Of Bloggers and Mothers and Death and Cosmic Coincidences

I spent two and a half hours this morning writing about my mother’s death. I know I haven’t been blogging much, but I have been writing. In fact, I’m participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), trying to pound out 50,000 words of new original writing during the month of November.

I finally finished the first draft of a novel I began two years ago. But with it ended, I still had 18,000 worth of words to write about something, so I’ve been working on shorter pieces. Twenty-two months after my mom’s passing, I decided I was ready to write about my experience of her death in more detail than I have so far. I can do so now without completely breaking down.

I met one of my writing buddies at a coffee shop this morning and we sat together with our laptops, composing our individual pieces of prose. My friend left earlier than I did, as I wanted to stay until I’d gotten my word count done. Besides, I was on a roll, typing up my memories as they came and I didn’t want to forget anything.

The piece I’m working on is therapeutic for me. I don’t know yet if I will share it or if it’s only for myself. But it surely did bring up a lot of feelings and recollections for me, including the memory of how I spent my first several weeks of grief surprised by my own intense desire for some sort of communication from beyond the grave.

After two and a half hours of work this morning, I came to place where I felt comfortable stopping for the time being. I swear I am not making this up. The minute, I closed my laptop, my phone buzzed in my pocket. When I checked it, here’s what I saw on the screen:

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I almost fell out of my chair. Gmail was alerting me that a blogger I follow has a new post published. I don’t pretend to fathom the ways of the universe.

Undoing My Mom

Today is my last day of bereavement leave from work and I spent most of it canceling out my mother. I’ve spent the last four years keeping her current, making sure her Social Security money kept coming and was accounted for, updating her Medicare coverage, renewing her newspaper subscription, arranging doctor’s appointments, changing the calendar page in her room each month, replenishing supplies of her personal items at the care facility, maintaining her presence in the world.

Even with the funeral planning, it was about getting her cared for. Picking out her outfit, her favorite poem, the hymns she loved, getting her buried between my dad and one of my sisters, Mom’s baby girl.

And now I’m undoing it all. Erasing her. Canceling her out. She’s no longer on the Social Security or Medicare rolls. Medicaid and supplemental insurance have removed her from coverage. I still need to go to the bank and close her account. I never realized how many people I would have to tell, “My mother died.” How many times I have said it this past week, and it’s a wrench every time.

All of the clothes she’ll never again wear, her empty wheelchair, her calendar –they’re all sitting in my house waiting to be sorted and repurposed. And after that’s done, then what? I don’t know. I really don’t.

 

Orphaned at 51

I know I’ve never had a huge readership on this blog, but I know a few people read regularly, because they bring my posts up in discussion.

I don’t have many words today, but for my few readers who have shared the sandwich generation journey with me over the past four years, I want to let you know that my mother passed away yesterday afternoon.

She did not suffer long and she went peacefully, holding my hand. As it happened, it was just the two of us in the room at the time. It was a great blessing to be there.

Two of my siblings arrived today and we packed up mom’s belongings from the nursing home. We’re in the midst of funeral planning now.

So now I’m an orphan.

Last One Standing

One of my uncles died yesterday. He had been married to my father’s sister, who passed away last year. I remember at my dad’s funeral, this aunt lamenting that she had none of her childhood family any more. I come from a large clan on both sides. My dad was one of five children and my mom one of nine. Now, of the siblings and their spouses in my dad’s family, my mother is the last one standing. That’s one of the drawbacks of living a very long life. You lose a lot of people along the way.

On my paternal side, it’s an entire generation gone. Yet another milestone where I realize I’m supposed to be a grown-up now, in a big way. In taking charge of my mom and her affairs, I failed to anticipate one significant responsibility. I’m the bearer of news, the one who sits with her over another loss. I never feel I’m competent enough for this and find myself thinking there must be some real adults around somewhere who could step in.

My mom still has six surviving brothers and sisters, including one older the she is. They’re hardy stock. I have a greater than average chance of making it to ninety. But I can’t think this without thinking of my aunt who was the last of her family of origin. She was the youngest by quite a bit and so am I. You never know what life will bring, of course. People don’t always die in chronological order. In fact, I wasn’t even accurate earlier in this paragraph when I said I’m the youngest. There was one sister who followed me by two years and never made it home from the hospital.

People always want to live a long time, but who really wants to be the last one standing? It’s a conundrum.

I don’t know if I have an end point to this blog post. I simply felt like sharing the ramblings of my mind. Maybe I won’t try to come up with some neat concluding sentence. I’ll let it be a little incoherent and messy, like life.

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.