My mother was called home to the Lord Friday morning, after a battle with dementia while recuperating from a broken hip. Mom was 74.
Kathleen Elizabeth Remar was born in November, 1945 just three months after the end of World War II. Her parents, Anna and Joseph Remar were children of Slovak – at the time, Czechoslovak – immigrants, who came to America for a better life.
The Remars settled in Bridgeport, PA, and had four children – Jeannie, Joseph, Kathleen, and Raymond. My grandmother raised the kids, and my grandfather worked in factories, while helping the church next door – Our Mother of Sorrows – doing odd jobs and maintaining the grounds.
All four Remar children did well in school, Aunt Jeannie became a nun, Uncles Joe and Ray went to college, and while mom was enticed by colleges for her musical aptitude – she was awarded “All-Catholic” for her clarinet aptitude – her mother would not allow it. Different times back then.
Mom eventually got married, and they had three children: me, my brother Chris, and later on, my sister Allison. Dad was a Philadelphia firefighter, and mom worked odd jobs to keep the money coming in. She worked as a waitress in banquet halls, was a secretary, and was the organist for Christ The King Parish in Philadelphia for years. Mom always wanted to teach us how to play the piano, but sadly, we weren’t interested.
Mom was great when it came to crafts. She would create homemade Halloween costumes that were out of this world. One year, she made a cardboard table – complete with tablecloth and glued on utensils – cut a hole and the middle, and put my head through it. Another year she sewed a pair of footy pajamas, added a tail, and created a dragon head for the ensemble. I won a prize in the school costume contest that year.
Mom loved to play bingo at the parish hall on Monday nights, she was a rabid fan of the Phillies, Flyers and Eagles. She spent most of my grade school life coaching girls softball. Every girl in school knew “Mrs. G,” and as a result, every girl knew me. It. Was. Awesome.
She revolutionized the school’s talent show. For years, it was kids lip-syncing to popular songs, mostly boring fare. When I was in 6th grade, mom changed all that. She invited my friends over, broke out Spike Jones records, and had us choreograph skits to go along with the record. After that, she dressed us up as cheerleaders and we did a gymnastics skit that brought down the house. I was finally (somewhat) popular!
In college, mom was reluctant to go to my lacrosse games, thinking I would get hurt. I finally conned her into going, and five minutes in, I jumped for a ball, got hit in the legs, flipped over, and crashed to the ground. After the game – which we won – I walked to her and she said, “I’m never coming to another game!” And she didn’t.
As mom got older, she suffered the maladies many people face. She smoked much of her life, and that eventually evolved into a triple bypass. She fell down the steps at her home and broke her back, and the dementia set it not long afterward.
For a while, mom was having short term memory loss, but she was still as sharp as ever. She would babysit Kevin and Julia when Kyle and Erik had sports events, and they loved seeing mom at the house. Mom spoiled them, of course, bringing junk food and letting them play on her tablet. A year or so later, she was forgetting people, places, and things. Then, in 2018, we decided she needed to be placed in an assisted living facility, which was the most difficult decision of our lives.
Mom still recognized me and my siblings when we came to visit, but she was sometimes unclear with the grandchildren. Mom was still mom, but she didn’t have that spark as much anymore. It’s very difficult to watch a parent deteriorate, but we thought she still had a lot of time left.
The broken hip certainly didn’t help, and her dementia all but determined she would not be able to do the rehab.That said, we didn’t expect the doctors to tell us she would need to be moved to hospice. (Apparently anesthesia makes dementia symptoms much worse.) Allison and I went to see her that evening, and the staff set up mom with a morphine drip. She was in excruciating pain, and the hospice figured it was better to keep her comfortable. She never opened her eyes or spoke to us, but we hoped she knew we were there.
Allison and I took 12-hour shifts for the duration. She went in from 8a-8p and I took the overnight shift. We were literally watching her die; something I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
If something happened, we didn’t want mom dying alone. I said goodbye to mom before I left every day, in case I wasn’t able to see her again. I’m not good at these things, and didn’t know what to say. I touched her arm, told her I loved her, and said everything will be alright. I also said her mom and dad were waiting to welcome her into Heaven.
On Friday evening the nurses were going to give mom a bath. Allison said people in hospices often pass away after baths; it’s the shock of it, mostly. Allison went home – she was exhausted – and I went into the hallway while they took care of mom. I was sitting on a chair when one of the nurses came toward me. I knew it before she spoke. “I’m sorry, but your mom died while we were giving her the bath.”
For some reason, I just said, “Okay.” I wasn’t processing what happened, or I wasn’t accepting it. The staff were great for this week-long ordeal, and they were trying to comfort me. Still, all I could respond was, “Okay.” They cleaned mom up, and prepared her on the bed with dignity. They said I could go in and see her, and when I asked how long I could have, they replied, “As long as you need.”
I walked in to the room, and mom was lying there, eyes closed. I started sobbing and walked over to her, saying, “I love you, Mom” over and over again. I tried to gain my composure and I called Allison. She knew the second she picked up the phone. I told her to stay home, because she wouldn’t want to see mom like this. I knelt on the floor, said the “Our Father” and begged God to take her into His Kingdom. I stood up, packed our things, held mom’s hand for a bit, said goodbye, and left.
The staff were at the front desk, and one of them asked if I needed a ride home. Apparently I was shaking and I didn’t realize it. I assured them I was okay, and drove myself back to Philadelphia, promising to call the hospice to let them know I got home okay. To be honest, I don’t remember the drive. I know I was driving, but everything was a blue.
At times like these, I second-guess anything and everything I have ever done. Was I a good son? Am I a good father? Should we have taken mom in instead of placing her into a home? Could I have done something to offset the dementia? I continue to think I could have done more. I could have visited her more, or I could have told her I loved her more. Or I could have skipped work and sat in her room for the weekend.
I’m the oldest child, so I feel like this falls on me.
My mother would not have wanted to live like this; addled with dementia and not remembering friends and family. Living in constant pain from a broken hip which cannot be rehabilitated. My only respite is toward the end, she continually asked for her parents and her Aunt Betty. Much of her short term memory was gone, but all her childhood memories were still intact. She had a good life and a great family growing up, and I hope those visions kept her somewhat happy.
It’s very odd, even as a fifty-something, to realize both your parents are dead. You always expect them to be there, and in a snap, they’re gone.
I love you, mom. Your suffering is over, and you are headed to a much better place.
Considering the circumstances, I’ll be taking today and maybe tomorrow – the day of the viewing – off. I’ll try to post a few things if I’m not running around, helping my sister get mom’s things into order.