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.

In Her Time of Dying: One Month.

Today marks one month that my mother has been dead. Writing those words feels so strange and surreal. On one hand, the events of December 21st-28th feel fresh; like they just happened and on the other hand, it feels like it happened an eternity ago. The experience changed me so completely, it feels strange that it has only been one month since I transitioned from a person with a mother (albeit not a great one) who had never seen death, to a person who just watched the woman who gave birth to her die. How is it possible that it’s only been a month? It’s hard to fathom.

I’ve been doing pretty well. I’m functioning better at work, though I have my moments where I don’t really want to talk or do much of anything. I’ve accepted those moments as they come and allowing myself to feel them, forgiving my lapse in work ethic knowing that it will come back sooner than later. I’ve been reading a brilliant book called The Undertaking: Life Stories From the Dismal Trade. My brother bought it for me just after mom died. It is a wonderfully written collection of stories and experiences from the author, Thomas Lynch, who is a poet that moonlights as an undertaker. It is precisely the book that I needed to read at precisely the right moment in my life.

I’m still seeing my grief counselor, T, once a week which has been helpful. This week I talked to her about the day and hours just before my mother died. This is something I’ve had a hard time talking about, because it was traumatic for me and I haven’t really been ready to vocalize it. I haven’t written about the night she died yet, but I feel like I will be writing about it soon. It was nice to talk about the things I saw with someone who is around that kind of thing constantly. She shared her first death experience with me. I mentioned to T that I’m not sure what my goals for counseling are, like I don’t have a set plan for what I’d like to see happen. One thing I’ve come to realize in talking with her is that I like things laid out before me. I like to see the what, when, why of things that are happening. I am going to counseling because _____. I have attachment issues because ______. She suggested that due to my unstable and traumatic past, I thrive on structure and knowing exactly what it is I’m dealing with on a daily basis. I had never even thought of that until she brought it up, but she is absolutely right.

Just talking helps. I feel better, lighter after a counseling session. Even if I do nothing but babble about things unrelated to mom’s death, I feel better.

One month down, an eternity to go. I wonder when I will stop marking weeks and days. Maybe after 6 months? Maybe after a year? Maybe never? I don’t know.

One month. A minute amount of time in the grand scheme of things. An eternity. All at the same time. Weird.

In Her Time of Dying: Ashes to Ashes

Hello to any new readers I’ve obtained lately. I apologize if you’ve come in hopes of finding a new mom blog to read and are all “WTF IS THIS”. It’s not always doom and gloom and talks about cremation and shit like that. I do say shit a lot though, so that’s not gonna change. I hope to return somewhat to normal soon, but I make no promises. In the meantime, settle in and know that what you’re reading is real life. And real life isn’t always pretty.

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I e-mailed the funeral home/crematorium to make sure everything went OK with the cremation. I hadn’t heard back from them yet, and mom died two weeks ago. I have phone anxiety so I e-mailed them, because I’m a dork. I also got confirmation that my urns were delivered by FedEx and left at our door, because a signature hadn’t been requested. Hope no one tries to steal it thinking it’s an awesome late Christmas present because guess what, buddy… You’re gonna be reaaaaaal disappointed.

So anyway I went about my day when an incoming e-mail popped into my inbox. It was from the funeral home. I read the words:

“We have the cremains and will be pleased to do what you asked (split the ashes three ways into our urns). Warm regards, W.C.”

A simple, polite, to-the-point e-mail that made me react in a very surprising way. I suddenly felt terrified, anxious, like I was about to have a panic attack. My food tasted like cardboard and I felt like I was going to hyperventilate. I have no idea why the e-mail elicited such a response from me. What did I expect him to say? “Sorry, I decided to keep the ashes for myself”? “Oops, we lost them?” “I’m sorry, who are you again?” I guess a part of me hoped that I could just go on avoiding the fact that my mother, who was once a living and breathing human being is now reduced to ash and ground-up bone particles and now I have to go pick her up and have them split her three fucking ways. I guess the reality of that was something I wasn’t really prepared for. I had tucked the thought neatly away in the back of my brain to deal with later. I seem to be an expert at Dealing With Things Later.

Fuck, fuck, fuck. I guess it’s one of those moments that just jumps up and bites you right in the ass when you think you’re doing really well dealing with all of this. Chomp, here’s your dead mother’s “cremains”. Ugh. What a horrible word. Cremains. So how does this make me feel? Sad, scared, anxious, like I want to run away, I want to pretend it’s not real, puts my stomach in knots, like I don’t want to do it. That’s how thinking about picking up my mother’s cremains makes me feel. Ugh.

 

In Her Time of Dying: Places

I’ve felt pretty good lately. I’m still kind of easily distracted, and my brain isn’t wanting to absorb a lot of information. I get easily frustrated when I’m trying to concentrate on answering an e-mail, or problem-solve my way through something because it’s like the tasks at hand are covered in something slippery, and I can’t get a good grasp on them. I’ll start thinking over the answer and feel so overwhelmed that I just have to stop and return to it later.

The other day I was driving and a thought popped into my head: “your mother is dead.”
I’ve forced myself to think this repeatedly and even say it out loud, but sometimes the thought still shocks me. This particular time the thought pushed its way into my brain and my stomach knotted up. It took my breath away for a second and then the moment passed.

I take the same route to work each morning. After dropping Nellie off at daycare I hop on the interstate because it’s the fastest route. The interstate also happens to pass the hospital where my mother died. It’s not directly visible but sometimes you can catch it out of the corner of your eye as you’re going along. It’s dark when I’m on the road to work, and this particular hospital is a Catholic hospital and has a cross that glows at night on the side of one of the buildings. I was driving along this morning, listening to music and thinking that I was finally starting to feel normal again, starting to feel like me. Right about the time this thought entered my head, I caught a glimpse of the glowing cross from the hospital and it felt like someone had punched me directly in the stomach. My heart started beating faster and I had to quickly avert my eyes as if looking at the place where she died would burn them right out of my head. It was a very strange feeling, having such a strong reaction to catching a glimpse of a place.

The unfortunate part of this is that Nellie’s pediatrician’s office is at that same hospital. Awesome.

This isn’t the first time I’ve felt a strong aversion to a place because of the memories it brought forth of the awful experience of my mother’s death. The night she died, my brother Drew and I stepped out for dinner. We went to Mellow Mushroom, a place that has some of my favorite pizza. They had just built a second location out near the mall so we went there. We were there eating our shared Greek salad and waiting on our Philosopher’s Pie when we got the phone call that she had died; not thirty minutes after we left the hospital. We ended up eating the pizza on the drive back to the hospital. A few nights ago a friend invited me to have some pizza and I asked where she was going. She replied Mellow Mushroom and I felt panicky at the thought of going back there. I find myself wondering if I will ever be able to enjoy eating there again. The thought of eating a Philosopher’s Pie turns my stomach.

It’s interesting how we mark events with places. Happy events, traumatic events, major milestone events, etc. There are certain places that I think of fondly even now; the building by my best friend’s house where we got Nellie’s 3-d ultrasound done. The buffet down the road where we ate afterward. Big River Grille, where Josh and I had our first date. There are unfortunately several places that carry heavy, sad memories for me now.  City Cafe, where Ellen, Drew, and I ate Christmas Day because it was one of the few places open. That was the day we put mom in Hospice. We carried our Hospice paperwork and educational literature with us to the restaurant as we wandered around; lost and wounded. The Thai restaurant Drew and I had lunch at the day mom died. The hospital itself; a lurking behemoth of sorrow and pain.

It’s interesting how the memories we attach to these places can bring up such strong feelings. These places are just buildings; they can’t hurt us. But the power they hold over us is very real. Sometimes I wonder what it’d be like if I went into the hospital, took the elevator and walked to the Hospice ward. I wonder what it would feel like to go to her room. To see the place she died again. I wonder what sort of feelings the sights and sounds and smells would evoke. Sometimes the urge to actually do this overwhelms me though I know to do it so soon after her death would probably be a mistake.

I hope that in time I will be able to see the hospital without feeling that overwhelming sense of dread, of sadness, of fear. I hope that in time the power these places have over me will lessen and fade altogether. I hope that as I begin to heal and work through her death, they will once more become just buildings, no more harmless than any of the hundreds of others in the city. In time, maybe. Hopefully.

Grief and Eating Clean

Grief, tragedy, and stress do funny things to a person. To me, they make me eyeball a plate full of chocolate chip cookies knowing full well that I shouldn’t eat them – ESPECIALLY if I’m clean eating – and say “fuck it” and shove all the cookies into my mouth with the wild abandon of Cookie Monster. Stress – real stress, not “ZOMG I LOST MY DEBIT CARD” stress – makes me eat all the things forever.

My brother and I both have adopted similar eating styles without really knowing it. He’s been living according to the Paleo diet where I have been clean eating. There are a lot of similarities, some differences, but both are based on eating whole foods. When mom was admitted into the hospital and we were both there all day long neither of us had the time to devote to cooking. So we ate out a lot. My poor brother did pretty well at first, modifying the things he’d get.

Once mom got into hospice and the reality sunk in, we both just said fuck it. We ate whatever the fuck we wanted. I’d have two to three beers each time we’d go out. I honestly did not care; I didn’t have the emotional energy to invest in making good food choices.

I’m finding it hard to break the habits of the past three weeks. The holidays are a hard enough time for those of us eating a certain way, but pile putting your mother in hospice and watching her die on top of that and you get a big fat nomfest of emotional eating. Sugar cookies? In my mouth. Gingerbread lattes? Directly in my veins, please. I KNOW YOU DIDN’T JUST EAT THAT LAST PIECE OF RED VELVET CAKE.

I’m still not back to emotional normalcy. I’m better; each day I am less and less sad but I am still easily distracted and feel emotionally fragile most of the time. I’ve found myself more interested in cooking, which is good. I chose 2 clean recipes for this week’s menu plan. I cooked one on Saturday night and it was delicious (don’t worry, I will share the recipes/links to the recipes here) and will probably cook the next one tomorrow evening. It was nice to cook. It didn’t feel overwhelming. We’re in a better place financially for me to pick my clean eating habits back up, so now I just have to get back into the swing of menu planning and hunting down clean foods for me to eat.

Saturday’s recipe was The Gracious Pantry’s 4 Bean Chili.

4-bean-chili-1-

What I loved about this recipe was how simple it was. I look for recipes with inexpensive ingredients, easy-to-follow instructions; nothing too terribly complicated. I added a little bit more spice to this than the recipe calls for; I seasoned it with more chili powder and some onion salt and garlic powder to taste until I was happy with it. It was really, really good and made a LOT of leftovers.

The second clean recipe I have planned is also from The Gracious Pantry. It’s her Clean Eating Chicken Bok Choy. I can’t say for sure if this will be good, but I LOVE bok choy and the again, ingredients are very simple. I’m looking forward to making this.

I’m a huge fan of The Gracious Pantry in case you hadn’t noticed. I’ve tried maybe ten of her recipes so far, and have yet to meet one I didn’t like. Everything has been SO good, and I like knowing that what I’m eating is good for me. She is such a hardcore clean eater, I know that she is taking a lot of measures to ensure her recipes follow her eating philosophy, which I like. It takes guesswork out of it for me.

So anyway… Yesterday was my birthday and I literally ate junk all day. Thai food, cupcakes, chips and queso, more cupcakes. I decided that it was my birthday and I was gonna eat what I wanted, damnit. And that’s exactly what I did.

Baby steps back into clean eating. Each day gets a little easier to tackle the tasks and goals from my old life; the one I led before all of this shit happened. What once seemed an insurmountable amount of things to take on gets less and less intimidating each day. In the words of the Beatles: “It’s getting better all the time.”

In Her Time of Dying: Dear Grief

Dear Grief,

They tell me that you are normal and necessary. They tell me that you won’t last as you are forever; that you will always be a part of me but will become softer and less surprising.

I’m here to tell you that I hate you. I hate what you’ve done to me. I hate the way you make me feel. I hate that it feels like you’ve stolen my brain. I’m a smart person. I’m a multi-tasker and a problem-solver. I am efficient, I am capable, and you have turned me into a complete mess; someone I don’t recognize. It’s become impossible for me to retain more than a few bits of information at a time. You’ve infiltrated my mind so thoroughly that when someone presents more than a few questions at once, or a task more complicated than a step or two, it makes me break down into tears because the sheer effort I have to put into it is overwhelming.

That’s not me, Grief. I’m not usually like that and it pisses me off that you’ve made me that way. I don’t like feeling out of control. I don’t like the way you hibernate inside of me, waiting for the right moment to stir from your slumber and wind your way around my heart and soul, squeezing just enough to make it hurt but not enough to kill me. You surprised me, Grief, because I didn’t think I’d feel you this strongly. I always assumed that the bad relationship I had with my mother would smother you somewhat; that your white-hot flame that scalded others who didn’t have such a bad relationship would just make me mildly uncomfortable. But I was wrong. Sometimes I think that my complicated relationship with her made you stronger and harder to quelch; that somehow the indifference, dislike, irritation, love, hurt, and pain that I felt for my mother combined into something that acted like oxygen to you, making you bigger and stronger. Hungrier.

I hate you. I don’t care if you are necessary and a part of it all. I don’t like feeling you and I want you to go away. I started talking to someone the other day,  a counselor that specializes in dealing with you. She’s going to help me weaken you and get you under control. With her help and the support and love of my husband, daughter, friends and family, your power over me will slowly fade. Your flames won’t burn and cause so much pain.

Your hold on me is temporary, Grief. I promise you that.

 

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.

Um, wow.

I got way too drunk last night. My husband found me in the computer room, crying my eyes out, drunk as hell, and made me come to bed.

I’m not particularly proud of it and it’s certainly not the healthiest way to deal with things if that’s the way they are dealt with all the time, but I actually think I needed it. It was like something stuck in my finger; a splinter that was causing an infection, and I had to yank it out.

I don’t think that’s a very good metaphor but it’s all I have at the moment.

Ha What?

It’s 7:00 in the morning, and I’m drunk off my ass.

Do I care? Not really. I was supposed to have my frigging baby today.

I’m drunk off my ass, it’s 7:00 AM, and I DON’T FRIGGING CARE.

I have told everyone that would possibly listen today in chatrooms about my baby today.

Melodramatic? Maybe.

I DON’T FUCKING CARE.

I FUCKING HATE THIS PAIN.

I. Fucking. Hate. It.

I’m going to stay up all day. I don’t even fucking care.

It’s 7 A.M. and I am not even tired.

I miss you so fucking much.

Fuck.

It’s the little things.

It’s amazing. The smallest things that went unnoticed before my miscarriage now carry the power to reduce me to tears.

A baby’s laugh. A commercial featuring chubby-cheeked, wobbly little toddlers running around a living room. A mother planting a gentle kiss on her newborn baby’s forehead.

These images, these sounds can catch me completely off guard, and make me feel like my world is tumbling in around me. In these moments, I look down at my belly, which should be swollen to the point of discomfort. I should be waddling like a duck. I should be wincing as my baby gouges me in the ribs, kicks me in places that I never thought I could be kicked before. I look longingly down at my belly which is, by no means a flat thing, but is not round as it should be.

My due date is next weekend. Next weekend. How did it get here so quickly? How did it get here at all? For the past 9 months, it’s been so far in the distance, I suppose I never really thought about dealing with it before. But here it comes, looming ever closer. I wonder sometimes if once it’s passed, the pain will lessen. I wonder if once it is behind me, I will stop looking down at my stomach with a wistful gaze….

I just heard an old man say, “Hope springs eternal” on the TV. I don’t know how that became my mantra, but I find myself using that quote everywhere.

I’m ready to be a mommy. I’m ready to hold my baby, to love my baby, to be a mother to my baby. I want my babies so much. I love them, all of them, and they aren’t even conceived yet.

Sometimes this grief feels like it’s going to swallow me whole. I feel like my heart is so swollen; it’s a wonder that it hasn’t burst. My eyes are so heavy with tears, I am amazed that I can keep them open.

Sometimes, all I can do is hang my head, hug myself, and cry.