… from the bungalow


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Are You There, Mom? It’s Me, Your Son

Hi, friends! I’ve missed you. Writing anything at this point feels a bit moot, but we’ll give it a go.

Two years ago was my first Thanksgiving without my mom, and it kind of sucked. I didn’t even spend it with family. I spent it working on what would be a 23-page comprehensive literature review (for my first grad class! Ugh!), then eating at a friend’s house. Last year was spent with grandparents and relatives, along with my father-in-law right after we lost my mother-in-law. Not exactly conducive to the warm fuzzies. So, I’m working on regaining that sense of nostalgia and warmth that used to make Thanksgiving my favorite holiday. I spoke with my therapist last weekend about how to do this. My assignment is to write to my mom; it might help me lift some of the weight from my shoulders. I thought about this as I got ready for work this morning. As serendipity (synchronicity) would have it, a guest post I wrote for The Monster in Your Closet (three years ago!) popped up, right on cue, to get me started. Ready?

Dear Mom:

I miss you. Sometimes I think you’re here with me, but I don’t dare ask or hope. I don’t think I could handle the realization that you’re just … gone. It’s easier to keep it in a perpetual state of “I wonder,” you know? Like suspecting there’s something medically wrong with you, but never going to the doctor for fear they’ll confirm the worst. But when my therapist appeared to get a chill down the back of her neck and mentioned green bean casserole, I got hopeful. Pesky hope.

I’ll be honest. When you decided you didn’t want to be placed on a ventilator–and subsequently stopped breathing and died in your sleep–it made me angry. I mean, I’m glad the transition was relatively peaceful for you, but it gutted me. I couldn’t get there in time. I know you never wanted to cause me pain, but you did. Maybe you were OK with not living anymore, but I wasn’t. And maybe your family needing you wasn’t worth the high cost of living with a degenerative disease. I wish it had been. Still, I get it. Given your situation, I honestly can’t say if I would do anything differently.

But, Mom, life without you has been really f*cking hard. (Sorry. I know you hate the F-word.) Every time I think about you, I see a void. When I’m stressed and want to call you? Void. When I visit relatives? Void. Whenever Dad visits, I see a void: big and obvious and standing right there next to him where you used to be.

Where you’re supposed to be.

It’s gotten so I avoid visiting or even talking to family members. I can’t tell if the loss of you is getting easier because I’m accepting it or because I’m ignoring it.

The thing is, you’re more than a void, and my memories of you demand to be honored as such. More than dishonoring you, I’m choking off any potential joy I could be reveling in having been raised by you. So, hey, let’s go back, OK?

Remember when you read Ramona and Beezus to us at bedtime? Or Grimms’ Fairy Tales? Or The Five Chinese Brothers? Remember when you bought me my The Fall Guy lunch box? The bologna, American cheese, and Miracle Whip sandwiches you packed for me that stuck to the roof of my mouth? Remember the time I turned on the vacuum cleaner while you were holding the cat and she freaked out and clawed you up and you were bleeding all over yourself? How you were so calm and kind in telling me, “It’s OK; it wasn’t your fault”? Remember how you stayed up half the (all?) night to make that vampire Halloween costume so I could wear it to school the next morning and I was too shy/self-conscious to wear it? How you were disappointed, maybe even ticked off, but still validated my feelings and reassured me in my worry and guilt?

Remember when you saved my life?

I’m not angry at you, Mom. I’m angry at the disease that took you from me. The decision you made not to go on a ventilator was yours to make. I may still be angry about it, but that doesn’t mean I disapprove, necessarily.

I’m reclaiming Thanksgiving, Mom. It can still be my favorite holiday, I’m sure of it. I think I just need to remember you for You, not for the void you left behind. Instead of avoiding memories this week, I’m going to actively engage family in reminiscing. That’s the plan. I might even bake a green bean casserole.

I miss you. Sometimes I think you’re here with me. Let’s hope.

Love,

Your Son

This Thanksgiving, will you join me and love up the people you love? Tell them how thankful you are to have them in your life. Tell the ones you’ve lost how much they mean to you, too. And if this post resonated with you, please share. Maybe it will resonate with someone you know.

Thanks for letting me share.

Love and light,

sig 76


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Roller Coasters

Cedar Point, ca. 1986

click click click click click…

We climbed higher and higher, my mom and I…

click click click click click…

…edging closer and closer to the two things I feared the most…

click click click click click…

…heights…

click click click click click…

…and falling.

click… click… click…

She held my hand and smiled at me.

click. whooOOOSH!

Every muscle in my body locked up. I couldn’t breathe. The worst part was I knew it was only the beginning. There would be many more hills before the ride would be over.

I must have been about 10 years old the first time I road a roller coaster. Even waiting in line gave me anxiety, but nothing like that initial climb to the apex or the first fall. Each time I rode one as a kid, it was with my mom. She could reassure me like no one else could. Her unspoken promise to me: safety and support.

Together, never alone.

And when we finally exited the ride, she’d say, “See? That wasn’t so bad, was it?” My mom taught me how to face my fears, and to push through them.

Waiting

When she first told me about her ALS diagnosis last year, I was in shock, denial. My mom had been given a death sentence. Last Thanksgiving we drove the 7 or 8 hours it takes to get to my parents’ house in southern Indiana, then we saw her again over Memorial Day weekend. Each time I saw her, her health had declined significantly. During that last trip, I decided to tell my mom about a burden I’d been carrying; something personal and private. Once again, I had her full love and support.

Then, one Friday morning, my dad called. My mom had been in hospice care, and the home nurse told him he should “start making calls.” My middle sister and I had already planned to drive down that day, but now we had no time to spare. Our other two sisters lived close and were already there.

Jen and I talked about our lives, our work, our children. We spoke aloud the fear that our mom could actually pass away before we could reach her. “No,” Jen said. “She’ll wait for us.”

Shortly after that, I got a text message from my dad. “Are you still driving? Tell Jen to pull over then call me.” I was sick.

My sister pulled off and parked the car. I called my dad and put him on speaker phone. He gave us the news: Mom had already died.

We all cried for a few minutes, then I took him off speaker phone and asked him when, and why he waited to tell us. He didn’t want to risk our safety during our long drive. He wanted to let us know that she’d be in the house until about 5:00 PM. Our ETA was 4:45. He asked if he should have the funeral home to wait to collect her “remains.” “Wait,” I told him. “We’ll be there.”

We hung up. “F*ck!” I slammed my phone on the floor of the car. We would have to mourn later. Jen and I switched places, and I drove the remaining three hours, numb, angry. Even with construction, I managed to shave five minutes off our drive time. Continue reading