|Birth: ||Feb. 24, 1926|
|Death: ||May 26, 2012|
The Queen of Slam
I'm still not ready to do a full-fledged bio on my mom, but somehow a bit of her came to me tonight, urging me to tell you about the family game of "Slam".
I have never heard of anyone else playing this game, and I have described it to a lot of people. It's a fun, terrible, unnerving game that gets rough and edgy, and could very well have been invented by family, or maybe it's a Pennsylvania Dutch game. The gear for Slam would get pulled out when my mom's sister Ruth and her husband came to visit, and usually when their brother Ed was present too. Even Ed, born and raised an Ettinger, asserted the game was sadistic. We non-Ettingers -my dad, me, my mom's sister's husband Dunc- never stood a chance with these crazy Ettinger people.
The necessary objects to play are a set of dice, poker chips, corks with string attached to them, an old pie tin and a metal lid that more or less fit the tin. "Slam" is won by having great speed and a dramatic flair. My mother was a master at the game.
Everyone sits on the floor in a circle, holding a string with a cork tied at the end of it. The corks lay in the pie tin around the edge. Whoever is "It" (and you rotate this around the circle) has the pie pan lid in one hand, and the dice in the other. The dice are rolled into the pan, and if they come up 7 or 11, that's the moment of panic; everyone pulls out their corks, while It slams the lid down and tries to catch as many people's corks as possible. Everyone caught has to pay It a poker chip. It keeps rolling the dice til they roll a 7 or 11, then passes the lid and dice to the next guy. Simple enough.
The reverse of this scenario was also true: if It rolls a combination that is not a 7 or 11, but mistakenly thinks it is a 7 or 11, and slams the lid down, It owes everyone a chip. Plus... if It rolls a combination that is not 7 or 11, but bluffs everyone into thinking it is, and they mistakenly pull their cork out, they owe It a chip. And that is where my mother was a genius.
When she was It, everyone got more nervous. Your nerves were already frayed from the slamming and cork-yanking, but then my doe-eyed mom would wield the pan lid, and take her grand time shaking the dice in her hand, building suspense, making you wait, a real showman. She'd tilt the lid back and forth in midair, waggle her dice hand, while chortling something like "Are you ready? Come 7, come 11..." and she'd whip the dice into the pan. Mom had lightning reflexes so if it really were a 7 or 11, that lid would be down before you could blink. But if it were visually something close to a 7 or 11, she'd shreik "Woooo!" and bring that lid down (just short of touching), convincing you that you'd mis-read the dice, and you'd quick tug your cork out -wrongly- and have to pay up. She'd be cackling happily away while the chips rained down on her pile.
Inside, I don't think my mom was the lady she usually appeared to be; I think she had to work at that ladylike demeanor. This game was made for her, giving her the chance to be rowdy, loud, and competitive. Her family's nature and her personal nature were very foreign to me. For me, heavy competitiveness feels too close to conflict. Dad and I, lacking the killer gene and reflexes, never got very good with the game, but we both grew to appreciate my mother's skills of speed and bluster that made her the Queen of Slam.
Heartfelt bio to come, once all the necessary things have been done here at home.
Mom in a nutshell: Vibrant, a sun worshipper, who loved the color orange. Lively, a good jitterbugger, an early morning beach walker. She made a cheesecake that was the envy of her friends, could grow and arrange flowers artfully, and firmly crushed anybody who ever tried to beat her at ping pong.
My sweet mom just crashed. She had a lot going on. She had earlier had several mini-strokes, and in recent years had heart issues, only one working kidney that had chronic kidney disease, CREST scleroderma that robbed her of proper breathing, a painful pelvic condition, a resistant hospital-acquired infection and the general condition anyone 86 years old might have.
What finally got her was a wicked cascade of events: Mom had a Coumadin overdose in February that initially left her with stroke-like symptoms. Along with strength, speech, coordination and vision issues, she lost the ability to stand, transfer or walk with her walker. From March through April she made a spectacular comeback. Every day there was a general nurse, a wound care nurse, a respiratory therapist or a physical therapist at the house. My mom reconditioned herself with that physical therapist, eventually walking about 45 feet (with her oxygen on), resting, going back, and then doing exercises in her wheelchair or on the bed. She showed amazing spunk, especially for a lady of her age.
Due to her progress, she had just been approved by Medicare for another month of physical therapy at home when her rapid slide began. She contracted bronchitis, and just as she recovered from this, she got a terrible stomach flu prevalent in our area. Indicative of her systems crashing, she then got shingles, a virus all of us have inside if we have had chicken pox, but which often re-emerges (very painfully) when our immune system is stressed or down. Lastly, I saw the same stroke-like symptoms again and had her blood tested, and yes, she also was having another Coumadin high as well.
No one can say what was the ultimate cause of her passing. All I can tell you with certainty is that I watched my mom rapidly slide day by day in May. I was feeding her small pieces of canteloupe and spoonfuls of yogurt, holding her glass with Ensure shakes and a straw, because she was unable to feed herself anymore, her coordination gone. Then she lost the ability to suck from a straw, and I spoon fed her the shake and other soft foods. I crushed her pills and gave them to her in ice cream shakes, Italian water ice, or fruit smoothies, though she had to put effort into getting them down. Friday the 25th I knew we were really running into trouble, when swallowing seemed lost as well. I had given her her crushed pills in a smoothie, syringed it slowly into her mouth, and she coughed up a storm. I gently rubbed her throat and urged her to swallow and she could not, so it was clearly the end of the line for her for all her meds, except for the liquid morphine which could be given on or under the tongue in tiny amounts. This drug became her saving grace, because it eased her panicked breathing, and softened the all-over body aches she had reported when she last could speak.
The death certificate signed by our physician references a heart attack and her kidney failure as contributing, but due to her condition my mom had not seen this doctor since fall or winter, so his is at best a distant guess. I know what a heart attack can look like, and she showed no such symptoms. My layman's opinion is that she had a stressed body from the bronchitis, flu, and shingles, and that possibly she had brain bleed or a stroke during this time as a result of her blood being too thin from the Coumadin she took. Additionally, my mom's hemoglobin numbers had begun to fall, so it is very probable she had some internal bleeding, not just in the brain, but visible in her stool and nose. What does it matter? My lively mom is no more.
The last two and a half years made for a long road for us both, her road much harder than mine because she had to live it while I merely assisted. In this time, the biggest gift my mother gave me was being very clear about her wishes so I never had to agonize over what she wanted. When she came home in 2009 after a broken hip, it was her seventh or eighth hospitalization in maybe four years. She'd had enough, and she made me promise she would never have go back to the hospital. Thus we worked with her doctor and with visiting nurses and a physical therapist when times got rough. Several times when things got rocky, I told her "Mom, we could probably get this diagnosed and fixed a lot faster at the hospital" but she never wavered in her insistance on staying home.
Further, my mother was also unambiguous about her final wishes, stating them many times over the years: cremation. My husband and I fulfilled that wish on May 29, around 2:45 pm.
Due to the pastor's availability, services for Mom will be held in late June. At that time her cremains will be interred next to my father.
I still have one more wish of hers to fulfill, and it is one I will do with pleasure. For many years my mom and "the girls" rented a seaside home in Avalon, New Jersey for a week or two, and those annual stays were among her happiest times. Once when Mom reminded me of her wish for cremation, I asked her if she'd like a bit of her scattered at Avalon. She'd smiled hugely and readily agreed, so one day we will go there and let a handful of Mom's ashes catch the breeze on the beach where she once had great fun, and which she walked very early in the morning every day while there. I like to think of part of Mom playing there for all time.
Maybe all our lives we are preparing for our journey to the next place. I do not know, once you die, how long it takes to get there, so I can only ask you might say a prayer for my mom's trip to be pleasant and quick, and that she be met by many who loved her and came before her. Thank you.
We are indebted to sweet FindAGrave contributor Diane Miller, who was a rock to me during the difficult months before Mom's passing, when Mom's care became most challenging. Diane's understanding of things medical and spiritual were key to helping me keep my head screwed on straight so I could keep Mom's needs at the center of my attention. Coumadin questions, bandaging issues, disorientation and mental confusion queries, how to get off rings stuck on fingers... you name it, Diane was there to remedy it with professional expertise, wisdom and kindness. On top of this, she understands the dying process and loss, so she was able to question or validate hunches or observations I made, and soothe my frazzled heart. For the many times she read and gently replied to my emails full of anger, or pain, or sheer overwhelmed stress, there are not thanks enough for her help in accompanying our family on this difficult journey. I am blessed to call you my friend, Diane. And I would say "May God bless you" but we know that's happened already... so may the blessings continue.
[I hope you can understand I am feeling a little over my head right now - I'm an only child and doing everything solo in making arrangements, calling family and friends, handling her leftover financial issues, and simply coping with my own feelings. I will probably be a little slow on extending thanks for notes or flowers, but please know they will not go unnoticed or unappreciated.]
When I am able to write a fuller memorial for my mother, I will want to mention that she and my dad were married by the Rev. Allen Z. Bodey at Grace Evangelical Congregational Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania which was the same church in which she was baptized as an infant on June 6, 1926 by the Rev. Norman N. Lower. I smiled when I read the date in church records, as it was her parents' third anniversary.
Henry Clauss Ettinger (1900 - 1971)
Melva Ellen Helfrich Ettinger (1903 - 1977)
Gilbert Daniel Romberger (1923 - 2006)
Ruth Emma Ettinger Duncan (1924 - 1995)*
Lucille May Ettinger Romberger (1926 - 2012)
Edwin Henry Ettinger (1931 - 1999)*
Created by: sr/ks
Record added: May 27, 2012
Find A Grave Memorial# 90833208