With the awakening of losing my parents one day a real close reality, I set out to talk to Toni who lost her mother nearly three years ago. I remember Toni and how often her time was split between taking care of her own family, foster children and running back and forth to her parent’s home and doctor visit. When I first interviewed Toni, it was for my (5 Things) project and I was at a very different time in my life. I was caring for my mother who was diagnosed nearly three years earlier with Frontal Temporal Degenerative Dementia. I was torn up in side and I told myself that I did not have the same relationship with my mother as Toni did with hers, and there is some truth to that, yes. Since setting my mother up in a nursing home, I have a weight that I carry along with me. It may not always be on the surface with immediate thoughts and tears, but in nightmare forms where I wake up remembering the truth that I don’t have a mama to call when the kids have something exciting going on. I can be honest now that my hurt is very real and I admire Toni's story because it is real and honest. I wanted to sit down with Toni to get her insight into how loosing parent can affect one’s mental health.
Sara: So, first and foremost, how long ago did she pass?
Toni: It was two years ago, June 12.
Sara: Fairly recent then, she was pretty young (especially as we see many individuals living to well into their 90s).
Toni: Yeah, she turned 69 on June 8 and she passed away June 12th. My mom and I were extremely close, and we were extremely alike even to the point of where we looked alike, and we acted alike with the same mannerisms. It's been that way my whole life, not to say that we didn't butt heads as teenagers and stuff like that, all kids and parents do that. Especially in my adult years, she was my go-to person for literally everything, We talked three times a day on the phone (every morning, sometimes in the afternoon and then every night before bed). That was just something we always did, even if we were on vacation or something, and some days it felt like a chore. It's like “oh gotta call my mom”, but more times than not, it was “oh I can't wait to tell my mom this”. For instance, if I had to figure out what should I make for people that are coming over, call my mom. Oh, how am I going to handle Hope (her daughter), call my mom, and she was wise counsel. She was a wonderful friend, a wonderful mom, a person who reflected Jesus in everything that she did. She wasn't perfect. She'd be the first to tell you she wasn't perfect, but she definitely Impacted a lot of people's lives not just mine.
Sara: So, I think something that is interesting to me is your kind of grieving your mother with whom you had a close relationship with. So, I definitely think that that is something that maybe I can't say it was quite the same. I Guess, I can see because you had that very close relationship, how that experience has definitely impacted you. *** (again, I have to add here some reflection from being in a different position on mine and my mother’s relationship. No, our relationship was not like Toni’s and her mother’s relationship, close knit where they talked multiply times a day, but having begun to lose my mother has left a BIG whole in my heart).
Toni: I think when you are out of the immediate grief period, as I talk to more people, friends of hers and things like that. I love it when people tell me stories about my mom. Stories like, “she helped me through this, or she reprimanded me for this, and I didn't know I was getting reprimanded”. Somebody just told me that at the end of their conversation, she went “I think I was just reprimanded” and “I should have been, I was called out for something I was doing, and I should have been called out for it”. That was a God-given skill.
My mom had been sick for quite a few years, she officially died of COPD which is cardiopulmonary disease, this one you're basically are drowning. You're drowning and it took years to drown and she also had asthma, which COPD and asthma go together. She had also been in a car accident, which gave her physical pain up and beyond the COPD. So, there's just lists and lists of things and her will was way stronger than her body. She would have been that one who would have traveled all over, so because of this, this poor woman had her pain and suffering for years there were times that I was angry with God because it's like "huh"? But that was the way it was designed to be and because I had the privilege of helping her through doctor's appointments and making decisions. Should we try this therapy or should we not? It brought our relationship to another stage too, which that's great and because of that I got to spend a lot more of one-on-one times with her. I Would love to embarrass her at doctor's appointments because my mom was a very good person to embarrass because she would either play along with you, which I loved too or she would get embarrassed, which was also cool. So, she once wrote her co-pay check out to the doctor and when she handed it over, I said, “oh, they're accepting your checks now?” She looked back at me and goes “only with two forms of ID”. I love she had that kind of wit and she could play those jokes with me. Yeah, there are good times and when you're in the middle it, sometimes it's like “okay, I to go to another doctor's appointment”. So, another old person doctor’s appointment. Sometimes running the day to day grind, it's tough, but when I look back, I wouldn't trade it for anything. I also heard this phrase and it was so appropriate, that I was caught in the sandwich generation. Where I was still taking care of my own kids and taking care of my parents and I was sandwiched in between. That's the perfect thing. You do feel that way sometimes.
Sara: So, preparing for death, I know that you guys were kind of expecting it but at the same time I'm assuming it was still kind of a shock to you.
Toni: She had wonderful doctors and a wonderful care team, but they were even surprised at how quick she went at the end. Which, looking back that was a blessing, but when you're in the middle it was like, “whoa, we were still planning on having the whole summer”. Her primary care doc had talked to her and my dad, I wasn't at that appointment, she met the qualifications for hospice. There are qualifications you have to meet and that wasn't a shock to her. Her mom was in Hospice, her dad was in Hospice. So, we were familiar with hospice, but that was years and years ago. It has really changed, so that was one of our phone calls and again, we knew.
So, I went over to my mom's house and my dad was outside. I just don't think he could handle that conversation right then and so my mom had all her information out for Hospice because my mom's a folder information person and we went through it. It's almost like you picked the plan that looks good for you and how you want it to go, so we were able to almost disconnect my mom's dying portion to get into that business mode. When it was done, it was like, okay.
The first home care nurse that came over ended up being a friend of mine from high school. I didn't even know she was a nurse, so that was such a blessing because she remembered my mom. She knew it was Mrs. Corindo right away. My mom didn't remember her, but our school was so huge that that's not strange. Even her, when she was evaluating my mom and looking at everything, is just like, “you know you qualify for hospice most definitely but let's talk about if your symptoms start going away” cuz she was still in that teeter-tottering edge. If this goes away then we’ll discontinue hospice care, but you can always come back. So that's where we were and that was at the end of May. So that made all this feel it was okay, you know, you're not going to die tomorrow. All right, this was the beginning of summer. We had summer plans. She was going to watch Emma play soft ball and all that stuff, so we had plans and my dad had plans even though COPD also, robs the brain of oxygen. So, it's almost like they described it to me as if you're a scuba diver and if you come up too fastest, you get disoriented because your oxygen has not regulated and my mom was such a kind woman. I can't remember a time she yelled. She was loud because we're loud Italians, but she never yelled in anger. She would just scream at my dad to the point where my dad called me over a couple of times. I Called the hospice nurse, she's like, yeah, that's just the oxygen, that’s not her anymore. There was a point where she was just being so mean to my dad that I had to take the parent role and say, “that's enough, go sit down”.
Sara: So that's another experience not on here, but something that always stuck with me, I mean going through my particular situation where you know within a year, two years who knows, I am going to be dealing with my mother's death? It's going to be relatively sooner than the normal, the actual death part. It stuck to me with you talking about death certificates and knowing who gets what copy goes where and how many copies to have.
Toni: And you're just supposed to know this?
Sara: Certified copies and are they like Xerox copies?
Toni: And do you really need one? So, um She did die quite quickly. She was only in hospice for five days; the actual hospice and she went in there and we thought she was going to be coming home. I thought she had the flu and they even were like, well she can stay in for a night and then we'll send her home. Within 24 hours of her being in, she wasn't verbal anymore, all the signs of dying were there.
When she died and I was actually home, so I was not with her when she died. My Daughters were and my sister was, and Caleb was, so that was one of the nights they forced me to come home. Which was good. It was good. My sister was actually holding her hand when she died, so that was good. When she actually died and she died at like 1:00 a.m. and Robin knew she had died, but the girls had just fallen asleep. So, she did not want to wake them up. So, she actually just sat there with my mom for two hours and then she called in the nurses and they did everything they had to do. Jeff was on the couch and I was upstairs, and I was listening for my phone and you know being jumpy. He came in and he told me, and it was like “okay, like you know, that's what's going to happen”. So, a husband did what husbands do and he held me.
Sara: Think that's where the number 5 comes in, the immediate and long-term life without your loved one. I mean this is still it.
Toni: Yeah. I choked the day of her funeral. I was so busy with the business of her death and making sure my boys had clothes and the girls had clothes and my dad had clothes and I was keeping myself busy with busy work and ordering the death certificates. The day of the funeral, I stood in front of my own closet and wondered what to wear at my mom's funeral. I'm sure whatever it is, I am probably not going to want to wear again, so I have to make sure it's something I don't like. Immediately, I picked up my phone to call my mom…"what are you wearing to the funeral", that was the first thing that came to my mind? And that was the first time I had to go, “who do I call?” So, that was the downside to having close relationships but um that was the immediate effects of her death. My sister joked and it was kind of funny. She said well, I guess you're the matriarch of the family now, that's a big deal. and the whole Italian family the matriarch and patriarch. To take over the role of my mom in organizing Memorial Day picnics and what are we going to eat for Christmas dinner? You know stuff like that.
Sara: How interesting it is that you are now in this role of, yes you always were there for your parents and for their doctor's appointments, right? Like you're stepping into it by also helping to take care of your dad, her husband, who is dealing with his own medical issues.
Toni: and so yeah, and that's a big deal in the long term because one of the things I said to my mom is "I'll take care of dad" like as she was in the process of dying, cuz you know she did everything for my dad. So, when she was fine, I would keep warning her to stop doing all this for dad Cuz I'm not going to come over here in the morning and fry his egg every morning.
Sara: Could you tell them about the utensil?
Toni: Yes, so my mom had a drawer full of kitchen utensils and I go over there cook for my dad often and so he was like, you gotta take this stuff home. I was like "no dad do you want me to cook when I'm here"? Then I have to have some stuff here. So, I came over to cook something and I went to look for a whisk Can't find it and I know my dad's not whisking anything and so I'm like "what the heck"? I said to my dad, where's the whisk and he goes what's a wisk and I told him. He said, “Oh that's in the garage. I needed it to stir the oil for the car”. "Dad you live in the woods could you grab a stick next time?"
I highly recommend the poignant video on YouTube via the link below. This interview was originally done for a series called, “5 Things” which was another attempt to connect people in our community. The interview here is not the interview in entirety and does not demonstrate the real affects of loosing a parent. I am still doing this form of a series, but in the Point of View version now because getting videos became problematic with a three-year-old who was potty training and had to use the restroom in the middle of the video.
If you like this video, please check out others via the link below: