Saturday, July 2, 2011

Two Weeks

It's been two weeks since my mother died. It is a miracle she survived for the past five years and every day was a blessing. See, Mom was a diabetic and she got gangrene and needed an amputation. But she also had a rash and "did not meet the criteria for surgery." So three Tulsa hospitals sent her home to die.

We didn't give up. I called a friend of mine who is a doctor in Oklahoma City and he had a team meet her in the ER at OU's Medical Center. They did not look for reasons to turn her away, but for ways to save her life. They succeeded.

I can fill the rest of this post with bitter and bittersweet stories of how universal insurance does not mean health care. I could share her painful last days. But instead, maybe I should tell you why she mattered.

Mom was a drunk. Nope, I am not exaggerating nor holding back. She was a drunk and she married a drunk and she hung out with a bunch of drunks. All of this creates a legacy I struggle to maintain and build upon.

My mother came to the realization she had a drinking problem while I was in high school. I always I suspect I had a bit to do with that realization when I verbally struck out one morning when I had myself been partying with friends all night. I never knew for sure, but it seemed as if shortly after that she entered Alcoholics Anonymous. Mom got sober and stayed. Like a lot of reformed drinkers, Mom got the religion to save others and she dedicated the reminder of her life to help others break addictions.

She was always dragging people home, and waking up to find her TV stolen and checking account wiped out. Mom found out not everybody who joins AA really wants to keep from drinking or using drugs! Her brothers like to say she had to kiss a lot of toads to find a prince. She did finally find that prince and he stayed by her side to the end, offering all the things she had wanted and missed out of in life. Together she and her reformed drunk husband joined with a few others and bought an old church and fixed it up for AA and NA meetings. Ending the need to track down meetings at various churches, city buildings or basements. That building allowed people to go to meetings in the small community twice a day seven days a week if they wanted.

Off of the power of that volume recovery sessions the local District Judge wrote for and got a grant to start up a drug court that has saved the lives of thousands of people. This program worked so well he wrote for a grant for a family drug court to help even more people. That worked so well he added a mental health court and wants to add a juvenile drug court! This judge and the Director of the mental health clinic claim none of those program would be able to succeed without that church that hosts all of those meetings every day. And that place was started by my Mom.

Several years ago she came to a community meeting I had started for service agencies in the area, and asked if we could help. The building was run as a corporation with a board of directors that make decisions on the use and maintenance of the building. All of the old guard that had bought the building and maintained the property were dying off. They were in danger of closing the doors. Several of the directors of those agencies and myself started attending meetings. I am the only one of the service agency people still attending and have been appointed to a board position that does not require a vote.

Since that time even my mother quit the program she started, due to health problems and the high level of tobacco smoke in the meeting rooms. She saw how stressed I grew working with the group and she urged me to leave several times, but like her, I saw the bigger picture, and somehow, without ever attending an AA meeting, I had caught her need to help save others. A legacy from her to me. Nothing tangible, nothing I can sell or trade or even take a picture of for others to marvel over. But a legacy that is bigger than ourselves.

One week ago there was a memorial service held at that old church. The room filled out with generations of people who testified that their life was changed for the better because my mother either helped them stop drinking and using drugs, or helped their children stop drinking and/or using drugs, or even a few who said they would not be alive today if it weren't for that old church that now hosts two meetings a day, seven days a week.

It has been two weeks and just typing this post my throat is constricted to the point I can barely breathe and once again I find tears leaking down my face. I will miss my mother. But her loss is greater to the world than it is just to me. In the final weeks of her life she was back in the hospital again. Her body was bloated from retained fluids that diminished her heart capacity to 10%. We learned later that was terminal condition. I went to visit her after work, as I tried to do every night I was in town. She had a smile and seemed more at ease. She told me a nurse had come in to check on her and noticed the AA charm on her bracelet and admitted she had a drinking problem but had stopped going to meetings because of her work schedule.

Had it been me, I think I would have asked for a new nurse and not the admitted drunk in the failed recovery program. But Mom pushed her laptop computer aside, sucked in a deep breath of oxygen so she could talk and asked the nurse when her break was scheduled. See, anytime two or more alcoholics get together they can have a meeting. That is how lives are saved, one at a time by somebody who is also recovering, still addicted and fighting the urge to relapse.

Thirty years since she stopped drinking and Mom was literally reaching out on her death bed to help HER caregiver find sobriety. That was my Mother. She died two weeks ago on Father's Day.