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.