(This essay is included in my new collection “What Matters Most,” and is representative of the theme of the book that “God, Country, Family and Friends” are the four pillars of a happy and healthy life. We tolerate politics, but it is through the four loves that we transcend politics. This essay is a tribute to my mother, Lorraine Miele, whose birthday was an opportunity for me to meditate on her tragic death in 2003 and what she taught me about enjoying life. She is seen here circa 1955, my own birth year.)
Something more important than politics or issues
November 12, 2006
By Frank Miele
I was going to write about politics today — elections, immigration, taxes, war — but then I remembered what today is, and I decided to write about something more important.
Nov. 12 is my mother’s birthday, and oddly enough it is also International CJD Awareness Day.
That has a special meaning for me because it was just three years ago that we learned that my mother was dying from CJD — Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
It was during her visit to Kalispell for the Thanksgiving holiday of 2002 when I first noticed that mom was showing symptoms of memory loss and lack of focus. I grew increasingly worried through the week that she was with us, but I tried to make the best of it because I was so happy to have her there with the grandchildren she had always wanted. Meredith had just turned 3 that year and Carmen was a frolicking 7. They both loved their grandmother very much, and I had a hard time explaining to them why she was unable to play board games with us or why it was so hard to get her attention.
I didn’t know myself what was wrong at the time, but it turned out that it was Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human equivalent of mad cow disease or chronic wasting disease. The disease has no known cause, and no known cure. Essentially, you get it by losing a one in a million lottery, and by the time it is diagnosed, it is too late — as noted by the dreadful words, “invariably fatal.”
In mother’s case it did not take long for the end to come, just six weeks. I am glad now that by coincidence we had planned that last visit with the children before she was gone, but of course at the time we were too much in shock to see any hidden blessings.
She was diagnosed about a week after returning to her home in Michigan, then rapidly deteriorated to the point where she did not know who she was, where she lived, or who her own children were. My brother took care of her the best he could, but eventually she had to be moved into the hospital for hospice care.
I was able to see her again for several days in January of 2003, the week before she died, and I am grateful for that quiet time. She had stopped eating and drinking and pulled out her IVs to make sure she could not be hydrated, so we knew the end was near. That last week she could not talk or really move, but from time to time her eyes still had the old spark and I would talk to her about experiences we had shared or tell her stories about my dear children and always reassure her that we were going to be OK.
We played a steady stream of music for her that last week, including two CDs of Frank Sinatra music from the old days in New Jersey. She was a bobbysoxer when Frankie was a heartthrob, and it was easy to imagine another time when this frail lost woman was alive and young, dancing on the boardwalk, brash and shy at the same time, confident of the future and eager to grab it.
She turned 17 the year World War II ended, and what a time to grow up and come into your own! What a world she had, and what a life! I wanted her to tell me more stories about growing up Italian in Jersey, but I knew they would never come. Everything was drawing to a close for her, for us — and I soon would be alone in the world in a way I had never been before. There is something about losing one’s parents that makes one just a little bit lost.
But you have to go on, too, and there are reminders everywhere of where you came from, and how you got where you are. These days, I drive my mom’s 1995 Saturn and stomp on her welcome mat when I walk up my porch. I play the Steinway she bought for me and my brother 45 years ago so we would have a chance to take piano lessons and appreciate music. I listen to Sinatra and Tony Bennett and Dean Martin and I get a little teary-eyed thinking about all those yesterdays. But there is no time for nostalgia when you have two young children, so you have to keep moving ahead.
Today Meredith is 7 and Carmen is 11, and they are both just as rambunctious as I was when I was their age. They keep me busy thinking about what’s in store for today and tomorrow, and I try to keep their grandmother’s memory alive for them to carry forward, but I know that nothing can ever replace the living, laughing woman who was taken away from us.
And I know that the bond between a mother and a son, or a father and his children, is ultimately more important than anything else in this world. That bond is love, and when we have love in our lives we can somehow survive all our losses, even the losses of our loved ones — and certainly we can survive something like a political defeat.
That’s why I say that my mother’s life and death is more important than immigration reform, or who runs Congress, or even whether we win or lose the war in Iraq. It is what the preacher said more than 2,000 years ago: “One generation passes away, and another generation arrives: but the earth abides for ever.” We can be sure that power will shift from side to side, that wars will be won and lost, that countries will pass away — and through all that change we can be sure of nothing but ourselves and our God, and sometimes not even ourselves.
If we are fortunate, we have discovered the importance of love and lovingkindness, and that will make all the difference: “I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live.”
So though I do strive to improve the world and make it a better place to live, I also accept that the big picture is in God’s hands, not mine — that “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” — even for things I do not like.
And when I get done writing this column, and leave work and return to my home, I do so with a clear understanding that every word I write will vanish almost as soon as it is written, that life is not about talking but about doing, and that Momma was right when she told me a long time ago: “Just do the best you can, and you will have nothing to be ashamed of.”
So this week, I will let others argue about politics, solve the world’s problems and strive to be heard amidst the din of competing voices. For me it is enough to think about life and death, love and happiness, and remember once more how lucky I am to be here.
To learn more about Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, visit the CJD Foundation on the Internet at www.cjdfoundation.org.
MY NEW BOOK EXPLORES “WHAT MATTERS MOST”
Heartland Diary is solely operated by Frank Miele, the retired editor of the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell, Montana. My new book is “What Matters Most: God, Country, Family and Friends” and is a collection of personal essays that transcend politics. The title says it all. My earlier books in the Heartland Diary series include “How We Got Here: The Left’s Assault on the Constitution,” “The Media Matrix: What if everything you know is fake?” and the “Why We Needed Trump” trilogy. Part 1 is subtitled “Bush’s Global Failure: Half Right.” Part 2 is “Obama’s Fundamental Transformation: Far Left.” Part 3 is “Trump’s American Vision: Just Right.” As an Amazon Associate, I may earn referral fees for qualifying purchases through links on my website. If you enjoy reading my commentary, I hope you will SUBSCRIBE to www.HeartlandDiaryUSA.com by leaving your email address on the home page.