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 I 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 actually 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 type of 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 position 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.”

“Ummmm, huh? I don’t understand,” 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.

21 days in ICU: a journey on sacred ground – Welcome to ICU

November 4th, 2017

It wasn’t all that long ago that I was on the verge of being un-stuck – on the verge of everything falling into place after making my commitment to shake it all up and bring out my inner Badass. The change in my life that I committed to was imminent – I was impatient and anticipatory. I saw so clearly how the “big snooze” was trying to sabotage and I wasn’t going to let it stop me.

Just to refresh your memory, at that time, I had given notice to my job without having any idea where I was going. My boyfriend of 2.5 years had moved out of our home and my mom had fainted which led to a severe break in her ankle requiring surgery. Each of these events a signal to me that this was going to be a tough journey and also affirming I needed to make this trip. I kept moving forward taking steps toward my new life – and I could feel things starting to fall into place. My mom had been through a lot but was returning home after time in the hospital and then a rehabilitation facility. I had a job interview for my dream job and my boyfriend and I were working things out. Gosh, what a rough road it had been – those 3-4 weeks of discomfort. Those 3 or 4 weeks where I fretted about my job, mom and boyfriend. Yet, I made it through. Like the too-tight lid of a pickle jar that you’ve struggled to open, using all your strength while it remained stubbornly stuck, that suddenly slips loose liberating the lid with ease. It was all coming together. It was happening.

Except that it wasn’t.

After the ankle surgery my mom was prescribed pain pills that had a side effect of constipation. On September 17th, exactly 3 weeks after she initially broke her ankle, she called 911 and went back to the ER. She was experiencing severe pain in her abdomen. She sent me a text “back in hospital.” I spoke to her that night. Her voice, shaking with pain gave a timber unfamiliar to me. I spoke to her the next day and to her nurse. I asked them each if I should come down (I live an hour away) and be with her. They both said that wasn’t necessary and that she was in good care. I spoke to her later that evening – her voice still riddled with a pain I’d never heard in her before. We stayed on the phone without much to say to each other, as we sometimes did. Those calls where you just “hang out” with the other person, even if it’s just by phone. I told her that my puppy had been experiencing constipation too. She said it was sweet that my pup was having “sympathy pains” for her. She said that if the vet had any good remedies for Cleo (my puppy) to pass them along to her because she wasn’t “too proud.” I laughed at that and noted my mom’s ongoing sense of humor and optimism through the whole ordeal – fainting, breaking her ankle, surgery, rehab and now, unbearable constipation. Constipation so severe and painful that her voice shook and required extra effort to make audible sound.

On September 20th, I got a call from the hospital. The nurse on the phone spoke clearly and with a sense of urgency. “Your mom went into a-fib and was transferred to ICU; we need to put in a central line now. Do you give us permission to put in a central line?” Without fully understanding what any of that meant, I consented and asked if I should make the hour trip South to be with my mom. The quick response,

“Your mom is very sick. You should be here.”

As I drove I processed the fact that I was called to give permission on behalf of my mom. Was she unable to communicate for herself? Was she unconscious? What is a-fib? What is a central line? Unsure of what was to come, I made arrangements for my boyfriend to stay with my kids so I could be with my mom. I called my grandparents. I called my dad and stepmom. I called my best friend, Regina, or ‘G,’ and I called two of my mom’s best friends, Gloria and Lynda.

I didn’t shower or change clothes for the next three days. The consent for the central line just the first of many medical decisions I would make on my mom’s behalf over the next 21 days.

Last night I dreamed I was looking at the stars.

October 3rd, 2017

Last night I dreamed I was looking at the stars….but I had forgotten about this dream until this morning when, at 5:30am, I was in the backyard taking my puppy out to potty. I often use these potty breaks as a chance to connect with nature, the universe and my angels. I look to the sky, watch the trees shift in the breeze, feel the air on my face and focus on my breath – in…..and out……in……and out……it’s in these moments that I practice gratitude and sometimes ask for guidance.

This morning, like many others, after my puppy disappeared into the shadows of our yard I looked to the dark sky…….and I gasped. In a flash, I remembered my dream, or rather, a vision in my dream and a corresponding feeling. It was the stars. I remembered having seen all the stars of the universe in my dream and I remembered that you were there – not you in your physical form, but it was you – and I felt safe and comforted. I felt all the love of the universe because it was your love for me. You came to me in my dream to comfort me – just like you have done all my life.

Today, I return to work, while my mom remains in critical condition in the ICU, as she has been, for almost 14 days. Her condition has changed though. Her body, fierce in how it’s tolerated, sepsis, emergency surgery, additional surgery, 20 extra liters of fluid,  heart, kidney and lung complications. Her body, making slow and incremental progress in healing day after day although she is still very, very sick. Her mind…..asleep…..barely able to be roused. Her mind, not ready to wake. She has no sedation and no pain medication and yet, she sleeps.

I miss her.

How do I go back to work? How can I concentrate on anything other than the fact that I don’t know if I will ever be able to talk to my mom again?? Or hug her?? How do I carry on in my daily life as though I am not in this torturous state of limbo?

Yesterday was my first day back home – an hour away from mom’s bedside. I took the day off with the intention of using that time to catch up on chores and prep for the coming week. Instead, I found myself in bed until noon and then wandering around in a zombie-like state of being.

Summoning everything I had, I invoked Bad Ass rule #234-A, “Act as if.”  “Act as if” is essentially “fake it till you make it.” One must behave in ways that will lead to their success – even when it’s hard, or in this case, seemingly impossible. If I want to live the life of my dreams I can’t become immobilized with fear, anxiety and sadness. At least, not today. I must “act as if…..act as if I am strong enough to take care of my kids and go back to work while my mom remains critically ill an hour away from me.”

My to-do list became just one-task: grocery shop. I literally spent 2 hours at the grocery store trying to do my normal weekly shopping (which should take no more than an hour at most!). I slowly pushed my cart…..passing produce, walking aisle by aisle, fighting back tears as I note everything mom would have in her refrigerator or pantry. Finally, it happened. I could no longer fight the tears. There I was, in a full-on ugly cry in the “natural” section of the grocery store, staring at mom’s favorite kombucha.

At the end of the day, I came home with groceries, did the dishes and cooked dinner for my kids. That’s all. And that’s enough.