Finding words

MomDuring my time with Mom I’ve been having fun going through the shoebox full of old photographs while she’s resting

I stopped writing the day my mother confided to me that she knew her time was short. I knew the truth of her words. It’s not that there were no longer stories to tell, it just became harder to find the right words. And easier to retreat from the reality in the moments it wasn’t staring you down in the face, rather than dig a little deeper into the raw to tell it like it really is.

It became easier to tell the story in pictures (Thanks Instagram), but memory is often fleeting for me and those still-frames in my mind will fade along with the photographs unless I find my words. I need to record some of the bitter as well as the sweet. Lest I forget.

So I will try to find the right words to paint the moments that strike me to the heart throughout this journey.

They won’t be in any particular order – maybe I’ll sort it out later. Maybe I won’t.

***********
I’m standing at her fridge, helping her find room in her freezer for the groceries I just picked up for her after work. Marie Calendar frozen dinners (Mongolian Beef, Turkey Pot Pie, etc). and another year’s supply of Häagen-Dazs (white chocolate raspberry truffle, vanilla swiss almond, milk chocolate almond covered ice cream bars) and Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia. (note to self: write Häagen-Dazs a thank you note. She came to love you late, but I’m pretty sure you added months of quality and life to her shortened time here as your ice cream became the one thing that always sounded good to her.)

She mentioned her obituary, which I had offered at the middle of the summer to write for her. Her words caught in her throat and tears welled up in her usually sparkling eyes,

“I feel my time is running out.”

Sensing her fear for the first time at this stage of the battle – she has fought bravely and stoically this whole time – I looked her in the eyes.

“You will not go this alone. And there will be a sweet reunion. I know this.”

“I will have to trust your knowing.”

I hugged her, no longer able to fight back my own tears.

“You have been holding this in. You don’t need to carry this alone. We are here for you. You need to talk to us.”

“I’m not holding it in.”

“Look me in the eyes. You are holding this in.”

I hugged her again, then we turned back to fitting the Häagen-Dazs ice cream bars into the packed freezer. It was easier to move on.

***********
Last Friday the hospice nurse brought up the hospital bed. There was resistance. She knows what that means. We know what that means as well. It’s time for round-the-clock care. Her sister, my Aunt Jean, has been there this week. My SIL D’Dee and I schedule the weekend until my sister, Jayne Anne is set to arrive Wednesday. D’Dee and I tag team the weekend until I get sick and D’Dee has to go solo.

Häagen-DazD’Dee sends a fuzzy cell phone picture of Mom with her ice cream (which she was still holding when she later fell asleep)

Mom:

“I am amazed at how things come together. Ready or not, here it comes.”

***********

(note to self: someday recount the game of telephone that was played as we tried to run interference for Mom to reduce the number of incoming texts and calls that were overwhelming her. Nurses orders: reduce stimulus, help her simplify her life.)

As Saturday night draws late and Sunday morning draws near, ideas pop into my head of ways we can simplify and shorten Mom’s bedtime routine – both for her and for her caregivers. Sunday morning is the first fall. Mom’s legs gave out from under her. It’s a good thing she still has some upper body strength, because I can barely get her upright again. I couldn’t have done it if she weren’t helping. First I say a prayer of thanks I was here – falls have been our worst fear, particularly as Mom has insisted she continue living in her home alone. Next I wonder what I would have done had she not been able to help a little. I wonder what D’Dee would have done if Mom had fallen on her watch. “We need a short list of neighbors we could call,” I think to myself. We take the door off the bathroom. I run home long enough to shower and find a ward I can join long enough to take the sacrament and then head back out to Mom’s. Until D’Dee comes to take the night shift. Later that night I realize I’m coming down with something. Worst possible time. We’ve only just begun and things are about to get more difficult. I do everything in my power to fight it. Monday morning there is another fall. The hospital bed becomes mandatory and a wheelchair is recommended. Resistance is futile. Hard reality checks are coming by the day now. Both are delivered on Tuesday.

Acceptance juxtaposed with denial. Mom talks freely and specifically about her wishes for “after.” Yet says things like “My drivers license expires on my birthday (Jan 31, 2015). I hope the swelling in my cheeks goes down before I have to get my picture taken.” and worries over whether she canceled the long-term health policy too soon (warning – read the small print. Waiting through 90 days of helplessness before becoming eligible for the help you’ve been paying for isn’t so helpful with cancer). Sad truth, she doesn’t have three months. We are down to weeks. Even as I type this and knowing what I’ve witnessed this week, it is difficult to accept.

***********
Week before last (out of order, I know) my SIL told me Mom said, “I hope I make it until Christmas. I would really like to have some carrot (steamed) pudding Dalene makes every year.” That Saturday I let go of some of the cleaning and took the time to mix up a batch. She was on bedrest that weekend due to the fluid seeping out of her swollen legs and D’Dee and I were taking her meals in.

***********
Shirley'sPhotobombed by my friend and foundation, lady Timpanogos who was brilliant at such an early hour

Yesterday I got up and dragged my still-sick self to Shirley’s bakery at 6:45 am. Thanksgiving dinner at Mom’s is a go and since I am sick I won’t be baking pies, but have been assigned to bring the rolls. Shirley’s are not only the best, they are Mom’s favorite. But I found out Tuesday afternoon that you have to start ordering them in October and they stopped taking orders three weeks ago. First come first served when the doors open at 7. There is already a line when I arrive well before 7. Bug hugs and special love for the sweet beautiful woman – younger than I – who shed a tear for my mom and hers (whose last Thanksgiving was last Thanksgiving) as we shared a tiny piece of our stories while we stood in line together. And for the kind woman ahead of us who lost her dad this past year. The consensus “Holidays are hard.” I love a stranger who will share a piece of her soul with me.

***********
That’s enough for today. Except two images I wish never to forget. One I caught the after effects on camera, the other I did not, so I rely on memory. There is nothing like watching the process of going from the blank look of surprise, to recognition, and then the mixture of tears and a big joyful smile as a loved one surprises Mom with a visit. This spring it was Aunt Jean, who braved the long solo trip from her mission in Hong Kong to see my Mom at a time we were afraid she wouldn’t make it until Jean came home in June. She has fought hard and long past June and continued to surpise us all with her strength. Then again last late November night as my baby brother and his family walked in after driving straight here from Idaho. Pure joy. Families are forever!

Angels

I can’t write about it now. Or yet. But this year has seen its share of pain and sorrow as well as its moments of grace and beauty. And the worst is yet to come. In the midst of it all, there have been prayers for peace and comfort and courage. And there have been angels tending to us. Here is one of my mother’s angels. Carols became her angel while taking care of his own dear mother. He recently lost his mother, but still finds the time to look after mine. He has brought light and love and warmth to her life during what could have been a dark and lonely time. Words are inadequate to express our gratitude. When I try, he simply insists the pleasure has been his.

carlos

virtuous, lovely, and of good report

If you know me at all, you will know I am, by nature, a little bit snarky. Back in the day before the word “snark” was coined, my dad used to tell me I was a smart aleck. To which I would retort, “That’s better than being a dumb aleck.”

Somewhere over the ages and while social media went viral, I began to reach my snark saturation. I still appreciate clever and slightly irreverent, but the edge of the snark grew mean and the Internet became permeated with mean and I was just done.

At one point I thought of just being done, done. But I’ve had too many sweet experiences and I am connected to too many people I love to pull the plug. So I just decided to try [“try” is the operative word here] to keep one thing in mind. The admonition of Paul, as expressed in the 13th Article of Faith: “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” I fell in love with Instagram for that very reason. It was a nice, possibly wordless venue on which to share whatever that day had struck me as particularly lovely or of good report. I grasped on to the #thingsthatmakemehappy hashtag and had at it. The subjects are generally simple. There might be clouds, a river trail, or even planes involved. Whatever it is, it is something that caught my eye and bid me to take a moment to capture it and remember.

So today here is a little glimpse into one of the things I found lovely in the world of late. Despite the mean and hateful and hurtful, there is beauty all around. It testifies of God’s love for us. And it gives me something to celebrate on even the bleakest day. For that I will forever be grateful. I am often heard whispering aloud as I frame the subject in the camera to snap the photo, “Thank you, God, for this beautiful world.”

lovely and of good report

Oh the people you meet

While at Powell’s City of Books the other day, I picked up a sweet little red hardbound copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I started it on my flight from Portland to Salt Lake, in which I sat by a couple of polite young lovebirds who, for all they knew, were the only two people on the plane and knew there would be no worry about forced conversation. I didn’t get very far into the book (it’s a short flight when you’re flying direct), but I got to the part where Anne talks about what to write. It’s late and I’m too tired to try to yank childhood memories from the best kept secrets of my brain – best kept from me, that is. But before I forget these too, I wanted to record a few simple moments of my time in Portland.

*Conversation with the dark-haired parking attendant searching for his reading glasses so he could see. “I’m always looking for them.” “That’s why I try to keep mine on top of my head.” “You should get these at ? (I forgot already). Only a dollar. Much better than the $15 ones at ?(I forgot that too). I buy a whole bunch and keep them at every chair and table.”

Palace Cakes
*Walking up Yamhill I towards Powell’s City of Books on Burnside, what something caught my eye through the picture windows. I pressed my face up against the glass to peer in. I could see a tiny kitchen to the left, modest display shelves in the middle, and a handful of small tables and chairs to the right. I moved closer, careful not to smudge the glass, trying to see what creations were taking place in the kitchen. It was a bakery. Two women, clearly the forces behind the creations, bustled about the place. One took notice of me and cheerfully waved me in. I opened the door and was immediately overcome by the sweet fragrance of cinnamon and spice. A lovely, rugged arrangement of quince (I’ve never seen quince before, I just knew what it was) sat at the foot of a pretty glass cake plate. A number of cakes graced the display cases, but one in particular beckoned to my attention. Deep muted orange, topped with a sugar glaze. Sweet potato cake. I spoke with the proprietors for a few minutes, lingering to breathe in the evidence of another cake in the oven. They just opened in September. One of them used to be a caterer. They dreamed of opening a cake shop. Here they were.

“I’ll have a slice of the sweet potato cake.”

“Shall I wrap it for you?”

“Yes, please.”

Palace Cakes. A little slice of heaven.

I wished them much success and slowly (for I wanted it to last) made my way towards the door.

You should go.

*Further on, as I was walking toward the lovely cathedral, a man approached. He seemed fairly well dressed, but swaggered a big too wide on the city sidewalk. Unsure what to make of him (must I make anything of him at all?), I looked up to smile and acknowledge his presence. He looked right into my eyes and before I could even say hello, slowly, loudly, and enthusiastically burst out, “You have a GREAT day!” I think he meant it! “You have a great day, too!” I replied. And we went our separate ways.

Sweet woman in Powell’s. I asked her where I could sit and charge my iPhone for a few minutes while I decided what I needed to read. She directed me to a wooden bench by one of the entrance windows. I asked her what she had been reading that she could not put down. She showed me. We talked about books as if I were her only customer. She introduced me to a couple of new authors. And gave me a 10% coupon, which I forgot to use when I narrowed my selection of used books to two.

I must sleep. More tomorrow.

Remember me?

That girl who can’t quite find the right words for either the hard things or the glimpses of heaven this past year has brought, but who comes back and dusts off the keys of her computer keyboard in order to tell a few stories and meet the challenge of yet another NABLOPOMO?

That’s me. I’m in Portland at the moment but I wanted to share three little stories to get this party started.

Aiden is 6. I met him for the first time last night. He came with his family over to my brother’s house to trick or treat with my nephew. The kids went out trick or treating. I sort of hung back and let these longtime like-family friends spend some time together while I tried to get an idea of how Halloween was going with my family at home. When Aiden came back, the older kids went back out for more trick or treating and Aiden dumped his candy out on the carpet to see his spoils. My SIL happened to see him pick up a mini Baby Ruth and happened to mention to the adults in the room that it was her favorite and that she and shared the same favorite Halloween candy. A couple of minutes later Aiden handed the tiny Baby Ruth bar to Heather. Then searched through his loot to find another, which he quietly came over to hand to me. He was paying attention. Paying attention is an attribute far to scarce these days. Paying attention to someone else’s wants and needs, even rarer.

A good 45 minutes later, I looked down to see Aiden at my side, hand extended. With another miniature Baby Ruth.

Oh my heart, Aiden. What a sweet child. Hang on to that goodness in you. Don’t let the world knock it about.

Jakes 1852
Today was my day. My brother, Keith, and SIL, Heather, and his family were all about me. What did I want to do during my brief stay in Portland? We had decided to go to some great biscuit joint for lunch when this landlocked girl remembered how close we were to the ocean. Seafood. I must eat Seafood. Well, seafood is not exactly vegetarian. But my brother is. He paid no mind to that. Seafood it was. Jake’s, in fact. Established in 1892. He – my brother, not Jake, who I assume is long gone by now – paid no mind as he looked over the token vegetarian and gluten free menu. Nor did he complain as he settled on hummus while my SIL and I shared Oregon bacon-wrapped crab-stuffed jumbo prawns, Horseradish Crusted Wild Coho Salmon (running unusually late this year) from the Quinault River, and Dungeness Crab and Oregon Bay Shrimp Cakes served with jalapeno-ginger aioli (from Warrenton, Oregon).

It was truly an unselfish act. He has been the vision of thoughtfulness since the moment he picked me up at the Portland Airport yesterday morning at 9am with homemade pumpkin scones and a fresh Honey Crisp apple. I cannot tell you how it feels to be treated with deference and thoughtfulness. Only that it warms and lingers in my heart.

drawbridge
That was more about what I wanted to eat, not what I wanted to do. When it came to what to do, for some reason bridges were on my mind. And so we did bridges. I figured we would maybe drive somewhere from which we could see some of the wonderful bridges that span across the Willamette River. Instead we parked the car just north of the Hawthorne bridge on the east side and walked up a ways before crossing the Morrison bridge. Then we walked back down the west side before crossing the Hawthorne bridge. We were all the way across the Hawthorne bridge when we heard the warning that the bridge – it is a drawbridge – was being raised. We hustled back over to the middle to watch the ballasts come down and the bridge go up so a small (but apparently not small enough) could pass. And then we watched as the ballasts went back up, lowering the bridge back down again. And then walked back across the bridge and down to our car.

As we walked toward the car I found out that Heather, who is still recovering from a partially torn ACL, also has a bunion and a neuroma in her foot. She gimped back to the car, without complaint. Sacrificing her comfort to make sure I made the best of my time here in Portland.

Another unselfish act, offered without complaint. This sweet family has made it their pleasure to please me this weekend. They found joy in my joy over my first falafel, first cheese grits, first tram ride, first drawbridge experience. I cannot express my thanks. I can only remember the love I have felt and look for an opportunity to pay it forward.