My mom didn’t have to die, and she didn’t have to suffer so deeply for so long before she did.
I summed up her final years in a tweet yesterday:
My mom suffered untreated, serious mental health issues for years before she succumbed to cancer treated too late. Why no treatment for either illness? Simple, in her own words: Literally living off other people’s garbage, she could never come close to affording the care.
I’d written about this at greater length in 2011, in a blog site since deleted.
In “Dead Moms Can’t Care,” I wrote some words that have been reverberating through my soul the last couple of days: “Think the cost of helping her through that minor infection is high? Imagine the costs of caring for her four motherless children.”
COVID-19 has gotten me thinking about all the moms (and dads) who, lacking appropriate governmental protections, must choose between potential exposure to illness or feeding and providing shelter for their children. Forced by economic realities to show up at work, they potentially risk their own longer term futures for short-term survival, yielding so many tragic losses–for them, for their children, and for the society that loses all their creative contributions that could have, in a more humane system, been.
In 2011, I thought my mom’s death was an unfortunate outlier, despite a nurse friend telling me how pissed off she was watching many of her poor patients traverse the exact trajectory to death my mom did.
I didn’t yet have the contextual awareness to understand that my mom’s death was, instead, one of tens of thousands occurring annually, needlessly, due to the U.S.’s perverse health care (deprivation) system.
I understood the U.S. societal and structural context far more clearly in 2016, when I wrote “Bernie, Because I Was Poor.”
Now, in 2020, in the face of a pandemic already causing poor families to suffer needlessly, I’m seeing the context even clearer.
And I’m reviving this post, because though it misses the mark in some ways, it’s right where it counts:
Dead moms–dead guardians–can’t care. For anyone.
Dead Moms Can’t Care
Originally posted on TMiYC
July 26, 2011
Nearly twenty years ago, I awakened screaming in pain in the middle of the night.
I was the stoic one. Bust my head doing flips off the bed? Greet it with a grimace. Fall from a stand off my moving bike? Greet it with a grimace. What good would crying do me anyway?
It was my customary stoicism that made my mom anxious. It made her so anxious, in fact, that she decided to take me to the hospital. She did this despite the fact her deadbeat ex-husband as seldom paid child support as medical bills.
A trip to the emergency room? That would put her out months of garage sale money, which was frequently all the money she had to get by.
During uninsured periods, my mom grappled with the same horrific decision every time one of her children got sick: a trip to the hospital and even worse financial instability than she already faced daily (including potential loss of home) or riding it out at home and risking—if worse came to worst—the loss of a child.
Of course, it’s not only a child’s own health care that determines her personal well being.
Once my mom fell through flimsy wooden paneling covering an air conditioning vent many years defunct. A rusty nail left over from those long-distant days buried itself in my mom’s thigh, leaving it so infected almost her entire leg was blue and green for several fevered days. Moving or any kind of touch caused her pain so intense she could barely restrain tears, but she rode out the fevered infection with nothing more than Epsom salt to heal her.
Epsom salt. Marvel at that.
She survived, but her survival wasn’t a given.
Think the cost of helping her through that minor infection is high? Imagine the costs of caring for her four motherless children.
Two and a half years ago, I told my mom I was pregnant. She was delighted, if ongoing struggles with mental illness made expression of her delight more complicated. Her joy was also overshadowed by physical hurt. She was in a great deal of pain related to something my siblings and I decided was probably uterine prolapse. Its cause? We couldn’t be too sure, but it probably wasn’t anything to worry about if it went away quickly.
The thing was, it didn’t.
In July 2009, one of my sisters discovered that the symptoms my mom had described in March had actually worsened. She was able to coax my mom into availing herself of County health care, but my mom’s wariness of health care’s cost and long term financial consequences lingered. If she was getting something now, it had to be at great cost in the long term, didn’t it?
The cost, in the end, was her life.
I don’t want to get too political on this blog. I believe that the human spirit will triumph in the end, if given the tools to do so. I believe that is so regardless of political or religious affiliation.
But I also believe it’s important to share the details. I believe it’s essential to share the snapshots of moments that demonstrate that health care discussions shouldn’t be framed in terms of “lazy people” versus “hard workers.”
The costs of providing health care to those who can’t afford it themselves may not be miniscule. But the costs of not providing it? Those are even worse. Those costs include children left to literally live out their childhood in boxes. I tutored those children my final year of law school. They include the children left to foster care, which is sadly often more full of villains than heroes. They include two grown daughters holding their mom tight as she breathes her pained last breaths at 52–in part because she rightfully feared the consequences of the cost of health care–and the grandchildren who will never feel her love firsthand as a result.
Are there people who milk the system? Undoubtedly so. But for each person who does so, either lacking the tools to become or unable to see the merits of being self sufficient, there is another who is trying her damndest just to make it by. Just to be there for her kids, and to see her kids healthy and whole no matter the obstacles.
Imagine what my mom might have done with all the energy she spent worrying about paying the bills to ensure she and her children were healthy. Envision her energy going toward continued pursuit of higher education, and a job that paid more than being the school photo assistant lady, just to get by for one more day. There’s so much more that she could have accomplished.
As I type this through tears, it is one of my greatest wishes that we might better be led by our love and hope for what others might with support become than by our condemnation for what they were or may have been before.