It came out of nowhere. There was no warning that something would happen. To top matters off, it was a rare side effect to a standard practice of treatment.
Yet, my world was flipped upside down in a matter of hours.
On Monday 21st September, 2020 at 6:12 pm, I received an odd text message from my father, stating that my mother had a heart attack and was in transit to Christchurch Hospital. It came through on my smartwatch while I was on the toilet. Let's just say that it was the fastest pee-wipe-and-flush that I have ever done in my life.
(I don't think I'll ever understand why he didn't just phone, but that doesn't matter now.)
I'm going to rush past the chaos that happened that night, because it too doesn't matter at this moment. What does matter is that late on Monday evening, my mother developed a brain bleed as a result of a medication that she was given prior to transport to Christchurch. She had a stroke and slipped into a coma.
On Wednesday 23rd September, 2020 at 1:58pm, she was pronounced brain dead.
I have made so many notes about what happened, trying to reason it all in my head. I'm not sure I'll ever fully reason it. But I try.
What follows is the eulogy that I had read out at my mother's memorial service the following week.
My Farewell to My Mother
I’ve tried many times to work out exactly where to start with this. I actually wrote another eulogy, but as my husband rightly pointed out to me, while it had captured her caring nature, it didn't capture the side of her so many of us adored: her ability to have fun.
So, back to the drawing board I went, and here we go again, but this time, focusing on her true nature: the woman who was larger than life and knew how to laugh.
She had a saying: Don't take life so seriously. You're not getting out alive anyway.
It might sound morbid now, but she live by that philosophy. Always laughing about something, even if it was some snarky comment that came out of my mouth. But I learnt from the best. I inherited my snarky, non-politically-correct attitude from her.
I'm known to my friends as having a loose filter, letting the snarky remarks fly at the most inappropriate times.
Which is probably why she spent her last few hours of lucidity poking her tongue out at me and blowing raspberries. I had told her that if she wanted a ride in a helicopter, there were less dramatic ways of doing it. Out came the tongue—and it was a beautiful pink tongue at that.
I don't remember all of the snarky comments I made while in the hospital on Monday night last week, but I do know that I deserved that shower of her spit.
While I certainly employ less of a filter on my mouth than mom did, she was definitely not PC.
She held no judgments over anyone based on your ethnicity, religion, sexuality or whatever. She accepted you for who you are in your heart. She judged a person 100% based on their own actions. And if she thought you were being a jerk, she told you. But she also would joke with you, giving you a quirky nickname, just because she could.
She called dad Stilts. And I was Stilts 2.
But sometimes, she would give you a nickname because she was getting headaches trying to pronounce the name you already had.
The Nickname for My Husband
When my mother first met my husband (back before we were married), she struggled in a big way to pronounce his name. His name is Gijs, and trust me when I say that spelling it out does not help in any way, shape, or form to pronounce it. G-I-J-S. He's Dutch, and the closest we non-Dutch, uncivilised Kiwis can get to pronouncing his name is Yace.
It's took me 6 years to get the guttural g, and even 26 years later, I think I'm still pronouncing it wrong.
Anyway… At my 18th birthday party, Gijs spent hours trying to teach my mother and my friend Tracy how to pronounce his name properly. In the end, my mother decided that his name would be "HeyYou".
"HeyYou is on the phone."
"Were you at the pub with HeyYou?"
"So, HeyYou is coming to dinner. What are you making?"
"You should marry HeyYou. He cleans windows."
She called Gijs "HeyYou" exclusively for over four years, and even twenty-six years later, the odd "HeyYou" would slip in.
When Gijs and I were married and had children of our own, my mother only had one criteria: that we name our children something she could pronounce.
But her non-PC nature went beyond nicknames. It also extended to statements about how much crap she thought people were spouting off. Starting back when she was a teen.
The Beautiful Toilet
Mom was a teenager in the late 1960s, early 1970s. And she was a hippy. She had the long blond hair, which I found out was bleached with peroxide and ironed with her mother's clothes iron. Mom protested against Vietnam and had friends who served and died. However, she wasn't the "free love" hippy. No, she was the rebel hippy on a beautiful toilet mission.
As a high school prank, my mother and her friends decided that the senior lawn was in desperate need of beautification. This was the area of the school where all the footballers and cheerleaders hung out, and if you weren't part of the "in" crowd, you weren't welcome. So, because the footballers and Ra-ras were so full of "shit", they plumbed a working toilet in the middle of the senior lawn, complete with a flush cycle. So everyone would understand the efforts that they went to, they planted flowers around the edge and made it look all pretty.
I can only imagine how the cops reacted when the school filed a police report. The insurance adjuster was probably laughing the entire time.
They had also put tires all the way up the flagpole, among other crazy things.
My childhood was filled with laughter. Mom was always being silly. We would sing songs in the car, some nice and sweet—and some of them really disgusting.
"The worms crawl in" comes to mind as one of those really disgusting songs. "I found a peanut" is another one.
Now that I think about it, my abnormal fascination with death and violence might have come from her. I mean, who else would let an eight-year-old watch Nightmare on Elm Street? Mind you, I did laugh my head off as the woman screamed as she crawled up the wall and dangled around on the ceiling, getting her guts torn out. Blood is not that shade of red.
Mom laughed too.
But sometimes her antics left me red in the face, embarrassed as hell.
When I was in 5th Grade (still living in the States — I would have been 10), my mother volunteered to help out with my class Halloween party. I was fine with that, but when I saw that pointed hat walk by the window, I wanted to hang my head in shame.
"She didn't," I mumbled.
Oh, but she did.
She came into the classroom with her face painted green, a long nose stuck on her face, and the classic witch's wart. For a child who was only 10 at the time, seeing your mother dressed up as a complete fool… Nothing can be more embarrassing. However, for some reason everyone else in my class thought my mother was the Coolest Mom in the World.
But dressing up for Halloween was mild compared to some of her other antics. Let's face it, she had no shame. She would pinch anyone's butt.
I hope everyone understands how much of an institution the TV Soap Opera Shortland Street is. But how many of you know that when Shortland Street first started in 1992, it was filmed in Browns Bay on the North Shore of Auckland? I know this because we lived in Browns Bay at the time. When we went to fill up the car with petrol, we would often see one or more of the stars from the show also at the petrol station buying their cigarettes. Well…
One of the actors on the show back then was Rene Naufahu, a gorgeous hunk with nicely built abs and all the bits that go with it. He was cast as Rocky in the Rocky Horror Picture Show when I was in my late teens. And Mom had put up a poster of him in those gold shorts on the toilet door. There will be a few of us who remember that poster. I mean, how could you miss it? You'd sit on the toilet—and there it was.
Anyway, there was this one time when mom and I had pulled up to get petrol and stood in line at the counter to pay the bill. And we were standing directly behind Rene Naufahu.
My mother kept reaching forward to pinch his ass, and I spent the entire time trying to hold my mother's hands down so she wouldn't embarrass me too much. The attendant at the checkout… He was snickering at everything going on behind Rene, and Rene… He had no clue about how he made my mother's day.
But mom enjoyed crazy antics with others too.
Jaffas at the Black-Tie Gala
One of mom's best friends was Cathy Holmes, and the two of them were known for their crazy antics. It was frequently a game of "whose child could they embarrass more." Bonus points if they could embarrass all four of us at the same time. But sometimes it was their husbands.
Mom and Cathy were at this black-tie gala with dad and Cathy's husband Craig. And mom and Cathy got bored. Boredom and mom was never a good mix—especially if you added Cathy into the equation.
Somewhere between A and B, they got their hands on a box of Jaffas, but not for eating. They started throwing the Jaffas off the balcony and into the crowd below. Both of them. Mischief makers.
Their husbands did ask them to behave... Yeah, that was never going to happen.
Cathy left us 13 years ago, and there is no doubt in my mind that she and mom are now sitting down with their tea, coffee and cigarettes, planning their next bit of mischief.
The Tank and the Sports Car
Not all of mom's antics were about having a laugh. Some of them were frighteningly scary, because she had a temper. Whenever she was in a bad mood, many of us wanted to run and duck for cover. But if she wasn't mad at you, you did want to keep your head poking around the corner just to see what she would do, because the results were always entertaining.
My mother used to drive this 10-person station wagon painted Army green. It was a solid steel car, none of the crumple-zone hybrid materials that you get today. And it had manual steering. I think it was a column shift too. Let's just say that there was a reason why we nicknamed that station wagon The Tank.
Just to get give you a sense of how solid this station wagon was, mom and dad sold it to someone who took part in demolition derbies—and it won—twice.
Anyway, imagine a day when it's pouring with rain and you're on a mission to the grocery store with a bored 7-year-old in the car (at least I think I was 7). You see someone loading their groceries into their car, so you turn on the indicator and wait patiently while they finish and pull out. Just as you go to pull in, some man suffering from a mid-life crisis driving a fancy Japanese sports car whips around you and pulls into the parking spot that you were waiting for.
Most people would curse and swear, but just move on. Not my mom.
Mom got out of The Tank, and firmly put her hands on the man's door, stopping him from getting out.
"You will move your car now, or I will move it for you."
"Lady, I'd like to see you try."
Yeah… Even I knew to never issue my mother a challenge like that. The results were never pretty.
Mom stormed back to our car, soaking wet from the rain, and got back in. Meanwhile, the man gloated as he got out of his car. I think he might have even smirked.
So, Mom put The Tank into gear and started pushing that tiny Japanese sports car out of the parking spot.
"Lady, you're crazy!"
"No, just a woman who needs to do her shopping."
I don't know if that man learnt anything from that day, but I did: let the bigger car have the parking spot.
Odd Job Interview
But there were other notable instances of her anger and the "what just happened" actions.
Her first job in New Zealand was as a teacher's aid at the intermediate school that I was enrolled in. How she got the job... Well...
There were some issues with my teacher, and my mother went into momma-bear mode in a big way. I can't remember exactly what led her and dad to have the conversation with the principal in the first place, but I do know that at some point in the conversation, the principal said something along the lines of how "girls are not capable of upper math."
For anyone who knew my mother, you would know how that comment would not have gone down well.
The way it was told to me, dad just leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms, and shook his head. "This should be fun."
And mom let rip, bringing out all the statistics and the psychology behind the falseness in the principal's statement.
When the principal was finally able to get a word in, he said, "Do you want a job?" Mom just stared at him, blinking.
Dad smirked. "Well, that's one way to shut her up."
The Principal's Desk
But the instance of my mother's anger at a principal that I vividly recall was when I was in 3rd Form (Year 9 for those of you who don't know the old system). [Eighth grade for the Americans reading this on my blog.]
We were two weeks away from the uniform transition period from winter to summer. My winter uniform at the time consisted of black corduroy pants, and New Zealand was suffering from a heatwave. Every day, I would come home from school suffering from heat exhaustion, bordering on heat stroke. My mother decided to send me to school in my summer uniform with a note explaining the situation. However, for some unknown reason the deputy principal refused to give me a uniform pass—I was meant to be wearing the winter uniform, and that was that.
"New Zealand doesn't get heat waves." Never mind that it was all across the news…
My mother had arrived at the school to deliver my science project only to discover me in tears, because I had detention for not wearing the correct uniform. My mother marched into the deputy principal's office, demanding answers.
His response: "You have no authority to dictate to us how we administer your daughter's education. Between the hours of 9am and 3pm, you have no say."
The conversation went downhill from there.
I don't remember exactly what my mother said to the man, but I remember quite clearly the hole that she punched through his desk. And when she was done chewing him up and spitting him out, that man was visibly shaking.
As she stormed out of the room, I just looked at him and tsked. "You just made a big mistake."
"What exactly will she do?"
"You'll see." Then I left his office.
The next day, I had an out-of-zone enrollment interview at Rangitoto College, and the day after that, I had an interview at Takapuna Grammar. Being a straight "A" student, of course, I got into both schools. The next year, I went to Takapuna Grammar.
Turn Can't into Watch Me!
I'm sure mom used that passion in everything she did. She was a protector and teacher—allowing those around her to make mistakes, but she would be there to fight when she needed to.
I can almost guarantee that the entire time, her primary focus would have been on the people who needed her help the most, both the young and the old. And she would have told people where they can stuff their "policies" on multiple occasions.
"You can't do that. It's against the policy and rules."
"Oh yeah? Watch me."
It was another one of her sayings: Turn "can't" into "watch me!"
And that attitude was a tidal wave that could drown you if you didn't learn how to surf, and quickly.
And I'm not doubting that she skirted a few rules. She would have bent them too.
While she was working as a teacher's aid, boy, did she make some waves.
She helped a young boy who had physical issues with his hands, unable to write. The school board was insisting that she teach him how to write, to which she responded, "Why? When he gets out into the workforce, he's going to need to know how to type anyway. He might as well learn now."
Because of her stubborn persistence, she managed to secure for the boy a typewriter for school. The only thing she did insist that the boy learn to actually write was his name—so he could sign paperwork.
There was another boy who had major issues with reading. So, mom was supposed to help him learn how to read. But she did much more than that for the boy.
He had major anger issues. And he was prone to violence. One day, he threatened to punch her, but being who she was, she just moved all the furniture to the side of the room, making a clear space in the center.
"You want to do this?" she asked him. "Then let's do this. You get one shot, but that's all you'll get."
"You'd let me hit you?"
He eventually did swing a fist... and she took him out. A little runt, filled with anger, was never going to have any hope in going up against her.
I know this personally, because she landed me on my ass a few times too when I tried to hit her out of anger when I was a pre-teen. After I had studied martial arts for a few years, it would have been a different story, but I never felt the need to physically strike out at her after my pre-teen years either.
Anyway, a few years later, we found out the true impact that mom had on this boy. We were in Glenfield, I was in my late-teens/early-twenties at the time. And there was this huge, beefy guy covered in tattoos stalking towards us. Both of us went into self-defense mode, but if this guy chose to strike at us, the only chance we would have had was if I was able to land a good kick while mom made a run for it.
He looked at us. "Are you Debbie Mohr?"
"Yes," and she did have a squeaky voice.
"I need to thank you for what you did all those years ago." He then went on to remind her of the story of how she let an angry pre-teen lad take a swing at her, and how she landed him on his ass. That day, she taught him the most valuable lesson that he would ever learn: No matter how tough or big you think you are, there will always be someone who can land you on your ass and take you out; and that person is not always bigger and tougher than you. Sometimes, the one who will physically knock some sense into you is an overweight, loudmouth woman who just happens to care what happens to you.
That's who she was: the one who would gladly put you back in your place, landing you on your ass, but only because she truly cared what happened to you.
1 in 1000. Less than 1%. Rare.
Those are the statistics associated with what happened to her. It was a 1-in-1000 event. A rare side effect of the drug she was given in Timaru just after her heart attack, prior to transport to Christchurch. While the insertion of the stent seemed to be working, she had started bleeding in her brain, and had a stroke. She then slipped into a fatal coma.
But 1-in-1000 is probably the best description to describe my mother, from start to finish. Always doing things in her own way with her own flare. A rebel through and through. Passionate to the core. Always giving to others what she could.
Even in her death, she gave what she could.
Mom had made it perfectly clear to both dad and me on numerous occasions over the years that she wanted to be an organ donor, but we were to ensure that she was no longer using her organs first. And she was definitely no longer using them.
I don't know if I can explain this properly, but I could feel her standing on the other side of the gurney opposite me, standing behind the doctors as they began the tests to confirm that she was brain dead.
I sat there, watching everything they were doing, making mental notes of so many details. The settings of the monitors. Where the doctors were standing. The expressions on their faces. The way they held the penlight, and how the nurse brushed back her hair. They were all things that I need to remember, because they were the details that make the whole situation real.
Her spirit had left the room just as those tests began, but before she left, I could feel her shaking her head at me and smirking. "So glad that I could provide you with one last opportunity to do some research for one of your stories."
Always the scientist and writer, mom. I'll always be the scientist and writer.
We got word that the organ transplant team was able to use one of her kidneys, both of her lungs, and her eyes. In the weeks to come, we will be informed as to how the recipients are doing, and we will be given general demographic information.
She was a rare, caring spirit.
A Gapping Hole
Mom has left a gaping hole behind.
Dad and I have lost a referee. She was always breaking up the fights between us. She said that we were too much alike, but regardless of the reason, dad and I did fight a lot in my youth. No doubt, I will need to learn how to actually use the filter on my mouth in the coming weeks.
Dad has also lost a life companion. Their 45th wedding anniversary would have been on October 11th. They were going to go to Hokitika and walk among the trees. And there was a helicopter ride planned—something from her bucket list. She did get her helicopter ride, but not in the way she had planned.
I’ve lost the solid rock beneath my feet, which was so important to me when the Earth decided to dance around with destructive force. She was the only one who could give me solid advice on how to deal with a 9-year-old boy who was freaking out—old enough to understand what was going on, but too young to emotionally process it.
My daughter has lost her art teacher. Every time CJ stayed with my parents, mom would have another art project ready for her, teaching her yet another creative art technique.
And my son Anthony has lost someone who always told him to reach for his dreams and never let anything stand in his way. Turn "can’t" into "watch me!"
There is likely only one thing that we won’t miss, and it’s the fact that the woman could talk for hours and never shut up. My husband would put mom on the speaker-phone and would just go about his business while mom would continue to gab about whatever struck her fancy. And I would be lucky if I could get off the phone within the 2-hr limit before Vodafone started charging us for the phone call.
BTW, Telecom’s minute counters stopped at 499 minutes. 8 hours and 20 minutes. Mom’s record for a phone call was approximately 12 hours—a phone call to her own mother.
Oh, who am I kidding? We’re going to miss that too.
She will be missed by so many people for so many different things, but we will find the strength to carry on.
We will remember that there will always be someone out there who will knock some sense into us when we lose sight of what really matters.
We will master the skill of turning "can't" into "watch me" — if we haven't already.
And we will continue to elicit the non-PC raspberries from my mother. However, instead of the showers of her spit, it will now be the rain that we'll have to duck away from.
The Crone has left the Circle. Eventually, one of us who are the Mothers will need to step up and take her place. But for now, we will look to the skies whenever it's raining, begging her to stop blowing raspberries!
The Mother Goddess has welcomed my mother into her bosom.
The Circle may be open, but may it continue to be unbroken.
Merry meet. Merry part. And may we meet again.