My mother was 96 years old when she passed away in November 2009. Until two week before her death, she still lived on her own – cooking and cleaning for herself. When she wasn't busy with those chores, she drove my sister and me crazy with her demands. We firmly believed she was going to outlive both of us because neither God nor Satan was too keen on her joining them. In my mind, I have always envisioned this scene.
Interior/Heaven: Mom at death's door. God and Satan huddled behind the door, whispering to each other.
God: Be quiet. Maybe she'll go away.
Satan: We're going to have to deal with her eventually.
God: Yeah, I know, just not today. Now be quiet.
I cannot remember one holiday or special occasion when my mother was not sick or injured. She did not attend my first communion, confirmation or graduation from either grammar school or high school due to (pick one) a fall, the flu, a hernia, ulcers or a migraine. I'm pretty sure she was there when I was born, but that was probably the first and last time she put in an appearance.
Mom was not beyond manipulating a situation to suit her needs. If she was not getting enough attention (I never discovered the definition of enough), she would put herself in danger to get the desired results. I have visions of her standing naked and wet from the shower in front of the open freezer. Teeth chattering and icicles hanging from… well, use your imagination. Until she retired at the age of 70, she worked in an embroidery factory doing the mending. More often than not, she sewed her fingers to the fabric because band-aids full of blood were sure to be noticed.
My mother was a great actress. She had everyone convinced that she was just a sweet little old lady who wanted nothing more than to be healthy and spend time with her family. The truth was she was narcissistic with little interest in anyone but herself. Accidents were a daily occurrence. There were so many incidents over the years I have lost track of them all. Each time she was hospitalized, my sister and I informed the doctors and nurses of her penchant for self induced illness. They thought WE were crazy.
Munchausen's Syndrome, from which mom suffered, is not easily diagnosed. Did it kill her? Yes and no. Yes, because she used her high blood pressure as a means of getting attention -- under medicating and over medicating -- as the whim hit her. No, because the real villain here is World War I.
When the war broke out, mom was just about four years old. She lived with her parents and siblings near the Austrian border in a town surrounded by orchards and farmland. One night, Italian soldiers invaded and force-marched all the citizens on a long journey into Germany, where they were imprisoned in an internment camp. Living conditions in the camp were poor and there was little food. People were focused on staying alive any way they could. The only time anyone was given special attention was when he or she was sick.
My mother was a beautiful precocious child. The soldiers adored her and would often give her extra bread and rations for the family. Without those extras, my grandmother was forced to scavenge in the garbage for vegetable peels and rinds to make soup. Unfortunately, what mom took away from that experience was that she was special and that her needs were the only ones that mattered. If she didn't get what she wanted, she got sick. That was her modus operandi all her life.
The passing of a loved one is not funny, but in this case, death was a release for everyone... my mother, my sister and me. Although the internment camp gates were eventually unlocked and the people released, mom never escaped the jailer that held her heart captive. Ninety-six years is a long time for anyone to live. That is something to celebrate. What I mourn is the death of the dream in which Mom realizes we love her and, more importantly, that she loves us in return.
As for God and Satan -- I'm pretty sure the battle over ownership of mom's soul is still raging. At first, I thought it might be decided by a game of odds and evens, but knowing Mom, she would demand something more worthy of her personality and spirit.
Interior/Heaven: God and Satan in a heated game of hot potato with mom's soul
God: You take her.
Satan: NO! YOU take her.
God: I don't want her.
Satan: Well, I don't want her.
God: You're better with these kinds of souls.
Satan: Wait a minute. YOU created her in YOUR image and likeness. Remember?
My mother had Munchausen's disease and I was sick (at heart) from it.