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I am on the bus this morning, and I get the following text from Kelsea:
“So they think our school is gonna blow up.”
The world stops for one split second.
I call her.
She doesn’t answer.
The bus is speeding away down Highway 36 and I am thinking how I have to get off and get to her, to her school. Totally impractical. What am I going to do, run there? I’m twenty miles away.
I call my ex to ask him what’s going on, and he looks online and finds that a suspicious device - pipes, wires, and a battery – was discovered on a bus and brought into the school by the bus driver. The school staff took it back outside and called police. The students have been moved into the auditorium and the gymnasium. I tell him to go to the school. He tells me not to worry and goes bowling.
I am sitting on the bus holding the top of my head to keep it from flying off. Moving the students into the auditorium and the gymnasium puts the entire school in two places, so that if someone truly is evil, they can just blow up those two places where they know students will be sent in the event of just such an emergency. My imagination is colliding with thoughts of Columbine and New Town.
Kelsea calls me from the auditorium. She is fine. She is seeing her friends. She is overjoyed that she won’t have to take her algebra final this morning, because she wasn’t ready for it. She too wonders why they’ve just put everyone in two places instead of evacuating them all. She says she will stay in touch. I tell her I love her.
I know my daughter. She will do anything to save others before she saves herself. She has always been this way. Her future career choices reflect his attitude. It is something that, as a mother, I just have to live with.
But I do not want to be one of those parents whose child does not come out.
I sit on the bus and try not to panic. I have never really felt this way before. All these feels are swirling around inside of me: fear, panic, anger, anxiety, that feeling that I will do anything to get to her, and do anything to someone who hurts her. I feel a desperate helplessness as this bus takes me farther and farther away from my baby girl. Tears well up and I try to stifle them. Yes, helpless. I have always known how much I love my daughter, and how I am so blessed by having had her in my life for any time that the Great Spirit chooses to grace me with. But I never really had a glimpse of losing her. Not even a glimpse.
One of my friends at work calls this “catastrophic thinking.” I know I have this unfortunate tendency, inherited from my father. It’s a hard one to control, especially as a mother.
Half an hour later, I get a text from her.
“So it was a science fair project. Awkward.”
I spend the rest of the morning feeling like I am coming out from being underwater, trying to ease the tension in my neck, trying to return to a sense of normal.
I hope that kid who misplaced his science project gets an A. He certainly taught me something about myself today.
December 12, 2006:
My uncle and my brother both marked the time, the exact time – somewhere around 3:43 am.
We sat for a while with her, there in the darkness, holding her hands, holding her heart. I could still feel her. Still feel her. Someone turned on the lights, blew out the candle, started doing the practical things. Calling the mortuary people, calling my “Aunt” who had been my Mother’s oldest friend – the one who had aided in my parent’s elopement, had driven her to the hospital to give birth to me, who now lived just upstairs.
It felt wrong to have all this stuff going on. I stayed in the room with her, pulling up her covers so she might not get cold, trying to fully close her eyes. They wouldn’t stay closed. I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror and saw her looking back at me through my eyes. I saw her eyes in the mirror, in my face. I called my husband and told him, had him tell Kelsea. She wrote the date and time down on a napkin and put it in a special scrapbook that she has.
My aunt came. She put her arm around me, and I said, “I don’t want her to go.” And she said to me, “She’s already gone.” I did not know what I was going to do. I loved her so. We were such a part of each other. I just did not know what to do. As the minutes passed , her body looked less and less…occupied. I could feel it, feel her soul moving away, as the minutes passed, drifting away, flying away, floating away, soaring away, farther and farther away, without even turning to say good-bye, just excited to be free and exploring. Leaving me behind.
Things happened then. My brother put ice around the back of her head to keep her brain cool for the Brain Autopsy Study she was a part of. I knew it was still nighttime, the middle of the night, but time had become irrelevant. I just remember again the light, the brightness of incandescent bulbs all over. The night nurse had slipped out. She had been hiding in the other bathroom for hours. She never even came in the room. She was afraid of dead people. Everything just felt so surreal.
The funeral home men came, two of them, with a stretcher and a big plastic bag. Somehow, though she wasn’t a big woman, they just couldn’t seem to manage her. I don’t know why. But I wound up helping to put my Mother’s body in that bag. Wrapped in one of my sheets, one of my favorite sheets, that looked like a sandy beach with seashells on it, that we had put on her bed particularly because she loved those sheets too. I could never have that sheet back. That action was the worst part of this whole memory. I should never have done that.
Then everyone left. It was morning. I called my best friend at work. I started making calls to the people who needed to know. It was horrible. I heard her dear friend, whose wife I spoke to, explode with grief – “Oh, GOD!”, he said. I let her go to him. I lay down to try to sleep and I just cried. Cried and cried and cried as if my heart would break. But it was too late, it was already broken.
I thought about the morphine in the refrigerator. I could do it. Could do it so easily. Just take the rest of it and follow her. I wasn’t thinking about Kelsea. I wasn’t thinking. I was so consumed with pain, I didn’t feel like I could live. I didn’t want to live. I was tired and tormented. I was mad with grief and exhaustion. I wept myself to sleep.
Later, I told E-Bro about it, and he said he would kick my corpse if I did such a thing. We started to pack up her things. We went out to dinner. We didn’t feel normal. We were orphans now. At least we had each other.
Now, four years later, I have come to have some peace with her death, but it has taken almost this entire span of time. But it has happened. I still miss her. I know she’s still with me in her own way.
And I know, with all certainty, that she is having a marvelous time.
December 11, 2006:
You had slept. I had only dozed, for the ninth night in a row. I had gotten up a dozen times from the bed next to yours to check on you, to be sure you were still breathing, like a new nervous new mother does with an infant. You would moan every so often. When you awoke in the morning, you looked over at me. “Am I still here?” you asked. “Yep,” I replied, “unless I’m dead too.” “Damn,” you said.
We talked then, about the pain, about how you wanted to go and were unsure why you were still here. You asked me then, if I would help you go if you did not go by yourself today. Which told me how much you were hurting. We talked about how I would do it, with the morphine. I would have done anything for you. But I could not commit to killing you. I said, “Let’s see how it goes today.” I couldn’t say yes – but I couldn’t say no.
The quality of the day changed after that talk. It felt like when you’re getting ready for a journey – which you were. We were down to just the orange sherbet now. I would slip a little between your dry lips (no amount of lip balm seemed to keep them moist for long) and you would smile this blissful little smile. We talked about the little blonde daughter that you had never had, that one time when you had an early miscarriage, and how she had always haunted you, and not in a nice way. How you had longed for her (I tried not to be jealous, not to feel like somehow I hadn’t been daughter enough for you.) How you could see her hovering around now, still being mean and angry. We had banished her together, you and I, me finding the words to help you forgive yourself for not having her (as if you had had any control over that) and us finding the words for you to use in talking to that spirit, to tell her that her behavior was unacceptable, just as a mother would talk to a obdurant child. That seemed to ease you greatly.
You needed the morphine – just small amounts – more often. More people came and went. We talked about your excitement about whatever came next. And we talked about your biggest fear – fear that my Father would be mad at you when you saw him on the other side, that he wouldn’t have forgiven you for something that you blamed yourself for, something that I know he never blamed you for, no matter what words I used to try to convince you otherwise.
More people came and went. I remember the quality of the light of the day, just as I remembered the quality of light on the day the Kelsea was born. It was a slow, gentle light, lingering and warm, but clear in its waning, fading in beauty, dipping and deepening into dusk, then darkness.
We talked and talked. You were getting…frisky? Cocky? Rambunctious? You were talking about getting up to the Pearly Gates and kicking St. Peter’s ass. I never did know where that came from, but more power to you.
You wanted to see one person in particular, but he had had surgery that morning and couldn’t come. You had something she wanted to tell him, but you finally decided that he already knew. And you let it go.
[As I was writing this, I noticed my reference's to my Mother changed from "you" to "she" about this time, a sign of letting go, perhaps.]
The hospice chaplain came. I spoke to her out in the hallway, and couldn’t help but cry. I didn’t cry much the last few days. Mother didn’t want me to cry and so I didn’t. But Jodi, the chaplain was so genuine, it was impossible not to let some tears flow. I told her that she needed to talk, that there was something she needed to find peace around, before she could let go. After Jodi left, she was calmer – she had found a certain peace. I never knew what was spoken between them. It didn’t matter. It only mattered that she had released that last burden.
Things felt like they happened quickly after that, and then slowly. Jackie, her home care nurse, came to visit. It made her so happy. “It’s my angel,” she said. She always thought that way about Jackie. Jackie too took me into the other room and told me that it was her time. “Have you noticed that smell? It’s the smell of death,” she said. “I know that smell.” Jackie was a big, beautiful, joyful, compassionate woman. She told me that she’d tell the night nurse what to do, about preparing the body, that I shouldn’t worry. She hugged me.
As the afternoon faded, she started to fade. She became less lucid. She wasn’t talking so much. She was hurting more. I was slipping the small dropper of morphine between her lips more often. I was the only one who could give it to her. I felt like her pain was in my hands. It was getting late. We sat with her, my uncle and brother on one side, me on the other. She had stopped talking long ago, her eyes were closed now, her breathing slowing and labored. She would groan and twist sometimes, and I would give her another taste of the morphine. I did not know if she was hurting, but I could not stand to think she might be, and couldn’t tell me, and I was doing nothing to ease her pain.
The waitress at their favorite restaurant called, and told me to light a white candle in front of her, and encourage her to go toward the light. We did. We sat and talked quietly. We sat in silence. We sat through the night. E-Bro went to rest of a while. It was calm. I could feel her struggling to leave her body, as if her very spirit was working hard to let go, to get out, to be free. Finally, somehow, we could tell her something had changed. Maybe it was her breathing. Something. My uncle went to get my brother from the couch. We sat again, the three of us, encouraging her to go. I stroked her hair, whispered to her, kept my hand on her heart. It slowed. Her breaths came farther and farther apart, more and more shallow.
Until they stopped all together.
[These three days are always hard for me, especially coming at this time of year that I love. And so, over these next three days, I will be reposting what I lived during these days six years ago.]
With thanks and apologies to Eugene O’Neill for the post title.
[The next three day's postings are my memories of the day before, the day of, and the day after my Mother's death four years ago. This is a difficult anniversary for me, though it seems to ease each year.]
December 10, 2006: I don’t remember what we did today. Probably not too much but talk – and laugh. Uncle George and E-Bro were with us now, but strangely I don’t remember them being there. I only remember us. Over the past week, we had spent nearly every moment together, waking and sleeping. I probably took a walk once and went out to the store a couple of times. I took showers alone and went to the bathroom alone. But you didn’t. It was as if we were merging, merging for the last time. Looking back now, I see that that wasn’t a good thing, but it wasn’t something I could control. We had been so very close for so very long that our separateness was, for most years, only a matter of a few degrees. In the last days, those few degrees simply vanished.
You had started asking for the morphine towards the end of the day. Not much, but you’d never needed it before. I can imagine how much you must have been hurting to make that concession. You always hated painkillers, hated anything that made you feel out of control of yourself, unlike yourself. It didn’t seem to affect your clarity, but it did seem to ease your pain. I remember your pain. It was in your bones. When you would move sometimes - or sometimes when you were still and it was so bad that it would make you move – your face would grimace in this expression that was indescribable. You would hold your breath until it passed. I hated to see you in pain. I encouraged you to take the morphine. After all, we knew you didn’t have much time left – why spend it in pain? But you wanted to spend it being present. I admire that.
You had stopped eating by now, but today I could still get a few Dibs into you. Water. Your beloved orange sherbet in little tiny spoonfuls. It was sunny, and the light slipped through the slats of the blinds in gentle patterns, changing throughout the day, as sunlight does. You never asked for me to open the blinds or asked to look outside. Looking back, that surprises me, as you so loved nature. But you were focused on the world inside your three rooms, the world that encompassed the people you loved most, and the small things you had around you that you treasured. The rest of the world didn’t matter anymore.
People came and went, people you’d known for years and years who loved you so. You always thought of yourself as being alone, as not having many close friends, but so many people felt like you were THEIR close friend. You were very comfortable with that, with all of it, and with being alone. I suppose that’s the mark of a person truly happy in herself. But today, people came knowing that they were coming to say goodbye, even though nothing had been said. I left them alone with you, and they usually came out of the bedroom and started to cry, and I would thank them and comfort them as best I could.
Everyone brought food. You weren’t eating. I couldn’t eat, except late at night, when I couldn’t sleep. I would eat weird things in weird amounts, knowing I just had to get something, anything, into me. It wasn’t comforting. It was a random necessity. That had been going on for a week, my eating like that. Ever since you really stopped eating. For me, that was the beginning of my thoughtless, mindless eating habits that have added so much weight to my small frame in the last four years.
I don’t remember doctors coming. I don’t remember even talking to the doctors. But that must have happened. Mustn’t it?
In the afternoon, you took a nap. As always, I stayed beside you for most of it. I would go do little things, make phone calls, shower, clean something, constantly checking on you. When you woke, I took your hand, asked you if you had a nice rest. You said yes, and looked at me strangely. I chattered at you, you responded politely, still looking at me in that odd way, patting my hand. Then you said, “Who ARE you?” And I reminded you that I was your daughter. Your eyes cleared, you looked relieved, you laughed at yourself as you recognized me. I felt a chill that I did not show.
I had been so wrapped up in caring for you. For months, I think, I had been flying across the country every weekend to be with you. Your death became my life. We had always been close, except for those nasty teenage years, but especially since Kelsea’s birth. We had talked every day. After the last diagnosis, we talked three or four or five times a day. In the mornings, to be sure you were okay. If you were lonely. If I was bored. If you went to the doctor. In the evening before bed. If I was scared. If you had some piece of news. We talked so much because we knew that soon we wouldn’t be able to talk at all, not in the same way.
And you were so happy to have the three of us there. You loved us so. That night as we were going to bed, you felt it was going to be your last night. You said goodbye to me. You told me to tell Kelsea that you loved her. You reminded me that the car keys were in the little bowl on the half-wall by the kitchen. Yes, ever the Mother. And you went to sleep.
But it was not your last night.
(for my Father)
The leaves still fall in November
carpeting the dying grass
beneath the oaks and magnolias,
each tree offering a
variation in the sound of footfalls.
Your footsteps are silent now,
only by me.
Our late afternoon Sunday walks,
sharp as the light edged past
the tops of the now-bare branches,
cradled in the arms of a seasonal death.
You held my hand
as I walked along the wall when I was small,
and carried me on your shoulders
when I grew tired.
Both of us older,
we would ramble for hours
talking of everything and nothing
until my nose and toes were chilled
and my fingertips hurt
from the dampening cool.
And still your hands were warm.
I cannot think of your hands being cold.
It’s a comfort in some strange way
that you are ashes now
and not lying in the cold earth.
It fits that you are ashes and air
As you burned to me
so bright and warm
all those years.
MKL and Thunder Cat have a love/love relationship – even though MKL has never been a cat fan. Thunder Cat is such a fan of HIM, however, that he couldn’t resist her furry charms. Still, his skepticism lingers, and he often comments that if she gets hungry enough, she will kill and eat one of us, perhaps starting with the eyeballs.
Somehow or other, as we were falling asleep last night, our conversation turned into this:
Me: If we’re ever lost somewhere, and I starve to death, you can eat my eyeballs.
MKL: I wouldn’t do that.
Me: But I’d want you to. I love you and I’d want for you to go on.
MKL: I would not eat your eyeballs.
Me: Well then, what part of ME would you eat if I was dead? And you were starving?
MKL: I wouldn’t eat ANY of you if you were dead.
Me: That’s just silly. Why let me go to waste?
MKL: I’d find something else to eat.
Me: But if you’d been able to find something else to eat, then I wouldn’t be dead.
MKL: That’s my point.
And he fell asleep.
I don’t think his point made any sense at all. But I guess it’s nice that there’s one less thing I have to worry about. At least from him.
I don’t think this is quite the right title for this post, but I’m struggling with how to express myself this time.
I am lonely for my daughter.
I am not generally lonely. I have a wonderful fiance. My niece is a great roommate. Thunder Cat is a good snuggle companion. I have friends (if I ever reached out to them). But the loneliness of a parent for a child is a unique animal. And the sense of missing a family unit is sometimes quite poignant – another kind of loneliness.
I have always been the one in the family who worked. My ex was always the stay-at-home parent, even when I didn’t want it to be that way. I missed a lot of Kelsea’s day-to-day growing up. I tried to make up for it by spending as much time as I could with her when I wasn’t working – except for the solo vacations to try to save my own sanity.
Now Kelsea is a teenager. We are going through the to-be-expected separation period. She spends most of her time with her friends. We still have some small time together, but she stays at her Dad’s most of the time, because he’s closer to school, and getting her there doesn’t work very well with my getting to work. Some people say I should push to have her stay with me more, but that’s just not how we operate. We talk and text every day. She will be driving in a few months, and is so looking forward the her freedom. I remember that from my own teenage years.
But I miss the kid stuff. I miss our dedicated play time together. I miss our “famous chats” and our reading and snuggles and watching trashy TV and talking about anything and everything. I guess this separateion from the parent is a normal thing – just what happens when teenagers grow up. It must be preparing everyone for that day when they leave home and forge their own life, the one that you as a parent have been readying them for since the moment they were born.
Once you are divorced, and one parent is not with the child as much any more, the sense of a family unit dissipates like a wisp of fog. Gone also are those dreams you had, of being the proud parents seeing your child off to various milestone events, or attending school plays hand-in-hand. I am wise enough to realize that those visions, like many others I had, were more fantasy than lost reality – I know that by looking at the reality of my life within my marriage for almost 20 years.
Maybe I miss dreams that I never had a chance of fulfilling. Then again, I was always trying to fulfill those dreams on my own, even in my marriage, and not as part of a team. My ex and I, in hindsight, were never a team, never partners. That feels sad.
The tragic events that have happened recently in Colorado have made me all the more sensitive about how precious my daughter is, and how quickly someone dearer to you than the moon can be snatched away forever. In the blink of an eye.
I know Kelsea misses me sometimes. I know I miss her often. I know she sees the texts and Facebook messages I send her daily, even if she doesn’t respond, so she knows that I’m thinking of her always. We still have our mother-daughter traditions (she loves traditions) and we still carve out time for special things. But the days of being her best playmate, of her sitting on my foot and clutching my leg when I had to leave the house, those days are gone. And I miss them.
I loved spending what time I could with her in her childhood. It was like having my own childhood all over again.
I guess we all have to grow up. Eventually.
Today’s photo of the day is a little different. It’s to send a blessing to the missing Colorado girl, Jessica Ridgeway. A picture of her is also below – please be vigilant for her, as she might be anywhere by now. And please keep this little girl and her family in your prayers, and hope that whoever took her has the courage to set her free.
Santa Fe, New Mexico.
PLEASE! SPREAD THE WORD! SHARE HER PICTURE! POST IT IN ANY PUBLIC PLACE THAT YOU CAN! WE CAN FIND THIS LITTLE GIRL!
Quote of the day: “It is much easier at all times to prevent an evil than to recify mistakes.” – George Washington
How our Colorado community pulls together in times of trouble
My own daughter
Leaving a light on
A capricious gift wasted
On clueless humans.
Birds behind a screen
Taunt me with their carefree song.
“Hush” aches in my claws.
In home’s sweet darkness
I race with wild abandon
They say they own me.
Enslavement is elusive.
Who is the keeper?
I dislike this food
So I return it to you
A gift for bare feet.
Scratch behind my ears.
I share my love sparingly.
Stop at my command.
Sleeping pillowed head,
Path for my little cat feet
To the other side.
Still as a statue
I curl next to your ankles
Waiting for your step.
Your cooking tempts me.
Chicken on the countertop.
My claws climb your leg.
Nestled in your curves
I spoon with you warily
Until you crush me.
I allow the dog
To drool without cessation
Lying in your bed.
Lest you forget me
I leave my most precious hairs
Upon your best clothes.