Wednesday, June 10, 2009


So, today is the anniversary of my mom's death last year. She died of myelofibrosis, a hematologic malignancy where the bone marrow is replaced with fibrous tissue. This sometimes causes the spleen to enlarge markedly, and in Mom's case I think that's what did her in. Her spleen became so large that it compressed her stomach, and she could eat very little, and she kind of withered away over the course of several years until her heart finally stopped. And unfortunately, there's not much that can be done medically to stop this.

It's also unfortunate that the last impression that we have of someone's life is often when they're not at their best. I would rather think about what my mother was like earlier in life, instead of the illness at the end. And the thing I remember most is how devoted she was to us kids, even to a fault. I continued to get motherly advice and care well into my 30's. And I remember how much I took this for granted when I was a kid. Like some other youngsters, I was kind of a little pig boy, who took it for granted that Mom would always have breakfast and dinner ready and my clothes cleaned and the house tidied and all the other things I thought mothers were for. I kind of wish that just once, when I was 10 years old or so, somebody had shaken me and said, "You punk! Show your mother more gratitude! None of this stuff is automatic."

And finally, I remember sensing my mother's sadness at times, and wondering what was behind it. She did not have the easiest childhood: she moved with her parents from Germany to the US when she was 2, just before World War II broke out. My grandfather spent part of the war in a detention camp, since he had recently moved from Germany, and during that time she lived with family friends. It was not a good time to be a newly-arrived German immigrant, even for a small child, and I've wondered if this had a lasting effect on her even years later.

The war years were pretty lean for most people, and Mom continued to hoard things for the rest of her life. I was home for a little over a week when she died, and spent at least half that time frantically cleaning out the house and our summer camp with my brothers and sister. We were almost too busy to mourn; and never having gone through something like that as a family, we seemed unsure of how to mourn together.

Once my week was up, I flew back to Wisconsin and work, and gradually resumed my normal life. And everyone else did too. And even a year later, when I'd planned to write all this on the anniversary day, other things came up and plans had to be modified. But I knew you'd understand, Mom. We always came first with you, and that's something I'll never forget. I miss you now, and I wish I could have done more for you. I hope you're at peace.

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