It’s okay to cry… but who has the time?

I’ve had some very well meaning advice as I work my way through this period of grief.

One of the most common has been that ‘it’s okay to cry.’

True.  It is… but not, apparently, when you are a parent.

This was my afternoon….

“Mommy, why are you crying?”

“Mommy, why are you sad?”

“Mommy, he hit me.”

“Don’t touch me… Mom, he hit me again.”

“Mommy, are you still sad?”

“Mommy, are you done crying now?”

“Mommy.  I’m hungry.”

Mommy… I SAID I’m hungry!”

It may be okay to cry but I’m not sure I can schedule it in.

Posted in death, grief, motherhood | 1 Comment

Not Ready….

I have discovered there are limits to my emotional stability at the moment.

My memory of yesterday pretty much stop late afternoon when I unpacked the family bible.  The rest of the day is almost a blank.

After just a day at home, I was unpacking many of the boxes I brought from my mother’s.

I knew the bible was going to be an emotional land mine, but I had forgotten it was in the pile of boxes I was tackling.  Last week I made The Husband pack it and take it home without me having to look at it.  It seemed too symbolic to handle just days away from the memorial service.

The family bible came to me through a series of family heirloom negotiations.  I had always wanted it but when it became mine I was happy to let it stay at my mother’s house.

To me, the bible is the most significant of all the family heirlooms.  My great-grandparents marriage in 1897 is the first entry.  The book sat in the front foyer of my grandparent’s home under a photo album of long forgotten relatives and at the bottom of the banister down which I used to slide.  Later, it came to my mother who dutifully entered births, deaths and marriages.  She clipped obituaries and birth notices and stored them within the aging covers. 

To me, the family bible is the, almost, sacred duty of the family matriarch.

Now that duty has fallen to me.  The unprepared, unexpected and, seemingly, and undeserving matriarch.

As I unpacked the beautiful antique book and opened the pages I came to my first solemn duty… entering my mother’s death.  The page for marking such occasions is tucked between the old and new testaments.  The handwriting changes from my Nana’s writing, to my mother’s and now mine.

My printing seems so childish compared to my mother’s scrawling script and my Nana’s careful penmanship.  It seems a visual reminder that I am not ready to take on such a job.

Taking ownership of the family bible is symbolic of all I am not ready to face.

No longer can I call home for help… no longer is there someone with all the answers. I am now the matriarch… the family history and the family future lies in my hands.

My family tree holds a long line of strong and capable women.  Women who braved childlessness and women who birthed babies unwed and unwanted, women who braved bombings and who crossed oceans to unknown futures with children in tow.

I am the legacy of these women… and the future of that family lies with me. 

That I am forced to take that role now seems cruel.  A matriarch is wise.  A matriarch is old.  A matriarch doesn’t want to run home to Mommy.

I do and I’m not ready.

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Going Home…

I’m lying in my bed… or I guess the bed in my old bedroom… on the last night I’ll ever spend in my mother’s house.

I have been desperate to leave all week but now that I’m almost going home, I feel a growing hole.

Never again will I walk into the house and find the cheese drawer in the fridge stocked with my favorites.  The rack of lamb I’m taking from the freezer is the last that will ever be bought with plans of saving it for a surprise special dinner just for me. 

The pictures are off the walls.  The crystal and china are packed.  The books all gone.

I think it is the lack of books that contributes the most to that empty feeling.  Not one cookbook graces the shelves in the kitchen… unheard of while my parents were alive.  The novels were taken away days ago for charity fundraisers.
Over the years my parents lived in many houses but, with the possible exception of their first, it is this house that was most ‘theirs’.  The family cat is buried by the pond that was my father’s dream, each piece of furniture and window handing was handpicked by my mother and  every corner of the kitchen was designed to suit the needs of two fantastic cooks.
Letting go is suddenly difficult.
I need to go home… I need to resume my life and let The Husband off the hook after weeks of front line parenting (thanks honey – you are amazing).  I need to be with my kids.
Yet, despite all that I feel suddenly rooted to this spot… like the snow storms of the past two days have conspired to keep me here just a little bit longer.
Going home will mean all of this is really real.
Going home means I can’t ever come back… not to my mom’s house at least.  It will be an empty shell with a few of her belongings left… all the good stuff cleared out. 
Going home means she is really dead and I’m not sure I’m ready to admit that to myself.

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Cared for by angels…

I think I have forgotten how to take care of myself.

In the week since my mother died I have not cooked or cleaned, I have not washed a dish and I have not been grocery shopping.

I have merely existed.

The incredible people who called my mother friend have done the rest.

The fridge is full of food lovingly made or bought by people who aim only to ease our burden.  I don’t know what I would have done without these generous people.

We came to call the women who watched over my mother in her last months her ‘angels’ and those angels, and so many more, have continued the tender care even as their charge has passed from this world.

While I am still caught up in the complications of the estate, I am nearing the point of having to go home and start actually living my life.

I’m not sure how I’ll do that.

The husband will have to go back to work after a generous compassionate leave.  The kids will go back to their routine and I’ll have to go back to somehow managing it all.

All I want to do, however, is crawl into bed and forget it all for a while.

There will be noses to wipe and bums to change.  The school bus won’t stop coming… but somehow the daily routine of packing lunches and making dinners, of cleaning toilets and making beds just seems overwhelming.

No matter how much I want dinner to make itself, life will go on.  I just have to find a way to catch up.

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Summing up a life…

I rashly promised to give my mother’s eulogy.

When my father died I felt compelled to speak.  I know most close family members choose not to do so, but I saw no other choice.  I assumed it would be the same way with my mother.

It is not.

This time there are no words.

I can’t explain the difference.  I don’t separate my feelings, one over the other, but I had words when my father died.  Now I do not.

When my father died a part of him seemed to keep going. As a child my parents identities were so tied up in each other that as long as one was with me, I had a piece of them both. Now I have neither.

I find myself overwhelmed with the prospect of summing up not just one life but many; the life I have led until now, of the life they built together and the legacy she built herself.
I am a firm believer in the power of words.  They can nurture and they can heal.  Right now they do neither. 

The woman who gave me words deserves so much… yet I have so little to give.

I want to call my mother and have her make my problem go away.

I don’t want to have to be the grown up yet but my mother’s words are no more… only mine remain.

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Careful what you wish for…

I have no words.

The past week I’ve been working through this awful time with words.  Tonight I have none.

My mother passed away today.  I expected relief.  Instead there is emptiness.

This whole evening the house has been dominated with people doing busy work.  People hoping to be useful.  I find an almost visceral need to make them all be still.  All I want is silence.

My mother lost her words at the end.  I now seem to have lost mine.

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The debris of life….

I can’t decide if it is a poignant reflection on a life lived… or just a bad case of hoarding.

I spent nearly an hour tonight disposing of a box of used calendars that go back to the year I was born.  From the daily minutia of Lamaze classes and notes to pick me up from camp, to significant events like graduations and moves; every detail was recorded in this one cardboard box.  I learned my mother had a doctor’s appointment the day I was born… I learned she needed to send my Uncle Pip a birthday card in 1988… I learned what she bought me for Christmas in 1997.  Why was this important to keep?

I’ve been hard on my mother this week.  I’ve been angry.  Her terminal diagnosis is nearly two years old, yet it is only now that she lies helpless on her death bed that the decades of useless paper work and items that should have been taken to Salvation Army three moves ago is being dealt with.  I found a pad of paper from her office in 1974.  I spent 45 minutes shredding Aeroplan mile statements dating back nearly 30 years.  They belonged to my father… he’s been dead for five years.

As we wade through the debris we find moments of joy.  We found the dress up box with which my sister and I spent countless happy hours playing.  We found photos spanning 70 years.  We also filled three recycle bags and one garbage bag in a span of two or three hours.  Not to mention the groaning shelves of stuff that will go to the estate auction house.

Once the physical and emotional debris in cleared from this whole experience, I will go back to my house with a much more ruthless approach to clutter.  I already make regular trips to the donation bins, but now I think back to my own collection of calendars.  I have a few years piled up of the daily schedule… do I really need them?  No.  My family schedule is about today and planning for next week and next month.  It’s not about the past.

I grew up in a house that placed great value on things.  The china cabinet is filled with things that were my Nana’s or her Nana’s.  I can see the value in some of those things, but this idea that we can’t throw anything away because it could be useful later has proved its harm as we face the prospect of clearing this house.  Whether it is the 15 year old chocolates brought back from Africa or the will and mortgage of my great-grandfather, I fail to see why it is important to keep these things (okay maybe the great-grandfather’s will is kind of cool but the chocolates were just nasty).

I’ve been rather ruthlessly warning all my mother’s friends who call and offer aid or moral support in this horrible time of limbo.  I tell them it is not fair to leave this level of debris for children or grandchildren.  They will not need 30 different baskets.  They will not need paperwork dating back 30 years.  They will not need a stack of photos from a business party 20 years ago with absolutely no one they know attending.

Those left behind after a death have enough emotional clutter to sort through; adding physical debris is not only unfair, it borders on cruel.  I’ve learned many painful life lessons during this slow march to death, but one of them is the most elemental of all.  I teach my 3 year old to clean up after himself… the least we can do as adults is the same.

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Casket Shopping…

That was an experience I could do without.

I went casket shopping.

Now… I have come to learn that I am a comfort shopper.  I have never liked to shop but I have learned it is an excellent distraction.  Thankfully most of my consumer urges are directed towards Frenchy’s (an outstanding used clothing outlet) so it is easier on the bank account. 

That said… I would not put casket shopping in the category of comfort shopping.

Did you know you can  get everything from cloth covered unfinished wood (which, although it was the cheapest, to me it seemed like the nicest in the room) to steel or mahogany.

I find the idea of a casket a foreign one.  I don’t want to be buried.  I don’t want to take up all that space in the ground for the next couple hundred years before they bulldoze the cemetery to make way for whatever the futuristic equivalent of a shopping mall will be.  I want to be burned to a crisp and stashed in a cardboard box (or maybe a Crown Royal bag like the one that house my father’s ashes for a while).

How do you decide on the box that will house some one’s remains for eternity, or at least until nature takes its inevitable course?  It seems like such a final way to impose mankind’s will on the earth… like a final insult.  Not only did we use and abuse the earth while we lived on it but now we fill our bodies full of embalming chemicals, make really big, elaborately decorated and needless boxes and put them inside the ground, intent on preserving our remains for as long as possible, intent on outsmarting mother nature.

My mother comes from a traditional maritime town where the ceremony around death is almost more important that around life.  There’s the viewing, open casket if possible (at which my sister and I draw the line).  The funeral.  The reception with the requisite sandwiches and sugary squares… and then there’s the burial.  The gravesite ceremony.  The monument.  It seems to never end.  When do we get on with life?

As we toured the caskets with their various wood stains and embroidered pillows, the friend who accompanied us told of a growing tradition in the UK to be buried in willow baskets a with newly planted trees as headstones.  The funeral director spoke of the growing requests for immediate burial without the toxic embalming fluids.

The casket showroom was overwhelming in so many ways, but the image that stuck with me was not the box that would house my mother’s remains, instead it was the whole concept that this tradition centres around mankind’s need to make a mark on this world even after we are dead and buried. 

When they put my mother’s remains in that box… my mother will not be with them.  She will be at peace and she will be free.  What goes in the ground will be of little consequence.  Her legacy will be in me and all those who loved her.

When it’s my time I don’t want to hold on.  I want to find the quickest way for nature and for the circle of life to reclaim my remains.  I don’t want to live on in a box.  I want something more.  I want to live in my words and my kids, in my good works and even in my mediocre ones.  I want to be remembered …not mowed over or picnicked upon.  Let the earth reclaim what is hers and let God take the rest.

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Saying Goodbye…

I said goodbye to my mother tonight.

She’s not there… not really.  The brain tumours and morphine has taken the essence of her, only a confused shell remains.  Still there was something poignant in actually saying goodbye.

I feel like in some elemental way she is already gone.  There is still life in the room above me but only in the very basic sense.  There is a ring that she told me I was to wear after she is gone.  It is her engagement ring and she has worn it all my life.  Now, my finger, the one destined for the ring feels bare.  It feels like the ring… the one that will always connect me to her… is missing, yet I’ve actually never worn it.  It feels like her time has past but no one has told her yet.

I’m living in some kind of limbo… like this is purgatory.  I’ve never believed in the concept but this certainly seems like the temporary time of punishment about which many have preached.  The world stands still while we suffer.  This purgatory where my mother can’t be moved without moaning in pain, where she can’t actually move on to whatever is next, where the ones she love live in pain without any real ability to grieve and adapt.  I want her to go to whatever awaits but suffer through this temporary hell with her.

The wind of another winter storm howls outside yet inside the air is still.  Even though I’ve said goodbye, we’re all waiting for forgiveness of unnamed sins.  We’re waiting to let go. 

Posted in cancer, death | 4 Comments

Wishing for Death…

I feel like a ghoul.

I’m waiting for death.  Not with dread but with a sense of anticipation… of needing relief.

The last month has been one of the most physically and emotionally exhausting of my life.

My heart stops when the phone rings.  Then, when it isn’t news of my mother’s death, I feel relief and then disappointment.

I want my mother to die….. what a terrible thing to write but it is true.

The crazy half-life we’re leading of waiting and grief and uncertainty is not benefiting anyone.  There is no ‘life’ in my mother as she sleeps or stares into space but there is not death either.  My children are shunted from one care giver to another, my friends’ generosity is being sorely tested as this whole experience drags on and my sister and I operate in a strange kind of limbo where the strain is making each of us sick.

Death will be a relief yet I feel disloyal for even thinking such a thing.

Cancer sucks.

Posted in cancer, death | 3 Comments