My mother was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at the age of 53. Unfortunately, she passed away from diabetes complications at 65. Of course this was because she did not take care of her blood sugars. Her A1C usually hovered around 10. It was frustrating trying to help her. I remember traveling the full emotional scale as her caretaker, desperately trying to show her how to experience normal blood sugars.
I began as a supportive daughter and found my way to a screaming monologue asking my mother if she wanted to go blind from her diabetes. The roller coaster blood sugar readings had me in tears. It did not bother her as much as it did me. It wasn’t until she was legally blind form her diabetes and recovering from vascular surgery in the hospital that she said, “If I knew this was going to happen, I would have taken better care of my diabetes.” This was my moment of surrender.
My mother modeled her health habits after her mother. My grandmother Helen managed her diabetes by eating well. She also had a candy bar every day and hid the wrapper under her mattress. After finding the empty candy bar wrappers, we were never really sure how many candy bars she had consumed. It could have been a lot more than the evidence that surfaced. We had a sneaking suspicion she would clear things out from the trash cans before we arrived for our visit. Grandmother Helen lived through her late 70’s.
My mother thought she would live as long as her mother. Common sense told her she should at least live as long as her since she followed her habits of diabetes self-management .
My great grandmother Francesca also had diabetes. She passed away one night shortly after making her last batch of home-made donuts. She went to lie down after consuming a few freshly made desserts, never to wake up again.
Sugar was of great comfort to the women in my family. Good times and bad times called for treats. It was the elixir for discomfort and pain. Life’s challenges usually brought a buffet of desserts. My mother loved buying trays of donuts and eating ice cream. Ironically, she also made sure we had a balanced meal, which consisted of protein, salad and vegetables at dinner. Her stressful days as a single parent took her away from the kitchen’s well-balanced meals and sat us all down at her favorite restaurant — Fenton’s Creamery — a solution for most of her internal conflict. A crab sandwich followed by an ice cream Sunday shifted her mood immediately. Whatever my mother was feeling, it all got washed away after her last bite of ice cream.
I have not been to Fenton’s Creamery restaurant since my mother’s passing on Feb 13th 2000, the day before Valentine’s Day. This was a special day in our family because my mother always sent me a Valentine’s card as long as she could see. It inspired my Valentine day’s article about forgiving and forgetting.
Diabetes has given me a tremendous amount of compassion for people managing type 2 diabetes. My mother, grandmothers (including my paternal side) and great grandmother all knew what they were supposed to do and couldn’t do it. Why? Because it meant giving up their solution to challenging moments. None of them had access to the information we have today. They could have found a whole new community to help them create healthy change.
Publicly shamed and reprimanded by her physician for being non-compliant, my mother viewed her diabetes diagnosis as her fault, a lack of discipline. She also comes from a time where counseling was for the insane. Women did not exercise. Support groups were few and far between and the Internet was not what it is today. Most importantly, she miscalculated the impact of the role her mother and grandmother had in shaping her health. They were not the best models.
At this point, you are probably wondering if I have followed in my families’ mythology. To some extent, yes. I do love sugar. At the same time, I am keenly aware of my disposition for a type 2 diagnosis. If anything, the women in my life have modeled what not to do. Ignoring my weight and exercise only increases my probability of a diabetes diagnosis. Every year, I take my battery of tests. The one result I view first is my fasting glucose. My fasting glucose as of February 2016 is 83. Unlike my family members, I am accountable to the diabeteshealth.com community.
The comments on diabeteshealth.com also keep me intimately involved in diabetes. The inspiring, compassionate, stubborn and opinionated comments delight me. It reflects the diversity we share when it comes to our health. I don’t always agree with all the opinions. Especially the well-disciplined people who make it look so easy. At the same time, I use them as role models for me and for others — reminders that we always have a choice. What we choose and reinforce becomes more ingrained. Change isn’t always easy but it can become a way of life, just like bad habits.
To all the mothers out there, the good and the challenged, Happy Mother’s Day! Never underestimate the impact you have on your children’s health.