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Mother’s Day

This piece is about me marinating in a situation. I learned quite a long time ago that this is not wise for me. I love a good backstory and it helps me to understand things better when I know some of the history, some of the context, some of the nuance about a story – rather than just a headline and someone else’s narrative.

With Mother’s Day here, I want to write a smart, maybe funny, uplifting piece about Moms. I might get there, but just know, good friends and kind readers, it’s going to take some work on my part. You also may know that with my writing style and meandering grasp on my consciousness, that I can get virtually anywhere. It ain’t always a straight line from Point A to Point B, and not even I, at this point, know where this will end up.

I just got off the phone with my Mom. Some of you know some of this backstory. My parents are both 92 years old, married more than 72 years, and have put my four siblings and me through some interesting times with their stubborn, or shall we say, interesting, independent streak. Last week, we moved them into senior residential housing, and as one would expect, it’s been a bit overwhelming to them both. Granted there are plenty, abundant, numerous silver linings to the cloud of this disruption to their lives… but my mom is gifted at seeing not only the glass in front of her as half empty – she also knows that all the ones in the cupboard are empty as well.

My desire to write something clever, warm, and a rhapsody to moms is more fervent than ever at this moment. I am married to a hall of fame mom. My wife is a mom among moms.

We have two kids; we wanted more, but two pregnancies ended in miscarriage, and by the time she had delivered our son after a high-risk pregnancy, we decided that having two wonderful children was our destiny, and we thankfully have raised our kids as best we could.

We said goodbye to my mother-in-law at the end of November, less than six months ago. She would’ve turned 96 a few weeks after her death. She was a strong, funny, and faithful woman who raised seven wonderful, funny, and hard-working kids. Her two husbands were brothers, and she outlived them both. She taught us about love, loyalty, family, and rolling with the punches.

My daughter is a mother now, and it gives me such joy and heart explosions to see how she excels as a mother to Naomi. Our granddaughter is but ten months old, and she’s such a blessing that it’s hard to recall all that time before she was here. To see our Melanie become a mother and to see her and her husband raising such a beautiful child, would take far more than words, language, this paltry verbal exercise, several volumes of prose, and a couple of feature films to express.

My mom and dad raised the five of us. I’ve heard some families describe themselves as having put “fun in dysfunctional.” Our family life was a pretty small town, typical in many ways of other families that came of age in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. My dad worked shifts at the local paper mill and as soon as their youngest (me) got into school, mom went to work at the junior high and elementary school where all five of us got some of our education. Mom and Dad did the best that they knew how with us. They were married in the late summer of 1948 and before the spring of 1954 arrived they had four seedlings. I came along four years later, and somehow, miraculously, for a Catholic family in the 1960s, I was my parents’ last child, when they were just 29.

Here is where the story pauses. My fingers are poised on the keyboard, but this is not one of the things that I write that writes itself.

There is so much that I want to say (this is me here – there is never enough context…). The story definitely needs to be shaded, and with big, broad, bold strokes – that this marriage, my family has been truly and profoundly blessed. Please come after me if I ever sound downcast, or forlorn about my family. My parents are still here, married for more than 72 years. All of my five siblings are still here, as are the 11 grandchildren, 2 step grands, 15 great grands – our family has not yet seen the shadow of death. Contrast that with my wife’s family – she has lost both of her parents, 2 nephews, a niece, and a grand-niece.

Back to Mother’s Day, and my mom. She lost her own father before she was a year old, in November 1929 – just weeks after the stock market crash that ushered in the Great Depression. My grandma worked hard to support her two girls, and she eventually met another guy and married him when my mom was 11. My mom’s stepdad molested her. That set up my mom to be someone who would develop pronounced trust issues, and despite her family all living close to her and her husband always being at her side she would often say “I’ve been alone since I was 12 or 13.”

Later, her mom, stepdad, and older sister moved to California because my stepdad said it would be better for his health to live in a warmer climate. My mom had met my dad by then, and she didn’t want to leave Wisconsin, her high school life and friends, and her boyfriend, to move across the country. She was allowed to live with her grandmother, and stay in the Dutch ghetto of Kimberly, Wisconsin. My parents reigned over prom in 1945 – king and queen and graduated from Kimberly High in 1946, both at the age of 17. They married two years after that.

We have always teased mom, because, well because she had a fair number of quirks that invited it. When I was in high school we lived in a pretty decent part of town in a nice house. The only time that we were allowed in the living room was when we had company. “We” is a pretty unique way to express that, as by that time I was the only one living at home yet. Mom had beautiful furniture in there and she cherished that room. We didn’t need to go in there, there was no TV in there anyway.

My dad retired after working in the same place for 44 years. He has been blessed to be retired for 30 years. My parents traveled a lot, usually spent the winters in Florida, and they never went back to the same place. My mom made it her thing to research different places that they could go. One of the reasons that they always went somewhere new was so that they wouldn’t get too attached to any particular people. My dad was a social animal, but my mom preferred keeping her distance.

We teased mom about not being a very good cook. She isn’t and has always owned that part of herself. When she and her sister were growing up, my grandma was working, so the two girls divided the household chores among themselves. My Aunt Marianne was a fabulous cook. My mom was the sewer, dishwasher, and cleaner. Mom used to love to sew, and she could fix any clothing, and she would promptly return any piece of clothes back to whoever had torn it or worn it out, in just a day or two – repaired and better than it was when it was new.

Mom has beautiful penmanship – and she always wrote letters. To us kids, her grandkids, some of her friends, to her mom and her sister in California. She took pride in staying in touch with everyone. She’d tell us how she was praying for us, and include news of friends, activities, and anything that struck her.

Mom loves to read. This is not one of her strong points. She read too many magazines. She feasted her brain on medical stories, and she collected medical information like archaeologists collect bones. As time went by, she felt as if what a doctor told her was secondary from the knowledge that she had gleaned from all the medical articles she had read. She prided herself on being well into her 80’s and not being on any medication. Her paternal grandmother lived to be 105 (my mom’s aunt lived to be 102) and she was bound and determined to get there too.

And I pause again. I’m trying to bury you with all this stuff, and working at giving a balanced view of the woman who gave me life and raised me and my siblings. I have spent a good share of the last five years fighting with her. She is a stubborn and independent woman. Her fierce loyalty to my dad probably is one of the reasons that he is still here – after prostate cancer, skin cancer, heart issues including a pacemaker, high blood pressure, and a mini-stroke that took most of his eyesight in one eye.

They have moved three times in the last five years. It all makes sense now. It was more entertaining to fight with her and consider ourselves right than to look beyond a lot of what we were fighting about. Too many things that didn’t add up during all of this time finally make sense now. We thought, and probably rightly so, that the demons she was fighting were called anxiety and depression. Those were symptoms. Enough other ones cropped up here and there that blew us off the trail. This is the part of the story that’s hardest to write, and I can’t expect it to write itself.

Today, my mom was diagnosed with dementia. It’s got a specific name but I won’t bother you with it here. Our template was Alzheimer’s and she didn’t fit that in so many ways. We kept jousting with the anxiety and depression, and this form of dementia was the real villain. So today we embark on this journey and we’ll see where it takes us. A huge blessing has been that for the last year, especially the last six months or so, my siblings and I have never been so united. We are all on the same page, showing more grace and patience with each other than we ever have shown at any time in our lives. We need to be. The hard part is just starting.

Here is my punchline, my lesson, my reason for droning on this long: I am blessed. My family has been blessed. We are blessed, fortunate, lucky if you will.

We didn’t ever want to be here, but here we are. We’ve had a great run, and now it’s time to step up and serve the people who gave us life, and fought for us, and never allowed us to want for anything. Mother’s Day was one of my mom’s worst days of her life. But it doesn’t overshadow that she won’t lack for anything in this final chapter of her life. She won’t lack for love, and she won’t lack for our loyalty. We’re all strapped in and ready to do whatever they need.

What I have learned from being a part of this community is that many of you have faced down similar challenges. Besides my blood relatives with whom I get to trek this journey, I have another family scattered across the planet who will hold me, hug me, and raise a glass to my patience and resilience. Your part in this is that I don’t ever have to get too down about any of this. Thank you for lifting me up in so many ways. I am blessed.

Tom Dietzler
Lifelong, proud somewhat strident Wisconsinite, I love my state and love to sing its praises. A bon vivant and raconteur, lover of history, literature and good conversations. Laughter and music are salves that I frequently am applying to my soul. I have spent time (too much) in manufacturing and printing and have found great joy in my current position as director of operations at a large church in the same area where I grew up. Husband to Rhonda and father of two adult children Melanie and Zack, I’m the constant companion of my five-year-old Lab, Oliver, who is my muse to a lot of my stories. I’m a fan of deep conversation and my interests are in learning and gaining wisdom, so in the last few years I have become and less politically vocal, and hopefully more respectful and open-minded. Rhonda and I sold our home in 2018, bought a condo and have traveled a bit more, golfed a bit more and are enjoying life a bit more. If you take the time to get to know me, prepare yourself for an invite to the 30th state to join the union, a gem located in the upper Midwest, full of beautiful scenery formed by the glaciers, with lots of lakes and trees and gorgeous scenery, and the nicest people that you’d ever want to meet.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Hello Tom, reading through your story binged a bit of sadness, amazement and blessings in so many ways. You are blessed to still have both parents no doubt. For them to be married 72 years in this day and age is a miracle in itself. To still have all five siblings is another blessing. There is always a story behind the story. Your story has promoted me to write a story, as I often wonder what it would have been like to still have both parents and all 6 of my siblings, but mostly it is about the detachment of my children who are grown adults and whom I have no contact with, including not being able to see my grandchildren. Another story for another day, but know for sure that your story has touched hearts as is evident by the comments and you are blessed in so many ways that you rank among the few, whose parents are still here at the age that they are, married fo as long and certainly your love for them. God Bless

  2. Tom – Thank you for sharing this piece of your story which includes your mother’s. Trauma of that nature can last a lifetime. And I can’t imagine what she went through in the past 81 years. It’s hard to imagine her struggles.

    This post reminds me that life is a roller coaster, for everyone. Some of us chose to tell our stories and lessen the burden, while others may not ever be that comfortable with a group of people. It’s a blessing to have this space to be authentic and honest.

    #1. You are not alone.
    #2. You are a wonderful son.
    #3. Your story is important.

    Thanks for being you and being so open with us. I hope your openness brings a lightness to your load.

    • The story of anyone’s, perhaps everyone’s, relationship with their mother is complicated, or nuanced, or shaded with any number of emotions. Over the last several weeks when my mom was having what seemed like another in a series of unending meltdowns, she would plead with us “You have to listen to me, no one is listening to me, no one is listening to me…” Those words will haunt me. The doctor’s diagnosis of her condition to me is still fresh and raw, and when I looked it up (it’s called Lewy body dementia) I found out that it was the condition that Robin Williams was struggling with when he took his own life. A diagnosis is a diagnosis, and next comes the treatment plan and then there is dealing with the day to day issues of two 92 year old people who do not know life without each other, coming to resent being stuck in bodies that are failing, and how do they not come to resent each other? For all of those realities and the others that are right now unseen and unknown, I will still cling to being thankful for all that they are and all that they have been. And with that lesson, I will strive to remember that how many people are trying to navigate this world with my something akin to my mom’s 11 year old self inside them, coloring the world that they see and affecting all that they are and all that they do. Thank you for taking time to read my story and react. Your validation and affirmation of my story, of my mom’s story, is more balm for the ache that I feel. Sharing this has been cathartic and important, in ways that I could not see or imagine last night as I forced it from my keyboard. Words like yours help in ways that you can’t know. Thank you.

      • Lewy Body Dementia is a very difficult diagnosis to hear. You are handling the news in such a loving way. You gave me courage with this story to write one I was holding in for days. It’s funny how courage works. When we are courageous, we inspire others to do the same.

        Here’s to life. May it be bumpy, but may we hold on and appreciate the ride.

  3. Tom, someday, maybe, I’ll share a story. But today isn’t the day for that. We’d both be better served around a Midwest camp fire and an adult beverage. . . I hope you count me in as a member of that global tribe who will keep you in my prayers and lift you up from a distance.

    What I will share today is my prayer for you.

    Lord, God, merciful healer, I pray for Tom’s mother who suffers from the anxiety, ambiguity and confusion as her dementia tightens its grip on her mind. I pray for her caregivers, Tom and his siblings. May you grant them patience when confronted with repetition. May you grant them the fortitude to see each new day as a gift and not a burden. May you grant them the grace to forgive what was and embrace what is. Lord, comforter, on those especially difficult days, the worst of them, work in their hearts to remind them of the day when every tear will be wiped away and we’ll know one another once more.

    Lord sustain Tom, his siblings and those who care for others and grant them what they needs in the moments ahead.

    In Jesus name I pray

    Amen

  4. Thank you for this platform, Dennis Pitocco, it is truly uplifting, cathartic and such a blessing to be able to air out one’s soul in front of so many lovely, kindred family members. I truly, deeply, sincerely love the community that you have created here, and I am honored to have a seat at the table. Thank you.

    • It is such a blessing to sit at the keyboard and feel as if I am totally bankrupt of things to say, and then to say them, knowing deep within me that whatever comes out will be embraced, uplifted and valued. That doesn’t happen often, but it happens regularly here. Your friendship is such a blessing to me that I can scarcely convey my gratitude and joy at the mere thought of it. Thank you Kimberly, ain’t none of us going anywhere alone…

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