A Year Without My Mom

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I’ve been thinking back about my mom. It’s been almost a year since she died, and the weather and the start of Christmas and Thanksgiving and all of it reminds me of her. And how even though I saw it all coming, it still managed to shake me so completely that she was gone.

The thing about looking back is that it’s really only helpful briefly. We have a tendency to give our pasts (both the good and bad parts) a lot of weight and importance. And it’s good to reflect, to learn from our past, to give it space and respect and reverence or whatever it deserves. The problem starts when we set up shop and start to live there. This seems especially common with the death of loved ones.

We wrap ourselves up in the memories of those we lost, like some warm cozy blanket. And for a moment it is all warm and cozy, but only until we remember that the past is all wrapped up into one. The jagged, pointy, barbed-wire part of our past is still in there too. And still hurts.

But we reason that at least the hurt reminds us of the one we lost, and so we stay wrapped up in our cozy-spiky blanket of the past, not realizing that there is a whole world we’re missing  that is going on RIGHT NOW but that we’ll never see or find this from our blanket.

It’s hard not to do this. Grief is a process, just like life is a process. But I don’t want to lie around in that blanket anymore. Mom wouldn’t want me to either.

There is this stupid app called Timehop. Have you heard of it? I shouldn’t call it stupid because I actually really like it. It’s always felt harmless, fun and sweet, and I thought it would bring nothing but good memories to enrich my life. It’s like the Facebook Memories thing, only Timehop did it first, so I’ve had it running on my phone for years. I see cool old photos and blog posts and where I was at and how far I’ve come. But then the damn thing updated and changed the settings and thus started to include old text messages that live on my phone. From my mom, cause that’s who I texted mostly. Messages from my mom. That’s what Timehop, and technology in general, started sending me.

At first, this was maybe August or September when it changed, the messages were welcome. She bought pumpkin cream cheese for Steve and a coloring book for Brice and a hat for Lincoln. The message were sweet because they were ours,  just setting up rides for her or visits, conveying our days and lives. Lots of “I love you’s”. So many “I love you’s”.

So I let the messages stay. But I knew what was coming. I knew she was going to fall on October 11th  and break her pelvis and that I would find a message that she needed help. I knew that it was coming but I didn’t shut the messages off.

Because, how could I? My mom’s last words to me every morning when I woke up. Like a gift, but with barbed wire inside waiting to show up.

Because now, looking back to a year ago this week, the messages are just really, really sad. Just heartbreaking. And this icy morning and the cold and everything suddenly feels so much like that time. Only she’s been gone almost a year and I don’t want it to feel so close anymore. I don’t want to remember the, “Dropped buzzer and can’t breathe. Call nurse for help?” anymore. I don’t want to keep reliving her death, but it’s hard not to. Even without the messages, it would be hard not to.

My calendar for this weekend said “No matter how hard the past, you can begin again.” I love the Buddhist proverbs for their simplicity. Not easy, but simple, nonetheless.

I will always miss my mom. This I know now. This will be a truth for the remainder of my days. Our parents bring us to life and then show us our own mortality in their passing. The show us the way.

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But I don’t always have to think about the bad parts though. I don’t actually have to think about that at all. I choose it, just as I choose to think of happy memories. Or to try to focus my thoughts on my current moments or some happy thoughts of the future. It’s up to me. I don’t have to let my thoughts run wild like a toddler.

So here’s what I did today instead:

I wrote to all of you about it. Because it’s the keeping it all in that gives our sad and heart-achy thoughts their power.

Then I changed the  settings for the Timehop app on my phone so that I don’t get old messages anymore. I don’t want it to keep bringing it back, and though I didn’t invite it, I was letting it in.

Then I made salt dough handprints with the boys. Because my mom did that with me, and it seemed a much nicer way to remember her.

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6 Months

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My mom passed away 6 months ago today.

I’ve thought about this day. I’ve thought about what it would be like when my mom had been gone for 6 months. I guess I thought, or hoped, that it would be some magical point where grief gets easier.

It turns out its true. It is easier.

Or maybe it’s just that this balmy, sunny June day felt like it had very little to do with that cold December day 6 months ago. This anniversary is a marker, a sign on the road to show how far we’ve come. The only connection is the one we give it.

The memories of her painful and difficult end of her life, they have become less vivid.  They don’t haunt me like they did at first. I remember her now in better times.

I send love her way. I tell her my stories while I garden and do dishes and wash chubby baby fingers.

I have finally set down the trauma of that time.

But I still miss her. I still think of things I want to tell her and text her. I do it less now, but I still do it.

I’ve realized what a hole is left in my life without her. I have a very full life, but she was my touchstone each and every day. My entire life long. It was rare for me to not talk to her at all in a day, ever. I didn’t realize this missing piece at first. I couldn’t see it until the dust settled. It makes me realize how much I miss having someone to talk to during the day. We always made time for that.

So tonight, after the end of a very long day, Steve and I drove out to the cemetery, right down the road from my house a few miles. It’s lovely out there, and lovelier still for the green and the temperature. I felt far away we are from that cold December day that I had to say goodbye.

I’m glad for the growing time in between.

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Meet My Mess Monday — March 9th

We moved into our house this fall, and even with working in the yard every spare minute, we only got a fraction done. The yard was ignored for years and needs some love. An inherited mess. Or one we bought. Either way, ours now.

The warmer temps are melting the snow, freeing what lies beneath. Turns out what lies beneath is a layer of wet, dead leaves and piles of extracted bushes covering half of our backyard.

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It’s exciting, to take this yard and make it ours, even with a muddy layer of wet slop all over it. I’ve never owned a home before. But this progress I’m seeking won’t happen today, or tomorrow or this weekend. No matter how much I want it to. I can’t cross it off a list, and that makes me slightly nuts. I love the satisfaction of done. But if it was supposed to be crossed off the list already, it would be. Not being able to means there is more to learn there.

Which brings me to my boiler room. It’s filled to the brim with bins and bags of clothes, tools and picture frames. And on top of all that?  A pile of stuff from my mom’s apartment. Things we had to sort through fast only to be tucked off to be dealt with in time.

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And my garage. Full of cardboard boxes from the move. Full of extra stuff with no home yet from the move. But also my mom’s last belongings that got tossed out of the van in the shuffle of her death, then into the garage to make seating for family who came to town.

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Messes. Because this is life and life is messy sometimes. And one of the hardest parts, for me, is being okay with that. Not letting the messes stop me from living, or more importantly enjoying and loving my life. To not be so fixated on what needs to be done that I miss all the great things going on now.

There is also a right time to cleanse and take back our space. In our lives. In our heads. To shed the weight of our problems and see what lies beneath.

So the snow is melting, making space to clean up. The garage is getting warm enough to work in. Spring cleaning, I think they call it.

That’s what I’m starting today.

In the spirit of Meet My Mess Monday, feel free to share pictures or photos of your own unique messes. Cause it’s good to share and know that our daily struggles are not merely our own.

So long, Winter!

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It’s 3 degrees outside at 8AM on March 6th. “Feels like” -12. It’s cold. Stupid cold. Air-hurts-my-face cold. And I am over it.

But that cold wind is blowing the spring in. I’m sure of this. There are 30’s and 40’s and even 50’s in the forecast. This makes me want to dance.

I’m really a warm weather person. Winter makes me perpetually cold and my hands are always chapped. I need blankets and ridiculous amounts of clothing just to get through. So I always long for spring. I get anxious for warm summer days and skirts and swimming and lush green, growing things.

But this particular winter, holding on so tightly right now on the bright sunny morning, it feels particularly long and cold. This is the winter that took my mother. And I’m ready for it to ride out of here with the wind and make space for spring. I’m ready to sit out on our new porches and play in our new yard and see the tulips we planted come up.

An act of faith. That is what planting tulips is.

I’m ready to see them come to fruition.

A Little More Homework

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“…I’ve been looking in the back of the book for the answers

Hoping the bell wouldn’t chime.

I’m not ready to put down my pencil just yet.

There are too many answers that I didn’t get.

I need a little less pressure

and a little more time.

I am trying to follow

I am trying to lead.

I am trying to learn what is true.

I’m trying to be what you want and I need

but we all have

a little more homework to do.”

We played this song at my mom’s funeral, because it fit her in so many ways. She was someone who gave people the benefit of the doubt, and a lot of space to be who they were because she believed that we are all works in progress. And this was the last song that she saw the girls perform in our high school auditorium. That was back in August, the closing number of the FOG show. After so many dozens and dozens of times that we sat in that auditorium together over the years watching the girls grow up one performance at a time, that was the final time. The last song. I was holding her hand and we were all crying, Steve included. It was Georgia’s last performance on that stage before she headed off to NYC for school. It was the final number of the first show that Georgia ever directed. It felt like a big moment. I remember that so clearly. I felt like a wreck for reasons that I didn’t fully understand in that moment.

So the song has lots of meaning already. I listen to it whenever it shuffles through on my music player (we bought some music to play in the background at my mom’s visitation. A funeral playlist, my girls called it. Sigh.) I realize the song means more now than just those memories. It’s interesting how time and space can give us so many ways to look at something.

The end of my mom’s life was hard. She was in pain and sick and suffering for the last 2 months of her life. She was having a pretty hard time before that, too. But those last months, I spent so much time going to see her in the nursing home. Taking her what she needed, brushing her hair and trying to help find foods she could eat. Paying her bills, making sure her medications were right. But mostly, watching her die. I knew that she wasn’t going to make it, even though nearly everyone had their hopes up. But I didn’t. She’d been talking about dying and her wishes for when she passed in detail for quite a while before she fell and broke her pelvis. I knew when it happened that we were in the final part of her life. We had reached the back of the book.

And that is how it felt, like I was trying to gleam some closure from that time, as if there had to be some answer there if this horrific thing was going to take my mother and make her suffer. But I didn’t see it, and time was running out.

I spent that time trying to follow her lead and let her feel what she was feeling, trying to take the lead and keep her spirits up and do everything that needed to be done. And then, when it was clear she was dying, trying to openly talk with her about that, since no one else really could handle her talking about her death except myself and my daughter Holly. And the dying need to have their say, I’ve found. Even if it’s just to talk out loud without saying much of anything except to acknowledge it all.

So I spent that time trying to be strong for her, telling her it was okay. Trying to figure out what the hell to do and how to make sure her wishes were followed. This is easier said than done with the current system we have set up for the dying elderly in nursing homes. To say they are cast off to die out of sight is an understatement. So I jumped through hoop after hoop and wished I had more time to spend with my mom and less on the phone screaming to get doctors or hospice or insurance to listen. Two months have passed since she died, and I realize now that my shoulders were pretty much attached to my ears during time, in a constant state of stress and anxiety. And how death, as sad and terrible and frightening as it was, turned out to be a relief.

I went out to my mom’s grave today. It’s her 69th birthday. The entrance to the cemetery wasn’t plowed so I just parked on the road and looked at where she was buried. I figured it was a sign that I wasn’t supposed to go stand there in the bitter cold in a spot where she isn’t and be sad. She told me that so many times. Don’t stand around feeling sad at some cemetery. I won’t be there. I’ll be with you, always. I have to believe her, and believe that she blocked that drive on purpose. So I told her happy birthday, I let myself have a minute to be sad and I turned my van around to go on with my day. I will make her favorite dinner for my family tonight. We’ll have cake and celebrate her life.

I still struggle that there has to be answer in all of this. We all try to avoid death so completely, as if getting too close may rub off on us and we’d rather just indefinitely dodge the inevitable.

But if there is something to be found in the back of the book, it seems to me that watching a parent die is a glimpse. We are all mortal. We have limited time here to live our lives. How do we want to live them? What are we doing with our day? Right here, right now, since that’s all we have anyway. And of course, the not-so-subtle reminder that we in fact have a life. And we should not stand around some lonely place feeling sad over what is gone. We should go out and live our lives.

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Happy Birthday Mom! I hope there is cake.

Still With Me

I’ve been missing my mom.

There was the initial relief that she was no longer suffering (and the constant stream of people and things to do after she passed away), but that has all subsided and I’m left with “normal” life. Only since my mom has always been a part of my daily life, even more so as her health deteriorated over the last few years, it feels very abnormal to be without her. Even when I first moved out to Colorado 20 years ago, I called her every day. And even at my busiest time with 2 or 3 or 4 kids to chase, my mom was the person that I sent my texts and pictures and told my stories about every little or big thing in my life. I took her to the doctor and the store and to lunch and to all of the kids’ activities. Rarely did a few days go by without seeing her, or hours without being in touch and checking in to see if she was doing okay. And now, there is just a hole. It’s a terrible feeling, that hole.

My mom told me at least 100 times that she would always be with me. She believed that we are more than just our bodies, and I believe that too. It’s brought me peace, truly it has. But still, I wish she could sit here with me and see the kids grow. Come over for dinner. Gather my articles and photos from the newspaper for me like she always did. Even in the nursing home, unable to leave the bed, she managed to collect them for me. I can’t seem to remember to go buy them for myself after all the years of her proudly collecting them.

So I was thinking about my mom and was starting to feel pretty sad about her not being here. And then I was looking through some old photos on my phone the other night. I don’t remember what I was looking for, but I was scrolling through older images and I came across some screenshots that I took of a Facebook conversation. It was in October, just days after my mom broke her pelvis, and it was the first time since that injury that she was on Facebook and commenting on anything. She was being very silly (and drugged on painkillers) and making all sorts of funny cat emoticons comments. Like this:

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It was cracking us up, and my daughters and I were commenting back, telling her how glad we were that she was feeling better, and how she was making us laugh. She kept at it.

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I saved three separate screenshots of the conversations. As you can see, they are of cats typing, playing dead and dressed up as a rainbow colored unicorn. Crazy stuff. (I mentioned she was heavily drugged, right? Cause pelvic fractures hurt.)

Anyway, I found those screenshots and I was giggling at them,  feeling better as I thought about how much I always enjoyed my mom’s sense of humor. About how even so broken she kept her spirits up, and ours. And how nice it was to find this little piece of her that I had saved.

But then I found this poem, right in the middle of the three screenshots. Not before, not after. In between. The screenshots of the cat emoticons all say 9:17, and the screenshot of the poem says 1:04. It’s of a totally different thing, and not even anything that I remembered seeing before or capturing. So I stopped to see what it was and to read it.

This is the screenshot:

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I’m sure that some technically savvy soul out there could go digging and find some “logical” explanation for how this happened and why a totally random separate screenshot that I’ve never seen before got popped in-between the three messages I took of my mom being silly at one of her last happy times. I’m sure there is some explanation. People love reasoning and things that can be categorized and easily referenced.

But I’m going to chose to think it is just my mom, stopping in and telling me that she misses me too. Reminding me that she is always here with me, and that I only have to stop for a moment and look, and I will find her.

My Mom

untitled-0290It was 46 degrees this morning. The snow has all melted and every standing object is covered in dew. The frozen lake is a slick layer of glass with ice heaves and broken pieces of concrete jutting up along the shoreline. The fog is so dense that I can only see the world in pieces, nearly everything hidden from sight in the dull gray light. It’s mid-December, but it feels like no season at all.

untitled-0253My mom died almost 2 weeks ago. And like this weather, it makes no sense. It makes no sense that life can go on so completely without her, or more so, that I can.

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This was not sudden or surprising really, my mom passing away. She’s battled health crisis after complication for 15 years now since her initial heart attack in 2000, and she’s had lots of good times in between. But we saw her cardiologist last February and he told her she only had maybe a year left, more if she got very, very lucky. There was nothing more he could do for her. It’s been a downhill slide since then, with an increasing number bad days where she could barely move around her tiny apartment because she was so weak. But then she’d bounce back and I’d try to forget what was looming.

I worried a lot that she would fall, as she had blood clots in her legs and such severe arthritis that her legs bowed. I called and texted half a dozen times a day to check in. Ironic, since she fell in October anyway, and she did it at 4:30 am when I was asleep. I woke up at 7 am to a phone call that she was at the hospital and she couldn’t walk. Then they found the fracture in her pelvis.

I knew then that it was the beginning of the end. Not just because hip and pelvic fractures tend to point toward that in the elderly, but more because I just knew her body could not handle one more big problem. She already had so many. She really wasn’t even doing well before the fall.

I stayed positive for her and told her she was doing so great and how proud I was that she was working so hard in therapy. And she was trying so hard. But she just declined anyway, adding more problems to her list like pneumonia and severe anemia and the inability to keep food down. They found what looked like lung cancer, but since there was no way to treat it in someone so sick, she refused the invasive biopsies.

It finally become clear to her too that she wasn’t going to walk out of that nursing home. And when she realized, she had me help her choose Christmas gifts for everyone and order them online. Then she wanted to be moved someplace else, and to be put in hospice in hopes that they could better control her pain and suffering. It took longer than I wanted to have her moved, a little over a week, with me on the phone for hours trying to get her help, and then going over to see her struggle to breathe and be so sick. I finally got her signed up for hospice and moved to a new facility. It was the last day of her life. My only wish is that I could’ve gotten her there sooner so there wouldn’t have been so much suffering at the end. I am truly glad that her last hours were peaceful.

Like this warm foggy December day, I’m not clear about what I feel. Sad, of course. I miss her. And I kind of don’t know what to do with myself after so many months (and years) of doing things for her. But the past two months have been so very dedicated to her. Daily visits, of course, but also buying what she needed, paying her bills, doing her laundry, taking care of her cat and her apartment, dealing with her insurance and banking. Living her life, basically, plus talking to doctors and nurses and hospice. The list goes on and on.

Then it was planning her funeral. And now, she’s gone. And all of that is gone too. The space left behind feels huge.

untitled-0276But do you know what I feel most of all? Relief. Because I don’t have to watch her clutch at her chest because she can’t breathe and can’t even get a word out. Because I don’t have to watch her so ill from trying to eat. Because she is not disappearing before my very eyes anymore. And I have to believe that she is in a better place, even if I don’t believe in the traditional version of heaven.

Still, I wish she was here for me to talk to. For me to send texts and photos and to tell the stories I keep thinking of that I know she’d enjoy. I keep forgetting that I don’t have to check in on her. I wonder when that will stop.

But what I do believe is that she is with me. Not only because my mom believed that and told it to me many times over the years, but because it’s true. My mother grew me inside of her, and the very fabric of my body was knit together out of pieces of herself. I am her, at least in part. That is just science.

No matter where I go, she’ll be a part of me. In the songs that remind me of her, in the stories and memories we share, in all that she taught me that helped shape who I am. In my children who I made from myself. I truly don’t believe that anything in this world just goes away.

My mom is still here, I know this. Like the world covered by the fog, she’s just beyond where I can see.

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Rest in peace, Mom.

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Patricia Ann Roth

February 9th, 1946 – December 4th, 2014