I'm writing again! It frees my soul from bottled up thoughts and memories. This book will be titled GROWING OLD WITH GRACIE. Every chapter has
* A poem or thought of reflection
* A rewind
* A playback (which brings us to the present)
This is a rough draft of one of the chapters - fitting for MOTHER'S DAY in honor of my Mom.... I know, it's long so don't feel you have to read it. It's just something I will come back to later and reflect on - it's why I love to write.
Happy Mother's Day to All Mom's!
Tip #1: Get up early and don't fill up on the dry stuff. The kiddies should arrive soon and you want to make sure you have room for their droppings if ya know what I mean.
Tip # 2: Don't get underfoot. You don't want to get stepped on.
Tip #3: Follow the smell. It will usually lead to the outside grill.
Tip #4: Do not leave the kiddies unattended. There is a 95% chance that they are carrying food of some sort. The minute you turn your back, it will all be shoved into their mouths and they will forget about how you sit, looking longingly into their faces for your share.
Tip #5: Do not ... I repeat.. Do not allow your people to leave the house after dark. You will need someone to protect you from the bangs and booms of the night.
Tip #6: Keep your head held high and your chin in the air. If guests refer to you as "The Dog", pee on their shoe when they are not looking. Remember, Mom calls you her baby. You are no dog!
Tip #7: Be quick. My all time record for removing a hotdog from the plate of an unsuspecting guest when they look up from their plate is 2 seconds. Remember though, once you grab the dog you need to be able to run fast and gulp down your prize quickly.
Tip #8: Food will be plentiful. Pace yourself. Whatever you do don't make the same mistake I made last year when I tried to bury a chunk of hamburger under Mom's pillow. Saving it for later = Not a good idea.
Tip #9: Don't go near the pool. Too much splashing going on inside the pool makes for one wet baby. Too much like getting a bath for my liking.
Tip #10: Wear your red, white and blue well!
Happy 4th of July Every-doggy!
“Can I take Yogi?” I ask.
Mom says, “No, Yogi stays.” I drop my black cat to the ground and apologize. “Sorry, maybe next time.”
Yea whatever. I’d just as soon stay here and sleep. You’re way too clingy.
Summer is warm and still, a good night for fireworks. I wear a pair of blue cotton shorts and a loose sleeveless tank top. My hair is shoulder length and dark brown with crooked bangs cut half way up my forehead. I am ten years old.
Our older brother Jimmy is off with friends again, so it’s just us younger kids crammed into our Ford Falcon with four of us sitting in the backseat and one brother in the front between Mom and Dad.
“Can we get ice cream after the fireworks?” I ask.
“We’ll see…” Mom says.
I wonder what that means… we’ll see. I hear it a lot and it seems to often be Mom’s stock answer. Are you going to take us to the fair? We’ll see. Can I go to Brenda’s on Friday? We’ll see. Can I bake a cake later tonight? We’ll see. And then there are the questions that need immediate attention such as can I have a fudgesicle? Then it’s … I guess. I guess? So does that mean yes, no or I’m not sure? Mom and her indecisiveness and bottled responses!
The Town and Country parking lot is packed with cars already and Dad wiggles our car through the crowd to find an empty spot in the back. Our car doors bust open and a tribe of overly excited kids burst out and we plant ourselves on the warm hood of the car ready for the upcoming light show.
The air is thick with humidity and we laugh and play and tell stories and soon the skies are dark . Oooohs and Ahhhhs are heard throughout the audience of people then, “Wow, did you see that?” The grand finale shows the sky barely able to contain the brilliant explosion of color!
“Hurry! In the car, now!” Dad says.
Heavy traffic and delays and soon we are home, with no ice cream. Maybe next year.
Fear comes easy and I struggle with that one thing that is opposite of faith. Asking God to make me strong, I drive my car in the dark of the night towards the hospital where the ambulance has just taken Mom. Her words on the phone just minutes ago were ones I had hoped I’d never hear, “I think I am having a heart attack.”
Two months and a bi-pass surgery later and Mom is still on life support. Each time the doctors try to wean her from the breathing tube she struggles for breath and needs to be put back on. Her future seems hopeless.
I watch her sleep and think about her legacy. Her childhood, anything but easy, yet she overcame the cruel and unfair cards she’d been dealt. She’d be the first one to say she was far from perfect but she knew her shortcomings and grew from them. I’m sure my love for animals was passed down from both her and Dad. They invested in two German shepherd dogs to replace us kids after we began to spread our wings, preparing to fly. My memory fails me as I try to remember the sequence of her losses. Gretta, the black dog first, then Dad at age fifty-two, and then Trooper the other dog. The sudden loss of Dad at such a young age devastated her. And the dogs… it’s a heartbreak that only a true pet lover could understand. These were tragedies that left a real void in Mom’s life. Now she spoils and loves her grandkids and grand dogs. Some might look at her love for animals as being fanatical but I see it as having a deep and special knowing of their importance in our lives. It’s a gift of a special kind of love that is mysterious, fulfilling, and goes back to the beginning of time.
It has been a period of change, these last three months. Mom’s illness began at our local hospital but her downward spiral led to a transport to Georgetown and now here we are. Weekends are all the same, we pack up the kids and make the two-and-a-half hour drive to Virginia where my husband and kids stay with family after he drops me off at the hospital to be with Mom and my sister who lives close. The past two months have brought down my defenses and I’ve willingly shed the gritty, thick exterior of pride and hugs are starting to feel healthy to me. When you come this close to losing the most important person in your life, I guess you tend to pull from your shell, at least that is what I have found happening to me.
Mom has given up and her hopelessness has rubbed off on me. Her ventilator does not allow her to talk but her scratch pad and pen does. Three months on life support is enough. It is time to say goodbye.
Morning brings an interesting report when my sister calls me on the phone and talks about last night. “Mom couldn’t wait to write down that a group of doctors all of them dressed in white, came into her room last night around 2AM, making quite an impact on her psyche. One of the doctors stood out from the rest, seeming to have a glow about him, touching her foot, and assuring her she would be alright. She felt an instant peace.”
“So now she wants to live?” I ask.
“She says she is going to be okay now,” Angie says. “She’s confident she is going to get better.”
Just knowing that Mom has taken on optimism over pessimism is enough to make my mood better, though deep inside I do not feel quite so hopeful.
It’s a little later in the afternoon and Angie calls me with more good news. Mom’s ventilator and her feeding tube have been removed and she is breathing and eating on her own with no problems. I am dumbfounded. What three months, a major surgery, and a truckload of medications could not do to save my mother’s life, one doctor was able to do with just a positive word of encouragement. Wow!
Georgetown Hospital is a teaching hospital. It’s not unusual for an intern to visit a patients room at all hours of the night. Angie felt obliged to thank the wonderful doctor who encouraged Mom so brilliantly the night before, so she goes to the nurses station right outside of her room and asks, “Who were the group of doctors in my mothers room last night?”
“Oh, there were no doctors in her room,” the nurse says.
“Are you sure?” Angie asks.
“Absolutely!” The nurse says and another confirms. “I was here all night. It was a pretty quiet night. There were no doctors.”
My mother had been touched by an angel.
It’s been over three years since Mom’s angel encounter. My entire vision of life and love has changed. I hug often and love much. I’m thankful for these past three years of grace that God has given me with a healthy, happy Mom. I am more prepared for this day in which I will face my biggest fear. I had many regrets pre-angel –- but I got the ‘message’ and for now there are no regrets. I am ready to say goodbye.
Six siblings are in and out of Mom’s room. She’s in a coma now and grand mal seizures are shaking her lifeless body every fifteen minutes. I love being with my siblings. Laughter fills the air when we are together. Like labor pains when our mother brought us into this world, her seizures are paced evenly, preparing to take her life out of this world.
It’s 11:00 PM and I am exhausted. We all are. Everyone has gone home except for three of us sisters. The nurses finish cleaning Mom up after another seizure. She breaths deep, shallow breaths and Angie holds her hand and talks to her. We tell her it’s okay to go to be with Jesus. But she hangs on, not wanting to leave the daughters that she loves so dearly. Deep, labored breaths. Fourth of July fireworks exploding in the distance.
Rita and I prepare for a night of sleep, pulling waiting room chairs together and the nurse brings us some blankets. Angie stays behind in the room with Mom so she’s not alone. Rita goes to the bathroom and I stand at the window and stare out into the black night, still hearing the booms and bangs of fireworks in the distance. Mom loves holidays. She loves getting together with family, laughing, eating, enjoying grandchildren, kids, grand-dogs. Tears maintain their steady drip from my face wetting the windowsill beneath me as I look out over the parking lot below. Dim lights show few cars left from the busy day that is now behind us. The night is still but inside my head is chaos.
My sleep seems only minutes but it’s around three in the morning when I am awoken by a nurse touching my shoulder and a voice softly saying, “She’s gone.” Rita and I walk down the long hall to her room and I feel as though a huge weight has been lifted. She is no longer suffering. Her absence in my life already leaves an empty space inside of me. Her presence, lifted from this world and gone to another. One that is mysterious, yet comforting. But how can I go on without her in my life?
Phone calls are made. “Mom is gone.” Simple. Expected.
We are waiting for the coroner to come and pronounce her dead. Angie and Rita leave the room and I am alone with her. I tell her how much I will miss her and that I do not know how I can go on without her. I tell her I love her. Her body lies in rest. No seizures. No pain, just silence, but for my sobbing. I pick up the cross that lays on her table by her bed, the one Lindsey gave to her last night, and hold it tightly in my hand crying harder. I will need to tell my kids. How will my six year old daughter understand that her grandma is gone?
The sun has peeked over the horizon and we walk to our cars, my sisters and I. I feel empty. Sick. The morning is warm; another sultry summer day has begun. We talk for a while and I can hear the birds as they wake the sun and it pulls even higher into the sky. I find the key to unlock my car door and another round of tears fall, thinking of life without Mom.
I will not need to come and visit her tonight, nor will I have to worry about clipping her nails or washing her hair. I will not need to rush away from my dinner and family to rescue her when she cannot pull herself from her chair or when she gets a nosebleed that will not stop. I will no longer have to rush her to the ER or speed over to her place to release her walker that is wedged in the narrow hallway between her bedroom and bathroom. I will no longer have that one person in my life that has been with me longer than anyone else and who gave me life and who instilled in me the importance of being good and kind and honest and who showed love through actions and not just words. My life will be without the one who truly values my conversation about silly stuff and is always there when I call. I am relieved that her suffering is over but I wonder how long this sick, empty feeling will be with me. I wonder why I am still breathing.
It is morning at my house. Lindy, Angie and I open the pouch of money that Mom was hanging onto, her mad money. She instructed us to split it whenever she died if there was anything left. I feel bitter and alone for the sacrifices that I had made putting my family and life on hold to take care of Mom for the past year. I am strong now and without tears we count the measly several hundred dollars and divide it up, only because that’s the first thing she would want us to do. Lindsey wakes and comes out into the living room. We talk to her for a minute, and then I say “by the way, Grandma died.” She turns and goes back into her room. I realize that I have allowed my bitterness to spill out into my relationship with my daughter. Immediately I rush into her room and find her sobbing. I hold onto her tight and tell her I am sorry. Grandma is in heaven where there is no more pain and no more suffering. And you will see her again. I smile big and wipe away my own tears. The next time you see Grandma she will not be using a cane. She will no longer be sick. She will have a brand new body… and be healthy. I hold my daughter close, and we cry together.
Red, white and blue tablecloth, paper plates and decorations show abundant throughout the house and into the yard with Anvil, our new 8 ½ foot resin fiberglass gorilla wearing his patriotic hat and holding a planter of red, white and blue flowers.
He came to us a month ago on a flatbed trailer all the way from Eastern Pennsylvania where we found him at a furniture store and fell in love. We are calling him ‘Gary’s retirement gift,’ and a friend gave him a name, Anvil, after one of the three bones inside the ear, keeping in sync with our theme of ear yard art. He looks fabulous and patriotic! And those gorgeous - brown, angry eyes! Everyone loves Anvil.
I hate that arrogant ape!
Gary fires up the grill and soon our back yard is filled with squealing kids taking laps around the pool in our yard and playing games. There are hotdogs, hamburgers, potato salad, watermelon, fresh fruit and cold shrimp. Eventually evening finds Gary and I lounging near weak coals in the fire pit that only hours ago served up a roaring flame for excited marshmallow roasters, and we relish the warmth, the quiet, and what is left of this day.
Okay, comin’ through… looking to clean up the yard here… everyone outta my way. Wait. It’s chocolate. Am I aloud to have chocolate? Look to the left and then to the right and…. All seems clear… Hey! Where’d you come from? Give it back! What good’s a job like mine without perks?
I hear that familiar sound in a distance and I see the sky light up beyond our neighborhood trees. Cumberland’s firework display. Not a year goes by that I don’t think of you, Mom.