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Today is Big

2016 October 24
by Mia

Today marks 365 days without Mom.  It’s been a long year, as I navigate a bumpy road with out my guide.  But I realize, on this day, that I have a choice.  To allow the anger and sadness to linger beside me daily; or to intentionally choose appreciation for the days ahead.

I choose the latter.

I woke up to my husbands hand rubbing my back, a nonverbal acknowledgment that this day will require strength.  A nine year old climbed into bed at 5:52am, side by side, we tucked ourselves in the fetal position.  Silent and still, our breaths being the only movement under the down comforter.  By 6:30am, we were downstairs for breakfast, and a sleepy tween appeared at the doorway and gave me a hug.  My family may not know what words to say, but they know the gestures of love.

The day was intentionally empty until 2:30 school pick up.  While a few errands were tended to, the highlight of my day was a 3.5 mile run, with a stop at in the neighborhood at Bulloughs Pond.  This magical place is blocks from our house and a my real life thinking, praying, wishing well.  In my pocket I had tucked a few more of mom’s ashes in a zip loc bag, and unleashed them at the same spot where the dogs splash around on those hot summer days.  My headsets blasted with Josh Groban’s “You Raise MeUp” and my lungs filled with clean and crisp fall air. Dogs, music, fresh air — I’ve learned her language.

So many of you have written or texted how proud my Mom would be, and I’m starting to agree.  Her ability to find the hidden gems in each day, to laugh at the trials that are thrown at us, and to love with her whole heart are absolute gifts to me.  And I’m finally seeing her movements in mine.

Every hospital visit would have my searching for uplifting quotes from Mary Baker Eddy, her favorite spiritual advisor.  One of the favorites that always emerged was the saying, “Today is Big With Blessings”.  And as I overlooked the pond, my phone ringing with loving messages, my family’s embrace still smothering my jacket, I felt it….that today, and every day, IS big with blessings.

img_897310-24-16, Bullough’s Pond at 9:55am

Humble and Kind

2016 October 20
by Wendy

My morning workouts usually come in the form of boot camp, but I realized that I miss more cardio-intensive workouts that help improve my sleepand clear my mind. On Thursday mornings, the one day we don’t have boot camp, I now hike after I drop my youngest off at school. In our neighborhood, a gorgeous open space sits with trails and a tranquil, though tired after years of drought, little lake. It is

img_0436a favorite spot in our community, and a perfect place to both find inspiration and perspiration.

I am not a follower of country music, so I suppose I am very late to the Tim McGraw fan club. But, last spring, a friend introduced me to the song “Humble and Kind.” I downloaded it, listened to it on the regular for a few weeks, and then mostly forgot about it. Until I started hiking when school began again. After a few iPhone mishaps and upgrades, very little music still resides on my phone. “Humble and Kind,” however, remains. It has become my Thursday morning soundtrack, on repeat since little else is available, and it offers plenty of thoughtful lyrics that propel my legs to move with purpose and mind to seek clarity.

This morning, in addition to exhaling the stagnant, negative thoughts; inhaling the fresh, invigorating air; and absorbing the music, my mind turned to last night.

After a few months of not seeing one of the instructors at my sons’ martial arts school, I saw her when picking up my oldest from his class last night. I assumed she had been on vacation, but never asked. When I saw her, and gleefully asked if she had been on vacation, she explained that she suffered an aneurysm on Mother’s Day. Following emergency brain surgery, over 100 staples in her head, five weeks in the hospital and five more months of recovery, she was slowly regaining her new-normal life. My eyes filled with tears as she told me of her very near-death experience. Profoundly aware that she is a rare statistic of survival and recovery after such t

rauma, she sat there with newfound thankfulness, purpose and awareness and in her life. Her story was at once jarring, humbling, miraculous and deeply thought-provoking. It stuck with me.

This morning, the thoughtful “Humble and Kind” lyrics, combined with crisp air, steep inclines and heavy thoughts of Sijeh’s life-changing experience, made for a reflective and impactful start of the day. Another reminder of the importance of remaining grateful, staying humble and recognizing that we never really know what lies ahead.

I am now tackling the rest of my day, feeling renewed by the hike; thankful for my friends, family and health; and happy for this reminder from Mr. McGraw:

“Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you

When you get where you’re going don’t forget turn back around

And help the next one in line

Always stay humble and kind”

Part 7: I See the Moon

2016 October 12
by Mia

My last few memories of Mom were in her bedroom, which I would refer to as the treehouse.  The home is on top of a hill, overlooking trees for miles, with two walls of windows for a front row seat of each season.

After assisting Mom out of her day clothes and into her silky nightgown lined in flannel, we shuffled over to the bedroom window to admire the moon.  The visual of this bright almost-harvest moon is etched in my forever memory box.  The lights were off and yet the room was bright with moonbeams, shining straight from heaven.

Hunched over her walker, my arm over her shoulders, we sang the simple song:

I see the moon and the moon sees me,

the moon sees somebody I can’t see. 

God bless the moon, God bless me,

God bless somebody I can’t see.

A quick goodbye was said.  Still burdened with the bronchial cold, in rubber gloves and face mask, I was unable to touch or hug, but gave a little hip-shake dance as my goodnight hug.  Never, not even for a second, did it dawn on me that we just shared our last moment together.  The doctors led us to believe we had months, even longer if chemo was continued.  If only I had known, I would have shredded the plastic wrappers and hugged her tightly, kissing her cheek, whispering decades of gratitude in her ear.  I replay this over and over again.  If only….

Off I went under the glow of those moonbeams, my body and mind physically depleted.  I certainly wasn’t thinking that I just heard Mom’s words for the last time.  For at 7am the next morning, the call would arrive that divided my life into befores and afters.

In Meghan O’Rourkes’ beautiful memoir, The Long Goodbye, she believes her mother’s spirit has been transferred to another substance – somehow, somewhere – instead of dying alongside of the body.  The author found the  air was the metaphor for her mother as she felt peace and presence when enveloped by the wind after her Mom died.  The moment I read these words I knew, without a doubt, that my Mom’s metaphor was the moon.

The following winter months were never cold or snowy enough to stop me from venturing outside around the 9pm hour to bask in the moonlight.  I’d mount myself on the stone ledge of our backyard and share my tears with Mom, clinging to those moonbeams from above.  I feel her presence, her parenting me from afar, loving me from above.  The moon is her portal from heaven and every 29 days or so, our spirits are reunited.

 

Part 6: Just Another Friday Night

2016 October 10
by Mia

Friday, October 23rd. It was a packed day of commitments from the school fundraising meeting to a promised-playdate to carve pumpkins. It wasn’t until 6pm that I pulled up to the quiet tree-lined street where my parents lived.

It was the first time I’d seen Mom dressed in days, wearing her striped button down we had bought recently at EA Davis along with a mushroom colored cardigan.  Even with a walker, Mom looked healthy, radiant and herself.  I was surprised yet pleased to see a bit of Lancome’s Champagne colored lipstick stained around her mouth.

There is so much to write about this last day, some details to share here, and some to keep private. Mostly I want to remember the ordinary rhythms of the evening, the markings of decades of memories with Mom.

My Dad, stationed behind a stove, his near-permanent spot in the family.  My Mom, asking for seconds of my Dad’s homemade vanilla ice cream.  The music, playing a symphony of violins and cellos, and providing a melodic backdrop for a typical Friday night dinner — chicken, rice and green beans.  The candles were lit and Mom’s face was content in the glow of the flame.

I shared this moment with friends who believe we must have known it was her last night on earth, for why else would there be such fanfare over a Friday night dinner at home?  But no, this is how she lived.  Making the ordinary, everyday motions —  extra-ordinary.  The proof is in the ivory colored taper candles, melted down to a quarter of their size.  This was just another Friday night dinner.

I snapped a photo of my parents, a which captures a couple reluctantly at the end of their 44 year marriage.  His hand is on her shoulders, her hand on his.  The flicker of the candles caught the leftovers on the table along with the fall-hued woven placemats.

A photographer friend edited the photo to remove any signs of illness, such as the pruned colored bruising on her hand — the result of too many needles.  I have stared at the edited photo through out the last year, in disbelief that six hours later, Mom would be gone.

Yet lately I’ve been drawn to the unedited photo, which shows a marriage still standing after 44 years together, an exhausted Father and caretaker, battle wounds from a relentless combat with modern medicine, and a smile that still, after all this, transmits positivity.

For the unedited photo, the one without the photoshop or uplifting byline, tells the real story.  That true gift of life is not something packaged in a tiffany blue box, but instead found in any one of those 2,294 Friday nights that were shared over a simple chicken dinner by candlelight.

Part 5: Hands Together

2016 October 5
by Mia

Thursday, 10/22.  I was still wearing a mask and surgical gloves with my cold entrenching itself in my lungs — raspy voice, coughing, body aches.  Yet I could not keep myself from seeing Mom daily.  It was frustrating to have the layer of plastic and germs between us. I wanted to feel her warmth and proof of life, so just for a moment, I took off my surgical glove, washed my hand with Purell, and grabbed a hold of Mom’s fragile hands.  Stillness prevailed in the room as I watched our hands intertwined with one another.

And I though of these hands, for 44 years these hands that have…

Rubbed my back when I awoke from a nightmare.  

Brushed my hair into a mini-bun for ballet.  

Pushed hair out of my eyes when I awoke from surgery.  

Applauded for me during piano recitals, basketball games, ballet performances.

Baked dozens and dozens of chocolate chip, oatmeal chip, or ginger cookies just because.

Ran hot baths for me on cold, damp days.

Dialed my number daily just to say “hi honey”.

Mailed handwritten notes, just to say she loves me.

Zipped, tucked and adjusted my wedding dress the hour before I walked down the aisle.

Toasted her favorite champagne or cranberry soda to our good health and family blessings.

Rocked my firstborn with the same love I imagine she rocked me.

Grabbed for me when needing extra support up and down stairs.

I used to dislike my hands — too many age spots, too wrinkly, super long fingers.  Yet now I look with admiration. For the greatest thing my Mom’s hands did was taught me how to show love.  My hands are reflective of her hands.

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Part 4: Heavenly Rest

2016 October 3
by Mia

Eights day of hospitalization and Mom was unceremoniously moved home. I visited late that afternoon and illogically assumed the cancer had disappeared as I was no longer looking at a hospital patient.  Once the paper thin hospital gown, the IVs, the heart rate monitors and all things medical were stripped away, my mother was just Mom.  My Mom.

By Saturday, I was feeling very worn down with the exhaustive hospital visit schedule combined with a chest cold that was unrelenting.  There was concern that Mom could easily pick up my cold with her low immune system, so it was requested that I wear a face mask and gloves in the same room together.  It was torturous not to touch her, to hug her, to comfort her with my hands and my kisses.  Anger was starting to dwell within me and my fury was targeted towards anyone in the way of my being with Mom — the ballet teacher who infected me with her bronchial germs, the doctor who refused to prescribe me antibiotics, my body for weakening each day.

I brought the book Fates and Furies to each visit, expecting to catch a few pages while Mom rested.  Yet why would she close her eyes, when the people she loved most were by her side?  That book, all 400 pages, was lugged to each visit.  Even after Mom passed, it took me months to finish the book, painfully turning each page — will never know if my unfavorable review of this book was due to the unlikeable characters or what those 400 pages had witnessed with me.

Mostly, our time together was still.  The leaves outside her bedroom window were full of fall colors.  The framed photos that decorated the room captured a life well loved and enjoyed.  The headboard, a crutch, was the same one that we leaned against as children when snuggling in with Mom after a bad dream.

The stillness allowed our thoughts to drift towards both silent and out loud prayer.  The favorite request, and the one that washed a peace over Mom’s face, was from the Christian Science hymnal.  With my face mask on, I would read Mother’s Evening Prayer, my voice breaking to Mary Baker Eddy’s powerful lyrics.

This hymn is now so present in my life.  After Mom passed, I learned the chords on the piano as my fingers slowly found the familiar notes.  It was the song that I read to her at 7:50am on October 24th, after her soul had departed but her body was still present.  It was the song that I presented at her private memorial service amongst a small group of family.

And when I was full of anger and frustration, months after she was gone, I prayed in church for a sign from Mom — any sign — to test and see if she was still with me, on her heavenly perch.  And after that silent prayer, the first hymn to be played was Mother’s Evening Prayer.  She is here.

Beneath the shadow of his mighty wing;
In that sweet secret of the narrow way,
Seeking and finding, with the angels sing:
Lo, I am with you alway, watch and pray.

No snare, no fowler, pestilence or pain;
No night drops down upon the troubled breast,
When heaven's after smile earth's teardrops gain,
And mother finds her home and heavenly rest.
- Mary Baker Eddy

 

Part 3: Preparing for Battle

2016 September 30
by Mia

Note: I’ve started writing about my Mom’s last two weeks by my side.  Not sure if I’ll continue, and if so, into much detail….really listening from within to answer those questions.  

———————-

Mom was moved to the hospital penthouse.  Who knew there was such a floor that provided the warmth of an upscale hotel, when you know your check out date.  Wooden paneled walls, upholstered furniture, extra large seating space, private chef on the floor.  Only the hospital bed and IV attachments gave truth to the real reason for the stay.

The whiteboard became our scheduling board, dividing three shifts among my brother, father and myself.  I usually took the 10-2pm shift, which allowed me a quick grocery run after school drop off, and a good parking spot when it was time to pick you Youngest from school.

Coincidentally, Oldest was blocks away from the hospital at her new all-girls school.  From the top floor of the hospital window, we could see tiny dots scattering around soccer balls.  By Friday evening, homecoming, those same tiny dots were dressed in red and white decorated the field under the night lights.

Mom has had a number of different hospital stays over the past decade.  Oddly enough, I’d say our most intimate, honest and raw conversations took place in the hospital fish bowl.  Topics that required depth and attention — marriage, regrets, what ifs, disappointments, prides, pleasures —  were alway discussed.  We exchanged pieces of our soul and were vulnerable to one another.  A new level of intimacy was always found after each hospital stay.

And this one was no different.  The first round of chemo was administered, on a Tuesday, the only one time I can recall that fear, or really fear of dying, was discussed.

“I’m not ready to go” she said, eyes fixated on the one and only window in her room, as those tiny dots shifted back and forth on the school playing field.

Tears started to well as I moved closer to sit on her hospital bed, careful not to sit on her IVs and monitors.  My words stumbled, “I’m not ready to let you go”.

“Seventy two is too young.  I don’t want to let go”.

“Mom, you could be 172 and I wouldn’t want to let go of you”.

Silence.  We held hands, eyes now fixated on each other, and cried.

I look back at this conversation, which was so out of character for my my Mom — the spiritual warrior who fought battles with prayers.  This conversation has replayed a number of times in my head, and I can’t help but think that she just needed to purge any negativity from her thinking.  Just as a body needs to vomit itself of food poisoning, our spirit also needs to eliminate any signs of mental toxicity.

And from that moment onward, she carefully outfitted herself in her warrior gear — her Bible, her Science and Health, her positive thoughts, prayers, her gratitude.

She was ready for battle.

 

Oxygen Needed

2016 September 28
by Mia

Note: I’ve started writing about my Mom’s last two weeks by my side.  Not sure if I’ll continue, and if so, into much detail….really listening from within to answer those questions.  But for today, we deviate from those dreaded weeks in October 2015 and shift gears to a transformative weekend. 

———————-

Seventh grade is when I learned that oxygen and nitrogen are the necessary gases to keep the heart beating, the brain alert, the body strong.  We drew diagrams of heart chambers and valves and arrows to identify which vessels were veins and which were arteries.  All of this required the necessary oxygen-rich blood, which stems from breathing and inhaling oxygen into the body.

My body, She knows what to do.  Breathe in.  Breathe out.

When pouring a glass of 2% milk into our cobalt blue everyday glass; when braking at the Walnut Street cross walk to allow high school students to strut to the other side; when zipping the ikat-print backpack to confirm a cellphone is charged.  Breathe in. Breathe out.

These shallow breaths covers days, weeks, months.  As the pansies are replaced with mums.  As the shorts become too short and are added to the donation bag in the laundry room.  As the window of daylight becomes shorter and shorter.  Breathe in.  Breathe out.

And every now and then, I’m jolted from my everyday existence with a new smell, a new conversation, a new idea, a new view.  And I inhale, as if I were sitting on the paper mat at the doctor’s office, and fill my lungs with much needed oxygen.

That’s when the magic happens.  When my senses become on fire. And I feel A L I V E.

This past weekend I drove the two hours to Kripalu, a yoga and health center in the middle of the Berkshires, for a yoga/meditation/writing seminar with a much admired writer.  I arrived feeling out of my element and questioning my belongingness amidst the attendees who had prayer shawls, yoga mats or cool tattoos of ancient tribal symbols.  I’d never done a downward dog let alone mumbled “om”.  In my world, closing my eyes to meditate is called a mid-afternoon nap.  And I certainly didn’t show up at the writing seminar with a memoire half-written or a plan to be published.

The first night, I sat solo at the dining table, feeling as awkward at age 44 in a cafeteria as I felt at 11.  I went to bed Friday night wondering if I should ditch my original plan with a trip to downtown Great Barrington for some shopping and a movie.

Yet by mid-morning Saturday, something started to shift in me.  The yoga?  It felt good to stretch muscles that were used to running on pavement and cycling forward motion on spinning bikes.  The meditation? I felt lighter after I was directed to wish happiness, joy and ease of living to not just those I loved, but those I loathed.  And the writing?  The writing allowed me to share a deeper layer of myself that is usually hidden below the surface.

It wasn’t until the last morning, when I awoke at 6am to the sun rising over Lake Mahkeenac.  A fog hovered over the lake and trees, calling me to visit.  I bundled up to the 48 degree temps, zipping my North Face gray fleece all the way up to my chin and headed down the one mile path.  Almost to the lake, I passed another walker who struck conversation with me.  We shared the nervousness of being out by ourselves at dawn, something Kripalu had warned us not to do.  I nervously asked if she wanted to accompany me on the rest of my walk, to keep each other safe from the wild animals and human predators that possibly lurked behind the trees.

We walked and talked and as we rounded the corner, came across the most magical view.  The fog was burning slowly off the water, with the sun rising above its peak.  Two fisherman on a boat were the only signs of human life on the water.  And the canoe — this magical little canoe that represented summer, escape, childhood — floated quietly in the backdrop.

My new friend and I shared quite a bit with one another over the next 30 minutes.  Death of parents, major moves, diagnosis of an illness.  We bared a layer of ourselves that only our inner circles may know.

And we breathed, big breaths.  We inhaled fresh air, but so much more.  We breathed a realization that we needed to slow down, nurture ourselves, step away from our scheduled life as wife, mother, friend.

I left that afternoon breathing more easily and more deeply that I probably had all year. For who knew, all I needed for healing and strength and perspective was something I’ve been doing since birth.

img_8724

 

img_8728Photos of that magical and transformational morning

 

 

PART 2: I remember….

2016 September 26
by Mia

Note: I’ve started writing about my Mom’s last two weeks by my side.  Not sure if I’ll continue, and if so, into much detail….really listening from within to answer those questions.  

———————-

I remember taking my Mom to urgent care on a Friday at noon. We valet parked the car and I requested a wheelchair.  The valet was a much-needed help as it took two of us to lift her into the wheelchair.

I remember being convinced Mom had pneumonia, which brought me relief knowing we had walked this road a before. I brought her overnight bag filled with her patterned robe, reading glasses and Bible, expecting 48 hours of antibiotics and she’d be home Sunday morning.

I remember trying to get her to eat an M&M cookie from Au Bon Pan. She slowly broke a little piece off and held it in her hand, as if a toddler, waiting for me to turn my head so she could hide it in a napkin.

I remember wearing my buffalo checked navy/white button down, navy puffy vest and skinny jeans. I took a silly photo of myself and texted it to my husband to show our girls….my way of saying hello.

I remember using my “don’t mess with me” voice to the urgent care doctor, who wanted to release Mom without running blood or urine tests. He saw no fever, no pain, and believed her instability was a sign of her aging.

I remember the grimace on her face when we finally were able to see a phlebotomists. Her veins were overpricked and her skin fragile.

I remember having to hold her arm as we did her urine test together. Both of us in a state of laughter trying to hold the cup steady.  Laughter always makes uncomfortable situations better, she taught me.

I remember she was finally admitting overnight for some fluids, diagnosis unknown. They wheeled us to the 6th floor, where we were surprised to see she had roommate.

I remember using that same “don’t mess with me” voice to the nurse, insisting that at age 72, she needed a single room. Calls where made, plans in action. We had to wait.

I remember seeing 7:33pm on the clock and thinking my daughters would be going to bed soon, and I should call for their bedtime notes. The first of many bedtimes I would miss in the days to come.

I remember hearing a doctor telling Mom’s roommate that her liver was failing due to excessive alcohol use.  I was curious, was she young? old?

I remember needing to use the bathroom, forcing me to walk past this roommate and catch a visual. Her face withdrawn, her stomach bloated to reflect a 6 month pregnant woman. Young, she was young.

I remember wanting to reach out and offer the roommmate the gift of friendship, especially after she said there was no one to call, other than a boyfriend who would most likely not come to her.

I remember doing nothing, reminding myself to focus on Mom. Other people’s problems needed to stay with other people.

I remember being disappointed in myself.  This was not how I was raised.

I remember finally moving Mom to a single bedroom, writing all of our family cell phones on the whiteboard, and taping a picture that Youngest had drawn, which happen to be in my handbag.  The picture was of a unicorn, but could easily been mistaken for a goat, a camel or a big dog.

I remember leaving the hospital after 11pm. Eleven hours of advocating, entertaining, feeding, massaging, comforting, questioning, nodding off.

I remember the phone call, the one that changed the trajectory of my life. The one that said her lymphoma, after a 6 year hiatus, was back.

Part 1: I Smell Toxins

2016 September 16
by Mia

Note: I’ve started writing about my Mom’s last two weeks by my side.  Not sure if I’ll continue, and if so, into much detail….really listening from within to answer those questions.  

———————-

September has been a whirlwind of activity and schedules. I now must keep a “cheat sheet” card in the car to ensure I am where I am supposed to be each day.

Both kids have been in school for 6.5 days. New school clothes have been purchased. Stylish haircuts were given. Forms, form and more forms were signed. The morning sun is sleeping in until 6:15am. The evening temps are dropping to the 50s.

This is my season. All of the colors that a redhead can wear. And all of the pumpkin a redhead can consume. Soon, I will be walking through piles of golden yellow and burnt orange leaves on the way to the bus stop. This is my season.

And yet, sadness continues to sit in my heart. For we are inching closer to the 1 year anniversary of losing my dear Mom. Forty more days and I can no longer say “a year ago we were together”.

A year ago September, we were shopping at Iviva for back-to-school leggings. I was distracted by two daughters who wanted the same leggings but didn’t want to be twins. Too distracted to think something was off when my Mom sat quietly near the mannequin with her eyes partially closed.

A year ago September, we walked hastily to lunch. My fast stride keeping up with the children, while motioning to my Mom to hurry up.  I chalked up her slower pace to her bad knee.

A year ago September, we attended a memorial service together.  We found my Mom a comfortable chair at the reception where she was greeted by old friends.  I assumed she was emotionally tired having said a final farewell to a dear family friend.

A year ago September, Mom sat at our dining room table for the last time.  I was consumed with kitchen duties and entertaining the family and that I didn’t notice her discomfort until she stood up to go home (a clear signal that something was off, as she left before dessert).

Glennon Melton Doyle writes about us sensitive souls as being the “canary in the mine and you need my sensitivity because I can smell toxins in the air that you can’t smell, see trouble you don’t see and sense danger you don’t feel.”  I’ve used this analogy more times to explain that my deep sensitivity is actually a good thing…I smell toxins that are odorless to others.

I’m the canary in the family, yet I failed to tweet my warnings last September. When I saw Mom a few days later after that final Sunday night dinner, the danger signals were flashing and sirens were going off.  She could not stand up straight.  Her balance was off.  She looked tired. It was that moment that my eyes opened and I knew…

Toxins.  I smell toxins.

Two weeks.  My canary senses were off for just a two week window.  And in that time, I managed to miss the most important signals of all.  The ones that might have saved her.