Tag: grief

Easter During a Pandemic: Well, That was Different

Easter During a Pandemic: Well, That was Different

Quinlan was in my bathroom Sunday morning as we were getting ready to go see my mom. It was Easter. We’d giggled over the baskets and laughed through the backyard egg hunt and baked and eaten the Resurrection Rolls, but we’d also watched a lot 

Coronavirus: He’s the Only One Calling this a Vacation

Coronavirus: He’s the Only One Calling this a Vacation

So here we sit, in the middle of the apocalypse (Kidding, kidding! It’s merely a terrifying plague!), wondering if this is what Orwell had in mind when he began writing fiction–no, not Orwell! Our present crisis is too scientific for Orwell. Maybe the guy that 

Mom’s Decline, and A Little Psychological Sewing

Mom’s Decline, and A Little Psychological Sewing

I thought maybe I should spare you an update this week, because I’m in a crappy, crappy mood (a friend asked Sunday how Mom was doing, and do you know what I said? “Oh, she’s totally dying.” The poor guy looked like I’d slapped him in the face). Mom has been declining again–no sooner did we pull her off hospice than she started acting like, well, maybe that wasn’t the best idea. She’s grown progressively weaker, and has become just sort of older-seeming. (This cancer of Mom’s likes to keep us on our toes, but I much prefer the happier surprises, you know?)

On Saturday, David and I had made plans to take the kids to see Mom in the afternoon and have a movie day. The kids were excited–they’d settled on Jumanji, because “cake makes me explode!”–and Mom had been looking forward to it. We went tumbling into her house around 2:15, a big bowl of freshly-popped buttered popcorn in hand, but Mom was nowhere to be seen. The house was quiet, and I could see a tray with an empty coffee cup and bowl sitting on the counter in the kitchen, so I knew she was alive (you’d have wondered the same thing). I found Mom upstairs–she hadn’t yet made it out of bed, though she was dressed, and her caregiver was with her. Mom was propped awkwardly on her pillows because she couldn’t support her weight, but her feet were on the floor. Her hair was a mess, and her eyes were barely opening, but she was chatting with Mary on the phone and laughing at the expression on my face. She couldn’t understand why I was so alarmed. Her caregiver, a kind woman who fills in on some weekends, was clearly overwhelmed–she hadn’t known what to do with her. The children, who’d come up to say hello and give her a hug, were shocked. I’ll never forget the look on Quinlan’s face–I’d forgotten that they’ve only seen Mom sitting up and ready for them.

It turned into the strangest afternoon. Another caregiver, one of our most trusted ones, came in to start her shift, which I’m not ashamed to admit was a massive relief (David and I were struggling to get Mom toward the bathroom at that point–he was afraid of hurting her and I just didn’t know how to maneuver her well enough. Mom’s usual caregiver came in and in two seconds managed to complete what we couldn’t in 20 minutes). We took turns hanging out upstairs with Mom as she tried to muster the strength to come downstairs, until we all finally gave up and wheeled her into my tiny old bedroom around 5 p.m., where she could watch the small TV she keeps in there. The kids looked at me and whispered: “Does this mean we’re not having a movie day?” Instead, David got take-out and we all crammed into the room with her to have a picnic in front of HGTV–it was Love it or List It, and for once, we all liked the couple’s old house better. Mom’s caregiver curled up on the daybed to chat while the kids and I wedged in beside each other on the floor (prayers may have been said that Quinn and Cian didn’t start throwing elbows), and David retreated back to the living room to give us a bit of space. Mom was in great spirits, considering the circumstances. The rest of us pretended to be.

It will surprise no one to hear me admit that things have fallen apart. We got an email from Quinn’s teacher that even though she’s been pulling in great grades, she’s become more disorganized, and more easily distracted. We’ve had issues with Saoirse very recently–some sneakiness, some attitude–that would seem characteristic for any 12-year-old except that they aren’t characteristic for her. The little ones have been struggling with sleep again, and have nightmares when they do. Quinlan’s nervous stomach pains are back. When we sat down with Saoirse last night to talk with her about her behavior, she broke into tears: it’s Grammy, she said. “I’m so nervous about Grammy.” And then David and I were on the couch with our arms wrapped around her wondering how the heck we’re supposed to take away the pain of a grieving child when we can’t handle it ourselves.

I’ve told David that I think I hit the emotional wall in December. We’ve been running and running headlong through this with my mom, and I just…hit the wall. I don’t know how to explain what that means other than, I suppose, I’m exhausted. I spent the first 14 months after Mom’s diagnosis struggling with the fear of losing her, and the worry about those sudden phone calls, and trying to manage All the Things–the kids, the mom, the paperwork, the phone calls, the bills, the scheduling–but with that horrid panic that ran through it all. All of those Things are still there, of course, but now it’s followed not by panic, but by the fatigue that comes with knowing what is inevitably coming soon: we’re here. We’re nearing the end of the road, and I’ve resorted to snarky comments to well-meaning friends. Because now I’m turning to my aunt, who is struggling with all of this, too, and David, with whom this marriage has seen much better years than the past one, and to our poor kids, and I’m realizing how this watershed has taken out more than just me. Saoirse isn’t just handling fear and grief: she’s struggling with the lack of routine, the tension that builds and breaks in the house, the constant sense that everyone is on edge. Her life, too, got flipped upside down in 2018: her mom is away from home a lot, there were no more vacations, no planning ahead, and her dad is stressed out. And it’s easy for David and me not to notice it because she’s a kid who tucks it all inside and, as the first-born, is trying to keep things perfect so everyone stays happy.

This is all kind of like an earthquake, maybe: the house has stopped shaking, but a lot of stuff is still falling off the walls.

David and I sat beside Saoirse on the couch last night, our arms wrapped around her. I asked her: “With Grammy, are you scared about how it’s going to happen, or sad that it’s happening, or all of the above?” Saoirse had her head tucked into my chest, and I felt it nod. “Yes,” she said. David looked at me over the top of her head, and I saw what he wasn’t saying: a) this is the hardest parenting thing we’ve had to do so far, and b) we’ve got to do a better job of it. So add that to All the Things: helping your own parent die in a way that’s graceful enough to make sure your kid knows that, no matter what, she is still safe and loved and that her family will be okay through all of it.

Man, this is hard.

Paul and Sarah come in later this week to be with Mom for a couple days, which will be a wonderful. Mom has a big scan tomorrow with a follow-up with her neuro-oncologist right afterward. I can’t imagine we’re not going to reevaluate Mom’s Avastin treatment–the cancer center is refusing to give her another infusion unless she gets surgery to get a port (her veins are too weak for an IV), and we need a hospital bed back in the house immediately, which can’t happen easily without hospice in place–but I’m certainly not going to volunteer that she stop it. Because as much as I’ll say that I think we’re almost there, Mom has surprised us before.

I told you she keeps us on our toes.

I’ll keep you posted, friends. David and I took a break yesterday from work (him) and Mom-related phone calls and emails (me) to take a walk with the dog, and we found ourselves, as we often do on these walks, making daydreamy plans about the future. It seemed almost like a reckless act in the face of what we’re living in right now, but the sun was shining, and the air was warm, and Mary and Tim were with Mom, feeding her homemade cookies and trimming her hair and keeping her company. Things may fall apart, but I think we also find a way to stitch them back together, as best we can.

My hope is that our kids will grow to realize this, too. That Saoirse and Quinlan and Cian will know: even in loss, the family left behind will be okay, together. And even when the stuff is falling off the walls?

We’ll catch them.

Mom’s Decline: Definitely Not How We Wanted It to Go

Mom’s Decline: Definitely Not How We Wanted It to Go

“Well, this isn’t how I thought it was going to go.” Cian said this to me the week before last. He was lying in bed beside me, and the clock said it was about four a.m. He’d been up since the middle of the night 

From My Bubble to Yours: the Anniversary of Mom’s Glioblastoma Diagnosis

From My Bubble to Yours: the Anniversary of Mom’s Glioblastoma Diagnosis

It’s been a year since it all happened, my friends. Last year, a day after the sadness of 9/11, when we took a breath and gave our loved ones an extra-long hug and carried on, on until the next year, is when our story with 

Missing Dad: Ten Years

Missing Dad: Ten Years

Yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of the day pancreatic cancer took my dad. It’s a marker I’ve thought about since the very beginning: where would we be at ten years? What would he have missed in that much time?

What would we have missed?

My dad is as real to me today as he was then. In all unembarrassed honesty, I miss him so much my chest aches. The death of a parent before anybody is ready creates this weird sort of outline where the person should be standing in your life. The outline of that lost person never goes away: it might fade, it might lose its edges a bit now and again, but it’s always there. Every dinner, every holiday, every milestone: the outline, standing there, empty where it should’ve been whole.

I missed David’s dad’s anniversary a couple weeks ago (Yes, I just switched gears and mentioned David’s dad. April is a FUN month for our household). His was 9 years, and I hadn’t updated my calendar yet, and the day came and went until the evening, when David mentioned it, quietly. I completely and totally forgot. I barely apologized to David, barely said anything, because when you mess up that bad and hurt that much for the feelings you’ve hurt, well. Sometimes there aren’t enough words. I forgot, because it was his dad, not mine. I can hardly climb over the shame to apologize for that.

But you can bet I didn’t forget my own dad’s. My body wouldn’t let me: the short temper I suddenly grew. The quickness to tears. The memories of that week in the hospital that keep pushing their way into my brain even though I try so hard to keep them out because, no. It was just too much. I don’t forget that, because it’s as part of me as David’s dad’s passing is a part of him.

We all have our own outlines to step around. There are so many I’m surprised there’s room for the living people to walk down the sidewalk.

My dad. He would’ve been 81. Old, but if he weren’t dead, maybe alive. He’d be bald. His eyes would still be big and blue, his arms long enough to wrap around all of his grandkids at once. He would’ve been delighted by their stories and wince at their loudness and told them exactly how they’d eat their sushi if they’d been with him in Japan. I’d make him tell them tales of motorcycling in Thailand and working farms in Pennsylvania and why, exactly, he joined the Air Force so young. I’d ask him and Mom to show them how to do the jitterbug. I wish they would see their Grammy dance again.

Ten years. Quinlan told me it seems much longer than that. I hate that they have no memory of him. I think to myself that if we could’ve had kids three, four years earlier they would’ve had more time with him, but you know that’s the nonsense talking. It’s just one of so many regrets.

So many wishes that the outlines could be filled in, if only for a moment or two more.

I wish I could be with my dad as I am now. Not as the kid he knew, but as the woman and mom I am now. But I can’t. I just have to carry on, without him, because there’s no other choice.

Ten years. In another ten years, he’d have been 91. I’ll be 51, my oldest 20, and so on. We’ll keep adding the years as long as we can, because of the outline.

We have to keep the outline intact.



Nine Years

On Easter Sunday we marked the ninth anniversary of my dad’s death (pancreatic cancer doesn’t spare the loving). We joined the family for Easter mass, as always, and we had Easter dinner, as always. The day was filled with its own dramas, its own troubles big 

The Luca Post

Note: I wrote this last Monday. Life since then has been…sad. Quiet. Very, very clean without the tumbleweeds of dog hair that used to appear on the hallway floor. Those of you who’ve lost beloved pets, I’m so sorry. They love us so much it’s