The Loudest Voice is Your Own
You stand at the edge of a new beginning. All you need to do is to take the first step. What holds you back? The greatest hindrance to action is the fear of disappointment. So what is the greatest catalyst in spite of that fear? Passion.
With each pursuit comes the risk of disappointing oneself or disappointing others. One nay, somehow outweighs one hundred yeas. We can either allow the fear to paralyze us or we can step into the spotlight and defy the negation. We can trudge on and find a new path to our goal if an obstacle is put before us.
We can even choose to not to hear the disapproval of others, but there is one voice that cannot be silenced, and that is our own. What we tell ourselves is sometimes more destructive than anything anyone else can say. So imagine that your brain is a tape recorder that is playing its message over and over again. If the message is stopping you from moving forward then it’s time to record a new message. The greatest strength comes from within and the loudest voice is always your own.
“I Can’t Find my Car”
The old man looked around him at the cars in the parking lot. He had lived in the same town for over fifty years and shopped at this grocery store for most of them. He knew that he had left his wife sitting in the car while he stopped in to pick up “just a few things.” People parked in parking spaces around him and they walked passed him rolling their shopping carts. He looked around again, but he still couldn’t find his car.
I heard a woman ask him if he was all right. He said, “No, I can’t find my car. My wife is sitting it, but I don’t know where it is.” I joined her as she asked him if he remembered what the car looked like. He said, “it is white, like this one” as he pointed to the car he stood behind. The other woman and I looked at each other and I said, “I’ll look for the car,” while she said, simultaneously, “I’ll stay her with him.” He pointed to a car that was closer to the store, “Maybe that’s it.” I asked him what his name was and he said, “Kelly.” As I approached the woman in the car I signaled for her to roll down her window and I explained the situation. She shook her head, it wasn’t his wife. I walked up and down the aisles of cars looking for a white car with a woman sitting in it. I was surprised at how many I found, but none of them were Kelly’s wife.
I had gone through half of the parking lot when I saw an older woman approaching Kelly from the opposite direction and the look of concern on her face. The woman who had stayed with Kelly asked her if she was his wife and she said that she was. We left them then and went about our shopping. But as I pushed my shopping cart along, part of me remained with Kelly and his wife. I thought that he had probably been a proud man who had raised and cared for his family. I imagined he had worked hard and retired to enjoy his senior years with his wife. He must have been frightened to find himself lost in his own town. To look around at a sea of faces and not recognize any of them. Checking over and over again, looking for the safety of the white car where his wife waited for him. Such sadness filled me as it hit me how vulnerable old age and the onset of memory loss had left him.
I know the future that awaits him and his wife. I know the heart breaking decisions that will have to be made. I took a deep breath and I pushed the shopping cart down the aisle.
I’m not very good at this. I don’t know if anyone is. Alzheimer’s wins every time, it doesn’t matter how much you fight back.
Someone with Alzheimer’s doesn’t only forget other people, they don’t remember things about themselves. Not only things in the past, but things they need to stay safe and healthy every day. With the loss of memory, the best way to fight it is to keep them strong and healthy and to keep them engaged with the outside world as much as possible.
My mom has false teeth and last year at the assisted living home, she lost her lower set, but then they were found in someone else’s room. Then she lost her upper set, they were found under her bed. Then she lost the upper set again, this time they weren’t found. Without her teeth, she can’t eat the foods she likes so she doesn’t eat. If she doesn’t eat, she loses weight that she can’t afford to lose. So we brought her for the endless visits to the dentist to have a new set made. This new set wasn’t as comfortable as the older set, because this one had a palette that needed to be lodged under the roof of her mouth. Food gets stuck there and it bothers her. You can’t put adhesive in because that drives her crazy. She doesn’t know what the gunk in her mouth is so she keeps taking her teeth out anyway and picking out the adhesive. So the teeth go in without adhesive. She dealt with it, we all dealt with it.
Then she lost her hearing aid, she can only hear out of one ear and that one needs a hearing aid. One step forward, two steps back. We bought her another hearing aid (actually over the years we have bought her several).
She was having trouble seeing, so we brought her to the eye doctor. He said, let’s do cataract surgery. So we brought her for the surgery and it was a disaster. The natural cataract in her eye broke up as soon as he tried to take it out and it fell back into her eye. He said this happens one in a million cases. He had to pick out the pieces before putting a new cataract in. He didn’t get all the pieces out though, so she keeps thinking she is seeing bugs everywhere she looks. They are the pieces of the cataract floating around in her eye. She rubs her eyes so much because of dry eye that she rubs them raw. She can’t remember to stop rubbing them. You can tell her to stop, you can put drops in, but nothing helps. The cataract surgery was a failure. The eye doctor discovered that she also couldn’t see well out of her other eye and said that we should have it checked out. Another eye doctor decided that the retina in the other eye had problems and they wanted to work on that. But before we could make a decision, she fell and broke her leg. So while the eye-drops from post cataract surgery were still being put in her eyes, she went to the hospital for a broken leg. The eye-drops became the least thing people were interested in following up on. Ten steps back.
My sister and I took turns staying with her in the hospital overnight. She would wake up afraid. She didn’t know she had fallen and broken her leg. She thought we were hurting her because we were trying to stop her from getting out of bed. From the hospital, she was moved to a nursing home for rehab. The nursing home was an improvement over the memory care unit of the assisted living home because here there were people to talk to her. She enjoyed the activities but the recreation therapists said she’d do better if she could hear (or see).
Since she hadn’t been a candidate for surgery, there wasn’t a lot of rehab they could do until the bone healed on its own. So eventually, they took her off of Medicare paid rehab. Rehab was stopped until the doctor could give her clearance to be at least “partial weight bearing” on the injured leg. She couldn’t go back to the assisted living, so we gave up her apartment there and arranged for her to become a permanent resident at the nursing home. When we cleaned up her apartment, we found the piece of her hearing aid that was missing. Great! I gave the hearing aid to the nurse. The following day the nurse handed the hearing aid back to me. She told me that my mother keeps putting it in her mouth. She must think it’s her teeth. With the battery in the hearing aid, it’s too dangerous for her to have it. So I brought the hearing aid back home with me. One step forward, two steps back.
Last week I went to the nursing home so that I could bring her to the doctor to see if she could start bearing weight on the injured leg. We were expecting a giant snow storm, but I wasn’t putting off this doctor’s visit. When I arrived at the nursing home, she didn’t have her teeth in. The nurse told me that her upper teeth were in her room, but her lower teeth were missing since the previous afternoon. They looked everywhere but couldn’t find them. I know she takes the teeth out of her mouth sometimes when she eats because the food gets stuck in them. She probably put the teeth in a napkin, then onto her food tray, and they were probably thrown out. Two steps back. I felt like crying. But I had to bring her to the doctor. So I got her ready and we waited for the ambulette to take us. The doctor gave her the go-ahead, she can start weight-bearing rehab and that means that Medicare paid rehab can start up again. One step forward.
So that’s the way it is with Alzheimers. One step forward and two steps back. There are no cures, there are no answers, there are only Band aids and Band aids can get lost.
When I was a teenager, I loved to visit my friend’s house because her mother was so unique. She talked to us and often helped us through difficult times. There was something about her, some way that she had of connecting to us and understanding like no one else seemed to. My friends and I would often play games with the supernatural like the Ouija Board, Seances, a “flashlight” game that revealed what you looked like at the point of death in your previous life, reading Tarot Cards that one of our friends bought in Salem, Massachusetts, and we even tried our hand at levitation. These games fascinated me. I was drawn to the idea that just maybe there were ways of reaching beyond our physical world to another. But as I grew up, I, like many, put away these fanciful thoughts and limited my card games to rummy and the like.
This changed as my daughter reached an age where she and her friends began to show an interest in the supernatural. I bought some Tarot cards and read for some of them and what I found was that it opened them up to me. I thought again about the mother of my old friend and how much I desired to be that person for the friends of my own children. Someone they could come to if they just needed to work something out. Someone they could trust when they felt they couldn’t talk to any other adult. That is where it started.
Over the years I have added to my Tarot card deck with other “spirit” cards. While I am not in control of what cards are laid on the table, I always seem to know what the child needs to hear. Life is not really that complicated. We want to be loved and accepted by others, and yet, we often have difficulty loving and accepting ourselves. My children and their friends are no longer children, they are young adults on their way to making their paths in this world. But once in a while, they come back to me. They shuffle the decks and lay out their cards and I look into their souls and tell them what they need to know. Sure, they already know what I am telling them, but somehow, hearing it from me makes them think more deeply. Maybe it even helps them to sort through the noise of everyday life so that they can hear what their souls have to say for themselves.
Do I have a gift? Yes, I do, but whether if it is a supernatural gift or not is up to the interpreter. The gift that I know I have is one that these young people give to me. By connecting to me and allowing me to be their sounding board, they have given me the gift of being like that friend’s mother I knew when I was growing up. I couldn’t ask for more.
My Father Brought Home Jelly
When I was a little girl, my father brought me tiny little tubs of jelly. The kind of little personal jelly tubs that you get in a diner with your breakfast. It may not sound like a gift that a child would want, but I loved them. You see, when I was six years old, my father found out he had cancer. I didn’t know what cancer was but I knew it wasn’t good. Over the years of my childhood, he spent a lot of time in the hospital. My mother didn’t drive, so it was hard for us to go to visit him. But I do remember once when my older brother was home from the navy and he took us to the hospital. I wasn’t old enough to go up to visit my father. The hospital forbid young children from going up to the patients’ rooms. So instead, I stood outside on the grass and waited for him to come to the window. I remember the relief at seeing his face and his smile. He waved and I waved back. Then he was gone from my view once again.
But each time he went to the hospital, when he came home, he brought me jelly. These little tubs were given to him with his breakfast, but he saved them for me. I would open them up and with a spoon, eat the jelly right out of the tub.
When I was a teenager, I would go to the diner with my friends for a late night breakfast. They would always tease me when I would take a jelly tub and eat it without spreading the jelly on toast first. Funny, how even that was many years ago now.
My father died of cancer a long time ago, when I was twenty-one. And yet, every time I go to a diner and see little jelly tubs, I remember him coming home from the hospital.
It was an unprecedented storm that no one was prepared for, but the bitter taste that remains, was not born out of the fierceness of mother nature, but rather it is the result of the inhumanity that followed.
Last night I watched Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke” and watched the devastation and degradation that the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast had to endure. Other communities in the United States have felt the impact of hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes before. But Katrina turned New Orleans into a third world country. And the response that followed was inadequate and riddled with decisions that cost these citizens their dignity and their lives. None of us can really understand what they lived through. But I hope that we can learn a few lessons from their suffering. There needs to be a greater response to such a disaster and it needs to come quicker than it did. There may be an order to triage, but you do not have to wait until every person has been plucked from a rooftop before you start giving live-saving water to the people who are dying of thirst. Both operations should be simultaneous and a country like the United States should have resources to supply both immediately.
I can’t imagine my mother dying in her wheelchair as we wait for a bus to transport us out of the brutal onslaught of the summer sun without even a bottle of water for comfort and aid. I can’t imagine being forced to leave her behind to rot in that sun for days without any compassion. I cannot imagine being separated from my family, my children, and not knowing how to find them again. I cannot imagine the suffering of pets left to fend for themselves among the moldy debris. I cannot imagine the cries of the children who were starving and dying of thirst and how that must have sounded to the ears of their parents. I cannot imagine my country sending armed guards to point their weapons at me when I was trying to help myself and my family after waiting for days in the heat for my government to rescue me. I can’t imagine it. I hope and pray that we have learned the lessons and that it will never happen again.
We cannot control the forces of nature, but we can choose how to respond and to help people in the aftermath.
When your life seems too much to bear,
And the world seems not to care,
It’s time to go to bed.
Grief takes different forms. There is the natural grief that comes from losing a parent or grandparent. There is the tremendous grief of losing your spouse, your life partner, or a dear friend. And there is the inconceivable grief of losing a child. Grief cannot be measured, compared, quantified or qualified, but sometimes loss can be rationalized and sometimes it just can’t. I have lost people that I love and I know that the process of grieving changes in time but it never ends. I have nearly been the person that my family and loved ones lost, and I have received the gifts of living beyond a near death experience. Grief is different for each person, how they handle it may not be how someone else handles it. Grief is not to be judged. No matter how painful it is, no matter how lonely of a process it is, grief demands to be felt. Shutting oneself off to the process only delays the inevitable. Surround yourself with love. Support others if you can. Sharing grief helps to make it more bearable and helping others gives you a purpose.
Guilt can be part of grief, it can slow the process down and destroy you. No matter what the situation, you cannot turn back time. The person who has been lost, would not want you to feel guilt at their parting. We are all human, we all make mistakes, we are all just doing the best we can in the moment. Guilt serves no purpose in loss other than to destroy those who are left behind. Let go of the guilt and turn it into an opportunity to help someone else. It is much better to be constructive than to be destructive.
The loved one that you have lost loves you. The loved one that you have lost forgives you. Let go of the guilt, process the grief, and help others.
A Case of Misdiagnosis
Continuous pain shot down through the nerve networks of my arms. The only way to ease the pain was to keep them immobile. So both of my arms spent as much time as possible in braces. I cried when I realized I couldn’t braid my daughter’s hair because my hands were swollen to twice their normal size. I remember getting my first assignment to cover a Board of Education meeting for the local newspaper. I bought a special ergonomic pen to help me take notes, but still, I struggled through the meeting and collected the notes through the pain. In the hallway outside the auditorium, I ran into an old friend. I told her about the pain and swelling that I was experiencing. She looked at my hands and said from her own experience, “It could be your lymph nodes.” She had had cancer and experienced a similar side effect. That touched off warning gongs (forget bells) in my head because my father had died of lymphosarcoma.
I made an appointment with my general practitioner for the following week.
A few days later, continuous pain shot down through the nerve networks of my legs. My ankles became swollen and heavy. It was painful to walk. I finally went to my appointment with my doctor. He looked at my hands and then looked up into space, he reached up in the air for a term and picked out, “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.” I said, “But my legs are swollen too.” He ignored me and wrote down his diagnosis.
Weeks went by and no matter how many times I visited my doctor he would just look back on his chart and point out that I had “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.” After all, he wrote it down, it must be so. Christmas came and I laid on the couch as my children opened their gifts. Santa had been extra generous that year because, somehow, he and I thought this might be my last Christmas with them. I couldn’t help them open their gifts or play with them. I could only sit there and watch and smile while trying not to move.
My doctor had finally agreed to allow me to take more tests. He had me call a neurologist to set up an appointment to be tested for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. But it was the holidays and everyone was busy so I couldn’t get an appointment until January. I began to realize that I now knew how it felt to be old. To live with pain and discomfort every moment of the day and night. To be limited in my mobility by the pain that every movement caused.
Three weeks later, before I had a chance to see other doctors, my son came home from school with a sore throat and fever. The next day, II began to have pains in my stomach. The following day, my son was put on antibiotics for strep. Another day later, I had a body temperature of 93.4. My husband brought me back to my doctor’s office and I saw another doctor on the staff. He thought I might have appendicitis and that my body might be going into shock, he instructed my husband to take me to the hospital.
What I ended up having was Streptococcus Type A Toxic Shock Syndrome (i.e. Septic Shock) caused by regular strep that had invaded my blood system. I believe that the pain I was experiencing in the months leading up to this, was some type of viral or bacterial infection that went undiagnosed and untreated. That infection must have compromised my immune system and the strep was able to take over because the primary infection was never treated. I can’t prove this, but it is what I firmly believe.
In the hospital I was in congestive heart failure, respiratory arrest, and renal failure. I was operated on and infection was found throughout my body and surrounding every organ. They took out my appendix, just in case it was the culprit but it was infected from outside in, not inside out. It was a few days before they knew it was strep but they had already put me into an induced coma and on a respirator and were pumping me with major antibiotics. I spent a week in the coma and on life support.
When I was taken out of the coma and off of the respirator, I was disoriented. I will tell you about my spiritual experience during this time in another post. I will only say that I am no longer afraid of dying. But the real miracle was that my arms and legs no longer hurt. Whatever had caused the pain I had been experiencing had either worked itself out on it’s own during this time or had been cured by the mega-antibiotics that had also saved me from the strep. One day in the I.C.U. I was walking with a physical therapist past the nurses desk. All the nurses were staring at me. I asked, “What is it?” One of them said, “You don’t understand, we don’t see people who come in as sick as you were get up and walk past us a week later.” I spent another week or so between the I.C.U. and the cardiac floor before being released.
I never once saw my original doctor during this time, although my husband said that a young doctor who seemed barely out of medical school had visited me in his stead. A few days after getting home, I received a phone call from my doctor’s office. They asked if I had kept the appointment with the neurologist who was supposed to test me for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. I had a hard time finding my voice but finally I said, “Does he know that I was in the hospital? Does he know that I almost died? No I didn’t keep the appointment. I was in a coma in the I.C.U.” She said, “Oh, I’m sorry” and hung up.
I’ve never gone back to that doctor again although he still has a local practice in my neighborhood. Instead, the Internist who saved my life in the hospital, has become my doctor. He was very proud of me, by the way, and he even presented me to a group of doctors at a conference. He told me I was “a save.” I told him, so is he.
(Read “Comas Come with Gifts” for the sequel to this blog post.)
(P.S. When I awoke from the coma, I asked my sister to get me a notebook and pencil. I wrote down what I remembered, I still haven’t been able to read what I wrote, but I have it in case I have feel strong enough to do so. But I do know that one thing I wrote was that I needed to live to raise my children and to write my book. This is the first year that both have been accomplished! My children are raised and The Tin Box Secret is not only written, it’s been published, and the sequel will be published this summer!)
Comas Come With Gifts: A Case of Misdiagnosis Continued
“Six Feet Under” was on and before the coma it had been one of my favorite shows, but now I was having a hard time looking at the screen. There was a body on the gurney and tubes were draining the blood from it while others replaced the blood with, I assume, formaldehyde. Our children were asleep in their bedrooms, probably dreaming about their birthdays that were just a few days away. Our daughter would be turning eleven and our son would be turning six. The show ended and my husband kissed me goodnight and went to bed, he had work in the morning.
I was filled with an eerie feeling and couldn’t bring myself to close my eyes just yet. The house was quiet and dark now, except for the one light in the room. For a moment, I wondered if I was really alive. Maybe I was a ghost, sitting in the living room of my house, watching over my family as they slept. A chill ran through me. I sat there for a long time, thinking about the past week.
A week ago, I awoke from a coma. The first thing that I saw, was my husband’s face. He was unshaven with several days of beard growth and he looked worried. My first thought was that he must be worried about work. I thought he must be missing work because I’m in the hospital and maybe the office is giving him a hard time about it. For me, this was a natural thought because at this stage of our lives, with two growing children, our marriage had taken a turn. He spent most of his time at work, working up the corporate ladder, trying to provide for his family in a difficult economy. He had a mortgage to pay and family expenses, while I had chosen to be a stay-at-home mom. On the other hand, I was consumed by my children and their lives. I was their PTA president, I was my daughter’s Girl Scout leader, but most of all, I was their mom. I didn’t even consider that the worried look on his face was for me. I think that speaks volumes.
There were tubes coming our of my nose and there were tubes stuck into the side of my neck. I felt confused and frightened. I remembered that I went into the hospital and that the doctor said they were going to do laproscopic surgery to find out if my appendix was infected. They also had said that if they couldn’t determine what was wrong through laproscopic surgery, then they would open me up and do exploratory surgery. So I assumed I was now waking up after surgery . . . but I wasn’t.
My husband was saying something so I tried to focus on his words. “You’re a bull! You are so strong!” I didn’t feel strong, I felt very weak. “This is the best birthday present you could ever give me!” He was smiling now, he was very excited and his face was very animated. I was trying to figure it out but it didn’t make sense. “You’ve been in a coma and on a respirator. They tried to take you off of the respirator yesterday, but they couldn’t. They said you might be on it for another week, but today your numbers were better and they were able to take you off! Yesterday was my 40th birthday . . .you’re breathing!”
That night, I spent my first night in the I.C.U. awake. The I.C.U. is not a place you want to be awake in, it’s better to be in a coma in the I.C.U. at night. There was a storm and the staff was short on nurses. My nurse, John, told me he had three patients including me. I was in isolation because they didn’t want me to be exposed to any other infections and, I suppose, they didn’t want anyone else exposed to mine. I had Streptococcus, Type A, in my blood system and it had put me into septic shock. When they had finished the surgery, they had found infection throughout my body cavity. They washed out my organs and left the incision open in case they had to “go back in.” So now, between the open incision and all the tubes, I couldn’t really move. John came in to change the fluids that were being pumped into my neck. He wasn’t wearing gloves, so I asked him, “Aren’t you supposed to be wearing gloves?” He was annoyed by my question and replied, “I don’t have time for gloves.” That scared me, but what could I say? I certainly didn’t want to get him mad at me, since without him, I was probably going to die. So I didn’t say anything else.
I tried to fall asleep, and I suppose that I did. I remember floating in a hallway or a tunnel. There was a ceiling of some sort above me and I was flying. There were children under me all along the “hall” and they were laughing and playing and pointing up at me. There were colors swirling around me, purple and gold. I remembered somewhere in my brain that purple and gold were the colors of my children’s elementary school. There was a light at the end of the “hall” and I was flying toward it. But then I woke up.
In the I.C.U., patients are hooked up to machines that send out automated voice warnings to indicate that something is wrong. I later found this out and that they say something about “reset.” But that night, I didn’t know that. I heard this voice and I thought it was saying, “Theresa is dying. Theresa is dying. Theresa is dead.” (Reset sort of sounds like Theresa, so maybe that was what I was actually hearing.) Morning was coming when I saw a red button on the wall opposite me. In my mind I thought I had to press that button to get help or else I was going to die. I thought about my children and I knew that I would do anything to live for them. But I couldn’t get to that button without pulling out the tubes. I didn’t know that the drugs that I was on for the pain were causing me to hallucinate. So I yanked at the tubes that were going into my nose and down my throat to my lungs. They had been there to administer oxygen to my lungs to help them work. When I pulled those tubes out, my machines went haywire! Nurses came running through the door. After that, they just gave me an oxygen mask.
There was a nice nurse during the day and she spent time letting me talk to her. She took the patch off of me that was causing my hallucinations. She had a young child of her own and she understood how I was feeling. Everyone kept telling me that I was lucky to be alive but that I “wasn’t out of the woods yet.” I had a devastating bacterial infection that had an 80% mortality rate. It was early 2002 and no matter how much I wanted to get well and go home to my children, I didn’t feel worthy of it. Only a few months before, I had put my Kindergarten son on a bus to go to school on a beautiful clear September morning. I had then walked into my house to see an image on the television of a tower burning. Then I watched as a second plane hit the second tower. In the days that followed, I found out that three fathers from our neighborhood had died in that attack. Thousands of parents died in that attack. Parents who deserved to go home to their children who needed them. Why should I get to go home? A nun came in to talk to me since it was a Catholic hospital and I was catholic. (There’s another funny story in there that I will tell, quickly. When they were getting ready to take me into the operating room, a nun came up to me to pray over me. I thought she was giving me last rights, so I yelled at her and threw her out of the room. I have a sister-in-law who thought that was really funny and when I did finally get flowers from her — no flowers allowed in the I.C.U. — the card said, “Don’t throw any more nuns out of your room.”) Well, anyway, this nun (who may have been the same one????) was really nice too and she and I prayed to St. Therese, the little flower, to help me.
I spent lots of time crying and just not feeling worthy. I spent the next few days in the I.C.U., the nights were still scary, but the days weren’t too bad. It was hard that I couldn’t talk to my daughter because there wasn’t a phone in the room. (No phones in the I.C.U. either.) I knew she would be worried. She was old enough to know that something was really wrong. I had been with her every day of her life and now I was just gone. They told her I had my appendix out and that was why I was in the hospital. I knew she had to know better than that, and she did. She knew they were lying to her and she was worried. The nurses agreed to let her come up to see me for just a few minutes. This was against the regulations since she was under twelve. But they let her come up anyway. I was sitting in a chair now and I no longer had the oxygen mask but there were still tubes sticking out of my neck. As scary as I must have looked to her, she smiled when she saw me. She finally had proof that I wasn’t dead. Those were precious minutes.
A few days later, I walked past the nurses’ desk with the help of physical therapist, they all stopped talking and were watching me. I asked them what was wrong, they said they don’t see patients who were as sick as I was get up and walk down the hall a few days later. They had all thought I was going to die. They moved me to the cardiac floor after that. The nurses on the cardiac floor have many patients, so it was time for me to do things on my own. This meant getting out of bed and using the bathroom without help. Not an easy thing when I still had a vertical open incision across my stomach. But I was as determined as ever to get home to my kids and unless the doctors had proof that my kidneys were working again, I wasn’t going to get to go home. The first morning that I woke up on the cardiac floor, I opened my eyes to see a familiar woman standing in front of me. It was my grandmother. But my grandmother had died over thirty years ago and when she had died, she didn’t have her legs. She had had diabetes and had stubbed her toe. That had turned to gangrene and her foot and then her leg was amputated. Then the gangrene spread to the other leg and they had cut that one off too. So to see her “standing” in front of me was a bit shocking. She didn’t say anything, she just stood there. I closed my eyes and said (maybe out loud?) “Don’t take me now!” I opened my eyes and she was gone. I knew then why I was alive. There were things I had to do. My grandmother had divided her nine children through her actions, and I was going to try to unite those who were left, and the grandchildren who never had a chance to get to know each other. That summer, I held a reunion, and there were many stories and tears shared.
But back to the hospital. You can get flowers on the cardiac floor. While my nun was there talking to me, the first bouquet of flowers arrived. It was from my children’s school. In the middle of the flowers, was one red rose. The nun told me, “Look at this! St. Therese answered your prayers. She always answers with roses and here there is one single rose to make sure you know she heard you.” Later that day, I received a call from the principal’s secretary. She was crying on the phone. She said, “We were so worried about you! Get well and come back! We love you.” Now that alone is very nice, but you see I had just spent a year and a half as President of the PTA and during that year (please read the post, “Sticks and Stones (Reposted)” for the details), my life had been a living hell as PTA President. So for those flowers to be the first ones I received, and to hear the secretary tell me that I was loved, was a true gift.
When I did finally get to go home a few days later, I still had an open incision that was left to close on it’s own, I was still feeling weak, and still feeling like I didn’t deserve to live. There was a knock on the door and there was a delivery man with flowers. Then there was another knock on the door and there was a delivery man with a basket. This happened all day. Then the mail came and there were cards from everyone. Friends started stopping by and telling me that they were happy I was alive. Finally, a neighbor stopped by. She held a schedule in her hands. The PTA moms had volunteered to cook dinner for my family every night for months to come. I was overwhelmed.
That night, when we were alone, my husband cried. He told me how scared he was. He told me that he didn’t know how he could tell our children that I wasn’t coming home. He told me how much he loved me and I realized how much I loved him. Not just because we are the parents of our children, but because we love each other, for each other.
So now I sit in my living room, a week after awaking from a coma, while my family sleeps. I am a ghost in my own house. I have been present at my own funeral. I have found out that I am loved and appreciated and yet I still don’t feel worthy. So I make a promise to God. I tell him, “I know you saved me for some reason and I don’t know what that is.” I think about St. Therese who was known for the little things she did, she never did anything grand in her life, they were just little things.” So I say to God, “I will just try to keep my eyes open so that I can see those little things that you put in front of me and I will do my best.”
(That night was thirteen years go – Early February 2002. I’m still here, still keeping my promise, and still looking for those things, God. So keep them coming and thank you for giving me these cherished years to see my children grow-up.)
A Visit From Beyond
I stood on the sidewalk. Behind me was the house of my childhood. In front of me, there was a bridge that reached across the street to the other side. I couldn’t see the other end of the bridge, it was lost in a fog. But standing at the center of the bridge, facing me, was my father. A feeling of longing washed over me. I hadn’t seen my father since his death ten years before. So I walked onto the bridge.
After my husband and I were married for three years, we decided to start a family. But we found that it wasn’t as simple as that for us. The months of disappointment piled up and the emptiness in our house began to echo in my heart. After two years of trying to conceive, my doctor told me that it was time to take some tests. But before he would put me through the multitude of possible examinations, they wanted to check out my husband first. We scheduled an appointment for him in the month of June. But just days before his visit to the doctor, I found out I was pregnant. In what I can only call a state of euphoria, I walked through the next few weeks. Then in July, I started to bleed. It wasn’t a lot of blood, but it was enough to strike terror into my heart. The euphoria disappeared and fear took its place.
Ordinarily, at a time like this, I would have called my sister. After all, she was a nurse and a mother of three, she knew more about these things then I did. But she and her children were in Switzerland with her husband, who was on sabbatical. I called the doctor and he scheduled an appointment for the next day. That night I had a dream . . .
I walked until I met my father at the highest point in the center of the bridge. Even though I was now just inches from him, I still couldn’t see much of the bridge beyond him. He smiled at me and said, “It’s going to be okay. The baby is fine, don’t worry.” Then I woke up and I knew that everything would be alright.
The next day, the bleeding stopped. I went to my appointment anyway and the doctor performed a sonogram. It was the first time that I saw my daughter’s little heart beating on the screen. A few months later, while in a movie theater, I felt the first flutter in my stomach. I came to rely on that fluttering, and later, her kicks, to reassure me that she was indeed, still alright. Then finally, on a morning in early February, our daughter was born. In an instant, she filled our hearts, and then later, our home. And the echo in both disappeared. Thank you, Daddy.
Secondary Infertility, A Silent Pain (A Continuation of “A Visit From Beyond”)
Our daughter was now four years old and a lively preschooler, but there was still something missing. After we dropped our children off at school, it seemed that all of the other moms had babies in their arms to take home with them. At first, people would say to me, “It’s time for another one.” Eventually they started to say, “Well, at least you have one.” Then, they stopped saying anything at all, and so did I. Perhaps this was the first time in my life when I questioned if pain can be quantitative. If one person’s pain can be measured against another person’s pain. Is it less painful to lose a child or not conceive a child after you have become a mother, then it would be if you had not yet had a successful pregnancy? Perhaps. But, in secondary infertility you also carry the burden without the empathy of others. So you bear the pain in silence. This is the next part of my story . . .
When we decided that it was time to have another child, we were shocked when I became pregnant right away. We felt relief that we would be spared having to try for months or years to once again conceive a child. But three months later, I miscarried. There were no dreams this time to tell me that “everything will be okay.” There was no reassuring heartbeat on the screen when we had this sonogram. When we came back to our house to tell my father-in-law, (he had been watching our daughter for us) he just looked down at the ground and said, “Aw, geez.” I think one of the worst parts was disappointing him. When we had our daughter, he was recently retired and the hospital we were in had liberal visiting hours for grandparents. I loved my father-in-law, but had never had a lot of one-on-one time with him. He wasn’t a really talkative guy and there were usually other family members around. But in the days after the birth of my daughter, he spent every moment he could in the room with me, holding his new granddaughter. He had other grandchildren, but they lived in other states. This was the first time he had a grandchild he could see grow-up on a daily basis. The two of them became like “two peas in a pod.” He had a special name for her, “little lady,” and she just adored him. As she grew older, they would take long walks together, just the two of them. Since my own father had died years before, I was so thankful that she had this grandfather to bond with. So seeing his pain at the loss of our second child, hurt me almost as much as my own pain. When I was being wheeled into the operating room later that day, the doctor said to me, “Just think of it as a flower that didn’t grow.” If I could have gotten up from the gurney and punched him in the eye, I would have.
Over the years that followed, we spent a mini-fortune on home pregnancy tests and ovulation kits. I had charts of my morning temperatures and became well versed in the science behind conception. Yet, there had been no more pregnancies. I became depressed and was having a hard time enjoying my daughter’s childhood because I was so focused on the disappointment of not having another child. We finally went through fertility tests and found out that there were procedures that could enhance our chances of conception. But these procedures were not guaranteed, they were expensive and intrusive and I was getting older. I was now in my late 30’s and the chances of me conceiving again were diminishing daily. In the end, we decided not to have any procedures done. I couldn’t put myself through that. After all, I did have a child (as everyone had been telling me) and I had already “missed” too much of her childhood. So I decided to focus on her and on getting myself back to a healthier state. I started to exercise and finally lost the baby weight from my previous pregnancies. That June, I noticed that I didn’t get my cycle. But I thought that it was because I was exercising. I wasn’t going to be fooled into buying another pregnancy test only to have to deal with the disappointment and the depression, once again. But the weeks passed, until finally one day I said to myself, “maybe?” That night, my husband slept in our third bedroom because he had a bad cold and didn’t want to get me or our daughter sick. Early in the morning, I awoke and took the pregnancy test. I was surprised when I saw the tell-tale plus sign appear . . . I was pregnant again. I left the pregnancy test on the night stand next to my sleeping husband. In the morning when he awoke, he assumed the pregnancy test was negative because I hadn’t woken him. But then he noticed the test lying on his nightstand. When he saw the plus sign, he came out into the hallway all excited. I was happy, but I was also very cautious.
In July I started to bleed again. This time I left my daughter at a neighbor’s house and went directly to the doctor’s office. He performed a sonogram and I could see that there was still, indeed, a heartbeat. I was reassured for a minute or two. When I arrived at the doorstep of my neighbor to retrieve my daughter, I broke down in sobs. She didn’t understand. She said, “but the sonogram showed that the baby was okay.” I said, “That was a half-hour ago.”
If I could have lived through the next months continuously attached to a sonogram, maybe I would have been able to enjoy that pregnancy, but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to attach myself to this child who was growing inside me, when I was so sure it too would end in loss. In September we found out that my father-in-law had pancreatic cancer. (To be continued.)
The Power of a Grandfather’s Love (continuation of Secondary Infertility)
In October of that year, because I was 37 years old, I had an amniocentesis performed to see if the baby was developing correctly. The “amnio” revealed a perfectly healthy baby boy. While I was undergoing the “amnio,” my father-in-law was undergoing operations and treatments for his pancreatic cancer. In the beginning, I hoped he would be cured. I hoped that he wouldn’t be taken away from my daughter who loved him so very much. I hoped that he would be there to take his grandson to a baseball game someday. But that Christmas, among all the multitude of presents that were there for my daughter, there was one for my unborn son. My father-in-law handed me this gift, wrapped in brightly colored Christmas wrapping paper and said, “This is for the baby. I bought it, myself.” He was very proud of this fact.
When I took off the wrapping paper, I saw that it was the “1995 Hess Truck.” I had bought many Hess Trucks for my nephews in the past and I was very excited to receive this first one for my own son. But as I looked into my father-in-law’s eyes . . . I knew. I knew he didn’t think he would be here to give one to my son next year. I knew that he knew that the cancer was spreading, that it had not been cured as we were all hoping. In that room full of toys and presents, Christmas lights and family, I knew this was his last Christmas. I kissed him on the cheek and thanked him.
Over the final weeks, my daughter kept asking me when this baby was going to be born. I told her that he was going to be her birthday present, since I was scheduled to have a c-section ten days after her fifth birthday. She was a little disappointed with this news, since if it was indeed her birthday present, she would have preferred a sister. The day of the c-section finally arrived and although we got to the hospital early, later that day a terrible snowstorm blew in. Our son was born in late morning. As he was being born I could tell that the doctor was worried. He was working fast at something. When all was okay and he handed the baby to the nurse he said to me, “It’s a good thing you chose the c-section. He was breech and the cord was wrapped around his neck.”
My father-in-law wasn’t feeling strong enough to come to the hospital. I remember at some point during the next few days, my mother-in-law saying that he was at home watching our daughter. I wasn’t very comfortable about that idea. During the previous months, when I had left my daughter with him, I would often come home to find him asleep and my daughter watching him. Somehow, my mother-in-law didn’t know how sick her husband was.
I only have one picture of my father-in-law holding my son in his arms.
A few weeks after he was born, my father-in-law went into the hospital. The same hospital that my children had been born in. He never regained his strength. He passed away in early April, six weeks after my son’s birth.
The next Christmas there were plenty of gifts for my son, including the 1996 Hess Truck that my mother-in-law had bought him. But there was no gift that meant more to me than the 1995 Hess Truck that also sat beneath the Christmas tree.
That February, my daughter turned six and my son turned one. On my daughter’s birthday, she made a silent wish as she blew out her candles. When I put her to bed that night, I asked her what she had wished for. She said she had wished that grandpa could come back. I traced my child’s face with my fingertips and told her that her grandpa couldn’t come back. That he was in heaven watching over her. But that answer wasn’t enough for her to give up on her wish. There were many other birthday wishes and wishes made over blowing fuzzy dandelions into the wind, when her wish remained the same. But finally, one day, she said to me, “I’m not going to wish for grandpa to come back anymore. I know that he can’t.”
Years later, when my daughter was seventeen years old, she and I went to a benefit at the local volunteer fire house. A woman named, Josephine Ghiringhelli was going to be there to help people connect with their loved ones who had passed over. That night her grandpa came back to her and my daughter’s wish finally came true. (To be continued.)
An Old Wish Granted (the final chapter, a continuation of The Power of a Grandfather’s Love)
There were about 80 to 100 people in the room. Josephine Ghiringhelli had barely introduced herself when she approached my table and said, “I’m coming over here.”
I wrote an account of the reading that night (I have included excerpts from an e-mail that I wrote to my cousin, following the event. Here it is:
“The psychic said that she was looking for someone who knew a “Michael” and that this went along with a young man who died suddenly involving a car. Also the date June 6th was a birthday or anniversary that I should know if it was for me. My father and mother’s anniversary was June 6th. In addition, she said that there were “twins” connected to Michael and the young man.”
My father, Tony, had a brother named Paul, who was still alive at that time. Paul had a son named Michael. He also had a son named Peter and Peter was the father of twins. My cousin, Michael, had a son, Will, who had died after being hit by a car while walking across the highway at night. Michael had had to make the difficult decision to take his son off of life support when it was determined that his son was brain dead.
“I said that Michael’s brother Peter has twins. And told her the story of William’s death and she said that William and my father were with me. Then she said that she keeps getting the message, “time, time, time.”
Hearing that message was like having an electrical shock sent through my system. In the crowded room, with every one watching me, I pulled my hands out from under the table. I showed everyone that I was holding my father’s watch. I had recently asked my mother if I could have something that belonged to my father. She offered me either his watch or his old thick glass contact lenses he used while playing football in the 1930’s. I took the watch. I wonder what he would have said if I had taken his old contact lenses? The crowded room all exhaled in unison, making a collective sound of disbelief.
“I said, I’m holding my father’s watch in my hand and it’s the only thing I have from him. She said that he is always near me and that I am my “father’s daughter.” Meaning that I am a lot like him.
My daughter was sitting next to me and I knew that this was my only chance to ask. With the room so full, Josephine’s attention would surely be lost in a moment. So I said, my daughter never knew my father, but she was very close to my father-in-law.
Then she said that, “Frank or Francis” is also with him.
But I was so rattled at this moment that I didn’t even recognize my father-in-law’s name. So instead, I said, “I’ve done a lot of research on my family tree and there are several Frank’s in the tree, maybe it’s one of them.” My daughter is just about punching me in the side at this point when she says, “Grandpa!” Oh, right, my father-in-law’s name was Frank. I regained my composure and said, “That’s my father-in-law.”
“Is that your daughter sitting next to you? Frank wants to talk to her. He wants her to know that he is her guardian angel and that he thinks she is very creative.”
At the time, she was a senior in high school. That reading, helped her decide to go to school to become an art teacher. But while in college her extraordinary passion for Environmental Anthropology won out, and she became a double major in Studio Art and Anthropology. Although she is now, six years later, in a PhD program and on her way to becoming an Professor of Anthropology, she remains very artistic and creative. Josephine had one more message from Frank so she continued,
“Frank also wanted to say hello to “Debbie.” (Frank’s daughter’s name is Debbie!)”
More validation that it was indeed my daughter’s grandfather. The Grandpa that she had lost when she was five years old, had reached out to her from the other side to give her a long needed message. After all of her wishes for him to come back. After all of the years that had passed since his death. He had finally “come back” to her . . . the only way that he could.
Two Fathers Reached through a Veil of Darkness and brought Light to their Daughters
If you think this is black magic or a joke, then I ask you to pass on reading this post, because this one is not for you. Last night I had the privilege of being at a small gathering, over which, Psychic Medium, Josephine Ghiringhelli, presided. It was held at a friend’s house, Leeann, who I’ve only recently come to know. Leeann invited me to come to a group reading after someone had dropped out. She had just read my post, “Secondary Infertility”(posted 9/16/14) but it was before I had written the post, “An Old Wish Granted”(posted 9/17/14) in which I talk about a previous reading that I had with Josephine. Leeann was the only person at the gathering that I knew or who knew me. I had first sat on one couch, but left to go to another room. When I returned, someone was sitting in my seat, so I took another seat on a chair. When Josephine arrived, she said that some of the chairs were “too close” to her, so we rearranged chairs and I moved to sit on the end of another couch. Josephine asked for the lights in the room to be shut off and by candlelight she began. She asked us to uncross our legs and arms, to hold our hands, palm up, and to close our eyes. She said to think about a memory with the person we wanted to connect with and to invite them to come into our presence. As I sat there, with my eyes closed, I thought about when my father and I would sit and sing songs from his Mitch Miller albums and I thought about his beautiful voice. Then a smile spread wide across my face, because I could actually feel his hands in open hands. It wasn’t a physical presence, it was more like the energy that I knew was him. I know that there are disbelievers out there, so really, if you want to doubt this, this story is not for you. In my heart, I know that last night I held my father’s hands in mine for the first time since his death in 1979.
On Josephine’s command, we opened our eyes. I already knew that my father was there, I didn’t need her to tell me. I do not say that I am a psychic medium, but I have come to believe that I am an intuitive. I can feel other people, I feel their pain and their sorrow and, if they are open to it, I reach out to them to help heal their pain. I am not a healer, I have no magic powers, I am just somone who is interested in easing pain in this world. The room was full of sorrow last night and I knew there were others who needed to speak to their loved ones much more than I did. So I was willing to sit back and let them connect. First Josephine asked to address the person who’s house we were in. She told Leeann that her house had a good energy and then proceeded to connect Leeann to her loved ones. Immediately after reading Leeann, Josephine approached me and the woman seated next to me. As she looked at us she said she had “twins” here. She mentioned “Gemini,” the twins. I thought about my cousin Peter’s twins, because in 2008 when Josephine read me in a room full of about eighty people, she had mentioned them then too. But I thought it was too much of a stretch with no other information, so I said nothing. Then she mentioned that the month June would have meaning as a birthday or an anniversary for the person this was meant for. I thought of my parents’ anniversary, June 6th (the same date that had come through the last time I had seen Josephine). But the woman sitting next to me said it was for her. Josephine brought through the woman’s father and the connection seemed right. Then Josephine said, “Who is Theresa? Tom? Will?” All three she said together without a beat between them. I raised my hand and said, “I am Theresa, my brother is Tom, and Will is my cousin’s son who died crossing the highway and he is the young man who brought my father through to me the last time I saw you.” (Again, refer to “An Old Wish Granted 9/17/14 for more information.) Will is a very strong spirit on the other side and he takes every chance he gets to connect. I hope his father, my cousin, reads this. He really wants you to know that he is okay.
Josephine said that both my father and the father of the woman sitting next to me were coming through together. She again mentioned “twins” and “Gemini” but it didn’t mean anything to either of us. Still, I mentioned that Will’s Uncle had twin boys, just in case that was it. Readings are sort of like a quarter-back throwing a pass to someone. Sometimes the pass is completed and the receiver runs with it. Sometimes the receiver fumbles and loses it. Sometimes it is intercepted by someone else who thinks it’s for them. A lot depends on the receiver and if they are remembering clearly or if they are understanding what is being asked of them. But there are other times, when the receiver simply isn’t aware of the connection, and that is what was happening here.
Josephine told me that my father was with me. She said that he was sending me “musical notes.” I told her that my father had a beautiful voice and that I had been thinking about the times when we would sing together to his Mitch Miller albums. The woman next to me said that her father also sang and that he too had a beautiful voice. Josephine asked the name of the woman who was sitting next to me and the woman replied, “Carol.” Carol was recording the reading and later she told me that she would send me a CD of it, perhaps there was more that my father said that I can’t remember at this moment. If so, I will update you when I receive the recording. But soon Josephine left us and proceeded to “read” the other women in the room. After about an hour and a half, she was about to leave. I couldn’t let her leave without asking her one questions and she agreed to hear it. I asked, “Will my writing be successful?” She said, “You are writing books. I see a book over your head. Yes, it will be successful.”
With that, Josephine left the room and the house. The rest of us started to talk to each other about what had happened and what she had told us. For example, about one woman who’s mother had hidden a jewelry box before her passing and about another woman who’s husband had left her three notes guiding her to the hiding places of some money he had left for her. Carol and I started to talk about how our fathers had come through together. I don’t know what made her ask, but she asked me, “How old are you?” I said, “My birthday is in October and I will be 56.” She looked surprised and said, “My birthday is in October and I will also be 56.” Goosebumps ran up and down my arms. Realizing the slim chance that this meant something, I offered, “My birthday is October 20th.” She replied in a stunned voice, “My birthday is October 20th.” . . . We were the twins. Our fathers came through and they told us that we were twins. Two strangers, who after moving seats several times ended up sitting next to each other by chance. We could easily have left that house and never have found out that we shared a birthday. But through our fathers’ will to make sure that we understood that it was truly them who had come through together, we discovered this amazing fact before parting. After this, we shared more about each other’s lives and started a friendship that I hope will continue. Before we left, we hugged each other. Two women, so recently strangers, now bound together by the love of our fathers. Was this a coincidence? I think not.
My Saddest Christmas
Most stories about Christmas are happy ones, but the truth is that life is not always happy. Sometimes bad things happen, and sometimes they happen during the holiday season. There are people who are hoping that this holiday season passes quickly because they have just lost someone they love. What I hope they will hear in this story, is that they are not alone. Many people experience pain and loss around the holidays. It is all the more reason to enjoy the good times and value our loved ones while we still have them in our lives.
My father first found out that he had cancer when I was six years old. The years went by and cancer became something that we lived with. Since I was so young when it started, I don’t really remember life before his cancer. The fear that you experience is like a cancer itself. It grows and contaminates every aspect of your life, and yet, in time, it becomes a new “normal” that you learn to live with. It was a part of my life for the next fifteen years. There were years when the cancer was “active” and there were years when it was in remission, but it was always there. But one year, 1979, was different.
I was working in New York City and my father was in a hospital nearby. That autumn, I spent a lot of time just sitting and talking with him during my lunch break or after work. I was twenty-one years old and he was sixty-one. We talked a lot about death because he needed to talk about it. Those days were invaluable, and helped us both heal from mistakes of the past.
He came home from the hospital about a week before Christmas. We were so happy to have him home! The tree was up, the house was decorated, and the presents were wrapped. But on the night of December 19th, my father made a turn for the worse. Just before dawn on December 20th, we called the fire department and an ambulance came for him. There was ice and snow on the concrete steps leading up to our house. It made it difficult for the men to carry my father on the stretcher, but thankfully, they were able to do so without anyone slipping. In the emergency room, my father held my hand and said what I thought would be his last words, “I want to go home.” When I informed the nurse of his wishes, she was surprised that he was talking. It seemed that he was springing back from the brink, so they prepared a room for him. Shortly after they moved him to his room, the priest arrived. He had been called earlier to give my father his last rights. I asked the priest if I could go up to the room with him and he agreed. While I stood at the door to my father’s hospital room, and the priest performed the last rights, my father passed away.
I remember leaving the hospital that morning and thinking that I just didn’t understand why. Why was this time different? Why didn’t he recover like he always had before? The next few days we spent at his wake and then he was buried on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning, my family sat around the tree and opened presents. I just remember crying and crying and crying. My father’s presents were there, untouched and unopened.
A week later, my brother found a poem that my father had written over the past couple of months. He found it in my father’s workshop in a machinist manual. It was addressed to my mother and it said,
When comes the day that I shall die,
Please pray for me instead of cry.
The life I spent with you my dear,
Was one of love, respect, and cheer.
I’ll miss my girls, I’ll miss my boys,
Throughout the years, they brought great joys.
I pray that they’ll watch over you,
and make you gay instead of blue.
It was one last gift from him to our family. And it was more precious than any gift I had ever received before. My father always loved words, he loved to read and he enjoyed writing an occasional poem. He spoke to us through this poem one last time, and it told me that he did get to come home after all. I believe it was his way of letting us know that he was still there, and that he would always be there, watching over us.
After the Loss
When you lose someone you love, the first thing you feel is denial. The flurry of activity that immediately follows the loss gives you a focus to occupy your mind. You see people you haven’t seen in a while. You hear stories about your loved one that you may not have heard before. You celebrate their life amidst the tears and memories. Then the days turn into weeks and the reality of the loss settles in.
If only they would just walk through your door and sit companionably with you for just a moment . . .
But the weeks pass and the loss goes deeper into your bones. The pain becomes part of you. The sadness grows roots into your heart and lungs and makes it hard to breathe. The ache grows. The tears flow.
Months pass and life takes on a new “normal.” You console yourself with the thought that they are watching over you and can see what is happening. But sometimes, that just isn’t enough.
Years pass and the loss is no longer a daily thought. Moments of guilt can sully the new found peace. Guilt that you have moved passed the loss. Guilt that you have gone on to new experiences without them.
So let’s imagine something: What if they did walk through your door? What if they did sit down to talk with you for a moment? What would you say? What would they say? You would tell them how much you love them and how much you miss them.
They would hold your hand and tell you to look into their eyes. And then they would speak from the well of love that they have for you. They would tell you to live without the guilt. They would tell you to speak their name and talk to others about them once in a while. They will be listening and glad that you still see them as part of your life. They would tell you to mix those memories that you share with smiles, not tears.
Give them the gift of living your life for both of you. They won’t forget you and they don’t have to leave you to go on to where they’re going. You don’t have to leave them to go on to where you are going either. Give each other permission to move forward, because not living your life will not bring them back. If you want to make them happy, then find your happiness. Relieve them of the guilt they feel at leaving you. Because just maybe, they are grieving too and you are the only one who can give them permission to be happy once again.
Our Gettysburg Ghost
A few years ago, we went on a family vacation. First we drove to Washington D.C. and spent a few days touring the museums and famous buildings and then we drove to Gettysburg to continue our vacation. On the way to Gettysburg, we stopped off to tour a Civil War Field Hospital that overlooked the battlefield of Antietam.
Antietam is the site of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. We were only there for a couple of hours and then we drove on to Gettysburg. When we arrived at our Civil War era Bed & Breakfast in the center of downtown Gettysburg, we unloaded our van and prepared to move in to the old home that would be our residence for then next few days. But when we tried to open the automatic sliding doors on the van, the one on the driver’s side tried struggled to open, but then it kept half closing and then opening again. We checked to make sure there wasn’t anything in the way, perhaps the seat belt, or the arm of the chair, or maybe the mat on the floor was preventing the door from closing. It is made so that if it senses someone or something in the way, it automatically opens again so as not to cause injury. But there was nothing in the way. We finally had to close it manually. At first we didn’t think much of it, but later that night we took the van on our ghost tour.
For those of you who enjoy ghost tours, Betty Smith’s Ghost Tour in Gettysburg is one of the best! Instead of the typical “walking tour,” you meet her in a parking lot and then follow her in cars to all the haunted locations. One of the scariest of which is a covered bridge that was used as the Confederate Army retreated from Gettysburg after their defeat. History tells us that some confederate soldiers were actually hung from the rafters of the bridge by union soldiers, and walking on it at night is one of the most nerve-wracking experiences I have ever had on a ghost tour. But this night, every time our kids tried to get in or out of the back seat of the van, the automatic door on the driver’s side just wouldn’t close.
We started to joke about our “ghost.” If we had picked up a ghost along the way, that may explain why the automatic door kept sensing “something” in the way. The following day we went on a guided driving tour of the battlefield at Gettysburg. Every time we stopped, the kids had to get out of the passenger side door, because the driver’s side door still wouldn’t close. During our stay, my husband bought a small Civil-War era double-barrel pistol at an antique store in Gettysburg. It had originally been found on the field at Antietam. Although there were guns supplied to the soldiers, during the war soldiers brought their own guns and found guns in houses along the way to arm themselves.
When we finally left the Gettysburg area, we stopped at an antique gun dealer in Pennsylvania to see if he might be able to shed some more light on the origins of the old pistol. When the kids got out of the car, the driver’s side automatic door opened for the first time without any problem since arriving at Gettysburg. We were all amazed when it then closed automatically without any manual help. It seems that our Gettysburg Ghost decided to stay in Gettysburg. Perhaps he was a soldier we picked up at the Antietam Field Hospital and he just wanted to hitch a ride to Gettysburg to be with his friends?
P.S. Notice the orbs in the picture of the covered bridges, they say orbs are spirits.
I was deep in sleep when I saw the light. Through my closed eyelids the light was so bright that I thought it must be broad daylight. But then my tired body told me that it couldn’t be, I hadn’t had enough sleep yet. So with a bit of foreboding, I opened my eyes to see the ceiling fan light blaring down at me in its brightest setting. This has happened before, but usually it happens when my husband isn’t here. He knows my theory, but he is always trying to explain it away with a rational explanation. Maybe the remote touched something? Maybe it was the breeze from the fan . . . (really?)? Maybe I touched it without noticing? Maybe I left the light on when I went to sleep and didn’t remember? But this time, he was there so I woke him up. He got out of bed and walked over to the wall where the light switch is located. Beneath the light switch, in a plastic receptacle attached to the wall, is the remote control. Now when we went to bed, the light switch was indeed in the “on” position, as it still remained. But the remote was set to have the fan at low speed and the light off. He examined the remote and saw that nothing was touching the remote. Yet, somehow, the light had turned on by itself . . .
We bought this house ten years ago from a woman I will call “Anne.” Anne and her husband, “Ken,” had added a dormer on the upstairs when they were expecting their third child. The dormer consisted of two additional rooms, the master bedroom and a smaller bedroom. Ken was a handy guy and had done a lot of work on the house himself. The only thing that had not been finished when we bought it was the ceiling fan. In the master bedroom there was a hole in the ceiling with all of the wiring done for a ceiling fan, but there was no fan.
From what I have heard, Ken had a problem with drinking and that when he drank he got a bit rough with his wife. By the time we were buying the house, Ken was no longer living here. Instead he was living with his girlfriend about a half hour from here and he and Anne were going through a divorce. A month before we closed on the house, Ken got into a drunken fight with his girlfriend. He attempted to strangle her in her bedroom, she got away from him and ran to her kitchen where she picked up a knife. When he came after her in the kitchen, she stabbed him and killed him.
A few months after buying the house, we had a friend of ours, who is a licensed electrician, put in a ceiling fan/light in our master bedroom. The ceiling fan looked beautiful and finished off the room nicely. But it wasn’t long before strange things started to happen. I would be in the bed alone at night and all of a sudden the fan would go from its lowest speed to its highest speed without explanation. At other times, but less often than the fan speed changing, the light would come on in the middle of the night. Just last week, a friend of ours was staying at the house (in a different bedroom) while she watched our dog for a few days. We had left the fan in our bedroom on on the lowest speed. When we came home, we found the fan whipping around like it was a helicopter about to take off. But our friend hadn’t touched it.
My husband says that maybe one of our neighbors has a similar remote and that when they press their remote, our fan or light changes. I have my own theory . . . So Ken, if you’re listening, your wife doesn’t live here anymore.
The house is empty. The only sound comes from the baseboard. This is the time of darkness. Worries that are pushed aside during the busy day . . . return. Doubts swim up to the surface and pull me down into the depths of the waters. But soon I will sleep. My mind will fill with dreams. Images from the past will mingle with incomprehensible concepts and disjointed settings. Ideas will flourish through the tangled labyrinth and will give birth to new story-lines. Breathing life into my characters. How many of these ideas will have been forgotten before dawn?
Do I hear a sound? Is it a sound from another frequency? Perhaps an echo between worlds? Is that a foot-step on the stairs? Just the settling of an old house? The house is empty. It is almost midnight. My old companion lies at the foot of my bed, she dreams of running through fields as her paws pump in mid-air. I whisper her name, she relaxes into silence. Her existence reassures me, I am not alone.
Turn off the computer, close the light, let the night take over. For the morning will come and with it the light of a new day.
Hurricanes Leave Holes
About ten years ago, I met a couple named Benny and Zee at my mother-in-law’s house. The moment I met this tiny Sicilian couple, I felt a kinship, a connection that has no explanation in the physical world. They immediately felt like family and they reminded me of my earliest memories of family gatherings in Brooklyn, many years ago. Just seeing this couple and watching them lovingly banter with eachother made me smile.
As the years went by, I would see them on their Friday “card nights,” either at my mother-in-law’s house or at their house. They lived in a mother-daughter house on a canal on the south shore of Long Island, they on the first floor, and their daughter and her family, upstairs. Benny and my son developed a close friendship based on my son’s fascination with anything to do with WWII and Benny enjoying the fact that a young person was interested in what he lived thru 70 years ago! Since my son never knew either of his deceased grandfathers, Benny became very special to him too.
It was natural for my mother-in-law to open her home to Benny and Zee when word came that Hurricane Sandy was approaching and they lived in a mandatory evacuation zone. They packed for a day or two, also packing Benny’s medication because at 91, his health had been failing over the previous few months. He had recently spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals, but that hadn’t damped his spirits and he was still as charming as ever.
When the lights went out at my mother-in-law’s house, they made the best of it, playing cards by candlelight and keeping each other company. At first, it was a party atmosphere, but as the days went by and the lights didn’t come on, worry set in. Gas was on short supply and the lines were long at the few gas stations that were open. Food spoiled at the supermarkets and canned food flew off of the nearly empty shelves. It was a week before I could visit them. At that point the electricity had come back on at my mother-in-law’s house but cable and the phone were still out. My mother-in-law had borrowed a cell phone because her’s wasn’t working, but the borrowed cell phone had run out of battery life and she didn’t have a charger for it. So they were all happy to see me because I brought a connection to the outside world. They were even happier when I showed them that they could watch a DVD even though the cable was out! I left them as the were ordering a pizza and watching “Cocoon” on t.v. That was the last time I saw Benny.
The first floor of Benny and Zee’s house was destroyed by the floodwaters. Hurricane Sandy robbed a lifetime of memories and prevented them from returning to their home. Their daughter made arrangements to have the damages repaired, but it would take months before the home would be livable again. So Benny and Zee boarded an airplane for Flordia to visit with their other daughter for a while. Unfortunately, Benny’s health continued to decline in Florida and his doctors said he was not well enough to fly back home. Yesterday, I received a call. Benny had passed away. They are now flying his body home for his funeral and eventually, Zee will have to move back into her renovated home alone.
My son and I will attend Benny’s wake and say goodbye to him. But five months after Hurricane Sandy hit our shores, she is still leaving holes in our hearts.
Five Minutes Later
You hear a noise and you are awakened, startled. You look around the room but can’t place where you are. There are people in the room whom you don’t recognize. Fear rises in your chest. You try to move, but movement causes pain. You realize your body is not responding to the commands of your brain. Your heartbeat quickens, you know you are in danger, but you are helpless. You are frightened, but your confusion is even more terrifying. You not only don’t know where you are, you don’t know where you are supposed to be. You don’t know why your body is in pain. Your memory has failed you. Your body has failed you.
Five minutes later, this happens again.
Five minutes later, this happens again.
Five minutes later, this happens again.
This is the reality of an Alzheimer’s victim who is suffering from an injury they don’t remember they have.
They are not the only one who is helpless. Their loved ones are helpless as well. Relief is only momentary. For five minutes later, this happens again.
I used to buy you presents and take you on adventures. But they say it’s the little things in life that matter the most. I suppose that is good, because that is all I can give you now. I visit you and I make sure you have tissues in your pocketbook. I make sure there is a towel for you to wipe your hands on in your bathroom. I make sure you have your hearing aid and your teeth. I put up decorations to let you know what season it is. I leave you little notes so that you will know where you are and so that you will know where I am, even though you can’t really read them anymore. I try to bring back some of your memories for you. Nothing big. All little things. But they give me something I can do for you. So I treasure these little tasks.
I watch over you as you sleep. I cover you with a blanket to keep you warm. And then I write about my day with you. It helps me deal with all the things I can’t do for you or with you anymore. I hope you know that I love you. I hope it is one of the little things that can still bring you a moment of joy. This time with you is bittersweet for me. But I’ll take it. It is all I have left. It is all you have left. So I will treasure these little things.
“Did I Give You the Key?”
We had a nice afternoon together. I brought her the poem my father wrote for her over 35 years ago and put it in a new frame. Somehow, the glass on the old frame had broken a few weeks before. I wanted to take a picture of her in front of her dresser with the poem behind her. As she looked at herself in the mirror and touched her hair, dissatisfied with her appearance she said, “This is no time to take a picture.” I said, “Just smile, mom.” She did as she was told. Then we left her apartment and took a walk to the bistro at the assisted living home where she lives. We watched the activities of the other residents and I told her about my kids and what they were doing. While we were there, she enjoyed a cup of tea, six sugar-free cookies, and two regular chocolate chip cookies (she loves her sweets!). But first she asked me, “How much do the cookies cost?” “They’re free mom.” “Oh! That’s nice!” Filled to the brim with cookies, we returned to her apartment to relax on her couch.
Sometimes, moments of her past come back to her in a hodgepodge. They come in disjointed pieces and it may take me a few minutes to figure out what she’s remembering. As she woke up from a little nap and she asked me about her sister. She called her sister by name, and that, in itself, is unusual these days. She said, “I wonder how Aunt Gloria is doing?” “She’s fine mom.” “Where does she live?” “In Valley Stream.” “Oh, I thought she was far away. She has five children, right?” “No mom, she has one child and four grandchildren.” Several minutes go by and she asks me again about her sister. “She has five children, right?” Now I am figuring it out. “No mom, she has one. You have five children.” “Five? Oh, that’s a lot.” I repeat her children’s names to her. She says, “Sometimes, I don’t remember things.”
She falls back to sleep. When she wakes up again she says, “What a boring life. He’s coming home soon. You know when he comes home he comes downstairs to talk to me.” She’s thinking she is living at my brother’s house and it is several years ago. So I go along with it, “Yeah, mom, Anthony’s coming home and he’ll come see you.” She smiles then and says, “He still calls me every day, he never gives up.” She’s not talking about my brother any more, now she’s talking about Joe, the man she kept company with until he died at the age of 94. When my mother remembers things, they tend to be from when she was about 88 years old, just before the Alzheimer’s won its battle over her brain. I am learning not to correct her. I try to just go along with it for the moment. It helps her feel like she’s having a normal conversation. She falls back to sleep and then a moment later she says, “You know what I miss? I miss my rings.” “I know mom, Anthony has them so that they don’t get lost or stolen.” “I know, but I miss them.”
The television is on and we are watching a show that thrives on videos of ordinary people filming crazy and sometimes dangerous situations where people fall into things and over things and everyone laughs. My mother laughs at a segment of the show and then closes her eyes again. She opens her eyes with alarm, “What time is it?” She looks at the kitchen clock, the battery isn’t working and it must have stopped at 10:40 at some point. She reads the time, “10:40?” “No mom, that clock isn’t working. It’s 3:30.” She looks at me with concern, “You’d better go home. You have your family.” “It’s okay mom, my kids are grown. They don’t live at home anymore.” “Oh, I can’t keep up. They grow so fast.” She closes her eyes and then opens them quickly, “Do you have my pocketbook?” I point to it. “It’s right there mom.” She sits back against the couch for a moment and then thinks of something else, “Did I give you the key? I don’t know where it is?” “Yeah, mom, I have the key.” She is comforted, everything is safe. She closes her eyes again. I lean against her so that she can feel my presence in her sleep. I think to myself, “I wish I had the key, the key to unlock your mind.” But there is no key, so I reach out and hold her hand. That is all that I can do.
Who is Carl Man?
My mother, who has memory loss, painted a picture that was displayed at The Alzheimer’s Disease Resource Center’s annual Art Expressions Program Tea & Art Exhibit. It was entitled, “Carl Man.” When I saw the painting, I of course wondered, who was Carl Man? Was he a man she was dreaming about? Was he another resident at her Assisted Living Home? I looked at the picture and was quite impressed that she had painted the image of a person. I asked one of the facilitators who had accompanied my mother to the exhibit, if my mother’s painting was a copy of an existing picture. She said that the painting looked familiar and that the original was probably one that was in the art room.
When I posted pictures from the day at the Art Exhibit on Facebook, everyone kept asking me, “Who is Carl Man?” I had purchased the painting as a donation to the Resource Center and so I examined it further. If, in fact, she had copied the painting from an existing picture, then she probably had copied the name under it. The painting did look vaguely familiar to me. I said to myself, “Carl . . . Man.” And thought, perhaps it was “Carmen?” I then Goggled images of the opera, “Carmen.”
Mystery solved. My mother was painting “Carmen.” I almost felt sorry, realizing that there wasn’t any Carl Man ready to spice up her life. Mom has always had male admirers and I am sure that even if “Carmen” isn’t Carl Man, there are still men of a certain age who appreciate mom for the beautiful lady that she is. After all, it’s not over till the fat lady sings.
Making Icebox Cake with Mom
Icebox Cake was part of my childhood and I knew that making it with my mom now, would help bring back good memories for both of us. Icebox Cake was first introduced during WWI, but it was an Italian immigrant, Mrs. Ernestine Emanuel, who first made the icebox cake that I remember as a child. Just the name, icebox cake, conjures up a time gone by, before refrigerators, when food was kept cold by ice in an icebox. In those hot summer months, before airconditioning, when you didn’t want to heat up the house, but wanted to make a sweet treat, icebox cake supplied the answer. “Cooked” on top of the stove and then placed in the icebox to set, it became a big hit by the 1940’s. Ernestine created her icebox cake with graham crackers and pudding while she was on her honeymoon in Atlantic City, NJ. My mom’s icebox cake was a lot like Ernestine’s, but sometimes mom would use a layer of chocolate cake instead of graham crackers on the bottom layer. And sometimes she added a layer of sliced bananas in-between the layers of pudding. The icebox cake we made today has my own variation, instead of using regular graham crackers, I used chocolate graham crackers.
Use a 13″ x 9″ glass casserole dish.
8 1/2 cup servings of chocolate pudding mix
8 1/2 cup servings of vanilla pudding mix
8 cup of milk
Line glass casserole dish with graham crackers.
Add all packs of vanilla pudding mix into a pot on the stove and add 4 cups of milk (I use 2% milk). On medium heat, continue to mix while bringing pudding to a boil.
Pour hot vanilla pudding over first graham cracker layer.
Place another layer of graham crackers on top of vanilla pudding.
Slice bananas and place sliced bananas on top of the second layer of graham crackers.
Add all packs of chocolate pudding mix into a pot on the stove and add 4 cups of milk. On medium heat, continue to mix while bringing pudding to a boil.
Pour hot chocolate pudding over second layer of graham crackers and banana slices.
Place in oven for at least an hour.
“What Do I Owe You?”
My mother may have lost much of her memory, but even now, there are certain phrases she has always said that she still remembers to say. Today I picked up mom to bring her to the dentist. Somehow she had lost her upper bridge of teeth a couple of months ago and we have been going to the dentist every couple of weeks to get them replaced. Taking her out is not as easy as it used to be now that she’s 92. I bring a step-stool with me so that she can “climb” into my minivan and her walker to help keep her steady between the van and our destination. Getting her in and out of the van has become a challenge, so when we finished with the dentist appointment, we again went to her favorite restaurant, McDonald’s. As we pulled up to the drive-thru window, my mother said, “What Do I Owe You?” They are words she has said countless times before and, as always, as she said them she reached for her pocketbook to find a few dollars. But the only thing in her pocketbook these days is tissues. I said, “Don’t worry, mom, I got it.” But I couldn’t help think of what those words really meant.
I thought of all she has done for me and my brothers and sister over the years. She brought us into this world and cared for us, she dressed us, fed us, worried about us, and loved us. Her words echoed in my head and my heart, “What Do I Owe You?”
Mom, it is me who owes you. Thank you for doing the best job you could. Thank you for being there when I came home from school every day, ready with a snack. Thank you for sneaking me past Dad when I came home from my High School Sorority Hell Night covered in molasses and chocolate syrup. Thank you for helping me when I had my babies. Thank you for all you have done for me through the years. You don’t owe me anything mom; I’m the one who owes you.
A Day Out with Mom
My mom was having a difficult time walking, her knees were just giving out under her, so I had to come up with a plan for our day out. As we ate McDonald’s cheeseburgers in the car after going through the drive-through, I asked her what she wanted to do. She said she didn’t care, anything that I wanted was fine. I asked her if she wanted to go to the beach or maybe take a drive through our old neighborhood. She said she didn’t care. She gets depressed with the memory loss and the constant feeling of being confused. We started driving down the highway and I considered my options, the assisted living home that she lives at could and probably does take her on trips to the beach, so I decided to take her to our old neighborhood. I’ve done these trips with her before, but it’s been a while and her memory loss had progressed so I was anxious about what would happen. At first, I was worried about her and how she would react. Would she remember it and would she be sadder knowing that this was in the past? Then I realized it wasn’t her that I was worried about, it was me. How was I going to handle her reaction? What if she didn’t remember it at all and it only confirmed that all memories of my childhood, of our family, were gone from her now? Tears came to my eyes as I drove. My mother repeated her plea that she wished God would take her, she told me again that she doesn’t want to live like this. I tried to console her. I drove on, closer to the town I had been born in and grew up in. Mom’s eyes closed and she fell asleep for a while. She opened her eyes and observed the traffic, “I’m glad I don’t drive anymore, I’d get lost.” she said.
We turned from the highway onto Grand Avenue, the main north/south road in my old town. She perked up. “Is this the old neighborhood?” she asked. I smiled and choked back the tears, “Yes, mom! It’s the old neighborhood.” “It looks different,” she commented. “Yes mom, it’s changed.” After moving out of Brooklyn with her young family including two adolescent boys and her little girl, she had moved to this neighborhood and lived here for fifty years. She had two more children here, myself and my little brother. She lost her husband here, she watched her children leave from here, and finally, she left herself. She lived with my younger brother until a year and a half ago, then at the age of 91, she moved into the Memory Care Unit of an Assisted Living Home. We drove south, I pointed out some places she might remember. But she just said, “It looks so different” or “I don’t remember that. Isn’t that funny?”
As we pulled up in front of our old house she asked, “Is this the house?” She didn’t remember it. I said, “It looks different mom, it used to be white, the steps are different too and the railing is gone. She replied, “Hmm, it doesn’t look familiar.” We drove on, we passed her friends’ houses, we passed my old elementary school, we passed the junior high where she worked in the cafeteria after my father’s death. Nothing looked familiar to her.
I asked her if she wanted to drive to her sister’s house. She said, “I have a sister?” So we drove there, picking up a crumb cake along the way. We had a lovely visit. There were times when mom knew who her younger sister was and there were times when she thought I was her younger sister. But the more we talked, the more things came back to her. I showed them old pictures I had on my phone and that helped bring back some old memories for them both. They were laughing and talking and hugging and enjoying each other’s company. But my mother kept asking me if we left someone in the car. I told her no one was in the car. After hours at my aunt’s house, we finally left.
When we got in the car, mom said she hated leaving my little brother, Anthony, home alone. She said she hated that he was all by himself. I said, “Mom, he’s not by himself. He’s married and he has a son.” She ignored me. Instead, she focused on him being alone. She wanted to know, “Are the girls with him?” I asked, “You mean Theresa and Rosemary (myself and my sister).” She said, “Yes.” I said, “Mom, he’s at work.” That satisfied her. She was quiet for a bit longer than she said, “I don’t like visiting people I don’t know.”
“I Wish God Would Take Me.”
“I wish God would take me.” My mom doesn’t remember a lot, but she always remembers to say that. Memory loss robs a person of their independence and their identity. What it leaves, is a sense of confusion that invades every aspect of a victim’s life. My mom is one of the lucky ones though, or maybe it’s me that’s the lucky one . . . she still remembers her children. The sad thing is that a few minutes after we leave her, she doesn’t remember that we were there.
Last summer, on a nice day we sat together in the courtyard of the Assisted Living Home where she lives. She expressed her usual lament, “I wish God would take me.” I replied as I usually did, “But mom, you don’t need an oxygen tank to breathe, you can walk, you can eat, you can see, and you aren’t in constant pain. There are many who are younger than you who aren’t so lucky.” She said, “You’re right,” and then she looked at the trees and the flowers and remarked on how beautiful they were. We listened to old songs on Pandora through my phone and she reminisced as some memories leaked back into her mind. But by the next visit, she had forgotten all the reasons to be thankful and once again pleaded, “I wish God would take me.” Sometimes this line of hers is followed by her little quip, “I guess he doesn’t want me?” She still has her dry sense of humor, so I reply, “Nope, he doesn’t want you yet,” and we both laugh.
But the disease has progressed since then. When I visited her a few days ago and she said it again, I explained that she has memory loss. “Is that what it is?” she replied. Then, at least for that moment, she understood why she was confused. I reminded her of where she is and how close her children are (two within a ten minute drive), I explained that she wasn’t in a nursing home (there’s no hospital bed, people aren’t sick, they just need assistance) and I told her how old she is. She replied with shock, “92! I don’t feel it.” Laughing, I said, “I’m getting old too, mom, and I don’t know how that happened either.” I put my head on her shoulder and she said, “At least I made it, even if I don’t know where the hell I am,” and then we both laughed.
I have learned that validating her feelings reassures her and helps her realize that she’s not crazy. I tell her that I don’t blame her and that I wouldn’t want to live to be old and suffer from memory loss either. I tell her that I understand that she wants God to take her and then I hug her while she cries. There is one more thing that I tell her with my arms still around her, “Mom, I know you wish God would take you, but I’m glad you’re still here, because I would miss you.” And I take a moment to just sit next to her and feel her presence because I know that all too soon, her wish will come true.
The dining room window is open wide. The smell of summer wafts in on a breeze, fresh cut grass. My mother is leaning out the window, hanging the laundry on the clothes line that stretches across our backyard. The radio is on in the kitchen and the song, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the old Oak Tree,” is playing. I start dancing around the dining room table singing to the radio and laughing. My mother is singing with me as she reaches into our old clothespin bag. I remember the feeling. I remember how it felt to be in that moment. The memory has come back to me now because the same song is on the car radio. I am on my way to visit my mother and am only a few blocks from the Memory Care Unit where she now lives. Tears come to my eyes, because although this was once a memory that we shared, now it is only mine.
Lately, my mom has been falling a lot. I spent Halloween in the emergency room with her. She lives in an assisted living home and every time she falls, they send her to the hospital by way of an ambulance. This particular time, she had fallen backwards and hit her head on something. She had sliced the back of her head open and needed four staples to close it. During the day, our conversation went something like this. Mom: “Go home, I’m all right.” Me: “No mom, when they’re done, I’m going to take you home.” Mom: “I’m not staying here?” Me: “No mom, you fell this morning and hit your head. You’re in the emergency room. When they’re done, you’re going home.” Mom: “I fell? I don’t remember falling?” “Yeah, mom. I know. But you fell.” (She touches the back of her head.) Mom: “Oh yeah, my head hurts.” Me: “That’s because they put staples in.” Mom: “Oh, what happened?” Me: “You fell.” Mom: “I fell? I don’t remember falling.” Me: “Yes mom, you fell. You’ve been falling a lot lately. You’re 92 years old! You’re lucky you haven’t broken anything.” Mom (without missing a beat): “That’s because I’m so close to the ground.” (Mom is a petite woman.) I smile, because it was funny, and because she said something funny. Mom has Alzheimer’s, so the jokes are far and few between.
A week later, she fell again. This time I was at a funeral and couldn’t meet her in the emergency room, but my younger brother was there. Her blood sugar was low and she ended up staying in the emergency room from 10 a.m. until a little after 6 p.m. By the time I got to the hospital, she had already left. So I rerouted and met her at the assisted living home. At the end of the day, the aides at the home put all the memory care residents in the “cinema.” The lights are turned down low and an old movie is on a big screen at the front of the room. One by one, the aides take the residents to their rooms or apartments and get them ready for bed. Mom was in the cinema when I got there. She looked up and saw me there. I said, “Come on mom, I’m going to take you to your apartment.” The woman sitting next to her said, “I wish someone would say that to me. I wish someone would come and take me away.” My heart went out to her. Memory loss is a terrible and lonely disease. Back at mom’s apartment, I turned the television on and we sat together on her couch. I put her legs up on an ottoman and I put a blanket over her to keep her warm. Then I watched her. She looked so small, so frail. I put my arms around her and hugged her. “I love you, mom.” “I love you, too,” she replied.
When I was growing up, mom didn’t like to be hugged. She didn’t give hugs. Every night I would politely kiss her good night, but that was as far as the show of affection went between us. It wasn’t just me, mom just didn’t like to be touched. I’ve researched our family tree, and along the way, I have tried to figure out if anything in her childhood made her that way. From all accounts, her dad was very warm and loving. I don’t remember him because he died when I was a baby. I do remember her mom and she was not a hugging type of person either. She was a bit of a trouble maker, actually. Stirring up problems in her old age between my aunt and my, then, teenage cousin whom she lived with. Grandma did make great scrambled eggs, but other than that, I didn’t know her very well. We spent most of my childhood visiting my dad’s family. Mom told me that Grandma’s mother lived with them when she was a little girl. Her grandmother was afraid of the sound of thunder and every time there was lightening, she would lock herself and my mother in a closet because she was terrified. That must have been frightening for my mom.
Anyway, I suppose the biggest reason I have found for my mom’s lack of hugging was her own mom’s lack of hugging.
So here I am hugging my mom . . . and she smiles at me, feeling comforted by my hugs. Maybe, I have been waiting all of my life for the chance to hug her and have her receive that hug without pushing me away. As a mom, myself, I have never stopped hugging my own kids. But getting to hug my mom is like filling a life-long hunger. I tuck the blanket around her and kiss her cheek. “I love you mom.” She smiles and replies, “Love you too.”
I am not the sewer that my mother was.
She went to a high school in Brooklyn that specialized in sewing and cooking, both of which she did very well. When I was a little girl, I would sit near her as she sewed on her Singer sewing machine. I’d watch her knee push against the lever that would set the machine into a roar, amazed at how she could move the fabric through it so quickly and keep the lines so straight. Sometimes, she would let me help as she laid out a pattern on material and taught me how to cut the pattern “on the bias.” I loved helping her and tried hard to learn what she was trying to teach me. But when I was in 7th grade Home Economics class, I was supposed to make an a-line skirt. Our class was having a fashion show for our moms. Before the fashion show, we were allowed to bring our skirts home. I tried on my masterpiece for my mother to see . . . when I took it off, she brought it to her sewing machine and straightened the hem. She didn’t want me to be seen in public with a crooked hem.
I bought my own sewing machine about 25 years ago. When I was little, my mom had made many beautiful matching sun-dresses for my sister and I. When I bought my sewing machine, my hope was that I would be able to do the same for my little girl who was born a few years later. I did make her a Barney the Dinosaur costume and a Little Dalmatian costume. Both weren’t perfect, but they didn’t fall apart either. Unfortunately, that was as far as my sewing talent would take me.
So now I am sitting at that same sewing machine that I made those little costumes on and I am trying to hem pajama pants for my mom. She will be moving into an assisted living facility at the end of this week. Although she is surprisingly healthy for a woman of 91, she is suffering from dementia. The saddest part of dementia is that the person who is suffering doesn’t know what is happening. Her confusion makes it hard for her to have the independence she needs and wants. Her frustration is heartbreaking for us to watch. While there is no perfect answer, we are hoping that in her new environment she will be able to have some of that independence restored and hope that the attentive care and activities offered at the facility will help forestall the progress of this disease.
So here I am, sewing hems on her pajama pants. I would never attempt it if they were clothes she wanted to wear out in the world, but I guess I can handle pj’s. I’m sorry mom, I am not the sewer that you were. But I love you.