Category Archives: Family

Two Steps Forward; Five Steps Back

The medical center I work for has been going through some changes the past couple of weeks. My boss resigned and then, a week later, her boss resigned. Three of our nurses moved on to other jobs and two of our doctors were let go. Other staff throughout the clinic was also trimmed back. As the face of health care changes so, too, does the medical center I work at. I am grateful to still have a job but we are all a bit on edge and feeling the loss of those people that are now gone.

I’m telling you this because one of the other Practice Managers has stepped up to oversee things while we are going through this transitional time. Last week she brought over one of her new Patient Care Representatives to be cross-trained on our front desk procedures so he can help out when we are short-handed. I worked with him a bit each day helping him set up his desk and printers, showing him where our break room was – little things like that. I found that every time I was around him for a few minutes I’d feel a lighter sense of peace inside and I’d walk away from him smiling and feeling better than I had in months. As he left for the day on Friday he came to say goodbye and to thank me for helping him and I found myself wanting to reach out and give him a hug – and that’s when it hit me like a big, wet towel: His mannerisms and pattern of speech were identical to my brother’s. For the first time in nearly two years, I felt like I did when Johnny and I were together.

I woke up this morning and couldn’t stop the tears from falling. I missed Father’s Day brunch with my family this morning because I can’t stop crying. I feel every bit as bad as I did the week Johnny died – the wound, fresh, raw, and gaping again. Saying goodbye to so many people at work and then being around this young man seems to have triggered something at an unconscious level until the pain could no longer be suppressed: the losses weren’t just at work – they were here, too, in my immediate family.

So, today, after months of moving forward in my grief for my mother and brother and feeling like I was going to be okay, I find myself in the pit again. And I know this too shall pass.

I know that we have to grieve in order to let go.

I know there is a purpose and a plan in place.

I know. I know…

But today I am grieving for all the men I’ve lost instead of celebrating the men who are still in my life. To my “Gramps”, John Kenward, my “other” dad, Rich Mahoney, my friends who would have made great dads, Jack & Tim, and especially to my brother, Johnny: I thank you for all of your love.

You are so deeply, deeply missed.

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The Long Goodbye

Four months after my mother’s passing, we finally held her memorial service.

Yesterday was a very long and hard day but we all made it through to the end. It had some highs such as seeing the friends of my parents from when I had been a child – many of whom I haven’t seen in a good 30 years but I still knew them when I saw them. The funniest thing to me was how I was now taller than all of them – even the ones I remembered as being such tall men and women.  (I guess I grew a few inches and they shrank a few?)  The day also had some lows such as hearing my father eulogize my mother’s life, his voice shaky and cracking at times.  I found if I looked down at my purse instead of directly at my dad I could listen to his words instead of his heart and that helped me make it through without totally falling apart.

My father will soon be traveling to David, California to have yet another service for my mom where the friends who knew her for the past 30 years can say their goodbyes. I am glad I cannot make that trip; it was hard enough to hear him eulogize my mom the first time around.

The bonus to my weekend was that I got to see my nephew – so much like my brother, Johnny, that it was like getting to spend time with him again. He has my brother’s mannerisms and most of his personality, although he is his own distinct and wonderful person.  My heart lifted and lit up from the inside every time I saw his face.  It went a long way to easing the grief over my mom and brother.

Thank you to all of you for the strength and prayers yesterday. Several of us went down to the Kauffman Garden after the service and spent an hour walking among the flowers – my mom loved it there. Hundreds of tulips were open and dancing in the breeze and it left us all feeling renewed.

Last night we celebrated her life at 54th Street Grill and Bar – something that has become a new family tradition. I thank those who contributed to the gift certificate that helped pay for our meal – it was a beautiful and thoughtful thing to do.  Our friends and family took up most of their tables but we did our best to run up a decent tab to make up for it.

Today, we woke early to have breakfast together before putting my Uncle back on a plane and sending my sister back to St. Louis.  My nephew and sister-in-law took off very early to drive back to their home in Houston as well.  I came home and went back to bed, will do a little laundry this afternoon, and then plan to take it easy the rest of the day. Monday, I will put my best foot forward and “keep on keepin’ on” – just as my mom did every day of her life.

If there is one thing I have learned from all these years of photographing nature, it is that no matter what (or who) dies away, evidence of their being here on earth is always present in the new life that continues to flourish. I will do my best to represent my mother’s life on this world in the days, weeks, and years to come.

We will remember her often and miss her deeply.

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To Grieve or Not to Grieve

My parents would go to our local Barnes and Noble book store almost every Thursday to pick out a new book to read and then they’d go have lunch together.  It was no surprise to me to find a good hundred plus books all tucked away in the nooks and crannies of her sewing room after she died.  I came upon a stack of Anne Lamott books there and, having read “Traveling Mercies” years ago, I snagged the other Lamott books and threw them in my quickly-growing “take-home” pile of knick-knacks, quilts, and jewelry.

It’s been five weeks since mom passed –and four days after that was my birthday – one that I decided against celebrating.  Instead, I spent most of the day doing what Oprah used to refer to as “the ugly cry.”  Basically, this is when you can’t hold back your emotions no matter how hard you try.  Tears spontaneously bursts out of you while your face contorts and twists in unimaginably ugly ways, all the while your breath hitches and sputters like a backfiring old pickup truck.

In other words, I totally lost my shit that day.

But then the oddest thing happened.  After that day passed, I felt a huge load lift off me.  All the months of seeing mom deteriorate one day at a time right down to the last moments of her life – the stress surrounding all of that vaporized.  With them went the tension that was tightly woven into my being my mother’s daughter – that pull of never living up to her expectations or her dreams for what my life would be like.  I was supposed to be feeling overwhelming grief but, instead, I was feeling deep and abiding peace.

The more the peace settled in around me the more I began to wonder about it – was this denial (for which I’d pay dearly down the road)?  Was it my mind giving me a break after a solid year of grieving the loss of my brother?  Or, was this something else entirely?  Guilt began to push its way in – taunting me with its patronizing backlashes.  I wondered: should I feel this good this close to my mother’s death?  Am I the worst daughter ever?  What would people think if they knew I wasn’t devastated by all we’d just been through with her?  Something inside told me to keep going and to enjoy the peace while it lasted – and so I did.

I returned to work the following week and began reading “Grace, Eventually” during my lunch breaks.  I immediately remembered why I love Anne’s writing style so much: she’s truthful about the life she’s led (warts and all) and she uses the occasional word that even I have to go look up.  (I love an author that increases my vocabulary!)  Most of all, though, she writes in short snippets that I can easily digest but her words stay with me.  I think about what she writes long after I read it – and that’s my gauge for a good read.

I was most of the way through the book this week when I came upon a chapter titled, “Mom, Interrupted” and one paragraph into it I realized that this is one of those God moments where the entire universe lines up so you can know in your heart and mind that this whole “God thing” is not some giant fairy tale that is meant to appease those of us who find life too difficult to live at times.

Anne writes, “For a long time after her death I didn’t feel much of anything – except relief…”  She goes on to write, “I felt much more spaciousness in my life after my mother died, partly because my phone did not ring every several seconds….”  She goes on describing her mother – how she was a handful and how she was both imperious and had no self-esteem at the same time.  Her mother was “controlling, judgmental, withholding, needy, and desperate to be loved.”

Ditto.

A few pages later she writes, “It wasn’t until her death that my mother stopped exhausting me…Now, here it is three years later, and I am beginning to miss her.”

And there was my answer: the guilt about not feeling deep and ongoing grief over her death got up and skulked out of the room, and that peace I’d been experiencing in my heart slammed the door shut behind it. I was not the world’s worst daughter after all.  Anne Lamott said so. 

I threw the book in my lunch bag that evening and was driving home when it suddenly dawned on me that it was my mother who had purchased that book.  She bought that book and left it on the shelf in her sewing room where it would be easily seen.  Then I, being the only one of her three remaining children interested in such things, picked it up and threw it in my sack of stuff to bring home, and then I read it.

In other words, because of something my mother did before her death, I was comforted by her one last time after her death.  Just thinking about that makes my face contort, my breath catch, and the tears start to flow.

Here I go again…

 

All Quiet on the Home Front

It’s been a very quiet weekend around my home – exactly what I needed, actually.  I’m still putting away all the items from my mom’s life that I took from my parents’ home (e.g. jewelry, cook books, etc.).  Little by little, I have integrated the things that were once hers in with the items that have always been mine.  They will now coexist with the things I have from those other family members who have passed on – my grandmother’s metronome that sat atop her piano; my grandfather’s pepper mill – he loved fresh cracked pepper; dishes that belonged to my great grandmother, Julia.  My cabinets and shelves are full of mementos from lives now gone.

I spent the morning updating my living will, Last Will & Testament, and my Power of Attorney.  After watching what we went through with my mother I wanted everything to be in place when my time came.  I named my sister as the person in charge of making all my medical decisions because she has the best grasp on when to say “enough” out of all my family members.  She was the first to realize (after me) that we were only prolonging the inevitable with my mom.  When you’ve tried everything you can think of, it’s time to let go.  She gets that – so she gets to be my voice when I can no longer speak.

As part of the process, I allocated some of my possessions to friends and family.  It’s daunting to give away your things – to think about who would want the things you consider so special that you’d rather not live without them.  I was stumped on who to give my camera equipment to as nobody else in my family would really want it.  Truth is, it will be so out of date by the time someone gets their hands on it it probably won’t matter much.  It’s hard to believe it will be meaningless to everyone else when I consider it to be the most precious thing I own.

I’ve always known in my heart that things are just “things” – that the house could burn down or the tornado could sweep through – and you have to be able to let it all go and move on.  But, now that I’m older, I see where people can become attached to their possessions.  I realized that the first time I raised that camera to my eye.  It would be like taking off my left hand at this point – something I would never be able to fully comprehend how to live without…but I’d make adjustments and find a way, I’m sure.

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My dog, Gracie, turns 11 tomorrow.  I don’t know where all the years have gone but I kiss her head every night and I thank God she’s been here with me through the last decade.  She and Petee not only keep me company in an otherwise empty home, they have taught me so much about myself.  I see the best of who I can be – and the worst – in their eyes.  I try to do right by them and to love them as unconditionally as they love me.  I don’t always deserve their love and affection, but I always take it in, nonetheless.

Gracie sleeps on an afghan that my mother crocheted for my bed years ago.  (At some point I changed my color scheme and the afghan became the dog blanket.)  Some would think that was a terrible thing to do with a keepsake from my mom but she would have loved it.  She loved her dogs like she loved all of us kids.  She was especially fond of Grace and always looked forward to coming over to see her.

I know the dogs don’t know why I am bringing new items into the house and I doubt they can comprehend why I’ve been crying more than usual but I know we will all get through this time of grief.  It still hasn’t fully sank in that my mom is gone but I look at her wedding ring that now sits in my jewelry box and I know that its true.  Possessions can be a blessing or a curse in this day and age; I try to only hold on to the ones I see as blessings.

 

 

The 56th

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Today is my 56th birthday. It is also the first birthday I will celebrate without my mom; she died four days ago. And, yes, I am sad, but I don’t think I’ve really started grieving for her yet. I’m still in the “What the hell happened?” stage as far as she is concerned. I’m also in the “When will this ever end?” stage of grief for my younger brother, who we lost to brain cancer 14 months ago. Technically speaking, I still have another four months of grieving for him, so I guess my grief for mom will need to take a number. (Sorry, mom, I guess it’s a good thing you didn’t mind waiting in line.)

I keep thinking about the appointment I need to make for my yearly physical. The doctor always asks, “Anything changed in your life since the last time you were here?” How exactly does one come out and say, “Why, yes. Remember how last year I told you my brother had just died? Well, now it seems my mother has died as well.” Do they immediately hand you a prescription for anti-depressants or do you still have to answer some questions first?

(I guess I’ll find out in a couple of weeks.)

In the meantime, my remaining siblings and I have been pitching in to help dad declutter and “de-feminize” his home. We’ve already removed countless boxes of mom’s clothing, jewelry, romance novels, and quilting supplies. All that’s really left to do is take down all the Precious Moments statues, decorative bottles, quilted wall hangings, and various bunny rabbit tchotchkes. Apparently, 58 years of looking at all mom’s knickknacks was enough; he’s ready to leave pastel colors behind, convert the sewing room into a reading library, and begin this new stage in his life. I really can’t say that I blame him. My mom was good at many things but room decorating was not really her forte.

What she was really good at was making people feel loved. She counted several of our long-time friends as her “stray” children and always made time to invite you in, listen to your current life predicament, and feed you a good, hearty meal. My mom liked being a mom more than anything else in this world.

The sun is finally up. I guess it’s time to get on with today’s activities: feeding the dogs, setting out some bird food for my feathered backyard friends to feast on, and then digging up something for my own breakfast before I head out for a walk. It would be right about now mom would have called me up, told me how cold and snowy it was the day I was born, and then recounted once again how she dreamed I was born with brown hair instead of the red I really came into the world wearing, which left her accusing many a fine upstanding nun of baby swapping at the Catholic hospital I was delivered in.

I’m really going to miss those calls.