Monday, December 23, 2013

The Tide Continues To Turn

Twenty-three years ago I was a very scared, closeted, confused young man living in a small and very conservative college town in central Utah.  At that time I felt so very alone and misunderstood and never could have imagined in my wildest dreams that twenty-three years later gay couples would actually be getting married anywhere at all, let alone Utah.

I realize the legality of gay marriage may be a temporary thing until everything is sorted out in the courts, but as I have said previously in this blog, this rolling stone can't be stopped.  Legalized gay marriage in every state in the United States is inevitable, and I think the situation in Utah will have an eventual positive effect on the legality of gay marriage everywhere in the U.S.

Even if the advent of gay marriage in Utah is a short-lived celebration, I believe it will lead to a much longer lasting celebration of gay marriage as a normal form of marriage.  One day our descendants will wonder what all the fuss was even about.

The fight for equality is happening around us every day.  What an exciting time to be alive.  My 19 year-old self could never have imagined we'd be where we are today and he certainly couldn't have known how happy he would be to be just be true to himself.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Of Colonoscopies And A Life Well Led

Not to get too gross (although I've already done that here and here), but today I went in to have a colonoscopy.

For the past year I've been having weird digestive issues.  Lots of cramping, bloating, loose stool, gas, plus the acid reflux I already have.  Anyway, I've been a bit concerned, and because my grandfather died of colon cancer, I figured it might be worth checking out.

It may be something as simple as being lactose intolerant, but I wanted to make sure everything was good down there.

I've never had a colonoscopy before.  I was actually expecting the bowel prep to be worse than it was.  I was near the toilet a lot yesterday, but the whole thing was not nearly as bad as I had imagined.  

I've also discovered that a good way to lose five pounds in two days is to prep for a colonoscopy.  And actually, the cleanse made me feel a little more energetic and more buoyant.

Jonah drove me to the surgical center because I was not permitted to drive for 24 hours after the procedure (although I think I could have; I didn't notice any impairment after I woke up).  As we were driving, I said to Jonah, "I don't tell you this often enough, but you're one of the best things that has ever happened to me."

I ended up waiting a good while before I went back for my procedure.  While I was waiting, an elderly, hunched-over woman and her caretaker daughter came in.  The mother had to be in her 90s and I would have put the daughter in her 60s.  The daughter made sure the mother got to her seat all right and went to deal with the receptionist.  I heard them talking about her being the mother's power of attorney while the mother looked around in sort of a daze.

The daughter seemed attentive to her mother's needs and the two seemed to get on well; but I also sensed maybe some weariness and impatience from the daughter and a bit of annoyance from the mother that the daughter was babying her.  I felt such empathy for both women.  I know the situation well and it brought back memories of my own relationship with my mom.

After my procedure, Jonah and I went and ate at Sweet Tomatoes and I saw yet another elderly mother with her caretaker daughter, and I felt maybe Mom was just reminding me that she's still around.

When I went back for my procedure, I was instructed to remove all my clothes and don a hospital gown and booties.  Then I was asked to lie on the bed while two nurses dealt with me.  I actually found everyone on the surgical staff to be very personable, compassionate, efficient, and informational.  I had a very good experience.

When one nurse was preparing my IV, she didn't cap it tight enough and blood started spurting out.  That was a new experience for me.  Both nurses (and the anesthesiologist) were so nice and friendly, though.  The IV nurse got it capped pretty quickly.

They were a little behind schedule, so I ended up lying in the bed for about 15 or 20 minutes.  They came in a few times to apologize for the delay, but mostly I was left to myself.  I didn't mind; it gave me time to contemplate and meditate.

As I was lying there some strange thoughts came into my mind.  I thought, very calmly, "What if something went wrong with this relatively simple procedure, and I died?"  While I didn't want to die this young, and even though I knew it would likely be a devastating shock to my friends and family and particularly hard on my husband, I thought to myself, "If I were to die today, I would have few regrets.  I've lived a good life, a life that I am proud of.  I feel prepared to go if today were the day."

The only regrets I would really have would be leaving my poor husband behind; putting my family in a temporary financial bind because I am the trustee over Mom's trust; not finishing transcribing Mom's journals; and leaving Jonah saddled with a mortgage to pay by himself.

I was looking at the ceiling and the curtain and thought, "What if this was the last thing I saw and suddenly found myself in heaven?"  That would be a surprise, but a pleasant one.

Anyway, I just thought it was unusual, but I was happy I felt I could die with a clear conscience, having lived a happy life.

In any case, I did not die.  I was brought into the operation room where the doctor and anesthesiologist asked me a few questions, and then the anesthesiologist shot something into my arm that hurt a little,

and the next thing I know a nurse is telling me to wake up.  I was actually shocked that it had all happened.  It felt like the blink of an eye.  I was also surprised by how coherent and aware I seemed to be.  I remember when I got a a cornea transplant in 1997 that was not the case at all.  I was OUT. OF. IT.  Mom helped me get dressed and I didn't even remember it.  I fell asleep in the car on the way home, and it seemed like forever before I finally felt like myself.

I was told they had pumped air into my colon and so that I would be expelling that same gas.  They needn't have bothered.  I let two huge ones right after I woke up (happily, no one was around).

They gave me some apple juice to drink and gave me some final information.  I felt perfectly fine and was pleasantly surprised that I didn't feel any adverse effects or residual pain or discomfort (aside from some minor flatulence).

Oh...and the doctor said everything looks good in my colon.  So that's nice to know.  Maybe it's just milk that's the problem.  Or...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Missing A Generous Soul

If I had to write a companion piece to this post about my most recent car, it would not be as nostalgic and sad as the previous post was.  Instead of being titled "Obituary for a Friend," it would be more likely titled, "Don't Let the Garage Door Hit You on the Way Out."  Whereas my first Saturn was such a reliable and trouble-free car for most of its life, my second Saturn was a problem car and has soured me on ever buying a car from Carmax again.  I owned my first Saturn for ten years and she was mine.  This latest Saturn only made it four years, and I still owed $1,683.00 when she decided to give up the ghost.  She had brake problems, air conditioning problems, radiator problems, and transmission problems.  There is no love lost between us.

About a week ago I was driving home from work when my "Service Engine Soon" light came on.  The car seemed okay, but I figured I should have it checked out.  The next day I was going to drive it to my mechanic, but it started jerking when it shifted, so I decided to call a tow truck through my roadside assistance program with Progressive.  The tow truck driver pulled my car out of the driveway and behind the tow truck and all of a sudden I heard this weird wooshing noise and noticed that the entire contents of my car's transmission fluid had leaked on to the street in front of our house (so thankful it didn't do that in our driveway).

Anyway, I knew the repairs would be expensive, and they were going to come to at least $1,300.  I already owed the nearly $1,700 on the car, and I've been wanting to get a new vehicle anyway because we don't like driving my car on long trips anymore because it is unreliable.  I decided to just buy a new car.

Happily, Mom has left us kids some money.  We hope that after medical costs and taxes are taken care of that each of us will wind up with about $60,000 - $70,000.  We aren't divvying out the money until after tax time.  However, my sister, who has a lot of debt, already borrowed some of her share.  With my car dead, I asked my siblings if it was okay if I borrowed some of my share to put a down payment on a car.  Because I am trustee over Mom's trust, I decided it might be good if each child got $10,000 of their share.  We know even with taxes and medical expenses we can afford to give that much to each of us.

It's been such a blessing.  My sister and her husband can pay off some of their debts; I can get my car; my other sister and her husband can use some of it as they prepare to move into a new house; and my brother and his wife can use some of their share to pay for wedding and mission costs for their two sons.

What make me so happy is that Mom would be delighted by that.  Mom (and Dad) were both very generous.  There is not one of us children who has not benefited from their generosity, either in life or in death.  Both of my parents made sure we had money for school, missions, when we were struggling financially, etc.  Mom was always taking us kids and grandkids out to lunch; she freely donated to charities (which actually started to get a bit out of control when her dementia got worse); and she wouldn't think twice about lending any of us a hand if we needed it.

In fact, when I bought my last Saturn (the one that just died), both she and Jonah (also a very generous soul) helped me with my down payment at a time when I wasn't doing so well financially.  I remember when my car was broken into, Mom felt so upset about it, she offered to pay for my window.  I was doing much better financially at the time, so I declined.  Mom insisted, but I held her off, knowing that her dementia, which had progressed quite a bit by then, would cause her to forget about it, which she did.  But just the fact that she wanted to pay for it shows the kind of woman Mom was.

Mom was such a generous and thoughtful person, something I've seen passed down to my sisters, particularly.

In my search for a new car (and I decided to go completely new because this last car has soured me on used even though my first car was used and was terrific) I narrowed it down to Hyundai and Honda.  I looked at Toyota and Mazda as well, but was not overly impressed with either the cars or the salesmen.  Both the Hyundai Sonata and the Honda Accord drove really well, and both salesmen were great and low-pressure.  Ultimately, based on research, advice from friends who are familiar with both cars, and the driving of the cars themselves, I ended up getting the Accord.  I actually felt bad for the Hyundai salesman because we really liked him and found him honest and interested in us as people, not just consumers.  But the Honda felt right, and I am glad I got it.

It's hard to tell from the pictures because they were taken at night, but the car is silver.  It drives like a dream.  I've never owned a new car before, and it drives smoother than anything I've ever driven except maybe a rental car.

It also has a lot of technological gadgets that I don't especially need, but I guess cars come with them now - things like a rear view camera, hands-free phone system, duel climate control, fuel economy tools, cruise control, etc.  It's a great car, and I'm really happy with it (although still nervous to drive it because it's still so new), and I hope it lasts me years and years and years.

It's a 2014, and I got a great deal on it: $21,500 plus a three year maintenance package and a security package if the car is ever stolen.

Being a bit of a cheapskate, I feel weird spending that much money on myself, and I don't like the idea of being in debt, so I'll be glad when the rest of the inheritance money kicks in so I can pay the car off (as well as my student loan).  I'm so glad that even in death, Mom is still helping us out with her generosity.

As I was signing the car documents, it felt odd to think that just four years ago, almost to the day, Mom was with me when I was signing my documents for the Saturn.  She was still driving, still independent, still in fairly good shape, although certainly on the decline.

Now, four years later, she's gone.  Well, not really gone.  But I sure do miss her.

I mentioned yesterday on Facebook that I was really missing her, and that even though I knew things would get easier one day, right now it is still hard.

This morning I found a note from one of Mom's best friend's daughter.  It said, "I saw your post...about your mom. I thought maybe I should tell you a little about a dream I had about a week ago. .....I was at my parents' house, you and I were talking in the road. Your mom came out of her house, gave you a hug and said 'I just wanted you to know that I am happy.' 

As I read it, I really did feel like it was a message from Mom telling me that even though I am sad she's gone, she's in a good place and doing well, and that I don't need to hang on to that sadness.  But, as Sally Field's character says in Steel Magnolias, "Shelby, as you know, wouldn't want us to get mired down and wallow in this. We should handle it the best way we know how and get on with it. That's what my mind says, I just wish somebody would explain it to my heart."

It's going to take some time.  I'm just glad Mom is still with me.

Monday, November 04, 2013

A Dream Deferred? Nah!

Langston Hughes famous poem says:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

A year ago yesterday I performed in my last show.  While I still consider what I presently do to be an acting job, I have not actually been on stage in a scripted show for a year.

A year ago I made the decision to spend more time with my husband, to leave the pressures of taking care of my mother full-time in somebody else's hands, to move from my long-time home of Utah permanently, and to take a hiatus from full-time acting.

It was time.

What's very strange is I have been shocked...absolutely how much I don't seem to miss acting.

When I told Jonah I was taking an acting break, he told me he didn't want me to settle or just work some job I didn't like just to remain closer to him.

Acting was, is, and has ever been a huge part of my life.  It's always been my dream to perform for a living, and truth be told, up until a year ago, I was making a pretty decent living as an actor and doing all sorts of great parts in great shows.  In fact, my very last role and show was one of the greatest theatrical experiences I have ever had, and if it were the last on stage show I ever did, I would consider it an extremely wonderful note to go out on.

In February of last year, when I was still unemployed, I started to write a post about the above poem and was asking myself if I was deferring my long life dream of acting.

I wrote,

"I think many actors, who tend to be an insecure lot in general, sometimes feel the way I'm feeling right now.  I tend to get this way when I'm unemployed from my acting career for an extended period of time.  I've only been unemployed for 3 1/2 months, but it feels like an eternity.

"Anyway, the way I'm feeling (and which is totally irrational) is that the best days of my acting career are behind me." 

That's as far as I got.  Now that I am employed and doing something somewhat related to my acting career, I feel differently.

I like my present job and I love being home with my husband.  I love not having to hustle for the next acting gig and I like the relative security of my current job.  I like the benefits that come with my job, and I am still entertaining people, so I haven't really given up acting.  But it's not the same, and I do get paid less.  But I really don't mind.

I am happy.

My life has ever been consumed with acting.  I thought I would miss acting on stage so, so much.  Every once in a while, an audition will come up, and I feel a yearning, but it passes relatively quickly.  For the most part, I don't have any strong inklings to get back on stage nor do I have any great regrets.

I have not given up acting, and I'm sure I will be back on stage again one day.  If ever I become unsatisfied with my current job or should my current job end, I will cross that bridge.  Right now, I like what I'm doing and am glad it afford me the opportunity to be with Jonah.  I do miss my family, and I do miss Utah, but it's time for me to be here, doing what I am doing.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Day of the Dead and Missing People

Since Mom passed away, I find that every little thing reminds me of her.  This is not a bad thing, but it can sometimes cause a previously normal activity like, say, eating a yogurt to fill me with sadness.  Mom liked yogurt a lot and would often eat it for breakfast.  I was eating a yogurt the other day and it made me think of her.

Or Listerine strips.  The day I started cleaning Mom's room out after she had moved into assisted living, I found a drawer full of about 20 packs of them.  I use them now to freshen my breath after I eat dinner on my break at work.

Or a movie or a song.  A few weeks ago a local movie theater was showing The Wizard of Oz on the big screen.  Jonah wanted to go, but it was one of Mom's favorite movies, and I just wasn't in the right place emotionally to be able to do it.  (I wish I had; the movie we ended up seeing, The Family, was a dud, and we ended up walking out halfway through it).

I can't hear "Smile" or "Embraceable You" or "Que Sera Sera" or a million other songs without thinking of her.

Or places.  If I'm at a Sweet Tomatoes or eating sushi somewhere, I am reminded of the many lunch dates we had together.

And of course, I am consumed with her stuff, whether it be transcribing her journals, receiving her mail, or handling her financial and legal matters.  She is ever-present with me.  And that is a good thing.  But I am also more prone to feeling great sadness at the loss of her.

Two nights ago I had the night off as did Jonah.  Jonah wanted to go to a Day of the Dead celebration at a local park.  I am not very familiar with Day of the Dead, but it's apparently a pretty big holiday in Mexican culture, and while Jonah doesn't celebrate it, it is a part of his heritage, and he had always wanted to go to one of these events.

We went with a friend of ours.  It just so happens that the park where the celebration was taking place was the same park I had taken Mom to on her last visit here.  So being there already reminded me of her.  The fact that the theme of the day had to do with death or celebrating of the lives of those who had passed only made me think of Mom more.

While intellectually I know that Day of the Dead is a celebration of life and can often even take a humorous tone, emotionally I find the art depressing.

Even though I know there is the fanciful, mocking sort of attitude towards death, to me, culturally, skulls and bones represent a side of death that seems so permanent and without life, and I know it's just a cultural difference, but it made me feel sad rather than joyous.

We passed many altars dedicated to the likes of the poor kids shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary; victims of domestic violence or gang violence; girls who never reached adulthood (and there were dolls dressed in corn husks to represent that); and memorials to such fallen icons as Harvey Milk, Selena, Michael Jackson, and Frida Kahlo.  The more we wandered around, I just felt a great heaviness of spirit and I began missing Mom terribly.

Jonah and his friend had primarily come to examine some of the art, which just isn't my taste.  Jonah noticed I seemed withdrawn, and came up to me and said, "I'm sorry if you're not having a good time."  It wasn't that I wasn't having a good time; I actually found the experience very interesting.  I just missed my mom.  As I started to explain this to him, I just started weeping, and amidst a large crowd of people who didn't even seem to notice, Jonah just held me in his arms and hugged me tightly while I sobbed.  I told him I just felt overwhelmed by all the death talk and that we were in a place that reminded me of Mom, and it was just hard.  Jonah kept repeating "I know, I know."

Just a day before Jonah had been feeling similar emotions because his dad had always given the grandkids a ride on his miniature train for Halloween, and Jonah was feeling a deep sense of loss.

As Jonah has said, it's not easy.  We both have lost our parents so recently, and we are still grieving.  Some days are easier than others, and I feel like I'm adjusting quite well.  Other days I feel incredibly sad that our parents are no longer with us in life.

I will always miss my mom, I'm sure, although I imagine the pain will get easier just as it did after my dad died.  I miss hearing Jonah's dad hum his little songs or seeing him sit out on the front porch or hearing him ask me if I brought snow from Utah.  I see how his passing has made Jonah's mom more lonely.  I miss my dad when I hear a particular country song or "Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley" by the Kingston Trio.  I miss my mom when I happen across a favorite movie of hers or when I'm out to lunch at a restaurant we frequented.

I guess that's life.  And I'm grateful for the reminders that bring back pleasant memories.  I often wonder what people will miss about me when I go.

Yesterday Jonah and I went to the cemetery to honor his father.  Neither of us are really cemetery-goers, but Jonah was curious about Day of the Dead festivities that were taking place at the heavily Hispanic cemetery.  I was truly surprised by the goings-on.  There was a high school Mariachi band (a very good one at that); a taco truck, balloon animals; face-painting, people hanging out in lawn chairs, etc.  For many, it was an all day celebration.

The cemetery where Mom and Dad are buried has a reputation for being a bit solemn and quiet, which is actually how I prefer it.  I would think a Mariachi band and a taco truck would be kicked out of the cemetery for disturbing the peace.  The most music I've heard at Mom's cemetery was the sound of a lone bagpipe.  Jonah's dad's cemetery seems much more relaxed than Mom's cemetery does.  To each his own, I guess.  Truth be told, the Mariachi music was quite enjoyable.

But the atmosphere was much different than I am used to.  Not bad.  Not good.  Just different.
Jonah left some flowers, candles, a coffee cup (representing his Dad's favorite beverage), a garden glove (representing his love of gardening) with a brick on top of it (representing the foundation he built with his children and family) and a framed photo along side the other mementos that had been left, including a wrench (representing his love of fixing cars), a statue, and a piece of duct tape that said "I love you."  It's so interesting how different people memorialize their dead loved ones.  I have a feeling Mom's cemetery would only have allowed the flowers.

When we were listening to the Mariachi band, I noticed two gravestones placed very close to each other: one was a Jewish man who died at the exact same age I am now, and the other was a black man who died at 20.  I don't know why it struck me, but I liked the idea that there were no racial or religious divides in this cemetery.  I also was struck by how many young people were buried in this cemetery.  I encountered grave after grave where the deceased was in his or her teens or twenties.  I wondered why so many had died so young.

We then went to a different part of the cemetery where Jonah's grandfather was buried.  It took us a while to find him, mainly because Jonah had told me to look for a fairly new upright stone with an eagle on it.  It turned out the stone was flat rather than upright, dirty, and had no eagle on it.  It also turned out that after having walked around extensively looking for it that the stone was a mere 15 feet right in front of Jonah's truck.

After the cemetery we went over to Jonah's sister's house, where Jonah's great-nephew was celebrating his first year of life.  It seemed apropos to be celebrating his birthday after so many days focused on death.  We visited with Jonah's family and his mom.

Anyway, I miss Mom, and my Day of the Dead experience was educational.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mom, Josh Groban, and Little Signs

I originally had anticipated writing a post on October 10th about how it didn't seem real that an entire month had passed since Mom passed.  The time has gone by quickly.

Friends have been so kind and said such wonderful things about my mom, my family, and me.  Some friends have talked about how proud Mom is of me, and I'm sure that's true.  Others have talked about the grace with which I've dealt with Mom's illness and death.  If that's true, it's only because my parents taught me to have that grace.

What I really want to talk about today, however, is a Josh Groban concert I attended recently.  While I like Josh Groban's music, I've always found him to be a little more operatic in style than is my personal preference.  I wouldn't call myself a fan, but I enjoy hearing his stuff on occasion.

I remember when Mom was well, she had a Josh Groban CD in the player in her car.  Mom often didn't know how to operate her CD player or radio, and that disc was in her player for a couple of years, at least.  Mom didn't typically have the volume up on her radio/CD player, and when I'd borrow the car on occasion, I'd turn the volume up, and there Josh Groban would be.  I'd usually remove the disc, listen to the radio, then replace the disc and turn the volume back to what it had been.

Mom liked Josh Groban.  I think she thought his stuff was really beautiful.

Jonah also likes Josh.  Actually, Jonah has a voice similar to Josh's in timbre and tone.

Recently I was offered the opportunity to get 2 for 1 tickets to Josh Groban's concert.  I actually considered it because the bottom price tickets in the 2 for 1 deal were not bad at all.  I thought Jonah might like it.  I eventually opted not to get them because we had just taken a trip to Disneyland, and my budget is a bit tight at the moment.  Also, more often than not, Jonah and I don't have the same nights free, so I didn't think he would be able to go anyway.

The day before the concert, my work announced that they had free tickets for his concert.  Evidently, the concert had not sold as well as was expected, and they needed to pad the house a bit.  I called Jonah and asked if he was free the next night.  Much to my surprise, he said he was, and so I asked him if he'd like to see Josh Groban.  He very excitedly said yes.

One of my fellow employees said he couldn't use his, so I took those as well.  Originally, Jonah's sister and a friend of Jonah's were going to go, but his sister canceled because she wasn't feeling well.

Our seats were a couple of rows away from each other.  Jonah knows I don't mind sitting by myself, and he wanted to catch up with his friend, so they sat together and my friend from work, who would have been sitting alone, took the other seat we had, and we sat together.

To my other side were two empty seats which remained empty the entire concert.  I had thought about how much Mom would have enjoyed attending a Josh Groban concert, and so imagined that she and Dad were sitting in those two empty seats.  I'm not sure Dad would have liked Josh Groban as much as Mom did, but I don't think he would have disliked him.  Whether Dad was at the concert or not, I don't know; but I'm quite certain Mom was there.

Josh Groban's opening act was a lady named Judith Hill.  I think she was on "The Voice."  She sang for about a half hour, and I really enjoyed her.  After a half hour break, Josh came out.  He was very charismatic and funny, but a little schlubby looking.  I enjoyed him, though.  He's got a great voice, although I did feel like he went a hair flat at times, though I doubt the majority of his audience noticed or cared.  I also think as he gets older, it will be harder for him to pull those high notes out.  However, he puts on a very good show, and I really thought it was a good concert.

There was one point he sang a song I wasn't familiar with, and they had the audience clapping, and I could just picture Mom clapping along with joy and excitement in her eyes.  It felt like she was right there beside me.

Then later he sang, "To Where You Are," and I just really felt Mom's presence very strongly and the words reminded me of our current situation:

Who can say for certain
Maybe you're still here
I feel you all around me
Your memory's so clear

Deep in the stillness
I can hear you speak
You're still an inspiration
Can it be
That you are mine
Forever love
And you are watching over me from up above

Fly me up to where you are
Beyond the distant star
I wish upon tonight
To see you smile
If only for awhile to know you're there
A breath away's not far
To where you are

Are you gently sleeping
Here inside my dream
And isn't faith believing
All power can't be seen

As my heart holds you
Just one beat away
I cherish all you gave me everyday
'Cause you are my
Forever love
Watching me from up above

And I believe
That angels breathe
And that love will live on and never leave

Fly me up
To where you are
Beyond the distant star
I wish upon tonight
To see you smile
If only for awhile
To know you're there
A breath away's not far
To where you are

I know you're there
A breath away's not far
To where you are 

My friend who was sitting next to me hugged me when the song was over, probably not even realizing how emotionally touched I was by it, but it almost felt like a hug from Mom.

But the clincher, the thing the told me Mom was really there with me was something that happened at the very end of the concert.  After his final song, the audience cheered and gave him a standing ovation, and so he performed an encore, his famous "You Raise Me Up."

Then the band left but Josh remained, and the audience continued cheering, and Josh asked if we wanted another encore, and the audience went crazy.  So the band came back.  Both Jonah and I noticed on his teleprompter that his second encore would be "Smile," the same song Jonah had sung at Mom's funeral.  We were both taken aback by it.

Josh announced he would be singing "Smile," and as he went into it I started crying and I noticed Jonah was crying, too.  And then, through the tears, I just started grinning because I knew Mom was there and letting me know she was there.

I don't believe in coincidences; I really don't.  Josh Groban could have sang any number of songs as his very last song of the evening.  Why that song?  Why did I get free tickets for a concert I never really intended on attending?  Why did Jonah just happen to be free on that night when in the past he hasn't been?  Why the two empty seats next to me?  I just felt like all the elements came together that Mom made her presence known to me.  I really appreciate it because Mom and I had such a close relationship that I've been convinced that if I sought her spirit out, I would feel her presence, and I definitely did at the Josh Groban concert.

So I am very thankful.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


This was the week I was supposed to come visit Mom.

Before Mom's fall and illness happened, I had planned to make this trip.  Jonah would be (and is) working this week, so I was going to fly up to Utah and rent and car and stay with the same friend Jonah and I stayed with when Mom was dying.

I was going to take her to see Something's Afoot at Pioneer Theatre Company as well as go see a movie, even though I knew she wouldn't probably remember either after we'd seen them.  I was also going to take her out to eat at one of our favorite restaurants.  And of course, I was going to visit her every day at her assisted living residence and maybe play a game with her if she was up to it.

Instead I am at home missing her.

It's funny, I know her dying now is a blessing compared with having to watch her slowly waste away over the course of several years.  When I think of where Mom was six years ago (or even one year ago), I see how fast things can change.  Even at this exact time last year, I wouldn't have thought Mom would be in assisted living so soon, and her death was far from my mind.  I always imagined Mom would live a long, long time, and I had prepared for how difficult it might be to watch her live so long with a body and mind that could no longer do what they once could.  That's where I thought we'd end up.

So yes, it is a blessing that Mom died before we had to watch her completely waste away and, more so, it is a blessing that she was still relatively independent and active and, above all, happy before she passed.

But this felt so fast.  The Saturday before her fall, she was doing really well under the circumstances.  Yes, her mind was fractured, but she was doing well and was talking and was happy.  Even immediately after the fall, the prognosis was good.  She was going to go to rehab and be back at her home at the assisted living within a couple of weeks, probably.

Then she just took a turn for the worst.  It was like dominoes.  The fall caused tissue damage; the tissue damage caused an infection; the infection caused renal failure; the renal failure and fall caused the muscle in her leg to die; and all of this meant her quality of life would not be very good; and that caused us to make the choice to let her go.

And now she's gone.

It was right to let her go.  We know it's what she would have wanted, and all four of us kids in conjunction with the doctors agreed it was the right way to go.

But no matter how prepared you think you are, it's never easy.

Often I'm doing well.  Often I feel like I'm dealing well with it.

Other days I'm deeply sad and just miss my mom.

Time will heal all wounds.  Dad's been gone for 21 years, and I rarely get sad about his passing the way I once did.  I know the same will happen with day.

It's natural to mourn; it's natural to grieve.  I know that.

And in many ways, we and Mom are better off.

But I miss my mom.  I miss her presence.  I miss talking to her even if our conversation was almost exactly the same every day.  I miss her warmth.  I miss hugging her and kissing her.  I miss her stories and childlike qualities.

People have been so kind and supportive.  People have said such nice things.  I've received cards, Facebook messages, blog comments, and in-person remarks that have really buoyed my spirits.  And I am thankful.  It really does help.

Among my favorite comments have been what a great son I have been, not because they flatter me, but because they only testify that Mom and Dad must have raised me well for people to think that of me.  Someone said the other day, "You and your siblings have done such a great job in how you've cared for your mom."  I replied, "That only goes to show what a great mother she was."

And she was.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Funeral and Burial

It's strange how the absence of just one person can make the world seem a much emptier place.

I miss Mom.  She's in a better place and she's better off, but I miss her.  I miss her presence.  I miss her voice.

It's funny, when I was her primary caretaker, I admit there were moments that I kind of wished she would pass.  That's hard for me to admit, but I understand it's a common feeling for caretakers to have.  Her mental decline was just hard to watch, and caring for her could be very stressful at times.

I never thought Mom would go this quickly.  She had the kind of personality and energy where I just thought she'd hang around for years no matter how badly her dementia robbed her of her faculties, independence, and abilities.

In truth, it's a great blessing that she went out the way she did.  Two weeks ago, she was doing well.  Although her mind was continuing to get progressively worse, she still knew all of us and was still able to learn new information.  She was still independent and active.  And most of all, she was happy.

It was only the last week that was difficult, and even then, I never felt she was suffering or in much pain, and I still felt she was very much aware of those who around her and who loved her.  What more can you ask for?

She lived a great life and her influence will be forever felt by those she touched.  I'm glad I don't have to watch a slow, painful decline in both mental and physical health.

But I miss her.

Friday morning we went to the funeral home to dress Mom.  Initially, I didn't want to dress her.  I wasn't sure how it would make me feel.  But I had changed my mind after talking with a friend who helped dress her grandmother.  It felt like one final act of service for my mom.

My aunt and cousin had come to help do Mom's makeup.  I had asked them to help because when they did my aunt's mother's makeup when she died, it looked terrific.

It turned out the funeral home had really done a great job with Mom.  Both her hair and makeup looked great, and she truly looked like she was sleeping.  She certainly looked a great deal better than she did when she died.  I had sent the funeral home pictures of Mom with her hair done up, and they really did a good job.  Jonah made a couple of alterations that really made her look like Mom.  My cousin only put some of Mom's lipstick on her, and it really turned out great.  It made Mom look like Mom on her best day.

Dressing Mom was both spiritual and...well, weird.  We put Mom's temple clothes on her.  The mortician was LDS so he knew how she should look.  Mom was very cold.  She'd obviously been in refrigeration.  Parts of her body that had scars from surgery and from her fall had been wrapped with plastic.  Her feet were too swollen to get her temple booties on, so we just laid them beside her feet.  

Mom's dress was of a fabric with not much give, and it was a little tight, so we just cut it down the back so it could breathe.  Flipping her from side to side to get the dress and accessories on and trying to get her stiff fingers through her sleeves was an odd experience, but also gratifying in a way.  By the time she was all dressed and made up, she really looked beautiful.

The mortician said his favorite part of his job was taking people that looked terrible upon death and making them look the way they looked in life.

My cousin's friend had died of cancer the same week Mom died (and in fact, the funeral home was handling her funeral as well) and both funerals were at the same time, so she was feeling very conflicted, although it turns out she went to Mom's.

After the funeral home, Jonah and I went to lunch (eating at the same table Mom and I often ate at, and it made me sad to know there would never be another lunch with her again in this life) and shopping to get him some nicer clothes to wear for the viewing and funeral.  Then we went back to the apartment we were staying at to get dressed.

While out shopping, I received a call from the bishop of Mom's old ward (my old ward as well) informing me that both he and the stake presidency had a problem with the song Jonah was to sing at the funeral.  It was "Embraceable You" by George Gershwin, and because a funeral takes place in the chapel, it must be according to Sacrament Meeting standards.  I guess they felt some of the lyrics to "Embraceable You" were too racy.

I was livid.  "Embraceable You" was one of Mom's favorite songs and also one I had sung with her as she lay dying.  I felt like it was an insult to Mom's memory, and felt that something lascivious and salacious was being attached to a song that was neither.  The bishop passed me on to an old family friend who is in the stake presidency.  He is a dear friend, and I don't think I have ever been angry at him in my life...except for at that moment.  I was mad and at that moment, if I had had the power to move the funeral elsewhere, I would have.

I ended up choosing "Smile" by Charlie Chaplin as its replacement (and that was approved), but I went to the viewing with a lot of anger in my heart, which was unfortunate since I had expected to feel peaceful and contemplative.

The viewing was nice.  Mom looked great.  We had the funeral home put her purse in with her.  In life (and especially as her dementia worsened), Mom was rarely without her purse, and we felt it fitting (and humorous) that she should take it to the grave.

Jonah and my sister-in-law made some flowers to go in the lid of Mom's casket.  They looked beautiful.  My brother-in-law had made a video presentation about Mom.  We had pictures of her, although I regretted that the picture of Jonah, Mom, and me at our commitment ceremony wasn't there due to the funeral home borrowing it for the obituary.

It was good to see old friends and relatives and visit with them.  Among my recollections at both viewings was one sister who talked about Mom being one of her favorite visiting teaching partners; one woman who's husband just died thanked me for a phone message I left for her (her daughter thanked me as well); Mom's childhood friend visiting; my old boss at a theater I used to work at seemed especially grief-stricken; another friend from the same theater made me feel better about the song situation.  Truth is, Mom wouldn't have cared that much.  She liked "Smile," too, and would have been happy to hear Jonah sing anything.  She certainly wouldn't have wanted me to carry a grudge about it.

I had no shame in introducing my partner to many of my former Mormon neighbors, and hardly any of them batted an eye.

 Jonah's Mom and sister-in-law had surprised us Friday night by coming up from Las Vegas.  I was so surprised and touched to see them.  We invited them to have dinner with us at my brother's and sister-in-law's house.

The viewing the next day was good, and we had to to wait a few minutes for my cousins to arrive.  My sister-in-law gave the family prayer, and it was quite nice.

Both of my sisters spoke as did I.  A family friend shared a retrospective of Mom's life.  I think the service was recorded by the funeral home, and if so, perhaps I'll publish my remarks in a future post.  Several people remarked on Mom's quiet service, and that is quite accurate.

I had seen my mom's former coworker (and former boss of mine) in the congregation and had hoped to talk with her, but she left before I got the chance, but she left a card and a plant for my siblings and me.

The weather was cool and rainy, but it didn't rain until after the graveside service.  I guess a marathon was going on on the same route as the funeral caravan, so that caused a bit of delay, but everything went smoothly and on time.

As we were at the graveside service, I couldn't help bu notice the trees showing the very first inklings of fall, and I thought that apropos that things were dying and changing from summer to autumn just as Mom made her departure.  It seemed metaphorically fitting as did the rain that started falling literally as soon as the service had ended.

We had a simple luncheon at the church, and my cousin played a really fitting song that seemed to relate to Mom.  After the luncheon was over, I said goodbye to my siblings, not sure when I'd see them again.  Mom felt like the glue that held us together, and I hope we will still get together even though she has passed.

I spent the rest of the time with Jonah, his mom and sister-in-law.  We took naps and then ate dinner at, coincidentally, the last place Jonah and I took Mom out to eat.

Sunday morning we went to a farmer's market and then to IKEA and then said goodbye to Jonah's mom and sister-in-law.  Then we ate, did some shopping, and then visited Mom's friend Harold at the assisted living facility.  He was so sad and lost.  He asked me to send him a photo of Mom.  I shall.  I also plan on calling him from time to time and will ask my siblings to check in on him if they feel the inkling to do so.

Jonah and I then visited Mom's grave again.  I had also visited it on Saturday after they had buried her, and it looked beautiful with the fresh flowers.  I'm not typically a grave visitor, but I somehow felt the need.  It was very peaceful.

Monday, Jonah and I headed home.  And now here I am trying to go back to normal without Mom.  It's going to take some time to adjust.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Mom's Death...And Her Beautiful Life

This has been a truly exhausting week.

Mom made her exit on Tuesday, September 10 at 2:23 PM Mountain Standard Time.  She was surrounded by me, my brother, my sister-in-law, my cousin, and my aunt.  Although both of my sisters had been there earlier, neither was there when Mom actually passed, and I think it worked out better for them that they weren't.

Although this has been a very difficult and painful week, it has also been a very spiritual and meaningful one.

I had never actually watched someone die before and certainly not someone as close to me as my mother was.

Jonah and I arrived in Utah on Thursday of last week, and I wrote about that night here.  Friday morning Mom was still pretty coherent, but drugged out a bit.  We had already determined to let her go, so it really was about making her as comfortable and pain-free as possible.  We took her off oxygen.  The tube in her nose was annoying her, and we figured it would only prolong her life anyway.  We also stopped the IV fluids.  Mom had already stopped eating by this point, although she was still drinking water.

She was in renal failure, and we were told it would take anywhere from a day to a week or so for her to pass.

As I said in my last post, I am convinced that we made the right decision on her behalf.  It is what she would have wanted and she would have been pretty miserable and confused otherwise.  She could have gone on dialysis three times a week for a the rest of her life and lived with her right leg missing; but a woman in her mental condition would have been very agitated, confused, and miserable as a result.  It might have been nice to keep her around longer, but I think it also would have been a long and painful road for both her and us.  I just think she would have been very sad, which would have been hard for her after she had finally found happiness again.  I miss her already, but we did the right thing, and now she is with my dad, whom she has been away from for 21 years.

Many of us stayed in the hospital with her on Friday.  I wrote down some of the things she said, which may have been drug inspired, but which I like to believe were her thoughts as she grew closer to the heavenly realm.

Here are some of the things she said, both in the hospital and in the assisted living facility:

"It's different."
"It's weird."
"I'm happy."
"It's great."
"I'm doing great."
"It's funny."
"Somehow I found a place."
"Everything went well."
"Nobody will understand.  Just the people who know."
"Nobody knew but us."
"It's a secret.  Then they'd know."
"Sounds like little children."
"It's so beautiful.  It's so beautiful."
"It's a little trick."
"I think it's fun."
"It's fun to watch it because we already know."
"We find each other.  We find each other somehow."
"Did you see that?"
"I think we have to."
"It's true."
"It was really good." (about Harold's guitar playing when he visited Mom)
"Who's the boy with the monkey?" (my favorite)
"You're welcome." (after I thought she said "Thank you," and repeated it to her to see if that's what she said), and which was the last audible thing she said to me.
the second to the last audible thing she said to me: "I knew you did it right."

When hospice took over, we decided Mom could be moved back to the assisted living facility where she was living, and arrangements were made to move her there in the afternoon on Friday.  We felt Mom would be happier in a familiar place and that way her friend Harold could visit her, and his visit at the hospital really seemed to brighten her spirits.  Plus, Harold was in mourning just as much as we were, and we thought it would be good for both him and Mom.

I spoke with the hospice social worker and signed a bunch of papers and made arrangements.  She was very nice and wanted to make sure Mom was comfortable.  I do somewhat regret remaining with that hospice service rather than dealing with the one that partnered with the assisted living facility, but we made the choice we made, and that service did do some very good things for Mom.  We did have a major snafu with her morphine pump after moving her to the assisted living facility and it seemed the assisted living staff and the hospice staff were not on the same page; the first pump Mom was given was broken; and so Mom was in some pain when first arriving at her home at the assisted living place.  Eventually (although not quickly enough for my brother and me) the problem was resolved, and we gave Mom a large dose of morphine to deal with the pain, and she slept for a very long time.

During the pump snafu time, Mom was able to talk a bit, although it wasn't always coherent.  She seemed aware, but confused, which is how she was in her state of dementia anyway.  I stayed with Mom that first night.  Jonah went back to my friend's, who we are staying with, to get a decent night's sleep.  I slept on a leaky air mattress while Mom slept.  She was out most of the time although occasionally she would open her eyes. 

I didn't sleep too well, mostly because the air mattress was deflating and because the nurse kept coming in every hour to check on Mom.  Mom seemed relatively normal that first night.  Her urine output was almost nil and her fecal output was nil.  She had both a catheter and a fecal tube as well as the morphine pump attached to her.  They had removed her old bed and replaced it with a hospital bed.

We didn't know how much time Mom left; only that it wasn't much.

My siblings and I were in and out, spending hours at a time with Mom and then leaving to get a break while someone else (or many someone elses) stayed with her.  Sometimes we stuck around the assisted living facility on the porch or in the dining room.  Part of me was afraid to leave because I thought she would die while I was gone.

I don't know why it was important to me to be with her when she passed.  I guess I'm a bit of a romantic with a spirit of drama, and I wanted my "movie moment" where Mom took her last breath by my side.  Although I did eventually get my "movie moment," the long week of her dying eventually taught me that I didn't need it.

I think all of us expected Mom die more quickly than she did, although none of us were particularly surprised that she didn't since Mom tended to be very independent, doing things on her own terms, and who was a bit of a hanger-on-er. 

Much of the week is a blur to me.  I remember events and experiences, but not necessarily when they happened.  I know that Saturday morning Jonah and I went out.  Jonah just wanted me to get a break and get away.  He's been such a great support to me during all this, and I haven't always been as kind in return due to stress.  But I have a hard time imagining going through all of this without him.

I know that Saturday there was one point when Jonah, my brother, and I were all with Mom and thought she would die during a half hour period.  Her breathing was very erratic, her pulse was above 100 beats per minute, and there were about 12 seconds in between some of her breaths.  She was aware and communicative, but her voice was weak and sometimes hard to understand.  That was when she told me, "I knew you did it right," and at the moment I thought those would be the last words she ever said to me.  I don't know what she was referring to, but I know it was meant for me specifically.  I hope it refers to my relationship with Jonah or the way in which I helped care for her or the way I'm living my life or the choice we made to not prolong her life.  Whatever it was, I'm glad she's convinced I "did it right."

I remember two specific times when Mom was in the midst of dying, I felt a warmth on my shoulders and neck; not a room temperature sort of thing, but a spiritual presence of some sort.  That's what I believe anyway.  I think there was a being (or beings) there helping Mom prepare for her transition.

I also remember two interesting visions I had.  One happened while I was caressing Mom's hair and stroking her arm wondering how long she would be with us.  While I was doing this, I saw a much younger version of Mom doing the same thing to me just after I was born.  In truth, I don't think Mom actually got to hold me after I was born.  I was born two months early and was in very critical health, and for the first three days of my life, the prognosis was not good.  I spent several weeks in an incubator.  So I don't think Mom held me much, if at all, during the first weeks of my birth.  But the point of the vision, I think, was to show me that at the beginning of my life, Mom was praying for my life and hoping I'd be okay, and here I was at the end of hers praying for a painless and easy death for her and hoping she'd be okay.  It just was a testament to me of the circle of life and it felt very apropos. 

The other vision I had was I was looking at Mom breathing in and out in a deep sleep and suddenly I thought I saw my dad's face in hers and then my own.  I'm not sure exactly what it signified, although I have my theories.

Saturday night my brother stayed with Mom.  I waited for the call that never came; that Mom had finally passed.

Sunday was a day of visitors.  My aunt and uncle came by.  Mom's very close friends who she used to live across the street from came by.  Mom's friend that she's known since she was 16 came by.  My niece and nephew-in-law.

I took a picture of Mom with her old friend and neighbor.  It turned out to be the last photo taken of them together.

At this point, many of us wondered why Mom was hanging on.  Shouldn't she have passed yet?  It just felt like she was dragging it out and, frankly, it was hard to watch at times, wondering if each breath would be her final one.

Mom's friend postulated that maybe it was hard for her to leave while all of us were there, and that sometimes dying people needed time alone.  Jonah wondered if my presence, in particular, might be making it hard for Mom to leave.

Jonah, who had really been having a hard time dealing with the unfairness of Mom's early and unexpected demise and her slow death, had a long chat with God about it, and this is what brought him peace:

"I was talking to God right now and asking what lessons are learned from
a slow death ... in all this there are lessons for every one...each one us
takes a different one when we are there or when we leave.  it all about
accepting what you have seen before you.. I have already told you the
secret God says. I accept you for who you are and I love you for who
you are...Just remember acceptance is the key and I am ready to accept anyone when they are ready to be accepted..." (sent to me from Jonah in a text message)

As Jonah and I discussed Mom's impending death, one thing we theorized is that free agency being the eternal principle that it is there is no reason to necessarily doubt that Mom had choice in exactly when she might depart this mortal existence and maybe she wasn't ready or was afraid or was concerned about leaving us or whatever.  I also came to realize that Mom wasn't in pain or suffering that we could tell (in fact, one of the clearest and most audible things she said was "no" when Jonah asked her if she was in pain) and so why should I be in such a hurry to let her go.  Yes, it was hard to watch her slowly die, but I realized that wanting her to die more quickly was more about alleviating my suffering than hers, and once I accepted that I decided to just cherish every moment I still had with her, no matter how painful it might be for me.

During much of the time Mom was dying, we would let Harold come in and see Mom.  The first time he came, Mom was still conscious enough to recognize him and seemed very happy to see him.  He asked if he could give her a kiss and she agreed.

The second time Harold visited, Mom was unresponsive and he asked if he could kiss her, but she couldn't give permission, so he didn't.

The third time Mom was unconscious, his visit was very short, and I told Harold he could go ahead and kiss her.  He was very grateful.

Mom and Harold meant a lot to one another, and even though we all believe Mom and Dad are reunited now and that Dad is Mom's eternal mate, the fact remains that Harold and Mom made each other very, very happy these last couple of months.  Mom's demeanor was such a happy and vibrant one and much of that was due to Harold.

I think my brother, in particular, seemed a bit put out by Harold's visits and that perhaps Harold was overstaying his welcome and taking time away from the family.  Harold's first visit, in particular, was quite long and extended.  I even think perhaps my brother was a little jealous of Mom's relationship with Harold.

When I say what I'm about to say, I am not judging or condemning my brother.  I truly think he has done the best he knew how to do during these past few years in dealing with Mom, but the fact is that of the four of Mom's children, he probably spent the least amount of time with her.  He always had work or church or family obligations and just didn't seem to have time to visit with Mom the way my sisters and I did.  Certainly he visited with her and helped her, but I wondered now that Mom was dying if perhaps he was realizing the lost time he could have had with Mom.  Maybe my brother has no regrets; I'll never know - my brother isn't too vocal about his feelings nor does he wear his heart on his sleeve the way perhaps my older sister and I do.

But it's like Jonah said in his text message in another part:

"I look at your Facebook page and saw Harold and mom
picture...and yes I too hear the same stories over and over from you as Harold
heard from mom but not once have I left you .. I have sent all of you a
special someone like that ..Harold once again I tell you loved and
accepted mom for who every bit of who she is .like I do you .acceptance
is the you accept death for what it is or do you fear it..."

I know all of us at one time or another got impatient with Mom's memory loss and hearing the same thing over and over.  I eventually reached a place where it no longer mattered.  My phone conversations with Mom these last few months rarely varied.  It was the same conversation over and over; but I didn't care; I was just happy to talk with my mom.

Harold accepted Mom for exactly who she was and not only listened to her repeat the same things over and over again, but delighted in it.  Just like our Father in Heaven, who hears us pray and ask for the same things over and over, Harold didn't say, "I'm sick of this; you're wearing me out."  He accepted and loved Mom just for who she was...and he made her very happy and she, him.  Her death was very hard on him, and I felt he deserved just as much time to mourn her as anyone, whether he knew her as long as we did or not.

I did try to make sure my brother got some alone time with Mom because I think he needed it, but I just hope he doesn't live with regret of missing time with her.  I think my brother really made an effort to be with Mom while she was dying, but I sometimes don't feel he made that effort when she was living.  Again, no judgment or condemnation; just an observation.

A really fascinating thing happened on Sunday night.  We had thought Mom was going to die soon due to her irregular breathing and rapid heartbeat.  She hadn't eaten anything in several days, and although we tried, she wasn't taking much water.  Her lips were chapped, although we tried to keep them moist.  Her potassium levels were very high, which meant her heart could give out.  Her kidneys had shut down.  Her oxygen level was 71, and they had told us the 60s was where to expect death. 

For much of her dying period, I had played old standards because Mom loved that kind of music, and it was funny how so many of the songs started to take on double meanings under the circumstances.  "They Can't Take That Away from Me" made me think that even though Mom was dying, her influence really couldn't be taken away; "Que Sera Sera" - what will be, will be; "Unforgettable" - that's what Mom was and is; the "Sentimental Journey" Mom would soon be taking; "I'll Be Seeing You" - knowing that soon everything would remind me of Mom; "Embraceable You" - one of Mom's very favorites (and what Jonah will be singing at her services).

When Mom was conscious, she would move her lips, and I know she was trying to sing.  Her first night at the assisted living before she got worse, we sang it together while we were dealing with the morphine pump fiasco, and that seemed to calm her down.

But on Sunday night Jonah wanted to sing to her.  We started singing "How Great Thou Art" and then Jonah encouraged me to sing some familiar LDS church hymns, which I did.  Even though Mom was asleep, her lips would move, and the most remarkable thing was that her breathing regulated itself.  Whereas her breathing pattern had become sporadic with 9-12 second between breaths and a heart rate of 100 beats per minute, after Jonah and I sang with her, her breathing became normal and her heart rate when down to about 73 beats per minute.  We also learned that her oxygen level, which had been 71, had gone all the way to the mid 80s.  I knew music was powerful, but I was absolutely floored by the change in her.  We told my niece and nephew about it, and they asked me to sing with them to Mom, and it was a wonderful experience.

Jonah and I stayed with Mom a bit that night.  Jonah said after I fell asleep that Mom's breathing and mine had been opposite, but that we eventually started breathing in time together while we were asleep.  I thought that was interesting.  Jonah eventually left and I stayed with Mom that night and actually got a better night's sleep.

Jonah and I actually think the hymn singing may have prolonged her life another day.  Her breathing remained fairly steady for a while.

By Monday night, Mom's fluid build up had gotten worse and her breathing had become gurgled.  I had actually read about the signs of death for someone going through renal failure, and the "death rattle" breath is a sign, so I knew death was getting closer.  And yet I also felt compelled to leave Mom alone for the night.

My brother had asked if I was staying, and I said I wasn't, and he asked if he should come, and I said he didn't have to.  For some reason I felt compelled to follow my neighbor's advice and just let Mom be by herself for a bit.  And in truth, the gurgling breath was hard to watch.  Mom kept gasping for breath, and each breath felt like it would be the last.  It wasn't watching her dying that was the hardest; it was wanting so badly to help her and not being able to.  I also felt that same warmth I'd felt before, and I knew that even if we left, Mom wouldn't be alone at all; there were spirits preparing for her arrival much in the same way my siblings and I were preparing for her departure.  Jonah and I said a very powerful prayer that Mom's transition would be smooth and free of fear and that she would know she wasn't alone.  It was a very powerful and spirit-filled time.  I put my hand on my Mom's head much like I might have if I still held the Priesthood, but simply prayed, and I knew my prayer was heard and being answered.

I told Mom that we were leaving and that I loved her.  She opened her eyes and I know she was trying to say, "I love you, too," but she couldn't speak.  Still, I knew she was aware.

There were times when Mom would open her eyes and they just had a dead look, but I always felt she was very conscious and cognizant of what was going on around her.  I also wonder if her demented mind was filled with clarity as she grew closer to death.

I fully expected to receive a call in the middle of the night saying that Mom had passed, but it never happened.  She had been so warm and had been gasping her extremities were swollen and she was unable to move herself.  And I realized I might miss my "movie moment" of being with her when she died, but it no longer mattered.  I just wanted her to be free on her own terms.

We had asked the nurse to call if there was any change, and she said she would call at the end of her shift at 6:00 am, which she did.  Mom was still in relatively the same shape.  At about 8 or so, my brother called saying that Mom had grown worse.  Jonah and I got there around nine, and I basically stayed with her until the end.

Mom's breaths were very short and gurgled.  My older sister had gotten there and hadn't expected what she saw and called my aunt, who used to be a nurse.  She picked by aunt up, and they came.  At one point, all four of Mom's children were present with her at the same time.  My great-aunt also visited.  The nurses gave Mom a last bath and changed her from her sweaty hospital gown to her regular clothes.  They also turned the bed so we could gather around it.

A chaplain showed up and talked to us.  Although I didn't necessarily require his services, it was nice to talk to him and share experiences we had had.  Jonah was also very good with my younger sister, who was really having a rough time, and said some things to her that really seemed to help her.  My cousin soon showed up.

Perhaps one of the neatest, most beautiful things that happened was the hospice service had a harpist come in.  She played some of the most beautiful music for about a half hour, and I relished in the peacefulness that was present.  It felt almost like we were in heaven.

And a profound experience occurred: I looked around the room at all the photos on my mom's wall and saw the tapestry of her life.  Here's one of her in 1975 with her husband and kids, my youngest sister just a newborn; here's another of her with my brother and his wife and three of their kids in about 1997 or 1998; here's another of her gay son and his partner at Disneyland; here's another of her youngest daughter with her husband and young children taken just last year; here's another of her as a little girl in a big bow with her mom and baby brother; here's another of her enjoying an activity at the assisted living facility; here's another of her family when Dad was having health problems taken a couple of years before he died; here's another of Mom with her extended family, but this time no Dad - he'd been dead many years by that point; here's one of the whole family shortly after my brother was engaged to the woman who is now his wife (Mom had asked, "Are you sure you're getting married?" before allowing her to be in the photo).  And now I'm looking at the map of the world my sister put on the wall showing all the places Mom had been in her life as well as the places her dementia made her think she'd been.  France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Belgium, Austria, Canada, Great Britain, Switzerland, Holland, Alaska, Yellowstone Park, Disneyland, Hawaii, Boston, New York, and others.  And I start thing of the wonderful life my mom had had, the experiences she's lived; the family she and my dad have grown and raised; and the influence she will always continue to have after her death. 

And then I look down at this frail, dying woman who's mind and body have been wracked by mortality, but who is now surrounded by people who love her very much and whose lives she has impacted for good through her love, generosity, kindness, faith, and sacrifice.  And I am only sad because this beautiful, lovely woman will certainly leave a void in my life and others' lives when she departs from this world; but I am not sad for the wonderful and very full life she lived.

And I truly believe that although her spirit and her body will be separated, that we will never be without her.  She lives on in us.  Those grandkids and great-grandkids who will never know her in this life will know her because their parents and grandparents knew her and were taught and loved by her.  Her example lives on in all of us, and I know we are never alone or without her.

I don't want the harpist to stop, but eventually she does, and I thank her.  You can tell she loves what she does and that she has likely seen many people die.  But she knows why it's beautiful and spiritual.

Eventually both my sisters have to leave.  My oldest one leaves only minutes before Mom passes.  My sister-in-law has arrived.  I somehow find myself in the seat next to Mom.  I am stroking her hair and arm.  There are these little gurgling, gasping noises, but barely any breath at all, and I know the end is near.  I am happy she will be reunited with my dad and her parents and the loved ones that have gone before, and I am happy she will be whole in mind and spirit again; but I am sad to know I will soon be losing the best mom a guy ever could have had and that I will no longer be able to talk to her on the phone and hear her voice or hug and kiss her.  I know I will dreadfully miss her presence in my life.

Mom takes a breath, but does not exhale.  I know without knowing that it is her last.  I have never actually seen anyone die in the flesh before.  It is profound and spiritual.  It really is as if you can see the spirit leaving the body.  The color goes out of Mom's face and although there are still involuntary muscle twitches, I know she is gone.

I continue to stroke her hair.  I put my hand on her forehead and face because I know soon she will grow cold, and I want to hold on to her warmth as long as I can.  We all cry except my brother and cousin.  I go into work mode.  I tell the staff that she's gone; I call the funeral home (who we met with a couple of days before while Mom was dying) and the cemetery.  I schedule a meeting with the cemetery in just an hour or so.

We are given time to be with Mom, although we don't necessarily need it.  We've been with her the last week.  I find Jonah, who's been with Harold.  I let Harold have one last visit with Mom.  The funeral director comes and we go through some logistical stuff.

I give Mom one last kiss on the forehead and then the lips.  She is colder now, but I do not want to forget the way that kiss feels.  The funeral director moves the body and Jonah and I head off to the cemetery.  Fortunately Mom and Dad prepaid for their plots, vaults, and burials, so that has made it easier and less stressful.  It just so happens that every day I pass the cemetery where Mom will be buried because my friend we're staying with lives only a couple of blocks away.  Jonah and I look over the grave site.  We are charged an extra $250 because it will be a Saturday service.  Fortunately, we have all the money we were going to use to care for Mom; now she's using it to take care of us.

I have already pre-written Mom's obituary and funeral program, so I send those off.

Monday is spent doing activities unrelated to Mom.  Jonah is trying to distract me from my grief, God bless him, but all I can seem to think of is Mom.  Even when you think you're prepared for a loved ones death, you really aren't.  Everything reminds me of her ("I'll never be able to take her to this restaurant again;" "Mom would have loved this movie;" "normally I would have been calling Mom right now;" etc.).

I feel lost.  So much of these past few years has been devoted to Mom's care that now I feel like I've lost part of my purpose.  True, this will enable me to devote more energy to Jonah and my career and my own life, but I miss living for Mom.  I miss her.

Today was spent cleaning Mom's room at the assisted living facility, meeting with her lawyer about her estate, helping my brother-in-law with a photo presentation for the funeral, picking out a program cover, lashing out at Jonah when we was only trying to relieve my stress; and having dinner with my sister and brother-in-law.  Tomorrow will be spent getting Mom dressed, made up, and having her hair done and getting things ready for the viewing.

Saturday will be the funeral.  I'm giving a talk, and I wrote this blog entry to help me organize some of my thoughts.  After the funeral will be the burial and a small dinner.

Jonah and I may stay Sunday or go back home.  We definitely must leave by Monday because we both have to get back on Tuesday for work.  It's been a long week.

I wonder when I will come back to Utah.  My family is here, so I know I will be back, but not having Mom here will be weird.

I have absolutely no regrets about my relationship with Mom or my love for her, her love for me, or they way I treated her and cared for her.  That is a peaceful feeling indeed.  I miss Mom, but I know she's in a great place.

The day after she died, when I was feeling especially down, I saw this:

Today I saw a beautiful double rainbow.  I think those are Mom's way of saying, "Hey, I got here all right."

See you later, Mom.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Goodbye, My Dear Mom

I am currently sitting in a hospice room watching my mother die. 

I did not think it would come this soon, but it has.

On Saturday at noon I called Mom like I always do.  She was doing great.  She was happy, lively, and preoccupied with her not-boyfriend, Harold; still her regular dementia-addled self, but doing well.

Sunday morning I had the dream I wrote about here and was woken up from it by my brother, who had called to tell me about Mom's fall.  At that point, her prognosis was good.  She would need physical therapy, but she could return back to her home at the assisted living facility eventually.

What a difference the past four days have made and how quickly Mom has declined.

Monday we were told that Mom had severe muscle degeneration which was exacerbated by the fall and that some muscle tissue had gotten in her blood stream and caused an infection.  The resulting infection spread very quickly and caused Mom's kidneys to shut down, meaning she would need dialysis for the rest of her life, something that typically is counterproductive and not recommended for patients who are in the stage of dementia Mom is.

My siblings and I have known Mom's wishes for some time now and know she would not want to have her life prolonged if it meant further deterioration of her quality of life.  Nor do we particularly want to continue to watch Mom's physical and mental health decline.  All of us seemed ready to let her go if needs be.

Jonah was surprised at how quickly we seemed to arrive at this decision and questioned whether we were doing everything we could for Mom and whether we were "giving up" too easily.  I also know because of the recent death of Jonah's father, he is still having a hard time and regrets the lost time that he could have had with his dad.  Jonah also feels very sad for Mom's grandchildren who will never really get a chance to know her.

I must admit there was a part of me who questioned if what we were doing was really to alleviate Mom's suffering or our own.  Were we really trying to help her or ease our own pain?  I confess the thought of watching Mom slowly lose her independence, mind, and ability to feed, dress, bathe, or toilet herself as well as lose her ability to communicate and possibly not remember us at all does not thrill me and, yes, I think it would be better for her to go now while she still has what faculties she has and what independence and dignity she has left rather than die a long and slow death.

Then after her renal failure occurred, we were told that the fluid build up in Mom's body had caused pressure in her leg as well as put liquid in her lungs.  The muscle in her leg had died and her leg would have to be amputated if we kept her alive.  She was having trouble breathing.  She was having balance and walking issues and was confused, in pain, and miserable.  Dialysis three times a week for four hours at a time and a missing limb and an inability to walk is challenging enough for an otherwise healthy individual.  For someone with dementia it is confusing and causes great agitation and often makes the dementia worse.  Mom would not want to live that way.  She will be miserable and confused.  We don't want her to live that way.

All of us were in completely unified agreement: we chose to forego dialysis and amputation.  We chose to let Mom die comfortably and with dignity.  The three doctors who have been caring for her all concur that this is a wise decision, and I know all four of Mom's kids feel at peace with this decision.

My mom has been my greatest champion, supporter, and friend during my whole life.  Losing her is sad,  I have a hard time imagining a life without her and her influence (although, of course, her influence will always be with me).  I will miss her more than words can express.

But this is the right thing to do for her.  I know it.

I am not perfect, but I have been the best son I know how to be to my mother.  I have no regrets in either my relationship with her or in how I've treated her and cared for her.  I know she knows how much I love her, and I know how much she loves me.  She has been the best mother a guy could ask for, and it is now time to let her go.

We are amazed at how quickly this turn of events occurred; we all thought Mom would live much longer than it turns out she will.  But she has left us a great legacy in what she has taught us and how she treated us, and hopefully we are emulating the example she and my dad left for us.

Mom was also very generous with her money.  If one of us needed help paying for school or a temporary loan or a financial lift, she would help without hesitation, but still taught us to earn our own keep and be financially responsible.  I think she would be delighted to know that the money that was originally to go towards her long-term care will be passed on to us, as she and Dad originally intended.

I had planned on coming to Utah in two weeks to visit Mom, but knowing she would die soon, Jonah and I made plans to come to Utah yesterday.  Fortuitously, Jonah already had Thursday through Sunday off, and both of our jobs are on-call positions, and both of our bosses have been extremely understanding and accommodating, so we are both on indefinite leave until this all plays out.

As I stood during a quiet moment at work Wednesday evening, I thought about what I might wish to say at Mom's funeral.  I am still mulling it over, but I have some ideas, and perhaps I'll share them another time.

It was truly weird driving to Utah yesterday knowing that when I return home, Mom will be gone.

I was really happy she was still coherent enough to recognize me, and she was very happy to see me.  Actually, her dementia made her happy to see me three separate times because each time was the "first" time.

Harold, Mom's pseudo-boyfriend, called me this morning.  He's very sad, and we feel very sad for him that he is losing his friend.  He brightened Mom's life at the assisted living facility, and she, his.  I told him if he could arrange it with his family, he was more than welcome to visit Mom.  He was surprised and touched by this offer.  And he took me up on it.  My siblings informed me he visited a few hours before Jonah and I got there.  He had dressed up and played his guitar for Mom, and she brightened up when he was there.  They also gave each other some kisses.  I was glad they were able to see one another.  They probably won't get another chance.

Mom is out of it, but still has moments of coherency.  She could die today or within the week.  The practical part of me is already thinking about things like funeral arrangements and obituaries.  I am in a recliner.  On my left is my younger sister, who is snoring.  On my right is my dear mother, who is also snoring, but more shallowly.  Jonah is probably having a slightly more restful night at a friend's, although he is having a harder time dealing with this than I seem to be.  I am glad to be with Mom and I feel very at peace with how things are playing out.

I had told my family and the doctors not to keep her alive on my account as I made my voyage back to Utah, but I am glad she is still alive for me to see her one last time before she passes.  She was very glad to see me and I, her.  I do not know when she will go, but it won't be too much longer.  I am reminded of when Mom did the very same thing with her own mother.

I will miss Mom.  Anyone who reads this blog knows how much I adore her.  But while we will be sad to see her go, it is also a great blessing that she will be released from the tribulations of mortality.  I'm glad she will be leaving with as much of her faculties and independence as she had before the fall.  I also imagine Dad, who has been away from her for 21 years, will be delighted to be reunited with her again.  And Mom will be glad to be with him again as well as her parents and brother and in-laws and all those loved ones who have gone before.  I am grateful for the time I have had with her and for the influence she has had on my life, and I am equally excited for her to have her next adventure. 

Death takes us all eventually, so I take comfort in the fact that Mom and I will only be separated for a season, and then we will be together again one day along with our other loved ones.

I'm just grateful for Mom and that I can be with her both now and forever.