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.

Monday, November 16, 2009

After the Flowers Fade

Shortly after returning home from Grandma's funeral in North Carolina, things began to slowly change. It was a quiet feeling. A sad feeling. A very lonely one. All the family and friends who had been there for us and had done so much went back to their normal lives. The amount of grieving time that feels right for our society had now passed. We were now left to face the beginning of our lives without Mom, on our own. While eveyone else returned to their normal lives, we were facing one that would prove to be anything but normal! And NO ONE can understand what it is like to be in the shoes of someone who is truly grieving, grieving in ways you would never have known possible, until it happens to you. You are left with feelings you don't know how to express, feelings you have never had before, and feelings you don't even know what to do with, and no one can seem to help. Oh, yes, people try, or some do, but they just can't seem to say the right thing. And is there even a right thing To say???.......probably not.

The phone calls were less frequent, the meals were no more, the cards and notes had stopped, and the flowers had all faded. The world went on with life, life as normal, but for us it had stopped. It would never be the same again, and NOTHING could change that.

Losing Another Piece of Mom

We did know just how soon it would be after Mom's funeral, that we would be together again at yet another one. This time it would be Grandma Vera, Mom's mother. It was February 16th that we received a call that she was not doing well and may have had a stroke. And sure enough, a second phone call came, only 2 days later, telling us that Grandma had died. She had not lived even two and a half months more than Mom. We were so sad to lose Grandma, to lose another family member, and to lose yet another piece of Mom. It was so hard to muster up the energy, the emotions, the thoughts needed to do it all over again. Just the thought of it was almost too much to bear. But, we knew we had to go and that we had to be there. And I knew, somehow, that we would get through it.......and we did. Joy and I were even somehow able to read a poem about Heaven that Grandma had written only months before. What an honor.

Dad, Joy, and I traveled up to North Carolina for the service. It was so hard to be at another funeral so soon after Mom's, so hard to face death again, so hard to sit around with all of Mom's family witout having Mom there with us. It was our first trip without her, and we missed her so much it hurt. It just made things more than real. And although an extremely difficult task it did prove to be, it also served as another step in our grieving process that we were already in.

This whole other story about Grandma Vera had also been taking place in our lives, simultaneously, as if what we were already experiencing was not enough. The story of Grandma was a sub-plot to our main one. It inter-linked, over-lapped, and confused matters all the more. While Mom was having her most difficult months battling her cancer, Grandma was also having some very tough months of her own. She had experienced a fall, broke her hip, been in the hospital, undergone surgery, and been moved to a rehabilitation center. She was having her own battles, physically and emotionally as well. We all knew that Mom was the one who usually took care of her and she was obviously not able to continue doing that anymore. And no matter how hard we tried to help Grandma, we could never fill Mom's shoes. We dispersed our energy between the two as best we could, but were relieved when two of Mom's siblings stepped in to assist the tired troops.

The day came when we finally had to tell each of them, Mother and Daughter, about the other's conditions and how serious they each were. We had tried to "protect" them from the worst of things as best we could, but the inevitable was coming, and it was coming all too quickly. They had to see each, and nothing was hidden anymore. They met once more, and said their final goodbyes to each other, until they would meet a much more glorious place that this earth can not provide. And although Grandma had her good days and bad ones after that day, she would never completely bounce back from her fall and all that she experienced. She knew the days for Mom were getting short and she hated the thought of having two of her daughters precede her in death. She was just missing something. She was missing her will to fight, missing her will to live. She was missing Mom. Many days she ached and prayed to go "home" to Heaven, where they would be reunited once again. And sooner than we all would have thought, God answered her prayer.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Butterflies became our theme, our symbol to remember Mom. They came quickly and they were everywhere. The idea first came to us when we were preparing for the service, reading over things we had jotted down, and notes Mom had previously written. We kept coming across one of favorite Bible verses, II Corinthians 5:17. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone and the new has come."
Often you will find this verse on a bookmark or trinket with a butterfly next to it to symbolize the "new creation." So, knowing this was one of Mom's favorite verses, we chose to incorporate it into the service and her memorial.
We knew we wanted to have the verse printed on the bulletin, but had to look through several styles to make a choice. One finally caught our eye, and we knew it was the one. On the front it read, "The memory of the righteous will be a blessing." It was delicate, respectful, and accurate. It was perfect...........and happen to have a big butterfly on it as well.

So, as this verse became encouragement to us, so did the butterfly. And as winter slowly became spring, we began seeing them everywhere......on the flower arrangements people were sending, on cards we received, on things in stores we were in, and in the sky flying right around us. I saw them, Joy saw them, Dad saw them, and Julia and Avery saw them. Even Mom's sister, Aunt Esther saw one fly right around her and her husband and their RV right before heading out on the road on a long trip. They were everywhere. And they became little Godwinks to remind us that Mom was safely in His hands. She was a new creation now, in more ways than one.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Birthday Card

My first birthday without mom came all too quickly. January 28th was only a few weeks after Mom had died. It was a strange feeling. Yes, still a sad one, but different than the previous days. It got me in my soul, in an even deeper, more personal place than before.
Mom was the birthday party giver. She was the birthday celebrater. How could I even think about my day of birth when we had just recently experienced her day of death? She was the one who birthed me and brought me into this world. But she was no longer here. My birthday would not be the same without her. I did not even want my birthday to come. In fact, I dreaded it. What would we do? How could we pretend not to notice she wasn't there? Yes, we all got together. Yes, we went to dinner and tried to celebrate. But the whole thing was just awkward, that is the word that comes to my mind, awkward.

Then, there was The Card........the card my dear sweet friend got my Mom to sign for me just a couple weeks before her death, knowing my birthday would be coming soon. She had told me of it, and had my sister hand deliver it to me on my actual day of birth. But I did not open it. I couldn't. It lay there on the kitchen counter, for days, for weeks, before I had enough strength, enough guts to open it. I knew it was one of the last things she ever wrote, and definately the last thing she would ever write to me. It was all I could do to see my name on the front of the envelope in her shaky handwriting. But one cool day in Febuary, I had the opportunity to be alone, and I held the card in my hands for the first time, touching the letters of my name with my fingers. I finally opened it, and I could hardly read her words through my tear filled eyes. I loved it, knowing it was her final words to me, but hated it, feeling how unfair it was that I would never get another birthday card from her again. It was too much to bear, but yet I wanted more. I did not want to ever have to read it again, yet I could not put it down. I continued to read it over and over again. It was so bittersweet. I would cherish it forever and ever.
She wrote how much she loved me. She told me what a good mother I was, and how proud she was of me. She wrote about what a delight it was to be a grandmother. And she ended it saying she would see me again soon someday in Heaven at our beautiful reunion with our Savour. Some days I feel that day will not come soon enough. Oh glorious day that will be!!!!!
Tears ran down my cheeks till I could see no more.

Googling Grief

It did not take long for me to start my research. What was happening to me? Was it normal? How long would it last? How do I cope? What is this thing called "grief"?

Thank goodness for the compter and internet, because I spent a lot of time on it. I began my research by googling the word grief, and found thousands if not millions of sites with information. I read, I searched, I learned, I wrote, I cried. I read about grief and what it can look like, I found songs and printed out their words, I wrote e-mails to other friends and family who had lost their mothers, I read journals, and I began my own blog. I would pull up the Moffitt Cancer Center website and just stare at it, like it was going to tell me something. I went back to Mom's Caringbridge site and would read it over and over again, re-living the tragic story, but also reading all the words of encouragement so many people sent to us. I spent hours looking through photos of Mom on our computer. I made mini scrapbooks for each of the kids. Joy and I traded information on things we found that we thought the other would like to read. I connected with strangers across the country as I read their stories, that were all so different, yet exactly the same.

I needed to learn, to grow, to cope, to deal. I needed to be "doing" something. I needed to be busy, to keep my mind occupied. I needed to be in control again.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sitting Shiva

Everyone grieves differently, that is elementary. Some want certain things said, some want nothing said, some want anything and everything said, and some just don't know what to say. A grieving person can be volatile, emotional, and very sensitive. Something you might think would be good to say, may just be the one thing to put them over the edege. So, when in doubt, say nothing. By all means, I am not suggesting to ignore the person, or give them "space." There are many ways to show the person that you care and are there for them. You just don't want to put your foot in your mouth at a time like this. You can send them a card, bring them a meal, pray for them, or just be with them. All without saying a word.

Many religions and cultures observe s specific bereavement period in many ways, some similiar and some very different. Some shorter, but some lasting up to 2 years. But the universal deinition for true mourning is all the same. All use the word "Mourning" to descibe a "cultural complex of behaviours in which the breaved participate." This can vary from wearing special clothing, veils, or jewelry, to not working or cooking, to following very specific timelines, some of which could be defined as very purposeful rituals. But all are synonomous with deep, intense meaning.

There is an old Jewish custom for grieving and mourning during the bereavement period, called Shiva. Although I am not Jewish, there is much appealing about this ritual to the naieve eye. They very purposely set aside a certain amount of time for certain mourning stages, to help the grievers heal properly. This culture definitely acknowledges the need to grieve. The stages are very specific and thought out with the griever in mind. The mourning begins with a 7 day period called Shiva, then a 30 day period called Shloshim, followed by a 12 month period caleed Shneim. The first seven days, more specifically named as the Sitting Shiva, is a period where close friends and family members come to the griever's house and just SIT with them. Nothing has to be said and no one is searching for the right thing (or anything) to say. You just sit. You acknowledge the griever's pain and make your presence known to them and that you care. The grievers do not go to work and they purposely set aside this time to look different than normal everyday life. They are encouraged not to worry about their appearances and mirrors are even covered to reinforce this principle. They most often wear dark or black clothing and somtimes even ripped outer garments to symbolize their inner ripped hearts. All of these traditions are to be subtle reminders of the temporary nature of our bodies and our shared morality.

Our Western Civilization knows very little about true grieving. It is not something taught to us nor anything we are ever properly prepared for. All we know as a whole is that we want it to hurry along and go away. We don't want to see the person crying or mourning. It makes us all very uncomfortable, as close friends and a distnat society. We want to neatly sweep it all into a box in the corner. Now I am not talking about a typical everyday death that we all face at one time or another. I am talking about a tragic loss of a very dear loved one that is unexpected, or comes too soon in life, or comes with a long term illness that steals their life and dignity away. Not just the ordinary sadness, but GRIEF, with a capital G. And this type of sorrow can not be rushed along or put on a timeline. We all must grieve individually as we need so we can properly heal from the loss of our loved one. And the more you loved, the more you will grieve. But unfortunately, just after a few weeeks of the loss, our society wants it all to be over and done with and back to "normal" as quickly as possible. But it's just not that easy.

Our own Christian Bible, of which many of our basic beliefs were found upon, gives us some insight into the mourning process. It does not say we are exempt from feeling sorrow or mourning, just because we are believers. It does not say "if" we mourn or weep, but in Ecclesiastes it says, "There IS a time to weep.......there IS a time to mourn." In Psalm 34, it says we will be "brokenhearted" and "crushed in spirit." And in Jeremiah it says we will "mourn and have sorrow." But the good news is found at the end of these passages! In Ecclesiastes, God promises us there will be a time of dancing and laughing AFTER the weeping and mourning! In Psalms, God reminds us he is close to the broken hearted. And in Jeremiah, God promises that He will "turn our mourning into gladness. He will give us comfort and joy instead of sorrow!" So, yes,the mourning and bereavement stages of a greiver will be there, BUT........they will eventually end. And that is a promise we can cling to.

So, sit tight. Don't rush the process. Be sensitive to those greiving. Give them time, not space. And if you just don't know what to say.........then just "sit."

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Cancer Returns

I remember the day I truly acknowledged and accepted the reality of Mom's condition, the day my anticipatory grief probably began.

Yes, I heard what the doctor first told us after the original surgery in May. Oh yes, I clearly remember that day too. Mom had been in surgery for hours. She had been the last scheduled surgery of the day. We watched as all the other surgeons came out and greeted the families one by one and spoke briefly with them to tell them things seemed ok. Then one by one, we watched the families gather their belongings, to be taken to see their loved one down the hall, looking a little more relieved. But not us....we were different. We were the last family left anxiously sitting or pacing in the waiting room that day. It seemed like forever. And when our name was called, we were not greeted by the surgeon, but an assistant who asked us to follow him down "another" hall, a different one. We were taken behind a closed door, to a small, intimate room, where our doctor would meet us shortly. I remember the door closing, as I noticed all the Kleenex boxes gently and purposely placed around the room. BOOM!......a punch to my gut. I instantly felt sick to my stomach. "This is NOT good," I said. "We are in the bad news room." "No one else was brought back here!" "You are right," said my sister, "you are right." The room fell silent. You could have heard a pin drop. The surgeon shortly arrived where he sat down to give us the news, and it was NOT good. They had not been able to get it all. It was bigger than they originally thought. It had spread through her lymph nodes. It was stage four and it did not look good. They would do an aggressive chemo, and keep it "at bay" as long as possible, but the outcome would still be the same. The prognosis was that fifty percent of patients in this case would live an average of 5 years. Some maybe 10, at best, and some maybe 2 years or less. BOOM! Another punch. Where is Mom? Can we see her now? Does SHE know? Who is going to tell her this? And how?

So, yes, I heard him that day, but still far, far in the back of my mind, gut, and heart, I kept a glimpse of hope in some miracle. I was still not ready to FULLY accept it. Not until 3 months later, when we recieved another punch in the gut. They just kept coming. They were so relentless with no remorse.

It was late Monday afternoon, August 4th. They had run some more tests on Mom due to some dizziness and high blood pressure and we had been awaiting the results. Some years ago, back in 1998, she experienced a kind of heat stroke while at a Buc's game. She had blacked out and was actully taken to the ER via ambulance. She recovered and all was well. But as the years passed, she kept telling us "something" happened that day, that "something" was just not the same. She was more tired than normal and found it harder to process information and/or make decisions. So, as the doctors ran these new tests and MRI's on her brain, we were all beleiving that they were going to confirm she had had a mini-stroke years ago. So, it was very much to my surprise when Dad called and told me they had found new tumors (plural) and that the cancer had returned and with a vengence. I was home alone with the 3 kids, and remember going to the laundry room to take the call, to find some privacy, to have a moment of peace and hide. Again, the phone call was short. I sank, my heart AND my body. My knees buckled as I dropped to the floor. I cried uncontrollably, sobbing, almost hyper-venilating. I managed to call Patrick at work, but then could not speak. He heard me crying having no idea what was going on. "Come..........home." I stuttered between short breaths. "Come..........home." That was all I could get out. I was still on the laundry room floor when he arrived home and found me there, just a few short minutes later. He had called my dad on the way to see if he knew what was wrong, and that is where he got the news. He came in and carried me to the bedroom and laid me on the bed, where I remained for a few hours just sobbing. I was in complete shock! Afterall, she had just had 3 months of clear reports that the cancer was in remission. The chemo had worked. It was gone. Her CA number had been nominal. It seemed things had changed and taken a turn for the better. This was NOT what I was expecting. Brain tumors???? Was he serious??? Were they sure it was cancer??? How did it go from her colon to her brain??? And when???

It was THEN that I knew the battle was going to be short. It was THEN that I fully accepted what was to come. It was THEN that my anticipatory grief began.

Anticipatory Grief

Anticipatory Grief.......I had never heard of this until now, of course.

Everyone loses someone, and we all are extremely sad, but not all grieve. But once grief strikes you,(and you will know when it does) you must go through the grief process. It may look different for each individual, but will share many common denominators. My grief class gives the analogy of a snow storm. Many will go through the storm, but will weather it in different ways. All will experience the snow, the bitter cold, the wind in your face, but each storm can be as individual as the snowflakes within. The snowflakes represent different factors that make our stories unique, still holding on to the unwanted, common thread of death. Some factors include who the person was, how close you were to them, how they died, and the manner in which they died.

Some may know death is coming, like those of us who faced a terminal illness such as cancer. When this happens, they say that you will very likely start grieving the minute you acknowledge and accept the reality of your loved one's condition. So, your grieving process may start earlier than those who face a sudden, unexpected death. They say it may give you more time to "accept" what is to come, or give you more time to do or say things that you may not have gotten to otherwise. They say it can help you with closure and to minimize any guilt or regrets you could have had in another situation. They say it can give you time to mend relationships and restore feelings that may have been lost or just not shown. Blah, blah, blah........
Yes, I get this. yes, I understand this. And yes, I even agree with most of it, BUT with all of this in mind, I STILL believe it is a myth to believe or assume that those of us who experienced anticipatory grief have it any easier. Or that we will find it less difficult to work through the grief process. It does NOT matter how long you know, or how much warning you get, NOTHING can prepare you for the death of a dear loved one. NOTHING can or will make it any easier or lessen the pain. And NOTHING can prepare you to watch your mom slowly die.

I don't know if I am saying it would be better to have someone go quickly or more suddenly, but I do know I would NOT wish for someone to slowly die and suffer as death is prolonged. I am glad to have had those extra months with Mom. I am glad to have had just a few more days or even minutes by her side. I do NOT take those for granted. I would give anything now for just one more hug or one more I love you. A million of them would not now seem enough.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The C Word

I will never forget the day we heard the "C" word for the first time. CANCER. It hit you like a big blow to your gut, with no remorse. It left a knot in your stomach accompanied with a sick, nauseous feeling. You just wanted it to go away......the feeling, the nausea, the word.........IT! But little did we know at that time, that the C-word nor this feeling would not be going away for us and our family, anytime soon, or even at all. That C-word would have a new meaning in our lives from that day on, never to be looked at the same again.

It was April 4th, 2007, Avery's birthday. It was a beautiful spring break day. Joy and I had taken the two girls to the beach for the day. The sun was shining, the sky was a gorgeous shade of blue, with not a cloud in the sky. There was a breeze blowing, just cool enough to keep us from getting too hot. The kids were playing, and we were soaking up the sun and enjoying the weather. We knew what day it really was. We knew where Mom and Dad were. We knew it was the day Mom was having her reccommended colonoscopy, but we did not really think much past that. We knew she had been sick, but also knew there would be a very simple explaination for we thought. After months of just not feeling good, she was now doing some tests with the doctors to find the root of her sickness and we were confident that they would find just the right prescription to "make her better." Afterall, isn't that what doctors did? It was just irritable bowel syndrome, or maybe an ulcer, or possibly even contaminated peanut butter that she just knew she had at her house. It was all over the news. She had even taken her jar to the doctor's office to have them check it out! She was always so cautious and preventitive and pro-active with her health. She wanted tests run on her jar, and tests run on her. That is where they first found the "fishy" blood test results.....from the stupid peanut butter testing! I hated peanut butter for months, blaming it for causing us to have to hear the C-word in the first place! But later realized it was the contaminated peanut butter that led us to the answers and doctors that would be her help for the next 20 months.

It was about noonish and we had stepped away from the beach for a moment to grab some lunch. Joy answered the phone. Silence came first, follwed by what she thought sounded like Dad's voice. She was not able to make out what he was trying to say, and then, silence again before the call ended. "That was wierd," she said. Then moments later, another ring, where Dad forced himself to tell us of the findings from Mom's colonoscopy. All I remember was, "not good" and "possibly cancer." The phone call was brief. It was all Dad could get out at the moment. We sat, emotions and thoughts raging. Looking back now, I think we were both in shock. We did not say much, we did not know what to say. "It's ok," we thought. "It will be ok." "She will be ok." "Right?" "Of course," we thought. "She has to."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Five Stages of Grief

There are five basic stages of the grief process. We all have heard them at one time in our life or another.........Denial, Anger, Regret, Depression, and Acceptance.
They do not always look the same for people nor do you have any idea how long each stage can last, much less the length of the entire process! I still am not sure where I fall in this precise little package, or if I do at a1l. I think I have felt some part of all of these stages on some level already, and some more than once, so am I just in a repeating cylce or will there be an end?

Thankfully, the anger stage has been minimal for me. (so far) I don't usually get angry very easily. And I surely don't like the way it makes me feel. I have not been angry at God, but most surely have cried WHY, a thousand times! I do not UNDERSTAND why, but so far, have kept enough faith in God to know that I do not always have to.

Now the denial came quick for me and still remains strong. It is not described as the denial like most think, where you deny that the person actually died and what happened. That is not what I am feeling. Believe me, that is not even possible in my case. There is NO denying what I went through and witnessed. It is more of a denial that you just can't believe the person will not walk in the door again. You just can't believe you can't pick up the phone to call that person and they will not answer. You just can't believe they are not on a long vacation, and will be back soon. On the get the big picture. You believe the death, you saw it, you were there. It was extremely real, too real. But it is precisely these little things that continually haunt you all day long, every day, that you just can't wrap your mind around.

Regret....yes, I also know about this one. It came quite easliy for me too. I think this one is inevitable. Did I do enough? Could I have done more? Did she really know how much I loved her? Could I have told her more often? Did we play the right songs at the service? Should we have had an open casket? Did we do our absolute best at taking care of her? I should have spent MORE time with her. I should have walked on the beach with her that morning to see the sunrise. I should have stopped to sit and drink tea with her. I should have gone to that stupid Doo-Wop concert with her! I would walk a thousand miles just to talk with her for 5 minutes now!

Depression? Not extreme, but some days, perhaps. Sometimes the whole day can go by and you have done nothing, and can not even explain why. And some days, even when you do try and do something, you can't. Some days you can't even think. You are satisfied just to get through the day functioning as a part of society. Some times, you are happy just to to fall asleep at night, stay aseelp, and not have a nightmare
about cancer, death, or a hearse or coffin.

And acceptance.....not yet, not truly. I do not WANT to accept that my Mom is gone. Yes, I know she is in a better place and that it's better for her, but not necessarily for ME! Maybe if she was older? Maybe if I had more warning time? Maybe if she had not had cancer that took her from us prematurely? Maybe if she had not suffered? Hhhhmmmm.......Probably still not. All I do know is that I do NOT know how anyone who is not a Christian goes through something like this, without faith, without hope, without God. Knowing where she is and that I will one day see her again is the ONLY thing that gets me through some days. And I thank God for that.


Everyone copes and grieves in different ways. People do different things. Some times you try not to think about it, and other times it is all you think about. Some days you stay so busy to avoid facing reality, and other days you can not do anything at all. The emotions come in waves, big giant ones. You never know when they will come or how high or low they will be, so you always have to be ready to "surf."

One thing I found myself doing, and it started early on, was being obsessed. Obsessed to find every picture of Mom ever taken, scared I might miss one. Obsessed in wanting to wear a bracelet or small piece of her jewlrey, to have on my body at all times. Obsessed to keep things in her house exactly how she would have kept them. Obsessed to live out my Mom's legacy properly to my children. Obsessed to write and journal every word of her journey and story. And obsessed to do things that I know Mom wanted to do or have done. Things I saw that she had written down, things I found that I knew what she was going to do with them, things I heard her mention that were on her to do list, even if just in passing. I felt compelled to do them, and do them all, but it did not take long for me to realize that it would be impossible for me to do everything I knew she had wanted to do. I can barely live my own life at a maintenance level, much less try to continue to live out Mom's life for her too. I had to come to grips with knowing that I would have to pick and choose, and do it wisely. I would simply have to let some things go, and it was going to be hard, extemely hard. I was OBSESSED.

The Funeral

I still have trouble saying that word.......funeral. I most often just say "the service." That sounds less traumatizing, less painful. Much easier for me to say.

The day arrived, Thursday, December 11th. It was a cloudy, dreary, rainy day, similiar to the one of my aunt Becky's "service," 4 years prior. (Mom's sister) We got up early to be of the first at church that morning. My stomach was in knots. I had not eaten in a day or so. I felt like I was going to puke. My legs were heavy, not wanting to go inside. I did not want this day to come. It made everything so real, so final. I had been going to this church for many years of my life, and always entered the doors with such joy and peace and happiness. But not this day. The flowers were beautiful. They filled the whole front of the church. But this time they were not there to decorate the sancuary for Easter or some program, they were there for Mom. It was almost over-whelming, so real. People were already arriving. Everyone was in black. I could not believe all the people who had come to pay tribute to Mom that day. It seemed they just kept coming and coming. It was so comforting to see old friends of the family and loved ones, yet with every word, glance, or embrace, also came a great sting from the pain of reality.

It was finally be ushered down the aisle for that long walk. The sancuary was uncomfortably silent, with only the piano playing softly. I felt all eyes on us, but could not see them, for mine remained staring only at the carpet before me. I could not look up, not even once. I remembered the last time I had walked down that very aisle was the day of my wedding, where my husband-to-be was waiting for me down front, with a big boyish grin on his face. How different the walk would be today. Oh, yes, I would be walking down the same aisle, arm-in-arm with my Dad, just like before, but not with tears of joy this time. Only tears of sorrow. No groom was waiting for me at the end of this walk, to join lives and promise me a happy ending. No, I was walking toward a pit of emptiness, where a part of me would be lost forever.

Somehow we made it, and the service happened........just as it was written. It was beautiful, honoring Mom and glorifying God. It would have been exactly what she wanted. The Pastor spoke, the euolgies given, and many tears were shed. I sobbed and sobbed (and still do today) as I hear the words of the songs.................

When I think back on the times, and the dreams left behind
I'll be glad cause I was blessed to have you in my life.
When I look back on the days, I look and see your face,
You were there for me, you were there for me.

In my heart I'll always see you soar above the sky,
In my dreams I'll always have a place for you, for all my life.
I'll keep a part of you with me,
and everywhere I am there you'll be.


With your final heartbeat, kiss the world goodbye
Go in peace and laugh on Glory's side.

Fly to Jesus, fly to Jesus, fly to Jesus and live.

I love you, Mom.

Painting Our Toes

That week was a blur. It felt like forever, but we thought it would never end. There was so much to do, plan, and organize. So many phone calls to make, people to talk to, information to give. Had we called everyone? Did everyone know? Who was going to sing......and which songs? We had to choose a bulletin, print it, and pick it up. We had to make the photo boards for the memory table. We had to choose pictures for the slideshow tribute. We stayed up many late nights, made lots of phone calls, drove all over town, and ran on complete adrenaline. There werre times we did not know what day it was, yet knew how many seconds were left until the big day. We wanted everything to be PERFECT. It had to be, for Mom. It was our way of coping, I guess.

Get our toe nails painted? Yeah, right, I thought! "Are you insane? You HAVE gone crazy," I told my sister. "Wait, wait, she said. Let me finish." Then she explained to me the method behind her madness. She reminded me about our last "good" day with Mom, at the Don Cesar Spa in June, when Mome got her Makeover.

There were so many colors to choose from for her nails. How would she ever pick just one? And she did. "This is it," she said. "This one." We quickly turned it over to read the clever title of the color printed on the bottom, and to our surprise it was called, "Love Your Mom." How appropriate for the day. How fitting for the occasion. That was definatly the one, so on her toes it went! Joy then reminded me that she had actually bought the bottle for Mom that day, to have to touch up her nails, to remember the day, as a momento. She then pulled it out from behind her back. There it was, the peachy pink color, that was so Mom. It looked so familiar. "I want us to go get our toes painted in this for the funeral. Just something between me and you, in honor of Mom. You know how she always had her toes done for every occasion. What do you think?" Then, it all made sense to me. Although crazy at times, she had NOT gone insane. It made perfect sense.

So, yes, we went, amidst all the things we still had to do, this became an important task on our things-to-do-list. We got our toes painted in the "Love Your Mom" color, as a very small but significant memoir to our Mom. No one else knew...they did not have to. Except, Julia, my 6 year old. As soon as I arrived home that night, she noticed my toes were painted. "Hey, that looks like Mimi's color!" she said a bit perplexed. "That's because it IS Mimi's color, I said, as tears rolled down my face.

The Makeover Dress

Within hours, almost moments, the phone calls started flooding in and decisions had to be made. We were to meet with the funeral home that afternnon. They would need to know when the service would be, where it would be held, what time. Would it be a burial or cremation? Would we need a hearse? Would it be a open or closed casket......and which casket? What would she wear? So many questions to answer, even for a level-headed, well-rested, non-emotional person. But for us.........with no sleep.......about our!? Were they serious?

After 3 hours, we provided answers to almost all of their questions they asked, except for one.......What would Mom wear? It was just not something we wanted, or were even able to think about. We had had enough for one day.

Dad left it up to Joy and I to decide what to put Mom in. Technically, we were having a closed coffin, so it really did not matter that much what she would be wearing, but to Joy and I, it did. We talked about a few different choices, but we could not get ourselves to enter into Mom's walk-in closet to look at her neatly hung and organized clothes. That was just too much right now. So, we kept talking, hoping something would come to us,and it did. All of a sudden, I said, "Her makeover dress!" And with tears in her eyes, Joy shook her head, "Yes, she said, yes." We both knew immediately that was the one. It was the fun, green dress that the stylist had chosen for her the day of her Makeover. We had nominated her to Channel 10 for a well-deserved mom's makeover back in June, and you can not believe how shocked we were when they called to tell us that she had won! They would be doing the story and makeover on OUR Mom, and it would be on tv!!!! It was the day we were celebrating Mom. It was the day we were celebrating her good news of being cancer-free. But it was the last day she was to feel so good. And it was the last day the three of us would spend together.

So, that was it, the makeover dress. The last time she wore it, we were celebrating Mom and everything about her, and now, we would do the same. Today, she would be buried in her makeover dress.......with the gold shoes!


"Absent from the body is to be present with the Lord," says Apostle Paul in Second Corinthians. I had heard this verse numerous times over my Christian life, but never really understood it, like I did the night of December 4th, 2008, when Mom died.

In the true concept of time, it really was not a long period, but for us, that night, every single moment felt like an eternity as we sat by Mom's side and watched her struggle for her every last breath. We could not wait for it to end, yet never wanted it to come. And as it did, it was so sudden, so abrupt, so real. She took her last breath as she inhaled and her lungs filled with air. We waited for the exhale, but there was none. Then, there her body lay, empty, with eyes and mouth open. There was no question about it. We all knew. She was no longer on this earth with us. At that very instance, that second, her soul was gone. She was immediatly in Heaven. She was with her Maker, her Savior. We had not been aware of time during her final breath, but knew it was around 2:30 am. It was not until later, that we would learn of the exact time.

The following day, my husband receieved an interesting phone call from a friend of the family. His father, also a believer, had just died 4 months earlier. Our families had know each other for years, and he was the last person we knew that had died and preceeded Mom to Heaven. Not knowing the time of Mom's death, he asked Patrick if it might have been around 2:22 am. A bit surprised and confused, Patrick answered, "Yes. Why?" He then told us that he was awoken from a deep sleep at exactly 2:22 in the morning, having a distinct feeling that his Dad had just welcomed our Mom into Heaven with a big hug. WOW! Goose bumps still cover my arms every time I tell that story! Mom was in Heaven! She was there, with friends, with family, with God, at precisely 2:22am. She had made it into the place she had longed to be. Mom had a new body and was in pain no more. She was "absent from this body and present with her Lord." What a glorious sight that must be!


The nurse left, and anger and shear panic set in. I only remember feeling this type of fear maybe twice in my life. I think I was the one that went hysterical begging and pleading that we call SOMEONE, anyone who might be able to help us, comfort us, or even keep us sane. "WE HAVE TO CALL SOMEONE," I yelled through my trembling voice, even though I was whispering. Who would it be? Who would we all feel comfortable with and agree on? We had not really wanted anyone to be with us other than a nurse for the final moments. We had wanted to keep it as private and intimate as possible. Who would we call? "Pastor Kirk!" I yelled, "Pastor Kirk!" "PLEASE!" I begged. "Yes, yes, they said. Yes. He is the one."

He arrived shortly after Dad called, and he brought with him sanity, clarity, dignity, knowledge, and love. He entered the living room, as he had done many times before to see Mom, but this time was different. He was not wearing his suit or business clothes as normal, but blue jeans and a jacket. He was not just our Pastor this time, but also our friend. He came in quietly, removing his shoes by the front door, as if to say, I am here, and will stay as long as you need me. He immediatley went to Mom's bedside, and solemnly nodded his head to confirm her condition. He knew. He had seen this before. He settled in with us, willing to stay for the rest of the night, and he did. He was able to walk us through the death phases and breathing changes that Mom was experiencing......and PRAY with us along the way! He actually had more personable knowledge than 100 Hospice nurses could have given us at that point. His wisdom and grace was more than we could have asked for. He brought us the comfort we needed, along with peace as we called upon the Holy Spirit to intervene and take some of Mom's suffering away. We prayed that God be gracious and take her peacefully. And eventually He heard our prayers and chose to answer them. Pastor Kirk was OUR answer to prayer as well that night. And in the end, we were somewhat thankful that Hospice had left us abandoned.
Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


It was not a tough decision for us to choose Hospice Care. We really had no other option, the choice was made for us.

Mom had always liked Hospice and what they did. She had even once volunteered for them, doing some light office work. Although Dad, Joy, and I had some reservation, we knew it was the best thing for us to do. We knew they would help us with medical questions, guide us with the administration of medication, support us in caregiving in our home, and most there with us in the end, to guide us through the death process.

We were only under Hopice care for about 6 weeks, as our time with Mom went fast. Although we had some minor problems, we were pretty satisfied with their services. Our assigned nurse started off coming to the house twice a week, but by the end she was coming every day to help and evaluate. They would ask us if we were ready for the 24-hour care, but we continued to say not yet. The 3 of us had been sharing the caregiving, and wanted to continue to do so as long as we were physically and emotionally able. It was not even until the last two days that we started to really consider it. On Mom's last day, we had a very serious talk with our nurse and our social worker about when to make the call, not knowing yet just how soon it would be. Mom had started the "coughing" and I even asked the nurse if that was the start of the Death Rattle we had heard and read about. She said no, not yet. We all knew time was short, but obviously could not pin point the day nor time. The nurse gave us her best guess of anywhere between 24 hours to 3 days. We still had a slight reservation to make the call that afternoon.
Then they informed us that we did not have to make such a tough decision right then at that monent. But that we could continue the day and make the call whenever we were ready, even in the middle of the night. They had special on-staff nurses that would be there for us in the end when we made the call, day or night. So, we felt confident with their information that someone could come at any moment when we did call and need them. We had no reason to believe otherwise.

You can imagine our shock of emotions we had when we did make the call, at about 10:00 pm that same night, ready for the extra support, and they had no one to send to us! We were told and also read that a person can be in the active dying phase for hours or a couple days, and the nurse had not even stated that Mom might already be in her active dying phase, just 7 hours prior. So, we still did not realize just how short of time we had. (nor had the nurse that day)

There was one nurse who would come and "evaluate" the situation, confirming wether extra care was needed or not and if the death process had begun, but she was NOT the 24-hour-care nurse, and she would not be staying. She only answered the calls and evaluated. So, yes, she came, and it was confirmed in seconds by the look on her face, before she even spoke, that Mom was clearly in the final death phase and time was extremely short, within only a couple hours. She quickly made the call back to the main office where they told her all the nurses were staffed out and there would be no one to send us at this time. You could see a slight hesitation in her voice when she hung up, knowing what she had to tell us next. She informed us that yes, Mom was actively dying and that no, there would be no nurse to send us. She had received another call and she would be leaving. Emotions were at an all-time high for us at this point, as Mom continued to gasp for every breath she was taking. Hospice would be leaving us alone with Mom to die, with no support, ABANDONED.

Goodbye to Moffitt

It was October 22nd. We all sat in the small room of Mom's oncologist at the Moffitt Cancer Center, awaiting her last test results. She had undergone chemotherapy, and just completed an intense round of radiation on her brain as well as her hip and pelvic area. We knew when the cancer had first returned that it had returned with a vengence. It came back very aggressive and spread quickly. Our guts told us the news would probably not be good that day, but we were still optimistic, hoping. Maybe they would suggest another round of chemo? Maybe there was s new drug they wanted her to try? Maybe...........? But the room was somber and quiet as he entered with the news. He sat down on his stool as usual, but did not turn on the light for the screen to show us the new scans. There was no need. The cancer had spread even more rapdily than they seemed to believe possible. Her C.A. # was through the roof.....he was even reluctant to tell us what it was. He proceeded to tell us that he did not reccommend any further treatments, and that there was nothing more they could do, and that we should call Hospice. The appointment was short but not sweet. He tried to remain very distant and matter-of-factly as he apologized for the bad news. He did not want to get too personal. Despite all this, Mom still hugged him, as she drew out a soft side in him that he was trying to protect. After the embrace, I almost thought he seemed a little choked up. At least that's what I like to think. Then, we said our goodbyes to Dr. Strausberg and Moffitt Cancer Center. A place where we had been for so many visits and so many months, that we thought we did not want to ever have to go to again, but today, did not want to leave. It had been our representation of hope, and now.... our hope was gone. It was a long quiet walk to our car that day. There was nothing else to say.

She's Gone

"She's gone! She's gone! She's gone," I cried out as I watched my mom take her very last breath. It seems like a foggy, distant memory, yet it feels like it was just yesterday. It seems like it was a bad dream, yet I can see, feel, and smell all that was present in the room that night. I can just barely close my eyes, and feel like I am right back there again, in that very moment.

It was very early in the morning on Thursday, December 4, 2008. We were in the living room of my parent's house, Me, Dad, Joy, Patrick, and our Pastor. It was a chilly night, 3 weeks before Christmas. The lights were dimmed, but the Christmas tree shone bright as it stood directly in front of Mom's hospital bed. We had got it out of the attic and decorated it on Thanksgiving Day, as she had wanted the tree up early this year........she knew her days were short. We had been told earlier that week by Hospice that it would probably only be a few more days, so we knew "it" was coming, but just did not know what "it" was or what it would look like.
You can NEVER be prepared to watch someone die, especially for the first time, especially when it's your mother. You can have months or even years to be "prepared," but you never will be. We had 20 months from start to finish......not long enough. Death does not have an exact equation. Although there are often many similarities, it can also look quite different. It does not always come the same way, nor in the same timing for everyone, not even those with a similiar diagnosis. And it surely did not come and knock graciously on our door that night.

After caregiving for her for weeks, after slowly watching her digress day in and day out, after all the research and reading we had done on dying, and finally, after the denial sunk into the bottom of the pit of our guts.....we all agreed the time was here, and Death was on its way, wether invited or not. She had not been the same that day, something was different, but we could not quite put our finger on it. The cancer had slowly taken over her entire body. She had stopped eating days before, and was not even taking sips of water much anymore. She was only able to mutter a couple words at this point, and was sleeping most of the time. There was the beginings of some molting on her feet, and a darker, thicker sedement had started to come through the cathetar. The coughing was the worst. That put us over the edge. It was so hard to listen to, although we were told it hurt us more than it was hurting her. By 10:00 p.m. the coughing had gotten so bad, that it was every few moments, and sounded like she was choking to death, literally. Like she was gurgling and drowning from the inside out. She could not swallow her own fluids, nor could she cough them up. They were just there, collecting in her throat, and there was nothing we could do about it. It worsened over the next 3 hours, as we watched her breathing patterns change, from long and deep, to short and deep, and finally to short and shallow, just as our Pastor suggested it might. We took turns by her side, as we all played our roles. Roles we could each handle in our own way, but roles in which we had not tried out for, nor had any experience or qualifiactions to be in. But, nonetheless, we played them. Joy, on the love seat, endlessly holding her hand, administering the liquid morphine under her tongue, Dad faithfully watching Mom's every breath from the couch, often coming over to sweetly stroke her head or face, Patrick on the front row seat made by an old wooden piano bench, Pastor Kirk in the over-stuffed chair by the Christmas tree directly in front of Mom, and me, here and there and everywhere, not really sure WHERE I wanted to be for this event. Somtimes, on the couch, sometimes leaving the room for a moment, sometimes next to Patrick holding Mom's hand until I had to brake for a breath of my own. I even found myself once in the next room crying out, "Take her, Jesus, just take her!" I eventually did muster up some strength from deep inside to tell Mom a few last words and one last "I love you." I told her we were all there with her, by her side, and that we were not going to stop holding her hand until Jesus took it from us. She slightly moaned....we all knew she had heard me. Moments after, the blueish color began to set in her face, and the Pastor said, "Not much longer, now. Not much longer." He was right. After hours of waiting and watching as if Death would never come to stop this suffering, it happened so quickly, so abruptly, and we could not take it back. After hours of a coma-like state, there was just one last short breath that seemed to feel her lungs, but no exhale would follow . Mouth opened, eyes opened, looking almost surprised, as if maybe she had seen "something" or "someone." Perhaps she had? Perhaps she saw her Maker, her Saviour, waiting for her? I like to believe so.

It was all so over-whelming. So confusing. I never knew you could experience so many emotions all at once. Glad her suffering was over, rejoicing of her Homecoming, but extreme sadness and sorrow like I have never felt before or even knew existed. I rose off the couch as I cried out, "She's gone! She's gone!" I remember making my way across the living room, going somewhere, but with nowhere to go. I wanted to run to Mom's body and embrace her, but knew she was not there. I wanted to keep my eyes on her, knowing it would be the last, but found myself not capable of even a glance. I felt the the warmth of the first person, my sister, who embraced me, who held me. I was sobbing uncontrollably......crying out......wailing. My knees became weak with sorrow and pain, I could hardly stand up. I felt Joy's grip tighten as she transitioned from embracing me to holding me up. Time went by. My weight was shifted from my sister to my husband, as my she turned toward Dad. The crying continued for some amount of time, until Dad finally asked, "What time was it?" "When did IT happen?" No one knew. We had completely lost track of time. Pastor Kirk, with tears in his eyes, looked down at his watch and said, it has been about 20 minutes. She probably died around 2:30 am.

Joy made the call to Hospice. Hospice arrived. They did their duties. They recorded their information. They gave their condolences. The funeral home showed up. It was almost too much to bear for me. One thing I had said from the begining was that I would NOT want to see them take her away. I did NOT want that image in my head, bu yet, when the time came, I was the one who could not stop watching. I could not bear to see her go, knowing it was the end. They transferred her onto the gurney and covered her body and head with a navy blue blanket. They began to wheel her outside, down the sidewalk that lead to the front door, where she had walked so many times before, down the driveway to the back of the all-white commercial van. She was placed inside, and the doors were shut. It was about 4:30 am, still dark, as I watched the van drive away, down her street, till I could no longer see the headlights anymore.......She was gone.