Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Friday was Thursday

I layed in waiting with dreadful anticipation of the one year anniversary date of Mom's death, December 4th. The date was etched in my mind forever. I could recite it as quickly as I could one of the kids birthdays. December 4th, 2008. I knew it would be a very emotional day, probably much more than others. It would be a Friday this year. I did not plan for a whole lot that day, not knowing exactly how I might feel. I did not know exactly what to expect, but our grief class reminds us to "embrace those days." For us to take it over, so it does not take us over. So, I was doing just that, just like the class taught. I'm a good student, I always do my homework. So, I was as prepared as I was going to be, ready to face the day.

Little to my surprise, was I caught totally off guard and totally unprepared for my Friday December 4th, to occur on Thursday, December 3rd! The girls were at school,and Patrick at work. it was about 10:00 am and Caleb and I were in the living room playing with his cars, when all of a sudden it hit me. She died at 2:22 in the morning, just less than two and a half hours after midnight. I am definately not a morning person, and rarely ever even see the clock before 6:00 am, so to a night owl, two a.m. is much more in the late night of the 3rd than the early morning of the 4th. So, to me, THIS was the day. It was not Friday at all, but Thursday! And Thurday is not the day I had prepared for!

It hit me like a ton of bricks. Wow. This was the day, the one year anniversary date of Mom's death, the 3rd. Her last day with us. And oh how I remembered it so clearly. I instantly started replaying her final day in my mind, hour by hour, moment by moment. I remembered having spent the night there the night before. The night had gone ok, but Mom had woke up a couple times not doing as well. I was to leave in the morning to return home to the kids so Patrick could go to work. As Joy and I were switching shifts, Mom still seemed to not be doing as well as previous days that week. I went on home as planned, knowing Mom was in good hands with Joy and Dad there together. But as I drove home early that morning, as I had done numerous times before, there was something different about this time. I felt a different feeling. By the time I arrived home, I only stayed long enough to tell Patrick that something was just not right this time and I had to go back. And that I did.

I am thankful for that feeling that day, the gut, the intuition or whatever you might call it. But to me, I know it was God, telling me to get back to my mother, that it would be my last day with her. I knew it was coming, but maybe did not want to admit just how quickly it was. Just twelve hours later, we had the pastor there, praying by her bedside, as we told her that we were all there and would be by her side every step of the way. We would hold her hand until Jesus took it. And only 4 more hours later, He did just that.

I can still remember it so clearly. I can close my eyes and feel as if I am right there again. As I continue to cry as I have most of the day, I remember one year ago from today. One year ago from right now. TODAY was the day. My Friday was Thursday.

The Holidays are Coming

Before we knew it, you could hear these words all about you. "The holdidays are coming! The holidays are coming!" Oh we were saying them too, just not filled with excitement as everyone else. How could you not be excited about something that usually meant the world to you? How could you go from child-like anticipation of Thanksgiving and Christmas to actually dreading them and wishing you could fast forward the clock to January? It did not even seem possible. But by the begining of November we were already discussing what we were going to do. How can we make generations of Christmas traditions look different without losing the generations of Christmas tradition???

We did not know how we would feel, what we would want to do, or where we would want to be. But we did know one thing, we did not want to be in Mom's house, decorating with Mom's ornaments, cooking in Mom's kitchen, and eating Mom's famous Christmas dinner, on Mom's Christmas tablecloth that she kept so neatly pressed and hung in the hall closet. We needed to get away, do something different, be in a different environment, with different scenery, if only for this first year. This was our first real Holiday without Mom.....surely this would be the worst? It would have to get better after this one, right? Certainly, we could go back to our regular traditions next year? I had purposefully been anticipating December 4th, the actual anniversary date of Mom's death, but had under estimated the power of emotion that would accompany the two months preceeding it. I had not realized just how hard the weeks prior to that dreadful day would be. It was not just "the day," for was the whole "season," and all that occurred and happened leading up to Dec. 4th as well. As soon as the first cool day came, it hit me like a brick. It was here. Fall was here. Fall was when Mom really got sick. Fall was when Mom began dying. So, October and November were already proving to be tough, much less with the "holidays coming" too.

Fortunately, for us, we were blessed with an invitation from Patrick's parents graciously inviting us all over to merge with their family for Thanksgiving. So now what about Christmas? Something else would come up, right? It would have to. We were not strong enough yet to handle things as status quo. The "right thing" would come along. So, we waited. And waited.

Mom's Birthday

October 11th was quickly approaching. It would have been Mom's 66th birthday. She always loved to celebrate birthdays and they were always a time for the family to be together. So, what were we to do this year? Ignore it? Have some kind of memorial ritual or something? Where would we go? What would we say? What would we do?

After much deliberation, we decided it was time again to go to visit Mom's gravesite. It had been a few months since we had done that. So, we decided to make the hour and a half journey to Bushnell that Sunday. It was a hot day that felt like summer. We arrived to the area where her site was, and proceeded to her marker. Joy and I prepared the fresh flowers and made two small arrangements and placed one on each side of the tombstone, leaving space so you could still read the inscription. It read, "Elizabeth Milner, Oct. 11, 1942-Dec. 4, 2008." "Our Beloved Mimi, Forever in Our Hearts." I remembered back to when I made the call as to what the stone would say. I could hardly get the words out of my mouth that day. I never could have imagined the feeling that would be produced when having to order your own mom's epitaph. But there it was, right in front of us. So harsh, so real, so final, but it looked beautiful with the etched cross on it and the flowers in front.

Dad and Patrick stood and watched as we kept fussing with the flowers so as to make them perfect. We finished off the arrangement with a small birthday balloon. Then the 3 kids each released a balloon into the sky and we watched as it flew higher and higher, closer and closer to Heaven. The girls still held on tightly to the shell in each of their hands. Mimi had always taken the girls to find shells every summer at the beach. It had become one of their most favorite things to do with her. Now it remains as one of their most fond memories. They would find so many and always wanted to keep them all. They would return back to the condo with cups full of them and would wash them off carefully, one by one. And then, at the end of the trip, evey year, Mimi would always have a few speical shells that she had picked out to give the girls from her own findings. These were the ones to be cherished most, the ones from her own personal collection. But this year, Mimi was not with us at the beach, and she could not bring the girls a special shell, so I thought it would be fitting that Julia and Avery bring a special shell to her. So, they each picked out a favorite from their assortment and brought them to Mimi. They placed them on top of her stone and then I felt satisfied. She would have liked, balloons, and shells. "There," I said, somewhat outloud and somewhat to myself. "Happy Birthday, Mimi, Happy Birthday."

I Miss Mimi

Months pass, days go by, the sadness remains. You learn that things will never really go back to normal and that you just have to adjust to a "new normal" now. You go on with the everyday business of life, you press on, and tell most people you are doing "fine." Some days are better than others. Some days you cry, some days you weep, some days you have no emotion at all, and other days you just try not to let your kids find you crying in the laundry room. Yes, they see me cry, and yes we talk about Mimi often and how much we love and miss her. We talk about how she is with Jesus and that we will see her again in Heaven someday, and that she is not suffering anymore. We look at pictures of her and read books about Heaven. We have our "butterflies" scattered about the house to remind us of her. The girls often bring up her name or ask a question, and I encourage them to do so. They have their own special photo albums we made with pictures of them with Mimi. Even Caleb will pull his off the shelf to look at his "Mimi Book." We miss her so much, and always will. No one can understand how much of a part of our lives she was. Our grief class tells us that "grieving is the price you pay for loving someone so much." So, I guess my grieving process is not quite over yet.

So, yes, we are still crying. But some days you want to cry alone, and some times you don't want your children to see your sorrow. There are times I am driving in the car and hear a certain song on the radio, and just turn my head as far as I can to pretend to look out the window just so they can not see the streams of tears running down my face. Some days I manage to "hide" my tears and some days I manage to "retain" my tears. Then, it never fails, on one of those days I am holding myself together, appearing to be fine, and looking strong, it is just like clockwork that that will be the day one of my daughters will ask about her. Or Avery will look at me out of nowhere with her sweet blue eyes and say, "Mommy..........I miss Mimi." And with a huge lump in my throat that I try to swallow back down, I muster up enough breath to whisper back, "Sweetie, I miss Mimi too."

Miles For Moffitt

It was May, and it was time for the annual Miles for Moffitt event, where they raise money for cancer research. As I told Joy weeks earlier that I would do the 3 mile walk with her, in honor of Mom, I had no idea that it would actually be on Mother's Day weekend. Wow, was that an unexpected flood of emotions that day. Last year Mom had talked about going with us and doing the 1 mile walk, although it did not work out. But here we were, just one year later, not walking with her, but in honor of her. She had already been gone 7 months! I could hardly believe it!

The emotions came quickly, moments after stepping out of the car. You could immediately see hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of people walking for cancer. Some walked WITH their loved one and some walked FOR their loved one, but it was clearly evident that we all had a loved one. Some wore matching shirts, some had pictures, some held posters, and some held hands. You could see that some were still fighting their cancer, as you noticed the bandanas and wheelchairs, but it seemed that unfortunately, many had already lost their battle to cancer. And it seemed to have taken the lives of all different types of people. You could see people of every race, culture, and age walking.....walking for a very specific reason, walking for a very specific loved one, and we were no exception. We were all strangers there, yet all tied together intimately with a common bond. Like we were all in the same club, but one we did not want to be a member of.
We continued to walk.

Caleb Sees Mimi

I hesitated whether to write this particular post or not. But it is part of the story, part of my story, and I beleieve everything happens for a reason.

It was a beautiful spring afternoon, the girls were home from school, and Caleb was awake from his nap. Avery was playing on the floor, I was helping Julia with her homework at the dining room table, and Caleb was in his highchair next to us coloring. I had opened the window blinds in the dining room, which I don't always do, so there was a clear view to the outside backyard. Caleb had been minding his own business coloring by himself, which already makes this story unique. I was sitting in the end chair, in between the two children, with my back to the window, leaving Caleb with the most visible view outside. He could not have been a day past 18 months at the time, but yet still.....quite a talker, if Mommy was present to interpret. Julia and I were concentrating on her homework, when Caleb called out with a sound of surprise in his voice, "Meh Meh! Meh Meh!" I knew at once he was saying Mimi, as he does every once in a while. So, I answered back to him, "Mimi, yes, Mimi," repeating what he said, and going right back to what I was doing. A few seconds later, he called out again, "Meh Meh! Meh Meh!" with a little more excitement this time. Realizing that my first response had not satisfied him, I looked up this time to acknowledge him. I answered again with a little more interested and involved tone. "Yes, Mimi. Do you remember Mimi? Are you thinking of her? Yes, we miss Mimi. We love her." And as my eyes were moving back towards Julia's attention, I noticed he was now pointing out the window. "Meh Meh! Meh Meh," he called for the third time, pointing outside again. Ok, now he had my full attention. I abruptly stopped what I was doing and said, "Mimi? What about Mimi?" And to my utter surprise he exclaimed, "Ou-sigh! Ou-sigh! Meh Meh ou-sigh!" I repeated back once again, "Mimi outside?" Caleb answered, still pointing, "Yah. Ou-sigh. I saw-er!" (meaning= Mimi outside. I saw her) Scared to turn around and look, I quickly glanced over my shoulder, but did not see anything. At this point I was feeling pretty strange. A dozen questions entered my mind. What is he talking about? And why? Where is he getting this from? Could he really have thought he saw something? Or HER? Really? Is it possible? And just then, he changed his voice from his excited, purposeful voice trying to get Mommy's attention, to a cute, little baby voice like an adult would use when talking to a baby, and he mimmicked what he thought he saw Mimi saying to him, and he softly said, "Hi, K.K. Hi-i," as he brought his little hand up to his face and waved a very tiny little wave next to his cheek, "Hi, K.K. Hi-i." He smiled sweetly and fondly. I do not know exactly what happened or what he might have seen, but whatever he saw was now gone. It went away just as quickly as it had come, and he was back to his coloring.

I nodded my head in disbelief, yet still felt a touch from God, as a little tear ran down my face. I sat there quite dumb founded by the whole 4 minute episode, as it appeared not to phase Caleb in the least.

Like the faith of a child, Father? Yes, He said, "Like the faith of a child."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Spring Cleaning

As April approached, it was time for us to start trying to go through some of Mom's things, and I do mean "try." I knew it would be a hard task, but did not know exactly how hard.

Dad, Joy, and I were to be the ones involved in the process, the ones making the decisions. It proved to be very difficult to have us all agree on what to do with some of the things, or to be able to disassociate ourselves and emotions for the day to get through some of the things, or to even find a day that we could all get together to "try." The days were rare and infrequent, as none of us were just rushing to the process. It was not something we looked forward to doing with eager anticipation. It was more like dreading it, but knowing it was something that had to be done. I would've rather had my nails pulled off one by one. There was so much emotion and attatchment to things, even when we tried to detach ourselves. It was impossible. We never got through one room or even one drawer without one of us crying. And we still have not gotten through everything. We did make our first purge, of things that were more easy to let go of. And we did set aside and keep some of our most treasured items. But we did not really get too far past that with the process. It was such a paradox. At times you think you want everything gone, put away, to see no harsh reminders of her, but then other days you do not want one thing touched or moved, fearing you are slowly letting go of her, one piece at a time, and that is all we have left.

Her closet and bathroom were the worst for me. All her personal items, her glasses, her purse, her toothbrush, her lipstick which she never left the house without. Items she had just touched days ago. Items she used right up until the last day of her life. I remember brushing her teeth with her toothbrush the morning of what would be her last day with us. Then I used her favorite Mary Kay creme to wash her face. We had just put her lotion on her itchy legs hours before her final breath. I could still smell that scent from her Jergens bottle. What would we do with all of these things? How could we part with them all, and that was only the beginning. She had so much stuff, it was over whelming....more than any of us could have imagined. I remember going into her big walk in closet many times and just sitting on the floor crying, looking at all her clothes. They were hung so orderly and color coordinated, some even hung inside out so not to get any dust on them. And then her shoes, neatly kept in their original boxes all labeled on the outside in her neat handwriting. I could sit in the closet and even smell her. This is where I felt the closest to her, not wanting to leave.

It is now months later and we did finally move the clothes, per Dad's request. But what about everything else? Her things all all around, she is everywhere you look. She loved her trinkets, and they helped make her house a home. I was often with her when she got them, and if I wasn't, I could tell you where she bought them. She loved so many items becasue she could always find beauty in anything. She would often just buy something that she knew would brighten up a room, or buy something for someone else because she knew they would like it or it was their favorite color or their birthday was coming. I knew I would have a hard time with all of these things, but did not know I would find attatchment to so many of them. I found it difficult to let go (and still do). I want things to be left the same. I don't want things to be different, but they are different.....very different. And they will
never be the same again.

It has been a slow process, and we still have lots to do, but the Spring Cleaning had begun. And I hope that with time, it may perhaps get a little easier. I hope one day to find joy in looking at her memorabilia and maybe even to be able to smile while doing it.