How to do death

“I don’t know how to do this” has been my refrain for the past two weeks. I don’t know how to grieve the impending death of a parent, while we still loose the other.

Even writing about Dad’s new prognosis feels like a betrayal. I don’t know why. Sis and I have remained a strong force in recognizing how brutal this tumor is and how certain it was that it would return with vengeance (as per all medical advice). It is not as if me stating this is slaughtering the last vestiges of hope. But still, I feel something amiss.

And while this news is barely two weeks old, it feels as if that was a lifetime ago. Not because Dad has rapidly declined- he is only more tired thus far- but that the exhaustion of grief is incredible.

Each day is a difficult one. A struggle to face the day, to do the simple tasks: get out of bed, make meals, be happy for the sunshine, find time for self, breathe. They are filled with unknown territory to this young adult: find hospice care. keep up correspondence with all family members and parent’s friends, write an obituary.

I don’t know how to do this. Still. 

I while I recognize that no one, ever, probably “knows” how to lose a parent, I am still adrift. I still grieve not one, but two loving parents while they are still in front of me. One whose time is closer than I ever imagined, and the other to whom we have been losing in pieces over the last five years. I don’t know how to do this. To loose one parent, while the other is still here yet evermore borrowed by Alzheimer’s.

One beautiful piece I stumbled on today was an article in the New York Times written by a grief counselor. I loved this sentiment:

I see a healing shift occur in people who feel that they have found a
way to remain close to someone they’ve lost. This seems to allow
people to accept their loss better, and find consolation in the idea
that they are still connected.

I don’t know how to do this. But I want to try. 

 

May 20, 2015

8:39 PM Wearing clothing too light for this cool night, slipping on flip flops, I walk out the door.

One neighbor is mowing his lawn, another enjoying a backyard fire. A third, me, nearly walks into a sprinkler, lost in her own thoughts.

I am walking to escape. To let the steam of emotion out.

I have done it. I have made it to the hurdle

When Dad was diagnosed on that stifling day 15 months ago, I just hoped he could make it to this day. Sure, of me, for my Sis, for my Mom, and for him,

And in some strange way, maybe I thought 15 months would prepare me. We weren’t given a solid understanding of time, but we’re told it would be somewhat quick. Consciously I know I will never be ready to say goodbye to my parents, but graduation was one ending in sight. In hope, I just crossed my fingers that this other wouldn’t happen before commencement.

I realize I’m not even thinking, I’m just being. Walking, silently hoping to process out the last few days. But I can’t certain things can’t be rushed.

15, 30, Forever Love

I hadn’t been back. I hadn’t been to the concrete court since probably 4-5 months before your hand oddly stopped working as it should. You’d be holding a glass, let alone a racket, and it would just drop.

But now it is 16 months “after. Post- treatment, post-surgeries, post living at home, post-walking. And I return.

Today I am back at our court. The place I first learned where to play. Where I took lessons, then walked over to the town pool. Where I could see my grammar school and church where I had all my sacraments. The place where in the last few years, we’d go to escape and hit balls for an hour or so.

One of my best memories of the adult Dad-Daughter relationship was our match after Christmas. You WHOOPED my ass! Since you were healthy and playing two times a week (God, that kills me to think how healthy you were pre-tumor), you could run circles around me. I loved that you beat me without a doubt, and bragged to my friends how my 60-something year old Dad just creamed me in tennis…because he is that good.

You must have been good, because it is how you met Mom. A story you were getting ready to share the other day when I was leaving the nursing home. The afternoon activity was sharing the “how you met and fell in love” tales of everyone’s lives.

Tennis.

So I find myself at the wall. The daunting, towering slab with the sun playing hide and go seek, adding visual tension. Every bounce of the ball, emotion rises up in me. Every swing of my racket lands your voice in my head “Great shot, Kate!” or “Again- but remember to follow through”.

I miss you so much and yet I am lucky to have you present. I know that. But in this moment, I just want you here. Coaching me, while also being my equal. I miss learning from you and finding moments to carve out slices of life that we can both enjoy; separate from illness, responsibility, or caretaking.

My serves were amazing. Honestly, I don’t think my starts have ever been as consistent. Each round, I try to focus on this hit. This return. Not the emotion, not the anguish of not having my favorite tennis partner here today.

Your words follow my moves and I realize this is truly what I miss. Another avenue to you that just isn’t as accessible right now.

 

I barely make it to my car before the grief takes over. But I’m proud. Sweaty and proud- because I found more depths of strength and lost pieces of you.

What I wish

I wish that I saved every card. Birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, St. Patricks Day, Easter and on and on. I wish  I could keep every piece penned, as their handwriting is as unique as they are.

I wish I could bottle their laughter, their love and quips. I wish I had recorded these precious moments of day to day living.

I wish I had each memory of every hug and kiss, every gleam in their eyes, every moment that I made them proud.

But I don’t.

What I do have is one vibrant, perpetual reel of our lives. It includes pivotal celebrations where photos were taken in front of ‘my’ magnolia tree and random snipets that occurred at our kitchen table. Events big and small circle round this carousel, loading moments into memory and releasing memories into this moment.

While it is not every greeting card or comical punch line, it is their love present all the same. And with that, what more could I wish for?

I don’t ride on coattails.

Squalls of impending change. That is the moment I am in!

Schools is ending, a major shift in the way I spend my time. While I have yet to lock in my future plans, I know what I don’t want. I won’t fail to follow my own.

A good friend today asked me to join in on her plans. It was to move away, start fresh in a new city. My reaction was expected “You know that I can’t”, referring to my parents. She offered a compromise, and I said no.

But what was this really? The truth- this wasn’t my dream. 

While I may not have been able to articulate this as clearly in the past, I proudly know that I have never done this- made a change that wasn’t my own. I didn’t follow a breaking relationship 3000 miles away, I didn’t take a ‘good enough’ job at an organization I love. I didn’t choose my place to study abroad based on friends’ choices.

And the same is true today. I want to live out my dream. However unplanned, frightening, and winding it may be. And while this might take daily courage and weekly doses of fortitude, it’s the only way I want to go.

My way. However it goes.

Her simple band

Plink.

 

It hits the floor, rolls under the mahogany furniture, forgotten forever. Or at least that is how I envisioned this possibility.

Instead I walk up the stairs, find Mom in the sunroom. She has a new cozy pillow and is smiling widely. She recognizes me. Or so I hope.

We exchange our hugs and kisses, our hi’s and how are you’s, and spend a moment, each with big smiles. At one point, I glance down and see a passing of silver and then gone again.

I stand up and over Mom, trying to cradle her hand, and realize she has taken off her wedding ring, and has it barely hanging on her pointer finger.

“Oh gosh how did this happen!” I say and we both giggle. As I slip it on her ring finger again, I realize how easily it now moves.

 

I have never seen her without it. This band is always on her hand and in her heart.

 

Later after sister arrives, we decide to take it with us and not run the risk of losing it forever. Sis says I can take it- I do, but tell her soon we will put it away with all the other items. It doesn’t need to be mine nor do we need to decide now. But for the moment, it goes on my right hand for safekeeping.

 ***

Hours later, it still remains on my finger. I don’t want to take it off. It feels foreign, as it obviously hasn’t earned a common and snug feeling. And yet it does not feel strange, it feels comforting. I am wearing it to protect it, but it adds an element of security for me.

I don’t know how to go about this. I don’t know how to linger as we let go. I don’t know how to lose my parents, when the outside tells me to focus on creating this role for my own.

Of course, this is not the ring I thought I would cling to at this moment in my life. It sits on the opposite hand, better rooted from falling away. It represents the past, a beautiful one. While it’s shape denotes no ending, it’s presence is an ominous sign of slipping away.

And yet, it is one that surprised me. One that fills my heart with joy and sadness in separate spaces. On my hand in this moment, it breathes new life.

These moments remind me of the trickiness of this disease. There is no easy pattern to follow, no foolproof guide to tell you what to expect. Maybe she will always remember us, maybe she won’t. Maybe she will laugh and giggle until her final days, or maybe she will change so radically in front of us. While Alzheimer’s has expedited her life, the current reality is painstaking in duration.

12 minutes of “a day in the life”

A few months ago, I came across an ABC News Report on Alzheimer’s. The son of a an Alz patient and a news anchor both underwent a twelve minute stimulation of what it can be like for a dementia patient.

For me, just watching this let me understand some of my Mom’s patterns a bit better. For someone who is constantly surrounded by the disease, reading and educating myself about it, I still learned from this exercise.

So in the heyday of “Still Alice”, bringing great awareness to  the silver screen, take a few moments to gain another perspective.

Just one more day

Driving home from a late night class  a week ago, my thoughts theme-dashed around change. A new year starting but with endings in sight, how do we rectify these dichotomies.

I thought about my upcoming birthday. Well, what do you want, I thought?

TH-WACK. Right in the chest it hit. Knocking the wind out of me while brimming of tears begun at my eyes.

I want one day before 2/27 back.

Memories of life last year flooded back. Visits to the house and trying to find new ways to entertain and be with Mom. Promises of tennis matches and lunch dates with Dad in NYC to come. And later small mentions of Dad’s issues with grip in his left hand.

More than a week later, this thought still hits at my emotional core. It’s true. I want that back.

And that small, still voice dares to remind me…I still have a few more. While these days are different, filled with change, filled with losses and grief, there are a few more.

While I can’t rectify these two things, there is space for them both.

So welcome home.

Be slow, icy conditions ahead.

“It’s bad out there. I put salt down but be slow and be careful”.

A few wise words from my land’mama and friend. We had a small ice storm in the morning. I slept poorly and was rushing around to do “all the things that had to get done”. Work. Oil change. Doctors phone calls for parents. Call the pharmacy. Call the garage. Speak with the boss. Etc.

Yet, when I got the email at noon I thought, “hmm, maybe this is one of those moments where being slow means more than just don’t slip on the ice”. I need to breathe. I need to take a step back, and despite all the stress in my life, try to make sure it I can still find me in the rain, in the slippery and depressing points of life.

So whether it is the proverbial ice patches or the literally ones out my door, I hope by slowing down, being patient and being in the moment will help me weather these storms.

Christmas Memories

As I have mentioned, I have been clutching to mementos. I clutch to
Mom’s locket with pictures of sis and I as babies. I grab ash trays I
will never use but love the story behind them. And recently going
through clothes that no longer fit Mom, I grab one sweater.

I have this vivid memory of Mom at our family friend’s house one
winter evening, actually Superbowl Sunday. She is in a gorgeous long
skirt, wearing soft and flattering sweater. Many times this memory
has morphed Mom into having long flowing hair, and I can see myself in
her.

I grab this sweater and love the coziness and connection it brings me,
loving to tell the story that it is much more than knitted cotton, at
least to me.

While going through old home videos, I catch one Christmas recording I
haven’t seen in years. I’m watching the toddler versions of ourselves
both Christmas morning and in the evening when the family came over. I
laugh at my childhood confusion of a 2 year old as I sob when all the
gifts are gone and I do not understand.

And then, in the frame is Mom. She is handed a gift from my Aunt Dee.
Mom opens it and swoons “thank you, it is so lovely!”

And its the sweater.

Her sweater….and now mine.

What’s even more wonderful, is the connection this also brings to my
aunt, who died when I was 12 years old. This sweater has family and
Christmas history for me.

I watch my Mom walk around, twenty years younger, kissing my cousins and aunts and uncles,
wishing them a Merry Christmas and she handing them gifts. I
remember how she was. Who she really is…and remember how much I love
seeing her in this way.

So. Thank, you. It is indeed so lovely.