Happy birthday, Mother. My late mother, Joan K. Stern, was my biggest cheerleader and the smartest person I ever met. Today, April 9, is her birthday, and I could talk about her for hours. She would've been 89 today. But, sadly, I lost her in 2007. Mom was a fascinating woman who led an exceptional life filled with interesting experiences. Her life was happy, sad, exciting, successful, purposeful, and adventurous. Here's a handful of things I could talk about:
I could talk about how creative my mother was. My dad was always traveling, which left my mom to resourcefully entertain four children, all born between 1960 and 1965.
I could talk about her dedication to my oldest brother Rob, who had severe asthma from a very young age; her taking him to the doctor frequently and bringing the rest of us kids along to play in the nearby park while we waited.
I could talk about how intuitive she was; how she discovered I had a hearing loss when I was 3 years old and her tenacious journey to find out what happened to me, get me help to learn how to speak (and read lips), and how to cope in a hearing world.
I could talk about the memory of my very first day of school, when my mother instructed me to walk up to the teacher, tell her about my hearing loss, and show her where I needed to sit so my right ear would be facing the teacher. (Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her standing at the door watching me). To this day, I still go into a room to find where I'll sit and advise speakers of my handicap.
I could talk about how successful my mother was. She was 49 when she started her company on the kitchen table at our house. She built it into a multi-million dollar corporation that was then sold to a multi-billion dollar conglomerate. (And I was there to watch it all...)
I could talk about what a wonderful role model she was as a volunteer. For much of my life, my mother served on Board of Directors and was involved in civic associations. If people needed help, there she was! She generously used her contacts to get sponsors who'd provide services and give back to the community. People loved her.
I could tell you what a brilliantly creative mind she had; what a fast thinker she was; how easy marketing and promotion ideas came to her. How much I adored watching her bring ideas to life and make things happen FAST.
I could tell you that she had a wicked sense of humor, very high standards of integrity for herself, and she expected the best out of others.
But, today, I’m not going to tell you any of that! Today, I want to tell you about what happened when my mother's health declined and what her life became.
You see, my mother was my muse. And I am now my mother.
Joan has been on my mind more than ever lately. I find myself going through many of the same life experiences in the same order as she did. Only 10 years earlier. As an homage to her, on her birthday, I share with you my memories. Her memory is what sustains me to make better lifestyle decisions, as I have type 2 diabetes and had a heart attack at age 54.
My mother was diagnosed with adult-onset type 1 diabetes in her 50's. I was a teenager when she was diagnosed, and while she was transparent about taking her insulin shots and minding her diet, life didn't really change much for us and she managed the disease quite well. (Continue reading below the pictures)
In the late 80's or early 90's, my mother had her first stroke and we didn't even know. My brother Rob and I were actually with her when it happened. The three of us were working in our conference room and during conversation, she was taking notes. Suddenly, her arm uncontrollably veered right off the table. We thought it was weird but then she was fine so we went back to working. A few days later she came to learn that she had suffered a mild stroke. Part of the curse of being a diabetic.
Because of the nature of our business, my parents ate out a lot. They dined very well. Eventually, that will catch up with you. And for mom, it did. She suffered another stroke, this time caused by a clogged carotid artery, and required surgery.
After recuperating from surgery, she took lifestyle changes seriously. Stricter diet. Walking every day. We were proud of her and she looked terrific. Joan was well into her 60's by now and we'd sold our family business, which meant her and Bill could relax. For mom and dad, relaxing meant THE BEACH. They bought a condo on the beach and spent 4 months a year there. The beach is where many of our happiest times together took place.
But, my parents were getting older. My mom was concerned about how far away doctors and the hospital were in case of emergency. They made a decision to sell the property and return to Dallas. And this is around the time that I think sadness crept into my mother's life.
My mother's identity was deeply attached to business and her career for decades. The beach was an escape. Being back in Dallas isolated her because many of the people that she cared about were tied somehow to business. They fell to the wayside when she didn't have anything to give them any longer. Looking back, and because I'm now experiencing this, I know she was deeply hurt. But, she never talked about it.
My father died in May 2007. Mom didn't cope very well after this and three months later, she suffered a massive stroke in bed. My sister Pam is the one that found her at home. While in the emergency room, I remember the doctor telling us that my mother was completely paralyzed including her tongue. I remember thinking "I really hope my mother never wakes up." (I mean,what’s a Jewish mother that can't speak?) God was kind. My mother fell into a coma and passed away four days later.
“It’s all waiting for you, baby!”
When I say this to my endocrinologist and my cardiologist, they chuckle. The comment is exactly what my mother said to me often when she was alive in her later years. She said it as a warning because her ailments were hereditary. I thought she was nuts. But in our youth, we're invincible and nothing bad will ever happen to us, right?
Well, guess what? It was all waiting for me and, baby, I got it all! I don’t know why I was chosen to be the child that inherited every single one of my mother’s health problems but here they are:
GUMS: In my 30’s, I developed bad gum tissue and started seeing a periodontist to keep my mouth healthy.
DIABETES: I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2011. I was 47.
HEART ATTACK: Mom had multiple strokes; I had a heart attack in 2018 at the age of 54.
As shared earlier in this article, I’m 10 years ahead of my mother with the multiple health issues. But, it’s more than just the health. It’s the emotion that comes with learning to live a new lifestyle. It’s discovering there are people in your world that you think care about you. In reality, they're really just fair weather friends and or business associates who disappear because they don't need anything from you any longer. Naturally, this has brought sadness; the same sadness that my mother experienced as time moved on for her. She never did express it even though I do remember occasions of her crying sometimes. Then, I didn’t have the maturity or compassion yet to understand why my strong, fierce, can-do mother was crying. Now, I understand. I really, really do.
And, then "cheerleader Joan" returns. She tells me to "knock it off". She tells me I'm smarter than she was. And, you know what? She's right! Here’s what’s different for me than my mother:
Physical strength: While I did not take care of myself at all for almost 3 years before my heart attack, I was always athletic. I'm now back in the gym 3-5 days a week. Looking good. Feeling good.
Medicine: Yes, I’m taking 7 pills a day, all specifically to treat my heart and diabetes. (I remember asking my mom why she took so many pills and her replying “Which one should I stop taking?”) While better living through chemistry is the easier route, by the end of summer 2019, as my health continues to get better, I'm hoping to be off a couple of them!
Stress: Mom always told me “good stress and bad stress have the same effect on the body”. Guess what? This is true! Every day I strive to keep stress at bay. It's hard to do.
Staving off negative self-talk/depression: I'm working with a cognitive therapist to re-learn positive self-talk and get closer to the "new" Patty living with a "new normal". (Asking for help is okay.)
Bottom line? Wellness is top priority for me nowadays. I've walked away from a lot of situations. I'm finding my way toward living life on my terms. Doing what I enjoy. Looking more closely at what's right in front of me. Because the good stuff? It's all waiting for me, baby!