Adult Activities

10:37 am 7/28/2017

This morning I was a grown up. Of course, at the age of 50, I’ve been a grown up for quite some time. But this morning I did very grown up things. Adult things. And not in the good “adult” way, either.

I made many phone calls. I called financial institutions. I called a real estate agent. I even called the government’s Social Security office.  It’s now official with all the entities that matter: My mom is dead.

I’ve been putting off doing these calls, and with good reason. There’s just something about saying “My mother passed away” a half a dozen times, to a half a dozen strangers, that really brings it all home. I only cried a little bit on the last one, with the real estate agent. She was too nice. I do better with the impersonal voices.

A few minutes after the calls were done, the funeral director who screwed up my mother’s birthdate in all the obituaries called me. His timing was perfect. I was too bummed out to yell at him. And besides, he’s making it right. New obits will run in the Freeman today and the Journal on Sunday with the correct dates. Grown ups forgive mistakes because they know we all make them.

I once shipped an entire semi trailer of plastic goods to a tiny one-man office in central Pennsylvania, a good 3 hours from the larger location it was supposed to ship to. (There was only one address in my Rolodex. I was new to the job and I didn’t realize there were two locations). I bet the one guy at the office and the truck driver weren’t thrilled with me. I know my boss sure wasn’t. But mistakes happen. We all make them, even when we have the best intentions.

My mom made mistakes in raising me, but I still loved and miss her. I made mistakes as her daughter, too, but I know she loved me. I guess that’s what family is. We make mistakes but still love each other in spite of them.

For the most part, being an adult is better than being a kid. I like being in control of my own life, even if it does come with responsibilities. I’ve never been one to yearn for the carefree days of my childhood. Besides, childhood’s aren’t really carefree when you’re in them. I had worries as a kid, they just weren’t adult worries. They were kid worries. A worry is a worry, though, and they seemed just and important then as the adult ones do now.

Today is one day, though, that I don’t like being an adult. I didn’t like making those calls or saying those words. This afternoon, I have to pick up my mother’s remains and the death certificates from the funeral home. I won’t like that either.

I think tonight calls for some adult beverages. I like those. And then I’ll move forward, into tomorrow, where maybe I’ll like being an adult a little bit better than I did today.

11:08 am 7/18/2017

 

 

 

 

 

Another Journey Home

11:33 am 7/14/17

I love to read. Growing up, my mom instilled a love of books in me that I’ve never lost. She said that whenever you have a good book, you have a friend.  I believe that, and I have characters in books that still feel like friends to me today.

Scarlett O’Hara; Holden Caufield; Hermie from “Summer of ’42” are all adolescent friends. Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Encyclopedia Brown, the Pigman, and, of course, Laura Ingalls Wilder are childhood friends. (I see that I’ve broken the magic rule of “3” in writing with this last list, but I can’t bear to leave any of them out.)

I always have at least two books going. One that I read on my Kindle and one audio book that I listen to while I sew. I prefer to read fast-moving novels with engaging characters in all genres (except maybe science fiction fantasy or pure romance) on my Kindle.

I prefer longer, slower-paced novels for my audio books. There’s just something about being read to, while my hands are engaged, that transports me into the world of the novel completely. It’s so relaxing, it’s almost akin to meditating. I’ve learned the hard way to not attempt to do any type of math while listening to my audio book. My math skills are sketchy at best when I’m paying attention. When I’m not, forget it. I’ve contributed many expensive fabrics to my scrap bin because I did math while my book was on.

If I can’t sleep at night, I often put on head phones and listen to my book. No matter how good the book is, I’ll drop off within minutes. Not so with the reading a book to myself. If I’m into the book, I’ll read until it’s finished. Chapters are like eating Cheetos for me. Just one more and then I’m done. I say this until the book, or bag — sometimes both, simultaneously, is done.

I’ve made it through audio books I never would have stuck with had I read them instead of listened to them. I listened to and enjoyed “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett which is all about a cathedral builder in 12 Century England. There’s a lot of detail about architecture and the functions of the different parts of the cathedrals. Personally, a bit too much detail for my taste. It felt like Follett did all this research on cathedral building and, by God, he was going to include it in his book. I never would have finished this kind of book if it had not been “read to me.”

I listened to all three “Century Trilogy” books by Ken Follett, too. The books start before WWI and continue through the 1980’s. All three were awesome books, and I made two full quilts while listening to them. One of them was the quilt I gave my mom for Mother’s Day two years ago. The second one is done in the same pattern as the one I gave my mom and it’s sitting on the back of my couch now.

I also listened to all three of Jane Smiley’s “Last Hundred Years Trilogy” books where every year is a chapter in the life of one family. The book follows the lives of one family for one hundred years, one year at a time. They are amazing books. Some characters are in every book and I cried when each met their demise. They felt like family to me. I still think of some of them, and I listened to those books over a year ago.  My mom used the quilt I made while I listened to these books while she was in the hospice.

With audio books, not only do the characters become friends, but the reader of the books, does too. I think that’s why I’m so fond of trilogy’s. The same actor reads all the books in the trilogy. Sometimes the same actor reads all the books by the same author. I love it when that happens. I think I’m seriously in love with Scott Brick who narrates all the Nelson DeMille novels. When I heard him read the DeMille’s “Gold Coast” which is more of a literary novel, and not at all like DeMille’s usual thriller/espionage genre novels, I knew I was hooked on this guy, and I’d have to give the rest of DeMille’s works a try.

I’m in a middle of listening to a Scott Brick/Nelson DeMille novel now. And I’m reading two books on my Kindle. One that I don’t like much, but feel compelled to finish because it’s gotten such good reviews, and another historical fiction piece that I do like.

The problem is, I can’t enjoy any of them. Not right now. This happened to me, too, when my dad died. I simply couldn’t focus enough to get involved in a book. I sit and read and my mind wanders. I can’t see the scene the author is giving me. Even listening to the book doesn’t help.

So what to do?

When my dad died, I had just enrolled in a class to study writing for young adults at Mt. Mary University. I ended up dropping the class that semester but I had already purchased the books. One book, a Young Adult time-travel book, really interested me. (I can’t remember the name right now, but it’s still sitting on my bookshelf in my bedroom. I haven’t been able to part with it.) When I couldn’t read anything else, I picked up that, and it engaged me. For the short time it took me finish it, it took me outside of my world and into it’s world. It was such a relief to escape for awhile. I still think of it as the first book I was able to read when my dad died. My first step to healing and normalcy.

I don’t have a lot of Young Adult books lying around and I’m not in the mood to search for new ones that good.

So what to do? Visit old friends.

I read a short article in the newspaper yesterday evening about Old World Wisconsin having a Laura Ingalls Wilder week later this month to honor her Little House on the Prairie books. I remembered my Little House books and the yellow cover of the paper backs. I liked how they were all the same color and the same style, except for “Farmer Boy”, which looked a bit different and didn’t have the yellow cover. But that was okay because it was about Almanzo’s life and not Laura’s.

I knew what I had to do.

I went to Amazon and purchased “Little House in the Big Woods”, the first book in the Little House series for my Kindle. I’m not sure if I read it to myself the first time around or if my mom read it to me.  But I read it to myself last night. And for the first time since my mom died, I was transported out of my world into Laura’s world within the dense woods of Wisconsin with Ma and Pa, sister Mary and Jack the dog.  The words were familiar, and I knew the characters immediately. It was like going home, back to a place and time that is as remote to me now as envisioning myself at the age of 50 would have been when I was first reading that book. Time travel at it finest.

I’m looking forward to returning Laura’s world today. I may even download the audio version this afternoon. Cherry Jones is the actress that reads it and I love her acting so I know I’ll love her performance on the audio book. Plus, “Little House in the Big Woods” is only one book of nine in the series. Hopefully, I won’t need to get through all nine to get back to my book friends in the here and now. But if I do, that’s okay. I know I’ll be among friends either way.

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12:30 pm 11/14/17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soon Defined

8:32 am 7/11/17

Yesterday I wrote, “…I don’t know when soon is. The nurses have been saying for days that my mom will die soon. But this soon concept seems to be a bit elusive. Is soon days? Is it weeks? It can’t be months, can it?”

This morning “soon” is defined. My mom passed away yesterday, 6 hours after I wrote those sentiments. It was a bit of surprise as I thought we were looking at days, and I feared we were looking at weeks, but it wasn’t meant to be. Soon came at approximately 6:00 pm, while Dennis and I were driving to see her on the same roads I wrote about yesterday, which is the perfect ending to a very long story. As a writer I couldn’t have scripted it better.

Yesterday morning when I went to see Mom, she was adamant that I not return in the evening. She truly wanted me to go about with my day-to-day life and not “run back and forth” to see her as she put it.

I told her I would be back, because I wanted to check in and make sure that she was okay and didn’t need anything. She regained enough consciousness and energy to tell me that I was so stubborn, and I always had been. I never would listen to she her.

I told her not to scold me as I was just trying to look out for her. She said she’d scold me if she wanted because she was still my mother. She even laughed. So did I. For a few moments we felt normal again.

It was a good-natured scolding, but it also had a strong vein of truth running through it. I am stubborn and so was she. We are cut from the same cloth, as the cliche’ says, and ours has been a challenging relationship throughout my life. I didn’t appreciate her trying to control my life from time I was about 16, and she didn’t appreciate me trying control hers after my father died and she needed help. We loved eachother, but we challenged each other, too, in ways no other human being on this earth could do.

I laughed at her comments, and I agreed with her that I was stubborn. I told her that I would still see her again that night.

But I didn’t.

This morning it occurred to me that she found one last way to get her way. The irony of her passing while I was literally driving to see her isn’t lost on me.

If she’s in a place where she’s aware of what is going on down here on earth, I know she’s chuckling at getting her own way one last time.

I am sad at her passing, of course. And it will take me awhile to process this new world without parents that I’m now living in.

Most of all, though, there is an immense sense of relief and of peace. Our final journey, hers and mine, the one that started almost a month ago when she became sick, the most difficult journey, I think, of either of our lives, is over.

Mom is no longer suffering, physically or emotionally. My responsibility and the dread of not knowing if I was doing the right things for her, is done. For the first time since I was 25 and I had my son, I’m not responsible for another human being. That’s going to take some getting used to.

I went out Chinese food for lunch yesterday. This was the fortune that I received in my fortune cookie. I thought it was very appropriate given the past few weeks.

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And so, as my next journey begins in this new phase of life, I think I will start it by doing just that. Taking a good long rest. It’s been a long summer.

9:33 am 7/11/17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Journey Home

11:-06 am  7/10/17

We’re on day 11 of Mom’s hospice stay. It’s been 15 days since she went into the hospital. It’s been 21 days since she became ill. Not a long time in the overall timeline of one’s life. Yet it feels like this journey has been going on forever, for both me and my mom.

I’m visiting twice a day now. I no longer trust her ability to tell me if she needs something from me or from the nurses via phone calls. So I visit more often. We talk less as she sleeps more, but I watch for signs of distress that she may not be able to communicate to the nurses.

As I drove there early this morning, it occurred to me that there are similarities in the journeys she and I are traveling.

My journey to the hospice takes me through the winding roads of my youth. Literally, the roads of my youth. I start out past the grade school my son attended. I go straight at the subdivision where Roy, a college boyfriend, lived with his parents. I go along the road with the big hill, where my mom used to say it was like we were “going off the end of the earth” every time we travelled it.

I drive past Tina’s farm. Her brothers still own it according to the sign out front. I was only allowed to visit there once because my mom didn’t think I’d be well supervised.

The one time I was there, I had so much fun. Tina’s mom was fun, and always seemed to be laughing. She set up a card table with a tablecloth made of cloth (this was a big deal for me) in their family room and we had canned ravioli for lunch. Just Tina and I. It was cool. Then Tina took me into the barn and showed me my first girlie magazine her brothers had hidden out there. Guess my mom wasn’t all wrong about my visiting the farm. But I never told her about the magazine.

At the end of Tina’s farmland, I turn left on to Amy’s road. We weren’t close friends, but we had fun passing notes to each other in 4th grade until Mrs. Benrude yelled at us in front of the class. We didn’t talk much in person though. I bet we’d be great texting buddies now.

At the end of Amy’s road, I turn right and go past the subdivision where Carrie and Willie lived. Carrie’s dad died in a deer hunting accident when she was young, and she hated deer because of it. She moved to Florida and wrote me letters about having a “green Christmas”.

Willie was a nice boy and a bit shorter than I was in grade school. I used pick him up on the playground during recess. Literally, pick him up off the ground. I stopped when my mother told me it wasn’t ladylike to pick up boys, even if I was strong enough to do it.

A mile or so past Willie’s house is the lake house Kathy’s parents built. I think she still lives there with her family. My family moved away before it was finished so I never did see the inside of it, but it looks pretty cool from the outside.

A few miles further is a stretch of conservancy land dedicated to the memory of Kathy’s mom. Kathy’s mom was young and pretty and she died much too young. She did a lot of crafts with us in Brownies and I remember making corn husk dolls in her kitchen. She sewed fabric strips together for Christmas wreaths that we made for another Brownie project. I still have mine.

A mile from there is a steak house Dennis and I frequented often when we were first married. It’s been closed a lot of years now. There’s a sign outside that says it’s reopening soon. But I don’t know when soon is.

The nurses have been saying for days that my mom will die soon.  But this soon concept seems to be a bit elusive. Is soon days? Is it weeks? It can’t be months, can it?

The hospice is only a few miles from the restaurant that will reopen soon.

Sometimes when I’m visiting mom she tells me of her dreams in short, halting sentences and breathy, slurred words. Of talking to people whose names I remember hearing but who I’ve never met. Dixie, an old neighbor from the 1950’s. Martin and Arlene, her high school friends. She told me once her mother was dead. Her mother died when she was eleven.

Most of the time now she doesn’t say much of anything anymore. Sleep and the memories are more of pull to her now than life, which is a blessing. Mom is traveling her own journey visiting past friends and memories. It’s a little bit like my own physical journey I drive when I visit her.

Neither of us talk much during our journeys.  Even when Dennis is with me when we visit, I’m mostly pre-occupied during the drive there and back and I don’t talk much.

We’re on different journeys, Mom and I. But they are both journeys travelling on parallel paths of sorts. And, I know, eventually, each of our journeys will come to end.

Soon.

11:49 7/10/17

 

 

 

Land of the Free

10:44 am 7/4/17

I’m less than two weeks into my summer solstice resolution to post everyday for six months, I’ve already missed two days. My bad.

I’d intended this blog to be light, with daily goings-on in our little personal zoo of dogs and cats. Maybe post a few pictures of my latest quilt project or a good recipe or two.

Then my mom got sick, and declined rapidly. And although I’ve tried, I just don’t seem to be inclined to write about those things anymore. At least not right now. And I don’t want to constantly post about the long, drawn-out, painful (both emotionally and physically, at least for my mom) process of dying. Or about my views about a country that is supposed to allow it’s citizens the opportunity to live free, but restricts their ability to have an easy,  painless death on their own terms.

See? Not at all the light topics I’d intended.

Not topics suited for a 4th of July holiday with perfect weather such as this one.

So I will keep this one short, although not sweet, I’m afraid.

I hope everyone enjoys the day off, whatever you choose to do with it. I think I’ll take the dogs and hang outside for awhile while Dennis finishes planting the flowers. I think that’s the best we’re going to do this year.

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11:01 am 7/4/17

 

 

Monopoly, Match Game & the Royal Wedding

5:49 pm 7/1/17

It’s hard to believe it’s July 1st already. I feel like I’ve lost this last week in a black hole of chaos and we’re finally coming out on the other end. At least for now.

July always reminds me of the quintessential childhood summer. Riding bikes in the subdivision and staying outside with friends until my parents turned on the porch light. I’m sure it rained and was cool sometimes, after all, it is Wisconsin, but in my memory it’s always hot and it feels like it’s sunny almost 24 hours a day. Which, when you go to bed at 9:30 or 10, isn’t too far from the truth.

By the time July rolled around, it felt like I’d been out of school forever, even though in reality, it was just a few weeks. The start of school was so far off that it wasn’t even on the horizon. It was some far-off distant milestone, like wearing make-up or learning to drive. I knew they would happen at some point, but it was so far off, it wasn’t worth much thought at all.

Childhood summer’s meant summer TV on the three stations we got with our antenna. ABC, CBS, and NBC. Also PBS, but we never watched that once I was done with Sesame Street. On a rare occasion we could pull channel 18, which always ran reruns of old shows. It was always snowy and hard to see, but it was treat when it we got it nonetheless.

In the mornings I watched Fury, the black and white show about a boy and his horse. Then Price is Right with Bob Barker, way before he was the kindly white-hair gent we all remember. I always said that if I got to the showcase showdown I’d bid on the showcase with the trips. Cars, furniture and appliances were boring. I might actually still do that today, come to think of it.

Afternoons were often spent playing Barbies or Monopoly (I was an absolute Monopoly-fiend for several years. I played for blood, took no prisoners and had no remorse about annihilating friends).

Sometimes we watched Match Game with Gene Rayburn and all the drunk celebrities. I was really ticked about the Watergate hearings because they pre-empted Match Game for what seemed like weeks. I understood very little of the sexual innuendos that were a regular staple of the game. I’ve watched a few of those shows on rerun on GSN and I’m surprised with how much they got away with airing. The new Match Game with Alex Baldwin doesn’t compare. You can’t hand a guy a long-necked microphone and expect him to capture the magic that was Match Game circa 1974.

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I always like Brett and Fannie the best.

 

As I got a few years older, July meant drinking lemonade and playing Hearts with girlfriends and swimming. We’d play records (Billy Joel’s Glass Houses album is still one of my all time favorites), go shopping at the mall and have sleep overs. When I wasn’t with friends, I preferred to stay up really late, reading and listening to the radio and sleeping in past 10:00. My grandma lived with us at that point, and it drove her nuts when I slept that late. My grandpa died in late July, 1979.

Later on, when I was old enough to date, July became all about the nights and dates with boys. There were drive-ins, renting VHS movies and playing games. I still played Monopoly sometimes, but not quite with killer instinct I did as a kid. The Royal Wedding between Charles and Diana was in July, and I kept a scrapbook for several years of clippings about their growing family. I still have it, although I don’t know why. It seems wrong to just chuck it.

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This was one of my favorite pictures from the Royal Wedding.

Once I started college, July blended with the rest of the summer and became a chance to make money by working full-time while I was off from school. It wasn’t special anymore. There was still fun, nights out at night clubs with girlfriends or a boyfriend if I was seeing anyone, but it didn’t have the magic that July held during those early years. I was well on my way toward adulthood, and July was one of the first casualties of my youth.

There’d be plenty more.

On this July 1st, I wonder what this month will hold for me. There are many changes afoot as I’m getting ready to enter another new phase of life where I will soon be the elder of the family. It still amazes me that this can be true when I remember the Julys’ of my youth so vividly. Was it really that  long ago?

I think maybe I’ll see if I can talk Dennis into a good, spirited game of Monopoly tonight. For the old days.

6:24 pm 7/1/17

 

…And Here’s the Twist

3:07 am 7/1/17 (blogged for 6/30/17)

On Wednesday I posted an entry called Is there a twist? In it I said that the writer in me was wondering when the twist would come when we received the news that my mother would recover from her illness after we were told on Sunday that she would not.

The twist made itself known the very next day on Thursday. While my mother’s lab numbers were indeed getting better, she, however, was not. In fact, she was more weak than she was when we brought her to the hospital on Sunday.

Upon hearing the good news on Wednesday, I had scheduled a meeting for Thursday with the social worker at the hospital to discuss assisted living options. However, when we met with her on Thursday, I hijacked the meeting from our original topic and we instead discussed Mom’s option to decline further medical treatment.

Mom’s been telling me often, for well over a year, that she’s ready to die. She’s even said she wished she would just not wake up some morning. It just took me this long to finally listen to her and for this, I’m ashamed of myself. In a moment of clarity Thursday morning, as I put on my make-up, I understood what I needed to do. What she needed me to do.

After a very frank discussion with the social worker, we understood Mom’s choices.

The social worker talked to several of Mom’s doctors and all were in agreement with the prognosis. They came in to tell Mom the news.

Even though the problems she came in for were getting better, her heart condition was worse and it is the cause of her to not gaining strength. She would not get better without open heart surgery.

When Mom heard this she was adamant that she wasn’t going to have surgery. Which I knew. She said that back in October when she was diagnosed. This time, though, the doctors actually agreed that at her age that was probably the right decision.

We talked about her options. How she could reject all medicine and attempts to extend her life and just accept treatment that would ease her pain. How the medical community would neither help to sustain life but nor would it hasten death. Nature would take it course in the most painless manner possible.

Palliative Care. Hospice.

For the first time in a long, long time, my mom looked relieved. She could finally be done.

One doctor, the one who told her she would survive “the event” we brought her to the hospital for, didn’t seem quite as on board with the decision to stop all treatments as the other doctors. He told her that he understood her viewpoint, but she should know that she wasn’t “actively dying” and no one knew how long she could live in her current state.

Actively Dying. Those words have stuck with me since he said them. They make perfect sense. I think it’s the inference that if there’s an “actively dying” there must be a “passively dying”,  and everyone who isn’t actively dying is passively dying. Which I knew, of course. I just never thought of it quite that way.

Friday morning we met with the Palliative Care team and devised a care plan. Last week at this time, I didn’t even know what a care plan was.

We worked with the social worker to get mom placed in a hospice near our house. They transferred her there Friday afternoon by ambulance and Dennis and met her there to do the paperwork to get her admitted. This is the same place I checked my dad into 6 years ago when he had a stroke, although, that was a much different experience. Same vivid memories, though, when I walked into the building.

When I walked into Mom’s room, I was stunned. It’s gorgeous. She has a patio door and a big bay window that looks out on to a terrace where there are trees, flowers and small river. They have wildlife everywhere, and she was sitting up in bed watching the birds in the bird feeder.

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For the first time in well over a year, if not longer, Mom actually looked happy.

4:02 am 7/1/17 – (blogged for 6/30/17)