The story behind the post: Task at hand

Task at hand

I sat in the waiting room of the University of Utah Hospital.  A day earlier I received my first introduction to CLL (Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia).  That’s what mom had.  She laid in a bed in ICU hooked up to beeping machines and tubes.  This was the beginning process of what would become four years of what she called, “Poking and prodding.”  On this day, only two of us could visit her at a time so I waited for another turn in the waiting room.   I sat there and took a deep breath.

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Happy Birthday, Momma!

Today would be my mom’s 71st birthday.  You may be aware we lost mom last December 2nd.   If you have followed my blog at all the past year, you may have seen numerous posts on grief (see the Sad Days Tab under categories) as I worked through my mourning period.  This particular post is not like those.  This post will be a reflection of what I learned from one good momma.  It’s a celebration of good memories of a good life.

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May 2012

First Mother’s Day: check.  I handled it by running away for the day.

First Memorial Day: check. I handled it with routine.

We made our yearly pilgrimage to the cemetery today.  I’ve always wondered if Memorial Day is recognized the same in the big city as it is in the small town.  My guess is, yes.  A city, after all, is made up of blocks.  A zip code may be in Metropolis but life is lived in the neighborhood. 

In a small town, people start gathering at the cemetery in the morning.  Since I have fallen in with morning people, we were the first to arrive.  Mini-reunions are held as fellow grievers arrive armed with cleaning supplies, flowers, and memories.  When the weather permits, we can linger and chat.  Today was not one of those days.  The wind made it bitter cold.  It was all we could do to shine the stones and tether the flowers. 

In addition to the normal gravesites, we now have an extra one to visit.  Mom’s favorite thing was having her family surround her.  She still has that power to bring us together as we gathered around her tombstone.  Dad worked hard to make her stone shine.  His name is already on it.  I asked him if it made him nervous to shine his own name.  He just laughed.  Much to dad’s disgust, mom’s death year has not been added on the stone, yet.  I say, if there’s no end date maybe that means she’s still here.  That’s okay with me. 

We visited the other cemetery to place flowers on the graves of mom’s grandmas.  Even though one died before I was born and the other died when I was too young to remember.  Mom loved her grandmas and she always placed flowers on their graves.  They were important women in her life and helped shaped who she was.  So, we took flowers and placed them on their graves, too.  Perhaps someday we won’t.  For now though, we will. 

This afternoon we had a family BBQ.  Well, a Wyoming BBQ.  We cooked the burgers inside where it was warm.  The burgers were good.  The conversation was enjoyable.  We laughed and had a good time.  For me though, I kept thinking of our Memorial Day a year ago.  Mom just found out the CLL cells had come back and started treatments again.  She was sick but she came home for the weekend for Bubba’s graduation.  I had no idea she’d leave us in six months.  Last Memorial Day was the start of a very hard and trying summer.  But I’d do it again if I could spend a little more time with mom.

So, I survived my first Mother’s Day and Memorial Day without my mother.  Whose bright idea was it to put those two commemoration days in the same month? Not cool. Do the days get any easier?  Or has May become a bitter month?

As I tell Lyn, take a deep breath and remember, you got this.  I got this.  I know I do. Another deep breath.

What’s Going On

Today is Black Friday.  This year, I’m referring to it as Bleak Friday.  But that might sound a bit pessimistic.  I don’t want to sound gloomy because I have a lot to be thankful for.  Let me explain my predicament.

A couple of weeks ago we found out my mom has run out of options regarding her CLL.  The doctors sent her home so that she could put her house in order before the tumors overtake her body.  A couple weeks ago we found out death would be visiting but we have no time frame or schedule.  And so we wait. 

I thought of calling this blog, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting Death,” but I thought that might be too crass.  Even though, that’s exactly what I want to know.  How many good days can I expect?  What can I do to provide her the most comfort?  What words need to be said right now? 

A co-worker has buried a brother and sister due to cancer.  She told me, “At first, we wanted to make each day count and not waste any precious moments.”  Her eyes narrowed, she leaned forward and touched my forearm, “But there will come a time when you will be begging for mercy for her.”  Maybe I’m better off not knowing.

Someone mentioned to my mom that this isn’t fair.  I’m not claiming injustice.  In fact, I think if I were to even utter the word “unfair,” I’d have a line-up of people ready to dispute my claim.

  First in line would be my Grandma T.  “Unfair?  Really?  My dad died before I was born.”

Next would be my Grandma L.  “I lost my mom when I was nine years old.  N. I. N. E.  The following year the very first Mother’s Day was celebrated.  That was unpleasant.”

A friend, “My mom died when I was still in high school.”

Even my mom could join in, “My mom died when I was 24 and expecting my first child – her first grandchild.  She was undergoing surgery so that she could enjoy her grandchildren.  But she never got to see any.  That was 45 years ago.”

The line would be long.  No, I’m not going to cry “Unfair!”  Especially when we received a four year extension with mom that most people don’t get to have.  There is one exception, when I see old women who still have their moms.  A former classmate of my dad is still carting her mother around.  Okay, that’s unfair.

For the most part, I don’t feel inequality with this trial.  As mom said, “It’s our turn.” 

The other day I asked her what she was thinking.  Her voice is gone due to the incessant coughing but her eyes are still very much alert.  I know there’s more going on inside than she lets on.  So I asked her what was going on in there.  She forced a small smile and hoarsely whispered, “Life sucks.”

There are two words my mother does not use because she considers them vulgar.  They are not the mild swear words that sometimes slip out of her own mouth.  I have been taught a lady never uses the words “crap” or “suck.”  When she told me “Life sucks,” I nodded my head in agreement and said, “Yeah, sometimes it really does.”

For two weeks I’ve been praying we’d be able to enjoy one final family feast for Thanksgiving.  And we did.  Which I am extremely thankful for.

This is why I haven’t been posting regularly.  But someday I will get back to my schedule.  For now, I’m trying to be thankful for each day as it comes.

The Bad News

Bad news.  My mom was undergoing another round of treatment and she was not doing well.  But we still had hope the new regimen could work.  Even though she looked like she felt miserable.  Her treatments were once a week 187 miles away in Utah at the Huntsman Cancer Institute.  But she wanted to be home especially after being stuck in Utah all summer during her previous treatment.  It was a dismal summer for her being away from her home it took her 47 years to create.  So this time, we sent her to Utah once a week and let her be in her home as much as possible.

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