Saturday, February 11, 2017

Grief

            Grief is a word that I would define as: distress over a loss.  It is a word we think we understand to mean sadness, mourning, and heartache. 

            When you suffer a loss, you are immediately thrown into grief.  There are stages, you are told.  Some say there are 4, some say 5, and others say there are 7.  To cover all the bases, the 7 stages are: shock or disbelief, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, and acceptance/hope. 

            My mom, Kelly, who turned 57 on October 9th, 2016, passed away on November 5th, 2016, after a 7-year battle with a cancer called leiomyosarcoma.  It is a rare cancer, that doesn’t have a treatment plan that is known to work.  It must be treated aggressively, and even then, most people only make it 18 months past diagnosis.  The chemo can be cruel, stripping its’ recipients of their hair and good health.  You are left damaged, and less than you were.  I was lucky that my mom made it for 7 years.

            But no matter how you define grief, it is different for every person.  I was confused directly after my mom passed because I was just fine.  I felt guilty – MY MOM DIED – and I was FINE.  That doesn’t add up.  Shouldn’t I have been laying in a puddle of sadness, bawling my eyes out?  Instead I had this one single moment just after I found out she had passed where I imagined her walking into heaven, into the arms of my beloved Papa, and that made me tear up, but then after that – nothing.  I didn’t really cry that much for the next week until I spoke at her funeral, and then the weight of the moment got me, and I broke down as I spoke, or rather read, what I had to say about her.

            And then, I was fine again.  Emotionally I was okay.  I equated my “fine-ness” to the years I had to prepare myself.  I would find myself talking to my husband and friends, saying, “Shouldn’t I feel sadder?”. 
            “You’re in shock,” some of them would say.  And then I felt like I needed to brace myself for the impact of a 2x4 to the gut, because at some point, that’s how hard it would hit me.  Instead, my grief has come in “pinches”, as I like to refer to them, paining me suddenly and sharply, and wearing off somewhat quickly. 
            People would ask me how I was feeling, and the answer was always the same – “Fine,” I would say.  Although, in my head, in every conversation I would have, I would be thinking, Why are we talking about your new outfit?  Don’t you know my mom is dead?  Shouldn’t we be talking about that?  My mom is dead.  My mom died.  She’s gone.  I will never see her again.  AND YOU WANT TO TALK TO ME ABOUT YOUR NEW OUTFIT?  {theoretical conversation, btw – if you’re reading this and think you offended me by showing me your new clothes, you didn’t.}  Yet at the same time, I didn’t want to talk about it, because I am privately emotional and I don’t want to cry in front of you.  Confused?  Me, too.

            Grief is like its own entity, floating around, making me feel differently day-by-day.  I went to her house a couple days ago for the first time since we picked out her casket outfit – [She looked so lovely by the way.  The best-looking person who wasn’t living I’ve ever seen in my life.  That’s true.  She looked amazing.]  When I went to her house, I saw the place where she lived her last few months.  It was the house they moved to less than half a year before she passed.  That house reminds me of her being sick; barely able to get around, and struggling to breathe.  I saw one of their dogs who is very sick, and will be put down soon – it was as if somebody took a Hoover vacuum, stuck it down my throat, and turned it on.  The air was sucked from my lungs.  I didn’t expect it.  Grief.
            I walked into her bedroom, and I looked through her things.  I found pictures of us as little kids beside her bed.  I stood in her closet and looked at her clothes, bringing them to my face and inhaling deeply; desperately hoping to smell her scent – her eau de Kelly.  They didn’t smell like her; I was sad to find out.  It’s in those moments when you understand that material possessions are just stuff. 
            I chose a few shirts that I wanted to have, and wear.  I found a few of her dark brown, curly hairs on the backs of some of her shirts.  Normally I would have flitted them away, as you do when you find a hair, but I couldn’t.  Those hairs were from before she lost it all to the chemo the final time.  They were long and beautiful, the way she liked to wear it, and I knew there would never be any more of them - those were it.  The last physical pieces of my mom that still exist, apart from her ashes.  I found a hoodie of hers and I tucked the hairs in the hood. 
            I went into her bathroom and I found a bottle of her perfume with only a few squirts left, and I thought this must be “her smell” if she used so much of it.  I put some on my wrist and smelled myself, and I didn’t smell like her still.  {Later in the day I caught a whiff of the dissipated smell, and then I DID smell like her.  I realized that I must have never smelled it fresh, but only ever after a few hours.}
            I took some of her scarves, and some trinkets she had gotten while on one of her European vacations she had taken; trying to live-it-up after her cancer diagnosis.  When my girls arrived home from school that day, I gave them each a scarf and a little red phone booth from London to have.  They wrapped themselves in the scarves, cherishing them like a hug from their “Ma”, and even wore them to school the next day. 

            Other days I feel nothing.  I don’t feel sad.  I think of her fondly, and I wish I could text her.  I see something funny, and I want to show her.  Last night at dinner, the funniest thing happened.  We were out to eat at our favorite Mexican spot, and there were two ladies seated next to us having dinner.  They were just about to leave when the waiters/mariachi band came around the corner singing and plopped a sombrero on the head of the younger of the two women.  You would expect happiness out of the supposed birthday girl, but instead her face was perplexed.  She began saying, through their singing, “But it’s not my birthday,” repeating herself several times until the song ended.
             Afterwards I said to her, “It’s really not your birthday?” 
            “No.  My birthday is in April,” she responded. 
            We all laughed together.  Even my kids were laughing. 
            I wanted to text my mom.  She would have thought it was hilarious.  I can imagine her cracking up, and telling me a story about her days working at Chi-Chi’s Mexican Restaurant where something similar might have happened.  I can imagine her face lighting up as she told me the details, and the excited tone she would use as she told the story.  I will miss going to eat Mexican with my mom, who could always tell me a detailed description of each and every dish, after years spent in the restaurant biz.  I order her favorite dish, fajitas rancheras, every time we go for Mexican, and imagine her building her perfect taco. 

            It’s been 3 months and 6 days since her death, and today is different for me than that day was, or even how yesterday was.  I want my mom.  I don’t want to be 29, and mom-less.  Or spend my 30th birthday without her.  I don’t want to experience more of my life without my mom than I did with her.  I don’t want to have to find a new normal, and I keep grasping at ways to keep her near me.  Today, it’s writing this blog.  It’s talking about her.  Tomorrow I might have to go lay in her bed, surrounding myself in her stuff again.  I’m not sure, but thank you to those of you who have prayed for me, and reached out.  To those of you that haven’t, I understand this is hard, and I hope you will someday, because to be surrounded by the people that loved my mom is the closest I can get to actually being in her presence.  I want to hear your stories about her, and for you to tell me the reasons why I remind you of her, or don’t.  Those memories are precious, and keep her alive for a few moments.


            Thanks, Mom for the wonderful years, and for loving us so deeply, with all your heart.


            I love you.


Monday, June 27, 2016

The Reality of Cancer: A Daughter's Perspective

      Everybody knows, or at least assumes, that their parents are going to pass away before them.  It's something you will have to deal with in your lifetime, but usually far off in the distance.  It's a scary thought, so we put it in the back of our minds filed in our brains on a shelf labeled "future".  But what if this scary, distant problem became an imminent danger?  

Welcome to my reality.

      Let me back up just a bit and fill in the blanks for those of you who don't know my mom's story.  June 25th, 2009, my mom had a voluntary hysterectomy after experiencing back pain and feminine problems.  The hysterectomy went well, but while she was in surgery they found a fist-sized tumor wrapped around her ureter.  After it was biopsied she was told that she had a rare cancer called leiomyosarcoma.  
      What do you do when you get a diagnosis?  You google it.  You probably shouldn't, but let's be honest, we all would.  We found out quickly that this was not a good cancer to have.  The life expectancy is around 18 months after diagnosis.  It's rare enough that the oncologists don't really know how to handle it or how to treat it effectively.  Also, it's aggressive and you are immediately labeled "Stage 4" when diagnosed.  
      Fast-forward to now.  By the grace of God, it's 7 years later and my mom is still alive and kicking.  She's had several surgeries, rounds of chemo, and a near-death experience or two.  She has been absolutely inspirational during this time.  She is the most optimistic person, and most of the time you would never know she is sick.  I think it's safe to say that most people would be pretty down-in-the-dumps in her situation.  I've had more than one person say how depressed they would be and how they probably would have died already if it was them in her shoes.  I firmly believe that her amazing attitude is a large part of why she has made it this far.  
      In January she was hospitalized after taking one round of chemo that didn't agree with her to put it nicely.  She was in really bad shape.  They took her blood pressure and they got no reading at all.  She was hallucinating - at one point she was pedaling her arms, and when asked what she was doing she responded, "I'm riding my bike."  Admittedly I laughed when I heard that story, but it was actually a really scary situation.  
      I was about 37 weeks pregnant when she went into the hospital and I couldn't visit because I was so large and had 3 kids to haul with me, so I was hearing all of this through other people.  I remember thinking my mom wasn't going to make it to see me have my baby, and she later admitted that she was crying in the hospital with the same thoughts.  My water broke a couple weeks later and I delivered our 4th baby.  She was in the same wing of the hospital as me as I was having my sweet Ezra.  Only a couple floors separated us from each other.  It was the next day they surprised me and in wheeled my mom to meet and hold her newest grandson.  She was weak and needed help holding him.  I made sure to take pictures not knowing what was going to happen with her.  Here is one that we captured:

      She stayed in the hospital for a little while longer.  We were released with Ezra before she was released.  It honestly seemed premature, but just like in the past she was back up and feeling great before too long.  She met us for lunch soon after her release - even driving herself, and we were all marveling at her bounce-back.  She had dipped so low, so close to death, and here we were eating HuHot with her.  
      She seems to be pretty okay right now, but she has been spending a lot of time in bed since that hospitalization earlier this year.  She requires oxygen pretty often and she doesn't have much stamina.  She doesn't want to do any more chemo for many reasons, but this last chemo was the final straw.  I have always wondered where she would be right now if she had never done any chemo.  It seems like it does more harm than good, but it's hard to tell.  Sometimes it will kick the cancer's butt and you're back to normal afterward - but in my mom's case, I don't know if she would be half as unhealthy as she is if she had never done it at all.  Who knows, though.  The cancer could have theoretically killed her if she had not done chemo.  
      I keep thinking about this analogy - my mom was a healthy person before chemo, really only battling with her weight - so every time she had a surgery, round of chemo, small procedure, it was like a kick in the shins... when you're healthy you can deal with a kick in the shins, but when you are kicked in the shins repeatedly, eventually you fall down.  I think she's beginning to fall if I am being perfectly honest - she would tell you the same thing.  
      I am a realist and I don't know how long I have with my mom.  After all, there's only so much your body can take.  I feel blessed that she is alive after 7 years.  There have been people who have been diagnosed and died within months, giving the family very little time to come to terms with losing their loved one.  I have been given the gift of time to accept the fact that my mom very likely won't be here for much longer.  We speak openly about it.  Some of the grieving is done while the person is still alive.  I am sad about my mom, but I am also enjoying the time I have with my mom.  We take the people we have for granted so often.  I am happy to be with my mom.  When my kids are sitting with their "Ma", as she is lovingly referred to, the gift is not lost on me.

      This is just a long-winded way of saying that we should all appreciate the time we have together whether it's a day or a lifetime.  Also, I don't want my mom to die, but we will be okay and have accepted that it will happen.  Maybe we have years and years left, and that would be so great.  I hope that's the case.  

      Please keep praying for her.  I pray for complete healing all the time.  The other thing I hope that my mom leaves behind is to be happy and joyful in all circumstances.  She is an inspiration to many.  I only hope I would handle the same situation with as much grace as she has.  

Now, go hug your moms. :)



Thursday, May 12, 2016

4 kids - Are you crazy?

      There is a time in the morning, every morning, that my mind is practically spewing thoughts.  My neurons are firing at a rapid rate and my thoughts can’t be controlled.  I think this has something to do with the fully rested mind and the recent flood of caffeine I’ve incurred.  Yes, I have a 3-month-old and I am fully rested – I know I’m lucky.  I have never been one of those mom-zombies, or “mombies”, walking around, barely functioning.  I have super awesome newborns who sleep – it’s the 2-3 year olds you have to watch out for. 
     
      I have recently become a mother of 4 at the age of 28.  I get a lot of looks.  I first became a mother at the age of 21 and popped one out approximately every 2 years until I got to 4.  Are we going to have more?  I don’t honestly know.  We’re at this place in life where society says you’re crazy if you have more than a certain number.  It is truly funny the different reactions you get from people when you say you’re considering a 5th child.  They range from joy to disbelief to horror to awe to straight up condescending.  I always think, we can all handle different things and what I can handle is not that same as you, so why is it that I get negative reactions at all?  Is it perhaps because they imagine themselves in my shoes and it sounds unpleasant?  I guess I am guilty of this in a way.  I have patience for my children - messes and potty accidents and all - but when I see pets doing the same thing – I’m out.  My mom has two dogs and three cats and I feel the need to tiptoe around when I am at her house because surely there is some sort of animal residue on everything.  I just couldn’t handle that.  But I assume there are people that look at my house and all they see are tiny fingerprints and questionable stains on my carpet.  You see, we can all handle different things with our own amounts of grace and toleration.  I’m so not a person who uses phrases like this, but this is a good example of saying “You do you and I’ll do me.”

      The funny thing about me being a parent of 4 children is that I was that person when I was younger who hated babysitting and thought little kids were gross.  This all stems from one terrible babysitting experience – I was asked by a fellow church member if I could watch their two children every Wednesday night while they attended service.  I had taken a Red Cross babysitting course recently and was excited to bring my binder filled with crafts and activities to their house and be the best babysitter they’d ever seen.  They lived in a questionable neighborhood and I was warned to not take the kids outside.  I was also told that the only TV in their house was in their bedroom and I could use it but the only place to sit in their tiny master was in their bed - awkward.  So every Wednesday I was left with their two children – an older boy and a baby girl who were both still in diapers.  Week after week the same thing would happen - the boy would have a poopy diaper and when I went to change him he would scream, “MOMMY! MOMMY! MOMMY!” repeatedly.  I was pretty young, like maybe 12, and I didn’t know what to do.  If it were now I would just scoop him up and change him and get it over with, but at that age it completely freaked me out.  I would listen to him scream for quite a while before I would finally just change him despite the hollering, and he would stop immediately once I had finished.  To top it off, my mom had recently bought something for me that I wanted, but she told me I had to pay her back.  At the end of my night I would get my money and go home and hand it all to my mom.  So all of the work I was doing seemed like it was for nothing.  After a few weeks of giving her all the money I was exasperated and told her what was going on.  I don’t think she understood that I was giving her everything I was making and she told me that I should only give her a percentage of my earnings so that I could have some spending money too.  By this time, I had had enough and was completely turned off to babysitting at all.  I called up the family and told them I could no longer babysit.  I didn’t have a backbone to just tell them it was too much for me, so I think I told them I had some other activity going on Wednesday nights for the foreseeable future. 

      There was even a time in my bad attitude teenage years that my mom told me she didn’t think I should have kids.  I’m not sure why actually – maybe I was just being a mean big sister and that made her think I would be a horrible parent.  It’s a good thing how you act as a teenager doesn’t determine the outcome of your life, because I was a selfish, entitled brat during high school.  But sometimes when you’re floating through life and you don’t know what you’re supposed to do or really who you are something happens and it all makes sense, and that for me was having my first baby.  I was only 21 when I had Haven.  I remember when she first came out and I thought, “Oh my gosh.  I know I felt something moving in there, but that’s an actual baby.  Like, a real baby.”  It’s almost like shock.  You don’t understand how much there is to parenting, and that it’s 24 hours a day.  At 3 a.m. when they cry they’re still your responsibility and nobody else’s.  But when you look into their eyes and they look back at you and they smile because yours is the only face they know and they love, that’s a life-changing moment.  At least it was for me – as I understand it, not everybody feels that way.  The emotions I feel are so strong for my babies the only way to describe it is like your heart breaking, but in a good way.  Happy tears in the most intense way you’ve ever felt.  That’s how it feels to hold your own baby and love so intensely it hurts. 


      Being a mom is the most rewarding and challenging experience I’ve ever had.  If I thought I was exhausted at another time in my life, I really wasn’t.  There is nothing more all-encompassing than being a parent, because there are no breaks.  So far at least, we are not the parents that leave our children and go on vacations alone to recharge, frankly because I can’t stand the thought of leaving my babies behind.  Maybe someday when my youngest isn’t so young I will feel comfortable with that, but not now.  As for now I am very content to be exactly where I am.  With my babies and my husband, and just doing this crazy life the best I can, and hoping my children know how much I love them. 
 
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