I had intended to write this article and publish it for Mother’s Day this year…….. But alas, we were wrapped up in travel plans, then travel for most of April, and the thought, the time, and the writing never took place…….
I could wait until next Mother’s Day, and release it then… but if you know me, you know my saying… “You never know when they are going to call in your chips.” Hell, we don’t know what tomorrow brings, so you’ve got to do things today. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.
You may think that is a morbid way to live, but it’s just the opposite. I do more, accomplish more, enjoy more and live more than many people combined. Why? Perhaps it’s because I know how short life can be. I have now outlived my own mother by 3 years. LIFE…IS…SHORT! I never want to look back and say “I should have.” “I could have.” Or “I wish I had.”
I believe FULLY in taking life by the tail and getting the most out of it EVERY SINGLE DAY. I often have people look at my schedule and ask me if I ever sleep. Often, when I have exciting things to do, a lot on my plate and a busy schedule, honestly—— I don’t sleep much. I can go weeks on end with 3 or 4 hours sleep. I figure that at some point I’m going to have an extremely long time to sleep… as in eternity…. so I’ll catch up on it then! For me, typically, every day is a busy day. That’s how I love to live my life. After all—-as I said previously—- you never know when they are going to call in your chips!
A few months ago, in sorting through some things after our move, I came across a photo album I keep with mementos about my mom. Jane Clark. Her birth name had actually been Jane Hatheway, until she married my father at the ripe old age of 18. To say my parents had a tumultuous relationship would be putting it kindly! YIKES- those two fought like I’ve never seen anyone fight……. (But that’s another story for another day. Getting married at 18 probably isn’t the #1 best idea in life either….)
My mom died when I was 22, after fighting cancer for about 8 1/2 years. I remember when she came home one afternoon, while I was in Jr. High and told me the doctors had told her she had cancer, and only had a few months to live. Of course, my first thought was “what happens to me?” (Thank you teen age years for putting myself before everyone else!)
A Long and Difficult Battle….
That is when the fight began. Mom began a long, difficult and painful fight with cancer. The cancer she started out with wasn’t the cancer that ultimately killed her. She was originally diagnosed with Lymphoma, but she picked up a second cancer, Leukemia, along the way, and that was the eventual ending battle of her life.
Throughout those last years though, my mom helped SO many others in their last stages of life. 38 years ago, hospice wasn’t allowed into hospitals. Dying was treated differently. We had to “buck up” and take care of one another. No matter how sick she was herself, my mom was right there, making certain that WHATEVER her friends needed in their last days, they got it!
For one friend, it was important that she had some nice lingerie and a sexy nightie. Jane provided those things. Some may have thought that at that stage of the game lingerie and nighties weren’t important. She didn’t question it. It was her friends’ desire, and that was all Jane needed to know. For another friend, it might be a specific dish they wanted to eat before they died. She made sure they got it, even if she had to sneak it into the hospital. There comes a time when needs are far more than “medical.” Those needs are often more important than the medicines, the treatments or the “rules.”
The “Dress Rehearsal”
My mom had been in and out of the hospital so many times in the 8 plus years that I couldn’t even begin to count them. In October 1979 I went on a last minute 1 week trip to Hawaii. While I was gone my sisters told me that they were giving an open house for my mom the day after I returned from the trip. I wondered why they couldn’t just wait a week, so that I could help more with it. My mom insisted that it happen THAT Sunday. She went in the hospital the day after the party and never came back out. SHE KNEW it had to happen then, or it never would.
When the end was near for our mom, we wanted to make sure someone was with her all the time so she didn’t die alone. One of us always spent the night at the hospital for the last few months she was there.
My mom longed to see a local hospice in the area – which could help people like her in their last days. I remember attending talks by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross with my mom, learning about the 5 stages of death, and what other countries were doing for their dying. Kubler-Ross was a pioneer in the hospice movement in the United States back in the ’70’s. Our country was, and still is so far behind how other countries deal with death and dying.
“It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth – and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up, we will then begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had. “ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Because of my mom’s frustration with the lack of hospice care, she started the ball rolling to get a local hospice formed. After my mom’s death, my two sisters and I helped to bring to fruition a hospice to the Fox Valley. That hospice served my dad a number of years later when he died.
The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree…
In the album of mementos I have poems and stories written about her. Reading them, I thought how great it would be to write an article about her. And of course, Mother’s Day would have been a fabulous time to publish it. Or perhaps her birthday, which is September 16th…. or perhaps, just whenever I get around to getting the damn thing done… Yes. That’s probably EXACTLY when I’ll get it out. Whenever it is finished. Because THAT is the kind of organized I am.
No Plain Jane
In the memento book is a poem. I have no idea who wrote it, or if it was, indeed, written expressly about my mom. In trying to find it on Google, I can’t, so I assume someone wrote it about my mom. Sorry I can’t attribute it to the right person! Here goes:
No Plain Jane
I know a Jane,
Who isn’t plain
As any heart should see…
She’s more fair than a rose
That in Springtime grows
Yes, she’s beautiful to me.
For Beauty is in the face of love
And lovely is beauty’s name….
And ti’s love that lights the smile
That shines in the face of Jane.
Call other Jane’s plain— if you insist
But please don’t include our Jane.
For many a lovely thing is she
And one thing she isn’t is “plain.”
During the years my mom was ill, we were very involved in an organization called Make Today Count. It had been started by a man named Orville Kelly, who had Lymphoma. He formed a support group so that people could find support among others who had long-term or life threatening illnesses. Family members were also encouraged to attend. I don’t know how I would have gotten through my mother’s illness and subsequent death, if we hadn’t had this resource at the time. (At the time of my mother’s illness there were at least 140 chapters across the United States. I believe that a handful are still active, one of them being here in San Diego.)
In our Make Today Count chapter, there was a woman I befriended named Kay Catlin. Kay’s journey was just a few months ahead of mine. Her mother, also a cancer victim, died about 6 months before my mother did. I would often talk to Kay to see if my feelings, my emotions and my journey were unusual—- typically to be told that she had experienced exactly the same reactions to her mother’s illness.
Kay became a writer, and wrote a story about my mother, which was published in the Chicago Tribune on May 7, 1980. Kay wrote the story and gave it to our family at my mother’s memorial service, just a week after my mother’s death, which was December 21, 1979. We felt so honored to have this wonderful story about my mother published in a major newspaper.
Having lost contact with Kay many years ago, when I found the article I contacted Kay and asked if I could publish it here in this blog, and she graciously gave me permission. Ties that are made in a situation like we were in many, many years ago still hold, as was demonstrated when I contacted Kay.
Following is the story as Kay originally wrote it and gave it to us. It was edited some, and the tenses changed for the Chicago Tribune final article.
The Dying of Jane by Kay Catlin
The screen door ricocheted shut one final time. The party was over: the last guest had left. But before the weary hostess could call it a night, there was one more thing to do.
Jane draped her tiny frame across the painted rattan chaise and slipped her hand int the “everything” basket lying next to her on the floor. As she pulled out the tattered list of name and numbers, the freshly signed guest register was brought to her.
Methodically, Jane compared the “invited” names to the “attended” ones. By the time she was finished, it was clear triumph was in her corner.
“Look at that, would ya’, just look at that,” she said turning to her youngest daughter. (That would be me, by the way, just sayin’!) Look, only eight didn’t show. That’s pretty good…. real good.” Jane was satisfied.
But in spite of her social coup, Jane’s, thought turned quickly back to the eight no-shows. One by one she recited their reasons for being elsewhere. The first had to work. The next two had previously scheduled meetings, and besides the family of four who lived too far away, the only other people who couldn’t make it had car trouble. That settled it then. Everyone was accounted for.
Things like that matter to Jane. She is the original party person. Even mere acquaintances know she’ll be at any function someone bothers to call a party. It doesn’t matter what the reason or where it’s held. If there’s a party, Jane will be there even if she’s dying.
And this time she was. Dying, that is.
Dying is nothing new to Jane. Her doctors say she has been doing that ever since she was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer seven years ago at age fifty. As a matter of fact, Jane was handed a less-than-a-month-to-go death sentence in 1973 only moments before she was advised not to take a scheduled Florida vacation to visit her parents. The doctor said she’d come back in a box. Jane went anyway, and looking back, glad she’s glad she did. It was the last time she saw her mother, who, at the same time was dying from cancer.
Jane didn’t come back in a box, and the doctor who told her not to go has since died himself from cancer. Instead, Jane enjoyed her trip and, upon returning, decided the one thing she had to do was learn how to live with her disease so if one of her five children ever got cancer, “they’d know how to handle it.”
That was a mighty big order for someone recently divorced who had to keep on working in spite of pain, exhaustion, radiation treatments and chemotherapy. But she says she was too busy living to be bothered with dying. Besides, she had some pretty fail-safe logic going for her. she figured it was a lot harder to die standing up. As long as she could stay off the couch and on her feet, she had the odds beat. No one was going to catch her lying down long enough to die.
And they didn’t.
Between her once a month trips to Mayo’s from her suburban West Chicago home and her accounting job, Jane was terribly busy. She’d fly up to Rochester, Minnesota, on a Thursday night and check into the clinic Friday morning. Saturday afternoons she’d fly back, and by Monday morning it was business as usual. Jane would make up time lost at her job by working Saturdays and week nights. Then, when she got caught up, the whole cycle would begin again. But she never missed a day’s work, and that’s something she’s still quite proud of.
The way Jane tells it, the whole first year was more like a piece of cake than the parcel of hell it really was. Pressed, she will relate stories of the many nights she and her only still-home child would stay up trying to temper the excruciating pan of muscle spasms. She will talk about the days she would pray for the phone not to ring, so she wouldn’t have to reach for it. But those aren’t the things she likes to concentrate on now. Jane would much rather tell someone about all the things she did do, the good times, than dwell on the horror of it all. Even under pressure, she is an artful dodger of gloom. Any further questions about the endless nights and uncertain, painful days, she brushes off with, “I didn’t worry about any of it. I’d just call my sister-in-law and tell her to start praying. Then I’d turn the rest over to the doctors and let them do their thing. It worked every time.” And somehow, it did work…….. every time.
No, it hasn’t ever been Jane’s style to worry about herself. In the face of hardship, she is more likely to light up one in an endless chain of Newports, lean back, and give vent to another positive thought. She even has a pat answer for all those cigarettes. “Well, they can’t tell me I’m going to get cancer anymore, can they?” So, I figure if I’m going to die, I might as well not be nervous about it.” Good ol’ Jane!
In-spite of her logic, Jane was doing well until 1975 when her boss quit. A new comptroller took over who was bent on getting rid of everyone. Not a person to be trifled with, Jane saw what was coming and got rid of herself. “I couldn’t take that ass one more day, so I blew” is how she puts it. (BTW- side-note, I can STILL remember my mother venting about the new boss and what an unreasonable and horrible jerk he was! That was my senior year of high-school!)
As she told of quitting her job, Jane suddenly looked down and then slowly turned her gaze upwards again. Pointing her finger to punctuate yet another point, she said, “THAT hurt me more than anything.”
She couldn’t get another job. It didn’t matter that she was well qualified or willing to work, or desperately needed insurance. What mattered was that Jane had cancer. As far as the job market was concerned, Jane was already dead.
In spite of the fact that she faced rejection almost constantly, Jane continued to look for a job, any job. She needed reason to stay standing up. Once, she even came close to getting employed. The owner of a marketing firm didn’t so much as blink an eye when she told him, as she told everyone, that she had cancer. She would be employed and insured anyway. No questions asked. But the man died before the deal went through. It was cancer that got him.
Jane didn’t work again until March of 1977. She had heard about a CETA job and, when she found two bosses who were willing to look away from her illness and toward her qualifications, she was hired. The job instantly became like new life blood to her. She still feels if she hadn’t landed that job, any job, she would have lain down right then and died.
She worked well and steadily until July. Then she became inexplicably weak, unable to wash or dress herself. She went back to Mayo’s for a check-up and two days of transfusions, but came home having received even more. A new diagnosis: Chronic Leukemia.
That’s not to say Jane had been undergoing treatments for the wrong disease all along. She just had them both lymphoma and leukemia. Snake eyes.
Jane went back to work almost immediately and tried to keep up. She had to. The doctors’ bills alone were breaking her financially even when the paychecks were steady. But there were intermittent hospitalizations, days off here and there. By March of 1978 the word had filtered down. Any more days off and she would be out.
A few weeks later, Jane was in too much pain to report for work. She had reached too suddenly for something; that’s all. Two ribs, brittle from years of cancer therapy, snapped, and with them went everything. (I can’t tell you how many times my mom broke a bone by simply riding in the car and hitting a bump, standing up from a chair, or other simple things we do on a daily basis. It was awful!)
Or so she thought.
With her body literally hunched in pain, Jane had someone drive her to and from job interviews when she wasn’t in the hospital. She knew she needed to get out of bed or she would die. All she wanted was “to push a pencil somewhere.” Her mind didn’t have cancer, after all.
On February 15, 1979 she landed her last job. Each day, one of her children would take her to work and pick her up again in the evening. It was tough going, but she was needed again. There was a reason to get off that couch.
That lasted until April 6th. Jane went back into the hospital then and wasn’t released until July 6th. Two days later, she was back at work. For a few weeks, she pushed her pencil until on Friday afternoon when she found herself breathless from pain. It was all over.
During the past months, Jane has only been out of the hospital for a few days at a time. Each reprieve from doctors’ whites and intravenous drip coincided with one thing and one thing only—- a party. She made them all. (Again, I told you this apple didn’t fall from the “Jane tree!” My mom never missed a party and neither do I!)
But her party days are dwindling and she knows it. When her leukemia turned from chronic to acute over Labor Day and her disability and Medicare benefits were cut off in October because she had worked three days too many the year before, she was beaten. Forced to apply for Public Aid, this fiercely independent woman was given two choices one afternoon by her doctors. She could either die outright or go through a painful bone marrow transplant, isolation and Chemotherapy program and probably die anyway. What to do….
Jane decided she was going to go out trying and endorsed the treatments Then she went home to make her funeral plans.
Already having donated her body to science when she was first diagnosed, Jane worked calmly and methodically on all the other arrangements. She secured the church, talked to the ministers, and had someone come over with sheet music. Together they looked for “A King is Coming” and “He Touched Me.” Because she wants those two songs sung by everyone at her memorial service, copies had to be made ahead of time. Jane knew where she could get it done cheap.
She then named a charity for donations and instructed everyone she met not to send flowers. “That’s like getting buried,” she said. “Never could see throwing money away on being put in the ground and having a bunch of flowers around.” I want the kids to take what I give them and blow it. I want people to have a good time with what they got.” And no one argued.
Jane then called her family together and worked out the nitty-gritty plans for the party afterwards, They were to feed everyone and then go back to the house and have a family party like they always did. “I want them to play poker, do some charades, and laugh a lot. If they have to sit around reminiscing, I want them to remember the crazy things, the fun things.” Then a devilish grin spread over her emaciated face as she added, “And they all know—- I’ve told them ever since I knew I was dying— that I’ll come back and haunt them if they don’t do what I say.”
With the family still around, Jane parceled out her promised possessions. She took pictures off the wall, rings off her fingers, and held a drawing for her remaining treasures. She sorted out photos and mementos, and gave each adult child his own picture laden history book. She signed over her stocks, gave away her car, and then took out the insurance policies. Each had been carefully studied, filled out, and stamped.
Then Jane sat back in relief ready to reminisce. Since she had sold her home to one of the children a while back, all she had to do was die. Everything else was done.
That’s when the idea set in.
Jane’s eldest daughter thought as long as everything was taken care of ahead of time, they might as well have a party now, the kind of party people usually have after the funeral, but this one would be before while her mother could enjoy it. After all, Jane wouldn’t want to miss a good party for anything. Why should she have to die for one last reason to celebrate?
So, while she was home for a brief, uncertain stay waiting for her body to become strong enough to give her at least a fighting chance to survive the treatments, her children called together 80 or 90 of Jane’s closest friends. People came steadily from late afternoon on to pay their respects, say their goodbyes and share a laugh with the still living. Jane was clearly on a mental high through the tiring, day-long affair. She was having the time of her life playing the queen once more. (Interesting, isn’t it that this was nearly 40 years ago, and my mother was referred to as “the queen.” Now, here I am- The Queen of Damn Near Everything!”)
A week later, she herself would call the party a dress rehearsal for the memorial service and casually remark that only eight people didn’t show.
Now Jane waits to return to the hospital, knowing she probably won’t come out alive. She exhibits fear only when she refers to the painful, “worst ever” treatments she has to face. It is not difficult to believe her when she says, “Some things are worse than dying, you know.”
(Jane Clark of West Chicago, Illinois, died December 21 1979, without having undergone the bone marrow transplant. The rest of the details are unimportant. She just died with the same dignity she had known in life. That’s all. End
There were a few things very interesting about my mother’s last weeks (about 9 of them), while she was in the hospital. My mother was a feisty little ball of fire, and you ALWAYS knew where things stood with her. She wasn’t technically “in a coma”- but there were weeks where she basically laid and slept, not really talking to anyone.
We told her sister, my Aunt Pat, that if she wanted to see mom again, she’d better get here for a visit. I never thought of my Aunt Pat as weak, but my mom must have understood her in a way we couldn’t. When my Aunt Pat came into the hospital room for her visit, upon arrival, my mom sat up, had a conversation with her, then laid back down. The next morning Aunt Pat came back in, mom had another lovely conversation with her, and my Aunt left for home, saying “She doesn’t look too bad to me.”
We were all mystified at how amazing my mom looked and sounded while Aunt Pat was there. Later we understood that mom knew that my Aunt couldn’t have taken seeing her sister in an almost “vegetative” state, and did what was needed to help Aunt Pat get through it.
There were also a few times that my mom sat up, called out “Mom” and reached for someone unseen, with such a peaceful look on her face
Then the story that some people think is “just horrible”- but was my mom’s and my personality to a T…… Mom hadn’t spoken for weeks—- probably since Aunt Pat’s visit, and I went to the hosipital after work, just days before her death. I was wearing Tabu perfume, a heavy scent popular in the 80’s. As I leaned down to kiss her, out of the blue mom mumbled, “What’s that perfume?” I told her and she responded, “Don’t ever wear that again, you smell like a French whore.” That’s the last thing my mom ever said to me! I laugh about it, and let me tell you…… when I get into an elevator with someone wearing that perfume….. to this day, do you know how hard it is not to repeat that line to them????? Often, when I share that story, people are absolutely AGHAST that this would be our last conversation. Not me though!
The other great story about “The Dying of Jane” was that it was UBER IMPORTANT to my mom that she not be buried. She wanted to donate any organ possible, then donate her body to science so that others might learn from her body and prevent others in the future from enduring cancer such as hers. (Once you’ve gone through all the cancer treatments my mom went through, not too many organs are viable, unfortunately. We had learned that the only organ which could be donated at that point were mom’s eyes.) My mom had always been ADAMENT that not one cent should go toward a burial. Back then, not too many people got cremated.
Well, the end was obviously VERY close, and we happened to call the family friend who owned the funeral home, and was going to help us with my mom’s details. When we spoke to him, he told us that if my mom didn’t die that afternoon by about 4:30, she’d either have to hold out until the next Wednesday, or her body and organs wouldn’t be able to be donated, due to the weekend and holiday. (Can you believe it? Back then, organ donation was more of a 9-5 Monday through Friday kind of business.) I think it was about 3:15 when we got this news, so we leaned over my mom and said, “Hey mom, we’ve got some bad news we just found out. Bruce told us that if you don’t die today by about 4:30, you have to hold out through Christmas, and wait until the day after, or they won’t take your body and eyes. You will need to be buried.” My mom died at 4:30 PM that day.
When Jane had a plan NO ONE was going to screw it up if she had anything to do with it!
Again, when I’ve told that story to some people, they can’t believe we would tell our mom she needed to either die or hold out. Let me tell you, you didn’t want to cross Jane Clark, and had she not been told once we knew the details, she probably WOULD have come back to haunt us for not getting the body donated!
My mom lived a certain way, and she died the same way—- parties planned and attended and details acted on, down to the last detail!
When we had my mom’s memorial service my oldest sister Sharon read a beautiful poem that pretty well summed up my mom, and the way she chose to die. I’ll share it:
“To Remember Me…”
The day will come when my body will lie upon a white sheet neatly tucked under four corners of a mattress located in a hospital busily occupied with the living and the dying. At a certain moment a doctor will determine that my brain has ceased to function and that, for all intents and purposes, my life has stopped.
When that happens, do not attempt to instill artificial life into my body by the use of a machine. And don’t call this my deathbed. Let it be called the Bed of Life, and let my body be taken from it to help others lead fuller lives.
Give my sight to the man who has never seen a sunrise, a baby’s face or love in the eyes of a woman. Give my heart to a person whose own heart has caused nothing but endless days of pain. Give my blood to the teenager who was pulled from the wreckage of his car, so that he might live to see his grandchildren play. give my kidneys to one who depends on a machine to exist from week to week. Take my bones, every muscle, every fiber and nerve in my body and find a way to make a crippled child walk.
Explore every corner of my brain. Take my cells, if necessary and let them grow so that, someday,a speechless boy will shout at the crack of a bat and a deaf girl will hear the sound of rain against her window.
Burn what is left of me and scatter the ashes to the winds to help the flowers grow.
If you must bury something, let it be my faults, my weaknesses and all my prejudice against my fellow man.
Give my sins to the devil. Give my soul to God.
If, by chance, you wish to remember me, do it with a kind deed or word to someone who needs you. If you do all I have asked I will live forever.
—- Robert N. Test in Cincinnati Post
Would you like to leave a legacy after you are gone? You need to plan ahead. Here are a few interesting articles that might help you figure out what would work best for your desires.
For info on donating your organs, go to: https://www.organdonor.gov/about/process/deceased-donation.html
For info on donating your body to science check out this article:https://www.wikihow.com/Donate-Your-Body-to-Science