In Her Time of Dying: What Is and What Will Never Be

Six Feet Under is one of my favorite T.V. Shows in the history of everything forever. It is, to date, one of the most brilliantly written and acted shows I’ve ever seen – and the series finale? I honestly do not think any series will ever come up with anything as perfect as the Six Feet Under finale.

Josh and I watch the entire series from start to finish about once a year. We do the same with OZ, and we watch Firefly even more often than that. After my mom died, I found myself wondering when I’d be ready to tackle another viewing of Six Feet Under. The subject was something that was somewhat sensitive to me where it hadn’t been before. We tried to watch an episode shortly after mom died and I had to turn it off. I just couldn’t deal with death in any form – even if it was the death of a fictional character on a television show.

Josh suggested it a few weeks ago when we found ourselves with nothing to watch. I agreed, and was happy to find that I was able to watch without any huge problems. We’ve been making our way through the series and as I was finishing up an episode after Josh had gone to bed, I was stricken with a very sudden and very fresh sense of grief. The scene that got me was one between two main characters on the show – Claire and her mother, Ruth. They were sharing an emotionally vulnerable moment – one that was unexpected, tender, loving, and sweet. I watched Claire, who has always been very hostile verbally and closed-off emotionally, reach out to her mother in a gesture of acceptance and understanding. The two characters connected in a way that I imagine only a mother and daughter can, and the tears started to roll down my cheeks. Words began to roll through my brain, over and over, until they became a sort of sorrowful, aching chant.
I want a mother.
I want a mother.
I want a mother.
I want my mother.

The painful realization that I never truly had what those characters on-screen had and never, ever would hit me in the face like it has a hundred times since my mother’s death and all I could do was pause the show and cry. The sense of grief and mourning was so fresh it took me by surprise. It has been 6 months (to the day) since my mother died, and still the grief takes me by surprise.

I cried more that evening as my sad little mantra repeated itself in my head again and again. In a way, I suppose that I’m going through two grieving processes: I am grieving the loss of the mother that I did have, and I am also grieving the loss of the mother that I didn’t – and never will – have.

I’m grieving a relationship that cannot be mine, no matter how badly I want it or how hard I cry. It doesn’t matter how many mother figures I surround myself with – none of them will ever be able to give me what my mom could have, if only things had been different. If she had been different. Cultivating a relationship with my daughter is wonderful and will help lessen my pain, I am sure, but the mother-daughter relationship is something I will never be able to experience on the daughter’s end. These harsh revelations come at me from time to time; unexpectedly, viciously, and knock me off my feet with the severity of the pain they make me feel. I am learning to just accept them as they come, allow myself to feel them and to cry and to be angry. I am teaching myself to own my pain and accept it as something I will live with forever; to validate it and not stuff it back down inside of me to fester and rot.

It’s a slow process, one that I’m still trying to figure out. Maybe one day I will be able to accept with peace the loss of what is and what will never be, but for now it hurts, and it sucks. There’s no other way to put it. It just sucks.

Teaching Children About Death

Now that the week is well underway (in fact, the week is almost over), I figured now would be a good time to delve into the subject of death. Surprise! In particular, I wanted to talk about teaching children about death. More specifically, I wanted to talk about teaching a toddler about death. Even MORE specifically, I wanted to share my experience with teaching my toddler about death.

Nellie has, unfortunately, been around death more often than I’d like. Not saying that she’s been involved in a lot of tragedy but since May of 2011, we have had 6 people in either our immediate or outside family die. Nellie herself has been around two dying people; Josh’s Nana, and my mother. She visited both while they were being cared for by hospice.

Nellie was almost two when my mom died in December of 2011. My mom had been in her life relatively regularly. I did about all I could manage considering my strained relationship with her. When Nellie came to visit while mom was in the hospice unit I could tell she was somewhat affected; the sight of someone lying unmoving and unresponsive in the bed was probably a little scary for her. I’m a strong believer that children are very perceptive so I am sure she picked up on the vibe in the hospice unit as well.

When mom died, I didn’t take the opportunity to teach Nellie what that meant, because she didn’t really notice. It’s not like my mom was around every single day. I took care to talk to Nellie about her grandma. I would talk about my mom when Nellie would play with the Twilight Turtle that was my mother’s last gift to her. I told Nellie who the turtle was from, and stressed the fact that it was a very important gift.

The first lesson regarding death that my daughter received was more recently. I haven’t blogged about this yet, but while she and I were away in Chicago, my cat Mungo died.

teaching children about death

Mungo, circa 2005 or so.

I’d had Mungo for over ten years. We’re not sure what happened – Josh said he was acting a little funny, and a few days later he was gone. When I got the news I was sad, of course – but not devastated. Friends and family gave me their sincere sympathies – which I appreciated – but when I told people that I was okay, I really meant it. His absence was weird at first; it was the first time in my entire life that I hadn’t had a cat. But once I’d gotten over the initial feelings of being kind of bummed and getting used to his furry little presence not being in the apartment, I was really okay.

Losing 6 family members – one of them being your mother – in a year kind of puts things into perspective.

Anyway. I was sitting on the floor playing with Nellie once we had gotten home. We’d been home for a day, and she hadn’t said anything about the absence of our cat. She was playing with a toy cat that she has when all of a sudden, she picked her head up and looked around.

“Cat? Where my cat?” she held her little hands out, palms up to the ceiling.
I paused.
“The cat is gone, Nellie,” I told her.
“I go find him.” she said with certainty and a little nod.
My heart tugged – just a little – and I took a deep breath. It was one of Those Moments in parenting – one that would lay a brick in the foundation of her Self. Even if she is too little to really remember – somewhere inside of her, what I had to say about such a heavy topic would stick. Teaching a child about death is one of those things that holds such responsibility it’s almost scary. What I said in that moment could affect her forever: I could teach her to fear death and view it as a horrible, unfair part of life and leave her unable to cope or process when someone she loves dies… Or I could teach her to embrace and accept it as an inevitability; something we all must go through – every one of us – and to take it as it comes with as little fear as possible.

I chose the latter.

“No, baby,” I said. “We can’t go find him, because he is gone. Mungo is dead, and that means that he is gone. And he is never coming back. And that is okay.”
I could have stopped there and she probably would’ve been fine, but I’m awkward and over-analyze everything so I continued.
“And it’s okay to feel sad. And it’s also okay to not feel sad.”

A little heavy for the toddler perhaps, yes?

I explored her face, watching for a reaction. She looked at me for a moment, considering, and said:

“I watch Beauty and the Beast!” She scrambled up off the floor and to the television.

And that was that.

She asked about the cat one more time, this time when Josh was around. He handled it similarly to how I did, she didn’t have much of a reaction, and she hasn’t asked about Mungo since.

I am sure that this will not be the last lesson we will have in regards to the subject of death and dying. When she is older, the finality and gravity of death will mean more and the conversation will probably be more difficult. It’s an interesting thing, being handed these tiny human beings and being expected to teach them these lessons about life – lessons that some full-grown adults have yet to fully accept and absorb. It’s scary, it’s humbling, and it’s an eye-opener that our words as parents have the power to affect our children to their very core.

What experiences do you have in teaching children about death? Have you had to have that talk yet? What will you say if you haven’t?

Urn Shopping 101

Did you know that Wal-Mart sells caskets & urns? I didn’t until today. A coworker mentioned it to me because she knows I’m urn shopping. I’m shopping for three urns, to be exact. We are splitting mom’s ashes three ways (how weird and morbid is that?). Did you also know that there are different sizes of urns that hold varying volumes of remains? Sorry for being kind of graphic; I know this isn’t a topic a lot of people like to think of but really, it needs to be something more openly discussed. I mean, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never shopped for ONE urn let alone three before. Not exactly like they offer an “Urn Shopping 101” class. Now enrolling: “Urn Shopping 101”, in between “Sewing for Dummies” and “Beginner’s Glass Blowing”.

We opted for the funeral home to divvy up the ashes, because the thought of that makes me want to barf. So oogy and weird. Let the professionals handle that.

That’s been my morning. How’s yours? This morbid post brought to you by Mommy Boots.

But seriously. Urns are fucking expensive. Ever see the Big Lebowski? Put me in a damn coffee can and scatter me somewhere when I die. I swear to god if my family spends $200 on a damned urn I will haunt them forever. YOU HEAR ME, FAMILY? COFFEE CAN. PREFERABLY FOLGERS. HAUNTING FOREVER. I don’t need an urn with my name engraved on it and doves flying or Jesus weeping or Jesus weeping over flying doves. I’ll be dead. It doesn’t matter. My wishes are to be scattered anyway, so why spend a ton of money on something decorative that my ashes will sit until they’re scattered?

Pet urns are cheaper than human urns. I might be looking at those as a viable option to put my mom’s remains in. She really did like cats, after all.

See? I still have a sense of humor. It’s been touched by a bit of the macabre, but it’s still there.

 

In Her Time of Dying: Aftermath

December 30th, 2011

I’m finding a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that all of this began just a little over a week ago. I cannot comprehend that it’s only been nine days since my mom was first admitted to the hospital and coded for the first time. I feel as if I’ve been living this experience for a year.

I’m taking today off of work and spending it by myself. My brother left for Milwaukee this morning after he and I had breakfast together. I’m so happy that he’s going to get to be home with his fiancée for New Year’s Eve, and that they can ring in a new year together. I miss him. I don’t know if I could have done this without him. He and I were together through all of the hard years growing up. He and I were together when all of this truly started in the summer of 2008 and we were together to see it finished. It feels in a way that several things in our lives have come full circle in all of this. When we visited the hospital and had to go through the emergency room entrance because the patient entrance was closed, Drew asked me if I remembered sitting in that exact emergency room with mom the summer of 2008 and I told him of course I did. It seemed poetic somehow that her journey ended where it began. The morning that I got Nellie’s Christmas gift from mom was the day she died. You can call it a coincidence; just another Christmas present that was slightly delayed but I feel like it’s more than that. I feel like it was her goodbye to Nellie when she was no longer to vocally convey it herself.

I find myself feeling okay most of the day, but melancholy and detached by the time evening comes around. I’m having a hard time forgetting the night she died. Forgetting how she looked in her last hour. I will write about the night she died, and will probably be pretty detailed about the things I saw. But not yet.

The day she died I left work around noon to eat lunch with Drew. I sat at a red light waiting for it to turn, feeling sad and heavy. It felt like my heart weighed a thousand pounds and was trying to make its way out of my chest through my feet. I sat there behind the wheel, shoulders sunk, feeling as though I was drowning under the weight of sorrow when my favorite Ani DiFranco song came on: “Little Plastic Castles”. The cheery, upbeat combination of horns and drums surrounded me and the contrast of their joyful sounds versus my inner pain felt surreal; like a dream. The song’s tone and chords seemed so out-of-place with my emotions that at the time I couldn’t even fathom that one could be in such a place so full of happiness and creativity to create such music.

We went to the crematorium yesterday to get everything in order. I gave answers as the director asked questions for her death certificate. He asked if any of us wanted to witness the cremation (a resounding NO). We gave a credit card number and, as easily and efficiently as if we were ordering a new couch for our apartment, the transaction was complete. We even got a receipt.

Everything comes down to business. Even death.

I have to go shopping for a “vessel” (as the funeral director put it) to put mom’s ashes in. True to my penchant for laughing at inappropriate times and finding funny things where funny things maybe should not be, all I can think of is the Big Lebowski.

I want to be alone. I don’t want to be alone. Part of me is afraid to be alone. I feel so weird. I’m not necessarily sad she is gone. I don’t really miss her being here, because we had such a hard relationship and I haven’t enjoyed being around my mother in over a decade. I feel sad because her life was so difficult and full of sadness. She was young, and she had so many bad things happen to her. She alienated everyone around her. Hers is a tragic story; one that breaks my heart. I also think that for the first time, I’m mourning for her tragic life and for the mother that I truly will never have. I always knew that she could never be what I needed or wanted her to be but now that she’s gone, it really never will happen. I found myself feeling very childlike yesterday when I took a nap; I found myself thinking, “I want my mommy”. I realized I’ve been thinking that for years. It’s something that I never got, and never will. Last night Nellie was having a hard time getting to sleep. I kneeled beside her bed and stroked her hair. I told her I knew that mama had been gone a lot lately, but that she was back now and things would get back to normal. I just kept repeating, “mama’s here. Mama’s here.” And I just felt so fucking sad.

I try to focus on the positive things she experienced. She had two awesome (I might be biased) kids. She took wonderful vacations with her family and saw beautiful things. She played in a band with her sister. She got to see her youngest child get married. She was at the hospital for the birth of her first grandchild, and was one of the first people to hold her. I asked Joshua if I was ever going to get the image of her dying out of my head. I cannot stop thinking about it. He told me to try to replace it with an image of her in happier years and that eventually it would fade. I want it gone now. I don’t want it in my head anymore.

This is really hard. I am very aware that my grieving process is going to take a long time, and the thought of it makes me feel exhausted. I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to be feeling these things. I want them to go away. The thought of getting back to doing normal things after I’ve seen the things I’ve seen seems far away. Thinking about sitting at my desk and writing e-mails, answering questions and phone calls, and doing my normal tasks seems impossible.

I took a picture of myself after I’d gotten showered and put some makeup on. I looked somewhat normal again after days of throwing clothes on and not caring what I looked like.

I looked normal, except for my eyes.

My eyes look different. Not the color, or the shape, but what’s behind them makes them look different. I’m never going to be the same again after this.

They just look different.

Loss

Wednesday is going to be a hard day. Josh and I are attending the visitation for three young people who were killed in a car accident over this past weekend. One of the girls who died was Josh’s second cousin Emily. It was a senseless and tragic accident, and one that’s shaken up pretty much everyone in the family. Even those like me, who didn’t really know her at all.

I’ve only been around Emily two, maybe three times. I last saw her at Josh’s Nana’s funeral a month ago. She was only twenty-one years old.

I find myself obsessing over this accident. This is going to be the first visitation or funeral that I’ve been to where the deceased wasn’t an older person.. Where the death was unexpected as this is. I know that this isn’t about me.. Not even a little bit, but when situations like this happen so close to home you can’t help but wonder and worry. I just keep thinking about Emily’s mother and father. No parent should have to lose a child. I’ve been feeling clingy toward Nellie since the news broke to us on Saturday; almost to a panicky point sometimes. I was driving home the other day from work and was overcome with an urgent need to see her. To hold her. To breathe her in. I couldn’t get to her quickly enough.

These unexpected and senseless deaths have shaken me to my core. I guess it’s just because this is the first time I’ve had to deal with something so horrible and tragic so close to home and it’s really made me realize that we can lose those that we love dearly in the blink of an eye. Nothing is promised to us in the way of life and receiving another day is not something that is guaranteed. My heart is breaking for everyone in the family who knew her well.. For her sister, for her friends, for her mother and father. The worst part of it is that the other two people who were killed were her husband, and her cousin.

The thought of losing a child is beyond comprehension. I can’t think about it too much, or I will go insane.

Wednesday’s going to be hard. For everyone. Please keep my husband’s (our) family in your thoughts and prayers. Please hug the ones you love extra tight. Please tell someone that you love them, because tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us.

 

A Rude Awakening & a Goodbye

I had been asleep for about a half an hour last night when Nellie woke up screaming.

And when I say screaming, I don’t mean “I’m scared”, “I’m awake” or “I’m pissed” screaming. My child was emitting a blood-curdling, high-pitched shriek that I have never heard before and I hope to god I never, EVER hear again. Upon hearing that god-awful, terrifying scream I shot out of bed and was barreling down the hallway and throwing the door to her room open before I even knew what was happening. I turned the light on and hurried to her crib and grabbed her out of it, inspecting her quickly. She was whimpering and crying and I was on the verge of having a heart attack. Once I saw that she was okay and unharmed, I started to shake and sob. Josh had come into the room right after me and was asking if everything was okay. I clutched Nellie to me and just cried. I had to sit down with her in the glider, I was shaking so badly. I couldn’t even talk, but as soon as I could I explained that I’d never heard such a noise and she scared me so bad. I don’t know what I was expecting to find when I threw her door open, but with a noise like that I guess I figured it could only be something horrible.

I noticed a foul smell coming from her so we checked her diaper and found a large, round, hard poop. It must’ve been painful and woken her up from a dead sleep, hence the scream. I changed her diaper and soothed her as she was still whimpering a little. I was still crying and shaking but I got her cleaned up and told Josh to go ahead back on to bed, that I needed to be with her for a few minutes. He turned the light off for us and I took my Nellie and held her to me, rocking in her glider. I couldn’t stop the tears as I held her against my chest. I have never, ever been so terrified in all of my life as I was when I heard that screaming. I almost could not bring myself to put her back down in her crib. We rocked like that for about ten minutes before I finally calmed down enough to put her back to sleep. I did not know that level of terror existed. I have never in my life felt as afraid and panicky as I did when I hear my child shrieking like that. I hope with every fiber of my being that I never feel that again because just remembering it makes me feel sick.

She woke up crying (not screaming, thankfully) almost every hour after that and I got up with her each time. Normally if she wakes up crying, I give her a few minutes to see if she’ll fall back asleep but last night I went in almost immediately. I had to be close to her after the scare she gave me.

I decided to stay home with her in case she was sick, and so we could both get a little more sleep.

I noticed as I was passing by Josh’s phone this morning to use the bathroom that he had a missed call and a voicemail from around 6 A.M. Unfortunately, a call like that can usually only mean one thing. I looked at who the missed call was from and as I suspected, it was from his dad. His Nana died last night.

I thought it was odd that Nellie had such a hard night the very same night that her great-Nana passed away. Maybe the two things are related and maybe they are not. I know that Nana is at peace now, but our family’s got some sadness ahead of us in the next few days.

 

Heartbreaking

There is a woman named Amy who used to post to TTCAM. She is currently pregnant, and due very soon. Sometimes I lurk at PAL (pregnant after a loss) to see graduates’ updates and to dream about the moment that I finally get to post there. Well, I saw a post about Amy regarding her family; apparently she woke up to find her husband wasn’t breathing. He passed away.

When I read this, I was absolutely horrified. I don’t know what exactly happened to him. All I know is that she has 2 other children and one on the way, and now her husband is gone. When I read this, I ran out to Josh and told him about it, and hugged him so tight. I just cannot even fathom what I would do if I were to lose him.

I just read an update from Amy herself at PAL, and I’m on the verge of tears right now. I cannot even begin to think about how horrible this situation is for her. My heart is breaking for her, and the thought of the pain she’s going through now is almost unbearable.

I understand that death is a natural part of life and that everyone has to go sometime, but why do situations like this one have to exist? Why does she have to be left without a husband with 3 children? Why did she have to lose him? It’s just not fair.