Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Tale of Momma Stella, Stucco and WillBear

It’s been a long summer in our little corner of Southern California. I never realized that so much crap could come oozing along to upset our merry little daily routine of just getting by. Up until the third week of April we were comfortable in our routines and happy in our little apartment in a not-so-good neighborhood here in Vista.

All that changed when we got a call at 6:30 a.m. from Carolyn’s mother. Momma Stella said she had just called 911 because she thought her son was dead. Her son, who was 45, lived with her in her home in a neighboring city. We quickly threw some clothes on and dashed over kind of hoping that she was the kind of wrong that a little old lady can be sometimes but at the same time afraid that wouldn’t be the case.

We got there to find 2 police cars in front of the house. Yes, the ambulance had already been there and left. Now we were waiting for the Medical Examiner to show up, make the official pronouncement of death and take the body away for autopsy. He had died in his sleep and they needed to find a cause. Turns out he went to sleep, had a heart attack and never woke up.

So we were faced with taking care of arrangements and working with Momma Stella to help her get set up and totally on her own at age 71. You don’t need to know all the details but her son had been in and out of jail for several years for drug possession, addiction and other various and sundry offenses that the addicted commit while under the influence or while trying to get under the influence.

Things were going along fine for about 6 weeks. Momma Stella was getting along fine and lo-and-behold her money was starting to stretch out and last the whole month. Until a morning in June when we got a call. It was Momma Stella. She was dizzy and disoriented; feeling really sick. Carolyn sent me off to work thinking it was just a bug or something and then went over to her mother’s house. By the time she got there, it was obvious that an ambulance needed to be called.

And it all deteriorated from there. Five weeks later this 71-year old lady was dead of ovarian cancer. We watched her deteriorate day by day. She managed to take one treatment of chemotherapy and her condition worsened too much to ever take another. Within 2 weeks of her diagnosis she was no longer ambulatory and had to go back into the hospital, then to a nursing home for several days to gain some strength and eventually when her condition continued to deteriorate to in-home hospice where my wife, Carolyn provided the 24/7 care.

Stucco the dog, was confused. She didn’t seem to understand the change in her routine. She was “banished” outdoors. She’s a happy dog and loves to roughhouse. She loves to chase a tennis ball around the yard just as long as I would play tug-of-war with her to get her to let go of it and throw it again. I just love tossing around a slimy tennis ball!

We’d make sure she had plenty of water and a full food bowl along with some babbling to her about what a good dog she is. And then she’d give off a goofy doggie grin and want to wrestle some more.

All through this I witnessed a level of tenderness and care provided by Carolyn that was in its own way a beautiful thing to behold. The loving way she cared for her mother and the ways she tolerated the natural cantankerousness of her dying mother were moving each and every day. They would occasionally fuss with each other but they knew that it was the natural relationship of a mother and daughter and within a couple of minutes tempers would be sheathed and everything would be OK.

Before the in-home hospice, Carolyn would load Momma Stella into the car for doctor’s appointments. It only took a couple of weeks before Carolyn bought her Mom her very own transport wheelchair with a bright red seat and back which Momma Stella loved. All too soon though even that was over because she came home from the nursing home bedridden. She never got up again.

I was over there on many days to say hello to my mother-in-law, check on how she was doing and to give my wife some hugs and a few kisses to let her know how much she was missed at home and how much she was appreciated.

I was also there to take my turn from time to time so Carolyn could go and run some errands. And also so she could just get away for a bit to relax, breathe deep and, if need be, have a good cry.

The last week, when Carolyn was able to slip home for an hour I encouraged her to take her Christmas Guardian bear WillBear with her for company late at night when she was alone with Momma Stella and she was lonely and scared.

WillBear is this cuddly stuffed teddybear that Santa brought Carolyn for Christmas. His job is to watch out for Carolyn and take care of her when she needs it. He usually spends his days sitting on our bed at home, the keeper of the TV remote and his nights perched across the room so he can keep his eye on things.

WillBear made it a point to stay by Carolyn’s side during that long, stressful last week. He slept in her arms every night when she was lonely and scared. He reassured her when she had to start using morphine to help ease the pain. And he was there with her when Momma Stella drew her last breath, watching over Carolyn and Momma Stella and Stucco letting them know that they had all done the right thing.

Momma Stella is gone now. Seventy-one years. And she never really seemed to get the chance to enjoy many of them. But she’s at rest. She’s no longer in pain from the cancer which ate at her in her last days. Stucco will unfortunately probably end up with the ASPCA for adoption. We can’t keep an 80 pound moose of a dog in a small second floor apartment. I hope she finds a happy home with some folks who will love her and wrestle with her and make her part of their family.

Carolyn is home now. She misses her Mom and still wants to give her a phone call each day. She’s trying to figure out the best way to handle giving the house back to the bank because the mortgage is seriously “underwater”. Otherwise the house on Hilldale is empty of people and pretty forlorn. Stucco’s looking after things for a few days and we stop by each day to feed her and “rassle”.

WillBear is home now, back on duty. Except now he sits in the living room in his own small rocker—keeping an eye out on all the goings on in our modest home.

There’s a hero in this story and that’s Carolyn. Her compassion and patience and love and dedication were a shining light to her mother. She’s still pretty sad, but she’s had a lot to contend with these past 3 months. Carolyn’s buddy WillBear is looking out for her and that’s good too. Stucco will be all right, someone’s going to get to adopt one terrific dog. But that Carolyn, she’s quite a lady.

Momma Stella’s not around anymore—but in her own way, she still is.

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