Friday, April 18, 2014

Life is but a dream.

Several years after my sister died, she came to me in a dream. I remember being so overwhelmed to see her that I was just sobbing and incredulous, repeating over and over something like “It’s you. You’re here.” She just smiled at me like it was any other day (and like I wasn’t hysterical) and said “I’m fine. Everything is okay.”

I woke up the next morning thinking, Wow. Maybe she is fine. Maybe everything is – finally – okay. This is good.

Since my Mom died, I’ve been waiting for her to come to me. She finally did the other night, but it wasn’t about me, it was more about my Dad. In my dream (nightmare?) he was dying. He was very peaceful, laying in bed, and I was sitting on the bed next to him on his left side. I was despondent. I looked to my right, and there she was. She was vibrant, bright, young. She was laying on the bed next to me with her feet near Dad’s, and she was propped up on her elbows. I looked at my Dad and said “He’s resting…I guess this is normal in the progression…”, and then I looked back at her. She was smiling expectantly, beyond happy, with tears in her eyes. She nodded her head and said “I know.” She couldn’t wait for him to come to her. She looked like a child on Christmas Eve who knew her most coveted gift was under the tree.

When I woke up, I couldn’t decide if I felt better, or doubly worse. And when I told the traveling husband about the dream later that day, I cried.

Lately, I fluctuate between a couple of realities. The first one is where I know on the surface that she died, and I can say it with a certain amount of detachment, take the kind comments that usually come afterwards, and move on.

Other times, it feels like I'm a little girl who's just been pushed off the high dive.

As I fall fast, my mind hits rewind and I see her in her hospice bed where she was a shred of her former self. I see her in hospital room after hospital room with tubes and monitors and I see the nurses and doctors who floated in and out over the course of eight months, alternately helping and pissing me off with their attitudes and answers (or lack thereof).

And then I see her as she was before, and this is the hardest to reconcile in my head. I saw the decline with my own two eyes and yet the questions remain. How can it be? How can vibrancy and resilience and strength disappear and take with it the will to fight and live? How could I have spent so much time hoping and praying and talking about her getting better, and so little time preparing for how I would feel when that didn’t happen?

Then I hit the water and sink to the bottom as the second reality hits which is that she hasn’t just died. She. Is. Dead. There is an odd difference. The first reality lives in my head. The second one lives in my heart.

Recently the traveling husband reminded someone who wasn’t being careful enough with me that “her mother died just four months ago.” It made me feel incredibly loved and cared for, and reminded me that he may be busy but he is first and foremost Papa Bear for this family. He stepped in front of me as a shield, and that not only protected me, but gave me a moment to let my own guard down. Which made me realize I’m playing it quite tough but really, am hanging by a thread.
I’ll be stoic one moment and crying the next – you know how that is right? When you lose something or someone you love (and friends have told me it hits just as hard whether it's been 10 weeks or 10 years) it's a cycle. You're on the pool deck, and it's okay. You go for a dip, and it's fine. You walk over to the diving board and tension rises. Then there you are, standing on the high dive contemplating everything, when PUSH and you're falling. You end up in the deep end, water up your nose and tears on your face, because the pressure is too much.

Eventually you swim back up, climb out, and warm yourself in the sun again (preferably with a stylish cover up and a strong, fruity cocktail). The clouds part and the day goes on and you realize that while you were devastated and drowning, life completely moved on for everyone else. When you came up gasping for air, kids were laughing, people were slathering on sunscreen, birds were chirping. It’s like that scene in Jerry Maguire where he gets fired at lunch, right? His head is pounding and his mind is racing. He looks at his water glass and sees the ice cube crack. He looks around the restaurant and watches people at other tables laughing and eating, all while step one of Jerry’s World Crumbling takes place.

It’s the merging of realities, and I know I’m blessed/lucky/grateful but it still kinda sucks.

My Mom was the Easter Bunny and the Birthday Fairy and the Best Kind Of Grandmother and Santa Claus all rolled into one, which makes weekends like this one that much harder. She made everything special and made everyone happy and always made everyone laugh (sometimes at her own expense).

Therefore, this week, I have been compelled to buy mass quantities of chocolate and plan for lovely side dishes and plant flowers, so our Easter weekend is as special as it can be. I will drink rosé and eat jellybeans and smile at Nine and Eleven, because those sweet girls still want to hunt for eggs and get a big basket of goodies. And I will fill those eggs and stuff those baskets and shop until I drop for everything we need because I learned from the best that it’s not shopping, it’s retail therapy, and I think we can all agree (maybe especially after crying through writing this post a little bit) I need therapy in whatever form it comes in.

And then Sunday night, when the house is clean and quiet, I will climb into bed next to the traveling husband. I will close my eyes, breathe deep, and hope she comes to me in my dreams. I hope she smiles at me and tells me how lovely she thought everything was. I hope she wishes me a happy Easter, and a good night’s rest.

And I hope I get the chance to throw my arms around her and breathe her in and wish her a good night’s rest, too.

I hope.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Trembling Ovaries A.D.

I swear, I’m not trying to make this into The Journal Of Death or anything, but I obviously have some things weighing on my mind and I told you before that this is my therapy, which makes you my therapist, so you are compelled to sit back and listen.

Okay, so you aren’t compelled to do anything really, but where else can you go to read things that make you cry, then make you laugh about poop, all in one place?

You’re welcome.

I was talking to a friend today. She has experienced a devastating loss recently too. Her father lived on the other side of the world, and he was quite ill. On the day she was scheduled to fly out to see him, he died. He hadn’t been a part of her life for many years. He missed every major milestone she experienced as an adult: her wedding, the birth of her child, her birthdays, every holiday. All of it. And then before she could reconcile anything, or ask questions, or show him the slideshow that she and her brother had put together to catch him up on the last 20 years of their lives…he was gone.

For her, that made it all worse. He’d missed everything, and now there was no chance he would be a part of anything ever again.

It couldn’t be more different from my loss, but our feelings were so much the same. My Mom was one of the biggest parts of my life and always had been. She was present for every major life event I’ve had. She threw my birthday parties, took me everywhere, watched me dance, planned my wedding, attended bridal and baby showers, and was there when both of my daughters were born. She’s been my touchstone for years and years, and we spoke several times a week.

For me, that made it all worse. She’d been there for everything, and now there was no chance she would be a part of anything ever again.

We all walk through loss – no matter what kind it is – and it washes over us. We’re undeniably drenched in what’s happened, but because we move forward so quickly, we air-dry a little bit, so we think we’re good to go. Different for the experience, sure, but ready to get dressed again.

What we don’t entirely realize is that what we've been exposed to doesn't get left in the past when we move forward. The loss stays with us, sitting right there on the surface. We learn that while we may be moving on, we're not moving on without it because it's a part of who we are.

So we make dinner and have meetings and walk the dog – we get distracted by life – and what we thought we'd gotten used to starts to change. It begins to seep in. The reality of what we’ve seen and felt and lost sinks deeper and deeper into us until one day out of the blue, it touches our heart.

There’s no warning. It’s like an earthquake, but it comes from inside, which kind of makes it a heartquake. You can’t see it coming, you just start to feel it. It’s scary because you have no idea whether it will shake you up a little or a lot, so there's no way to prepare. You don’t know how long it will last, you just have to ride it out and hope.

This week my heartquake left me sitting in the driveway crying. I’d dropped the kids at school, and was on the way home, listening to the country station and sipping my coffee, and I instinctively wanted to call her for our daily download and catch up session. And it hit me that while her voice is still on the answering machine, she’s not there to pick up the phone anymore.

So instead, I texted another dear friend who understands this kind of driveway breakdown all too well, because she lost her darling mom a few months before I lost mine. I texted the traveling husband, who texted back that he misses my Mom too (cue: more crying). I texted Chicago, because well, I always text Chicago. And then I got out of the car and got on with my day. There were some aftershocks, but I made it through.

Life is just different now. My ovaries are still all aflutter, but in another way and for other reasons. They are Trembling Ovaries A.D., if you will.

If any of you were a rock star in your previous life, or you just had a mom who thought you were the best thing since sliced bread, then you know what I'm talking about. And if you've lost the president of your fan club and have since figured out how not to spontaneously cry in public, I’d love to know about it.

My ovaries and I are all ears.

Also, poop.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

P.S. I love you

Dear Mom,

You may already know this, depending on how much you can see from where you are, but last week the traveling husband and I took Nine, Eleven, and OtisNO* to Palm Springs for a few days.

I figured a change of scenery would be good for me, and it was. But everywhere I looked, I saw you.

How could I not? You and Dad used to go to Palm Springs all the time. Lying on a raft in the pool was your thing. Getting brown and wearing flip-flops was where it was at. Palm Springs was where you got your Hawaii fix, when we couldn’t go to Hawaii. Plus, since your initials were P.S., and Palm Springs is also P.S., you were always kind of synonymous with the place.

And I don’t know if this is just coincidence, or what, but did you know that Frank Sinatra, the man who recorded the theme song for your entire life (“I Did It My Way”) had a house in Palm Springs? Ever since I can remember, that song was all about you. And to prove it, your license plates read “PSMYWAY” for as long as I can remember.

“PSMYWAY” was you, and Palm Springs, and Frank Sinatra.

It was clearly NOT a joke about the fact that you never knew which way to go when you were driving.

Right? Because we were never “lost.” We were “on an adventure.”

Now you’re gone, but you aren’t lost. You’re just on another adventure. And in true form, you left for your adventure your way.

We moved you to hospice on a Thursday. It was a rough transition for you – for all of us – but our plan was to get you comfortable, and get you home.

When I called on Friday, I was told that you were dying. It wouldn’t be long. A couple days, maybe. You don’t expect to hear that news while you’re sitting at the car dealership waiting for your oil change to be done, you know?

But I totally kept it together, Mom. I swallowed repeatedly and blinked tears away, paid my bill (no idea what it cost or what the service manager said to me), and climbed into the car. I do remember being kind of amazed that I could put one foot in front of the other. Then I pulled out of the driveway, drove across the street, stopped in a small parking lot, and promptly lost my shit.

I called the husband hysterical, terrified and rambling:


Well, he may not have been able to get a word in edgewise, but he knew what to do. He booked me on the next flight out to see your pretty face. (You always did like him.)

I came straight to you. I brought a small bag of clothes and a big bag of Excedrin, because the nurse I spoke to said you might not see Monday. (Ouch, right? The blows were coming hard and fast. Hence the Excedrin.)

The weekend flew by.

Then, Monday came and went.

So I went to Target, which I’m sure you know we could see from your hospice window (thank you Jesus/Mom/Karma), and I bought some more comfy clothes to hang out in. I wore the same flannel pajamas every night. I think you would have liked them. I’m wearing them as I type, too. Now I call them My Hospice Pajamas, so they make me sad, but I wear them anyway, because they remind me of you.

Tuesday came and went.

I watched a lot of TV. I held your hand almost nonstop, day and night. I was the only one who could get your wedding ring off. We listened to the Peaceful Christmas compilation on Pandora, because the Country Christmas mix got a little twangy for us. We bought you a thick, soft blanket, which I think you liked the feel of, and we put Christmas lights around the foot of your bed, along with some sparkly garland. And we hung one ornament from it. An owl. I wish I knew when your love for owls started.

Oh, and you probably know this too, but owls are freaking everywhere now. I don’t know if it’s a sign or a trend, but I’m trying very, very hard not to buy everything I see with an owl on it, or soon I will be that crazy old lady with all the owls. No offense.

Wednesday came, and with it came one of my favorite nurses. She walked in and Mom, I shit you not, she said “Well, she’s still here. She’s doing it her way, isn’t she?”

I just stared at her. It was like one of those movie scenes where it’s like twelve minutes until the end of the movie and something finally goes DING in the movie star’s head, and everything pivotal that happened in the previous hour and thirty-three minutes replays itself, and she understands that all those moments were actually missed clues along the way, and then it zooms back to her face, and she realizes her journey is complete.

Except for at that moment, I was the movie star, and my movie took me zooming back to being a kid in the back of the “PSMYWAY” mobile. I saw your tanned, pedicured feet in flip-flops by a pool. I watched you singing along to “I Did It My Way” as you smiled at Dad. And then it zoomed back to my puffy, exhausted, grateful face. And I said with a sad smile, You have no idea.

We had some flip-flops-by-the-pool time last week in Palm Springs. We had some good meals and good times. And I don't know why, but all three nights we spent there I found myself awake at 3:38am. Why I woke up at the same time each morning is anybody's guess, but each time I spent a good hour thinking about you and trying to figure it out.

Then I came home and promptly got the flu. But don’t worry, I’m better now. And I’m out of Frank Sinatra land and back to real life. I have to go to Costco tomorrow because Nine and Eleven lost their goggles, and we are out of paper towels and freezer bags.

I wonder if they have a gigantic pack of owls there. I’ll look.

I miss you, Mom.



P.S. I love you.

*Note to the reader: The 160-pound puppy’s name is Otis. But when we first brought him home, it sounded like his name was OtisNO, because he was constantly either eating something inappropriate or peeing on it (or both). My Mom was in town for a visit and for her, the nickname stuck. So now you know. And in case you were wondering, OtisNO loved Palm Springs. He did not lose his goggles.