Monday, November 15, 2010

Blowin' in the Wind

Earlier this year I made a promise to myself that I would post a new blog entry at least once per week. And for a short while I was able to keep it up. But alas, things fell to the wayside again and now it's been six weeks since I've posted anything new. It wasn't that I didn't want to write, it's that I was trying to pack too much into my impossibly full days. It was only after I graduated from college last summer that I realized that I had earned 48 hours of college credit in 15 months, all while starting a new business, meeting long-lost siblings for the first time, and caring for my increasingly sick mother. The ebb and flow of life's circumstances have been extremely erratic for me over the last few years, and especially the last 12 months. There has been lots of joy mixed with generous helpings of stress and sorrow.

But I digress.

This isn't an "I-must-help-you-understand-me" manifesto. I'm done making excuses to myself and to the world at large for what I do or don't do. Rather, I'm leading up to a confession of sorts, one that will hopefully help me get "un-stuck." The truth is, this is the post I haven't wanted to write. My mother died on October 11, 2010, and I knew that I couldn't just ignore it here. However, I wasn't really ready to write about it either (and in many ways I'm still not ready.) So what did I do? Nothing. And yet I know I can't pick up this discipline again without at least acknowledging the death of my mother. How do I talk about it without really talking about it? I don't know, but I'm gonna give it a try.

Anyone who's lost a parent or a spouse or a sibling or a child or a best friend knows that there's a lot of chaos that surrounds death, especially when it's long and drawn out. Caring for the everyday needs of someone who is terminally ill becomes increasingly chaotic and profoundly draining and difficult. Little by little my siblings and I assumed our mom's life: we dealt with financial matters, paid bills, took care of her house and her dogs, drove her to chemo and doctor's appointments and to and from surgeries and scans. We made sure she had food to eat, that her hygiene was taken care of. We kept in touch with her friends and extended family, keeping them apprised of her condition. We communicated with doctors and nurses on her behalf, we took care of her insurance, we shopped for new nightgowns and underwear, we switched out beds, got a walker and a cane and a shower chair – anything to try and keep her safe and as comfortable as possible. But I've learned that when cancer is ravaging someone's body, the efforts will never be enough.

On many occasions I told people that it felt like death was a powerful vacuum, one that was waiting for our mom to get weak enough to snatch her from the earth. She was a fighter who clung tenaciously to this life, if only for a few more days, hours, minutes or seconds with her family. And while she was the one leaving, we all felt the pull. Big time. The fact that it wasn't our turn to go meant that we were by nature resistant to the sheer force of her transition. And if you've ever been in gale force winds, you have an idea of what I’m talking about. The physics of staying upright takes a lot of energy because the wind wants to sweep you up or throw you down. Such are the metaphysical winds that death stirs up. We knew that when the tempest subsided we would all still be here, but after she died our clothes were tattered, our hair was blown and impossibly tangled, and every muscle in our bodies ached from the fight. It's been a month, and for the most part I feel like I am just starting to get up off the ground.

When people ask me, "How are you doing?" I don't know what to say. In many ways it feels like I was running on a treadmill at 200 miles per hour and then all of a sudden the belt just stopped and I went flying. I think I am still flying through the air. I've remained somewhat on autopilot as we've sorted through her things and cleaned out her house. I've gone through the motions of probate, selling her car, donating things to various charities. As I type this, boxes of her belongings surround me, and in all honesty it is overwhelming. Getting in to those boxes means not only finding a place for things, it also means remembering. And I'm not quite ready to do that. In the meantime, while I was consumed with helping her die, things piled up around here. I need to deal with insurance claims (my own), bank issues, and a host of other items that are piled high in my in-box. I need to work, do laundry, clean out the litter box, go to the grocery store, write thank-you notes, do some yoga. I need to exercise. I need to make a long-overdue dental appointment. I need to start thinking about the holidays. I need to wash my car and get some new tires. I need to unpack my suitcase from being out of town last week.

I need to rest.

And yet I think in a way I'm still holding my breath. I guess I'm confessing that I don't know what I'm doing and I don't know what to do next. I understand why sometimes people just go to bed and pull the covers over their heads. But I do know this: I'll be okay. I have a wonderful husband, kick-ass children, awesome siblings and incredibly loving and supportive friends. That doesn't mean, however, that I don't have to walk through the debris of my mother's death. And to some degree I must do it alone. This could take awhile. At least now I've broken the ice here, which will hopefully free me up to write again. As my mom used to say when she didn't want to commit to something, "We shall see."

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mary said...

Laura, through the deaths of my Mom and Dad, I've come to realize that death and mourning have a very different measure of time. A month since you lost your Sweet Mom! A month in Death Time is 3 minutes!! Tomorrow it will be 2 years since my mom died. I think it feels like maybe six months.

Six months after Dad died, (I think because he died so suddenly) it felt like six minutes. Now it's 21 years later and it seems like it's been maybe 10 years in Death Time.

Remember you don't have to go through those boxes today or tomorrow or next month. They will wait for you until you're ready. And it may be years. And that's OK!! Be kind to yourself and if you have covers-over-the-head days, then so be it.

Laura Jenkins said...

Wise words, Mary. Thanks for taking the time to share them. Can't believe it's been two years since your mom left us.

Cat said...

Peace on your soul! You have done a brilliant job of expressing yourself. These feelings of grief and loss are so deep and so personal, it is hard to find the words, but you have done it! Glad you are writing again. Perhaps this will open the flow and writing will allow you to process your thoughts, find a place for your feelings and bring you peace. Love you!