it and it will be dedicated to them will have to be enough.

I am lucky, in one sense. The last time I saw her awake, the night before the bypass, we played Yahtzee. It may not seem like much, but we had a fierce Yahtzee rivalry – we’d play the whole card at once, and fast. We played two games that night and she beat me in both, just barely but a win is a win. She rubbed it in, but I was secretly glad she’d won, and in the way she’d won, because I knew this was a possibility. I didn’t throw it, she beat me fair and square, and I was happy.

When I left that night I told her I loved her. Right before they took her in the operating room I got to see her, groggy, and I told her I loved her. When I had to return home after the surgery I told her I loved her. When I got to speak with her on the phone a week later I told her I loved her. When I’m sitting in that room with her praying for a miracle that likely won’t come I will tell her I love her. It’ll be the last thing I get to say to my mother.

I’d give anything for more time, there’s never enough of that. But we’ll all have eternity together soon enough. She’s just going to beat us there. Knowing her, she’ll have crocheted us all afghans waiting for us when we arrive. She could craft, oh how she could craft. God better stock up on yarn…

If you have any prayers or miracles handy, my family and I would very much appreciate if you could send a little our way. 

I have so many memories and so many more things I want to say, but I have to pack for the long trip home. I am grateful for so much; that my parents were at my wedding, that they’ve been able to know and love my wife, and meet and love my daughter. I wish there could be more, but to see them both break out in tears when we all walked into her hospital room after her heart attack, unannounced and a complete surprise. I am so glad we took pictures there – my daughter and the woman who named her, smiling. My father, who taught me what it is to be a man, holding this 6-month-old package of joy sitting next to the woman he’s loved for almost 60 years. It’ll never really be enough, but it’s something and I’ll eternally be grateful for it.

To walk in that room after driving 13 hours with a baby, with no one knowing we were coming, brought them happiness. I hope I brought them a lot, I pray I can bring them more, and make them prouder, even when they’re just looking down on me.

They taught me how to live, how to love, how to be. They gave me my humor and didn’t discourage it; they gave me my drive and encouraged it; they gave me my life and inspired it. They have their quirks – they like bad TV shows, my mother never pronounces the first “r” in the word “program,” it’s always “po-gram,” and my dad says the word “batteries” like he’s talking about a tree made of bats – bat-trees. It’s what makes them…them.

I love my parents with all that I am, and I owe them all I am. I love you, mom and dad. Thank you for everything. 

Thank you for indulging me, I just didn’t know what else to do. If it’s at all humanly possible I will have a regular column back here on Sunday. I know my parents wouldn’t want me to live any other way.

Update:

My mom's condition deteriorated and, I hate to say, we lost her Tuesday morning at 10:00 am. It was peaceful and she was surrounded by my dad and all her children. We all had our time to tell her on this planet everything we needed to say, things she already knew, but we had to say for ourselves.

Our loss is Heaven's gain. She is currently enjoying her wings, reuniting with family and friends.. We didn't get our miracle here, but we did get the miracle that is my mother for longer than doctors said we would.

I know she's watching over us, proudly telling our tales to all who will listen, playing board games (and winning), and will greet us all with the hug and kiss we will all miss until we see her again.

Prayers are still very much welcome. My dad is the strongest man I've ever known, but even the strongest among us appreciate help (even when they don't ask for it).

I love them both, I will always love them both. They made me, and made me who I am. I will spend the rest of my life living by the lessons they taught me and the example they set for me. I know how to live and love because of them.

I, and my brother and sisters, could not be prouder to be the children of Carol and Doug Hunter. I love you, mom and dad.