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Call Your Mother

The Dorsal Spin

Matriarchy and mortality are recurring themes in my Loop articles. Typically, I attempt to decipher the potential ramifications of births and deaths in Southern Resident orca matrilines. I fret most about the impact on surviving podmates when mature, elder females die. In 2015 thus far, I have been preoccupied with the untimely demise of my own mother. I am struggling to make sense of how Mom’s surviving “podmates” will get by without her.

Odin, Nashoba, and I recently returned from a protracted road trip to Arizona. Dear readers, if you called or emailed us between mid-January and mid-March, pardon our slow reply. We are in the process of responding to our messages. The trip was stressful enough without the added irritation of email, so we rarely checked it while we were gone. To the callers who reported the dead sea lion at Sunset Beach, we could not find it when we looked for it on March 16. Has the tide reclaimed it?

I guess I look like walking wounded. Occasionally on the trip, a hotel clerk or a barista would ask, “Is something wrong?” or “Are you OK?” I need a button that proclaims, “My Mother just died and I feel lousy.” Nothing adequately describes the sensation of losing a beloved parent.

Oddly, we had decided to visit my family this year before April, when the desert heats up, and before The Inevitable deprived me of either parent. The Great Recession of 2008 shithammered us, so a costly trip of this magnitude was out of the question until now. In the last conversation I had with her in early January, Mom sounded thrilled that we were finally coming to Tucson. We spoke of what we would do together. She made a cryptic comment about impending death and wanting to see me while her mind was still reasonably clear. I may never recover from the anguish of not getting there in time to see her or talk to her again. My mother was one of my best friends.

Mom had a serious stroke in September 2011, from which she never completely recuperated. That marked the start of her decline -- that and a persistent battle with diabetes. My dad and my sister told me that Mom was telegraphing her death in recent months, making morbid pronouncements such as “I’m going to die soon.” In retrospect, we were all in varying degrees of denial. I know I was.

Dad is 86; Mom was only 77. Dad told me he fully expected that she would outlive him. Instead, he found her one winter morning, immobile and incoherent on the floor near the bathroom where she had fallen several hours earlier. She had been sick for several days with flu-like symptoms. She argued with the paramedics, insisting that she did not want to go to the hospital. Her blood sugar, however, was off the charts. That was the last time she talked to anyone. DKA – diabetic ketoacidosis -- had her in its lethal grip.

The updates from the ICU were infuriatingly contradictory. A nurse asked us about an end of life directive. Two days in, a doctor opined that Mom was improving. Unrealistically, I latched on to that misguided assessment. My dad and my sister said she was mainly unresponsive and the situation did not look promising. Apparently, Mom went into cardiac arrest enroute to the hospital, and some time during the four days she was there, she had more strokes. She never regained consciousness.

We were not suitably prepared to deal with the tsunami of grief and the onslaught of demanding, intensely emotional decisions we were forced to make at the hospital, at the mortuary, for the memorial service, in dealing with the aggressive organ donation folks and the indifferent Social Security office, ad nauseum. Let this be a cautionary tale.
Princess is the cutie with the light fur and fuzzy face in this week’s photo. The Jack Russell is my baby, Nashoba. Princess was my mother’s constant companion. Princess was also the last family member to interact with Mom while she was still lucid. We tried to lavish her with attention; she seemed to enjoy her play dates with Nashoba. Our adorable pups provided welcome moments of comic relief during a tragic time. Now, go call your lovely mothers.

Please support the work of the Vashon Hydrophone Project (VHP): REPORT LOCAL WHALE SIGHTINGS ASAP TO 206-463-9041, as well as seal pups and sick, injured, or dead marine mammals on Island beaches. Prompt reports to the VHP expedite vital data collection efforts and sustain an accurate record of whale sightings for Vashon-Maury initiated three decades ago by Mark Sears. Send photos to Orca Annie at