One More Day

She’s gone.

These are the words my sister says to me over the phone, just 5 minutes after I left my mother’s bedside.

I think that’s what she said. I’m not quite sure now. My sister and I had been with our mother for 24 hours–sleeping in recliners, talking and reading to Mom, rubbing her arms. She had been unresponsive for the day. We knew it was near the end but I thought she’d be here for one more day.

Mom had been with hospice care for 3 weeks, but at first, we thought she had a few months left. Or I did. She had a gastrointestinal bleeding that they couldn’t fix, so she began pain medicine to help. We took her to the waterfront for her birthday and ate ice cream and whoopie pies and drank coffee–all some of her favorite things. We had some wonderful visits with Mom and she seemed more like herself than she had in ages. I’m assuming she had been in more pain than anyone thought.

Then her pain increased and she was on a regular dose of morphine. Two days later she fell. It was awful. She was so fragile and now in more pain than ever. Her morphine dosage increased just to keep her from crying out. So my sister and I sat with her, told her we loved her and told her it was ok to let go. We would be ok.

Friday morning I left to go home and wake my son up, take a shower and take my boy to school. I drove back to the residential facility, thinking about the afternoon. My sister was going to go home and take a shower and I would sit with Mom, read more of her favorite book aloud and just be with her. Weirdly, I was looking forward to it. I would spend some time with my mom and hang out. Just the two of us.

When I got back to the facility, Mom’s breathing had changed. But it still wasn’t like Dad’s had been. He had long bouts of no breathing before he died, so I thought we still had a little time. I stayed for a bit then had to leave for an hour to get another x-ray for my arm. I was just down the road when my sister called me. I turned around and raced back. I ran from the parking lot into the facility and down what seemed like a very long hallway. When I got to Mom’s room, the hospice doctor, nurse and my sister were there but I didn’t look at anyone. I hurried to Mom’s bedside, touched her face and arm and just sobbed and sobbed. My body shook with grief as my sister rubbed my back.

I knew this would happen. I knew Mom would leave once I was out of the room. I said this to my sister the day before, and Mom just proved me right. I was the baby of the family. Before dementia set in, my mother did all she could to protect me, but not my sister. She was the oldest and honestly the strongest. My mother would tell her when she was in pain or when things weren’t right, but never to me.

I was so angry at Mom. Why couldn’t she have waited? Couldn’t we have this one last afternoon together?

I knew I wasn’t being rational, but none of that mattered. I was angry and sad and devastated. I thought I would be a little relieved after everything we’ve been through, but I wasn’t. This is my mom.

My mom.

My mother remained my mom until the very end. I essentially became her parent over the past two years, but she was still mom. She couldn’t remember I had visited her the day before or that her mother had passed away 14 years before, but she remembered that I injured my arm 3 months ago. Less than a week before she died, Mom stopped herself from touching my arm and asked me about it instead. My sister kept poking my arm because she forgot, but our mother with Alzheimer’s did not.

And I know she was still trying to be my mom with that last breath. Everyone has their theories about what people do on their deathbeds and what is intentional and what is not, but I do believe Mom wanted to save me from what maybe she thought would be too hard for me to handle. But I am so happy my sister was with her. When our dad died, I was with him and I felt like he gave me this incredible gift. I can’t tell you what it is or why I feel this way, but I do. I only hope my sister feels that way now with Mom. My sister’s was the first life my mother brought into this world, so it seems fitting that my sister was with Mom as she left it.

I feel lost tonight. Earlier today I found myself walking back and forth in my house, not sure what I should be doing. I called my sister and she was doing the same thing. What do we do now? What does one do without their mom? I feel like I’m in a foreign place that looks familiar, but I have no compass so I don’t know which way to go.

I miss her. I miss my mom.

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Heal Thyself

It’s been over 2 months since I broke my arm. Each day is still peppered with a variety of challenges, particularly with my hygiene and getting dressed but it’s certainly more manageable than just a month ago. I go to physical therapy twice a week and am able to lift my arm a bit more–enough to wash my face now and even to create an awful-looking pony tail. But that’s something!

Every 2-3 weeks I get another x-ray and have become quite familiar with what the inside of my arm looks like. Unfortunately, my last x-ray this past week was extremely discouraging. Three weeks ago it was clear that my arm was starting to heal. You could see this white bit in my x-ray where the bone was healing and it wasn’t just a black void. But now, after another three weeks have passed—nothing. Not one thing has changed. There should have been signs that it was healing more, but there were none.

My doctor tried to be positive and said that it was good that the plate or screws hadn’t moved and it didn’t look worse. But that really wasn’t much of a consolation to me. She said it was time to beef up on Vitamin D3 (5,000 IU) and try and get this bone to heal. My daily dose of vitamins and extra calcium and D3 just wasn’t cutting it.

So since things didn’t look that great, I decided to ask the question I really needed to. “Will I really get my full range of motion back?”

She didn’t say no, but she didn’t say absolutely yes. When I look at my x-ray and see that one particular screw pointing towards my breast and know that that screw is helping to hold me together, just makes me wonder if I’ll ever be able to freely move my right arm back and forth and stretch my lovely limbs out like the orangutan I know I am. She told me when I stretch my arm across my body to my left side, that movement may always be impaired. But I might not have to have the plate in my arm forever…if I’m particularly sensitive to it and it drives me nuts after a year or two. Or I may have to live with it despite the sensitivity if my bones don’t heal enough.

So…..well….fuck.

I teared up just a smidge as she’s telling me these things and tried to be positive. I told her I was going to the beach with my kiddo and my niece and her family and try to enjoy myself. And I did. Then I didn’t do my physical therapy exercises that night because I was just too pissed and disappointed and frustrated. When I told my physical therapist the next day what the doc said, I did cry then. And my PT was just as distraught and discouraged. But we sucked it up and carried on.

The last few days I’ve had off from work and have faithfully done my exercises morning and evening. I’ve taken my huge dose of D3 every day and have tried to not dwell on the “what ifs.” I’ve been repeating my father’s mantra, “one day at a time” and trying to channel every bit of his laid back attitude. I don’t always succeed but I try.

This week as we dive back into school schedules and all the juggling that entails, I’ll be murmuring “Keep Calm and Heal On!” and “One Day at a Time” and I’m sure by Friday, “Where’s my glass of wine?”

Have a good one, friends. May we all heal just a little bit this week.

Dreaming of Dad

I had a dream about my father last week. It’s my first since he died. You know when I was a kid, I would dread dreaming about my dad. See, just after my parents split up when I was about 9, I moved with my mom and brother to a small apartment across town. I had a nightmare one night and watched someone rip my father’s head from his body. A few nights later, I dreamt that my father had a heart attack and I ran from his house to our apartment to get help–we’re talking probably 7 miles on a little chubby girl’s legs. So after that second dream, I just knew that if I had another dream about my father dying, he really would. Kids have weird minds, don’t they? I didn’t sleep well for weeks until exhaustion finally made me sleep. Fortunately, it was a few years before I had any more dreams about my father dying, and I was even luckier because I got to keep Pop in my life for another 37 years after those initial dreams.

But the dream I had last week was not a death dream. I saw Dad die in real life and I sometimes re-live it, but never when I’m sleeping. Instead, this dream was some kind of wonderful. Odd, but still wonderful.

Dad and I and my son were driving to the dump. My boy was in the back seat, spending too much time on his phone, and I sat in the front while Dad drove. It was like one of the cars from my childhood that Dad would drive–a big car, big hood, bench seats. For whatever reason, we were picking up someone else’s trash and taking it to the dump. A nice gesture, I suppose. But the person’s trash was really a bunch of recycling all packed into a huge cereal box. Ok. At least it’s neat, not messy…until I tipped the box and old macaroni and cheese came out and dry cereal. So I’m stuffing everything back in and complaining to Dad, “What the heck is this? Why did they do this?” And as I kept stuffing I realized that there was a nice neat little square tucked into the garbage that was actually a trash bag. WTF?!?

So I sigh loudly, mutter a little while unfolding the bag and trying to put everything into it, when very quietly Dad says, “Hey. Look at that.” I look up and through the windshield on the opposite side of the road but coming towards us, was this huge tortoise. I glance at my dad and he has his arm out the window in that relaxed way he always did for the entire summer, with his right hand on the steering wheel. He had a smile on his face and was just as fascinated as I was. I alerted my son and told him to look out the window. And as the tortoise got closer, we could see that there was some kind of plastic doll tied around the tortoise’s neck so it looked like it was riding him. I whispered, “Wwweeeirrddd.” Dad chuckled and I woke up.

I don’t think there’s anything to analyze here, but I love that my father came to visit me in my dreams. I’ve struggled a bit this past week–my emotions and moods have swung wildly, feeling more stressed at work, not loving the pain after physical therapy. Yet the more I think about that dream, the more I feel ok. Dad was a great sounding board for me. He let me vent about whatever I needed to, but always, ALWAYS put a positive bend on things. My mom does that, too. They both could be negative about their own lives, but tried to show us that things will get better or they’re really not as bad as we think.

So today I focused on how much more I can move my arm. I made a plan for the next few weeks at work so I won’t feel so stressed and have tried to keep calm when I start getting irrationally angry or sad about anything. “One day at a time, Hol,” Dad used to say. “One day at a time.” That was Dad’s mantra from the time he stopped drinking in 1987 until the day he died. I’ve always tried to be patient and follow his advice, but I’ve never been that great at it. I rush through life sometimes and want the next week to end or the next month or the season. But what if something amazing is waiting for me today?

So I keep trying. I will try and live my life by taking the pleasures and difficulties one day at a time. Savor the good stuff, get through the bad stuff.

I think I’ve finally got it, Dad. I can picture you now, throwing your head back and laughing while sitting in your chair. “Figures!” you’d say. “Now you understand and I’m not there to see it! Oh well. That’s life, right? At least you finally get it, kid, and that’s all that matters. Now get over here and give me a hug.”

I wish I could, Pop. I wish I could. ❤

Dream Envy

Last night as we got ready for bed, my son came into my room to snuggle with me for a bit. My husband is still away for business, so we’ve had some wonderful conversations and laughs this week about a variety of things. But last night, as my boy tried to snuggle without touching my right arm, he told me about the dream he had the other night about his uncle.

“So, Mom, I was in this bathroom (our main bathroom for everyone) and I burst out of the door and into the living room, asking where Uncle was. But you said he was in your bathroom (the master bath). I heard the toilet flush, then I woke up. I never got to see him!!”

He told me how disappointed he was when he woke up, but a little happy, too. That at least my brother was there somewhere, even if he couldn’t see him. So I told my boy about the dream I had of my brother two months ago.

It was the first week after my husband left for a month of training in New Jersey. I think I was a little nervous with him gone, worrying about things going wrong in the house or with the car (or breaking my arm which I did while he was away!). In my dream I was in my kitchen, attempting to fix my kitchen table leg, or maybe a chair. That part is fuzzy. But as I’m working on the thing, my brother calls out from my living room, “Hey, you need some help?” And out he walks with a smile and an outstretched hand. I said, “Yes, please!” Then I woke up.

Phil’s partner just gave this to me. It was in my brother’s things. It’s the two of us in 1974.

I was so happy when I awoke. I got to see my brother and he was smiling and offering to lend me a helping hand as always. After I described the dream my son said, “Oh man, I’m so envious! I really wish I had just seen him, you know?”

I do, son. I do.

I told him he’ll see Uncle in his dreams again. I know it. I’ve only dreamt of my brother a couple of times since his death, and that last dream was most certainly the best. I know my brain and heart needed to see him. I understand that many of you believe in a spiritual after life that I don’t. And I envy you. I know that some of you believe dreams are a way for folks in that after life to speak to us, and I envy you, too. I will never put your beliefs down or ridicule you for them, and I hope you’ll give me the same courtesy. But there are certainly times that wish I had your faith just for my peace of mind.

But since I don’t have that faith, I’m just going to go to sleep tonight and hope I’ll get another visit from my favorite brother. ❤ Good night, friends.

Two years

So much has happened since you’ve been gone, dear brother. Mom is in a nursing home now. She kind of lives in a nice world where most people are still alive, including you. At least most days. And Dad’s gone now, too. Maybe you know that? Or if what you and I believed is true, then I’m just talking to folks that read this, not you? You no longer exist. And yet I can’t stop talking to you and wondering what you would think about this and that. The human brain is weird, no?

Your nephew has grown a half a foot since you had to leave. He’s just 3 inches shorter than me, and should be your height by his 14th birthday. He’s liking horror movies more now and has such a morbid sense of humor–just like you. Your niece is pretty busy with her kiddos and she’s finally getting married to her girlfriend. Our sister has to have a new knee soon but still no bionics. Doesn’t that suck? And yeah, I broke my arm. That week after I did it, I imagined you here, helping me along with Larry, but also shaking your head and calling me a “klutz.” Then shuddering when I showed you the photo of the plate and screws in my arm.

So do I still miss you every damned day? Yup. And I’m trying so hard to live the best I can without you, to try new things, to live a life like you did for your first 40 years. (Well, maybe not quite as risky as a few of those years, Phil!) I know those last 9 were pretty shitty, but you lived as best as you could and you helped raise your nephew during that time so I’d say you did pretty well.

Last year on this day, the boy and I were in Boston to see the city and meet dear friends. We decided that we would try new things and live large on this day for you. This year, having one wing, I didn’t really want to go too far. So we went to Belfast and ate different foods, bought a new card game and walked the Harbor Walk. It wasn’t as exciting as last year, but it didn’t need to be. We just needed to do something new and different and talk about you. Like we do every day. It’s impossible not to talk about you since still nearly everything reminds me of you. I imagine everything always will.

I love you. I miss you. I wish you’d visit me in my dreams more often. I’ve only had two that I can remember since you left. It nearly wakes me up when you’re in my dreams because I’m so fucking happy to see you. When I’m fully awake, I’m both devastated and ecstatic if that’s at all possible.

Good night, dear brother.

I wish you were here.

Phil with my boy back in 2009

Bionics!

I’m not gonna lie. I am sometimes grateful for an excuse NOT to run. But this might be overdoing it.

That thing that looks like a parasite is a plate with what seems to be 9 screws. It’s keeping my arm together.

It’s been two weeks since this operation and 18 days since the break. The doctor told me today that it was just a mess inside there. More breakage then they thought, but things look good now. Still not allowed to do much but I can keep the sling off more. Still can’t use my right hand to start the car, wipe my ass, or do much, but if I plant my body just right, I can type with both hands now! Yippee!! It’s the little things.

My new scar.

I think my “outsides” look just as odd as my insides. I mistakenly showed a friend my arm yesterday and her knees nearly buckled. Today, though, I wore a tank top because I had to see the doctor, so no sense wearing too much I would need to take off. That just takes too much time nowadays! I found people sneaking glances at the scar, and a sweet little girl asking her mom what happened to me, and why not? I’m her librarian and I didn’t look like that a few weeks ago, so what the heck? I felt a little freakish at times today, but I’ve always told my son to fly his freak flag high, so why shouldn’t I?

I was pretty despondent yesterday–just everything taking too long to do, arm hurting, brain still reeling and making dumb mistakes at work. But today I have a little more hope. I still won’t be able to do a lot on my upcoming vacation–no major hikes and even no swimming (can only get the scar wet with water and soap)–and I still won’t be able to wear a regular bra for some time or wash my hair with two hands, but there’s hope that physical therapy MAY begin in three weeks. I know it will be tough and frustrating, but right now, I am SO ready to get to work.

So here’s to a good fight and a future where bionics are the norm!

Interdependence

On this July 4th, I am longing for some independence.

I’m not here to “complain” about all the freedoms and advantages I have as a white, educated, lower middle-class woman. I am well aware I have a shitload of them. I am also currently hyper-aware of the advantages I have (or will have again) as an able-bodied person.

Many of you know that I broke my arm 11 days ago. It was just a freak accident while goofing off with my son and landing “just wrong.” It’s been a week since I had surgery and I now sport a plate and a bunch of screws inside of my body, just below my shoulder. I really wish they could have just inserted bionics, because seriously! That would totally be worth the pain if I could lift a car with my right arm or throw a baseball 2 miles. But apparently I’m no Jaime Sommers and this isn’t a cool 1970s television show. It’s just my real life in 2019. Ain’t that a pisser?

When I first broke my arm (and yes, it’s my right and I’m right-handed), the pain was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I rarely stopped screaming or crying those first few hours. My brother’s partner drove my boy and I to the ER. Every bit of movement was excruciating. Meds helped very little but some at least relaxed me. Once I was somewhat stabilized, I became horribly depressed. How would I do anything?!? (My husband was out of state when all of this happened, too.) My beautiful sister drove over an hour just to take my damn bra off me and give me a sponge bath, and her husband made us dinner. My son did anything and everything I asked him to, but I needed to do some things for myself. Yet every damned thing was just so fucking difficult. Go brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand and tell me how it goes. NO! WAIT! Go wipe your ass with your non-dominant hand. THAT, my friends, is just friggin’ weird.

Now that I’ve had surgery and my husband is home to help the kid and myself, I’m not quite as depressed or disheartened as I was. I’m still very frustrated with not being able to do certain things like put my bra on by myself, do dishes, wear pants with buttons or zippers, or even sleep in my own bed. And keeping my pain level manageable still isn’t easy, especially at work. BUT, even with all of my frustrations and annoyances, I am incredibly lucky to have family and friends lending a hand to help me, and a staff at work who have my back in more ways than one. As independent (and stubborn) as I am, I know that if we all were a little more interdependent or even just admitted that we needed one another, we could live in a truly incredible world.

So lend a hand if you can to someone that needs it. And if you’re in my vicinity, I’ll be happy to borrow your right hand, arm and shoulder.

Let’s take care of each other. ❤