Ready. Set. No.

Dating. At 37. 4 years post divorce. 5 months post break-up. 4 months post mom’s passing.

In general I find there are two schools of thought when it comes to dating after a break-up. There is the school of “get back on that horse,” “the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else.” The other school being “do you,” and “work out your shit for at least a year” before pursuing another relationship.

I married my high-school sweetheart and divorced at age 33 so my actual experience with break-ups and dating is quite limited. So far, I tend to be a “get back on that horse” type of girl, minus the “get under someone to get over someone” part. After a break up I have found myself online dating within weeks and meeting people shortly after. This has served me well in the sense that in 4 short years I have been on a lot of 1st dates and have gained a lot of general dating experience. I have had some awesome dates and some dates that deserve a whole blog post for themselves. I have also had the pleasure of building two relationships that started with a 1st date from an online meeting.

But this isn’t any normal break-up.

Not only was I in a very serious relationship that I thought would endure, but the break-up happened while my mom was dying. The grief from losing my mom has been front and center and at times it’s been confusing to try and tease apart the grief and the loss that encompasses both the break up and my mom’s death. In fact I had a delayed reaction to actually processing the death of my relationship and grieving it. As is often the case, I wasn’t present with this fact in the moment. I realized this over time and through my first experiences back in the dating world.

Not quite 3 months post break-up I randomly created a Tinder account. I have never used this app before and thought “what the hell, I’ll give it a shot.” I closed that account within 30 hours. I was completely overwhelmed with trying to comb through so many thoughtful messages of “hey,” or “what’s up,” or my favorite, “you’re pretty.” One of my girlfriends at work told me about the app called Bumble. This app is the same principle as Tinder in that you swipe right/left to indicate yes or no. The difference with Bumble is that once two people have swiped right only the woman can initiate conversation. This leads to far fewer messages to sift through but, at least in my case, far more “rejection” in the form of unanswered messages initiating contact. I have closed and reopened my Bumble account several times. I even went back to Match.com for a minute.

Here is the rub – or the good news – depending on your perspective. I am very in touch with my gut. I pay attention to how I am feeling and act accordingly. My gut has been having a very strong reaction to dating. I have gone on exactly 4 dates (2 of those were with one guy) and with each of these situations, at some point, my gut said “STOP.” Truthfully, I probably wouldn’t even have to be super in tune with myself to get these messages. After one date I literally had anxiety dreams about being in a relationship.

I want to be open to love. I am a person who loves LOVE. I love loving. I love being loved and I love being in love. I see myself as a partnered human. I don’t imagine myself growing old as a single woman. So, I try. Admittedly, I haven’t been trying too hard lately and that is okay. I know my profiles aren’t attracting a lot of men – at least not many men of quality. I could take more time to analyze that. After all, I have watched multiple TED talks on dating algorithms and creating the most effective profile. I am just not quite ready yet. I do know what I want in a man. I have a clear idea of the qualities in my dream man. I also really, truly do remain open to meeting him. If one of these dates is him, I will know it. Or, if he goes to yoga with me, we will find each other. I keep my eyes up and my energy open for the right man at the right time. I am just not invested in making it happen if it doesn’t come easily right now. At the end of the day I absolutely know it will happen. I know that one day, our paths will cross and it will be as though there was never a time we were apart.

I know this deep in my heart and my gut.

Fear is the killer of dreams. Yoga is the killer of fear.

5 days after my mom died I decided to start a Bikram yoga practice as part of my self-care routine. Bikram is a form of hot yoga. It consists of the same 26 postures done in the same order with the same script over 90 minutes in a room that is about 105 degrees. The variable is you and what you bring to the practice each day. What did you eat today? How much did you sleep? Have you been sick? Did you drink a beer last night?

It is described as a “90 min open-eyed meditation.” This is why I chose it. The mental challenge of meditation along with the physical challenge of yoga in a room as hot as the devil’s mouth seemed like a good way to get my mind right – get centered – so I could proceed on the journey of living while grieving.

There’s a Bikram studio in my neighborhood and I joined with their “30-days for 30 dollars” unlimited trial. The studio is fairly small. One changing room for women, one for men, one shower for all and two bathrooms. There are two owners and a rotation of part-time teachers. There are just enough class time options to offer me the flexibility I need to be able to participate. There is no consistent schedule showing which instructor will be at each class and it seems to vary. Each day I show up and get to be surprised to find out who is teaching. This used to throw me off. Even though there is a script and every class is the same sequence done in the same order there is an energy that each teacher brings. One teacher can make 90 minutes of sweat dripping down your ass-crack fly by. Another teacher can make the class feel twice as long and twice as hot. And, perhaps most importantly, each teacher brings a message. They talk during the 20-30 second breaks or offer a different type of encouragement during the poses. These minimal times in the class where the teacher is off script is where I hear the messages I need. The universe speaks to me through all sorts of channels and there is no mistaking the synchronicities I have experienced in my yoga practices.

When I first started my practice I was diligent about practicing 4x per week. The first two weeks were brutal. I was dizzy. I was nauseas. I was SO thirsty I would imagine that I was “drinking” the air. Sometimes I would feel like I was practicing under a heated blanket and a claustrophobic panic would almost ensue. You can imagine my struggle with a teacher who’s energy seemed to extend this experience.

There was one teacher, in particular, that I liked the least. She is the kind of person who smiles when they say anything. Like she is so pleased with everything she has to say. And she was so calm – almost tired because she is so calm. This bothered me. Yet, she was the teacher who kept showing up when I did. I attended classes at all different times of day on all different days and still, there she was. The next week I would attend different classes on different days hoping to avoid her. Still, there she was, at most of my classes.

I noticed that she triggered the grief of my mother more than any other teacher. Yoga, in and of itself, brings up emotions. I found myself in tears most often with this one teacher. She would tell a story about her own mother – which made me think of my mother or she would make a comment directly to me such as,

“Oh wow! I haven’t seen a real old-fashioned hanky in years!”

It was my mom’s.

I took note of the pattern of grief and the synchronicities I experienced in all my classes but that somehow seemed more poignant in her class. I decided to embrace her as my teacher. Clearly, I needed to learn something from her or hear something from her. I also decided that her classes were an opportunity for me to communicate more closely with my mom. I used the meditations to ask my mom questions and to process the grief.

After about a month I started seeing this teacher less and less and hearing messages through other teachers more and more. Each class brings a message that I need. These messages bring me peace. They are a reminder from the universe that I am on track – on the right path – and that all is working in my favor. One night, after a few days of intentional meditation, visualization and journaling to identify specific components of my dream life as well as the fear that keeps me stagnant the teacher spoke about dreams. She highlighted the importance of dreaming big and going for your dreams and how fear gets in our way! Then she said matter of factly,

“Fear is the killer of dreams. Yoga is the killer of fear. Keep coming.”

That was for me.

I recently saw the teacher who I once avoided. I hadn’t seen her in over a month for some reason. Seeing her again and being able to take a class from her again now brings me great comfort.

Keep coming.

Take a break? What does that mean?

The last 4.5 months have been very busy, stressful and transformative. I have been looking for a new job, working full-time, trying to care for my kids and clean out my mother’s four bedroom home that is absolutely cram-jam filled to the gills with clothes, shoes, boots, jackets, coats, scarves, knick-knacks, glassware, photos, photo albums, journals, hand-bags, backpacks, suitcases, electronics, files, mail, dishes, cookware and smells that trigger vivid memories which trigger intense grief. Somewhere in there I have also made time for self-care in the form of a regular Bikram yoga practice and I process the loss and grief as it comes. I also managed to plan a funeral and write a eulogy. Throughout much of this time I have felt profoundly lost despite my commitment to gratitude and manifesting the life of my dreams. I haven’t slept well in months. I feel tightness in my chest and almost constantly overwhelmed. Where is the pressure release?

Part of my commitment to gratitude and manifesting relies on my asking the universe for guidance and remaining open to opportunities. Guidance and messages come to me through many forms. I pay attention to any synchronicity in my path – this could be a street sign, a license plate, a passage in a book or words coming from a friend’s mouth….or a yoga instructor….or a colleague. I am so grateful for these messages and synchronicities because they seem to come to me when I need them most – which is quite often.

One of the most important messages I’ve received in these last 4 months came from a dear friend of mine who is coincidentally on a parallel path of discovery and transformation. She actually recommended the book I am currently reading about manifestation, called “Manifesting Made Easy,” by the Queen of Manifestation herself, Jen Mazer.

This dear friend and I were out to happy hour one Tuesday evening. She and I don’t get to catch up often so when we do we typically spend several hours together filling each other in on every detail- outlining the good, bad and the ugly. We are those friends. No limits. No judgement. Brutal honesty and endless depth of vulnerability. Thank the universe for friends like this – those people who know you through all the shit and not only do they still have your back and genuinely love you, but their love and loyalty seems to grow through each phase of life’s journey. I was spilling my guts to my treasured friend, recounting the most recent of events dripping with emotion of fresh loss when she looked at me and said,

“Summer, why don’t you just take a break?”

“Excuse me, what?” I paused, perplexed.

“Why don’t you just take a break after your job ends and not look for a job right away? Give yourself a certain amount of time, like 3 months or 6 months or whatever, to just….be…..grieve…..finish up your mom’s estate…..do whatever you need to do.”

“huh?” My brow furrowed with confusion and contemplation.

“Like a sabbatical,” she explained.

“A sabbatical?” I said with hesitation while nodding my head.

The more she spoke, the clearer the message became. She talked about how she had recently been able to take a sabbatical – how she had taken a “lump sum” of money instead of a dispersant over time. She said multiple times that she really, truly, in her heart believes that my mom would want this for me. She would want me to have this time with my kids and to not feel stressed.

It wasn’t as though a light went on over my head. It was more like the light was dimly lit – a low glow. I was still clouded with fear and couldn’t wrap my head around living off of my savings which is my mom’s retirement money- that I for some reason chose to take out as a “lump sum,” without much thought. But, I heard this message from my dear friend and I took note.

I slept better that night than I had in months. I felt lighter. I felt a weight off of my shoulders. I felt like I could breathe. I felt awake. I was more present at work than I had been in months. I was smiling again. I felt alive. That was when I knew this was a true message for me. The fear was also a good sign. Taking time off and not working is a little crazy. Living off of my nest egg don’t make no good sense. Yet, it is exactly what is right. I know this because I am listening to my heart and my gut. I am releasing the fear and choosing peace.

My job should be ending sometime in March/April. I plan to take 3-6 months off. During this time I will take a couple of trips related to my mom. I will scatter some of her ashes as part of a road trip. I will celebrate her life with my extended family who couldn’t attend her funeral. And I will sleep. And I will grieve. And I will be with my children. And I will practice yoga. And I will allow myself the space to do whatever it is I need to do. And I will try my hardest to NOT worry about wtf comes after my sabbatical – to remain present and trust that my path will continue to reveal itself.

All I have to do is remain open and receive the messages.

You can laugh or you can cry

Truth be told, I have struggled to come back to this blog since my mom’s passing.  I guess you could say, I am a little gun-shy about continuing my journey to be a Bad Ass. Ultimately I know that these experiences are part of this journey to my inner Bad Ass – but the pain of loss is all too fresh still.

So I’ve avoided it.

Every time I sit down to make an entry there is undoubtedly something that comes to mind that must be done – in that moment. So I justify closing my lap-top, setting it aside and moving on to this all-too-important but yet so very unimportant distraction. Here I am today though, making it happen. Today I want to share with you the moment I truly committed to choosing laughter and acceptance over tears and resistance.

Does anyone remember the Roller Racer? It turns out that they still make them.  I am surprised to learn this because as awesome as this toy seemed on TV when I was 6 years old, it was a HUGE disappointment. I remember the unexpected amount of effort that was required to get this thing to move! In the TV advertisement packs of kids would be flying along the sidewalks on their roller-racers, wind in their hair. In reality I could barely get this thing to roll. Being a 6 year old genius, I thought “all I need is a little momentum,” as I scanned the landscape of my cul-de-sac. Then, it came to me. My drive way had this lovely little down-hill slope. If I couldn’t get that thing rolling on flat land, at least I could enjoy the ride down the driveway. What I didn’t take into account was the seam at the bottom of the driveway that connected it to the garage floor. This seemingly insignificant 1/8th of an inch became very significant on my first voyage down the drive. My plan to gain momentum worked. As I approached the garage floor my Roller Racer hit that lip of the seam and came to a sudden halt and threw me forward, teeth-first, onto the garage floor. I remember screaming in pain. I screamed as hard as I could as an alert for my dad, who was inside, to come and get me. He did. Off we went to the ER.

That was the day that set my fate for 31 years later. Those teeth that broke my landing on the garage floor were my adult teeth. My front two adult teeth. They both took the hit but the one on the left (my left) died that day. It stayed in my head and even stayed straight but it lost blood flow. This led to years of discoloration, followed by cavities, fillings and root canals. This past year my dentist and I were making final plans to put a crown on it. I never got to that crown.

One day, the week following my mom’s passing, I was in bed, eating dark chocolate from a Wonka Bar. I aimed for a small bite, nibbling the corner of the square when “CRACK.” I heard the sound deep in my head. I ran to the bathroom mirror to find that my left front tooth (my left) was slightly ajar – it had shifted forward. Being that I was all full-up on shit to deal with, I went back to my bed and finished that bar with my back teeth. I managed to avoid using that tooth for 3 weeks before I admitted I needed to deal with it. I couldn’t avoid it any longer. By this time I was feeling some pain and the gum above was becoming more and more red. I made an emergency dental appointment.

My dentist, someone whom I’ve built some rapport with over the years, sat down and said,

“Summer, you did a number on that tooth. I am going to give it to you straight.”

In that moment I smiled big. I knew what he was going to say. That tooth had to come out.

In that moment it would have been ok if this had been the straw that broke me. It would have been appropriate to fall apart and ask the universe “WHAT MORE???? Are you kidding me? Now my front tooth too?????”

I chose to laugh.

My dentist proceeded to explain that for best results with a dental implant I would need to let my jaw heal for 6-12 months before we could even start to prepare for an implant. In the meantime I would have a “flipper.” A flipper for my front tooth. A flipper is essentially a temporary denture. A temporary denture for my FRONT TOOTH.

Yes, you are hearing this all correctly. I no longer have a front left (my left) tooth. Yes, it has been replaced with a “flipper” that comes in and out. Yes, I have a fake front. Yes, I gave my mom’s eulogy with this thing in my mouth. Yes, I had a lisp and I got used to it and yes, sometimes if I take bites that are too big it literally falls out!

Thank you universe for modern dentistry because as ridiculous as it is to have this thing in my mouth that gives me this fake front, at least I have a pretend tooth!!! Thank you universe for this being temporary. I will have an implant soon and it will actually be stronger than my dead tooth. Thank you universe for equipping me with joy and perspective so I can appreciate this leg of the journey.

 My “before” picture.

 

My “after” picture.

All the things I learned from my mother – a daughter’s eulogy

1/04/18

My mother’s funeral was held on Dec. 15th, 2017. These are the words I shared:

“When one has the opportunity to be with their most cherished loved one when they are at their most ill, most in need and most vulnerable, it offers the opportunity to reflect, in a deeply profound way, what that person has meant to you. 21 days gave me a lot of time to reflect on my mom, who she was, what she meant to others and what she meant to me. As I reflected, what kept coming up most for me, was how much I am like her…..and how much I am not like her. And I realized, just how much I have learned from my mother.

There are, of course, the tangible things I learned; the daily life skills that my mom taught me with intent. She taught me how to drive a stick-shift and parallel park at the Mt. Angel Abbey; she taught me how to change a tire; how to paint my nails; how to balance a check book; how to follow a recipe; how to write a cover letter; how to edit my writing. The list goes on and on.

Then there are the things I learned from her that I learned just by being her daughter – by watching her, listening to her and subconsciously observing her. I took on mannerisms such as how I take my glasses off and how I use my pointer finger to tap cues on my phone even though I don’t have the long nails she had – and many more I’m sure I am completely unaware of. I learned how to be a good hostess – which mostly requires having a full bar at all times so your guests can have the cocktail of their choosing, or the wine of their pleasure or their favorite type of beer. It also requires knowing how to set a beautiful table and create a warm and cozy atmosphere complete with the smell of cinnamon (or nag champa) and music playing in the background. I learned that “Alice’s Restaurant” is a Thanksgiving tradition. I learned to appreciate diversity and to love people truly and deeply. I learned how to be kind. Kind to the person at the DMV who is bluntly telling me I cannot achieve my goal because of a minor technicality – kind to the person on the other end of the phone who is telling me they are going to transfer me to another department….again. Kind to the stranger on the street, kind to those I can relate to and kind to those I can learn from. Kindness extends to everyone.

I learned that it is okay to be different and to be myself…and to stay true to that.

Finally, there are the things I’ve learned from my mom that I aspire to. The characteristics and qualities that I’m still developing. I could stand to have more patience. She was so patient. She was determined and perseverant. She had the most positive of attitudes – even in the most challenging of circumstances – she would find the good in it and a reason to smile.
She was so accepting of all people without judgement. She truly lead with love, kindness and acceptance for everyone over everything else. She made you feel warm, safe, appreciated and loved unconditionally.

I cherish all of these things I have learned from my mother and I hold on to them so tight, because by holding on to them, I feel I hold onto her.

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.

21 days in ICU: a journey on sacred ground – I saw my mom

The surgeon explained that if the 2nd surgery went well we should see a quick change in mom’s alertness. Within 24 hours he would expect to see her responding to commands, shaking her head yes/no, squeezing hands, moving toes, etcetera. He also explained that if this didn’t work, he didn’t know what else they could do.

The 2nd surgery lasted about 2 hours. By this time, I had returned to work and to my home with my children. I was an hour away, trying to find the balance in being there for my mom during this most awful time and still provide some sort of normalcy for my children. Lynda and Gloria were in the old familiar surgery waiting room with the seating pods and the colorful mural of surrealism reporting on mom’s status: “patient is doing fine.” I spoke to the surgeon afterward. He explained that once again, all had gone well. He removed her gall bladder and washed out her abdomen.

Now we wait.

Being an hour away was a challenge but the Doctors and ICU nurses were great at keeping in touch with me. I spoke to them several times a day for updates. I hadn’t planned to go see my mom for another day or so but the day after her 2nd surgery I left work early on a whim – the desire to see my mom too great to deny.

My life was falling apart. My job was ending with no other option in site. Things with my boyfriend had become worse. Instead of us becoming closer through this situation, we became further and further apart. I was working so hard to be a good mom to my own children who very much needed me and of course, my mom was so sick. All I wanted was my mom. I needed to hug her, to cry to her and to feel her love and support.

The updates from the nurses that had been inspiring. My mom was awake and much more alert. She was responding to commands consistently and tracking with her eyes. As I drove I dreamed of walking into my mom’s ICU room. I would walk in, she would turn her head and she would recognize me. Each day, as this nightmare wore on, the hope that kept me going was imaging the day when I would walk into her room and she would know who I was again – and I would have my mom back.

I walked into the ICU unit. I walked passed my mom’s room to gather the gown and gloves required for entering. I walked into my mom’s room. Slowly, I watched for her eyes to turn to me. I greeted her, as I always did

“Hi mama.”

She turned. She looked at me. Her eyes locked on mine and I could tell she knew who I was. I started sobbing. I cried to her telling her how much I had missed her and how much I loved her. I cried and her gaze remained fixed on me. At times, her face shifted and she almost cried but didn’t. I could tell that although she wasn’t able to emote or fully respond, she was there. My mom was behind those piercing blue eyes and it was the most beautiful site I had ever seen.

“It is so good to see your eyes, Mama.” I kept telling her.

I told her everything that had happened. I told her they removed her colon and she had an ileostomy. I told her how sick she had been. She stared at me – never leaving my gaze. I could tell she was hearing me and processing the information. Her face winced at times and she seemed overwhelmed.

I turned on CNN for her just as the nurses came in to “turn her.” The nurses would turn my mom every hour to avoid bed sores. For the last two weeks my mom was mostly asleep or extremely out of it when they did this. On this night, she was more present – still far away – but much more present. As they awkwardly turned my mom I could see her discomfort. I could see her pain. They laid her back with freshly placed pillows and my mom’s face was bright red and tears streamed down her cheeks.

“Look at her,” I said. “She’s in pain.”

I proceeded to tell them how important it was to treat my mom with more dignity and to use the lift in the room instead of manhandling her. They were responsive and apologetic.

I looked back at my mom. Her eyes fixed on the ceiling. Tears still streaming and CNN still on in the background.

A while later, when mom was sleeping, the surgeon came in unexpectedly. It was his night off but he wanted to check on my mom. We stood at her bedside and traded comments on the improvement she had made that day. We started to talk about recovery and what that might look like. For the first time, I realized just how sick my mom had been and what 2 weeks without nutrition, 2 weeks being bed ridden and 2 major surgeries does to a person. We were looking at months of rehabilitation. Mom would need to learn to walk again, talk again, eat and just about everything else. I stood there stunned, taking it in, mentally preparing for the second leg of this marathon. I glanced over at my mom and was surprised to see her eyes open. She was awake….and she was crying.

That night I saw my mom’s pain and suffering. She told me with her eyes that she was suffering. Just as I had cried to her and told her about all my pain and suffering, she cried to me. She held that gaze with me and told me.

21 days in ICU: a journey on sacred ground – Emergency Surgery

Emergency surgery: this was the “worst case scenario” the surgeon had warned me about 2 days earlier. The surgery mom was about to undergo was very dangerous and has a 50% mortality rate – and yet, I felt relief. We now had an answer and we could now take action and one way or another – this would nightmare would end.

The surgery waiting room is set up with clusters of bench seats that create ‘L’ shapes. Each ‘L’ is surrounded by little walls that provide privacy so families and loved ones can be insulated in little seating pods. There is also an open area with tables and chairs. 2 of the waiting room walls are covered in a colorful mural of surrealism. A tv monitor provides status updates for each patient in surgery such as “Procedure has started. Patient is doing fine,” or “Patient has been moved to recovery.”

G, Lynda, Gloria and I were all there together, as we had been, every singe day since my mom went into ICU, and several other close friends lovingly joined us bringing supplies like phone chargers, blankets, food and cards. For four hours we enjoyed each other’s company. We played rummy, did puzzles, ate comfort food such as meat loaf sandwiches and laughed. We were optimistic and spoke of my mom’s determination, perseverance and strength as the tv monitor continued to post “Patient is doing fine.”

When the surgeon appeared I jumped up to greet him. He explained to me that my mom had done well despite the “insult” she had received. He thoughtfully informed me that he had removed her entire colon and she now has an ileostomy. He went on to describe how my mom’s abdominal cavity had been covered in excrement and that he diligently cleaned every crevasse, nook and cranny using 24 liters of water. He posited that the perforations in her colon had likely been there for days. He gave me time to process the information. He waited in silence as I slowly conjured questions. The next 48 hours were most critical.

We celebrated the success of the surgery and our little support group disbanded – each of us, on our own, processing all the information the surgeon relayed about the surgery and the days ahead.

Over the next 2 days my mom’s body did amazing things. Her heart, lungs and kidneys were making a recovery. All the numbers were improving and things seemed to trending in the right direction. G, Lynda, Gloria and I knew this would be a huge lifestyle change for my mom but we new she would be up for it. If anyone could wake up without their colon and with an ileostomy and roll with it, mom could. We made jokes at her bedside as we imagined her healing and coming home.

“Mom isn’t going to deal with any shit ever again!”

We laughed so hard at that one.

The only piece that was still very concerning was her mentation, her awareness/alertness. Even though they had completely stopped giving her pain medications and it had been days since she last received any type of sedative, she was very drowsy and unable to be roused. This was the piece of the puzzle that we needed for her next phase of recovery. In order to get her off the ventilator we needed her to be conscious and alert. Mom was still fighting an infection and the surgeon wondered if perhaps her gall bladder had become infected and should be removed to help control the source of infection. He explained to me that he could “go in” again and remove her gall bladder and at the same time, wash her abdomen out again to ensure it is as clean as possible. He apologized before using the analogy of washing spaghetti.

“Imagine,” he said, “trying to completely clean all the marinara sauce off of each noodle in a bowl of spaghetti.”

I chuckled.

He apologized again.

I consented to a second surgery.

21 days in ICU: a journey on sacred ground – Day 5 in ICU

The first night mom was in ICU she was in a “state of delirium.” She could answer questions like “do you know where you are?” and “What is your name?” But She didn’t understand why she was in ICU, didn’t understand they had used the paddles on her chest 3 times in attempt to regulate her heart beat, didn’t understand why I wouldn’t help her get out of there and didn’t understand why she had to have all that shit on her- all the IVs, the blood pressure cuff, the tube in her nose. She hated that shit on her and was constantly trying to pull it all out.

She was still in so much pain from the constipation and was being treated with very small doses of morphine which made her very drowsy (and also contributed to the constipation). When she wasn’t sleeping she was either yelling or crying out in pain,

“Oh help me!” “Please, please help me!”

Or she was plotting her escape. A CNA was by her bedside 24hours a day because she would try to pull out her IVs and get out of bed. Mind you, her left ankle was still recovering and she was to be “non weight baring.” She was crafty and even described as “spry” by the nurses and CNAs. She’d developed a plan where she’d request a bedpan which the nurses were very excited to accommodate because we all knew if she could just poop she’d feel so much better. Except that mom didn’t really need poop. Her plot was to request a bed pan and then when the CNA and nurse would assist her to get on the bedpan she would wrap her hands around their arms and try to use them as leverage to lift herself up and then angle herself toward the bedside. An attempt to somehow, using only her arm strength, propel herself over the rail of the bed and then…..run? It’s hard to say what mom’s master plan was but it was clear that she was determined to get the fuck out of there.

At times the pain was so intense she’d cry out things like

“let me die quick….oh god…..oh god…..this isn’t me……let me go…..”

Even though my mom was so frustrated and unclear on what was happening she remained her sweet self. Every nurse or hospital staff that came into contact with my mom commented on what a sweet person she was. I remember one of the times she asked me to help get her out of there. I said,

“Mom, if I thought that was best, I’d be the first one to help you bust out of here.”

She replied with an abrupt

“Oh fuck you,” then quickly recanted with

“No, you’re sweet.”

I’m not sure she knew who I was at that time, but she knew who she was.

There were times when mom was “awake” but more peaceful. She’d hold her left hand up with her palm facing her and using her right hand, she’d poke at her palm with her pointer finger, as though she was feeling the texture of her palm, taking in the firmness and intricacy of each line. I thought maybe she was in a morphine haze and was perhaps “tripping” out on how her own hand felt. Or maybe the lines on her hand were moving? I said quietly to her,

“That’s a trip huh mom?”

She smirked and quietly responded,

“Yeah.”

Then a few moments later she said,

“You know what, I think my phone is dead,”

and she carefully tucked her “phone” in her bed beside her.

She’d pull her “phone” out now and again – poking at it with her right pointer finger. It seemed to bring her peace and comfort. I reflected on the comfort her palm/phone provided her. What was she typing? Who was she texting?

Mom became more and more sick over the next two days. Within 48 hours she was sleeping most of the time. No more strength to yell or cry or try to escape. Other complications had arisen- her heart rate and blood pressure were irregular. She was retaining so much fluid she was almost unrecognizable, an infection had been confirmed and she was now on a ventilator to support her breathing.

My mom laid there, eyes closed, unable to rouse, with her belly more distended every day and her skin stretched so tight from fluid that it was tearing in small sections all over her body. Like little paper cuts everywhere – and so, she “seeped.”

Meanwhile, she was still so constipated. They tried everything to relieve her. They pushed laxatives and mineral oil directly into her belly, they gave IV medications and so many enemas. Nothing worked. They did scans of her belly that showed nothing but blockage. They did scans of her head too because the delirium was extreme and they were concerned that perhaps she had experienced a stroke. Scans showed nothing.

Finally, after 5 days in ICU they did a second scan of her abdomen, this time using a dye that would create contrasted imaging. The contrast illuminated new information and now it was clear: mom had two perforations in her colon.

Emergency Surgery.