The Passing of a Matriarch

Psychiatric TimesPsychiatric Times Vol 36, Issue 8
Volume 36
Issue 8

The author reminds us of our responsibility to make each decision and choose each action wisely and thoughtfully in life.

John J. Miller, MD

John J. Miller, MD

From the Editor

Throughout my life I have found myself reflecting on the philosophical question of how my life would be, or in fact would I be here at all, if a single event in history had occurred differently. Impersonal events like the extinction of the dinosaurs or a larger accretion of stardust resulting in the Earth orbiting the sun at a greater distance, incompatible with life, are obvious major events. However, it is the smaller and more personal events that bring up strong emotions and relief when I reflect on these.

My mother died on July 14th at the age of 83. She died peacefully after years of progressing medical ailments. My father, my 4 siblings, and I were all with her, and she had said her goodbyes to her extended family and friends. She welcomed her passing with relief, ready to join her parents in the heaven that had been such an important part of her life. It was during the ensuing days, with the telling of all the stories and remembrances of my mother’s life, that I found myself reflecting on the unpredictable web of events and decisions that easily could have eliminated me from this story. For brevity, I will share three.

Although my grandmother’s due date was Christmas Day, my mother was born on Thanksgiving Day in 1935 during a blizzard in Salem, MA. When my grandmother went into labor that day, my grandfather called the doctor, who informed them it was likely “false” labor, and he was unable to go to their home due to the severe weather. This weather also served to trap them in their home, unable to go to the hospital. Later that day, in the family home, my great grandmother delivered my mother, who was then placed in a drawer next to the wood stove in the kitchen to keep her warm. She weighed 4.5 pounds and was healthy.

My mother’s family was devoutly Catholic, and after attending an all girl’s Catholic high school my mother wanted to become a nun. Wisely, my grandfather asked her to delay that commitment for a year, and to attend some type of post high school education. My mother joined her best friend in attending the Salem Hospital School of Nursing, where she discovered her passion for pediatrics, and she worked as a pediatric nurse until she retired. She married my father and gave birth to 5 children over 10 years.

In 1975, at the age of 39, my mother received a diagnosis of a rare cardiac anomaly that she was unknowingly born with. A fistula connected her coronary sinus with her left coronary artery, and it had slowly grown in diameter to the width of a pencil, shunting the oxygenated blood away from her heart muscle and back to her right atrium. During her 30s, as her heart enlarged, she became increasingly short of breath with minor activity; finally, a cardiologist made the correct diagnosis. The only treatment option was open heart surgery to close the fistula, which was very new medical technology at that time. In 1975 she became one of the first open heart surgery patients at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

These are but three of hundreds, likely hundreds of thousands of events and decisions that have had a direct impact on me in unknowable ways. And so, it is for each of us, reminding us of our responsibility to make each decision and choose each action wisely and thoughtfully, but simultaneously accepting the reality that an infinite web of events have led us to this life, and this moment.

Mom, thank you for your choices and actions, and may you rest in peace.

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