Wrecked

Today, on this grey and chilly fall day, my sister and I buried our mother.

As we stood around the small hole where Mom’s urn would be buried, we stood with our husbands, our children and our brother-in-law. We told a few stories about Mom and my husband read a poem out loud because I wasn’t able to. (“If I Should Go” by Joyce Grenfel)

I looked over at my big sister and she, like me, was a wreck. She said, “Remember when Grammie died?” My first memory was what my niece recalled, how my mother shook her head as we stood by her mother’s grave and kept saying “I can’t do this.” But what my sister reminded me was of Mom’s comparison to losing a partner to losing a mother. Just the year before Grammie died, our stepdad died suddenly of heart attack at 58. It was devastating. But the day of my grandmother’s funeral, Mom said that when your partner dies, yes it’s awful and horrific. But when your mother dies? You just want to follow her.

What you see here is me leaning against my sister. I was sobbing at this point, not wanting to put our mother into the ground. It may have only been her ashes at that point, but I could still touch the box she was in. It sometimes gave me a weird comfort. But our mother’s wishes were to be buried beside our stepdad.

So that is what we did.

Before we left the cemetery, once again my sister says between sniffles, “Well, no more of this. Let’s not do this again!” I shake my head and this time whisper, “There’s no one left.”

Searching for Signs

Yesterday afternoon after I got home from work, my husband and I helped our neighbor for a little bit then took a short walk. Once we got home, I went for a longer walk by myself. I listened to an audio book, anything so I wouldn’t think too much. Yet as I walked, I had an incredible urge to go to my father’s grave. I haven’t been there since we buried him in May, but I needed to be there at that moment.

As soon as I got home, I told my husband and son where I was going. It’s about a 20 minute drive through back roads in beautiful farm country. I tried to take in the last of the fall colors as I drove. When I got to the cemetery, I parked my car directly in front of the site.

This was the first time I’ve seen my father’s gravestone. It seemed so small to me. My father was not only a large man, but he was larger than life sometimes. He had a great booming voice when he wanted to and his love for his family sometimes seemed larger than the room you were in, you know?

I stood in front of Dad’s grave, said “hi Dad” then waited. I wasn’t expecting him to say anything back obviously, but I was expecting…something. I thought I would feel like he was there listening. But there was absolutely nothing. I felt nothing. I went back to my car, put my head on the wheel and cried. I just needed my father to be there. I needed to talk with him, but I really needed him to talk back. I was hurting and I missed Mom and I just needed my papa right then. I needed him to hug me and rub my back and tell me that he understood. He wouldn’t say it was going to be ok because it wasn’t, but he’d probably tell me how much it sucked, but I would eventually be ok.

Once I got home, feeling sad and tired and frustrated, I got out of my car and saw a small murder of crows flying over my house. I find myself looking for signs of my family everywhere now and I wondered if Phil and Dad and Mom were a part of this group saying “hey” before they went wherever they were going. I had this overwhelming feeling of being left behind and I whispered, “Wait!” They didn’t wait but flew away, as they should.

Foolishly, I decided then I should take care of Mom’s things I had from the nursing home and some of the photos we had out for the celebration of her life. I sat in the middle of my home library surrounded by her things and her photos and her smell that clung to the clothes I was unpacking. I only cried once, but I could feel the loneliness creeping into my bones.

My husband was in his office and my son was in his room. After I finished with Mom’s things, I started to fold laundry in the living room. When my son came out and asked me something, I got upset at him. When he asked me what was wrong, I broke down and in between sobs told him I missed my dad and my mom. My heart was broken but I didn’t want to tell him that. Instead I held the washcloth I was folding close to my heart and just rocked and cried. My poor boy put his arms around me as my husband came out of his office and sat with us. The three of us began to talk and we cried and we laughed and we just were.

We were together.

Caring

As a parent, you raise your child or children and although you never stop loving or caring or worrying about them, you get to a point where you start taking caring of yourself or try taking time for yourself. That’s what running was for me when I started 10 years ago. But all of that came to a standstill over two years ago when I started to care for my mother. Even before my dear brother died in July of 2017, I was at my mother’s home more and more, trying to get her medication under control and taking her to appointments. I moved her in with my family later that year and the care increased dramatically.

Once Mom entered a residential care facility, I remember my sister saying to me that now maybe I could properly grieve for our brother and start taking care of myself.

That didn’t happen.

I continue to grieve for my brother, but I know that will be for the rest of my life. There are some things you just can’t fix. And as far as taking care of myself? I visited my mother each weekend, cared for my father every few Sundays, and still tried to be the best parent and wife and librarian that I could. I’ve stopped running and I don’t think I’ve been a great friend over the past few years, but something had to go.

And then Dad died. I found myself unable to sit still on Sundays because I felt like I should be somewhere else than at home. Then I broke my arm horribly in June. I had a great excuse to no longer run but the pain was so debilitating at the beginning that I truly understood why people want to die when they have so much pain. I just wanted it to end.

Then the pain finally got better but I was very down and frustrated and angry. I ate my feelings once again and put another 5 pounds–that’s 15 extra now since Phil died. Yet, I haven’t really cared that much. Not like before.

And now Mom is gone. The woman who gave me life, taught me how to bake, and tried so hard to instill all her confidence and love into me so I would be proud of and love myself, is no longer on this planet.

Three of the most important people in my life are gone–all their love for me is gone and all the love I have for them is bursting from my body and soul and it doesn’t know where to go. I didn’t think I could feel more lost after my brother died, but after each parent left this world I felt more bewildered and sad and shocked than ever before.

Last weekend we held a celebration of my mother’s life. It was sad and exhausting yet also exhilarating to hear new stories about my mother that I had never heard before. Once my son and I arrived home, we unpacked the car, got into our pjs, ate dinner and just watched tv. I napped a bit on the couch on and off, but I felt ok. At bedtime, we talked to my husband on the phone, but I told him I had to go because as I stood at the sink I started to feel woozy and knew I needed to sit down. Yet as soon as I hung up the phone, I fainted. I don’t remember falling, I just remember being on my kitchen floor and blood was dripping from my nose. My poor son was freaked out and helped stop the bleeding of my nose and cleaned up the mess. I twisted my right knee and foot pretty badly and apparently knocked my face on the counter because not only did my nose hurt but the area under one of my eyes is still sensitive to the touch. I got myself to bed and my boy called his father to explain what happened and to express how scared he felt.

I wish I could tell you I knew what happened, but I don’t. I think I fell from exhaustion. I ate plenty that day and had my usual 8 cups of water. But I was so tired and had a week of planning for my mother’s celebration, ordering an urn, picking up her ashes, getting paperwork for probate court and on and on. Plus I worked a few days.

And my mom was no longer here.

I think that was reason enough for my body to give out on me and say, “Fuck you. I’m done. Let me rest.”

So now…to take care of myself? My son is only 12 and I will still put him first and I’m trying to figure out how to care for him. He has also lost three people that he loved and idolized. His mental and physical health is my priority. But maybe with time, I’ll not only re-learn how to care for and about myself again, but I’ll have the desire to do it.

And maybe this blog will once again be about running instead of grief.

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.

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.