Postcards of Grief

Mourning is a process.

Comments on breast cancer by proxy, written by a woman coping with the loss of her mother.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

It's undisclosed, actually

To the person who found me by searching "someone dies ground is frozen what do with the body," I'm very sorry for your loss. I don't know what they do with all bodies, but my mother's is in "a very secure place" owned by the funeral home.

Truth be told, it freaked me right out how insistent they were that it's secure. Great. Another thing to be weirded out about. Not only is she dead, but some psychotic necrophile might try to take her body. It's bad enough that--well, it's bad enough.

Monday, April 26, 2004

A quarter of a century later...

Rather than bury Mom the day before Mother’s Day, we’re going to do it the day after my birthday. Yay. That means that:
  • I’m going to spend my birthday getting the house ready for all kinds of company.

  • The whole family is going to miss my day sponsorship message for which we donated $365 to the public radio station.

  • Brooke and I can’t help a friend unload a shipment of furniture and fun from her family home.

  • I’m going to turn 25 with my mother still in cold storage.

In the midst of the burial scheduling quandary, we all seemed to forget about my birthday. I didn’t. Not really. I realized at one point that it was either going to be Mother’s Day weekend or my birthday weekend, and either way, it wasn’t going to be fun, so what the hell. Who cares.

If you want me to leave, just tell me.

Flea? Is there room in your city for a couple of dykes?

Friday, April 23, 2004

Things I did since the last time I posted:

  • Went out to dinner and had a wonderful, wonderful meal and actually enjoyed it.

  • Woke up the next morning feeling like maybe life isn’t a meaningless spin around a star.

  • Paid $60 for someone to clean my water softener by poking at it with a toothpick and blowing on it.

  • Averted a crisis in someone else’s career/soul searching.

  • Sat in a cold library packed with teenagers while perusing books on career/soul searching.

  • Purchased books to aid in career/soul searching.

  • Updated the links on the blog to reflect my visitors who have been commenting and sharing their blogs with me as well as some of those who are like me.
    • I’m really not sure how The Wiggles made it on the list, but I do like them, so they’re staying.

    • I don’t know how this little bucko made it there either, but I think it’s swell. I’d like one of these some day.
  • Proposed and was awarded the task of designing a database to aid in grant evaluation.

  • Arranged for our church’s intern pastor to do Mom’s burial.

  • Agreed to babysit for a fun toddler.

  • Listened to my boss tell me that it’s beautiful outside and I should just go home because she’s going home now. At 3pm.

  • Sat here at work anyway because I don’t really look forward to weekends now. That’s when I miss her the most.

  • Wednesday, April 21, 2004

    It all went by so fast

    Happy Birthday, Mom.

    Last year, you came over for dinner and to see Dar Williams and to stay the night. Beverly grew up near where I did, and she asked if you had lived in the area for very long. You told her the condensed version of your life story, not forgetting to include that you had proposed to Dad and had married very young and very quickly. You were married for almost thirty-four years.

    Brooke made the stir fry with the fermented black beans, and we all just fell in love with it. We heard “The One Who Knows” for the first time, and we both cried. Then we went out for hot chocolate.

    Oh, and we gave you red wine vinegar from our first ever homemade batch. And truffles from the swanky chocolate shop in town.

    We never took you to our favorite Italian restaurant. Brooke and I are going there tonight because I need to do something to celebrate your life even when I feel so shitty.

    I miss you.

    Tuesday, April 20, 2004

    Luke 24:21

    But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.

    In a sermon on Luke 24, my pastor stated that “had hoped” is the most sorrowful construction in the English language. At one time, we hoped for something. It was not to be, and we have since abandoned that hope. I caught myself using that phrase the other day, saying that I had hoped to take my family to the zoo when it opens on Sunday. Since I first hoped that, Mom died.

    This came up in the context of the April March for Women’s Lives. I never thought to go. I expected to be staying with my parents and caring for my mom. If we were to go anywhere that weekend, it would be the zoo. All seven of us would go. It would be beautiful outside. We would have one last sunny day together.

    I’ve been having more and more dreams about Mom. Last night’s was the worst yet. Paul, Hope, Dad, Brooke, and I were going on a road trip. Mom was coming too, but she was basically comatose. Paul was driving, and I suggested that Mom be in the front seat so that she would be more comfortable. Paul and Dad protested that Paul wouldn’t have anyone to talk to, so they slumped Mom into the back of the minivan we had when I was in high school. I sat in the front with Paul, and I heard Mom mumble in the same way she did on her last (somewhat) communicative days. We were thrilled. She was getting better.

    And when I woke up, I was convinced that if we had been able to keep her alive longer, she would have gotten better.

    I’m all out of hope. I can’t even hope in my sleep. This isn’t helping my want to have a baby, to raise a child. Right after Mom decided to end treatment, there was a possibility I was pregnant. I felt different. Everything felt different. There was a warmth inside me that hadn’t been there in so long. I looked different. I smelled different. Even sex was different. By the funeral, I was convinced that I might actually be pregnant. I wasn’t.

    When I was sure that I wasn’t, that warmth went out. My body continued to look and feel different, but instead of the glow I had imposed on myself, I was dull and worn. I was exhausted. Believing in that pregnancy gave me enough hope to make it through those weeks. Losing that hope dropped the floor out from under me. I lost my mother and any possibility of her grandchild, my child growing inside me. I could have made it out of that time with something, but I didn’t.

    Last fall, we were desperately low on cash and hadn’t spent any money on ourselves in so long that we bought a case of wine from a nearby market. (I finally paid off the credit card we had put it on.) I had picked out a dark red wine from Hope Estate Vinyards to share with my family over Thanksgiving weekend. I forgot to take it up to the cabin that weekend, and it’s still resting in the fruit cellar’s wine rack.

    It’s ridiculous to think that the label on a bottle of wine would fortify me with some kind of hopeful grace, but since nothing else has, I thought I might give it a try. If I can find a way to bring myself to drink it, I probably don't need it. It would just be nice to be able to say that I had hope again, even if it is a reference to wine.

    Monday, April 12, 2004

    Spanning the Hallmark holidays

    It was our first holiday without Mom, not counting Valentine’s Day. Easter Dinner was the six of us plus my widower uncle. There was enough food leftover to feed my cousin, his ex-mistress-come-wife, and her three kids, none of whom made it to dinner, as the ex-mistress-come-wife’s mother is very ill and has been hospitalized. It went very smoothly, but Mom’s absence was glaring.

    After eight weeks of waiting, we set a date for Mom’s burial. It should be a beautiful day, as that time of year most often is, even in the frozen tundra of Up North. Cemeteries in the frozen tundra close several months out of the year. The population is too sparse to justify employing enough people to thaw the ground every time someone dies, and the ground freezes early and thaws late. As Brooke put it, the cemetery doesn’t open for the season until April. It’s run by the township, and they don’t have anyone who can even set dates for burials or answer questions until April.

    On May 8, we will bury my mother. If my ties to that small town were ever thin and worn, they aren’t anymore. Our plans for that weekend had originally been up in the air, Brooke planning to spend it with her mom and me planning to spend it with my dad. I had been concerned that my first Mother’s Day without her would be consumed by other people’s mothers, but instead, it will be consumed with my own. The day before Mother’s Day, we will give Mom’s body back to the earth. The dates seem strange and ironic in a hipster kind of way.

    Ooh, I'm scared

    Hannah calls attention to herself by shouting, “Nananana!” over and over again. We’re pretty sure that means, “Hello! Pay attention to me!” Her first word was “no,” and although she first used it on the cat, she proceeded to use it in more interesting and mocking ways. For instance, toddling over to one of her grandpa’s antique electric fans and sticking her fingers between the blades before turning around and saying, “Nooooooooo,” in a long, drawn out way. She made her face long and deepened her voice, and the effect was hysterical. Our laughing only encouraged her, of course.

    Now that she’s walking with confidence, she plays this little trick in a new way. I spent much of Saturday watching her watch for a reaction from me as she walked over to a floor lamp and shook it. She smirked and looked over her shoulder and said, “No no, Nana.” Meaning: What are you going to do? Admonish me again?

    Should she really be smirking at her age?

    Wednesday, April 07, 2004

    One who beholds

    You know those days when you hate life for no other reason than you hate life?

    Two different people have given me really wonderful praise and feedback today, and I had hoped that it would make me feel a little better about life. One person told me that what I did today was “huge,” that I’m effectively providing a nation of 1.3 billion people with better medical care.

    I feel like all I did today was eat chocolate covered pretzels while fiddling with a database.

    Monday, April 05, 2004

    I guess that makes it... let's see... "despair."

    I’m tired. I’m really, really tired.

    This weekend wasn’t all cake and jellybeans. Not that it was supposed to be that way, just that it was our first (and last) weekend in (and for) weeks without anything planned. By the time I got home from work and was settled on Friday, I felt sugar poisoned and fatigued. (Thank you, bulk candy store.) My magazines and books were calling to me, but Brooke wanted to go out. Out and do what, no one’s really sure, but out nonetheless. I pawed through the yellow pages looking for something that might be fun and not too tiring, but by the time I had established that “Roller Rink” wasn’t an SBC-approved listing, Brooke was asleep on the other end of the couch.

    Saturday afternoon and evening, I felt wholly antisocial, and even though Brooke was again inclined to “do something,” I made cookies and cleaned in between adding ingredients to the KitchenAid. I do mean that I cleaned and cleaned and cleaned. Our junk is in much neater piles now, and much of it is stored away in big Rubber Maid tubs.

    The time change screwed with me in a way it never has before, and I woke up far too late to make it to the church steps to sing “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” while waggling leaves at the interim pastor. I spent the rest of the day swinging from extreme mood to extreme mood, occasionally stopping in to upset Brooke in one way or another. In the end, she upset me too, and we did our separate things that evening. Mine, again, revolved around cleaning. We both went to bed angry.

    Backing up for a moment—it’s important that I mention my bad dream from Saturday night. My mother was alive but dying, and she was able to speak to us in her last minutes. (The dream was longer and more involved, but this is what I remember.) She told me that she couldn’t breathe because the cancer was “eating” her lungs. “This is what it does to you.” Her voice was froggy and cracking. She sounded like someone who was speaking with the very last dredges of her breath. She told me how the cancer was killing her brain and her liver and her heart. As in real life, there was nothing I could do.

    So when Brooke and I were discussing future plans and she remarked that nothing I did would bring my mother back, I wasn’t particularly charitable. In bed last night, mostly silent and completely angry, I remembered that dream. For the first time, I wondered if that double dose of morphine we gave her was what really did her in, if that was just more than her system could tolerate. That fear is irrational, completely irrational, since she was allotted triple doses every three hours. I can’t help but bear guilt from that. I killed her. My gut tells me that I killed her. She was dying, and I had to go and kill her.

    Although I went to bed at eleven, I know I didn’t sleep for more than two hours at best. When I did get out of bed this morning, NPR’s story on the tenth anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s suicide was on the radio. Today is kind of shitty.

    Thursday, April 01, 2004

    The fabric of our lives

    Make no mistake—the best clean clothes are warm clothes right out of the dryer. As is often the case, I left the most recent batch of laundry in the dryer for too long after they were done drying, and as is often the case, this morning I needed some clean pants. It’s still cold outside here, and our vent isn’t insulated or something, so anything left in the dryer gets mighty cold mighty quickly. Logically, I turned the dryer on only after I was showered for the day, so I half-dressed and padded downstairs in my sweater, black socks, and underpants (sexy!). They were warm and wrinkle-free—not that that’s ever stopped me from wearing anything.

    I left for work clean, warm, and wearing cashmere. Perfect.

    When I was sick or stressed or tired or cold, Mom would bring me clothes or towels or blankets right out of the dryer. The best was dragging my sorry, sleepy self to swim practice three hours before school started and finding that Mom had pulled my towels out of the dryer, folded them while hot, and stuffed them into my duffel bag. Even after a two hour practice, they were still warm. When vacant, the family cabin’s heat is set just high enough to avoid the pipes’ bursting, and the electric heat can take hours to get up to 70 degrees. Even then, the floors and all of the furniture are still 40-degrees-cold for several more hours. Mom and I would crack open the dryer and toss in our pajamas from our suitcases, robes from the closet, and afghans from the couch. When enough time had passed, we stripped down in front of the dryer and redressed in pajamas and robes and ran to the couch with the blankets. The only problem—other than standing naked in a 40 degree kitchen—was pajamas with metal snaps. I had more than my share of hot snap welts.

    During Mom’s decline, we usually folded laundry in the family room. Dad or I would fill a basket from the dryer and emerge from the small, fluorescently lit laundry room into the wide family room with natural light, a fireplace, and/or helpers. On Mom’s last good night (where “good” means that she clearly understood us), Brooke and I were on watch, and I brought a basket of clean laundry up to offer pajamas to Brooke and to fold the rest. A sweater was so warm and inviting that I put it on as I folded, and since Brooke and I were getting in on the good stuff, I offered Mom that option as well. Dad’s blue plaid, flannel shirt was just the right size, so I pulled back the sheet and draped her torso with it, then pulled the covers back up and kissed her. She murmured softly and smiled as she was wearing her lover’s shirt. That may have been the last smile I saw.

    At this point, Mom was wearing only briefs and a soft pajama top cut up the back. Bedsores were a concern, and eliminating pajamas reduced the likelihood of their occurrence. She truly felt the heat from that flannel shirt.

    So often through all of this, I overthought things until they didn’t make sense and there was no right answer. This wasn’t one of those times. Mom deserved that shirt. Period. No question about it. It was warm and soft and clean. Right out of the dryer; it was just perfect. Wearing clean clothes out of the dryer is one of so many tiny everyday luxuries. It reminds me how simple and concrete the pleasures of life can be, and I gave that to her on one of the last days of her life.

    I don’t mean to imply that I think I’m hot shit for doing that. None of this, Hey, I’m way cool and soooo perfect because I made a dying woman feel good. Look at me! I’m the new Jesus. But when she did it so many times for me, when it was so easy, when it was all that I could offer her, hell yeah. I did it. You should, too.

    Maybe that’s the answer to world peace... Share the love: Share the dryer.

    This gif is freely copyable. Just right click, save
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