Monday, March 31, 2014

My Eulogy for My Mother

I want to share with you today a journey I have taken for the past 63 years with my Mother, Evelyn Lois Doughty Reynolds.  This journey is full of stories that, in some cases, are only my stories; but also my journey certainly includes scenes many of those who knew her as sis, Nana, Aunt, or just Lois will readily recognize.  I know my brother Mike has stories of a journey with her that are very different from mine, partly because he is eight years younger than I and mostly because for the past 45 years, he has lived in the same small town and supported his Mom while I have been far away and absent, save occasional, short visits.  And let me add, for all those years of being her near-by, go-to source of help and support, I will be eternally grateful to Mike.

Whether you knew my Mother deeply or just peripherally, you must know that hers was often a difficult and sometimes even unhappy life.  Over fifty years of chronic illnesses, at least two-plus years of her life spent in hospital beds, and probably one-third or more of her life spent in daily pain of varying amounts took a toll on her and on any one around her.  On top of that, she was handed a divorce after 37 years of a rocky, yet still important-to-her marriage and then faced 25 more years of living alone and in some bitterness that never totally dissipated.

From my own observations and confirmed by her sister Kathy, Mother was always a sweet, shy, and very introverted person, Many of us know that as she grew older, she became almost a hermit -- both due to her declining health and to her unwillingness to reach out and create new friendships as valued, older ones disappeared.  My sense is that for most of her life, she was a person who built up expectations and dreams in her mind that all too often did not come true, leading to much disappointment, self-doubt, depression, and sometimes even deep anger that lashed out its ugly head at those she loved most.  My Mother created pictures of what relationships should be, be it with her husband, her sons, her sisters, her friends, and later, even her grandchildren; and when the realities could never meet those internally-created dreams, she sometimes and again increasingly felt betrayed by life.

I tell (and/or remind) you all of this in order to put some perspective on aspects of my Mom that some of you may have experienced but not totally understood as she got more and more sick and isolated in the past number of years.  I also say these words aloud to you today in order personally to let go of those aspects of my Mom.  I want to put these away in a sealed envelope where they will not be my everyday memory of her.  In the past six weeks since her death, I have realized that this is not the Mom I want to remember the rest of my life.  Rather, I want now to tell you about whom I will always remember and miss and appreciate.

The Mother I will remember is the person who was my best friend during all my growing up years.  Until I was twelve, she was active, vibrant, usually happy, and mostly healthy; and she was central to every day of my then life.  She was whom when I came home every day after school listened seemingly enthralled as I told almost every minute of my day at school, as I sang every new song learned, and as I retold in great detail and aplomb stories we had read or heard read that day – all done as I sat in the kitchen on a stool while she cooked dinner.  That rotating seat on the stool must have made a million revolutions over the years as I recounted the events of my life to my biggest fan and did so all the way through high school.

From my mom in those years, I learned to be much of who I am today.  My love of reading and books came because she early on she not only read to me for hours, but also introduced me to our public library. She also liked my reading to her as she cooked and worked or later, as she spent sometimes weeks in bed like the three months she was bed-bound while pregnant with my brother.  My diligence to schoolwork and subsequent straight A’s were fostered because she had the patience and willingness to drill me on my spelling words, my times tables, and later, my history facts, the periodic table symbols, and even the Latin vocabulary to be learned.  My love of board games came directly from all the time the two of us played games (most of which I somehow always seemed to win) – a passion my sons will pass to their someday kids.  I picked up a desire to create table settings and to entertain from a Mom who let me take the Scotts, embossed napkins and then to use Crayolas to outline and enhance in wonderful, loud colors those napkins – all of which she would proudly use at family gatherings and celebrations.  I learned countless kitchen tricks and methods by just watching her in all those hours I spent with her in the kitchen (where I always studied up until I left home), all of which inform my love and techniques of cooking today.

Mother was always making things with her hands and could have in another life been a crafts artist by profession with the proper training.  Her skills of decoupage, shadow boxes, sewing, flower arranging, cake decorating, etc. etc., continued and increased for many decades.  Our many joint projects at the kitchen table imbued me with a fondness (if not actual skills) for drawing, arranging flowers, and even creating table decorations for a bar mitzvah or 50th wedding anniversary celebrations.

My willingness to make the best out of whatever came my way I think goes back to my having more and more to pick up at the age of barely eight the everyday house chores like cleaning toilets and tubs, ironing all our clothes, and even fixing some of our meals while my Mom was bed-ridden during pregnancy.  But she often at that time made it an adventure for me as she would lie on the couch or bed or sit weakly at the kitchen table and talk to me about everything as I did the grown-up chores – school, world events, the latest thing I had read.  And even my innate ability to design meetings and events for my clients (or for ten years of Cub Scout den and pack meetings) has to go back to our co-creating elaborate parties that I would put on for youth groups at our church – events we would plan for weeks such as a TV game party (think homemade Jeopardy board with all the categories and questions or Password clues or Match Game set ups) or an elaborate Haunted House that we did in our church basement that I am sure the Southern Baptist minister was a bit shocked when he went through, guided by me as a Dracula in full costume and make-up made by my Mom.

But what I really owe to my Mom in terms of who I am today is due to all the many battles she bravely fought on my behalf, year in and year out.  Examples started early in my life.

I loved to play house as a young boy of four.  All I wanted was a set of my own dishes.  My mother gave me a box of old ones from her own kitchen, but I wanted so badly one of the boxed, beautifully colored toy sets from Woolworths.  I got such a set under the tree one December.  My father, not unlike many 1950s fathers would have done, threw a fit and said they had to go back.  As I wondered why and how Santa would do such a thing as come back for them, I left the room in tears (something that I did many times for the next dozen years in such situations) with the tension very high in the room.  The raised voices and slamming door scared me at the time; but in the end, I got to play house all I wanted.  The same happened thing happened a year or two later when I wanted (and eventually got) paper dolls (think Blondie & Dagwood and Archie comic characters).

And then there was the year I decided to take all our previous year’s Christmas cards and cut them out to create decorations that I hung all around my room and on bedroom door  -- complete with tinsel and icicles.  When I heard them being ripped down as my father proclaimed that they looked ridiculous and what would guests coming over that night think, I was devastated.  I had thought the room was beautiful.  The next day, my Mother spent hours while I was at school creating new decorations and then had them up and waiting when I got home.  Those never came down, and she and I created even gaudier decorations together for several more years to come.

And such background (and often foreground) battles continued but over issues that shaped in even more fundamental ways who I am today.  Because of my Mom’s persistence, I was able to take six years of private voice lessons in junior and high school, with the first year’s fees coming from her allotted grocery and household money.  Those lessons gave me the training and confidence to sing solos and to be in various ensembles in many venues around our town in my high school years as well as to learn to sight sing and led to many choir and choral memberships up through today.  It took two years, but finally by the eighth grade I got a clarinet and was able to take band lessons.  Two years later, I was first-chair in our high school band.  Repeat the same story for the speech and debate club, for the Thespians, for being able to attend high school dances, for going a choir tour – the no’s were turned into reluctant acquiescence because of a Mother who wanted her son to have every opportunity he could to be who he wanted to be.

The ultimate was a major battle that went on for weeks concerning where I would go to college.  My desire to go to a large campus on the other side of the state rather than to live at home and commute to a near-by school was accomplished because I had an advocate who put time and again everything on the line in a relationship where she was overall powerless.  She gave up possible victories for herself to be sure I got some very important to me.  Going to the University of Tennessee and its campus that was three times the size of my hometown opened up many new worlds for me beyond just the academic aspects and enabled my to find my voice, to be a leader, and to walk through new doors.  I now know all of these things happened for me because of a Mother who was not sure why these things were so important to me but who wanted to be sure that I had a chance to see where they would lead me.

So much of who I am today and what I like to do today I can now see trace either to experiences I had one-on-one with my Mom as a young boy or to interventions where she prevailed against huge odds.  My love to cook, to entertain, to sing, to design and to plan -- all come from her.

But also I am sure other aspects so core to me came from her because I wanted to live some of the dreams she could not.  I have extreme optimism; many might say I am a Pollyanna.  I have learned never to let adversity to stop me from living every day to its fullest and even to push my (and others’) boundaries to be sure that is so.  My strong desire to travel, to have adventure, to see live theatre, to do new things -- I believe these are so core to me because I wanted to do so many of the things my Mother always told me she wanted to do and which we would often fantasize about doing.  And I think she encouraged and nourished early on those very qualities and dreams in me because at some level, she wanted to be sure I did live that life that she was only able to imagine and dream about.

So, my now-long story gives you a flavor of whom I am remembering today and will be remembering tomorrow and beyond.  I see today that younger, smiling, high energy and often mildly devious scheming partner and close companion who sent me off each morning with hugs and a promise to remember everything that happened and to tell her all of it when I next saw her.

And from this day on, I am going to remember my Mom as Evelyn Lois Doughty, period.  She was so proud of her Doughty heritage and loved so much her parents and her sisters.  I carry a lot of that Irish Doughty in me:  the reddish hair, light and freckled skin, the ugly ‘Doughty knees,’ and as Joyce and Ed (and others) can attest, the Doughty stubbornness.  Her father has always been my male role model.  Her mother was my teenage confidant (and my fiercest Scrabble rival).  Her sisters and their families were the sources of many, happiest childhood memories; and my Aunt Kathy has been a second Mom for me all my adult life.  The Reynolds part of my Mom’s being brought her the sons she always adored and eventually the grandchildren she worshipped, but I am going to remember and honor the Doughty side that really made me who I am today.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

It is springtime

It is the first day of spring here on the university campus in Palo Alto, California. It is a warm sunny day… ideal to sit out with you shirt off and study with your Apple Mac in your hand. After all, it is winter quarter finals week.
Networking in the Engineering Quad

Friday, March 07, 2014

First Round

Getting some "folfox" chemotherapy.
I have just about finished my first round of twenty-six treatments of chemotherapy (6 months).  So far, it is going OK. The side effects are relatively minor. But I hear that the constant rounds of chemo really beat down one’s system.

The hardest part was leaving the house for my appointment at the infusion clinic where the chemotherapy is administered. I was fussing around trying to gather up a bag of stuff to have while I sit in the clinic. Book, iPhone, and notebook. But I couldn’t find my earbuds and I started to lose it. Eddie came over to hug me and I burst into tears. I didn’t want to go. This was going to make the diagnosis too real: Chemotherapy for stage 4 cancer of the lungs.

Infusion bottle attached to
my chemo port.
The treatment itself wasn’t painful or uncomfortable, just long. Once I am hooked-up with all the IV tubes and bags, I set there for hours while the drugs slowly drip into me. The previous week, I had a chemo port implanted into my upper chest. The nurse just taps into that instead of a traditional IV setup in my arm. At the end of my session, the nurse changes the IV drip bags for a chemotherapy infusion bottle. I stay attached to it for 3 days of constant drip.

My husband’s comments about my progress and status so far:
Ed is in now Day 10 of his first 14-day chemo cycle.  He received the drugs in Days 1-3.  So far this first round, the side effects have been fairly minimal.  He has only had a few minor waves of nausea that quickly go away with a couple of Saltines and a anti-nausea pill.  His hands are very susceptible to cold, so he cannot put his hands into a refrigerator without gloves on and even wears them when he is feeling a bit cool around the house.  

He cannot drink or eat anything really cold because it would feel like glass going down his throat.  He can eat nothing that is not cooked unless it has been something that was peeled.  (So, no salads, raw veggies, berries or grapes, sushi, rare or undercooked meats or seafood, e.g.)  That is because of the risk of contamination when his white blood count is down from the chemo.  In addition, I have been giving him a shot each night to fight the deterioration of white blood cells.

But, he is working every day, even starting on Day 2.  He is now walking to work (2 miles each way), and we just went for a 3-mile run today on our local Baylands park trail.

Next round starts next Thursday.  This will go on at least through August.  We are pretty sure (based on reports from others) that some side effects and feelings of being tired my increase in later rounds, but we will just have to wait and see.

We plan to still do our theatre, ballet, etc. as much as possible.  He will just wear a mask when in big crowds. (We are looking around now for the sexiest, most fashionable one, LOL.)

So that's the update.  Every day at this point is a bit anticipatory to see what happens next (or not).  He goes up and down in moods, but I am doing all I can to keep him focused on normalcy and on being positive.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...