Friday, April 20, 2012

Growing Up

For today I need to start right where I left off because I am still racing to get through some of this.  When I get to the parts I savor and cherish I will slow down.  First I called some very special friends to come get Krista.  And then I called the ambulance hoping my friends could get there before the ambulance and they did, thank God.   Ambulances can be so dramatic thanks to sirens and lights, but the 2 guys who came were so kind and sweet to my mom that I felt like for a short time I could let my guard down and let someone else be in charge.  I don't remember exact details from that night, but here is what I do remember.  My mom was in groaning agony and it took so long for anyone to do anything about it.  When she told them the painkiller they were about to administer had never touched her pain, they ignored her and gave it to her anyway.  She waited for hours (that is not an exaggeration) for a different painkiller that would actually touch the pain.  Because she was in so much agony, I had to do the talking for her and I must have given the same information and answered the same questions for at least five people.  There has to be a more efficient way.  Also, I learned quickly that you do NOT leave the room of someone who is in the hospital if you want any chance of talking to a doctor.  So, I was without food, drink, bathroom breaks.  Okay, not to make this about me here, but hospitals need some volunteers to help out people who are stuck in rooms.  At one point I tried to go somewhere and because it was the middle of the night, the ER door locked me behind me and I was LOCKED OUT.  I had to go outside and be buzzed back in again.  Could nobody have told me that?  Finally at 3 am, a team of vascular doctors came in with an air of authority.  I would soon discover that you always question the authority of the doctor in front of you, but as yet I did not know this and was happy to turn over the worries to this fine team.  They said they were looking at a pulmonary embolism and that they were getting her to a room.  They would then be monitoring her, and a bunch of other stuff I would not remember later.  It took another hour before she was settled in a room, and took another hour for the order for the painkillers to reach the desk of the floor she was on.  This became a problem I was all to familiar with and with each new floor she arrived at in that hospital, my skin would grow thicker and thicker, as I advocated for getting her pain pills.  The nurses could be your best friend or your worst enemy and thank God most of the nurses in our story were our greatest advocates.  By now it was 5 am and my car was at home as I had ridden in the ambulance.  I had already called a friend at school who assured me she would take care of everything and she did.  Little did she know she would be taking care of everything for quite awhile.  So, now it came down to taking care of me.  Mom was set for the time being.  I had not called my brother or sister because I thought that was unfair until we knew what was happening.  My sister couldn't just hop a flight and get here and what if it was all taken care of in that day?  And I didn't want my brother to get all crazy and try to drive here in the middle of the night.  So, now it was time to make a call.  I remember my nephew answering the phone.  (He would later tell my brother he new something was wrong because I was calling so early.)  I remember telling my brother of the events of the night.  I remember he didn't think twice and said he would be there soon.  I remembering being so thankful that someone else was going to come share the burden with me.   I remember being tired, but what I don't remember is sleeping.  The next hours would be sitting by mom's bedside praying for mom to return.  Her agony was such that she was either sleeping from pain pills or groaning in pain.  Before my brother got there I was not convinced she would live through the day. But, there had still been no doctor to tell us any more than what I knew in the ER.  They were monitoring a pulmonary embolism.  It would not be until about 7 pm when she would be brought to Intensive Care, that we would know how wrong that diagnosis was. 
So, why do I share all this? Many reasons. It is good for me to sift these memories and share them.  I want others to be prepared for a loved one entering the hospital for extended periods of time.  People who love my mom dearly never really got to hear what the last few months were like and I want them to be able to know.  In fact, some of them have asked recently and I want to honor that.  But mostly, I just feel the need to write it down because this is the story of how I grew up.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Sometimes I lie.  There, said it. Done.  I lie because I believe in fake it til you make it.  So, sometimes if you ask me how I am and I say great.  I might be holding back a bit.  And then, if you ask me if there is anything in my life I regret...I already know my ready answer...if I changed anything about what has happened in my past, I would not be who I am today.  That part is true.  But, there is one thing I would definitely change.  And this is one of those memories that could bring me to that fetal position I am always mentioning, so forgive me if this post seems like a racer is writing it instead of a writer.  It feels like if I race through the memory I won't have to sit with it for quite so long.  Why share it then?  That will become clear as I finish the memory.
Mom had moved to Shrewsbury with me in April of 2007.  We bought a house with an in-law apartment attached.  The deal was that I was going to help her go through her changes as she got older and she was going to help me with her granddaughter.  From April to September we had some great times.  But in the interest of being really honest, we also had times we wanted to strangle each other.  That is family for you!  Mostly I remember dinners on the deck and going into her apartment at 7 am to tell her daycare was now open.  That meant I was leaving and it was on mom to get Krista ready for her day and on the bus.  She was so good at it that they played games together before going out to the bus.  I also remember coming home on beautiful days and smelling the afternoon coffee she had just made for us.  It really wasn't like we lived separately.  The door separating us was open most of the time!
Then she went to VT for a weekend in September.  She had the time of her life seeing her old friends and I loved how happy she was upon her return on Sunday.  That Monday she called me at work and told me she would not be able to meet Krista off the bus.  She mentioned her leg had been hurting her for some time and the pain was at the point where she needed to see the doctor.  It is so funny how that call should have sparked worry, but didn't and it was my now husband who asked, "should you be driving her?"  I called her to ask and she said not at all and I went about my regular day.
When she got out of her car after the doctor I could see she was not happy.  They believed it was a clot and ran some tests that would have results the next day.  We invited mom to dinner on the deck but she chose take out instead  (Krista delivered the burger up to her)  and I remember her on the computer saying, "I am going to diagnose myself."  My husband (who wasn't my husband at the time) was there for quite awhile with us that night.  The pain got so bad for mom that she could not walk across the room even with help.  We wondered if we should take her to the hospital while someone was there to watch Krista.  Mom did not want that and so he left. 
As the night went on, the pain got worse even as she was just sitting there.  I begged her to let me take her to the hospital.  She only wanted help getting to bed.  Once we got her across the room and into bed she knew it was so bad she needed to go to the hospital.  She said I could call the doctor but that she wanted something from me first.  I will never forget the whole scene and the sound of her voice when she said, "just lie down next to me for awhile."  And I did, but I wish when I did I had stopped my brain.  I wish I had rubbed her back or held her hand or anything to just be in that moment more carefully and fully.  All I could think about was getting her to the hospital.  I didn't stay fully and I didn't stay long enough and that is the single regret I have in my life.  I am sure I made tons of mistakes in those months she was sick.  I am sure I could have said better things, acted better, push doctors more as my sister did so readily.  But if I could go back and change one thing, I would go back to that night and I would lie there quietly beside her until she said she was ready for me to call the ambulance. 
Why share it?  Because we can learn from other's regrets.  I hope that the next time somebody says to you,  "just be with me."  You can do it fully and you never have to look back and wish you had truly fulfilled that request. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Good News

On the days I am feeling mentally strong enough, I sift through the memories of mom after she got sick.  Truthfully, in those months there were some amazing moments where we laughed until we cried and we continued to plan the future.  But, when those moments take place in a hospital room the memories become a soul land mine for things that make you want to curl up in a fetal position and cry for days on end.  You have to be strong enough so you can see the memory and jump over it without falling into it.  On days I feel really strong I jump into those kinds of memories because they say that will help me heal.   I submit:  who the hell are they?  and I am thinking THEY are not very smart.  But I digress.
I wish I had kept a journal of those months.  What days she said things that were so insightful.  Because I know now that had I been listening closely enough, she was spending weeks preparing me for her death.  She knew long before I did (or maybe she just accepted it long before I did) and I regret I did not open up a conversation at any of those times when she gave clues about what I was in for.

So, cut to the rehabilitation center at a time when we actually thought she was coming out of this okay.  She was sitting  up in bed when I came to visit after school and it was one of our better visits.  Then she mentioned slowly,  "I had a dream about your dad last night."
Short side note:  My dad died in 1997 and at that time my parents had been divorced for many years.  Their relationship had mellowed into one of the love that comes from the bond of a family.  After my dad died my mom told me that sometimes they would call each other up and just talk about how proud they were of each of us.  That kind of thing stays in your heart forever.
I was dying to hear what happened in this dream with my dad, but it was short and sweet.  She said he was in the kitchen and she said, "John what are you doing here?"  He looked at her and said,  "Pat, I am not here for you, I am here for the kids." 
If I am really honest with myself about that memory I did know what it meant.  I also knew she was opening up a conversation.  But- I wasn't ready for that conversation.  And truthfully, it is hard to talk about death when the person you love appears to be getting better.  The one thing I never questioned was that my dad was now with us as we took this journey.  I always knew that wasn't a dream, as such, that was an actual conversation and so my dad stayed close because the time we had entered was going to be the most difficult of my life.
Another side note:  The reason I selfishly keep saying "My life"  instead of ours when this journey so closely involved my brother and sister is because I do not want to speak for them.  I can assume it was also the hardest time of their lives, but their journey was specific to them and my journey is specific to me.  Know that this journey was fully traveled with my entire family, but that I cannot tell you what their journey was like.
I wish there was an easy way to end this blog post.  There isn't.  There is no magic sentence that wraps it up neatly like a beautiful package.  Death isn't like that.  It is full of every emotion you have ever experienced and some new ones thrown in there.  I guess I will leave you with good news.  Having polished off this small memory, I am still standing.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Proof

I have been sitting here for over half of an hour with no words coming to my mind.  I read over old posts and thought to myself, "Wait, I thought that was so good when I wrote it."  I am not sure what kind of train my soul is on today, but it is certainly not allowing me to feel like any kind of writer this morning.  Perhaps I need more coffee, maybe it just isn't in me today, or maybe I need to remind myself what it is like to give a little of my soul to my writing everyday.
I would like to share my cousin, Cyndi with you.  Cyndi has an amazing soul and is connected to my mom after death in what I see as a similar way to me.  In fact, when my mom was dying Cyndi had a dream that my mom came to her and said she was closing the shop.  I don't remember all of the details but I DO remember how that dream helped calm my spirit.  Well, recently Cyndi sent me an email (Oops, and I don't have her permission to share it, but I think she will continue to love me anyway.) that she felt she needed to tell me something.  Apparently,  not realizing that I believe in any and all signs from people we love who have died, she thought I might think she was crazy but she felt strongly enough that she was supposed to tell me that she did.  (I am going to ignore that huge run on sentence and I hope my reader can too. Thanks)
So, Cyndi was at home and the smell of Eucalyptus came over her.  She told me she always associated that smell with my mom and that she felt mom wanted her to hug me and say that she (mom) was proud of me.  Now, I will tell you that Cyndi probably knows more than anyone about things that are happening in my life right now...huge changes I am making to make myself a better person.  But really, these changes are coming from deep within and are very personal.  I have talked with my mom about them in my heart at night and all throughout the day.  I have felt her as a listener, but I have not felt her respond in any way and so this message from Cyndi was huge.  I knew the changes were recognized and mom felt good about them.  But- as we often do with signs that make us feel good, after awhile we doubt them.  I have never associated my mom with Eucalyptus and so came to the conclusion after a few days that the message was for Cyndi, not me.  It all centered on that Eucalyptus.  Why would mom give a message through something I didn't associate with her?  I didn't want to hurt Cyndi's feelings, but I thought maybe she had given the message to the wrong person.  Maybe it was for my sister or brother who would say, "Eucalyptus, yes, that was always associated with mom for me."  Needless to say Eucalyptus was quite on the brain after that message from Cyndi.
Cut to Holy Week.  One of my hardest weeks since mom died.  I miss going to mass with her so much and especially on Holy Week.  We always had amazing talks about our faith on that week.  This year we went to my in-laws for Easter.  About five minutes after we walked in the door my father in-law lit a candle and asked me to smell it.  He wanted to know if I liked the smell.  It was very subtle and not looking at the label, I asked, "what is it?"  I am sure the wise reader already knows the answer to that.  It was Eucalyptus.  On the label was a picture of Eucalyptus and I thought, "wait, I recognize Eucalyptus." 
What was the message on Easter day? I think it was this, "Have no doubts, Jennifer.  The message was for you.  Cyndi got it exactly right."  And I can't help hearing one last thing from mom's mouth.  "Here, I'll prove it."

Monday, April 16, 2012

I don't hate my dad.  A funny way to get back into "My Morning Coffee" to be sure, but I had to say it.  You see my husband read some of my "dad" posts.  And now he believes I hated my dad.  Which makes me think I am not a very good writer at all because nothing could be further from the truth.  If I had hated, or now hated my dad I would not have anything to write about him.  I loved and continue to love that man with great strength of soul.  But that doesn't change the fact that the relationship with my dad was one of the hardest relationships I have ever been involved in. 
You know we do this thing to ourselves (maybe it is just me, but I think its others too) where we think our relationship with family members should be the easiest ones we have.  On the contrary, we don't let go of family when things get tough.  We learn and we grow and we hurt each other a lot in the process.  God, when I think of the hurt I have given my family I am amazed by the fact they still speak to me.  But that is what family is and that is what family does and I daresay family is the first place we learn to forgive. 
I think dad would be the first to admit he did some shitty things to his family.  He would also be the first to admit he was wrong.  My choice is to hold onto the shit for as long as possible until I can't stand the stink anymore....or to blend the shit with the good soil (and there is good soil buried underneath) until the smell is one of rebirth and springtime.
I choose spring.  I choose love.  I choose apology.  I choose family.