BooWho

Things I want to keep in mind.

The end

The flowers were beautiful at my mother’s funeral.  Her casket was dark oak, very plain, as she had requested.  The service was very personal with granddaughter’s doing the readings and a very nice, young, enthusiastic priest presiding over the ceremony.  The “Prayers of the Faithful” were read by my aunt and were very specific to our family.  At the burial service, a cold wind came in but it did not rain.  In fact, the weather of the day was very much like my mother, gray and calm in the morning, cold and windy in mid-afternoon, clear and sunny by late afternoon.  A perfect day to celebrate her passing.

Naturally, the funeral ritual is for the living.  This is a way to say a final goodbye, to celebrate (and review) the life of the person who has passed.  My mother was a humble woman and I’m sure she would have been embarrassed by all the kind words.  She WAS strong and giving.  She never hesitated to help when she could.  And she was a deeply religious person.

I realized, yet again and as I knew I would, that there were many aspects of her life for which I was not familiar.  Her relationships with others, were different than her relationships within her family. This is common for all of us – we step into each role of our lives from a different set of stairs.  There are so many different influences, expectations and obstacles in each role we play.  Some roles are too difficult to take head on and we have to limit our time and conserve our energy – so we withdraw.  We tackle the easier roles that don’t threaten to deplete us.

I am grateful that the funeral was so personal.  It was a great send off for a woman we really loved, but didn’t truly know.  After the reception, we had a gathering for a grandson’s birthday.  We talked and laughed, watched him open his gifts and blow out his birthday candles.  We took family photos.  The sky was clear and the sun was nice and warm.  A perfect ending.

 

 

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Mother’s Day

It was around six in the morning on Mother’s Day.  The phone never rings at this hour.  It is my sister, my mother has passed.  This was expected as she was placed on comfort care through hospice just a few days ago.

We began working through the end stages of her time on this earth, making the arrangements for the final ritual: the funeral.  Our family has been through this several times before as we have had several deaths in the family over the years. We are aware of all the steps: contact the funeral home, choose an item of clothing for the deceased, write the obituary, notify friends and family, choose pall bearers, set date and time for the services, choose readings, songs, flowers. Get through the days prior to the funeral.

A common cliche about death and funerals is this: “They bring out the worst in people”.  You always hope that won’t be the case in your own family but this is a highly emotional time.  People are hurting and suffering, each in their own way.

Because my mother had dementia and has been in a memory care facility for the last three years, we have already taken care of most of the usual processes.  We have already cleaned out her house.  There was no will and no money or property to fight over.  All that is left of her is this one final hoorah.  Can we get through it unscathed?

On the positive side, the people of this valley have been wonderful.  I have felt a little resentful because over the last 5 years, we haven’t seen or heard much from anyone in the church where she spent the majority of her lifetime.  But everyone we have had contact with since her passing has been kind and gracious – expressing such gratitude for all of her hard work and effort over the years.  She had many friends and they do recognize and appreciate how important she was to their church family.  I suspect we will hear many stories about her contributions and kindness over the next few weeks.

I have yet to cry about mom’s passing.  I feel very stoic.  (Maybe I am more like her than I thought?).  In truth, grieving for her has been going on for years.  It is difficult to think of her in terms of what she was before this awful disease.  I will be sorting and processing these feelings for a long time.  I have little pockets of memories and thoughts – I will eventually have to clean them out – kind of like the pockets of your jeans.  Will likely find some treasures and plenty of lint.

Waiting and watching

It is pouring rain as it often does in May.  The rivers are rising as the rain comes down, the temperature heats up and the snow begins to melt in the higher elevations.  There are people who live near a water source, in the flood plain, who are pacing, fretting, praying…as the muddy water rises.

Water has some significance to me although I’ve never been able to identify why.  If I have a nightmare, it usually involves water.  I am either falling in water, under water or avoiding rushing water as it eats away at a road I am traveling in the dream.  I suppose water represents some angst I am feeling in my waking hours.  Perhaps, I’m trying to keep my head above water.

Today, while the waters rise, my mother is sinking.  She has taken a turn for the worst.  For months now, she has been steadily losing weight and losing her ability/desire to eat.  She doesn’t speak and rarely makes eye contact – at least that has been my experience on my visits.

Mom has been under hospice care for the last six months although it was more of an extra care type of hospice, where they monitor her a little more carefully than the attendants at the memory care facility.  As of yesterday afternoon, she is under true hospice care.  They will begin giving her “bed baths” instead of getting her up to shower.  She will receive comfort care.  They will keep her comfortable.

Knowing my mom, she would never have wanted to linger.  She would have hated being in the “home” and having anyone see her in this condition.  Her best “end” would have been in her own home, lying down and just not waking up with the morning sun.  We don’t always get to choose our own ending.

For the last few years, I have thought that I was working through the grief, preparing for the end.  We have known it was coming – the doctor and hospice people will very kindly and graciously reveal the signs.  You learn the key words and catchphrases for the “end of life” scenario.  Loss of appetite, difficulty walking, eating, breathing.  It is a gradual process but it does proceed.  You think you’ve cried all the tears you can cry.  You think you are ready.  But how can you be?

We wait and watch.  And the river rises.

Turn off the tv?

I watch too much television.  There I said it.  My confession of the day.  Damn Netflix and Amazon Prime!

Normally, I crochet while watching so that, at least, it feels as though I am accomplishing something while I watch.  Recently though, I have been watching foreign movies or series and I have to read the subtitles so I can’t do both!

Television is entertainment, an escape, a way of passing the time.  I do enjoy it but I try to limit myself because at the end of the evening – after I have flipped through multiple channels and movie menus – only to watch something ridiculous (should have turned it off after the first 15 minutes) and I realize that it is time for bed already!  What a waste of an evening!  I don’t feel quite so bad IF I’m binge-watching a good series because at least I felt entertained!  (Still, it was such a waste of time…)

My latest rule (more of a guideline really) is not to watch anything below a three star rating.  And if after the first 15 minutes, the show doesn’t grab me or seems ridiculous or questionable, then I should turn it off.  My original guideline was to turn off the television altogether but in the last 6 months, I’ve just turned off the program and continued searching for something better.

Now.  I do have a hobby.  Writing.  I could easily turn off the television and not-so-easily sit down and write something.  Therein lies the rub.  If I sit at the computer – the old procrastination troll comes weaseling in and I start watching youtube, looking at pinterest, perusing facebook — all in the name of research or looking for inspiration.  I am fooling no one, least of all, myself.

There is one small justification.  I am retired.  I have worked in one capacity or another since I was 18.  It really isn’t necessary to be moving and doing something every minute of the day.  And it is okay for things to slow down a little.  My concern is that I will turn into a little bowl of jello, sitting in my recliner, eating crackers and cream cheese and watching one BBC series after another.  The only thing missing is a house full of cats!

I was never stupid

This morning, as I sat at my computer looking for inspiration, I had a flashback to doing homework as a teenager.  I felt the urge to run.  (Which, these days running actually means looking at facebook, pinterest or youtube!)  Avoiding the pressure and anxiety by distracting myself with nonsense.

I realized it was for that reason that I was never a very good student.  It was so much easier to procrastinate, to find something else to think about and do – anything to avoid that feeling of dread and failure. I didn’t really learn how to make myself “finish” anything, or even put forth an effort, until I was in my mid-twenties.

As an “older” adult, I now realize that I was smarter than I believed.  I used being “stupid” as an excuse not to try.  I was never stupid.  I was immature, insecure and indolent (triple-threat!).

I was 26 years old when I finally began to realize that I was capable.  Oh, I had detected little snippets of intellect along the way but, at 26, I really began to believe there was intelligent life somewhere in the depth of my psyche.

At the time, I was working as a 911 dispatcher.  Up until that point, it was just a job.  One day my training supervisor gave me my yearly evaluation.  I was told the usual – all of my marks were average (translation: C to C- with an occasional C+).  Then she said something that caught my attention.  I don’t remember the exact words but the gist was this: you have a lot of potential.  It is possible that with a little extra effort, you would be great as a trainer.  Ding, ding, ding.  I could?  Really?

That was the launch.  I began putting more effort into learning about the job – I made friends with my co-workers.  We were a team and worked very well together.  I became a trainer and with the daily experience of different situations – different calls and dispatching under various stressful conditions – I realized that this was something at which I could excel.  Not only that, I loved doing the work and after a time, it seemed effortless.  Being a dispatcher remains the most enjoyable, challenging and fulfilling job I’ve ever had.  To this day, I still have dreams about it and I often miss it.  I haven’t worked there for 28 years but I can still remember the 10 codes, incident codes and most of the officers numbers.  I can also remember the feeling of satisfaction.

It was a great job.  The people I worked with are still very dear to me (some of them anyway).  I will always remember that time in my life fondly and with pride – it was my coming of age.  The time and place where I learned that I was never stupid.

Grabbing hold

Spring.  The grass is getting so green and the leaves are popping out.  The birds are nesting and doing their “mating” flights, with the males fighting over the available females.  The hummingbirds have returned.

All of this I can witness if I just look over the top of my computer screen.  I have strategically placed my desk so that I have a gorgeous view.  If money were no object, I would replace my window with a beautiful picture window so that nothing would obstruct that beautiful scenery.  I feel so very fortunate.

blogphoto

It is so easy to overlook the changes of spring, to disregard the beauty as it unfurls around us.  But most of the time, spring will just grab hold.  The sun will come in with genuine warmth and we won’t be able to resist stopping and turning our face to those glorious rays.  We will begin to “feel” spring.  Our steps will be lighter, we will feel more like cleaning, exercising, walking, playing, (mating?).

I watch as the horses sprawl out in the warm morning sun.  I can almost hear their sigh of pleasure.  The baby calves run and play around their mothers and on days like today, the mothers join them.

I promised myself when I retired that I would slow my pace.  I would enjoy days like today and not let my need for order and perfection get in the way.  I have a hard time sitting still.  Luckily, spring has grabbed me – I will sit quietly and just watch.

Grandsitting

“The calves don’t have any teeth, so they have to drink milk from their mothers”.

“Why?”

“Because they are just babies.  They suck on the teets and get milk from the cow there.  That’s where we get our milk too – from the cow.   The farmer can milk the cow.”

“Is the cow going to pee again?”

“No, not for awhile”.

“Why?”

“Just because she won’t need to go for awhile”.

This is the conversation from my walk yesterday – with my three year old grandson.  As with all children that age, he asks a million questions and the follow-up question is always, “why”.

As I am walking and talking, I remind myself of my dad.  I talk in his tone and tell my stories as he would have.  I wish he was here.  He would be thrilled to spend time with all of his great-grandchildren.  He would be so proud.

 

I didn’t have a relationship with my grandparents.  Certainly not like my relationship with my grandsons.  My paternal grandparents lived about three miles away and my maternal grandparents lived in Texas.  It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized grandparents sometimes get very involved with their grandchildren.  Several friends from school wrote to their grandparents frequently and actually called them to chat sometimes!

Circumstances in my family were such, that we didn’t have much contact with our paternal grandparents.  They were friendly, but we didn’t really spend much time with them.  I also found out later in life that this was unusual – my other cousins were very close to our grandparents.

The relationship between my mom and her mother-in-law was very strained and contentious – consequently, we rarely spent time with them even though they lived close by.  The first time I remember seeing my grandparents in Texas, I was 12 years old.  We took a family vacation to Texas and we spent about a week there.  My memory of them on that trip was that they were loving but seemed very old.

My mom and dad were very loving and involved grandparents.  They worked hard to spend time with all of their grandchildren.  They also attended as many concerts, games, track meets and activities as they could.  All of their grandchildren have fond memories of grandma and grandpa.

To me, being a grandmother is the best.  I love hearing them squeal my name (Gawee) when they see me.  They run to give me a hug!  Nothing better. I can be silly and talk in voices and accents, I can fall dramatically, play pretend and laugh and giggle to my hearts content.

I have said this before but it bears repeating, being a grandparent is so much easier than being a parent because you have more “free” time, you don’t have to worry about the daily toils of life.  You just get to “be” with them.  And they are so happy to see you, they just want to “be” with you.  At no other time in your life will you have that kind of relationship.  If we are very lucky, that bond will carry over into those pre-teen and teen years when they usually get embarrassed about everything.  I will do my best to evolve into a different type of grandmotherly entertainment (no more dramatic falls) but I will always be there talk and listen and laugh with them.

Rejection is no small matter

My greatest and most deep-seated fear is rejection; being cast aside, left behind, ignored and judged as unworthy.  Dealing with that fear has been a struggle all of my life.  Just about the time I feel strong and liberated, that little bugger nicks the concrete and I can feel the fear seeping through.

Over the years, I’ve been able to identify the origin of the fear.  My mother was very moody and it was difficult to know why she was angry, sad, withdrawn.  I never knew if I was the cause, much less how to make amends.  My siblings and I spent a lot of time being quiet, playing among ourselves, waiting and hoping for the storm to pass.

At an early age, I began trying to “read” my mom and trying to divert any outside influence that may disturb her equilibrium.  I wanted to be “good” so as not to upset her.  I didn’t want to anger her and risk rejection.  Like an old brood mare, she would force us to the periphery of the herd until we would acqueisce to expected herd behavior – whatever that was.  (Don’t cross the brood mare?).  Unfortunately, I never could control all of the variables.  Still, I tried and when I failed, I internalized that failure with a vow to do better.

As a consequence, I am constantly trying to “read” others; their body language, the things they say, the way they say it.  I analyze what they have said, trying to determine a possibly underlying meaning.  If I let it, I can go bat-shit crazy fretting over conversations or the lack thereof.  If one of my kids doesn’t call as often or if they don’t respond to a text fast enough, is something wrong?  Did I make them angry?  Have I said or done something that upset them?  Sometimes I just have to distract myself – to try to turn off the scrutiny overload.

Logically, I know that I can’t control everything.  I can’t anticipate every bump in the road.  I also know I am not responsible for the happiness of others or for every hiccup in relationships.  I am strong and wise, I can say what I mean without fear of rejection.  Well, I can say what I mean anyway.  I will always fear rejection.

Torture and healing

Her eyes are still a beautiful blue but they are vacant.  I don’t remember the last time I saw recognition, it has been more than a year – maybe closer to two.  She has lost 100 pounds since we moved her into the memory care facility – has it been three years?  She has been on hospice for several months which means she is getting more individualized care.  With each symptom of decline, we are told it is the indication of an “end of life” marker; the weight loss, sleeping so much, not chewing or swallowing her food but holding it in her mouth, losing muscle mass.  In truth, the progressive decline is there but it could continue for a long time.  It already has.  It is heartbreaking.

We are prepared for the end and we know it is coming.  We have a very tentative plan for a funeral.  Mom had told us years ago that she wants a very simple pine casket, nothing elaborate.  She will be buried next to our dad in the cemetery just down the road.  There is so much about her life that I just don’t know.  That is the biggest heartbreak.

I do know that my mother was very involved in the Catholic church.  That was her refuge.  She played the organ at the country church for most of her adult life.  She was also a lay-minister.  When the dementia/alzheimers struck, she eventually stopped going to church.    She could no longer teach Sunday school or participate in the Sunday services.  Most of the people from her church had probably witnessed the decline of her memory and were not surprised when she stopped attending. Her funeral will be held in her beloved church.  I hope the people of her parish will remember and honor her for her many years of service.

In many ways, having to watch her deteriorate day by day is torture.  As a natural course, we begin to wish and pray for her peaceful passing.  This is no way to live – it isn’t really living.  After seeing her decline for the last 4-5 years, it is difficult to remember how she was before – back in the days when she was driving, shopping, talking and laughing.  It takes a real effort to remember that version of my mother, or any version really.

We were never very close, my relationship with her was more like that of an aunt than a mother.  We had very little to talk about before she became ill which made visiting even more difficult as she declined.  Giving up hope of ever establishing a true relationship with her was difficult.  For so many years, I wondered why she didn’t like me.  I had to stop thinking in those terms.  Once she became ill and it became apparent that we were going to have to move her into a memory care facility, I realized that my other siblings had similar feelings – it wasn’t just me.  It wasn’t that she didn’t love us or that we were unlovable, it was that she didn’t like herself very much and she was very unhappy with her own life.  She loved us as best she could.

And now, we are waiting for the end.  With any luck, there will be healing as we remember and honor her at her memorial.  We will remember her strength and humor; the many things that she did as a mother to prepare us for our future, to show her love.  Our life with her was not a fairytale but it was good and solid, there was love and kindness.  As time goes on, the memories of the good things and times will return.

Old things

What a difference spring makes…  The sky is clear and things are really greening up.  All of the birds are back, tweeting and swooping.  Romance is in the air – for the birds at least.  It won’t be long until the rain comes – but we certainly will enjoy the sunshine while we can.

Spring reminds us all of birth, new growth, fresh starts.  For a few moments, we can forget the old things.  Old dead grass, leaves that have all blown away, and the snow and ice that acted as an assassin, clearing all the old in its’ wake.

Many aspects of aging are difficult.  Day by day, you realize that you are now one of the “old things”.  Your body doesn’t respond as it used to – movement is usually accompanied by a twinge of pain here and there.  The old adage, “Age is just a number” is just that, an old adage.  We can feel young – most of us do – but the reality emerges repeatedly every day.

Probably the biggest reality is that friends and acquaintances begin dropping off, passing away with cause of death listed as “natural causes”. How is that even possible?  No one ever knows when they will die, but you begin to understand that you are closer to that outcome with each passing year.  It becomes a topic of conversation.  Just how many years do we have left….should we buy that new car??  Expiration dates take on a whole new meaning.

We have to work at not letting bitterness creep in, as is common with our generation.  In fighting age, we sometimes resent the young.  We try to insert ourselves back into the fray and talk endlessly about “our day”, our successes.  We were young once…  It is difficult to be cast aside and ignored.  Our contribution no longer sought out or needed.  We don’t hear well, we don’t move very fast and we talk far too much about bodily functions.  We want to be front and center but have to accept being relegated to the background as a natural course, the younger and stronger take over the herd.

You can’t die before you’re dead. You have to keep living right up to that moment.  Keep moving, playing, dreaming.  As time goes on, there will be limitations.  We all have to face them as they arise.  Our bodies can’t go on forever, they were never meant to.  If you are lucky, you have a partner to grow old with – someone to laugh with about the little idiosyncrasies of aging.  Someone who doesn’t mind talking about those bodily functions and creaking, aching joints.  Someone to go to the doctor with you; to pluck your ear hair; to tell you your blush needs to be blended.  If you don’t have a partner, you may have a friend or friends, a sibling, an understanding (adult) child.  Try not to inundate them with tales of your plight, certainly not to the point that they dread visiting or talking on the phone.

The plague of aging is in the wallow – we just don’t like it and we want to talk about it.  We do need to express our displeasure, our sadness, our grief.  But we also have to remind ourselves to look for the joy, find a diversion.  One small thing to clear the palate, reboot the sequence.  (Reading, writing, walking, traveling, volunteering, sewing, golfing, swimming, etc. etc.)  Don’t die before you’re dead.