Monday, October 28, 2013

A Post I Don't Know How To Write

First Jack-O-Lantern of the season.  A family effort, carved with love.

When I held her hand and tried to feel her energy two days ago, it buzzed in my bones.

Last night, stillness.

My mother is gone.

I was holding her hand, and singing Iris Dement's Let The Mystery Be when she stopped breathing. When I finished that, not ready to let go of that moment, I sang Butch Hancock's If You Were A Bluebird one more time.  When I got to the line "you'd be flying home," she took one last breath.

And then she was gone.

She slipped away peacefully, just as she had wanted.  The struggling sounds she had been making with each breath earlier in the day had quieted when I began to sing.  I'd gone through many songs before I noticed her breaths slowing. As understanding settled in, my phone buzzed in my lap... my dad sent a picture of Mom's beloved critters, Pepper and Jewels. Kelly responded to his text uncharacteristically quickly...all of their presences were had come together in that moment, and I knew this was her moment.  And she took it.

My friend Liz called just then, too -though I didn't answer for obvious reasons... Liz and I have now unwittingly contacted each other during two births and a death-and not nearly enough in between.

There was a relief in her passing, to be honest.  Relief in the form of devastation.  She had been totally lucid the day before, moreso than she had in a long while, and during that time she made it clear that she was ready.  Then she went to sleep, and if she woke, it wasn't to this plane.  I was scared because she didn't rouse to swallow the pills that would hold her pain at bay.  I was scared because there was a clerical error that meant we had no liquid morphine to ease her suffering.  I was scared because the nurse we called to rectify the situation was harsh and insinuated that she was in pain and would be for days on end. I was scared because I didn't know if mom was trapped, or merely loosening her grip on her physical being.  So while Kelly had dashed to get the medicine to provide her with comfort, I sat with her, and held her, and sang.  I was relieved to see her muscles relax.  I was relieved to see her begin to calm, and I was devastated, and relieved, to see her letting go, escaping the cage her body had become.

The last thing she did before she closed her eyes was to laugh with her oldest friend, her daughters, and to hug each of her grandchildren.

I found this on the living room floor after she had left us.

I cannot begin to describe the deep, primal despair that has taken up residence in my heart.  My brain won't let me touch it yet.  I know it is there, I can feel it, and I know its gonna hit me like a tidal wave and paralyze me...but for now I'm sitting in a clearing, listening to the stillness, trying to breath through the surreality I've landed in before the storm of grief fully hits.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Transitions and Trains.

Mom told me yesterday that she was visiting the atmosphere.  She is having fun, she says, because she is transitioning slowly, testing the waters - as she always does before she jumps in. She's exploring the atmosphere, then coming down to hang out with us in the physical realm for a bit, then flitting off again...

There are people in her room.  First she reported that James was standing by her bookshelf, out of the way, but that she "could feel his spirit caring." Alex was with him.  Then she noticed other people filling up the room...As she named all the people around her, sitting on her bed, stroking her hair, standing beside her, it hit me that these were all the people who love her, and have been sending love, good vibes, prayers, support...even people that I wouldn't have expected her to remember, that have reached out to Kelly & I...We decided that, since she was in a special place between our reality and a spiritual realm, she must be able to actually see their spirits being there for her.

"How do you feel about them all being there?" I asked her.

"It's very comforting" she said.

Later, she leaned  back and asked me "do they know how ok I am?  I am ok. Do they know that?  That I'm happy?  Tell them that this is a good way to go. It's pleasant."

She is not all here, but that fact is not all bad.

Granted, some of the conversations we have had over the past couple of days have been like reading a script from an absurdist play, but the ultimate takeaway is that, as long as she is not in pain, she is not troubled by her hallucinations or inability to follow a conversation.  The only time it seems to upset her is when she is afraid her confusion is confusing everyone else.  That right there tells you she's still there, the same old Mary Ann, wanting to take care of everyone around her and not burden anyone.

We have increased her pain meds and I actually got her to drink a smoothie (that the girls made! hooray!) of banana, oats, and greek yogurt, and I think the combination of the fuel and reduced pain made a world of difference.  She has been much more lucid and even came out to sit with us in the living room (briefly) with the help of a hospice-provided wheelchair.

She tired quickly and asked to go back to her room, but I heard her talking after she was settled and went in to join the conversation.  She was talking about how this is a trip, and when you travel, no two days are ever the same, and so she was just traveling, and that is how it is.  I piped up to ask if it was a good journey...I don't know who she had been talking to before that, but she gave me a look that made it clear that it was perhaps rude of me to ask such a thing, but answered that yeah, it was a fun journey. She backtracked to explain that this little compartment-her bed, commode, table, with her window, the beautiful flowers and artwork she has received and the clary sage wafting from the salt-lamp thing Kelly got for her- it was like a train compartment, and she was traveling, journeying from here to there.  A fancy, luxury sleeper train car, we agreed.  She was comfortable, and I thought she had drifted off to sleep, when she said something so suddenly lucid that I had to ask her to repeat it.  So she did:

"Tell them that its ok if they don't see me off.  This way I don't have to suffer through saying goodbye to every single one of them. Put it in the blog."

And so I am.

James snapped this picture for Peggy before she and Jess caught the plane back to MN.  Mom surrounded by "her girls"-My Aunt Peggy and her daughter Jess on the right, Kelly, me & my kids on the left.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Price of Lettuce

I had to make dinner.

I had been in crisis mode and now I had a break from it and now I am faced with dinner.  But dinner was beyond me...the weight of that task hit me so hard I couldn't stand.  I have to make dinner.  How do you make dinner when your mother is dying?  How do we move forward-what does the mundane look like from here?  How will I take care of everyone, how will I clean, how will I go grocery shopping now?

"This is the price of lettuce," I thought to myself as I sat on the kitchen floor-not cooking.

So many amazingly wonderful people have come forward to offer love and support during this entire ordeal, and many of them have been here themselves, and, having survived, reach out to through a tow-line in our direction, to help guide us through it.

And for some reason, almost every one of the people who have tried to warn me about the patterns that grief follows have given me the exact same example of something seemingly mundane that can unexpectedly break you; The price of lettuce.

They are right, of course...It's easy to stare down a hole in your life and say "you are a hole, but you can't jump up and swallow me."  You can even taunt the hole, if you are staring directly at it, and soak in the absence that it is. Then you can feel strong, and capable despite it.

But when you're not looking at it, the hole can follow at your heels, one step behind you everywhere you go.  Then, when that little price tag makes its move, you see the numbers jump out at you, now perhaps higher, perhaps lower, or even just the same something ever present in your routine that you hadn't considered before, and you stager, which makes you step back, and down you go, right into the hole...waiting there, ready to swallow you when you falter, never needing to leap up expending energy of its own.

it is a hole after all.

And mine found me at dinnertime.  I can run around and focus on being in the now, of caring for mom, for my kids, for my husband and sister and friends...but I can feel this hole already.  I am beginning to taste the edges of what it is going to mean to be 'without' even though now she 'is', and my heart slows in anticipation of the hurt.  I know that at this point there is nothing I can do but love and delight and BE,  but I think I am starting to see the edges of my grief in a new and honest light.

A hole, in the truest sense.

Mine sits on the island in the kitchen.


Photo by my godmother Pat, thinking of my utterly irreplaceable mother while in Amsterdam.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A sleepless night

I write this from the oddly dark, deserted (save for my sister and myself, with our smuggled food and rearranged couches...) neurosurgical waiting room...

The TV is preset and locked on the TLC channel, adding to the strangeness of this.  It feels, with the brightly colored chairs and couches, and the late night hour with my sister, equal parts college study session/sleepover, and ...something really intense.

I miss my babies (poor James is having his first solo night with all three...and Calli still nurses during the night, so I do not anticipate this being an easy evening.  And poor Carol, in from Boston, is supposed to be resting so we can switch out in the morning, but will be subjected to the Wrath of Calli all night as her world is JUST NOT RIGHT.  If you know Calliope, you know that she MAKES IT KNOWN when she is not happy...and methinks this turn of events will make her not so happy...)

I am not worried about mom.

I mean, I am, but...these past few days have been so wonderful. I mean, I know how hard that might be to believe...but the gift in all of this, this awful, horrible, unfair thing, has been the immense love that has been flooding our lives since this all happened.

Saturday, mom resurfaced from a place that seemed so far removed from our own that I wasn't sure she would want to come back.  But she did.  And we got to hold her, cry with her, talk to her, laugh with her...and I continued my physical comedy streak (the first installment being the concussion I received while in the ER with mom, and then being relegated to a wheelchair for the remainder of that ridiculous friday, following mom's gurney with my wheels...Thanks, Zoe.) by falling into a fountain. Yes, I did that, it really happened; I fell into a fountain and even now I can't think about the incident without falling into a fit of giggles...and thankfully it had the same effect on the rest of the family, too.

Most people would fall into a fountain, then get a concussion, then go to the ER...but not me.  I went to the ER, then got a concussion, then fell into a fountain...Hey, remember the time I found out my mom was dying and then got concussed by the medical staff and rounded out the evening with a nice dip in the local reflecting pool?

No one would believe my life.

Kelly said that her day after getting my message about mom's condition was ridiculous, and her friends wanted her to write a book about it.  Then, she told them about my experience of the same day, and they said we need to write that down...I am thinking this would be a great idea.  I think I'd call it Tales from my mother's death -or maybe Lemon Ball Happiness is a better one...but in any case, from the ridiculousness of the weekend followed by the profundity of these last two days...I think this collaboration may need to happen.

But I digress, (greatly...Did I mention it's 2:30am and I am writing to channel the anticipatory energy I have buzzing in my limbs?! oops, sorry...)

I can't even begin to explain what an amazingly wonderful day yesterday was. There was so much LIFE in that room...and mom seemed so GENUINELY happy for the first time in...ages.  None of us had seen her smile that much, or laugh that much...and yes she cried, but they were real, genuine, releasing tears...

And today, while less effusive in its existence, was so pleasant...and the last couple hours before she was actually taken for her surgery were so simple and wonderful...It was just Mom, Kelly and I, hanging out together.  We filled the entire time sharing all of the amazing messages we have received from friends and family from all over the world with mom...We read her poems, listed people who had sent love, prayers, support, listened to music, I gave mom a clary sage foot rub, and we talked about all of the amazing people we have in our lives...and when they came to take her down for the big operation, she was happy.

Mom's friend Jennifer posted a version of this song for her to hear before she went in; it was the perfect song for this moment, and mom was so touched and pleased- especially since this was an old favorite from the time Kelly was born.  I've posted the version we knew below:

Mom declared afterwards that she has no more angels to call, because they have all come to her already.  They are here, and all around us - Angels in the form of friends, of family, of acquaintances she didn't have a clue she had touched until they gave their hearts to ease her pain...Angels in the form of doctors, nurses, medical techs...New friends, strangers, friends of friends, friends of her children...In seeing her younger daughter's overseas boyfriend drop everything to come to her, in the friend of her older daughter who bought him the ticket to do so without batting an eye...In the new friend who dropped everything to take her on the two hour drive to her doctor when she was in the many many friends who have come to her or will come to her, in the flesh or in spirit...Every tiny thought, every good wish, every ounce of gratitude and love each of these people has sent to her has hit her hard, and I can see it cradling her and giving her such peace.

This is a terribly risky surgery for so many reasons, but even if the outcome is not what we want it to be, we have been given such a huge gift...this, this time, this love and connection, has meant more to all of us than we will ever be able to express.

Mama, we love you...and I think you might be starting to understand that now.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Lemon Ball Hapiness

Full set of Ladybugs

I wanted so badly to write a thorough, meaningful post about the past few days, but I am utterly exhausted and falling asleep on the keyboard, so suffice it to say:

Thank you, so much, so so so so SO SO much, to every single person who has reached out to us, prayed for us, sent us vibes, sent us love...

Today was a divine gift.  I will never forget this day that I got to spend with my sister, my daughters, my husband, and two angelic friends all gathered in her room under solemn pretenses, only to have those plans canceled and replaced by an entire day of laughter, tears, stories, hugs, silliness, accomplishment...LIFE.  If you had asked me on Friday, I would have told you honestly that I did not think such a day would be possible anymore...and yet, we had today.

We. Had. Today.

We had an AWESOME today.

My Beautiful Mama's laugh.

Love is palpable, my friends.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Bad day. No really...

Really, day? 

Today was just...


Jumped in the car after I got the call. Drove through a driving rainstorm and passed about 4 accidents. Arrived to terrible news.


Hospice. If we can make it that far. But we should. So we hope.

And right after holding my mother through the news that she is dying, I stepped out the door to call my uncle only to get hit in the head by some large piece of medical equipment on wheels flying down the hall of the ER...

So then I was relegated to a wheelchair with a compress on my face, and the dr is saying something about two weeks of rest because it's probably a mild concussion...

Silver lining:mom was too confused to notice, so she didn't worry.

By the end of the day she was unable to follow a pen with her eyes and she proclaimed that today was the first day of the month 2013, in the year 2013.

James reported that there was ANOTHER fire alarm at home. The 6th since we moved in. Terrified children in the rain...cats...

Had to make some hard phone calls, painful declarations...DNRs, consents...

I am still dizzy, my head hurts a lot (nice egg on my forehead, too...) and I can't even drive home to be with my family because of it, even though I can't go back in to see mom until someone can stay with Calli...they kicked us off the ward once mom got settled - no kids under 12.

So I am here, very very generously put up by Zoe, mom's friend who swooped in to take care of us all, cuddled with Calli -who is now sick- and failing to sleep thanks to sorrow and the pain in my head.

So yeah. Day. Wtf? 

Thank goodness for Zoe, for Fred, for their cats-especially Boy, who adopted mom, and waited in her pillow all day, and who is curled with us now...saviors in 'human' ways.