BooWho

Things I want to keep in mind.

Category: Family

Rewinding

I dreamed about my mother again last night.  It is like my subconscious is on rewind – from her death, back through the grief of dementia and back to her younger years.   By younger, I mean in her 50’s.  As time passes, the guilt and anguish seem to be releasing their grip.  We lost her over the course of several years, little by little.  So much time for regret.

It has been so long since she drove up my drive in her white Taurus but I’m starting to remember those times again.   And she LOVED driving and gallivanting.  It was her favorite thing in this world, her only hobby.  She was a “drop-in” visitor – she would come to see what was going on and then leave.  It was rare for her to stay much longer than 15 or 20 minutes.  But then she didn’t ever have much to say – she would share a little gossip and be off to her next stop.

Even though she died two months ago, we have felt the loss a lot longer.  Her passing was just a formality and we can finally grieve properly.  As I sit and remember her, there is a mix of sadness, regret and resentment.  Not unusual, given our relationship when she was living.  Eventually, I hope to feel less resentment and regret.

Grieving is a strange process.  There are a lot of flashback memories.  You begin to forgive the transgressions, real and perceived.  I have begun to acquire a better understanding of my mother – of her personality and her character.  I’m grateful for her sacrifice.  While I will always regret never truly knowing her, I can finally accept that it just wasn’t meant to be.  She wasn’t built that way.  I will continue to strive to do things differently in my own life and remember that she was the best mom she could be.

 

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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.

 

 

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.

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.

Wedding banter

The quest begins.  My youngest son is getting married in August.  Must find a dress, just the right color, length, style – one that doesn’t make me look frumpy or slutty, chubby or flabby, too old or too young.  And I’m only the mother of the groom!  Can’t imagine looking for a wedding dress!

I’ve been married twice but both times were a completely different scenario.  In both cases, I was quite poor – no money for big extravagances.  And this was the 80’s in rural Montana – nobody had the big elaborate wedding with 12 bridesmaids,  a circus tent, a live band and a catered meal.  I guess I shouldn’t say “nobody” because I do remember my first “big” wedding in 1979, but she was a transplant from New York.

My first wedding was in a small country church.  My mother made my dress and the bridesmaid dresses.  We had a pot luck dinner at the reception.  My uncle took our photos.  There was no dance, we left early to go on our weekend honeymoon to Coeur D’Alene, ID.  I had to work and he had school on Monday.  We were married in December (what were we thinking?) and Christmas was the following week.  I wasn’t pregnant but we were in a rush to be married.  Two months later, I was pregnant and 4 1/2 years later, we were divorced.  But that is another post.

My second wedding was in July.  We were married by a justice of the peace in the backyard of a friend.  It was a very private ceremony, with just family present.  I wore a dress from JC Penney, white with a pink sash, my husband wore his dark blue suit.  It was a clear, sunny day and the ceremony, while very short, was very romantic.  It was definitely one of the best days ever.  Three of our children were there, the fourth refused to attend.  After the ceremony and lunch, we had a reception/party.  My parents took my kids for the evening and all of our friends came to wish us well.  It was a very fun celebration.  We spent the night in a local hotel, then returned home the next morning to cleanup and get ready for work the next day.  We did eventually take a “honeymoon” when our kids were grown and we’ve been honeymooning as often as we can, ever since.

I have to say, while I think some of the extravagant weddings are just over the top, I do like many of the newer wedding rituals.  Like writing your own vows; having both parents walk down the aisle with the bride and the groom; having a friend perform the ceremony.  And I do enjoy all the activities in a reception, fun speeches, good food and the dancing.

We’ve had two weddings in our yard so far and they were beautiful.  Our daughters are very clever and crafty and did all of the planning and work themselves.  Everything was very romantic and memorable – as all wedding rituals should be.

Now, we’ll have another wedding in our yard.  We live in the country and have a gorgeous view.  We don’t have a lot of money, but the wedding will be nice, romantic and memorable.  There will be friends and family, flowers, tears, dancing and laughter.  What else is there?

Now, on to the hunt for the perfect dress….

 

Early morning reflection…

This is the perfect time of day.  All is quiet.  The ugly gray clouds are retreating to the east leaving a trail of hope for a little bit of sunshine.  Even the cows still slumber.  The only sound I hear is my husband as he turns the page of his morning newspaper.  Oh, and the clicking of my keyboard.

When my children were little, I usually got up early so that I could write a letter before having to get them up for school.  My oldest daughter had a room in the basement, with her own bathroom.  We didn’t see her until she joined us for breakfast.  The others would fight over the heating vents – they would come out in their pj’s and sit with our little chihuahua, Shaq, in front of the vents for warmth until breakfast was ready or until time to get dressed.

When I worked, it was a frenzy getting everyone ready and out the door.  Many times, I would be gone before they were.  I look back at those days and feel a little bit of regret that I wasn’t there to send them off each day.  But I’m grateful for the days that I could and did.  I hope they remember.  (Chances are, they only remember having to get themselves ready, fixing their own breakfast and packing their own lunches, walking out the door on their own and returning to an empty house.  Oh the guilt.)

Parenting is a difficult thing.  Everything is so much clearer after they are grown – mistakes, regrets, wishes for do-overs.  My children are great human beings but I don’t take credit for that – they were all born with an amazing road map of their own and they have done most of their own navigating.  I have picked up a few pieces along the way and tried to nudge them here and there, but they truly were remarkable little people from the very beginning.  Good genes?  Who knows?

Three of my four children are now parents.  I am so impressed with how loving, caring and “present” they are for their children.  They pay attention, they listen, they laugh, they teach and they encourage.  How lucky is this world to have these beings living and learning – to be leaders, to be kind, to be giving.  May they continue to grow and learn and always have strength and love.

In this time where selfishness, ignorance, arrogance and apathy abound, it is refreshing to watch these enlightened human beings navigate our existence.  It is frightening to think of the world they will live in but I have to believe they are here to make a difference, perhaps not in the greater world but in their own little latitude and longitude – and that is the best place to start.

Bear with me as I reboot my writing routine…

Spoiler alert: today’s post is going to be a feeble effort at getting back into the spirit of writing.

After spending the first part of March on vacation in New Orleans and cruising/touring like a Norwegian, then visiting grandson’s in Washington toward the second part of March, babysitting grandson’s here at home and just watching the typical Montana spring (a.k.a. the last vestiges of winter – snow, wind, rain, sun, repeat – each and every day); I have fallen out of my writing routine.  I try to dive back in but end up watching that old cursor blink for 10 minutes then busy myself looking at pinterest and facebook.

I could write about our adventures in New Orleans.  We had a lovely trip, stayed in a quaint old hotel in the French Quarter – toured the swamp and a plantation.  Walked a hundred miles and saw two parades and lots of people in various states of dress and drunken behavior.

The cruise was fun with a lot of food, drink and shows.  If you are a people watcher (and I am) a cruise is a vast wasteland of people to observe.  We enjoy cruising because someone else does all of the driving, the entertainment is “free” (though you pay in advance) and there is plenty of warm sun (depending on when and where you cruise!).  This year, we had cooler weather until the 4th day but we enjoyed every minute once the warmer weather finally arrived.  So many people with sunburns!  And more flesh than I care to see in a day!

Then, there are my grandsons.  I am so lucky.  The oldest is 6, then 3, 2, 1.  All four are handsome, smart and so much fun.  I know that one day, they will all be in school and won’t have any interest in playing with Gawee and Papa, so we take advantage of any time we can get.

April is a small break from traveling.  Hopefully, the weather will eventually break and it will stop snowing twice a week!

My youngest son will be getting married here at the house so we have yardwork and house maintenance to do between now and August!  We also have a wedding to attend in North Carolina in June.  I will be vacationing with grandsons at Leggo Land in June also.

Okay, enough of my little mini-journal of activities.  Sorry – I know it is boring but if I don’t write something, I will write nothing!