Talking About Death

The other day, I was emptying crumbs from our toaster, when it occurred to me I’d never shown either of my kids how to do this simple chore. My 17-year-old daughter was in the dining room at the time, so I carried the toaster in there to demonstrate, while it was fresh on my mind.

“I have something I need to show you,” I told her. “In case I die, you need to know how to do this.” I then gave a brief lesson on sliding in and out the crumb tray, with emphasis on the importance of replacing it as soon as it’s emptied. My son was in the living room, and I gave a repeat performance for him.

When I was finished, my daughter said, “That’s it? If you die, that’s what we need to know?”

I considered for a minute and answered, “I should probably show you how to check the oil level in the car, too. And the tire pressure. Also, there’s a drip pan under the refrigerator.”

I don’t expect to die any time soon, but you never can tell. I have a friend who has stage IV cancer.  She has a son not much older than my daughter. This brings home to me that parents aren’t always around to see their children move on all the way to adulthood. Her son seems incredibly responsible for his age. But every parent I know questions whether she/he has done enough to prepare their offspring for the realities of life. Every so often, a detail comes to my attention – the crumb tray in the toaster – and I think, “What else have I forgotten to teach them?”Of course, they’ll need to know about house and car maintenance even if I live to be 120. But I have death on my mind lately.

So does my mom, it seems. She’s starting to talk about it. I try my best to listen and let her say whatever she feels the need to say. Ever practical, she speaks of it the same way I do – “I want to make sure So-and-So gets the turquoise necklace…Do you have the paperwork on my pre-paid funeral?…” as if she wants to make sure she’s going to die in a responsible manner. She doesn’t usually go on at length.

I find it tempting to say something dismissive, like “Who knows, you might outlive me!” But what mother wants to think about that. She’s already lost two children. She doesn’t want to outlive any more of us. Or I could say, “But I’m planning your 100th birthday party!” But I don’t, because we both know she won’t live to 100. I want her to. I wish I could believe she’d live for another decade or more. It’s not beyond reason to hope she has three or four more years. But it could be shorter. Her heart is not in good shape, and she has lupus. I remember my grandmother speaking of her own death as she become older and more feeble. I believe it’s a need people have as they see their time approaching; they need the acknowledgment of their reality. I don’t know if I understand it, but I do believe this, because I’ve seen it enough times now – people who can see the end in sight need to be able to say so.

Five years ago, at my dad’s funeral, I had a terrible moment. My parents both come from large families, so I had several aunts and uncles present. As I looked at them all gathered together in the pews, I saw my future flash before me, and it was line of funerals. Indeed, it is coming to pass. I attend more funerals than I used to. The youngest of my dad’s siblings is the only one left of her original birth family. One of my mom’s sisters passed away last year. Their generation is going. Approximately once a week, I dream that my mother dies while I’m with her. Then I wake up and check my phone for messages, and lie awake for a while waiting, until it doesn’t ring for long enough that I can say to myself, “Okay, not ESP, only anxiety.”

I’m having to make a place in my life for death. But what I’ve come to see, since my terrible revelation at my dad’s funeral, is the balance. There are more funerals. Death is happening all around all of the time. But it is part of life. The rest of life still happens. I’m still planting petunias in my yard. My kids are still creating groan-worthy puns, strawberries in season still taste wonderful, my friend is still living, my mom is still living. All of us here on Earth are both living and dying. Some are just getting to the dying part sooner than others. I get to speak with my mom every day. She finds things to enjoy each day – a bird magazine, her dessert, my son showing up at the nursing home to play the piano for her, the flowers people send on occasion.

Maybe there’s something she’s teaching me right now, something she wants to make sure I know. Maybe it’s this: death is going to happen in its own time. Face this truth and then keep living until you die. Maybe that’s it.



Another Driver in the House

My daughter turned 17 earlier this week, and obtained her driver’s license today. I hope this will be more of a relief than a worry to me. She’s not a wild kid. My worry would be more how she’d handle other stupid acts by others. But you have to let them out into the world at some point.

In fact, I pushed her a little. I’ve always tried to think of myself as a mom who didn’t try to rush my kids. Though I have had to give nudges now and then. But I figured forward progress was forward progress; they didn’t have to be fastest or first. At times it’s seemed as if I were pulling one or the other of the kids along by baby steps. But now that I’ve taken on a lot of responsibility for my mom, I feel more as if I’ve abandoned baby steps and I’m giving them each a big shove on the back toward independence, because I need to.

I need my daughter to drive to take over some errands from me, or at least to get herself where she needs to go on occasion without pulling me away from something else. I hate to admit it, but my entire plan for getting my son home each day from summer school has been this: my daughter gets her driver’s license. I’m not sure what I would have done otherwise. His classes will let out during a time my husband and I are both at work.

I remember how nerve-wracking it was the first few times I rode shotgun after my daughter got her learner’s permit. At the time, I thought nothing could be much scarier. But now I know seeing her drive off by herself will cause me every bit as much anxiety.

It’ll be fine, I’m sure. After a while it will start to seem routine, her driving. And I’ll start to relax. Then it will be time for my son to get his permit…





Happy Everything



Today, we went to my Mom’s nursing home for a combined celebration of Mother’s Day (my mom and me) and two birthdays (my two kids.) My son is 14 years old today. My daughter will be 17 in two days. Looking for words that would fit on a cake, I settled for “Happy Everything.” And it’s how I feel right now.

Despite the pressures, stress, too-long to-do list, I want to celebrate this time while I have them all here. I see this as a transitional time in my life. Realistically, five years from now, my kids will likely be gone from home and my mom will no longer be living. I hope she will be, but it’s doubtful. Maybe I feel overwhelmed at times with all of their needs, but soon enough I’ll be empty nesting in a big way.

This is the first year in a long time – I can’t remember how long – I’ve been able to spend Mother’s Day with my own mom. And I get to celebrate the presence in my life of two other people I love more than the world.

Happy Everything!


Liebster Blogger Award

Thanks, Coach Kathy, for nominating Gen BLT for the Liebster Blogger Award. I’m happy to know my words mean something to somebody. It’s especially nice coming from someone offers so many insights, both profound and practical, into the business of daily life. I appreciate her sharing of the lessons she’s learned on the nature of giving, saving, personal growth and more.

The Liebster Blogger Award

~A Writer to Watch~

The Liebster Blogger Award rules are:
1. Thank the one who nominated you by linking back.
2. Nominate five blogs with less than 200 followers.  (I’ll do my best, but I don’t know the number of followers on all of these blogs.)
3. Let your nominees know by leaving a comment on their sites.
4. Add the award image to your site.

I assume there’s no obligation to accept the nomination and come up with five of your own, but I’ve decided to.

Numbers 1 and 4 are done.  On to the nominations:

1. readncook. Amy is a teacher who has excellent taste in books and keeps up with her blog much better than I keep up with mine. All teachers should care about their students as much as she cares about hers. She also writes about a variety of eclectic interests, including food and Harry Truman. This blog is always interesting.

2. Early Onset Alzheimer’s L.S. Fisher knows what she’s talking about. She lost her husband to early-onset dementia. She’s one of those inspiring people who are able to use tragedy to spur them on to activism. A blog full of information and love.

3. Caring for Our Parents Another sandwich generation blog I just discovered. The full gamut of feelings can be found here – humor, frustration, love, acceptance, worry – you know, life.

4. Andrea’s Buzzing About – I started following this blog because of Andrea’s posts about auditory processing disorder, something she lives with. You may remember my son does, too. I’ve found her posts on the topic enlightening; her words help me understand a little more what my son’s life is like. But she writes about many other topics as well, including the insect world, which I find fascinating.

5. Mindful Poetry –  The title explains the blog. Susan puts a lot of energy into her poetry, and a lot of thought. I particularly enjoy her work with formal poetry.

Challenging Week

It’s been a challenging week. Events included having composed an entire 878 word blog post on Wednesday only to  delete the whole thing accidentally before publishing it. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh! There’s a reason Munch’s “Scream” painting goes for so much money.

On Monday, our van went into the shop for an investigation of the “service engine soon” message on the dash. It could have been worse. Any time I think the words “engine” and “auto shop” in the same sentence, I brace myself for $1,000 or more on the next credit card bill. But we got away with $330 this time.

Tuesday, I took leave from work to accompany my mom to an appointment with an ophthalmologist. Her primary care physician comes to the nursing home, but this appointment required transportation. As I’ve written before, I can’t take my mom on my own without help. Fortunately enough, the nursing home provides van transport for doctor’s appointments, and allows a family member to ride along. Highlights of Tuesday included a nurse forgetting my mom was about to leave and putting a laxative in her morning juice, the van driver taking us to the wrong clinic and leaving us there, requiring frantic phone calls and resulting in us showing up late at the correct place, filling out an intake form that was the equivalent of writing a 400-page biography, and (harking back to the laxative) three different visits to the clinic bathroom – an approximately ten-minute ordeal each time. I arrived at the nursing home at 8:20 a.m., and by the time I got back home after everything, it was right around 1:00. Here’s the lesson I took away from it. If you’re accompanying an elderly relative to a doctor’s appointment, clear your calendar for the entire day.

On Wednesday I was informed I did not receive the adjustment in my work hours I had requested. I had misinterpreted something my supervisor said to mean that it was likely to happen, so this was a disappointment. It’s not a huge tragedy, but the change would have made my life a little easier. Still, I’m glad to have a job.

On Thursday, I discovered my son is on the verge of flunking one of his classes, after the teacher finally posted weeks’ worth of scores, including many assignments that were never handed in. Six of his seven teachers are pretty organized and communicate in a timely manner. This one? Not so much. My kid has an auditory processing disorder, which means he spends his days trying to figure out how much of the conversation he missed. He can learn all of the material, no problem. But he often misses instructions, so doesn’t know what the assignment was. He also can’t listen and do something else at the same time – e.g. take notes. Plus, the inability to filter sounds is highly distracting, the practical effect being that he’s interrupted in his work about 10 times as often as I would be. He learns quickly, but works slowly.  He has a 504 plan in place to address these issues, but I suspect this particular teacher is one who forgets to follow it. I check his grades on-line frequently, and in most classes I can pretty well help him catch up because I’ll know if he missed an assignment. But when nothing is posted forever, then suddenly 20 assignments, there’s no sorting it out.

Yesterday featured many emails and phone calls with the school, after I started out asking for a time he could meet with the teacher to make a plan for catching up. I offered to bring him in early, have him stay late, have him come to her class during his Study Hall time, whatever time would work for her. I know it’s dangerous to try to judge someone’s tone in email communication, but there was no mistaking the absolute anger in her response, which boiled down to her telling me he’s had all the time he needed and she didn’t have extra to spend on him. This is the part that’s hardest for me as a mom – seeing adults who become furious with my kid, convinced he’s being difficult on purpose, when he’s just really struggling. It strikes to the center of my heart and sends my mind to dark places of worry about his future. How will his bosses see him? Will his heart be broken by some girl who can’t understand? Yet, I have to do my best to maintain my composure and try to defuse the teacher bomb. In the end, I involved the counselor who is my son’s 504 case manager. Thank goodness for her. My kid’s going to stay late two days next week, making up work.

Meanwhile, I had the epiphany that this same teacher is the one he would have for the architecture class he requested next year, and maybe it wouldn’t be a good thing. He loves architecture, but…Today is the last day to change course requests for next school year. So add in a search through other course options and a long discussion with my son – who is now set to take “Introduction to Business” – and associated request change paperwork.

Six of his seven teachers this year have been okay, and that’s a good ratio. A couple I would even rate as stellar. One in particular seems to have a very good relationship with my son. I tell myself to remember this, it keeps my mind wide of the dark places.

And we have ants. But I’m dealing.

Breathing. Breathing. Breathing. Tomorrow’s another day. I’ve met this week’s challenges. I can meet next week’s. Ohm.