Two Years

 

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It’s the crunch of the leaves and the smells of this season. The cold bite of the wind through a warm day and the dark blue of the sky.  It’s how the steam rises from rooftops on crisp mornings when the sun hits them, and how the vines that grow all over my house are changing color. All of it signifies this season of fall.

It’s my favorite season. It always has been. Though I’ve always loved the hot days of summer, there is something about the way autumn shows up. How beautifully it is able to let it all go.

Which is precisely why, though I would still call this season my favorite, I’m kind of disenchanted with it at the moment.

My mom fell and broke her pelvis two years ago today. In the busiest period of my life, amidst the crunching leaves and beautiful changing colors. Like so many pivotal moments, time stood still and I noticed. I noticed so clearly the colors and smells and feelings of that fall. Because I was clinging to some normalcy outside of the everyday life that was taking away my mom.

As soon as I found out about her pelvis, I knew that it was the end. I recalled her doctor telling us the previous winter that she probably had one year left, give or take, unless she fell and broke a hip, in which case she’d be gone in a month. As it turns out, she lasted almost 2 months after her injury. But she was not the same, and in so many ways, who my mother was left her after she fell. She was heavily medicated, still in a lot of pain, and her whole body was shutting down. There was a handful of very lucid moments that almost gave me hope, but mostly she used those times to settle her affairs and say her goodbyes.

But it’s two years later and I so badly want to enjoy this lovely season. To feel happy about it, but mixed in is the bitterness of those terrible 2 months. Because we are creatures of habit who look to the past to guide us. And this lovely autumn makes me think of falling in love when I was 16. It also reminds me of the lovely October day that I met my husband, and when my niece Addison was born, and trick or treating as a kid. And my mother dying.  Autumn has become all of those things for me.

I tell myself, because it’s true, that we are beings that get to choose. We can only think of one thing at a time. Our brain does not have to run the show. We can choose our thoughts, but like all things, this is a practice. And a work in progress.

I will have to choose the joy-filled moments, over and over, for the rest of my life. There is no one-stop-shop where I can purchase a bag of something and be fine about my mother’s death. The hard stuff, like the great stuff, is built in as a part of our foundation. We would not even be us without it.

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So I will take today, with the lovely autumn light and the wind blowing brightly colored leaves off the trees, and I will miss my mom. I will let myself be sad right now. And then I’m going to remind myself of a better memory every time the breeze tries to pull me back to sadder times. I will bring my mother with me through my life in search of what is beautiful and worth remembering. I know that this is how she wants me to carry her with me.

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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