Tag: Grammy

Grief, and When Our Children Show Us the Way Out

Grief, and When Our Children Show Us the Way Out

As I type this, there is an estate sale company in my mother’s house, sorting through her belongings. The estate manager called me from where she stood in my parents’ dining room this morning to ask me some questions, and when she looked outside, she 

Onward, with Jazz Hands

Onward, with Jazz Hands

The kids have told me that my half-jokey-but-really-I-was-seriousness declaration of “Onward, with joy!” as our family motto is basically the un-coolest thing I have ever done in their entire lifetimes, so just imagine their (implied) glee when our friend David texted me the Latin translation 

We’re Gonna Have to Build Our Own Raft

We’re Gonna Have to Build Our Own Raft

It appears I’m in that stage of grieving wherein I wear all of my mother’s jewelry. (I think it’s Grief Level 6. We’re also moving into Grief Level 7, which is when we begin cleaning out her house and start co-opting pieces of her furniture for own homes. More on that later). You know that scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation where Clark gets locked in the attic and ends up wearing all of his dead relative’s clothing? Level 6 is like that, but with yellow gold instead of terrycloth turbans.

As I type this, I’m wearing not one, but two pairs of my mother’s earrings. I’m also wearing a ring of hers–a simple gold band with teeny tiny diamonds–and a butterfly necklace she used to wear all the time when I was little. On my wrist is a gold(ish) bracelet my dad had purchased when he was stationed in Thailand. We buried her in her wedding band, but I’ve already worn her engagement ring. It just happens to fit perfectly on my right hand. It’s just…they’re talismans. I know it, I totally know it, and I’m okay with it right now.

I miss her. A lot.

We’ve already had her burial, the quick scheduling of which came as both a relief and a shock. Because she was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, we’d been told that we’d have to wait about six months to, er, get her in. We anticipated a cold, snowy January morning spent graveside, but at the night of her viewing, her funeral director greeted me with, “Hey! Good news! Arlington had an opening for next week!” (I wanted to reply, “It’s a cemetery: don’t they have lots of openings?” but felt like he might not laugh). So we spent Mom’s burial service sweltering behind our masks in the 86-degree sun (Real Feel: 104!). We held no reception afterward for the family: The Covid, you know. It’s messed with some things. A few of us straggled off to an Irish pub in Arlington and melted into the macadam outside with our slippery pints of Guinness in order to cobble together some semblance of a wake. The owner welcomed us and mentioned the skyrocketing cases of Covid-19 in the area. Sláinte, Mom.

Saoirse found me sitting crosslegged on the floor of my closet this evening, sobbing wet, feels-like-I-just-dove-into-the-ocean-why-is-the-inside-of-my-sinuses-salty tears. She’s been amazing these past few weeks, volunteering to go with me to my mom’s whenever I get brave enough to tackle a room in her house and start cleaning out her belongings. We’d met up with my Aunt Mary and Uncle Tim, and we’d started sorting through Mom’s clothes and shoes for donation (Mom had many, many shoes). She had dresses with tags still attached, broken-in sandals she’s packed for vacations with us, sweaters that had been worn to nice dinners, to Thanksgiving, to babysit the kids. I found one of her favorite necklaces, a Celtic cross we thought we’d lost at one of her radiation appointments, which a caregiver had probably found and placed away for safekeeping. I wore it home.

But back to the story at hand: I’d gone in to my own closet to hang up a shirt of my mom’s I can’t bear to part with just yet: a pink and blue plaid button-front, soft from wear and still smelling like her. That’s when Saoirse found me. It was the smell that got me.

So, you know, it’s going well.

When I’m busy, it’s more manageable, but to be honest, I often can’t face the busy. Some days it’s all I can do to face the dishes. Quinlan gently approached me one day–it was the first day I’d been to Mom’s to start cleaning stuff out, and I was wrecked when I got home and doing a poor job of hiding it. She hugged me, but added a little admonishment: “Mom, I know you’re sad, but Grammy’s happy now. She’s all better and happy and running with Luca [our beloved old dog], and soon–” Quinlan glanced at our ancient cat, who was staggering through the kitchen on her arthritis-ridden skeleton legs– “and soon she’ll be running with both Luca and Widget.”

So there you go.

I’ve received so many loving messages from many of you, and I thank you for them (and if I don’t reply right away? It’s because most days I just don’t feel like chatting, and on others, when I do scrape up the memory of what it’s like to be appropriately social, the only response to “How are you?” is “I’M WEARING ALL OF MY MOTHER’S JEWELRY.”). I know from experience that the swells of hurt will ebb so that the waves, eventually, won’t hit as often. But I also know from experience that once you’ve found yourself in this particular Grief Ocean, there’s no swimming to shore.

I’ve been in this ocean for twelve years now–I know how this goes. It’s just that now? My life raft has disappeared, too.

The bottom line of all of this is: I’m a ball of fun right now, and if you are throwing parties, you should totally invite me to all them. I have a couple of Mom-related things I want to post in the upcoming weeks, as I feel up to it, and, of course get back into some sort of Regular Programming (Quinlan has gently reminded me I have a manuscript to finish and to not “use time” on my “blogging“–I wish you could see the derision she has for us internet dinosaurs). I have lots of notes I want to write, too: you’ve been incredible friends and family and caregivers–so many of you–and I want to thank you for that. If I have been quiet, I’ll be in touch.

(It’s hard to write when I’m wearing all this jewelry.)

In the meantime, if you have questions for me about…well, about what these past months have really looked like, please email me through my contact page. I know a few of you reading this have family members walking the GBM road–we had so many questions about what to expect when it was Mom’s turn. If I can help in any way, please let me. If I don’t reach out to you first–or am slow to respond because I’m still at my mom’s cleaning closets (she also had many, many coats), get in touch. Please.

Grief is the pits. I told Saoirse today that I do believe this little bit of time we have on Earth is part of a greater continuum–and one that involves each other, somehow–but it just doesn’t reconcile the feeling of having somebody like my mom–and by extension, my dad all over again–get erased out of our daily life. Just…*poof*. Regardless of if you’re expecting it to happen or not, the disappearance is jarring beyond any comfort level. I still make a move toward my phone every evening around 5:30–it’s when I’d give her a last good-night call this past year or so. (Poof.) I have to remind myself that I’m still here and lucky to love my kids and David (who does do the dishes) and the relatives that text or call and the friends who still want to hang out with my weepy behind and the writing that wants to be done.

Poof. But right now we are here, and I will do all of the things I’m supposed to do (the cleaning out, the loving, even the dishes).

And while doing so I’ll be wearing the most fabulous hand-me-down Irish Catholic jewelry a girl could inherit.

 

 

Twenty-Two Months

Twenty-Two Months

My mom has died. I’ll probably fill you in a bit more further down the road (almost as fun as a birth story, I’m sure), but for now just know this: she passed away Tuesday afternoon, almost a week after she started to really shift 

Update from the Brain Cancer Chronicles: Mom’s Almost There, but Not Quite There, and I’m Not Ready for There Anyway

Update from the Brain Cancer Chronicles: Mom’s Almost There, but Not Quite There, and I’m Not Ready for There Anyway

Let me tell you what’s weird in Brain Cancer World. Two weeks ago, when mom’s hospice nurse came to visit, she declared my mom’s condition “status quo, with deterioration.” I think that means, “Still living, but a little less than she was before.” Last Thursday, 

10 Sorta Happy Things in this Summer of 2020

10 Sorta Happy Things in this Summer of 2020

You guys, my kids are climbing the walls. They’re threatening to dig a hole in the backyard and fill it with tap water from the hose and call it a pool. They’re saying it’s too hot to play outside when it’s only 78 degrees. They’re daydreaming about places to visit, with the caveat: “some day–but when?” They volunteer to go with me to my mom’s because it means they get to sit in front of Hot Bench and Judge Judy, and maybe just maybe we’ll go get ice cream afterward.

You guys, they’ve stopped complaining about us taking them on hikes. That’s how bad it’s gotten.

Morale is down in our little corner of PA. We’re slowly starting to venture into the world again, but it’s slow going, and there’s not much on the horizon except more of the same. On a very hot day last week one of the kids actually got upset with me because we’ve never made friends with anyone who has a backyard pool.

(I told them we’ll try harder next time.)

I told you: we’re cracking a little bit over here.

All I can say is: yay for air conditioning and Disney+. Yay for the backyard sprinkler and Capri-Sun. But please say prayers the blow-up pool my mom bought them years ago still works, okay?

Here are some other things that are happy:

  1. My mom can’t really see anymore (this is the total opposite of happy, but hear me out). We’re not sure why: all we know is that she sleeps a lot, but when she’s not sleeping, her eyes are closed most of the time, and we have to identify ourselves when we walk in the door. Here’s the funny part, though: she’s listening. (Oh, she’s listening.) And the new fun thing is when we think she’s sleeping, and we’re chatting with each other and her caregiver and laughing, and one of us cracks a joke, all of a sudden we’ll hear Mom, from where she lies back on her recliner with her eyes closed and her hands curled in front of her chest, chuckling. Sometimes, she’ll crack a smart comment in response. She misses nothing. Those are the best times.
  2. (related to #1). This decline of my mom’s sucks. It’s slow and heartbreaking and I can’t begin to describe to you what this is like. Everything that’s been terrible these past 21 months was nothing compared to what’s happening now. BUT. (See? Happy.) She’s still there. Even though she can’t see, and sometimes can’t hear, and most of the time can’t really communicate all that well (None of that is happy, either, I know. Bear with me), her personality is so very much there. She still says “Hi, hon,” when she knows it’s me on the phone. She still says “I love you.” She still craves sweets and coffee over all other food–this is exactly what she preferred before she was sick, mind you–and remembers the plot points to Once Upon a Time and Downton Abbey. A hospice nurse randomly asked her how long she’d been living in her house, and she immediately–and accurately–stated, “Thirty-seven years.” Mom’s still there. And that part’s wonderful.
  3. The kids are obsessed with Star Wars. They watch it constantly. They’re debating what the next movie obsession is, though: Saoirse is rooting for Wonder Woman. Quinlan and Cian are thinking Titanic, as long as I fast-forward through the over-PG bits. Cian asked his dad if they could start Star Trek. Apparently Wrath of Kahn (did I spell that correctly?) is on the list, but when Quinlan heard that she scoffed. “Star Trek?! That’s just a hand-me-down Star Wars.
  4. I miss writing every day desperately. This is, weirdly, a good thing. It means it hasn’t gone away even when I have.
  5. It’s mojito season. This is especially good because my mint plant is taking over the deck. (So is my basil, though, and you don’t see me cooking up lasagnas. But never mind that. Mojitos!)
  6. I occasionally listen to a podcast called The Purpose Show, by Allie Casazza. She’s basically the only mommy blogger/influencer/internet entrepreneur I check in with anymore (there are only so many millennials one can tolerate telling us 43-year-old farts to live our best lives, you know?), BUT. She had an interview with a life coach named Susie Moore, who mentioned something along the lines of this: whenever we’re saying yes to something, we’re saying no to something else. I like that. Especially since this year has had me riding this pendulum between home life/my mom (sadness! sadness!) and total avoidance/my phone/Netflix (coping! coping!), it’s good to remember. If I say no to some things I can say yes to more. (As long as it’s not more mojitos. I recognize the line.)
  7. It’s strawberry season, which is the best season outside of sit-in-front-of-the-fireplace-with-a-book season. That is all.
  8. Schitt’s Creek. We’re almost finished with the last season and don’t want it to go away. Ew, David.
  9. As I mentioned, we’ve been hiking. And even though Quinlan, on principle, despises any nature-based activity if it doesn’t involve swimming at some point, the kids are enjoying themselves. Well: Quinlan complains about the heat and how it would be so much better if a) it were swimming and b) not hiking, but goes along with it, and Saoirse just sort of quietly walks with us because she’s tween and being a tween is hard. Cian, on the other hand, will reach for my hand and declare, “I LOVE hiking! I just love all the new smells,” and then say, “Oh. I guess I’m kind of like a dog?”
  10. This slow pace. Friends, it’s actually really nice. The kids stay up too late but sleep in and wake up happy. They play basketball and ride their bikes and swing on the 70s-style swing set we installed a couple weeks ago (it’s a little like a toilet plunger: it ain’t pretty to look at, but it does the job). We see my mom without stress of sports and other places we “have” to be. Their life skills have quadrupled: dusting and vacuuming and scrambling eggs and doing the laundry, because there’s time to teach them, slowly. I don’t know how we’re going to look back at this time, but this part is good. This pause has been nice.

If any of you are treading water right now, know we’re bobbing along with you (actually, Quinlan would love that. Water!). On the flip side, if you’re taking charge and making changes or road-tripping to the beach, good on you. (I’m not mad at you anymore for creating a vacation, because I’d probably be doing it, too.)

Saoirse just caught my attention from the kitchen. “This is a good start to summer,” she said. And then she kissed me on the head and ran upstairs to play.

Maybe we’re not cracking that badly, after all.

Memorial Day 2020: The Family Gathers, an F150, and I Yelp about Social Distancing

Memorial Day 2020: The Family Gathers, an F150, and I Yelp about Social Distancing

Hey. It’s the Tuesday after what has probably been a quiet Memorial Day weekend for many of us (if you, though, are reading this not from your living room couch but from a crowded beach, please know a] I’m mad at you because SOCIAL DISTANCING, 

Quarantine, Deviled Eggs, and Me: Mother’s Day 2020

Quarantine, Deviled Eggs, and Me: Mother’s Day 2020

Well, that Mother’s Day kind of sucked, didn’t it? My sweet family tried so hard this year. They made me stay in bed an hour and a half after I’d already been awake so they could bring me breakfast. The kids made “fancy juice.” David