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Published:May 11th, 2007 04:07 EST

Ham Sandwiches and Little Lulu Comic Books

By Carolee Kaufold

My mother was never openly affectionate. She did love me, I have no doubt. She never came right out and said so. She would do things for me in a quiet way. She was not verbal. In the darkened movie theater she would hold my hand. She would call me once a day from work. That is how she gave me messages she loved me.

She was not the bake cookies kind of mother. She worked in a bank, and was a very smart woman. She started out with her GED and became the first women in New York State to do what she did for her bank. She gave me the strength to do what I needed to do to be the kind of lady I am today. But not in the way you would think. You see, she became a role model: first in a positive light, then she showed me how not to be.
When I was about ten years old, I had a tummy ache. I was staying home from school and I felt terrible. My mother made me a ham sandwich with tomatoes on it and brought me a Little Lulu comic book. I have never forgotten that. Even today, I long for that ham sandwich and comic book. To me that was comfort food. It was her way of saying, "I love you and I will take care of you!"

In defense of my mother, her life was not all that easy. She didn't have a positive out look on life, with good reason. And all her negative ness was getting to me. She was critical of everything. And never saw the good things in life. I tried everything I could to make her proud, but she just never seemed to care. My Aunt has told me that my mother was very proud, she just never told me.

When I became an executive at a newspaper in New Jersey, I wanted to show her my office; she drove right by and never stopped. When I became a travel agent, I wanted to take her traveling with me, she never would. When I bought the travel agency she never even came to see the office. Then one day she told me why she acted standoffish. Her mom died when my mother was twenty six years old. She was devastated. She never got over the lost of her beloved mother. She didn't want me to have to go through the same thing, so she became distant. She didn't want me to feel the same heartbreak she felt at the lost of a mother.

Well, on with the story. In 1965 I got married. I was an only child and that left my mom and dad to deal with each other. Their life was not a storybook romance. They really were just friends, nothing more. When I was growing up, I promised myself I would do things differently than my parents. I would love my children openly. I would be a cheerleader for them. I would love them unconditionally. I would find a man not at all like my father and would be different.

And I did! I did everything I promised I would do. I had four sons, all different personalities. I love my husband because he encourages me to be Carole first and to be proud of whom I am. He even brings be ham sandwiches and comic books.

In 1982 my Dad died, I felt a need to return to New York and be near my mother. We rented a house together. In 1983 she became ill, and over the next eleven years she became hopeless and depressed. She went to bed in 1986 and never got out again. I tried everything: support, nagging, cheering, crying, laughing, and screaming. I even tried to bring her ham sandwiches and comic books. Nothing would make her get out of bed. She was frightened by what her life had become and wanted to hide in her bed.

She taught my family a very important lesson. Through all her years of having us do everything for her, feed her, bath her, and take care of her needs, she taught us to NEVER give up, like she did.  When my sons would go in her room to visit, they would come out so depressed. They finally didn't want to go in any more. When they would try to tell her about school she would tell that life was hard, deal with it. No one in the family was allowed to get sick. She had to have our full attention. She wouldn't share it with anyone else.

It wasn't until my Fibromyaliga got worse that she allowed me to get help caring for her. When our sons moved away for home, she felt deserted. I felt "Yea! They have escaped." During the years of her confinement, I changed from daughter to caregiver. On top of that I had a business to run, four sons to prepare for the world and one husband to keep from feeling resentment for sharing my time between him and my mother. They were wonderful! They did everything they could to be there for me. They gave me their ear to listen to me. Their arms to move my mother in her bed. Their advice, so I wouldn't become overwhelmed. And their heart to understand how hard this was on me and their strength to keep doing it.

Every morning before I left for work I would get her ready for the day.  My husband, Thom worked midnight shift so he would be home if she needed anything. As soon as I returned from work I would go straight to her room, to see if she was okay. I had her in my every thought all the time I was away from her. I was consumed with taking care of her. And to be very honest, I was angry. She was not that sick. She just didn't want to do anything. My family would go in the room less and less. Soon I was the only one to go in to see her. When I traveled, Thom or one of my sons would have to take care of her. She was not happy. She felt like I had abandoned her. She would not eat, and just cried. I needed to travel for two reason ... one, because that is what a travel agent does and two, I needed to get away from the strain of taking care of her.

In 1994, she just gave up. She died on February 16th. I cried not because I would miss her, but because I didn't have any happy memories of her. She left me just like she wanted to. She didn't want me to be devastated or sad at her death. And I wasn't. She didn't want me to be lonely for her company and I wasn't. She didn't want me to be in mourning and I wasn't. What she did leave me with was strength, hope and endurance. She taught us that giving up were the easy way. She taught us that hiding in our room was comfortable. She taught us to let everyone do everything for you. She taught us she was wrong. She taught us to NEVER EVER GIVE UP.

In August of that year I was in a terrible accident. I was told it would be a long time until I could walk, leave the house and even travel. I was in a coma for almost three weeks. I broke every bone in my left foot. I broke four ribs on each side, and my sternum. I have had a little brain damage. I have trouble speaking and thinking of words I want to say. I have to this day, a scar where the seat belt was, from my right shoulder to my left hip across to my right hip. Guess what? I beat what the doctors said. I was out of the hospital months before they said I would. I walked months before I was expected to. And I have gotten new gifts in my life, like wisdom, patience, and I even became neater. All this because my mother taught me to never give up!! I promise myself that my sons would never have to go through what I did with my mother.
It has years before I could talk about my mother. I could not let myself say what I was really feeling. No one would understand. "How can one be so cold about their mother?" they would say. I have talked to my sons about this. They knew what went on from 1983 to 1994. They have told me they understand how I felt. They sometimes wondered how I was able to take care of my mother for so long, without pulling my last hair out. So I thought about it. I honored my mother; I respected her for what she once was. I couldn't understand how a successful businesswoman became such a needy person. Then the answer came to me. She was always the strong one. She made the decision, the choices and manner on how she would live her life. When my father died, she let her guard down. She took a breath and said, "It is time for someone to take care of me."

As an only child, I did what I knew was the right thing to do. I would never give up on her. If she wanted to stay in bed, I couldn't talk her out of it. Stayed in bed she did. If she wanted to be depressed, I couldn't cheer her up. Stayed depressed she did. If she wanted to cry all day, I couldn't make her laugh. Cried all day she did. She made her final choice; she gave up and wanted to die. Died she did.

I have been trying to figure out if I loved my mother the last few years of here life. I don't think I did. I wanted to so bad. I wanted to have "mother-daughter" feelings. I know I treasure the lesson she taught us. I loved her in the Movie Theater. I loved her when she called me from work. I loved her when she brought me the ham sandwich and Little Lulu comic book.