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It happened again. Another nightmare; only this time it involved my precious dog Molly. She is a 100lb Rhodesian ridgeback who is nothing but all baby with long muscular lanky arms and legs. In my dream I was trying to carry her up a tall wooden ladder. I was trying to pull her into a tree house when she slipped from my hands and fell to the leaf covered ground. I climbed down the ladder and found her okay, so I tried to carry her up the ladder again! This time, she slipped out of my hands, hit the ground with a thud, but didn’t move. By the time I got to her, she wasn’t breathing. I actually performed mouth to mouth and CPR on my 100lb dog. She never came back. I woke up in screams, called for my Molly, and let her sleep the rest of the morning with me.

 
I still can’t shake the dream, so I decided to look it up. Dreaming about a dead dog illustrates a loss of a close loved one. Interesting.

 
My emotions when my dog died in my dream were really my emotions from my mom’s death. I watched her body slowly stop working, but I did not watch her take her last breath. I wanted to be there, but it didn’t work out that way.

Monday, August 8th, 2011 I drove 30 minutes to the family home to visit my mom like I did every day. I hadn’t seen her since Friday, which was our best visit together. Towards the end, my mom didn’t interact with me the same as she had before. When she talked to me, she didn’t look in my eyes the same as she used to. When she listened, she seemed distracted, nor when she laughed, nor coughed; nothing was the same; except for that one day, her best day, and our last best day together. That’s the day we went through her life nestled away in a wooden trunk. The trunk was located right outside the bedroom door, along the wall, at the foot of the stairs. Mom opened the trunk and got out a plastic bag and envelope of pictures for us to look at. We crawled on top of her bed in the sunny bedroom, my mom lying on her side going through pictures and me sitting in the middle Indian style going through pictures. Every so often I would stop and say, “MOM! You look so beautiful! Look at your complexion! You’re not even wearing any make up! Your hair, your smile, this picture is gorgeous!”

“You’re making fun of me,” she said with a little pout in her voice and with her lips.

“No Mom, for real, you look amazing,” I’d say wondering if Mom was coming back. She for the first time interacted with me in a “normal” way.

“Normal” for my mom was that she always looked at you when she talked to you. She would normally shake her head in agreement and say, “Yea, I know what you mean.” When she was really trying to figure out what you were saying she would kind of squint her eyes like she was trying to see something far away. At that time she’d usually say, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute.” Sometimes she would act really goofy and sigh as if to say, “I’m trying really hard to understand but I have no clue what you’re talking about!” My mom giggled a lot and always had fun with you when she engaged in conversation. She didn’t just sit there with any emotion; my mom wore her conversations on her face with dramatic eye brows, and other facial expressions.

When I got there on Monday, she had completely changed. She was walking around crying, saying she wanted cereal. My mom’s boyfriend, exhausted from staying up with her all weekend, apparently she wasn’t sleeping, went to bed while I made her a bowl of cookie crisp. One thing I noticed right away was that my mom’s eyes were closed. When she tried to open them, they were just slits. She attempted to eat her cereal and then I attempted to brush her teeth. I giggled at her because she was so helpless and cute. She told me to stop laughing at her and then started to cry. I gave her medicine and helped her to bed. I immediately got on the phone with her home health nurse and told her to come over right away, something was wrong.

While I waited for the nurse, who took a few hours, I read to my mom from the Bible. She cried and moaned while I read Psalms and Proverbs trying to help her find peace so she could rest. At this point she hadn’t slept since very early in the morning. Since the diagnosis mom always took naps throughout the day, so I knew something was wrong because she was so restless she couldn’t sleep. When the nurse finally arrived, mom had just dozed off.

The nurse listened to me describe my mom’s odd behavior giving me medical background on why she was exhibiting this behavior. She had entered the stages of dying. In my mind I thought this would last forever. Mom was so agitated and restless I just couldn’t picture her dying yet. While the nurse took her vitals and tried to calm my mom down again, I called everyone I could to let them know it was getting serious. My aunt from Texas got a plane ticket for the next morning, my great aunt showed up in 30 minutes, I woke my mom’s boyfriend up and had him talk to the nurse, and I called my husband.

My mom’s moans and cries from that day will never leave me. She sounded so miserable. The nurse told me that because her body was so young, 49, that it was going to put up a fight and try to hang on as long as possible. It’s called terminal restlessness. Mom couldn’t calm down no matter how much morphine they gave her. It took a few hours, but finally she did calm down and fell asleep. It was then decided that she needed round the clock care in order to help take some of the stress off the family. It was a welcomed relief. I had done really well taking care of her, making sure she ate, took her medicine, had water in the oxygen machine, and rested. When it came down to the very end, I was so numb I barely could take care of myself.

More family began to show up, so I stepped out to call my pastor. I had brought my mom to church a couple Sundays and she had a long conversation with my pastor about relying on God throughout the journey. She rededicated her life to God two months before she passed away. My pastor remembered her saying that she wanted to be re-baptized. I gave him the address and he told me he would be there in an hour.

While I waited, I paced back and forth in the living room, getting anything the nurse needed. Wet wash cloth, glass of water, schedule of her medication that had been given over the weekend was amongst the few items she needed; even the dreaded kit in the refrigerator. This kit was for emergencies and it housed various types of medication that my mom would need towards the end of her life. It sat in the refrigerator for two weeks before she needed it.

When my pastor arrived, he helped us get her hospital bed in the living room for closer monitoring. Once she was settled, my pastor started the baptism. Because he was unable to perform the baptism in a tub of water, for obvious reasons, he asked for a glass of water. I grabbed a yellow coffee cup that had a giant smiley face printed in black on one side. My pastor began with a prayer, quoted the appropriate scripture and then he dipped his finger in the smiley face water and made a cross on the back of her right hand. My mom moaned and turned her head towards the wall, away from us. Afterwards, we all shared in communion, taking the bread, and drinking the juice. My pastor then had us all make a circle holding hands; I held my mom’s hand and the circle wrapped around until my great aunt touched my mom’s foot. We prayed the most beautiful prayer, wiped our eyes, and rejoiced for what had just occurred. It was the most peaceful baptism I have ever witnessed.

Every couple of hours my mom would sit up on the edge of bed and ask for water. Her mouth was getting very dry. During these times we would try to talk to her, asking her if she recognized us. I knelt down looking up at her and asked, “Mom, do you know who I am?” She smiled and said, “My daughter.”

I stayed the night in the living room, while my grandma slept in the front bedroom, and my mom’s boyfriend slept in the back bedroom. I did not sleep. I sat on the couch, leaning against pillows propped up so I could watch her every breath. My mom’s best-friend is a hospice nurse and she told me to watch how many breaths she took in a minute. If it dipped below 12 it’s getting close. I watched the second hand on my watch click by as I counted her breaths, one… two… three… four… five… six… seven… eight… nine… ten… eleven… twelve, twelve breaths in 60 seconds.

For a solid hour I sat at my mom’s bedside, holding her hand, crying softly in my arms. I did finally manage to fall asleep for two hours only to be awoken by my mom moaning and moving to sit up. The night nurse had left and there would be a couple hours before the next nurse would arrive. Luckily my grandma was awake and was able to help me. My mom complained that her mouth hurt from being so dry, so I gave her wet wash cloth to suck on. With her eyes half open, she took the wash cloth and tried to take a bite out of it. She looked at it, tried to look at me, and then threw it on the floor. “What the hell you given me that for?” We giggled a little and gave her a sip of water.

It’s now Tuesday, August 9th, 2011.

Before everyone got there, I sat on the floor next to my mom and read a letter I wrote her on Friday that she never got the chance to read. At one point I stopped. “Don’t stop. I like to hear your voice,” my mom said. Fighting tears I read her a letter that spoke of my undying love for her and listed out all she had taught me in life. By the end of it my grandma was sobbing and told me that was a wonderful letter.

The new nurse arrived along with my mom’s best friend who happened to know our new nurse because they work together. I was relieved and jumped in the shower. When I got out, it was time to head to the airport over an hour away to pick up my aunt from Texas. I leaned in to my mom and kissed her forehead. “Hang on mom; I’m going to the airport to pick up your sister. I love you so much.” She moaned, moved her head a little; rattling with every breath.

We stopped for gas and smokes and headed towards the airport. The drive felt like an eternity as my mom’s best friend and I tried to laugh and reminisce of old times. She dropped me off at the terminal and circled around while I ran into to find my aunt. I’m so grateful for the experience I have in airports because I was able to locate my aunt’s plane on the big screen, find her gate, and wait patiently for the plane to arrive. I watched through the large glass windows as her plane landed and slowly drove up to the gate. She finally walked through the security doors and into my arms for a long hug. We quickly left.

The whole ride back my aunt kept saying over and over, “I hope she holds on. I want to see her one more time.”

“She was talking and moving around when I left, we will make it in plenty of time,” I reassured her. I truly believed this process was going to take a few days and that I had more time with her.

As we pulled in to the driveway I checked my watch: 3:15pm. I took a little longer getting out of the car; my aunt and my mom’s best friend were walking through the door by the time I got to the porch. I heard a lot of screams causing my heart to beat fast while I held my breath. I rushed through the door thinking my mom was sitting up on the bed hugging my aunt and the screams were joy from seeing each other. But that’s not what the screams were for. The screams were because my mom took her last breath at 3:15 pm.

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Middle school through sophomore year in high school, I went to church. I loved church and I really loved the people. It was always a safe place where I felt I could be myself and people liked me because of it.

When I first moved in with my mom, all I had ever known was small town life where people talked about God. My mom lived in a small city surrounded by other cities; you didn’t have to drive far to get what you needed and only a few kids at school talked about God. Instead of being open to my new life, I was closed minded and judgmental. I am ashamed to say that I even judged my own mom. But in all actuality, my mom judged me too. Because I went to church she judged me as a “goody two shoes.”

At the same time, I was trying to make her more of a stereotypical mother figure. I even started calling her mother, which she did not like. I bought her plain cotton shirts with pink flowers on them and asked her to cook cookies and things for me, because I thought that’s how a mother was supposed to act. Keep in mind that I only saw my mom every other weekend, which sometimes we didn’t because she was working or couldn’t afford the trip to small town, USA.

I really didn’t know her at all. In an effort to get to know her, I snooped through her room. From what I have heard from others, I’m not the only one who has ever snooped through their parents’ stuff. I still don’t feel right about it, partly because I found some very private materials, and partly because it’s just wrong. It was so disturbing; it shocked me and rocked me to my very core. So what did I do? I wrote about it in my journal.

After coming home from a weekend with dad, I walked in to a nervous woman pacing the living room floor. She was holding my journal. She had read everything. Apparently, I had written some pretty awful things about her and she was ready to confront me. My stomach hardened, my heart started beating quickly in my ears like drums, and I couldn’t catch my breath. I knew what I had done was wrong and I didn’t know what to do to fix it.

We yelled at each other for a very long time. She told me I was closed minded, judgmental, and a hypocrite. She also forbade me to go to church. Said I needed some time in the real world to soak it all in. This was a blow and it hurt. I didn’t know what to do so I yanked the journal out of her hands, fled the living room down the short hall to my tiny bedroom, and slammed the door. I heard the front door close. She left.

While she was gone, I started screaming and making horrible roaring sounds. I was overcome by emotion and panic. I frantically started searching for my new journal, the one I had just started. What she had found was a complete journal that I had had since I moved in with her. A whole year’s worth of crazy emotional teenage rants.

I couldn’t find my new journal; it wasn’t in my room. I immediately forced open the door, marched across the hall, and stood in my mom’s room. I don’t know how I knew, but I lifted up the mattress on my mom’s futon, and found my new journal, hiding beneath it.

Ugh! More roaring sounds; to rid myself of the pain and embarrassment, I ripped my old journal to shreds. Even the cardboard cover was no match for my rage. I ripped it too. But for my new journal, I ripped out the first few pages that I had written, but saved the journal. I still have it today. My small bedroom floor was crammed with shredded paper in a perfect mountain. I grabbed a white trash bag and filled it with my judgmental thoughts and closed minded feelings. By the time I was finished, my mom was home. I grabbed the bag and marched out of the apartment and through the front door, straight to the dumpster. When I returned, shaking, red faced, and exhausted; my mom hugged me.

By the end of our first year together, I started buying her halter tops, asked her to buy the cookies, and went back to calling her mom.
I stayed away from church for seven years. Even though she made me quit church, and I’m sure it’s frowned upon, but in a way I’m grateful. I really did see the world as a horrible crazy sinful place, which it is, but I didn’t understand it. Now I understand it, but have a Christian worldview instead. I’m no longer judgmental, closed minded, or a hypocrite. I’m a part of this horrible crazy sinful place.

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I did it again. I went too fast while reading a recipe and left out a very important ingredient: baking powder. Anyone that bakes knows that cornbread without baking powder won’t rise.
It’s Friday. I’m exhausted; running on four hours of sleep and a dr. pepper. My husband asks, “What’s for dinner?”

Chili…baked…with cornbread.

Chili is my comfort food. Probably because chili was the only thing my mom knew how to cook that didn’t involve boiling water or a microwave. I always gulped it down, loaded with crackers. I would stick my spoon right in the steamy middle and shove the concrete cracker chili against the side of my bowl, until I found the bottom of my bowl. Then I would slowly eat at the cool edge of the chili while the center cooled down. I had it down to an art.

My most memorable bowl of chili occurred during an ice storm in 2001. In the Midwest, we are accustomed to ice storms, but this one caught us off guard. It was early on in the year, and school was canceled due to inclement weather. No school for me; mom called in to work.

As we watched Oprah and colored mom’s hair, the power went out. This would be around 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Mom had just gotten in the shower to wash out the dye. I heard her scream and I ran in the bathroom laughing realizing mom was in pitch dark, blackness with a shower beating down on her. I would have screamed too.

Mom did her best to rinse out the dye while I ran to the fridge to see what I could salvage from spoiling. It was freezing temperatures outside. My plan was to put important food items that we just could not live without on the porch to stay cold.

There it was on the top shelf, front and center: chili.

My mom’s chili is very simple, but being the picky eater that I was growing up, it was the only thing my parents could get me to eat without a fuss. My parents divorced when I was 3 and I lived with my dad until I was 15. He even cooked my mom’s chili knowing it was one of the few things I would eat. I thought of my mom the whole time I ate her chili.  It included ground beef, kidney beans, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and chili seasoning. Oh and don’t forget the saltine crackers and lots of them; simple, yet perfectly delicious.

I immediately grabbed the shining silver pot, our biggest one we had in the kitchen, and buried it in snow and little ice pellets on the porch. I was not going to let that pot of chili spoil in the refrigerator.

The power was still out late in the evening. Mom and I piled every blanket we had in the house along with both of our cats onto the couch and we snuggled in candlelight. We lived in a basement apartment in a large apartment complex. The walls were brick and the living room housed a sliding glass door that led to our concrete walled in porch below ground. We had the coldest apartment on the complex.

There is something really daunting about sitting in the dark with no power; especially when the whole city is experiencing the black out. Windows of our complex glowed of deep orange and yellow from cold families like us huddled around candle light. The trees were heavily loaded with ice that had been falling for nearly 12 hours. The branches became too weak and started crashing down all around us. Every few minutes we heard loud crackling from the branches falling causing transformers to explode. Limbs falling and transformers and other things exploding, that’s what we listened to all night long. It was frightening.

The next day, a friend of my mom’s knocked on the door; he came to rescue us! I bundled up and grabbed my pot of chili. I wasn’t leaving without it.

My mom chuckles, “What’s that?” looking at the pot in my arms.

“Your chili! I don’t know about you, but I’m starving!” My mom was stunned and a little impressed with my impeccable survival skills.

My mom’s friend, his girlfriend, and her two daughters still had working gas at their house. I knew we could heat up the chili in no time! The ride over was dangerous and several times I wished we were back in our cold basement apartment. Tree limbs were down all over the ice covered roads. Road crews were out trying to remove tree limbs so the ice trucks could get by and plow and de-ice the streets. It took hours to get to a destination 20 minutes away.

That evening we huddled in the kitchen, cracked the windows, turned on the gas stove and warmed ourselves by the pot of chili. We ate and ate until the pot was licked clean. It was the best pot of chili I had ever had in my life, and now it’s the most memorable.

My chili tonight, baked with cornbread, turned out alright, despite the lack of baking powder. Although they didn’t rise, the cornbread turned out to taste the same, just denser. My husband asked that I skip the baking powder every time; tasted better.

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