Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there.  Yesterday, I went to visit my Grandma and her sister, my Great Aunt Flo, partly for Mother’s Day, and partly because I miss them and haven’t seen them for awhile.  We went to Marie Calendar’s, and they had strawberry pie ala’ mode for lunch, and we had a great time.

When we were back at the house visiting, the talk wound around to my mom, which it usually does, and how adventuresome she was.  And Grandma asked me how much, if anything, I remembered about the homestead we lived on, outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1970.

I remember the dogs…there was a sled team, which we didn’t use as a sled team, but who we cared for while their owners were away.  It was their house, their car, their dogs.  They were Samoyeds, and they were a lot of fun and made us feel safe.

I remember that we had electricity, though no running water, and no phone.  So mom had to get water from a creek to wash the dishes.  In the winter, she used a 30.06 shotgun to blow a hole in the frozen creek.  We had a bear in our yard once, and another time a moose and her two calves.  Neither is particularly safe, actually, if you’re a young mother out in the wilderness with your two young children, even if you do have a gun.

I told my Grandma about the time that we could have all died, if it hadn’t been for my brother.  I thought she had heard this story before.  She hadn’t.  She kinda freaked out.  My mom wrote the story to Maya once, when Maya was 4 or 5, and she posted it on her blog, but she never told my Grandma.  I guess she knew it would freak my Grandma out.  Don’t worry, Grandma’s OK now.

The story is about how my mom had a bad reaction once to some thyroid medication, and couldn’t get out of bed for several days.  Not just didn’t feel like it, but COULDN’T get out of bed.  I think she almost died.  Because we were out on the homestead, and there was no phone to call for help, and it was the dead of winter, in Fairbanks, Alaska.  The closest phone was 2 miles away.  So there was no going for help.  Did I mention that there was no forced air, that the only heat we had was a coal burning stove in the kitchen?  That my 6 year old brother had to keep that coal burning stove going for several days until the medication worked its way through my mother’s system, and she could get out of bed and get in the car and to a doctor?  Yeah.  He says all he remembers is going back and forth across the threshold to the house with the bucket, with the little coal that a 6 year old can reasonably carry in it, and keep a fire going.  I can’t imagine letting a 6 year old tend a fire by himself, can you?  Let alone the worry and the cold and the responsibility he must have felt.  But if your choice is that or freeze to death, yeah, I guess you let him tend the fire.  Not that I think she was even conscious enough to know he was doing it.  In addition, he kept us fed (us being him and me…I was 4), and kept me clean enough and occupied enough.  Freaky, huh?  I believe that after that we got rid of the coal burning stove and got a gas stove, which didn’t require so much hands on effort, but which ended up sucking quite often in its own right, and soon after that, we moved into town where there was water and phones and help if you needed it.  Good thinking.

I think that experience affected Richard his whole life.  In a good way.  He knew (and we knew), that no matter what happened, he could take care of us.  He also knows that sometimes, life is dangerous, and you have to step up and take care of those you love.  Pretty amazing lesson to learn at 6.

So, Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there, even those of us who aren’t quite as adventurous as my mom was when she was 28, living in the wild with her two young children.  I miss her every day.

Mistaken Identity

My mom and Maya, just a few minutes after she was born.

My dear friend Cherry is having her baby today…as we speak, she’s going in to O.R. for her c-section, and I’m expecting a call and can hardly contain myself!  Breath, J, breath.

OK, but of course Cherry having her baby reminded me of when I had my baby, lo these many years ago.  I wanted what any new mom wants right then…my mom.  So we planned for my mom to fly from Juneau, Alaska (where she was living), to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (where we were living).  At this sad point, I hadn’t seen my mom in about 3 years.  A few weeks after Ted and I were married in ’93, my mom moved to Alaska.  The following summer, Ted and I moved to Pennsylvania.  Money was tight, flights that far are expensive, blah blah blah.  Anyway, the cheapest flight she could find was a red-eye, and when you fly from Juneau, you make several stops anyway…minimum of Seattle, often Anchorage and a smaller airport or two, plus the whole crossing the country thing.  So when we went to pick her up at the airport, I expected her to be TIRED. (Remember when you could go to the gate to meet family and friends off of flights?  We were waiting for her to appear from that little door, the portal between flight and solid ground.)  What I didn’t expect was for her to look as tired as she did.  Or for her to be so tired that she didn’t recognize me.  As I rushed over to give her a big hug, I was horrified to realize that I was approaching the WRONG 50-something, 275 lb, redhead, who used a cane.  I mean, really.  How many 50-something, 275 lb, redheads, who use a cane do you expect to find on one flight?  I only expected one.  There were two.  What a relief to realize that even though almost 3 years had passed since I had last seen her, she hadn’t changed THAT much.

Then, of course, her bright cheery face appeared from that little door, and she lit up at the sight of us, and gave us BIG hugs, and was thrilled to see me so pregnant and know that she was going to be there when her grand-daughter was born.  And yes, she was tired.  Maya didn’t arrive for almost a week after that, though, so she was well rested. 🙂

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

First of all, Happy Birthday. You would have been 68 today, and probably would have gone to Stockton to celebrate with Grandma and Aunt Flo (whose birthday it is today as well, she’s 86). Maybe you’d have fried chicken and angel food cake, or maybe you’d go out somewhere. I would have come to see you at Kate’s house this weekend, and we would have celebrated somehow. Maybe with a pedicure for the changing weather.

I think about you all of the time, though I don’t cry as much as I used to. Which is good, because Maya had a hard time with that, and would feel guilty for starting me off. She didn’t understand, completely, that crying helps, and that it didn’t upset me to cry all the time, if that can make any sense at all. But now we can talk about you sometimes without me starting up, and that’s easier. But I still miss you horribly, and I’ll admit that I’m crying a lot today as I write this.

Because I still need you, and you’re not here. This has been a hard year in many ways, and I could have used your love and support and advice. And this has been a good year in many ways, and I would have loved to share that part with you, to laugh and hug over the triumphs and joys. I’ve tried talking to you, and sometimes it helps, but mostly, it just makes me cry all over again. I’m tired of crying, no matter what I said up there about it helping.

And I hate what you’re missing. I see wisteria vines in bloom everywhere, and I know Kate has them on her back porch, and I know how much you loved them, and that they always reminded you of your time in Modesto with Aunt Julia. And you’re not here to see them. I read books that I know you would have loved, and it makes me sad, because you never will. I see books that don’t really interest me, but I just KNOW you would have eaten them up with a spoon, and I would have enjoyed buying them as a gift for you, but now, I have no one to buy them for. I laugh like crazy at Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, and I would have liked to do that with you. And I can’t.

Maya's Spring Photo, 8th Grade

And Maya…gosh, Mom, she’s 14 now. Look at that smile. She’s growing up right in front of us, and you’re not here. She’s going to High School in the fall, and she’s going to be on the Cheer Leading Team. She’s SO happy about that. She’s doing well in school, and has a lot of friends. Ted’s taking her to see her favorite band, Paramore, this fall. She’s doing volleyball and has started babysitting. She wears eyeliner and lip gloss and wants to get her ear pierced a second time. Remember how unhappy you were with me when I did that? And how it turned out OK, and no one thought I was disreputable or unhireable because of it? Oh mom, I wish you were here to see this. I hate that you’re missing this. I’d love to share it all with you.

I’m glad you’re not suffering. I’m glad you’re not in pain. But I miss you every damn day.

I love you,

~ J

Missing my Mom

I was brought to tears this morning by Jon Carroll’s tribute to his mother-in-law, who died last week at the age of 98.  I started crying, thinking of how sad his wife, Tracy, must be at losing her mother. (Really?  Was I really crying for Tracy, whom I do not know?  In an abstract way perhaps.  But mostly, no.  Mostly I was crying for me.)  And then I started crying harder, because I still miss my mom so very much.  I had to wonder, how is it different to lose your mother when she’s 98 than it is when she’s 66?  When she’s 98, people are pretty much expecting it, right?  Does that make it any easier?  She’s still just as gone, and there’s still just as big a hole in your heart.

13 Again

Thirteen

(pic found here)

I remember 13.  I remember how emotional I was.  Stupid hormones going crazy.  I remember crying bitter tears because my mother thought I was ugly.  My proof?  SHE LOOKED AT ME.  Clearly she hated me.

And now, I’m the mom.  It’s a confusing position to be in, because there are days that are perfectly fine, with laughter and happiness…and then there are days when hormones run hot, and I feel like I can’t say anything right.  And when I ask her what’s wrong, she has been thinking I was mad at her the whole time.  Which I was not.  Not in the least.  I remember that, from the teen’s point of view.

I went to get a massage the other day to sooth my aching back, and the masseuse and I were chatting…he summed up the emotions of being 13 to me thusly.  “My mom would ask me a question, like what I wanted for dinner, and I would want to say, ‘WHY ARE YOU RUINING MY LIFE????'”.

Yeah.  That’s how it feels some days.

Suzanne Vega ~ Men in a War


Funny how things change in life, right? This song isn’t even my favorite Suzanne Vega song, and before I lost my mom last year, it never would have made me think of her.

But now. Now, any time I hear it, it makes me think of that horrible adjustment period after she died. Of how confusing the world suddenly was around me. Of how, though I still had (have) so many things and people in my life that were (are) so very important to me, things would never be the same again, would never be right again.

I know how it is
When something is gone
A piece of your eyesight
Or maybe your vision

A corner of sense
Goes blank on the screen
A piece of the scan
Gets filled in by hand

You know that it was
And now it is not
So you just make due with
Whatever you’ve got

Men in a war
If they’ve lost a limb
Still feel that limb
As they did before

It’s been over a year now since my mom died. I don’t hurt as much any more. I don’t cry as often any more. I am very thankful for all of the wonderful gifts that I have in this world. My family. My friends. My health. A job. A house. So many things to be thankful for, so many people who have lost far more than I have. And in my heart of hearts, I must admit that while losing my mother was horrible, the worst thing I have ever gone through…losing Ted or Maya would have been even worse. I’m not sure how people recover from that. My grandma has, two husband and three children now, but I don’t know how she does it. So yes, I am thankful for my gifts.

But still, there’s that sense in my day to day life that something is gone. Something I will never stop missing.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Dear Sidney,

How comforting it was to hear you say, “God damn, oh God damn.” That’s the only honest thing to say, isn’t it? Elizabeth’s death is an abomination and it will never be anything else.

This short paragraph struck my heart, because it’s almost what my dad said when I told him that my mom had died. Everyone else was mostly sad for me, worried for me, and said kind things like, “I’m so sorry”, or “Oh, no”, or whatever wonderful and caring things they said. But my dad, he and my mom were part of their own group in High School, their own society that railed against the tyranny of school, wrote poetry, and so on. They were dear friends (obviously), and so his reaction when I told him that she had died was the honest and pained, “Shit.” I get that.  I agree with that.  And reading this book, I was reminded of it, not only because of the passage above, but because it’s how I felt about not being able to talk to her about it.

Shit. That’s the word that comes to mind. Because really, why couldn’t my mom have lived long enough to read this book? She would have adored it. She adored The Snow Goose, which is a parable based on the evacuation of Dunkirk during World War II. The Snow Goose is a sentimental, lovely story of courage, loss, and bravery. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a clever, lovely story of courage, loss, and bravery.

I say clever because the writing is so dry and British, I just loved it.  Clever little quips and funny descriptions abound.

I’m as tender-hearted as the next girl, but dammit, if you don’t get back here soon, Charlie Stephens is going to have a nervous breakdown.  He’s not cut out for work; he’s cut out for handing over large wads of cash and letting you do the work.  He actually turned up at the office before ten o’clock yesterday, but the effort annihilated him.  He was deathly white by eleven, and had a whiskey at eleven-thirty.  At noon, one of his innocent young things handed him a jacket to approve – his eyes bulged with terror and he began that disgusting trick with his ear – he’s going to pull it right off one day.  He went home at one, and I haven’t sen him yet today (it’s four in the afternoon).

It is the time just following World War II, and writer Juliet Ashton lives in the ruins of London, still displaced from the apartment destroyed by the Nazi bombings. She is successful enough, mostly known for her columns written under a pseudonym during the war, columns published in the newspaper, which take a lighthearted look at events. The idea being that people are surrounded by pain and terror and separation, and might need a little distraction. Julia receives a letter from a gentleman on the island of Guernsey (off the Normandy Coast, one of the Channel Islands), telling her that he has come into possession of a book she once sold, and wondering if she might help him to find some more books by that same author, as Guernsey was somewhat brutally occupied by the Nazis during the war, and the bookshops sold their books to residents desperate for fuel, who ended up burning them. They strike up a friendship, and she becomes intrigued by his stories of life in Guernsey under the occupation, and of the literary society that was quickly formed to thwart the Nazis on the island.

The book is written entirely in the form of letters, letters between Juliet and her friends, her publisher, and the members of the literary society. I have to say, it was a quick, fun read, yet at the same time devastating in the stories of war and horror that it told. The stories of the cruelty of the Nazi regime, and yet the unexpected kindness of some of the Nazi soldiers…it touched my heart.

I’ll not go into it too deeply. Suffice to say that I am very glad I came across this book. My friend Kate, my mom’s dear friend Kate, recommended it to me based on a foolish Facebook quiz. Then less than a week later, I walked into our local Barnes and Noble, and saw that the book was chosen as part of our local, “One City, One Book” program, and I decided that enough people were telling me to read it. Besides, a kind neighbor had given me a gift card to B&N in her thanks for me watching her cat over the weekend.  Almost like the universe was telling me to read this book.  I’m glad I did.

One Year

Mom in her late teens or early 20s.

Mom in her late teens or early 20s.

It’s been a year now since my mom died. It’s been a tough year. It’s starting to get easier, but of course, I still miss her a lot. I got an email from my sister in law the other day (Richard’s wife…her father passed away in November, after struggling with bypass surgery, then cancer, then stroke, over a 5 year period), and she said something that really resonated with me. She said that what hurts isn’t so much that they’re gone, but what they had to go through in order to go. That’s it exactly.

Of course I would still be sad if my mom had died suddenly in her apartment, or perhaps in the hospital in Anchorage. I would still miss her terribly. But those last months were so painful, so maddening, so frustrating for everyone involved, and for no one more than her. So of course there’s that part of me that is glad she’s no longer in pain, no longer suffering. But yeah, it still occupies my thoughts, it still hurts.

And my memories of that day, the day she died, are not good ones. We live close by a BART station (Bay Area Rapid Transit), and they were just finishing building a new garage at the time. Right when the phone rang, at around 2am, with the news that she had died, a fire alarm went off at the garage. It went off for what seemed like hours, only to be silenced, and then set off again. I barely heard it. The blood rushing through my head, the pounding in my ears, my beating heart, my confused thoughts, the pain and disbelief pushed it so far into the background that I didn’t really hear it. Every once in awhile, Ted would say, “When are they going to turn that damn thing off?”, and then I would listen, and I would hear it. But to me, it just seemed sort of appropriate. There should be noise and confusion outside…my mother died.

And now, whenever that stupid alarm goes off in the middle of the night (thanks BART), it takes me, just for a second, back to that confusing night, the confusing day that followed, all of those tears as I told everyone my sad news. Ugh. Stupid alarm.

So here we are, a year later. I’m still sad. Ted wants to help me, but I don’t know what anyone can do to help, except let me cry when I need to, which he does. Hold me when I need it, which he does. Let me grieve in my own time, which he does. Slowly I’m starting to come out of this sad grieving time, and for that, I am very glad. But of course, I still miss her, and I suspect I always will.

WEIRD UPDATE ~ Just received an email from my brother, telling me that mom’s apartment building caught on fire a couple of weeks ago. She was on the second floor, which wasn’t damaged in the fire. Everyone got out ok. The house next door burned to the ground, though again, thankfully, everyone out OK. That place was just not safe. Not up to code, electrically. Not that this has anything to do with anything. Just weird to hear.

Mom Yoga

I have two mothers who are yoga teachers. My mother-in-law right here in town, and my step-mother in Portland. I used to joke that Maya would be confused by my mom, her only Grandma who didn’t take or teach yoga.

Since I’ve been unemployed, my mother-in-law (“Ma”) has invited me to attend her yoga classes for free (the perfect price for the unemployed…thanks, Ma!). I aim for twice a week, but of course life sometimes gets in the way.

Since losing my mom last June, yoga classes sometimes get me crying. Something about slowing down and spending time focused on my body seems to send my thoughts that way, and releases the emotions. I’m OK with it, I know it’s normal and OK, and I accept it. It doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but yeah, sometimes. My ex-yoga teacher used to tell me, “Don’t worry, it has to come out. Let it out.” That was helpful.

Well, a few weeks ago, one of the participants in the class said that when trying balancing postures, she is able to balance well by imagining a loved one reaching down from Heaven and holding her up. So she doesn’t have to think about losing her balance, because she’s being held, and she can focus instead on her breathing or positioning of her body, etc. I thought that might be a nice way to get my non-yoga practicing mom into yoga, and a positive way to think of her, while at this phase of grief, so many of my mom thoughts are still dwelling on those last few months, wishing I could have changed things, picturing that last visit, etc. So I tried it. The first time, of course, it got me crying. I had to go clean up my face in the bathroom. But you know what? It works. When I’m having trouble in a pose, I ask my mom for help. She can help me to balance by holding me up. Or to reach more fully into a bend by placing her hand on my back and gently pushing me forward. She encourages me and guides me in a way that she never could when she was alive. It hasn’t made me cry since that first time, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it does again at some point. I’m OK with that.

Does this mean that I believe in life after death, in Heaven? That I’ve embraced religion at some level? No, not really. It just means that I’m taking comfort where I can, and allowing my mom to help me all she can. I know that’s exactly what she would want. My dad said something to me once, after my mom died, and he was telling me about how my step-mom talks to her mother a lot, even though her mother has also passed away. I said I had trouble with that, because of being an atheist, and not believing in life after death. He said, “Atheism has its uses, but don’t let it get in your way”. Thanks, Dad. That helps, too.

When Parents Die

When Parents Die

My friend Cindy, whose mother died about 5 years ago, met me for lunch a week or two ago, and she loaned me this book, When Parents Die ~ A Guide for Adults, by Edward Myers. The book is specifically written for adult children who lose their parents, whether it be a long, slow decline, a shocking sudden death, or anything in between.

I’ve read a few books about death, dying, and grief since I lost my mom last June, and this is the one that has thus far proved the most comforting. I’m not sure if that’s because more time has passed, so I’m more easily comforted, or if the specific tone he takes just struck a chord with me. Myers offers comfort that there are many different ways of grieving, that it seldom works the same for two different people, and that you will eventually be O.K., even if it doesn’t feel like that is possible. He talks about different reactions to grief and bereavement, and differentiates between the two. He also talks about the difference between being sad and being depressed, at the same time saying that either or both are completely normal when faced with such a huge loss, and reassures you that most people do eventually come out of both. He also gives warning signs for depression that needs attention, vs. depression that is more likely to fade with time. Discussing the slow decline, he writes:

A sudden death overwhelms you with shock and disbelief, but the fact of the death is there; sooner or later you have to deal with it. In contrast, a slow decline leaves you with an ambiguous situation. You feel hope, despair, sadness, elation, fear, bewilderment, and any number of emotions, one after another, sometimes several at once, as your parent’s illness progresses. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to feel. Particularly when a disease has an erratic course – bad days and good days, crises and resolutions – the emotional effects can be dizzying. The ups and downs are wearisome. For many people, the early months of intense feelings give way to a kind of numbness. It’s too late for blind optimism but too early for grief.

That’s it. That’s exactly how I felt. My mom’s situation was a weird combination of a slow decline and a sudden death. She was clearly getting worse, day by day and week by week, but while we were alarmed and scared, we held out great hope that once the anti-depressants she was on really took effect, she would start eating again and getting up and moving, and would turn a corner for the better. It was horrible, and exhausting, and something I wish we hadn’t all had to go through.

One part that I found especially encouraging was where he said that it is common to be haunted by the hard times, and that many people fear that this is all that they will remember of their parent.  Time, he said, will heal this, and you will indeed begin to remember the good times.  This has been my greatest challenge thus far.  When I think of my mom, I think of my horrible last visit, what I wish I had done differently, how sick she was, and how I didn’t realize it.  I replay the conversation we had in my mind.  I don’t want this to be how I remember her.  I want to remember the many years we had, together and apart, good and bad.  Because those last few weeks were not in any way the sum of her, or of our relationship.  So I’m working on that.  And it’s reassuring to read that time will help me.

When Parents Die has chapters devoted to the long, slow decline, to the shock of a sudden death, to how your relationships with those around you may change, and how we as Americans tend to neglect and suppress our grief, causing people to think you might not be coping well if you still break down crying months or years after the loss of your parent.  He reassures you that this is indeed normal for many people, and that it’s OK.  He also has more practical chapters detailing things like funerals, estates, counseling, therapy, support groups, and other resources to help you through this difficult time.

If you’ve recently lost a parent, or if someone you know and care about has recently lost a parent, I would recommend this book to you.  To quote from the back of the book, “It is reassuring to be reminded that grief temporarily intensifies other emotions and to be encouraged to be gentle with ourselves.”  Well said.

People Suck

I just received a phone call from a tissue donation organization, wanting to know if I wanted to memorialize my mom because she donated tissue after she died.  I said no, it’s too upsetting to think about, and hung up.  But it brought that whole crappy conversation back, and made me realize, yet again, why people suck.

My mom wanted to be an organ/tissue donor, so when, a few hours after she had died, I received a phone call from said organization, I said yes, that’s what she would want, I give consent.  You would think that would be it, wouldn’t you?  Hell no, in this era of litigiousness, when no one does anything without fear of being sued to high heaven, because damn it, someone blew it and used a family and broke their hearts in some cruel way, and someone in that industry was sued, so now they have to be extra frakkin’ careful, so no, that’s not it.  No, they have to tell you in detail what every inch of skin or eye or whatever they might use will be used for, and you have to say yes, you approve, or no, you do not, who cares if you’re presently crying so hard you’re afraid you’ll throw up.  It took over an hour.  But they can’t use the organs/tissue, can’t save someone’s life/sight/skin graft without your explicit permission.  God, that is one memory I do not enjoy, and one job I would not want to have.  Making that phone call.  Putting some family member through that, no matter how good and worthwhile the cause.  It sucks.

Healing

Healing of Lunatic Boy

(picture found here)

In yoga class last night, we were supposed to think of an intention for ourselves, and for those we love, and mindfully practice our poses with this intention in mind.  The idea is that if you keep your intention present in your mind, you internalize it, and you project it into the world.  The first word that came to my mind was ‘healing’.   Thinking back over this year, there are so many friends and family who need to heal.  Some physically, some emotionally, but all have suffered and are working back towards normal.  Then I wondered, what is normal now?  What is normal with my mom gone?  My friend Brian, whose father died a few years ago, told me that of course the pain never completely goes away, but what does happen after a great loss, is that your reality shifts a bit, and you become the person who has gone through this difficult time.  So now, I am still the J I have always been, but also not.  I’m also the J whose mother died, and who misses her horribly.  I am the person who still, after almost 6 months, can be brought to tears so desperately easily.  (I know that’s not the right grammar, but it’s right for how I feel.)  And like a person who has had knee surgery or something, there is always that slight pain, that reminder, that you are no longer the person you once were.

So what does healing mean?  When will I be able to consider myself ‘healed’?  When will my friends and family be fully healed from their losses, be they physical or emotional, or both?  For some, they are healed already.  For others of us, I suspect that loss will always be with us, will always hurt, though yes, we will adjust and become someone who has survived this loss, this pain, and come through the other side, shifted and changed, but somehow OK.

Grateful

The writing prompt for this week’s Sunday Scribblings is Grateful.  I’m thinking of writing of things I’m thankful for on Thanksgiving, so at first I thought that this might be redundant.  Then I decided that instead of writing about all of the things for which I am thankful, I would write about my mom, and how grateful I am that I had the time that I had with her.

I am grateful for those early years, living in the Bay Area as a small child.  My mom was working and going to school and raising two small children.  Money was very tight, but she never let that be a big deal to us.  We would have picnics, sometimes on campus at Berkeley, sometimes in our front yard.  We had a lot of joy and laughs.  She worked very hard, but never let us doubt that we were special and the center of her world.

I am grateful for the experience of living in Alaska as a child. I was very young, so I don’t have a lot of memories of our time on the Homestead.  But the memories that I do have are good ones.  I remember the sled dog team we had, playing with the dogs and having fun.  I remember going berry picking in the summer…blueberries and cranberries especially.  The best blueberries in the world, I think, are wild blueberries found outside of Fairbanks.  Maybe the ones in Maine are that good, or Canada, but I’ve never had them, so I don’t know.  I remember time spent with the Alaskan branch of our family, and lots of fun and laughter.  I am grateful for the hard work my mom put in during that time (during her whole life, actually, no one could ever accuse her of not working twice as hard as anyone else).  I wasn’t really aware of it at the time, but she worked at a local Montessori and she worked at KFC at the same time, since Montessori teaching doesn’t pay very well.  She worked hard around the little homestead.  With no running water, and having to bring in the coal for our little pot-bellied stove, it wasn’t your average household.  For a single mom with two young children, it was a lot of work on the shoulders of one person.

I am grateful for the example she provided, doing whatever was necessary for Richard and I.  When he was having trouble in school, she put us both in private school (on her waitress/teacher salary), so that he might learn to love school.  We both went, because she didn’t want him to feel singled out.  When the private school turned out to not be the best, she home schooled us.  We worked on projects that were far beyond what we might have had in standard school.  I still remember my geography report on Peru, studying their imports and exports, etc.  When I desperately needed braces, she got them for me.  With no insurance and as a single mom, this meant that none of us went to the regular dentist for the 5 years that I had braces.  (Another reason I want state health care…it’s stupid for kids to go without medical/dental care, just because their 2-job-working single mom is too busy paying for the braces).

I am grateful for the responsibilities that she gave us when we were a bit older, such as cleaning house, cooking dinner for the family, shopping for our own school clothes.  I did not like cleaning house, don’t get me wrong, but I never doubted that I was a contributing member of the household, and it was nice to know that I could help my hard-working mom in some way.

I am grateful that while our house was probably the worst of all our friends’ houses (we were poor, lived in a crappy rental duplex in a bad neighborhood, with mostly (all?) hand me down furniture), ours was the house that our friends wanted to come to.  My mom was the one that my friends came to, to talk about their problems and dreams.  And she always had time for them, to listen and be there.  I kind of took that for granted growing up, but my friends have told me since how much she meant to them, how much her advice and caring helped.

I am grateful that, when I was 21, she realized the mistake she had made in not having Richard and my fathers around.  I didn’t realize for a long time how difficult it was for her to reach out to them, to try to bring them back into our lives.  She told me once that it was the hardest thing she had ever done, she had so many fears and worries about it.  And yet, she did it anyway, because it was what was best for us.  I am grateful that she reached out to my father, and because of that, I have a wonderful relationship with him, with my step-mom, and with my sisters.

I am grateful for the stories and letters she wrote to Maya, first in the mail, then on her blog, because they not only gave Maya a glimpse into the life of her grandmother, who she saw at best once a year due to mom living in Alaska and us in California, they also made me feel more connected as well.

I am grateful for our years of Sunday evening phone calls.  For thinking before I called, “Gosh, I don’t know if I have anything to really say this week…” and yet finding that we would talk for 2 or 3 hours, every time.

I am grateful for the unconditional love and support that she never failed to give to us.  For the wonderful example of how to live your beliefs and morals, how to be a caring, loving person, and how to let your children know that you are on their side.

I am grateful to have had such a wonderful mother.  I’m grateful for every day of the life she had here. And I am grateful for the memories I cherish.

Lack of Relief


(picture found here)

Back when my mom was sick, I was feeling overwhelmed and frustrated because it didn’t matter who I called, met with, faxed, emailed, whatever, she was still clearly not getting better, was clearly in a serious decline, and it was scary as hell.  I spoke to her on the phone every day, and every day, she sounded worse.  Every day, I tried to find some way to encourage her to try physical therapy, to do things like go outside, get dressed, watch TV, anything that might lift the burden of depression that was overtaking her.  And nothing was working.  Not the meds the doctors gave her, not the encouragement that my Grandma, Kate, and I gave her, nothing.  Nothing was working.

One evening, Ted asked me how I would feel if she were to die.  I thought about it, and my first answer was that I would be sad.  I would miss her terribly, and it would break my heart to lose her now, when I had counted on at least another 20 years together, when I had been looking forward to taking her to get a pedicure, to taking her to yummy ethnic restaurants like they didn’t have in Alaska, to hearing of her recovery and her adventures in living with Kate.  So sad, yes, that I expected.  But part of me said, I’ll feel relieved.  I’ll be sorry that she’s gone, but I’ll be relieved to have this extreme stress gone, relieved to know that she’s not in pain any longer.  I’ve heard this so many times from people who lose an ailing relative, that there’s a sense of relief when they’re gone, though usually people feel somewhat ashamed at that relief.

Every time I went to see her, she was in so much pain (her back and her sciatica) that most of what she wanted was painkillers.  I would be relieved to have that pain be over.  I would be relieved that she wasn’t going to suffer a long, horrid, years-long decline.  You hear horrible stories of hard, hard, times, and I would be relieved that she wasn’t going to suffer that.

And then, she died.  She died the day after the worst visit I ever had with her.  A visit where she threw up everything I brought her to eat, she hallucinated picture frames around my face, thought they would never let her go, was afraid of the pain of having to do physical therapy, was sad at the thought that any of us might be angry or frustrated with her because she wasn’t working harder to get better (I’ll admit it, I was).   It was a horrid visit.  Ted’s mom told me, when you go see your mom, give her some comfort.  Rub lotion into her feet and hands, brush her hair, tell her you love her.  I listened to that advice, and so even though I was frustrated with her for not trying harder to recover (which I have come to accept that she couldn’t do, that she was too far gone and it was just too much), I did tell her that I love her, I rubbed lotion on her feet, I rubbed it into her hands, I gave her her favorite foods to eat.  Which she threw up.  It was horrid.  I came home so tense and wound up, that yes, her being free of that, me being free of that, would indeed be a relief.

The reality, though, is that while I have felt the weight of all of that stress lifted from me once she died, the stress of “God, what if I make a mistake, what if I forget to tell the doctor something he needs to know, what will the repercussions to her health be?”….even though I felt that lift of stress, I have as yet felt no feeling of relief.  Perhaps I misunderstood what that relief might feel like, but I haven’t found a second of relief.  What I feel is sadness and longing, longing to be able to talk to her about politics, sadness about not being able to bring her a bag of delicious late summer fruits, nectarines and peaches and plums.  The everyday pleasures of life that I cannot share with her.  I don’t feel relief.  I feel robbed.

Christmas Curry

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Richard emailed me awhile ago, and said that one thing he would like to keep of mom’s is a couple of her curry bowls.  This is the set.  She took a pottery class back in 1980 and 1981 at our local community college, and she made them for our Christmas curry.  Isn’t the glaze pretty?  Of all of the things I’m keeping of my mom’s, I think these are my favorite.  They’re lovely to look at, and she made them herself, and they bring back memories of meals shared together as a family.

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When we lived in Alaska, my mom worked two jobs…first as a Montessori teacher, and second (because it’s practically impossible to support yourself and two young children on the salary of a Montessori teacher…they make much less than even public school teachers make) as a waitress.  The chef at the restaurant, Jerry, was also our roommate, and he had a recipe for curry that my mom LOVED.  You made a batch of chicken curry, with coconut milk and TONS of spice (very, very hot), and I could swear that there was a banana mashed into it as well, and you served it with rice, and a lot of condiments, so that everyone could choose whatever they wanted to add.  So the biggest bowl in the pictures is the rice bowl, and the one in the center is the meat bowl, and the rest would hold condiments.  When we were kids, the curry was MUCH too hot to eat (it was the kind of curry that would make your nose run and your ears ring and your eyes water and your face turn bright red), so we would just eat the condiments, which included peanuts or cashews, shredded coconut, diced apples, pineapple chunks (maybe, not sure on that one), raisins, chutney, and I don’t know what else.

Curry Pic 001

This is around Christmas, 1987.  I had moved to San Francisco for college that year, so I’m not in the picture.  Linda is on the left…we met Linda and her daughter Jennifer in Fairbanks, and she was sort of a second mother to me growing up.  My mom in the center, and then Richard and my Great Aunt Flo on the right.  Grandma must be taking the picture, because she’s not in it.  It’s not Christmas Day, I’m sure, because I know they spent that at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, but the back of the photo says December 1987.  I looked at the largest size on Flickr, as I can see more detail there than I would be able to on the picture itself, and gosh, it doesn’t look like they’re eating curry to me.  It looks like regular Thanksgiving or Christmas food.  I wonder what the story is there?  Thanksgiving leftovers, and the pictures developed in December?  Hmmm.

Now I have the big bowl displayed on our bookshelf, one on my desk with paperclips and so on, and a couple tucked away.  I just sent Richard a couple, and my cousin Jenny a couple, and I’m saving a few for my Uncle and my Grandma.

Don’t ask me for the curry recipe, because I don’t have it.  I think it was more of a Jamaican curry, as it had coconut milk in it.  It was too hot for human consumption, so we stopped having it a few years later.  I don’t know if Mom, Richard, and Kathy started up again in Juneau, but somehow I doubt it, as Richard doesn’t like food as hot as I do, and no one likes it as hot as my mom did, with the possible exceptions of Linda, and of course, Jerry, who taught them how to make it.

I was just surfing the internets, looking for curry recipes with condiments and banana mashed inside, and I came across this blog, with pictures of the condiments.  Interesting, and pretty!