Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Karma

I came here today to give details on my mother’s upcoming memorial service. Instead, I think it is best if I fill you in on a few other things going on in our family. We (my father and I) flew back into Tulsa yesterday morning, made it back to Joplin, and realized that once again, our lives will be turned upside down. I do not say this for pity. I say this so that you have some idea where our minds and our hearts are tonight.

I do not have permission to divulge information, but please, if you are sending up good karma for our family, hold my Aunt Kay in your close thoughts. She could use the karma, prayers, and thoughts right now. I will say this...Kay, I know you sometimes come here and I just want to say that I love you and that I promise to be with you, every step. I do owe you this much, you have always been here for us, no matter what.

My husband, Alex, will be flying in on Friday. I miss him dearly and will be so glad to see him, to be with him on this holiday. Our daughter Emily will be brought back to us on Friday as well. I have spoken with her grandparents several times, she is having a wonderful time and is being spoiled. Although she was born last November, she wasn’t exposed to Santa in the manner that she has been this year. Now, I hear her on the phone telling me about "hana." I have to smile and be very grateful that she is with her grandparents right now, they can show her what Christmas really means, joy and peace are not my strongest points right now.

Suddenly our first Christmas without Mom and our second without Sara seems, well, it seems we can handle this. We are all going to be together, we will make it, somehow. We have the focus being placed on Emily, we decided her never-ending happiness would carry us thru. She doesn’t know pain or sadness, she doesn’t understand why Mom’s tears keep falling. She doesn’t understand why we all can’t be as happy as she is. We are trying to find the same joy that she has.

As I sit here and type this, I can hear one of my Mom’s favorite Christmas songs playing in the background:

"...A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel’s voices
Oh night divine..."

How I have to think, is she hearing the Angel’s voices right now or is she one of those Angels? Is she watching us and smiling on us as we get up to face another day without her and struggle to find our way based on what she taught us? Is she rejoicing as we take the gifts of love and strength that she left us with and as we learn how to use them again? Will she be with us on Saturday as we allow Emily to open her gifts and enjoy the season?

We will be attending Christmas Eve services as a family and then my husband and I will attend Christmas midnight Mass. My mother loved Christmas Eve services but chose last year to let the holiday slip by her unnoticed. I do understand that, now. Funny how many things I didn’t understand then, but they all seem so crystal clear to me now. This is Emily’s first real Christmas, I want it to be special for her. I want her to be exposed to every joyful thing that my mother, her grandmother, adored about this season. I want her to be touched by the kindness of strangers, remember the joy behind the holiday, and to remember fondly those who have gone before her to prepare the way. She is too young to grasp this right now, I do know that. For now, I just want to believe I am doing the right things, the things my mother would want me to be doing.

I will post again in a day or so with more details regarding the memorial service.






Saturday, December 18, 2004

Watching

This was sent to me by my sister Kerri. It is no secret that my parents took many people into our family, but Kerri was a special one. Kerri was Sara's best friend, my parent's 4th daughter, and a dear friend to me. I have always considered her to be a sister, she was around so much it was hard not to think of her as just another one of us. My parents took custody of Kerri after some things happened in her life and she has been around ever since.

I will be posting another post this evening, but with Kerri's permission I have decided to share this view.


"When watching someone die, you must be very quiet. Always look down at the ground and examine your feet. Be uncomfortable and very somber. Allow your eyes to fill with tears. You will bite your lip until it bleeds, but you won’t notice until you wipe your tears with your sleeve and feel the sting of the sleeve on your lips. You will see the bloodstain on your sleeve, and then you will believe. Since the woman you are watching is your godmother and the closest person to a mother you have, you go over and kiss your aunt as she weeps. Hug her and love her. Watch your adopted sister’s tears roll slowly down her cheeks. Watch them fall to her shirt. Watch the tears leave large circles on her shirt and on your shirt, since she has been crying on you as well. Watch the woman’s grown baby crawl on the bed beside her and stroke her head as she dies. You will remember how thin her face was before, wonder if she looks healthier with her face filled out. You will start to cry again and try to hide it. Make sure you have a tissue in your hand so you won’t have to keep wiping your nose and your eyes on your sleeves. Watch her daughter lie beside her and hold her hands. She will be sleeping, and you won’t want to disturb her, even though you know you can’t since she is in a coma. You will want to go and hug her and lie beside her as her daughter is doing, but you will resist. You will decide instead to sit on the end of her stark white bed next to her feet in the hospital compression socks. The bed will sink as you sit next to her weak body. You will regret that you hadn’t seen her more, even though you came through her city often. You will regret that you felt you should not lie beside her. That you felt that this time was for her daughter and real family and not for you. You wonder if she felt like you were her daughter, and you decide that she did. You will hear her raspy breathing, and the tension will build. You will wish that you were anywhere, instead of in this room watching her die. You will look at her pale, blank face and she looks so small. And you will jump every time her breathing stalls, even though she is hooked up to oxygen. You will place your hand on her foot, and your godfather will place his hand on your shoulder, and you will suddenly be aware that the only sound you hear is "psshhh....pause.....psssh.....pause...." and the sound of sobbing in between her oxygen canister noises. You remember that there are many people in the room. You will look around to see pleading faces looking longingly at the pale body lying limp in the bed. They wish that there was something they could do. There isn’t anything. You will take a firmer hold on her foot and lay your head on the bed next to her leg. You will whisper that you love her. Wish that you had told her while she was conscious. You will wonder if she can hear you. And you will cry as her daughter strokes her head. You will look up as she takes a breath in, and the releases it. You will search the face of the nurse, a sign for anything. You will feel the tears rushing down your face as her hand is laid on the bed, you know it is over and your heart suddenly feels very alone. You miss her already. " -Reprinted with permisson


Thursday, December 16, 2004

Everywhere

After Sara died, my mother lived by the song "My Immortal." That song contains the following lines:

These wounds won't seem to heal
This pain is just too real
There's just too much that time cannot erase.

That makes so much sense to me as we enter the holiday season without her. (Yes, I do know it should be written with caps. Tough. I don’t want to bring any extra attention to than I have to.)

To all of you who have left such beautiful comments, complete strangers, thank you. Your words have hit home, your advice has been noted, your kindness much appreciated. Some of your comments have made me weep, because you do know this pain. Some have given me hope that it won’t always hurt this much. To those of you who knew my mother personally and have come to leave comments, thank you from the bottom of my heart. It makes my heart beat one beat faster to know that she isn’t being forgotten, that her words, her actions, her love, they meant something to you all. Thank you for that. I know if you knew my mother, you too are dealing with your own grief. It touches me that you were still willing to reach out to help . . . thank you.

I am writing this from my parent’s guestroom in Boston. My father and I have returned here to make the final arrangements for the memorial service (more to come on that tomorrow). My husband had to return to Berlin for a few days, my daughter is in another state being cared for by her paternal grandparents (who will no doubt spoil her rotten). My aunts remain in Missouri where they are preparing things for the movers, attending a Hospice memorial service, and wrapping up a few final things.

My mother is everywhere in this house. Every design, every photo, every color was something she devoted herself to, it speaks her name. The last time we were here, I couldn’t force myself to go into the master bedroom. Tonight, I went in and just took in my mother. Every corner that I looked in, there she was. Her lipstick still sits on the vanity. Her favorite photo of our family on her bedside table, and her embossed memo pad remains near the phone with a hastily written message still on it.

When we first arrived, I sat in the den and stared at a portrait of my parents that hangs above the fireplace. It was taken eight years ago, and I remember the day. Sara was graduating from high school. She had her whole life ahead of her. My parents were proud of her, of course, but there was something else in my mother’s eyes that day. Was it sadness at her last child leaving the nest? Was it relief that she would have more freedom with an empty nest? No. It was fear. The look in her eyes was fear. I asked her about that, years later. Why was she so afraid? She told me, "I don’t know who I am if I am not mothering someone."

That was my mom, always a mother. My aunt tells stories of when they were younger, how my mother would tend to the local children as if they were her own. She did the same for me. I never once thought of myself as anything but hers. She never drew the line between the step and real. I was hers, through and though. As I grew up, I knew I had a mother elsewhere, sometimes I even remembered her. Mom would let me talk about her and then tell me that whenever I wanted to, I could start a relationship with her (biological). It never crossed my mind that it was something I would ever want to do. To this day, I still don’t. I know my mother. Her name is Shar and she was the most amazing person I have ever known.

When Sara was adopted, my parents never hid that fact from her. She grew up knowing that she hadn’t just been born and adopted, she was chosen. She knew she was loved, but most of all, she knew she was ours. Again, my parents never drew that line for her. She was theirs and when she was ready, she could begin a relationship with her roots. She started to proceed with that once, but after a few days, came home and told my mother "I know where my mother is . . . right here."

That’s how it always was. She was right here. Now, I can’t feel her, can’t see her in anything other than photos, can’t touch her, can’t hear her wonderful laugh. She isn’t here and I don’t know how to cope with that. I don’t want to cope, and I don’t even want to live without her. I beg God (even in my anger, I need to believe she is with Him) to please just end my life, I am not brave enough to do it myself. I beg Him to return her to us (impossible, I know) or to at least give me an answer as to why He has done this to our family. My pleading goes unanswered, perhaps even unheard. I don’t know how much longer I can do this. It has to get easier, right?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

One Month

Today marks one month. One month without her, one month of struggle, one month of trying to figure out what we are supposed to do now. How do we exist? How do we survive? Her presence here is dearly missed, at times I am unable to take the breath required to go on. I don’t know what else to do, but type here. Just when it seems I have some sort of grasp on things, I don’t. I am suddenly lost, on my own, unable to even think of what I need to be doing.

This morning, I found myself walking down the aisle of a local store, suddenly stopping, to search for her. I miss her more than words will ever explain. My heart feels broken. She used to tell me that any broken heart could be fixed, as long as God had all the pieces. I am now doubting her insight. How can God fix something that hurts this bad? Did she have any idea that it might hurt so badly that I couldn’t even breathe? Did she know that each time I look at Emily my heart feels the ache of realizing that she will not have her to grow up with? Did she know this?

Did she know that it would hurt to hear laughter, that the only thing that brings any comfort right now is knowing that there are others out there that hurt just as badly as I do? Did she know this? Was she aware how much I would want to go with her? Did she know that it would be a constant upon my mind? That I would be unable to think of any other subject matter? Did she know that I would not be able to go outside, not be able to see the Christmas lights without thinking of her? Did she know that I would see each light and remember the joy upon her face that night?

We set up Christmas lights, right before she died. We decorated the exterior of the house in every white light we could find, she only liked white lights. She used to tell us that colored lights take away from the peaceful reason of the season. How odd the things I never understood growing up, but I do now. It was October, how silly we felt doing it, but how excited she was. My dad carried her outside and showed her the lights. We didn’t know it at the time but her vision was almost gone at that point. I don’t know how much she really saw, but her eyes were bright with joy that night. We described each light strand to her, showed her the outline above her window and she cried. I remember her saying "You did this for me?" It seemed huge then, a large undertaking that seemed pointless. How I wish know that we had done it months earlier. How I wish that we had done a million things over and over again. The simple things made her smile, those things that touched her. We would paint her toenails, and she would smile. Something so silly, it excited her so much. I remember rubbing lotion on her and her whispering her thanks to me. She touched me. I remember her touch. Her bony fingers . . . she had lost so much weight and her skin became like tissue paper, so thin, but yet so soft.

She would ask us to read to her, those last few weeks. We would read her to sleep, hold her hand, and whisper goodnight to her when she finally fell to sleep. Her eyes would fly open and she would beg us to keep reading, to not leave. We would read the same thing, over and over again. Each time, it was the same process. Stop reading, eyes would fly open, begin to read again. I wonder how many times I read Walden to her in those last few weeks. I would read it for the rest of my life if it meant she was back here.

They say the first year is the hardest in grief. They also say that it does get easier, that time heals all wounds, that in time you begin to forget the horrible and begin to remember the good. I am waiting. Right now, all I can remember is those last four weeks. I can’t get them from my head, and my heart won’t release them. I remember her screaming in pain. I remember her laying there silent as the tears ran down her face, a pain she couldn’t even express. I remember her look of fear when she tried to speak and realized we couldn’t understand her. I remember how she took one large breath, two shallow sighs, and with that, she flew to the Angels. These are the things I can’t shake from my head, her gasping, her begging us to make sure there was no pain involved, her terror. Right now all I can think of is each horrible occurrence that came along with my mother’s death. It is too much to think about, so I shut my eyes, to block it out. Then I am faced with visions of her final days. There is no hiding from this.





Sunday, December 05, 2004

Weeping

I can’t do this anymore. Over the course of the past few days, I have tried to post entries that would help you all to understand what is going on. I can’t do this anymore. I can sum up the past two weeks for you like this: it’s cruel, cold, and unbearable hell. The pain of living is too much. It is heartbreaking and the pain with each new thought takes my breath away. I can’t do this anymore.

We returned to Missouri last week in time for Thanksgiving. It was my daughter’s 1st birthday last week as well. I am so glad she can’t remember this time in her life because it is not happy nor is it something I want her to keep in her memory. We all avoided the holiday. We found that pretending it didn’t exist didn’t make it go away. It just made it easier to weep through.

Since that time we have been packing up this house, sorting paperwork, wrapping up things here so that we can return to Boston for Mom’s memorial service. This week has been incredibly difficult as we have been opening up mail that has been delivered in the past few weeks. The cards and letters are kind and touching, the memories you all have sent have carried us in rough waters.

Paying the bills that have accumulated during the course of Mom’s illness has been horrible. Although the cost is horrific, the most horrifying thought is that there are pages after pages of medical bills, testing, treatments, and not one of them saved her. Each check we write, I feel like we are paying for failure. She died. These treatments didn’t save her. They stole her from us. They took every good day she had and made it horrible.

As I write this tonight, I can see on the carpet an outline from a stain that we have been unable to lift as of yet. It is the outline of my mother’s blood. Two days before she passed away, she began to cough and then moved on to vomiting blood. Before we could do anything to control it, she was gasping for air. The blood was all over her bedding, the floor, her body, us. The outline of the stain is all that remains. This memory is yet another reminder that said treatments didn’t work.

We are planning Mom’s memorial service, each plan she had in place will be used. We are simply adding our own final remembrance to her as well. Between this, the sale of the houses, the medical bills, and finding the energy to respond to the mounting pile of sympathy cards, there leaves little time for me to feel anything other than the immense pain.

If you have e-mailed any of us, called, or sent mail, please understand we are each trying to find the strength to respond with the proper words, but for now a large thank you is sent to each of you for carrying us in thought during the past few weeks and certainly for carrying Mom in prayer during her battle.


Saturday, December 04, 2004

Fly

November 20, 2004-11:25p.m.


This afternoon, in the gloaming hour, we gave Mom her release to fly with the angels. We stood united as a family with friends and loved ones all whispering their own words of flight to her. After days of being torn apart over certain choices, I felt as if we stood as one, bonded together to give our love to Mom.


We each decided to write something to her, something we would only read there. I began to write my words several days before on our drive to Hilton Head. It became an obsession for me, it had to be perfect, it had to say everything. I could not fit 40 plus years of memories into a page of words. It was not possible. I kept thinking of the novel by Gunther, "Death Be Not Proud." I remember being in college and calling her to discuss it, spending hours with her pouring over every word, deciphering the meaning and the emotions. "L’chaim," she told me, "L’chaim." It became our secret code, she would whisper it to me when she hugged me goodbye, sign her letters with it, write it on my books. To Life, she told me, to life. Only now do I understand that novel. Death Be Not Proud.


In Mom’s last months, music became her link to expressing herself with even more power than it had in previous times. When the words would no longer come, she could hear the music and guide us to understand what she was feeling. A young lady named Erica began to share music with her in those final weeks adding to Mom’s extensive collection of favorites. In those final days, we kept three songs on rotation. I leave you with the chorus of one of those, a chorus we found ourselves singing today as we gave Mom’s ashes to the water she loved so much.


"You’re dancing with the angels
Walking in new life
You’re dancing with the angels
Heaven fills your eyes
Now that you’re dancing with the angels."


My words to her as we gave her our blessing:


Here we stand, Mom. You loved this beach, this air, the sea breeze hitting your face, the sound. I don’t remember ever seeing you unhappy here. Each year when we returned, you seemed refreshed and relaxed, ready to handle life again with that beautiful grace that you always displayed. Today, we are here to release your spirit to the angels, to truly let you fly in the heavens. I know Sara is with us as we let go of your physical body today. Hold her for me, Mom.


My entire life, I have known you as my mom, never as anything else. You never made me feel as if I wasn’t yours, born in your heart, forever there. I never felt as if I needed to search for anything else, my life was complete with your presence. Thank you for silently guiding me to be a better mother, helping to advise me on being a wife, and for being my best friend, not just my mother.

There will not be a moment for as long as I live that I will not grieve for you, but there will never be a moment that I don’t count myself blessed for being your daughter. Fly free . . . L’chaim.


Friday, December 03, 2004

Beach

November 19, 2004-3:16a.m

We made it to Hilton Head, the place where Mom found her peace. It is here that we will say goodbye to her on Saturday, here where we will hold each other as we send her remains to the water, here that we will try to find some point to begin the healing that is so crucial. Please, Mom, if you can hear me tonight, be with us. . . I can’t do this alone.

Departing

November 16, 2004

Yesterday, I kissed my mother’s forehead, patted her arm for the final time, and gave my father my blessing to have her cremated. As much as Mom faced in this past year, I can’t imagine anything was harder than this. She was more beautiful than ever, so peaceful, but so cold. I don’t think I expected her to be so cold. I don’t remember Sara being so cold, but I also don’t remember touching her skin before the casket was closed. Crazy thoughts I am having lately. My mind is wandering back and forth between this year and last, at times I am unsure of what is real and what isn’t, what has happened, what hasn’t and what is going on. My husband claims it is shock and it will sort out soon, but I have my doubts.

Yesterday we spent hours with Mom’s beloved senior pastor. His words were of no comfort to me, but he warned me before we spoke that I may not feel anything and that was okay. Mom’s final days, they were so bad. I can’t stop asking God why he allowed that, why. She had nothing but faith in Him. She lived her life for Him, for the glory of God. He let her suffer. I don’t see the fairness.

Those last few days, she said very little. She couldn’t form the words and then she slipped into a basic coma state and became unresponsive. Before that, her words were difficult to understand and harder still for her to push out, the tumors were taking her air. Her last full sentence to me was "Are the leaves all gone?" I knew what that meant, she wanted to know if her dearly loved fall was ending. In my heart, I know she was waiting on three things before she left us, one of those was the ending of Autumn. She loved this season, but it just seems so barren to me right now.

Boston

November 15, 2004-late night.

We made it to my Mom’s beloved Boston home. She loved this house from day one. I remember the first time I made it home to see it. She took me on a tour of each room, pointing out the "charming" areas of this 113 year old home. She took me into her writing loft, something my Dad designed to give her a spot to create and enjoy her passions. She took me on a walk around the edge of the property, arm linked in my mine, patting my hand and telling me she wanted grandchildren to play and romp on the grass. It was a hint well taken.

My sister and I were there that day, the first time I had been able to see the house. I had already be warned by Ladybug that Mom was head over heels in love with this house and to expect hours of gushing. Instead, I had hours of her gushing over us, her girls. She loved us more than anything else. It is said that my mother was a born mother, that she was destined to be a mother. That could not be more true. She was the perfect mother.

Being here is hard, very hard. On the drive to the house this evening, we passed places that I know were her favorites...her favorite place to eat, walk, shop, read. Being here is hard. I miss you, Mom.