Monday, July 30, 2012

When I don't know things are bad. But I was finally able to write about it.

Wow...really? Since February? I really don't even know how to catch you up. Why haven't I written? Well, life went too fast and I always think that if I just go to bed instead of writing, I might catch up on sleep. Or if I read instead of writing, I might catch up. It never happens. All it really does is make me a slightly-more-insane-mom/teacher. I need to write.

So here goes. School, of course, became insane as budget cuts came into clear definition. Many of my friends will not return this fall. Class sizes will increase. Services will be cut. Supplies have been chopped. State standards and Federal expectations have skyrocketed. I am relieved that instead of being transferred to our middle school, I will remain in the high school next year. But my love--Education--is being trampled by people who are seeing the Little Picture and not the Big Picture, with the ripple effects these Spartan financial decisions will cause. I believe we will reap what they are making us sow, and it will not be good for awhile.

Physically for me, my body went crazy and a little out of control, then suddenly stabilized and I am not longer contemplating a hysterectomy. I feel grateful that I found craniosacrial therapy because I feel that is one of the reasons I am doing better. Physically...and mentally. Hopefully no more scares for me.

Fortunately I found craniosacrial when I did because life ramped up the stress level after Alex's 8th birthday. My mother became very sick, went to the hospital and was soon after diagnosed with lung cancer. The week after, we found out the cancer had attacked her liver and brain as well. My mother chose to fight the cancer with chemo. She was told that without the chemo she would only have weeks to live. But with the chemo she would have months, but no more than a year. She said, "Even if it just gets me one more day, it will be worth it." And her fight began.

Every weekend, except the weekend of the girls' dance recitals, I traveled downstate to Long Island, sometimes with various family members in tow, sometimes without. Usually just for the day because I was so overwhelmed with home/school stuff; and because Roger works two jobs (he needs to get up at 2:00AM, and it's a little hard to find child care at that time of the morning); and Kath was struggling, so we thought the stability of being home more would help her. Didn't really work out that way, she was still nuts. :)

Every weekend I went downstate, the changes in my mother were so marked, it was frightening. Yet each time I told myself on the 4 hour drive that my job was to be positive, be whatever she needed--if she was willing to fight it then I would too. All my positive thoughts were geared towards her healing and being the miracle. And why not her? Someone gets to be the miracle. Why not my mother?

I tried to also be calm and healing. I tried healing touch (though not trained at all and without her knowing) and positive thoughts. I asked my facebook friends to pray for her. I tried to just be with her. She didn't seem to want to say how bad it was. When I asked her once why she didn't tell us that the back surgeons had found something in her lungs the month before, she said, "Why? Could you have fixed it? You couldn't have done anything other than worry." Maybe not. It was ultimately her decision. She set the ground rules. As it should be, I suppose.

My 4 hour drives back home were filled with tears and anger and all sorts of turmoil. I do believe in angels because I have no idea how I drove back and forth being so distracted without causing an accident or falling asleep while driving home.

I planned on heading down to Long Island with the girls after school ended to spend time with mom until my two week writing camp (then I'd go down on the weekend). After the camp I planned on staying down there to be with her as much as possible.

She had other plans.

Saturday was graduation. Monday the girls had craniosacrial therapy (their first appointment). I thought I could fit everything in.  When I left my friend Jessica's spa, the girls and I stopped at the Food Co-op and bought healthy food. I was going to cook and bring down some meals since I didn't feel comfortable cooking on mom's gas stove. But when we got out of the co-op I saw I had two messages on my phone. One from my brother, the other from his wife. Uh-oh.

They were heading in from Staten Island to see mom. John said he wasn't sure if I should come right down. He'd let me know. (At least that's what I heard.) So, I started to try to convince myself that it wasn't that bad...we had a few false alarms in the past couple of with my plan to head down the next day I thought (and hoped) it was another false alarm. Afterall...I planned on spending the whole summer down on Long Island with mom and the girls. We were going to really bond. I was going to be there for her for whatever she needed. She would never be alone. She would have help when she needed it, unlike when she was in her apartment knowing she had something brewing, but didn't tell anyone. Unlike all the times she was in pain alone, I would be there. And when it got to be too much for the girls I would have Chris, Nick or Roger help.

That was my plan.

About two hours later (I really have no clear memory of time for this time period), I just remember telling myself that, "It was okay, it was alright, she was fine, everyone was exaggerating," which was part of the mantra I adopted for the following 5 weeks. Anyway, two hours later one of my mom's friends, who I came to count on and love, Mary K, called me and put the phone to my mother's case I didn't make it down in time.

That was one of the most difficult calls I've ever fumbled through.

How do you sum up all you want to say, all you thought you had all summer to say, in one conversation...that you know is on speaker phone? The answer is you don't. And if I had all summer I still couldn't have. I told her I loved her. That I thought she was one of the bravest people I knew for fighting this cancer the way she did. I told her I looked up to her. I told her I loved her. I don't know if I said anything else. My head was starting to pop and I started to allow the fear of the thought that I wasn't going to make it in time. That she really was going to die. The girls told her they loved her, she said she loved them too. My brother told me to pack ...accordingly (aka for her wake).

So I packed. And I tried to text my husband and my sons again. I couldn't reach Roger or Nick, though I could reach Chris in NYC. I was alone except for the girls and I was trying to explain to them their own mom's sudden strangling fear, without being scary. Remember what I said about how nuts Kath had been lately? I was afraid this would set her off. Nope, she pulled it together in a way I never expected. I told the girls we were going to visit grandma but it wasn't because she was sick this time. I told them it was because she was dying. Did they understand? Alex said yes, Kath said no. Ugh, so now with my head swimming I had to explain "Death"?!

Suddenly what popped into my head was, "It's when you go to sleep here and you wake up in heaven."

Kath didn't even blink an eye (or worry about going to sleep in the stressful days to follow)...she said, "Ohhhh! So grandma is going up to God. God fixes everyone! So she will be okay, just like Jesus!" (I am still not sure where she even got this from. I don't think we ever talked about this before and we don't go to church every week.)

 "Yes, but she will be staying up there" ( I didn't want any ideas about resurrection popping into her brain!).

 "I know!" And that was that. Whew.

Just as I was packing the car and getting the girls in, Roger came home and asked me to give him an hour and he would join us. I told him he had one hour. He took two and I almost killed him (he had to do 'sub' plans for the morning delivery person who was working for him, so it was understandable, though maddening). I don't think I spoke civilly to him for the trip down. I was getting texts from my brothers every half an hour to hour asking me how far away I was, when would I arrive, and to consider not having the girls go in to see mom because mom's body has swelled up overnight, her eyes were swollen shut, she couldn't see.

I told the girls I didn't think they'd be able to see grandma, her eyes were swollen closed. I have very stubborn children (I don't know where they get THAT from!?). Kath told me that she would ALWAYS recognize grandma whether her eyes were swollen shut or not...they had the same hair! (They are both blond-headed.) And Alex told me that 'Grandma is my grandma no matter what and I love her and want to see her even if her eyes are swollen." In the end I did allow them to see her, I thought not seeing her and not getting to say goodbye would end up being much more devastating for them.

Halfway down to Long Island my son Nick got in touch with me and said he'd come down with us. I told him it was too late, we were on the road and to grab a train, I'd pay for it. My other son Chris was stuck at work in the city, but took off Tuesday to meet us thereat the hospital.

When we finally reached Long Island --we had miraculously missed the bad storms--we were treated to an amazing double rainbow. It was one of those breath-of-fresh-air moments, I knew we'd make it in time and I felt a calmness settle on my shoulders.

However, when we pulled in to the parking lot I still practically ran into the hospital while Roger got the girls out of the car and to the rest room.

I never would have recognized her. My mother's poor body was so swollen. One of her lungs had collapsed and her body swelled; her face was so swollen, I couldn't recognize her facial features. But I grabbed her hand and wouldn't leave her side for the rest of her life, and even a couple of hours after.

I told her we were there. But Chris and Nick would not be there for awhile. But that Roger, the girls and I were there.

The girls came in and they were great. They rubbed her hand, told her they loved her and didn't seem scared by her appearance. They showed their love. And then they played with my sister-in-law and her sister. My brothers were blown away by how well they handled it. My kids are amazing.

My brothers, my father, my brother's wife and my mother's friend seemed to think mom held on for me to get there. Then Mary K, my mother's amazing gift-of-a-friend, told me I had to tell mom it was ok for her to go, to tell her that I would be okay.

But I wouldn't be okay. Wasn't anyone paying attention? My mother and I had a strange relationship my whole life. This summer was going to help that. Each summer I felt us getting closer to it. Every weekend for the past 5 weeks, when I drove back home crying for hours, I promised myself it would get better. Let her go? No.


But I did. And I told her we (she and I) were okay. We were good. I loved her. And if she needed to go, she could go.

I stroked her head, held her hand and repeatedly told her (and me) that "It's okay, it's alright, it's okay, it's alright" in a singsong voice for hours. And finally I told her not to wait for the boys--in case she was--they wouldn't get there until tomorrow.

And a few minutes after everyone else, except my brother John and me, left the room...she passed. She put this determined look on her face before her last breath and she was gone.

And I was glad for her. She worked and fought so hard against that cancer and she didn't need that kind of pain. I just wasn't glad for me.

John and I stayed around for the next couple of hours. We didn't seem to know what to do next. They didn't call her death until Tuesday at 12:05AM, even though when we looked at the clock it was 11:38PM Monday. That bugs me.

Crazy stuff? 
~ Chris called me and left a message at 11:36PM Monday to see how I was.
~ After tossing and turning for at least an hour I finally fell asleep that morning around 3AM and dreamed that she was smiling and telling ME it was okay, we were good, it's alright. With a huge smile on her face.

And that dream made it so I could get through the week and the wake. But by Friday I was exhausted. Roger had not been able to stay with me, he left Tuesday with Nick to go to work and came back Wednesday night for the wake then left again on Thursday night with Nick after the last set of wake hours. (Mom was cremated privately Friday). I had the girls to keep me going. Friday I felt crippled; my body ached. No energy. Exhausted. Sad. Saturday I decided to take the girls out for a few hours. We went to see the movie "Brave." My poor girls had not been out of my mother's apartment except to the funeral home or hospital since Monday. "Brave" ended up being a movie that deals with a mother/daughter relationship. Who knew? I didn't, not even after we watched 5 movie trailers! Oy.

Survived that. And started to really live in the ebb and flow of grief. I would be 'okay' then wham I was under the water trying to figure out which way it was to the surface and sun. A deep sadness settled on me and though I felt like I could pretty much exist and do things (fake it), I did need a nap every day for at least that first week. I was exhausted just trying so hard to be 'okay.' I'd walk past my bed and then just sit, then lay down and wake up hours later.

Thankfully I had to get my head back into teaching. I taught at a summer writing program the following week for the Writing Project and I swear that was such a life saver. The kids were great, but so was my teaching partner Dan, who really made it easy for me to come back to life slowly and safely. I'm more grateful than I can ever say.

I also decided I needed to take care of myself in a way I never had. I got a massage for healing, had my hair done, had craniosacrial therapy and went to a psychic. I kept in touch with mom's great friends Mary K and Diana, but struggled with my own friends, except, of course, Donna and facebook. I still had times I'd be driving along and suddenly I'd be in tears. But slowly I began to not be so heavy. Slowly the flows started to last longer than the ebbs. I felt like I had been faking it...but finally I wasn't faking it so much and I was starting to laugh-for real-again...thank goodness for teaching and good patient people.

So here I am. We went down two weekends ago, rented a UHaul and cleaned up mom's apartment. Chris (he has been such a godsend too-checks on me every day, stayed by my side through the wake, amazing kid. :)) came out from the city to help; stayed overnight and helped us pack up; drove out to his place with Roger and dropped off some of the things he adopted from mom's. I stayed with the girls and packed up everything else.

I have never had to do that before... pack up someone else's whole life. The fact that her cabinets and freezer and refrigerator were full of food were enough to make me cry again--my mother planned on coming home! She didn't plan on dying 5 weeks after being in the hospital for back pain. She had a turkey in her freezer for crying out loud! Packing up everything and putting it in the truck knowing that I had no real idea how we would assimilate all of the things in my already over-packed chaotic house...but knowing I couldn't leave her life's-things to go to strangers...ugh. Unpacking that truck, with Roger, both of my sons and both of my daughters was actually a bit healing. She never took me up on any of my offers over the years to move upstate with us, but now mom is kind-of here. More now than even before, if that makes sense.

I still have 'sightings.' I imagine I always will. (My friend Kathy Piccolo died a couple of years ago and I still have sightings of her.) I think I see mom, I go to call out, "Hey, mom!" but the woman turns her head and I am left feeling lost all over again. I have started to text her and call her so many times, too. Sigh.

Now I am completely surrounded by her things and although at first it was so sad, now it's actually very comforting. And it's forcing me to do a massive overhaul and scrub of my home as I organize to make room for her, so that can't be too bad. My mom would be proud.

And as sad as it all is that my mother passed at 62 (way too young), and as mad as I am at cancer and cigarettes...I'm alright. I am okay. And she is in a better place now. Even Kath says so.


Suelle said...

Beautifully said V. Losing a parent can be so hard, especially if your relationship with them was a bumpy one. My dad passed away 3 years ago today, & of all things I read your blog today--crazy isn't it? Hope you slowly continue to heal.

V. Gaboury said...

Sorry for you loss Suelle, but thank you for sharing. So hard once I hit POST...and I think about how personal it is for me...good to know it made sense to someone. Thank you! :)