The newest member of the club

December 11th, 2017

Since October 12th, the day my mother died, my life has completely changed. On the surface level, my days are filled with odd tasks, or “death chores,” as I refer to them.

My to-do lists look something like this:

  • call Social Security Office
  • respond to Stacey about surety bond
  • call Lisa to sign Personal Rep. papers
  • call Wells Fargo re: mortgage being in probate
  • make copy and scan mom’s death cert.

Each week I have a goal to accomplish a certain number of administrative death chores in addition to the more personal tasks such as cleaning out my mom’s house. I started with her bedroom – by myself. I knew that my mom’s most personal items and, perhaps secrets, would be in her bedroom. I wanted to protect her and assure her that I would be the one to find her secrets and I would keep them for her.

As I rifled through drawer after drawer and parsed through every single item in her wardrobe, closet and jewelry boxes I remembered how many times I had done something similar as a kid. My mom has always had a room full of treasures – some hidden and some in plain site. She had cupboards 2 feet deep that were crammed full of old yo-yos, make up, purses, buttons, costume jewelry, etc. Her closet was packed so tightly that you had to use your body weight to move items over so you could see each piece of clothing on its hanger. That’s right, I’ve snooped in my mom’s room a time or two before. But this time was different. This time I wasn’t a voyeur. This time I was claiming my birthright. I was more diligent, more thoughtful and more protective. I remembered all of those times I searched through her jewelry imagining where I would wear it and the day it would all belong to me.

Then here it was – the day it all became mine.

On a deeper, less pragmatic and more existential level, I carry myself differently in this world now. I am a motherless child….and a motherless mother- walking no longer with the invisible cloak of the unconditional love only a mother can provide. The full weight of independence resting on my shoulders. My map, now a tear-stained blur lacking clear direction, and I am lost. I have wondered so many times how I am going to make it. How am I going to do this without my mom? Then, one day in my yoga practice I heard the message

“You’ll learn.”

I realized this was my mom reminding me that over time this will get easier. I will learn how to walk without the reassurance I’ve known my whole life. I can improve. I can grow. I will learn. I also reflect on the fact that my mom lost her mother when she was just 13. I understand her differently now. She became a motherless child while she truly was still a child. She learned. I don’t know how she did it but I use her as inspiration and realize that even now, she is guiding me, teaching me and supporting me. She is still being my mom.

21 Days in ICU – the final days

December 2nd, 2017

I started this blog, and this journey to my “new and improved, more Bad Ass” life in August. Since then, my life has taken so many unexpected and life changing twists and turns. I have followed each curve in the road with unending faith that just around the next bend will be the clearing I’ve been searching for – the sign that all of the pain and suffering on this arduous journey was leading me to this peak on a mountain where the sky opens up and the beauty of my existence becomes clear. The fact of the matter is, each turn around a bend has led me to another bend….and another. Where is my mountain peak? Where is the clarity I have been so patiently praying for?

On October 12th, 2017, my mother passed away. Her death was the culmination of a beautiful, although traumatic, 21 days in the ICU. The afternoon before she died I decided, after much consultation, that my mom would not want to be kept alive by so many artificial means. The weeks of infection impacted her brain function. She hadn’t been coherent for weeks and despite the efforts to contain the infection, she never recovered. I decided to have the breathing tube removed and to allow her body to do what it needed to find peace.

I knew that once the breathing tube was removed she would likely pass within minutes. Weeks in bed without any food and the intense medical interventions that had been keeping her alive left her lungs, heart and body very weak. Her room was filled with loved ones and we played Janis Joplin as the nurse removed the tube. Mom let out a big cough, looked around the room and closed her eyes.

She continued to breathe on her own through the afternoon, evening and then through the night. I stayed with her all night. Regina stayed with me. We slept awkwardly on the hospital recliners as nurses checked my mom’s vitals every hour. The tv was set to the “classic rock” station and throughout the night, in a haze of drowsy dreamy wakefulness, I would hear music from my childhood: Van Morrison; The Mamas and the Papas; Janis Joplin; The Beatles.

By early morning mom’s breathing had become very shallow. She took small breaths and often lingered between them. I had almost become numb to the idea that at some point – there wouldn’t be another breath. Around 8:20am I told Regina that I wanted to go get some coffee. I left the room to use the bathroom. As I returned to grab my purse and set out for the comfort of coffee I walked into the room. The nurse was with mom. Mom gasped. I was at the foot of her bed as I stared at her, waiting to hear her next breath. The nurse listened for a heart beat.

“Her heart is still beating,” she said.

I held mom’s hand. Regina stood behind me at the bedside. The nurse, across from us, checking for a heartbeat again. Still not another breath.

“It’s faint, but her heart is still beating,” she said.

I waited. I watched. I listened. Finally, the nurse said

“her heart has stopped.”

In disbelief I stared. I stared at my mom – who was now this body that barely resembled the mother I knew just a few weeks before.

“It happened,” I said as I turned and looked at Regina, who had tears streaming down her face.

“She died,” I said aloud – an effort to make the surreal more real.

Here I am, 7 weeks and 2 days later, just now barely able to write about the day she died. Each day I wake and succumb to whatever stage of grief I am in- embracing the process, avoiding the process and doing my best to go through the process. Each day I wake and in a zombie-like state, I go to work, take care of my kids, manage my mom’s estate, grieve, sleep and start again. 7 weeks and 2 days later I have accomplished a lot and yet, still have her funeral looming. 7 weeks and 2 days later I still haven’t written her obituary.

And it’s ok.

I am ok with what I haven’t done and where I am at. I show myself love, kindness and acceptance for where I am today and in every moment.

I still have faith. I know the importance of each mile on this journey and I know that the clearing is coming.