Saturday, July 24, 2010

Not goodbye - see you again....

Today is Mom's memorial service. It will be held at Little Sisters, where Mom lived for the past 5 years. It will be a Catholic service, and I have been asked to play. Thank God for Melissa Singer-Reed, who will sing Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) for me. I would have never made it through the first line...

I want to take a minute to tell you about my Mom. It will not be a complete history of her life, just who Mom was in my eyes. I hope that I can give you a glimpse as to who she was, and why I am who I am.

Mom was born in St. Bernard, in a Red farm house on Church Street a block from St. Clement church. The house still stands today. She lived there with her sister Marge and her brother Robert, her mother and her grand parents. Mom never talked about her father much, and while I don't know the whole story it was my impression that he was either an alcoholic, abusive to her mother, or both.

I bring this up only to point out that even in the early 1920's there were broken homes and difficulties. One is not required to become bitter or a "victim of society" because you come from a broken home. My Mom is proof that you make your own way, despite the conditions of your childhood or whatever obstacles you may find in your way. My wife is another example of that - I respect them both for the way they have made their own way in life and have become good, honorable and wonderful people regardless of the circumstances that once effected their lives.

Mom met Dad while she worked at Willis Music downtown. Dad, a 3rd generation Italian (yes, Questa with a "Q" is Italian), married my mother and they - after they could afford to - bought a house in St. Bernard in the "Old Subdivision" (dubbed after a new subdivision was constructed in the 70's). Mom worked various clerical office jobs - dad landed employment at Proctor and Gamble's Ivorydale Plant (now called the St. Bernard Soap Company - ironically the location where a workman's error whipped air into the soap causing it to float in water, thereby making it one of the most popular consumer products of the time).

They held off to start a family until much later in life. Mom was 39 when she gave birth to Dona Marie Questa. Tragically, my older sister died only 5 days after birth, falling victim to a staff infection she contracted in the hospital. I can't imagine how devastating this time was, and those who have told me bits and pieces told me that my mother was very strong during this time, even though she was obviously distraught about the apparently senseless death of a baby. I can only assume it was because of her faith.

2 years later in 1964 I was born (God help us all). I must have been a holy terror as I experienced colic and was a constant bother to my parents as a baby. There were two things that would calm and sooth me - a ride in the car, and listening to music. In fact, in order to get me to sleep my parents put my crib under a speaker and they would play music to get me to sleep. I am convinced this is also why I am musically inclined, as I listened to music from the time I was born.

Vault ahead to 1974. I was 10 years old. I remember that my parents friend and neighbor picked me up from school that day, and as inquisitive as I was at the time I'm sure I drove everyone nuts trying to find out why there was something different. Dad had a heart attack, and was in the hospital. Mom did everything she could to make life "normal" for me, while I'm sure things were everything but normal with the love of her life in the hospital.

Dad came home a few days later, but it didn't last long. Just a few weeks later, I heard Dad yell for Mom while he was in the shower, and then a crash. Mom went running, then yelled to me to go get Tom (our next door neighbor and paramedic for St. Bernard). I peered in to see mom holding dad as he shivered, the look on her face very worried. I went and got Tom, and within a matter of a few minutes dad was on his way back to the hospital. He suffered a stroke.

For those of you who don't know, strokes can and often do adversely effect the personality of the victim. Dad changed from a loving husband and father into a very bitter and angry man. It was obvious to me - and Mom - that he was frustrated that he couldn't do the things he used to do. He was considered permanently disabled, so he could no longer work at P&G, could no longer serve in his position in city government (member of the City of St. Bernard board of health, then elected to City Council, member of the St. Bernard Kawanis, just to name a few things he did).

I can't tell you how many times things exploded in our household. Dad once pulled a knife and chased me through the house (although I don't think he would have ever used it). He also threw door knobs (solid glass and metal objects that would certainly have killed me if I was to be hit in the head) and broke items in fits of rage. But through all of this, Mom took to heart the vows she made when they were married so many years ago. It was "recommended" many times that Dad be institutionalized, but Mom always refused. "For better or worse, in sickness and in health" meant everything to Mom.

Through all of this, Mom did everything in her power to maintain my standard of living. Even though our income was drastically reduced, she still put me through Catholic grade and high school. She continued to nurture my musical talents, driving me all over the Midwest so I could continue to perform at trade fairs, Disabled American Veteran conventions, TV shows, shopping malls - even sat for hours at the "Hot Shoppes Cafeteria" in the Tri County mall twice a week while I played the organ and made some cash for myself, all they while taking Dad wherever we went.

It is these things - the way she made my life as normal as possible, teaching me right from wrong, driving home the importance of being responsible, ethical, and moral, the importance of family, and all the while leading by example that when you vow to love someone unconditionally, you must honor your vow. I am who I am because of my Mother. I would admit that I am not nearly as good at these things and dealing with adversity as my Mother was, but I continue to try everyday to live up to her example. It's a very high bar, and I hope one day I'll be able to reach it.

Mom and I didn't always see eye to eye of course. She really hated my long hair, but she got the last word on that one, didn't she? I was genuinely upset at her for a long time because we lost the only bit of financial security I was to have when we were forced to sell the family home. But I loved her dearly. I will miss her. I hope I did the right thing by her, especially over the last two weeks of her life when I did what I thought she would have wanted me to do for her - to honor her wishes.

I am who I am today because of my Mother. My musical ability, my work ethic, my attitudes, and beliefs - everything I am, I am because of my Mother. If I have done anything to positively effect your life, it is because of who She was and how She raised me. Feel free to thank her. :)

I love you Mom. When you talk to God, please tell him that I'm worth helping while I'm on Earth, and worth keeping when I leave this existence. Enjoy your rest in Heaven - you certainly deserve it.

With much love,

Your son

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Preparations Continue...

It was strange to see Mom's obituary in the newspaper today. I'm not sure why - I helped write it - I guess that I'm starting to let myself feel now, which is part of the healing process. And consistent with the digital age, it's also on line:

Amazing how information can be distributed so quickly, yet there is so little understanding these days.

I picked up a guest register book for the memorial service this Saturday. I also asked Melissa Singer-Reed to sing Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) while I play the piano. I would have liked to try and sing it myself, but I'd never get through it in good voice. Hopefully Mom won't mind me just playing the piano part...

I decided to make Mom's prayer cards too. Digging deep into my self taught graphic design background, I was able to come up with something that I think she would have liked, and something that the people at Little Sisters would appreciate as well.

The front has a picture of the cross on a hill at sunset, the inscription "In loving memory of Loretta Questa Devoted wife and mother December 14th 1923 July 17th 2010. Then from John 14:6 "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one cometh unto the Father except through me"

The back has an incredible picture of Christ as the Shepherd, standing and watching over his sheep. Of course, I used Psalm 23, "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want..."

Thank you Big Will Mueller (awesome drummer) for the copy of that Bible. It came in good use, again. :)

I put them on 4" x 5-1/2" cards so I could make the print big enough for older eyes to see. Normal prayer cards are so small, and the print so small that it's hard for us 40-something people to read, much less eyes that have seen 70+ years.

Here's what they look like:



So as the cards are printing on the "ultra quality" setting - 4 minutes per page - I'm listening to the original versions of some of the music I played at Wellspring Community Church. It's doing a good job of quenching the fires I feel in my soul, but I fear it's only temporary. I've found it much harder to maintain my state of sanity (scary prospect for those of you who really know me on a personal level). I just need to get through the weekend, and then I have to put on my business face and find some employment.

Anyone need a really good Purchasing / Supply Chain Manager? I have a long list of successes and 19 years of experience...

Anyone have an contact at a dueling piano bar? I know a minimum of 500 songs, and I can sing some too...

Maybe Mom will intercede for me - she's always been there for me before. "Mom, I'm far from perfect and I could have done better by you over the years, but I'd appreciate you putting in a good word with the Man Upstairs." I'll take all the help I can get...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Mom is heading home...

The call came at 7:00 PM...

"Jim? This is sister Rose Marie. Your mother just died."

I was down at Manhattan Harbor - a large riverside complex of boats and party barges, and a large bar / restaurant / nightclub right on the river. I had just finished setting up and wiring my keyboards for the show I was playing with DV8. My brain when into work mode: Who do I need to call? Did anyone find mom's bequeathal form? What are the next steps???

I was able to get in contact with the funeral home, and they were to take care of everything at this point. Sister Rose Marie found the body donation form - my mother's wish was to donate her body to the University of Cincinnati School of medicine, and the nursing home was given a copy - so that part was taken care of. Hodapp took care of transporting the body. All was in motion the way it should be.

Next my brain when into survival mode. I've come to learn that everyone handles death and grieving differently, and the way you deal with it has a direct relationship to your past experiences. As I had mentioned a few posts ago, my father died when I was 21 (that's 25 years ago) after suffering for 11 years with 3 heart attacks and 3 strokes. I always viewed his death as a blessing because he truly became a shell of his former self. My wife's mother on the other hand died at age 57 from complications due to Lung Cancer. Hers was a life cut way too short, and she left my wife without her mother and my wifes kids without their grandmother at a very young age - there was something so wrong about that in my mind. My mother on the other hand was 86 - she lived an incredible life and, as you will read in an upcoming blog entry, she did so many great things during her lifetime.

Mom's death was to me - like dad's before - a release of pain and suffering and a restoration of dignity. Perhaps I look at their passing this way because of my faith in God and my belief that there is a place for us after our life on this Earth. I never cried about my fathers death, and today I don't cry about my mother's passing - I believe they have been reunited as husband and wife, now together forever in the after-life. It's everything mom wanted since dad died in 1985 and when we talked about it, it was the one thing she was looking forward to when the time came. 

The other bonus for me is this - despite the fact that I was my parents only child, and now both of my parents are gone, I don't feel alone. This is because of the wondrous woman I have found in Jennifer, my wife. Ephesians 5:31 states, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." Jennifer is my life, and because of her I am not alone in this world. Of course I have my friends - many great friends, some with whom I play music, and others that I've known from my prior employment, playing ice hockey, or other things I've done around Cincinnati - but my wife and three wonderful step kids have become my life and my focus. As long as Jennifer is here, I am not alone. I thank God for her, and I thank my mother for supporting and guiding me when I found Jennnifer.

So with the news of my mother's passing coursing through my body, I had to make a decision. 30 minutes until DV8 (great friends and a great band, with whom I was filling in for their current keyboardist who was on vacation at the time) took the stage, I had to decide to leave or stay. There was some sadness in my heart. There was much relief in my heart. So I thought to myself, "Who was my mother and what was her focus for me when she raised me to be the man I am today?"

I can't begin to chronicle the amount of time my father and mother spent with me regarding my musical pursuits. My father - until he had his first stroke when I was 10 - would sit with me in the dinning room and force me to practice. After father took ill, my mother still found ways to get me to performances, became my booking agent, secured bus tickets and airline tickets, hotel reservations (Good Lord, that trip to Disney Land and my performance on the New Mickey Mouse Club when I was 12 had to be the most difficult thing she ever did, considering she was also caring for my stricken father) - she did everything in her power to make sure I could nurture and improve my talents. In many ways, to pack up and sit at home doing nothing would have been a slap in the face for all she had done for me while I was growing up.

So I decided to stay and play the show.

I certainly wasn't the life of the party by any means. I was singularly focused on my playing - playing for her (and for my own personal sanity) - giving whatever my fingers and voice would allow me to do, understanding all the while that it was because of her (and my God-given talents) that I was even able to play music at all, and something that I love to do.

Many musicians that I spoke with that night, including Melissa Singer-Reed (one incredible vocalist and an even better human being), and Mike Oakley (hands down the most gifted guitarist I've ever had the pleasure of working with and a blessing to me both spiritually and as a friend) - they all understood my motivation for wanting to play. Besides honoring mom's memory and her sacrifice, music is my therapy. Instead of Zoloft or Prozac, playing music allows me to comb through my minds confusion and make sense of this crazy world and the twists and turns that are a part of life on Earth.

So in the span of mere moments, I felt sadness, loss, relief, joy, comfort - and in the end - peace. Mom is in a wonderful place with dad. They have been reunited and can now spend eternity making up for the 25 years that sickness and death kept them apart. They so much loved each other, and it was so evident in the way mom cared for dad for the decade he was ill.

In then end, I take the following facts with me now: My parents took the musical gift that God gave me and nurtured it into something that will sustain me for a lifetime - maybe not financially, but certainly psychologically. In turn, God has also sent me the gift of a wonderful, understanding wife in Jennifer and her three awesome kids who I've grown to love as my very own flesh and blood. And lastly, God has graced me with a pool of friends that cannot be measured, so many that I could never list them all - people that I've touched through my music, and they in turn have touched me with their smiles and laughter and well wishes. My friends and musical cohorts from Wellspring Community Church, the Bad Habit Band, and DV8 just to name a few - there are so many more musicians and friends, it feels to me like the first time you look into a moonless night sky way out in the country and you realize how many stars there are above you - every star a friend that has wished me well.

So thank you all for your support during this difficult two weeks. You have prayed for me, and I believe God has answered those prayers. My heart is full because of his grace, and the incredible friendship you all have offered. I believe and truly pray that your gift is returned to you and amplified so many more times.

May God bless you all.  :)

-  Jim  -

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Some Comedy In The Face Of Sadness

This morning, mom wasn't doing so well (as if anything that's happening right now could be considered "well"). But while Jen and I waited for the staff to finish her morning bath, one of the residents came up in her walker to talk with us.

"How is Loretta doing?" she asked.
"Not well" I answered.

Then she said, "You know, I really miss your mother. We would sit together during dinner or events and talk. It was really nice - Most everyone else on this floor is either deaf or in la la land."

Then she turned and walked away.

Jen and I looked at each other and chuckled at the bit of comedy that had been tossed our way. I also smiled because I knew my mom touched lives wherever she went. She sometimes wondered why she was left on this Earth for so long after dad died in 1985. Now we know why - her job on here on Earth wasn't done yet.

I hope her job is done soon. Mom didn't recognize me or Jen when we went into her room today. It might be hard to explain but when I look into her eyes, I don't see her anymore. It's almost like she is already gone - only the body remains holding on to some kind of life. Perhaps this is the "purgatory" that I heard some much about in Catholic school - not heaven, not hell, but a state in between before going to one direction or the other. I don't know - maybe it's just my mind trying to make sense out of something that I personally see as nonsensical...

On top of this, we come home to find a mess of water in the basement. It seams one of our drain pipes has fractured. As Jen and I were heading to the hardware store for some kind of temporary solution until we can scrape up the cash for a professional repair, I just had to say, "I can handle this - God never gives you more than you can handle, right?"

Friday, July 16, 2010

Back to her home, before her trip home....

Mom's wish was granted - she wanted to return to Little Sisters for her Hospice. The doctor processed the release paperwork at 10 AM, and she was in the ambulance at 1:00. When I got there around 4, Sister Rose Marie was giving her a bath. Her room was completely clean and organized - everything in it's place. I bought a CD player with a speaker, and a CD of music and rain sounds - something she was enjoying in the hospital. She was tired - Jen and I stayed for a bit over and hour then decided to leave her sleep.

Yesterday She was a bit more awake - she even managed to tell me she loved me. It was nice to here of course, but hard all at the same time.

Today I couldn't make it until the afternoon. Sister called and said mom was having a good day and I made it over there around 3:30. I was there for about 90 minutes, and she was pretty out of it. A nurse came in and gave her some pain medication (which I didn't know she was getting), so I'm guessing the time must be getting pretty close.

One of the priests came in again today - I think he comes in every day to bless mom. "May Marry the mother of God be there in your hour of death," he says in part. Words that hit me strangely - I'm not sure how to take it. It's my hope that dad will be there to greet her on the other side, and maybe her greyhound Lady too...

It's so hard to watch mom go through this. I do understand that this is the natural course of the end of life, but it's so difficult to watch mom lie there and just "exist." I can only continue to pray for peace and comfort and hope that this time pases quickly. I hope you all as well - and pray for my sanity during all of this.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

And so it goes...

After much discussion with the people at Little Sisters (which is where mom has been staying for the last 5 years), people from Hospice of Cincinnati, and her doctor, we (Mom and myself) have decided to let mom go back to her room at Little Sisters. They are able to administer nutrients and pain medication if needed, and both Mom and myself think this would be the best thing to do.

According to the doctor, not only does she have a massive infection running through her blood, she now has a fungus in her blood. This is typical of how things can move out of control in older people, so it's time.

The sisters at Little Sisters have been wonderfully supportive. And after all of the conversations I've had with them, her doctor, and mom (a very productive conversation in fact), I am finely at peace with the decisions have been made. It's hard to explain, but it feels good to finely turn over the process to God (as if he didn't have control anyway, right?) and let him take care of things.

Please continue to pray for Mom so she can pass from this world into the next with dignity, respect, peace and comfort.

- Jim -

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Now I have some answers...

My next blog postings are going to be about my mother and her battle with infections at the age of 86. This is a follow up to my "facebook" posts, and the update is so lengthy I thought I'd post it here for easy reading.


First, about the biopsy. As I've stated previously, mom isn't producing white blood cells naturally to help fight the infection (in four places) that is running through her body. Without an adequate white blood cell count, it will not be possible for mom to recover, and the infection will eventually take over...

A bone marrow biopsy is used to determine if Leukemia or Bone Cancer is present preventing the production of white blood cells (mom has a .6 right now when it should be 4, 5, or 6.0). The problem is that if she does have Bone Cancer or Leukemia, there's nothing they can do about it. However if she doesn't, they are already treating her with all of the knows types of medication to improve the production of white cells.

With that being the case, it doesn't make any sense to do the bone marrow procedure - a painful one - because at the end of the day the results don't matter. White cells are not being produced under any circumstance.

So mom is being treated with all kinds of anti-biotics used to fight the infection. Unfortunately, the infection is so wide spread, and without the ability of her body to produce white cells to help the anti-biotics do their job, the only thing they are doing is keeping the infection at bay. After a week, the infection continues to exist, and mom faces the risk of C-Diff:

At the end of the day, Mom is very sick and weak, and all we are really doing at this point is prolonging the inevitable. Without the production of white cells, and with a weeks worth of massive dosages of anti-biotics, her body has had about all it can take from medication. The decision now needs to be made on how to allow mom to deal with this final battle on her own, now that all of the medical options have been exhausted.

When I talked to the doctor today, he strongly suggested Hospice. Mom will never recover to the point where she can enjoy sitting in the sun on the patio, or watch a Reds game, or play bingo down in the hall, so the "quality of life" decision needs to be made. Luckily, mom and I have discussed this at length prior to this sickness. She strongly wanted every chance to recover, but if it ever got to the point where she wasn't going to be able to do the things she loved to do, then it was time. I intend to honor those wishes.

Mom was "out" pretty much the last 2 days, but while Jen and I were eating dinner we got a call from the hospital. Mom wanted to talk to me on the phone! What?!?! Sure enough, mom woke up enough for me to talk to her. We choked down our dinner and headed back to the hospital.

I was able to talk to mom and explain everything that I was told by the doctor and nursing staff. It was hard for her to hear, but she totally understood everything, and even decided where she wanted to go when the time was right. At this point it's up to me to gather the balance of the information and make the call...

Please continue to pray for mom - for peace and comfort. Please pray for me - for guidance and strength. I have learned through this process that the payment for 18 years of love and heartache a parent experiences when raising a child is that child making the final decisions for the parent who raised you. It's very difficult, but mom deserves all of the love and support I can give her now in this her final hours.

I love my mom, and this is how I must show her - by honoring her wishes and making sure things are done right.

Thank you everyone for your continued support. :)

- Jim -

The Circle Of Life

There is nothing quite so beautiful - and nothing quite so devestating - as the circle of life.  When we are born into this world - at least for the vast majority of people - it's a beautiful, happy time.  As we live our lives, choices are made for us in the beginning, and eventually we make our own choices and our own way.  But one day, we will die.  Most of the time, we won't know how it will happen, or what the conditions may be, but it will happen.  It is part of the natural order, and nothing will stop it.

This all comes to mind now as I sit in a hospital room next to my mother.  She is 86, and gravely ill.  She knows I'm here, but she can't communicate other than to look my way at times.  Her doctor contacted me today and told me there's nothing more that they can do for her other than what they've already been doing, and she isn't improving.  So my choices are to continue treatment, or send her to Hospice.

My mother - Loretta Moeller - was born in the City of St. Bernard, a suburb of Cincinnati 6 miles north of Downtown Cincinnati on I-75.  December 14th, 1923 to be exact.  She lived in a large red house on Church Street, a block from St. Clement's Church, with her Sister Margie and her Brother Robert, her mother and grand parents.  She told me once she never knew her father - that he was an alcoholic and had left early in her childhood.

She met my father - Earl F Questa of Latonia, KY - while she worked at the Willis Music Company in downtown Cincinnati.  They were married at St. Clement's church, and purchased a house in the South East corner of St. Bernard, which is where they - and I - lived for most of our lives.

Mom gave birth to a little girl - Donna Marie - who died a couple of months after birth from a staff infection.  Two years later, she gave birth to me.  Both of my parents sacrificed to send me to private schools and always nurtured my musical talents.

When I was 10, my father had a heart attack, and a few month later, had a stroke.  It was at this point that my mother demonstrated her incredible love for my father - and for me.  My dad was an incredibly active and accomplished member of the community - member of the health department, then member of St. Bernard city council for a few years - all the while working for Proctor & Gamble.  But this stoke meant he could no longer work.  My mother was instructed to put dad into a home, she took the vows of "for better or worse, in sickness and in health" very much to heart.  For the next 11 years, she would care for my father like a nurse (even though she never had any nurse training),  and continued to care for him until his health diminished after his 3rd stroke.  He died at the hospital 9 days after being admitted, and she was then on her own.

During this time, she found a way to put me through catholic high school, got me to band performances, paid for drum lessons as well as music lessons (as I continued to play the organ and piano through school).  She worked odd jobs, delivered phone books and laundry detergent samples to earn extra money.  Through all of this time she took care of dad as well - and yet I never wanted for anything.  She was truly a stunning example of a wife and mother.

She was always proud of me in whatever I did.  She didn't agree with everything I did as an adult (could never understand why I wanted to play that loud rock and roll), but she never stopped loving and supporting me.  Everyone should be lucky enough to have that kind of parent.

So now I sit in a hospital room, preparing to talk to someone from Hospice, and try to determine the best course of action.  I hope that the decisions I make now honor the decisions she made for me while I was growing up.  I love you mom - I hope you know how much...