Happy Mother’s Day, everybody

•May 11, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I will not dwell on Mami’s passing, preferring instead to celebrate her life. I know she had had a hard life, but she was as devoted to me as any mother could have been to her child. For good or ill, she loved me more than anything in her life, and if I could not reciprocate it to the extent that she wanted, she did know that I did love her, and we were at least able to find a truce of sorts.

I have missed her terribly these last few weeks, and I suppose that will fade in time, but my love for her will remain with me for the remainder of my days. She did more good than harm in our time together, and now here I am at the age of 46, and my mother is no longer there to wish a Happy Birthday or a Happy Mother’s Day to. I settle instead for the next best thing: we went to church this morning, lit three candles (one for Mom, the others for Grandma, Mami Flor, Titi Rosie, Titi Erasma – whew!). But one just for my Mom alone. I said three Hail Marys, one Our Father, and spent the rest of the time speaking to Mom in the same low whisper I used the last time I ever spoke to her.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you.
But life on Earth is for the living. If this is the end of one cycle of life for my family, it is the beginning for Michael, and I always try to keep that in mind. He is the future, and now that the places have changed and I am the parent seat, I feel the sense of immense love that my mother must have felt for me, feel it for my boy.
The parallels do not escape me — the loss of a child (Alison for me, Joanne for Mom) has perhaps intensified our devotion to our remaining child. And maybe that is OK, if I can learn from the mistakes Mom made with me. One thing for sure — I am determined to be involved in our son’s life. No absent Dad stuff for Michael, no vague, half-formed memories to cling to in his adulthood, the way I have had to do. I will be an active presence in his life.
And that brings me to Ting, who has busted her butt for the last two years or so, striving to better Michael’s situation, whether that means fighting with service coordinators for increased services or shlepping him miles away to Long Island Jewish Hospital in Long Island by bus — dealing with his milk antipathy, his dietary problems, taking him to Gymboree, cleaning until late into the night and oh, by the way, cooking meals…all of which was not enough to keep her from feeling intense self-doubt, the notion that she was somehow failing as a mother when in fact the reverse was true.
So here in 2008, I salute my beloved wife Chiu Ting and wish her a Happy Mother’s Day, her third of many. I love you, honey…and so does Michael.

And now for something completely different…Simpsonized Michael!!!

•May 1, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Arrangements are ongoing, and the phone is almost gone

•April 26, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Well, I got the memorial service arranged for Mom for Friday, May 2. Just one day before what would have been her 70th birthday and 3 days before Michael’s 2nd birthday. Fate is a bitch, sometimes.

I have been in and out of grief for the last 3 days, which is normal, I suppose. I don’t even mind it, really; Mom should have somebody to shed tears for her, and who better than her only son? She deserved more than just me to cry for her, but you can’t always get justice.

So Friday and Saturday this week I am in the apartment, clearing it out. Lots of memories, but I think it might actually be therapeutic doing it. The kicker will be cancelling the phone service for the final time. We have had the same phone number for 30 years; calling that quits will mark the end of an era in my immediate family.

I will probably be moving in and out of grief for some time to come, but as my cousin Ralph assured me, you do come to peace with it. I just need to ride this out to its conclusion.

More later.

Nelly Parrilla, 1938 – 2008

•April 23, 2008 • 1 Comment

Mom – a great beauty

Mom, Uncle Tito, Mami Flor

That’s Mom on my right, me in the middle, my cousin Michael next to me

My Mother Nelly
My mother Nelly (whose full name might have been Nelida – I could never really be sure because I had never seen her birth certificate) was born in 1938 outside the tiny town of Coamo, located on the southern end of Puerto Rico, about 30 miles from Ponce.

She lived in a wooden house that sat on stilts (to guard against flooding? I was never sure about that, either), on a small farm. She was the third of six children, with Mami Flor and Uncle Mario coming first, then Uncle Pete, Titi Rosie, and Uncle Hector (aka Tito) following over the next decade.

Sometime around 1950 or ‘51, my grandparents pulled up stakes and became part of the mass migration of thousands Puerto Ricans to the mainland, primarily to New York City. Although there was already a population of Puerto Ricans in the city — Tito Puente was born here in 1920, in El Barrio — the vast majority of the migration occurred after World War II, and my mother’s family was part of that mass influx, settling in what had been predominantly Italian East Harlem, first on 104th Street between Lexington and Park Avenues, later on 103rd between Lexington and Third Avenues.

The second eldest female, Mami dropped out of high school to take care of her younger siblings and never returned to school. Later on she began working in a factory in Canarsie along with Grandma to help the family make ends meet.

My mother, by all accounts, was the most beautiful of all her brothers and sisters.

She married Jose Isaac Parrilla in 1961. A year later, I was born. One year after that, she gave birth to my sister Joanne, who was born sick and lived only 42 days. Mami almost never spoke about Joanne to me, and it was not until 2005 that I discovered that my baby sister was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Brooklyn. Why she was buried there was a secret that was never shared with me.

Mom worked long hours throughout my childhood, with the result that I only got to be with her on weekends. (I was living with my Titi Flor, who told me to call her Mami Flor and who treated as if I were her own son). My mother would arrive on Friday nights, gifts in hand, and we stayed together all Saturday and Sunday, but inevitably Sunday night would loom over us, casting a pall on whatever we had been doing that weekend. We would lie in bed, where she would hold me until we slept, and every Sunday night I would beg her not to leave me, to be with me the next morning, to just stay. But every Monday morning I woke up in bed alone and heartbroken, and she would be gone for another week.

It had never occurred to me to wonder exactly why I was staying with my aunt and uncle and cousin, but I realized years later that this meant that my parents had separated, and that was why Mom needed to work. Once again I never learned why they separated. I also never saw my father again because he died, aged 32, during surgery. I was 7.

Mom finally took me to live with her and her second husband when I turned eight, but the extended separations had taken their toll and I was never to be as close to her as she would have liked, a fact which caused her great sadness. I was too used to my aunt, my second mom, and although Mami told me that she did not mind this, I knew that she did mind it, she minded it a lot, and she cried some over it. She loved me more than anything, a love that I believe grew stronger, possessively so, after my sister’s death.

In 1981, my uncle Mario developed Parkinson’s Disease. He was in his late 30s.

Time passed. I grew up, went into the Air Force, came back. My mother kept working until 1986, when a fire in our apartment almost claimed her life and my stepfather Nicholas’s. Her nerves were shot and she retired on a disability pension.

It was around this time that my uncle Tito first grew sick and died at the age of 40. My mother and grandmother had gone to see him every day he lay in the hospital. His death was the first of a wave of losses that was to decimate my family.

One by one, they fell. My uncles and aunts, all of them. My grandmother’s brother and sister and finally Grandma herself. Wave after wave of death. And through it all my mother began to develop a twitch in her hand.

She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in the late 90s, as she neared her 60th birthday, just as her brother Mario had back in 1981. At first it manifested itself in an inability to keep still, then by a paralysis that kept her stuck for long periods at a time.

In 1998, she collapsed and could no longer walk unassisted. The doctors tried combinations of meds to keep the situation under control, with varying degrees of success. Finally she became bed-bound and could no longer support herself unaided. Too self-conscious to use wheelchairs, she became a shut-in. The meds made her paranoid, convinced that people were spying on her from outside, so she kept the shades drawn. She spent the majority of her time in the hospital bed that had been installed in her bedroom.

The only saving grace through all this was her home health aides, who made her life bearable, even sometimes pleasant. Martha Vega and Hilda Montalvo stayed with her for 8 years, until the end. Martha, in particular, adored Mom and stayed with her until her untimely death last year. Because of them, because of their daily care, Mom’s skin remained as luminous and clear as a young woman’s. People visiting her were often surprised by how young she looked, even in her deblitated condition. They pampered her, babied her, rubbed lotion on her, fed and bathed her, attended to her through all the long years.

I had a Power of Attorney to handle her monetary affairs and became her Medical Proxy to address the physical ones. My uncle Mario finally succumbed to his Parkinson’s in 2004, after 23 years battling the disease. Grandma left us a year later. All Mami had left now was me, my wife and son, and her home health aides, who became a second family to her.

On Sunday, April 6th, I got a phone call from one of Mami’s attendants that she was behaving strangely, thrashing her limbs about as if in great agitation. She went to Mt Sinai Hospital, where she got a CAT scan and an EEG, neither of which revealed a neurological cause for the activity.A week later, on April 12th, she went in again, and this time she was admitted to the hospital. This was a cause of concern – Mom almost always left a hospital stay in worse shape than when she went in – and this time was no different. She developed both a low-level fever and aspiration pneumonia. After a meeting with her doctors, we made the unhappy decision to transfer her home care from VNS Choice to VNS Hospice, with all that the word hospice implied.

She was discharged on Tuesday, April 15th, and entered the Hospice program the same day. They delivered medication to the apartment, had a nurse available at any time if necessary, and sent over an oxygen tank should it become necessary. I filled out another DNR order for her, which felt like signing a death warrant. The implication was everywhere. I girded myself for the inevitable.

By this point, Mami had developed a problem with swallowing, which drastically affected her ability to take in any nutrition or medication. This would accelerate her decline, I was told.

Monday, April 21. The first weekday of Spring Break. I am in the 42nd Street Research Library working on my damned thesis when my phone begins the first of many interruptions throughout the day. My mom is not looking well, the nurse says. The doctor has prescribed morphine for her to take going forward. (The key idea in hospice care is comfort, not treatment.) A nurse is being sent over to spend the night there. I call in the evening, speak to Hilda, the home health aide, and the nurse.

Mom spends a fitful night, with a fever that won’t go away and an episode of unspecified discomfort somewhere around 3 am. She receives a dosage of morphine. I call again at 7 am and get an update from the night nurse.  The regular nurse goes in and checks up on Mami, who seems little better, but comfortable. She decides that a nurse won’t be necessary for a second night.

Providence steps in then, and I decide to ask Ting to come with me to visit Mom. It is Tuesday, April 22, 2008. The temperature is in the 70s. It is a perfect Spring day.

We go. Mom looks markedly worse than she did only one week before, and I know the end is near. I have to leave her room twice for fear I will break up in front of her. She no longer speaks or opens her eyes, although she is awake and conscious. She responds to our presence, especially Michael’s. He touches her nose with his small hand. Fearless.

When I am alone in the room with her, I kiss her face, her eyes, her nose and cheeks. Tell her that I will continue to take care of her. I thank her for being my mother, for giving me life, for loving me as much as she did. Tell her that I will love her forever. Unable to receive blessing from her, I instead give it to her for the first – and last – time. I ask her if she can hear me. In response, a small sound emanates from her – faint, so faint. But a response. She is still there, at the end of things. I memorize the feel of her hand in mine, the touch of my lips against her forehead.

Memorize against the self-doubts I know I will have in the future.

Denying to myself that she is almost gone, I tell her that I will be by again later in the week, and again on Sunday with Ralph, who has finally asked to see her. We leave, me, Ting, and Michael.

Nelly Parrilla, my mother, passed away around 7:15 PM that evening. She was 2 weeks shy of her 70th birthday. She was the last of 6 brothers and sisters born to Pedro and Ana Luisa Rodriguez, and now they are all gone.

Any my heart is broken. So broken. Just like that little boy of long ago, who would wake up to find his mother had left. Again. Except that this time it would be for always.

I need to stop now. More later, maybe.

Good night, Mami. I love you. Love, your son, Bobby.

I think my mother is dying…

•April 21, 2008 • Leave a Comment

…and I am so stressed out about it, at this very moment, that I cannot think straight. Not so much that her life could be coming to an end…with the onset of Parkinson’s a decade ago, I have long felt that she began a long, slow, lingering death when she collapsed for the first time, back in Grandma’s place, breaking a pane of door glass and cutting herself as she fell.

That event made Grandma serve notice that she was just too OLD too deal with this anymore, because in point of fact, the signs of something were already writ on the wall.

Upshot? Mom moved into her place again, I kept her out of a nursing home, she received 24-hour care from the city. And I was taking care of her business and other affairs. I got a Power of Attorney and became her Medical Proxy. I signed a DNR order for her, should it ever become necessary.

Here we are ten years later. Grandma is 3 years gone, and my mother could not be told immediately, not until after the burial, when it fell to me to let her know. I watched her as she lay on her bed in her dim bedroom with the blinds pulled down, virtually unable to speak by now, and saw her face turn into a mask of misery and grief as I told her that her mother had passed on, would no longer be coming over to stay with her on the weekends.

Now the pull of my own family became steadily stronger, with the problems surrounding Michael’s birth, as well as grad school and work, and I began to see my Mom only twice a month or so. It was no longer possible for her to get out of bed unassisted, or even to speak or dress herself, change her own position in her bed.

Martha Vega, my mother’s late home health aide, was stolen from us by an unknown killer back in October of 2007. Another person who loved my mother, taken from her.

My mother is forgotten, ignored, dead to what remains of my family. Nobody contacts her, asks after her, checks to see how she is doing. When a cousin gave birth to a baby some time back, no one contacted my mother to let her know, or to visit, or to see how she was. All I hear from the few relatives I still hear from are excuses and alibis.

Now here I am in the Research Library at 42nd Street, and my phone has been going off incessantly. She is beginning to fade. The nurse from the VNS hospice program has advised me that Mom will be receiving morphine beginning tonight, and that a nurse will be sent over to stay with her overnight, and that she will come back tomorrow to see how she is doing.

I can’t help it — I feel angry and frustrated, and am writing this in an attempt to get my head back together. I have work to do, work that cannot wait, that needs to be done if I am to graduate on time and keep my job, and my mom is dying at the same time.


Tarzan from 1918

•March 23, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Elmo Lincoln played Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs was on set as a consultant, and this is the result…what do you think of it?

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The alternate "I Am Legend" ending

•March 6, 2008 • 2 Comments

from Firstshowing.net, the alternate ending to Will Smith’s “I Am Legend.”  I liked the first third of this movie a lot, despised the last third, and this ending would have mitigated some of that bile.  Have a look.