Sunday, May 11, 2014

Thoughts on Mother's Day

In two hours, I’ll be able to say I survived another Mother's Day without my own. For the first time in the four Mother's Days since she’s been gone, I had to acknowledge the holiday.

In years past, I’ve gone through all the obligatory motions: remind my husband to get a card for his mother, wish friends with children a happy day, and attend a Mother's Day meal with my mom’s family to honor my grandmother. Not that she doesn’t deserve to be honored – she’s an incredible woman and I love her very much. But sitting at that table always leaves me feeling a little empty. Z and I sit across from each other, shifting uncomfortably from time to time, barely making eye contact, and I know we’re thinking the same thing.

She’s not here.

I’ve spent the last few Mother's Days primarily in bed, cycling through various stages of grief that should’ve passed years ago. I’d leave the house to take T’s mom to dinner or visit briefly with my grandma, but then I’d come home and retreat to bed again. I’d like the million Facebook statuses that show up about fantastic mothers and would keep my jealous thoughts to myself. And then, finally, the day would end and I’d close my eyes, grateful for it to be over.

Then I became a mother. There’s no lying in bed moping all day with a six month old in the house… apparently, it’s not conducive to their schedules. There’s getting up at 7, feeding, playing, crawling, napping, bathing, dressing, smiling, giggling, and that’s all before 10.

T asked me the other day what I would do if my mom came back for 24 hours. The thought of that was enough to break me down, and I cried. I finally managed to choke out an answer – the first thing that came to mind because I don’t typically let myself think about things like that.  I’d hand her E, and then I’d lay my head in her lap and just breathe. I’d take in every minute and pay attention to how it felt, because it would be THE moment in my life when I could say, “I have it all.”

I’ve always had a lot; my blessings in life have been many. However, I now know the greatest blessing, and that’s my child. E has brought so much joy into my life in her six months here. I feel as though I can finally understand my mom’s love for Zach and me, and it’s overwhelming.

As I lay here typing while leaning on T, I ask him when this will get easier. He tells me he’s not sure, but maybe someday. We both know it’s always going to hurt, although we don’t say so.  In spite of the tears that keep falling, I feel optimistic. Instead of feeling a little like an orphaned child today, I felt the love of my daughter. Instead of feeling like I was floating, I felt anchored.

Mother's Day as a child without my mother is painful, but Mother's Day as a mother with my child is incredible. It’s amazing what a baby’s smile can do.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Letter to Bean #1

Dear Bean,

It’s been nearly five months since you came into this world, and I am still overwhelmed daily by how much I love you.

You’re rolling over regularly now. Starting to sit up. Seemingly desperate to stand. And as excited as I am for you to reach these milestones, I want time to slow down. I want to kiss those chubby cheeks and rub the top of your head where your hair is starting to grow, and savor every peaceful moment I have with you. Do your days fly by as mine do? Time moves so quickly, and although I pray we have decades upon decades together, I know that even decades are short. And I want to remember every detail of your incredible life.

My love for you is rivaled only by my love for your father. I suspect your arrival made his life complete in a way my existence never could, and I love that. He was wonderful to begin with, but your presence in our home has changed him in all the greatest ways. I fall in love with him every time he smiles at you. 

Did you know I spend an unbelievable amount of time looking at your photos during the work day? When I start to worry about how I handled something or meeting a deadline, one glance at your face is all I need to put things in perspective. If our family is safe, there’s nothing else that really warrants that much nervous energy.

Can you feel how loved you are when you’re with your grandparents? You’re very lucky to have two grandpas and a grandma who would give up anything to make you happy, would do anything to see your smile. The only grandparent I grew up with was my mother’s mother. The only grandparent you’ll never know is your mother’s mother. It breaks my heart that you won't know firsthand how remarkable your Grandma Terri was. So, I’ll continue to look into your bright blue eyes – the same blue as hers – and tell you about her.

Our house has been overrun by exersaucers and swings, rock ’n plays and pack ’n plays. I’m getting used to tripping over your activity mat and spot-cleaning your Sassy Pig. I’m no longer phased by spit-up or any of the other gross stuff parenthood has exposed me to. There’s no sugary sweet sentence coming here. This letter was getting too saccharine, and if you read this someday, I can’t have you thinking you weren’t just as gross as all the other kids.

I hope when you grow up that you’ll love your parents as much as I love(d) mine. Go through whatever awkward, my-parents-are-so-uncool phase you need to at age 12, so long as you fall asleep each night knowing we love you and you love us back (secretly, of course).

I hope you find something to do with your life that is as exciting to you then as your toes are to you now.

I hope you know I love you more today than anyone has ever loved anyone – until tomorrow, when I’ll wake up and realize I love you twice as much as the day before.



Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Letter to Mom #5

Dear Mom,

I'm not sure why I stopped putting words into print. I've composed letter after letter to you in my mind over the last few months, and yet, none of them materialized until now. Letter #5 is brought to you by pregnancy-induced insomnia.

You would've turned 55 last Friday. I went to the grave and brought you the same thing as last year: pink carnations and a pumpkin. And just like last year, I stood there crying like a small child. When comes the time when it gets easier?

Your first grandchild is due next week. When I was younger and imagined this time in my life, you were always ALWAYS there. My brain is still having trouble comprehending how I can be this close to experiencing something so wonderful without you by my side. The void you left has truly never felt so large.

Dad and I have been talking about ways to make sure my daughter knows about you. I think we could tell her a different story about you each day of her life and never paint a full picture.

Speaking of Dad, he sold the house a few months ago and moved. It was bittersweet. The new place is fine, but it's odd because now when I go visit him, I tell T that "I'm going to my dad's" instead of saying "I'm going home." 

It's after midnight and I'm fighting the urge to organize or clean because I can hear T sleeping in the other room and I don't want to wake him. Being close to my due date has brought out the worst of my OCD tendencies, but my exhaustion and swelling ankles ground me to the couch a lot of the time.

Being on maternity leave and grounded to said couch leaves me a lot of time to read to stay up on all the celebrity gossip we used to follow. I have, however, managed to clean up my TV habits and am no longer watching a lot of the crappy reality shows that used to dominate my time. Progress.

I was about to put a hashtag in front of the word progress up there, but then it occurred to me that you might not even know what hashtags are. That makes it feel like you've been gone a long time. It's been more than two-and-a-half years... so maybe you have.

Anyway, please keep an eye on things when I'm in the delivery room next week or the week after. I'm really hoping I'll sense you there and that even though you're millions of miles away, you'll help me through it. It only seems fair since her middle name will be in honor of you.


Friday, April 19, 2013

The Day Before

On April 19, 2011, I woke up in my childhood bed in my childhood home, alone. And immediately, I prayed to fall asleep again. Maybe wake up a few years ago, or in what I hoped to be a better future.

I put on grey pants, a T-shirt, a pink cardigan and flip flops, and pulled my hair off my face. After taking care of Rosie, I left the house and headed to Starbucks. One tall house blend, one tall white chocolate mocha please.

On the road to Blue Ash. Overcast outside, but windows down anyway, music on, like a normal day. I pulled into the hospice parking lot, grabbed the drinks and my computer bag, and went inside, tentatively making my way down the winding and surprisingly confusing hallways. There: room 307.

I pushed open the door, and my disheveled father’s eyes brightened ever so slightly when he saw the coffee. Brief conversation. No change in her condition, probably getting further away. Can’t leave the bed, call the nurses if you need something. He left to go home for a shower and a few fitful hours of sleep.

I settled in the chair next to her bed and sipped my coffee while I watched her. The frail woman in the bed was the ghost of my vibrant mother. The hair on her shaved head was coming in grey, a far cry from her meticulously colored caramel hair. No glasses on. The skin on her forearms that was once so smooth and beautiful was hanging; her forearms were about the size of my wrists.

I got my laptop out with honest intentions to work. I put in a solid 20 minutes over the next hour. It was too hard to take my eyes off her. If I watched her, saw each labored breath, at least I knew there was still life in her body.

Occasionally, she’d lift her arms and start to pull and tug at the hospice gown, trying to remove it. A sign she felt it was holding her back, stopping her from getting where she was going. Each time, I’d sit on the bed and catch her hands, rubbing and massaging them until they relaxed back at her sides. Retie the gown near her shoulders, and move back to my post, talking to her the entire time as though this was our usual Tuesday.

Around lunchtime, people began arriving. Annie brought me lunch first. Then my grandma arrived, taking a post on the other side of the bed. Two of my mom’s friends came for a visit. The woman who  had been a steady confidant for 20 years was welcomed easily; I had to fake it with the self-absorbed fair-weather friend who had been asked not to come. My aunt and uncle came up, and Dad returned.

Around 3:00, I went to get my oil changed. Reality check: the world around you doesn’t stop just because you feel your world is ending. It was surreal sitting in Honda’s waiting area, thinking that I was getting my oil changed while my mom was 15 miles away in hospice care. (In retrospect, it was a blessing to check that off the list when I did. I was in no condition to handle something like that 24 hours later.)

When I got back to hospice, a priest was just finishing the Anointing of the Sick. TJ arrived after he got off work, and Zach showed up once his classes for the day were finished. Eventually, it was just the five of us – me, my parents, my brother and my husband. It was nice to be just us, just our little unit, even if it wasn’t perfect.

Zach and I sat outside for awhile. He smoked and I didn’t yell at him for a change. We talked about our family and what it means to have a family and parents who love you and each other. He told me he was grateful TJ was who he is; Zach could feel he was there not just to be a “good husband,” but because he truly loved our mom and realized how significant this time was.

Eventually, Dad gave us the boot. I think he liked his alone time with her. I suspect he talked to her, saying sweet things, filling her in on the day, reminding her how much he loved her. As we left, I told her I loved her and that if she felt it was time, it was ok. Her hands were like ice, and as I moved my hands up her arms, I could feel the forearms cooling as well. I began to think that it might be a sign… but then I decided to ignore that thought. Not ready for it.

TJ, Zach and I went to Bob Evans for dinner and tried to act like it was a normal day. I asked Zach if he wanted me to stay at the house again and he said no. And we all went home. And I cried and took a shower and cried more.

And then the day ended much as it’d began. I prayed to fall asleep. Maybe to wake up a few years ago, or in what I hoped to be a better future. And I slept until the sirens went off at 1:15. The real end was beginning.

Part of me doesn’t want to remember details from her last days, but I also don’t want to lose a single memory of her. Putting them in print is a double-edged sword. I’ll always have the print to refer back to if needed. But it’s also a torture device. Rereading the words is reliving them.

It’s unreal to think it’s been two years since I saw her, felt her skin, listened to her breaths in and out. It’s unreal to think life has continued on without her. It’s unreal how much I miss her, need her, wish for her, pray to her, love her. But that’s not just April 19; that’s a normal day.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Boy Intro #3

This post should’ve been written months ago, but given that today is Zach’s birthday, it seems like a good time to write about him.

He turned 23 today. I can still remember throwing coins into the fountains at Northgate Mall, wishing on each for a baby brother. I remember telling my parents that all I wanted was a baby brother. I dreamt of what it would be like to have a baby brother. Somewhere in my four year-old heart, I just knew that having a baby brother would be the best thing in the world.

Twenty-three years ago today, my dream came true. I begged my parents to name him Danny (in honor of my preschool boyfriend). Lost that battle, no hard feelings. From day one, he was just the best thing in the world. Our childhood was filled with games and laughter, and occasional screaming, hitting, pinching and biting. I think it’s fair to say that it was mostly positive though.

As we got older, it was harder to stay close. A five-year age gap meant that when I was interested in bringing a boyfriend to the house, Zach would have to give up his video games on the basement TV. As I went to college, he was just starting 8th grade. I hoped that we would somehow find a way to be really close again. I never wanted to have a brother who I only saw on holidays.

Two years ago today, Zach turned 21. He didn’t go out to a bar or have a party with his friends. We celebrated it in our mom’s hospital room with a cake and a few gifts. It was the last day she was with us mentally. He never complained or lamented the fact that his 21st wasn’t like you see in the movies. That day, I realized Zach had grown up.

Three days later, she passed away, and Zach once again showed just how grown up he was. I remember pulling into the church parking lot that day, dreading the idea of planning her funeral mass. Then I realized his car was parked there too. I was so relieved, but also surprised. Planning a funeral isn’t something a child should have to do, but he showed me once again that he was a grown up.

Watching how Zach handled himself during such a terrible time made me realize that our five-year gap had gotten a little smaller. Somehow, when I was busying myself with college, work, and a bunch of other things, he’d turned into a young man with his priorities set, and he made it clear that family was at the top of his list.

Zach can be critical of himself sometimes, but I wish he could see what I see: a kind, honest, smart, funny, handsome guy with so many opportunities ahead of him. He has my forever respect, and he will forever be my baby brother.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Letter to Mom #4

Dear Mom,

It’s been awhile since I wrote, but don’t take it personally. I talk to you in my head all the time.

My winter slump has been extra slumpy this year. I’m desperate for a warm, sunny day. I know I’m not the only one.

If you’ve been paying attention to anything going on down here, you know that I’ve started taking a whole menu of pills to try convincing my body to get pregnant. Let’s hope it works, because I feel like crap. My doctor feels fairly confident it will work. I’m scared it won’t, and I wish I’d thought to ask you about your struggles to have kids when I had the chance.

I had lunch with your sister a few weeks ago. We talked for nearly four hours, and it was nice. Though you two were very different, there were moments in conversation when I could see you in her. I know you two weren’t super close, but it was evident that she really misses you.

Our garage door broke last weekend, and since it’s a detached garage with no normal door, we had to smash in a window with a crowbar to get inside. We managed to make a new window from plexi-glass, but need a new door and new springs. Good-bye, $1000.

Dad has a cold. It’s the worst cold he’s ever had (according to him). He said he misses having someone to whine to on a regular basis. If he could get into the habit of checking his email, he’d know that I email him constantly to see what’s going on and send him things I think he’d find interesting. I fear he’s too proud to ever let me take care of him, even though I’d do it gladly.

T and I went to the Auto Expo a few weeks ago and I sat in a Jeep Grand Cherokee. I don’t know if it’s because you drove a Jeep for so long or what, but those cars just feel so comfortable to me. When we get rid of my Civic, that Jeep is likely to be the next purchase.

I talked to Dad’s realtor the other day because he really is planning to sell the house this spring. He stripped almost all the wallpaper in the house (sorry, I know you loved that stuff) and has painted a lot of the first floor. He made a good paint choice too, which was shocking because I remember you two arguing over colors every time you remodeled a room.

In January, I went to your grave to build you a snowman and it started snowing while I was there in the Holy Family Garden. I think you made that happen because it wasn’t snowing anywhere else that I could see, so thanks for that. Sorry the snowman’s face ended up looking like the Scream mask. I was never good at that kind of stuff anyway.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013


It’s been a full two months since I've written a single word for this blog. In December, it was intentional. January, not so much.

December. Oh, December. The month I loved for 25 years just isn't quite the same anymore. Not only are we without my mom at the holidays, but we also relive the beginning of the nightmare that ended so badly. I remember when she started getting sick. When she had that first doctor’s appointment. When she stopped eating. When the pain was so great she stopped going to work. When she skipped our Christmas Eve tradition of church and dinner. When she was yellow and jaundiced in Christmas photos.

And then after Christmas, I remember when they went back to the doctor for results. When they came home, how their words said “it’ll be fine” but their faces said otherwise. When the doctor called 45 minutes later and said to go to the hospital immediately. When they took blood, ran tests, placed stents. When they told us that lymphoma was no longer something we should be worried about, but rather the disease we should be praying this was.

And finally, on December 31, 2009, the last day of the year, when they told us it was everything we’d been praying it wouldn't be.

When I slide into January now, it’s with conflicted thoughts. I feel hopeful at the start of a new year, but the memories continue. January 2010 found our family struggling to adjust; January 2011 left us devastated by a major setback. January 2012 found me mopey and confined to my bed at every allowable moment. This January left me distracted by a health issue.

As I prepare myself for the tests that lay ahead – and the impact their results may have on my life – I’m struggling to feel hopeful. The truth is: My propensity to hope died a little on April 19, 2011 when my mom was in hospice. When she could no longer get out of bed. When I felt the warmth leaving her fingers and toes. When the day became April 20. When my mom left this earth. My unwavering optimism throughout her illness resulted in feelings of disillusion when she died. I’d been hopeful, so how could this have gone so wrong?

How do you strike the right balance between hope and realism? Optimism and pessimism? If I’d accepted the fact that we were fighting a losing battle, would it have hurt less to let her go? If I stay optimistic throughout the upcoming weeks, am I more likely to get the results I’m praying for?