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.

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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.

Happy Anniversary

I often think that time is not relevant, and at times it’s even harmful. We can get all caught up in how old we are or a certain date or month that holds a bad feeling for us and we end up giving time a bad rap. Or we rush around like crazy people so often that we don’t enjoy our lives. But time is just a marker, a sign in the road that gives a frame of reference. It isn’t real. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow is not a promise or even a reality yet. There is only here and now to count blessings and live our lives.

But on the other side of that coin, that point of reference can show us how far we’ve come. Like the turning of the seasons, it shows us the progress that has been made. In fact, maybe that’s the whole reason for time and memories.

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Two years ago this morning, I met my amazing husband. I only planned to stop at the Horicon Marsh to snap a few quick photos on my way home to finishing my book. But I pulled over on the side of the road to talk to him. I’m not even sure why, as I normally don’t go out of my way to meet strangers. But I did. We chatted for a bit and exchanged info and I went home. I thought we’d be friends. I loved his photos and he was very sweet and I enjoyed him, but I kept telling him that I didn’t want anything more. I really didn’t think that I did. I was scared and had been hurt and I kept him at arm’s length. I kept telling him that I was fine and that I didn’t need anything from him. But every morning he’d send me a message to wake up to, just some sweet words to start my day. And he never got upset or freaked out when I got quiet or I was too busy or too standoffish to talk with him. He let me have space to figure it all out.

Then one day, he told me that I could keep pushing him away and telling him that I didn’t need anything, but that he was going to keep coming back as often as I’d let him and as much as he could because he knew I was worth the wait, no matter how it all turned out. I remember lying in bed after reading that message one morning, crying, knowing that I was falling in love with him and that he was the right one for me. He isn’t perfect, and neither am I. But we fit together like puzzle pieces.

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We got married a year ago today. Time really does seem irrelevant, because I feel like I’ve always had him in our lives, as if we’ve always been together. Yet I remember when he wasn’t, and how much lonelier the world was then. We both remember that, and I think that reminder serves to keep us so very thankful that we don’t live in that place anymore.  He has taken on my kids like they are his own, giving us all so many things that we have never had. We are all a family in a way that none of us has ever had before. When I use time to look back on how it was compared to how it is now, I’m so very thankful.

The here and now, the place we are in this place in time, it’s amazing. I can’t wait to see what the future years bring us, but I’m going to enjoy every moment of it as it comes.

Happy 1st Anniversary, my love. Thank you for completing our family. xoxoxo

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