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My mother died

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My 80 year old mother died Sunday evening at a local hospital.  Six days before that I had brought her into the hospital via the emergency room, at her requested time – 9pm.  I had been with her earlier for blood work, and the day before I brought her prescription over.  However, before that, I hadn’t spoken to her in a couple of months.   I was really quite hurt and angry with her.  But that wasn’t new, throughout my life we had many times we weren’t talking, what was different this time was, it would be the last fight.

A very intelligent, highly humorous and entertaining and skilled woman, my mother was very strong willed woman.  She rarely spoke of her childhood, and we weren’t close to her brothers or their families.  It was just the way things were.  Her parents both died before I was born, so I never met them.   However, just because we weren’t close with her family didn’t mean we weren’t close to others.  MY MOTHER was awesome at planning family outings.  She and my Aunt Fran always planned the family gatherings.  Both of whom were “inlaws”.   When my Aunt died and my parents divorced, that, of course, stopped.   Pleasantly enough, Facebook has been a way for me to reconnect with cousins and aunts and uncles I lost touch with, and some that I really never got to know.

This blog is not going to be about the things my mother did that upset me.  I will just say, she was a difficult woman to love, and I did love my mother, very much.   I know I was a good daughter, I know what I did for her, and that I was always there for her when she needed me, except for the few scattered months here or there when we weren’t talking.  This blog is also not about pointing my finger at my mother.  I will say to you, as a teenager my grandmother, aunts and friends of my mother would pull me aside and ask me if I was okay.    My sweet grandmother (paternal) once told me she thought my mother treated me the way she did because I was born at a time when my oldest sister became very ill, life altering ill.  I don’t know.  And I don’t need to know.  I have long since accepted her behavior, and learned ways to avoid it, and still be present in her life.  Because I always wanted her in my life, she was fun to be around, helpful, and offered incredible insight and help.

My mother was a hard working woman.  I truly believe  (as does my sister) and know she worked hard to provide her children (my dad too) with more than she (they) had.   Even as an elderly woman, she wanted to do what she could to help improve the quality of her adult children’s life, mine included.   She was a work horse.   When something had to be done, she jumped right in, even if physically she wasn’t feeling well, she stepped right in to help, which she would inevitably take over.  Sometimes that was great, other times not so much.  I have spent a large portion of my life talking very loudly hoping to be heard.  This also happened in relationships I was in, because I repeated this “come close, go away” behavior with partners, husbands, lovers.  I am 56 years old.  I am not blaming anyone for my choices, I am simply pointing out that I have done A LOT of therapy, of self seeking in effort to get beyond frustration, pain, hurt, and a desire to be loved.

My mother loved me.  I know this.   She loved all five of us children, in different ways.   Her love was “fierce”.  (This word was stolen from a post of my sister-in-law who had a love hate relationship with my mom throughout her marriage to my brother).  Even if we weren’t talking, having one of our “bouts”, I knew I could call her if I needed her and she would be there if I asked.   It was the manner in which she conducted herself, and how she got her needs met instead of humbly asking for help that I found disturbing.

In the 80’s when I went to my first “ACAP” 12 step meeting (Adult children of alcoholic parents), my therapist kept pushing and pushing for me to go.   So I finally went.  There I found a list of 20 characteristics of “adult children of alcoholics”.     I remember identifying with 19, in time I learned the one I didn’t identify with was just denial!  “Did your parents drink?”  My therapist would ask on a weekly basis.  “Once a year, New Years Eve” I would reply.   And she would ask me again the following week, in hindsight perhaps wondering if I was in denial of such, too.

My parents are/were both good people.   They were NOT alcoholics.  Though I’ve long suspected that my mother grew up in an alcoholic home, or certainly dysfunctional.  That is not to imply my mother’s issues were the only ones in the childhood house!  I have often wished my mother was raised and was willing to be treated with antidepressants.  I think her life and my whole families lives would’ve been drastically improved upon.  I know this from my own struggles with chemical imbalance, and severe depression.  “Mood stabilization” meds have improved the quality of my life, and allowed me to be present in my moms life for 7/8’s of mine.   12 step groups and therapists helped me learn how to identify feelings, and how to cope amidst these feelings.   Maturity has also brought me a split balance of learning how to deal with such, or the older I get, walking away from it, because I just don’t have the desire or energy to involve myself any longer.

I want to tell you that the day my mother died, I was there with her.  I held her hand, I stroked her head as she took her last breath, and I am so grateful her passing was peaceful, because her life was usually anything but.  Incessant worry, I believe we were actually raised to believe that worry could and would change the outcome of whatever the challenge was.  It doesn’t, nor will it ever do anything but add further injury to my already abused adrenal system.  Years of living in “fight or flight”, dodging the elephant in the middle of my living room, I believe reared me “fibromyalgia” at the young age of 29.  And by that age I already had two hospitalizations for depression.   My 10 year marriage with an alcoholic to my second husband, and 2 year marriage to my first alcoholic husband had both ended.  At 33 I fell madly in love with a guy who was “sober”.  It took only 6 months to learn that his drinking was hidden, that he was a binge drinker.  I can relate to this now because I’ve identified myself as a binge eater.  I painfully ended this decade length relationship 4.5 years before he died of the disease.

When it became clear that my mother was “actively dying”, I had to ask her some difficult questions, many of which I already knew the answer to because frankly, our relationship was one where I shared almost everything with her, everything except for addressing her behavior which I opted to do four months before she died.    In the short time since her death I’ve wondered if I hadn’t done that, if I hadn’t been at my wits end with her and being taken for granted by others close to me, would it had changed the ending?  Would it be easier on me facing her death now?  The answer is, No.   The truth is, I was long since burned out from being my moms primary caregiver in the 17 years which she dealt with five cancers.  My two siblings stepped up to help out a couple years ago when I conveyed that I was just tired, exhausted actually, and needed a break.  That is not to imply they weren’t “willing” before, but 78% of her illnesses I believe I was solely responsible for her care.  Ask me sometime how I came up with that number!

The problem was, I had my own health problems, and challenges.   And it was my mother who was there for me through these.  When I got cancer, (my brother was diagnosed 2 weeks after I was), she moved in and took care of me, going back and forth between my brothers house and mine.   Looking back, I am not sure how she did this.  And when I went through my last severe clinical depression and couldn’t be alone, she came once again to my rescue.  I will always be grateful for how good she was at nursing me (my siblings and her hospice patients) with incredible knowledge, strength, and love.

Let’s talk about the word “Strength”.  I had friends who met my mom and later laughed and said “No wonder you are a strong woman!”     I had no other choice.  And like the long difficult day she died, I was able to be her voice when she couldn’t.  I was able to love her, and ascertain she was being treated with utmost dignity and wasn’t in pain.  She taught me how to do that!   She always taught us about the importance of family, and I love my family, all of them, all of us flawed individuals!   I had a few hours alone with her that day, so I was able to share some things with her (She really didn’t have any choice but to listen! ha), and I had sensed for days that she was going to die, even though her doctors were not saying that, not at all.   So I had asked my facebook friends who had lost their mom “If you had a chance to say something more to her, what would you say?”   I asked this Saturday night.  Contrary to what some may think, I’m not a drama queen.   I ask for prayers from my facebook friends because frankly, it works faster than any other way I know.   I do not belong to a church, but I do have HUNDREDS of friends who pray for me (and I them) when asked.    My painting career has gifted me with quality people, friends, close friends.  I am so grateful for this.

I wish my moms life had been better.  I wish she hadn’t had to deal with the serious illness that stripped my oldest sister of a normal life and forced my parents to make painful, heart wrenching decisions for her care, and for the safety of their other children.  I wish my mom (or dad) didn’t have to bury their oldest and youngest daughters of a disease that one or both of them passed down to their children.   I wished my parents marriage had somehow worked out, because I believe they did love each other, and we could’ve had some nice family time the last few years…if only she would’ve considered treating that which I believe caused so much distress to my family, that to which was “the elephant” in the middle of our living room.

My mother was my friend.   She really was.   We are ALL perfectly flawed.  I have shared a lifetime of memories with her, both good and bad, but always, ALWAYS good when I was sick and needed her.   I think had she not given her life to raising a family, she would’ve made an incredible lawyer, or doctor.  She was passionate, educated herself of things that were important to her, and never failed at anything she put her mind to.  I mean that!   Other than the failed marriage, she had things she started and didn’t finish, for whatever reason, like hair styling school, but that was her choice.  She was a pillar of strength when she made up her mind to do something, and what an example she was for us this way.  “You CAN, and you WILL”, and she would roll up her shirt sleeves, or put on her work clothes, and make it happen.

My mother really did care for others, and she gave particular attention to troubled teens or giving a voice to the elderly or needy.   And that was and will always be honorable.  It’s unfortunate that that she plowed over those closest to her, but I don’t think it was out of anything but love.  A bull in a china shop comes to mind!  But even this has gifted me with my own strength, my own voice, and I, too, plow people over when I feel I’m being silenced.  Perhaps that was her button, too?   Who knows, I will probably never know and that is okay.  Why?

Because my mother had good morals and standards, she knew right from wrong, and she asserted all of these onto her children.  And she loved us.   She loved us with a fierceness that would scare the crap out of others or others who were treating us wrong!   She wanted more for us than she had  or wanted for herself, and she believed we could do or be anything, and she was proud of each of us, but she just couldn’t say that to our face. I’m astounded when friends or people I meet tell me things my mother has said to them about me.  I really had no idea she felt proud of me or my accomplishments.

And I wish my mother had the ability to admit when she was wrong or offer apologies for when she plowed us over.    Her life, our life would’ve been so much easier and better.  But it was what it was, and I’m left with this hole in my chest, with the loss of my mother, my friend, my confidant.  I am going to miss her, I already do.   All the friction that was between us for those few months has been set aside.  I will have to somehow deal with these on my own, and the minute I walked back into her life to be there to help her when I knew she was sick, it became unimportant, and serves now to only help me define and identify areas of my own life that need honing.

I am grateful she was my mom.  And though I hated some of her actions, I was able to share things with her in her final hours, that needed to be said.   And those were NOT about her faults, but about her strengths and her love.    Because you see, I too wasn’t able to tell my mom to her face some things, some good things.   Intimacy was a no no!   So I’m glad I asked the question I did to my facebook friends, and I used them as guidance of things I wanted to say to my mother, knowing from experience that when someone you love dies, the love doesn’t disappear.  It miraculously expands, a true and amazing gift it is!  I made my amends to my mom, and she, with her stoic and ailing self, acknowledged and did the same to me, just before I had to take over her voice for her end of life care.    Everything happened so fast, and my sister was enroute from TX to get to NH, and my brother was in and out,  running to get my sister when she arrived.  We all worked together, via text, to make her last day as painless a day as possible.  I’m trying to work through the aftermath, and second guessing medicating her to a point where she didn’t have a voice, but I did so knowing I was her voice, and with her strength and love and support of my siblings and their love for our mother, we did it, and I’m proud of all of us for that.

I am left exhausted, broken, in a fibromyalgia flare, but very grateful for this difficult woman, difficult mother, my strong willed, flawed mother!    Rest in peace mom.  I love you, I always will, and I know not how to walk this earth without you, but I’m on Day #3 and survived thus far, because of all you taught me.   And as I think about this, I realize, she was also able to teach me how to be humble, how to apologize, even though her own fragile ego didn’t allow it within herself, for whatever reason.      We are ALL flawed.  And a friend said to me something I saved, and this is where I am going in my life.  It isn’t about being “my best” . It is about being at my functional best, without regret, no matter what life throws me!

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Sometimes

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Sometimes something happens, or you witness something that gets you in touch with how normal, or abnormal your life is.  I think life can be very difficult.  That is not to take away from all the beauty, and triumphs, but there are times when I find it hard to face my days.  I think we all experience this to one extent or another.  I’m not saying that I’m any different than anyone else when it comes to challenges, lessons, and choices.  But I do believe I do not handle it as well as many others when life throws me curve balls.   Or am I being unrealistically hard on myself, yet again?

My sister texted something to me the other day that really made me realize how crazy the life of a family with two gene mutations, and an extinguished list of cancers can experience.   Multiple diagnosis’s, treatment, appointments.   I find it overwhelming, and have now for a few years.

Currently two members of my family are considered in cancer treatment.   What remains (minus two who lost their lives to it), are survivors themselves, trying to make the most of their days cancer free, while supporting those going through yet, another battle.

I was burned out with this four years ago.  I.mean.burned.out.  But still, I forged through, being primary caregiver to my elderly mother with her third diagnosis. I think it has become acceptable and expected that I am the one to do this.  And that angers me.   My health isn’t optimum, nor is the life of a single woman trying to make it in New England easy.  It’s hard for everyone now!    If you know not financial frustrations or inadequacies, then I applaud you, but I also wonder if you can fully understand what it’s like to live through this.

I’ve had contractors in and out of my house since November, the whole process actually starting in September.  It is old.    My house is filled with piles of things that have been misplaced, shifted for work.   I’m actually surprised I haven’t ripped someone’s head off with this stress, alone.  But I choose to focus on the good of it.  The work that has been needing to be done for years is getting done.   So when I start to feel the stress of the situation, I’ll purposely sit and look out one of the new windows, or look at the changes that are happening, and it’s nothing but positive.

I’ve come to learn that it’s the conglomeration of, the accumulation, the consistent and longevity of struggles that takes it toll on me most.    I dive into whatever it is I need to, or I deem necessary, but it’s very hard to maintain it after so many years OF IT.       I’m resentful that once again, my life is twisted and turned upside down, without true acknowledgement from those who offer moderate support.   That is not to say that there are not excuses, or reasons, I’ve also learned with resentments that it really doesn’t matter about that… the bottom line is, here I am, again, responsible for a loved ones care.   But I will always do what I can for my parents.  This is who I am, and I while sometimes I wish I could blow off this responsibility, I know deep down, I could never do that.  This is what life has handed us, this is what we have to get to, and through.  I’m in.

Tomorrow I will leave my house at a time I usually am going to bed, and will drive the long distance to Boston, hitting both rush hour traffic hours.  I will sit alone, and wait to hear how my mother’s surgery went, and the status of her cancer(s) and what care will be required.     I will play, once again, the familiar cat and mouse game with her doctors eyes, her surgeon, trying to determine from the look on her face, before I am approached, the verdict of all.  And the past 14 years of family diagnosis’s and struggles will all come back to me.

Then, late afternoon, thankfully I was able to rearrange my appointments (for the minimum of 8th time), to see MY oncologist, for the first time in almost two years.    There are issues that will be addressed, and I’ve no doubt I myself will be heading back to surgery, but I will make that this summer.  It isn’t anything pressing, hopefully.   I will arrive home probably 13 hours or more from the time I left, and I will not be able to sleep.  My head will be filled with possibilities, both good and bad, and while my body will crave sleep, it just won’t happen.    It will be two days before I am “normal” (if I can ever be called normal) again, just in time for the clock to roll in the 13th anniversary of my kid sisters passing.    Anyone who has loss knows that the body knows long before the head of upcoming anniversaries.  Am I right?

My own diagnosis was 7 years ago on the 1st of April, and it was two long grueling years for me.  Boston no longer scares me, nor does driving in it.   But that doesn’t mean it isn’t exhausting.   And it’s not like these trips can be doubled with museums, or fun things.   There is no time.

As a cancer survivor, I do not dwell on what I have been through.  Like the work that is being done on my house, I try to collectively gather all good, and sit my ass in front of those facts.   I am alive.   It is hard not to “remember” or think about it, each day when I undress or dress, the scars are always there as a reminder.    And while I am now (hopefully) still in remission, there isn’t one appointment of any of my family members (all survivors, too) that we don’t have in the back of our minds…. What is this?   Will this turn out to be another diagnosis?   Another life altering experience?  More fighting?   But I’m here to tell you, every day in life is a fight for me.  A fight to hold onto the good, the positive, and continue with and through that which I need to do.

I will do this, get through this, in spite of my own struggles with major depression (which I’ve learned to not really share on) and fibromyalgia.     I will do this in spite of my own need to work, and to get some composure back into my home.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  None of us do.  I do hope for the best, and after being in a potentially very bad accident yesterday, walking out of it unscathed, I am hopeful that tomorrow may and will offer good things.

“Oh Donna, you’re strong!” I’ve been told on numerous occasions in my life.  Yeah, I am strong.  I have walked through some very difficult terrain and made it out the other side.  I am strong because I have to be.  I have high expectations of myself and others, when it comes to family.  But with every new diagnosis or responsibility I start out on the path strong, and knowing,  I am one step closer to falling.   It’s just the way it is.

I have also learned in my life that acceptance?  Acceptance is key.   In order to be at peace, even among st all the challenges, I need to find acceptance.  And sometimes?  Most times?  That journey begins, first with willingness.    It also comes much easier when I know I have done and am doing my very best.   I can’t nor should I ask anymore of myself.   When I lay my body down at night to rest, knowing many times sleep will not come, I can feel good about myself and my involvement, my commitment to help my parents in the twilight of their years.   For me, it’s not only the right thing, it’s the only thing to do.