A New Journey

So I’m not sure if I reported this in my last entry, but on Christmas Eve I became engaged.  Chef couldn’t hold off until Christmas Day because he was too excited and antsy, so as soon as we got home from work he popped the question.  Well, it was a long couple months but we finally got married last week!  We had a small ceremony in our living room with a couple close friends and family and then whisked ourselves away to Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Connecticut.

As the wedding drew closer, depression started to set in.  I kept thinking, ‘Mom should be here,’ and I kept asking her for a sign that I was making the right decision because if she were alive, I would have asked the same question (and then went ahead and married him regardless of what she said because I’m that stubborn.)  But she didn’t give me a sign I shouldn’t, so I took it as a sign that I should.

The day came and I tried to keep it light and happy, but of course in the back of my mind, I was wishing Mom could have made it.  I just wanted to hear her voice tell me how happy she was, how we were a great fit together, and to hear her jokingly tell me how jealous she is that I got to marry a chef.  Mom was always the cheerleader of the group, the glue that held everything together.  If something was going on, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem, Mom would make it a big joyous occasion and keep you smiling about it.  There wasn’t really any of that during those short two months of planning.  There was no one cheering me on, just me making phone calls and plans and letting everyone know what time to show up.

The ceremony went off without a hitch.  The food we had delivered showed up on time, everyone loved it, the cake was amazing, and even my brother showed up on time!  We were on the road to Connecticut by 12:15, which was a few minutes late of our goal, but worked out anyway.  We did hit some traffic on the way up so instead of arriving at 4:00 we didn’t get there until 5:00, but there was no getting lost, and we weren’t really in too much of a rush anyway.

Our first night we had dinner at Fuddruckers (which I do NOT recommend the one in the casino…)  Our food took 45 minutes, was well done instead of rare, and meanwhile people around us were getting their food before us even though at that point we’d already been waiting 20 minutes.  If you’re not familiar with FR, basically they make the burger, put it on a bun, and then you go to the fixins bar and add what you want, so there really wasn’t anything for them to do that should’ve taken 45 minutes!

We hit the casino up a little bit that night, but we didn’t go too crazy because the next day was our night for gambling.  But there was a string of interesting things that happened that night.  That night, while we were walking around the casino, my sister text me.  She was playing a new game on her phone, a Wheel of Fortune game, and she sent me screenshots of the first three answers that popped up while she was playing.  The first was “The Newlywed Game.”  The second one had a clue of ‘Wedding Day’ and the answer was “Dress Dilemma.”  –Coincidentally, earlier in the morning while putting my dress on, I asked Dave to zip it up in the back and while we did eventually get the zipper all the way up, there was several minutes of bickering about how it didn’t fit and wouldn’t close all the way.  The third answer was “Grand Canyon.”  Mom always–ALWAYS–talked about wanting to visit the GC.  She used to joke that she wanted her ashes spread at the GC.  I swore one day I’d get her out there, but the sicker she got the more impossible it became.

It was after receiving these messages while walking around the casino that I came across a huge statue– taller than us– of a Buddha next to a restaurant.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but if I haven’t, Mom loved Buddhas.  So much so that as a tribute to her I got a tattoo of a Buddha after her passing.  She loved how jolly they always look and kept an incomprehensible number of Buddha figurines and statues spread around her home.  I took a picture of the Buddha and sent it to my sister whose only response was “wow.”  What more could we say? Mom had given us all the signs that she was there that day, watching and approving.  Some people might have looked at it as coincidence, but I know Mom.  She said she’d find a way to let us know she was around, and every time we need her the most, she lets us know.  I miss her like crazy every day, but she’s out there, she’s listening, and she’s watching over us.  That’s what I believe.

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Christmas Cookies

Christmas came and went, a once joyous occasion dampered for obvious reasons.  Dad didn’t decorate, hardly considered it Christmas.  It was Mom’s favorite holiday, so who could blame him for wanting to avoid it?  In fact, she kept a lot of the decorations up year-round.  She mailed out Christmas cards, baked cookies, and started buying things online months in advance, stocking the gifts in her closet and wrapping them Christmas morning (and always forgetting one and finding it sometime the following spring.)  So for Dad, and for all of us, it just wasn’t the same.  

For me, I’ve always enjoyed Christmas, but Mom’s obsession with the holiday music coupled with the store decorations going up before Thanksgiving even came left me bitter.  I couldn’t stand holiday music and I stopped baking cookies the year I separated from my husband.  I would put up a fake tree and a few decorations around the house, but that was it.  

I would visit Mom and help her with the cookies sometimes.  She always used the recipe on the back of the Nestle chocolate chip bag.  They were delicious– fluffy, perfectly browned, and always with extra chocolate chips.  I would use the same recipe.  Mine were flat and burned.  It didn’t matter how I adjusted the temperature, where I put the rack in the oven, or how I tweaked the recipe.  It always ended the same.  Even when I’d help Mom, any of the ones I would put on the pan would come out the same, but Mom’s were always perfect.  I sort of gave up on making them after that.  

This year, though, I needed to do something different.  I needed to do something to remember Mom.  Chef and I bought lights for the outside of the house and Dad bought us the light thing that you stick in the ground and it projects lights on your house (it’s name escapes me as I write this.)  I put the tree up in late November as opposed to December 1st.  I pulled out the stand mixer Mom gave me a few years ago and for the first time in three years, I baked cookies.  I even put the holiday music station on while I baked.  It was the first year I didn’t hear Christmas Shoes, a song about a young boy who wants to buy shoes for his dying mother.  Every year I would hear it and it always reminded me of Mom.   

My cookies were still flat and they were still burned.  Almost every batch was inedible no matter what adjustments I made.  But I didn’t care.  Chef and I still scarfed down the ones that made it out in one piece (and even some of the ones that didn’t) and I brought a batch to Dad’s, which he ate in one sitting.  I still smiled the whole day, singing along with the songs that I didn’t realize I knew the lyrics to.  I guess they’d stuck with me all those years growing up. 

We still gathered around the Christmas tree to open our gifts on Christmas Eve (we couldn’t wait until morning.)  Chef still cooked his Christmas dinner, Dad still visited, we still ate until we could hardly move.  We still celebrated Christmas.

The only thing missing was Mom.  It was clear from the occasional silence and the soft sigh that we were all thinking the same thing– she should’ve been there.  Leading up to the holiday I thought about what I would’ve bought for her if she was still here.  I always tried to get her something great, something she’d really been wanting or looking for.  One year it was the Big Love box set.  One year it was a huge gold-colored Buddha that she placed on top of her dresser.  (That was when I still lived at home and she had to drive me to go pick it up.  Trying to hide that from her until we got home was interesting!)  This year, I have no idea what I would’ve gotten her.  For some reason, it really bothered me.  

But, we all got through it.  Somehow, in our own different ways, we got through the first Christmas without her, just like we got through the first Thanksgiving without her, the first birthday, and in July we will get through the first anniversary of her passing.  And maybe next Christmas my cookies will come out the way Mom’s always did.  

One Snowy December Morning

Mom always loved snow.  Every year she’d pray for snow on her birthday.  Four years ago I remember sitting in her kitchen with her on her birthday hoping for a few snowflakes in case she didn’t make it another year.  A couple minutes after I said my silent wish, snow began to fall.  Only for a couple minutes, but it was enough to make her happy.  

Today was Mom’s birthday.  Dad and my siblings and I went out to eat at one of Mom’s favorite diners.  I got off work at five and met them there where we enjoyed a quiet dinner talking about our everyday lives, the new things going on, and of course, talking about Mom.  My nephew was there, too, and we laughed as he licked the ketchup off his fries and threw a balled up napkin at my brother’s head while he was talking.  (He’s only a couple years old, so he gets forgiven quite easily.)  

This morning my best friend, a girl I’ve grown up with since fourth grade, text me to let me know she was thinking of me on this particularly hard day.  It was a strange day.  I went to work, wishing I could call Mom and tell her, “Happy birthday, birthday girl!”  Wishing I could hear her giggle and the sound of her smile over the phone.  I would’ve went to visit her after work, brought her a present, a card, and we probably would’ve gone out to dinner.  

I probably would’ve given her hints about her Christmas gift.  I always tried to get her something really awesome for Christmas.  One year it was the Big Love box set because she was obsessed with that series.  Always making sure she watched every episode, keeping me updated.  Instead we sat around the table reminscing.  We ate, laughed a little, and wished we had brought pictures of Mom to have with us, but for one reason or another we all forgot.  

I thought about past birthdays, not just hers but all of ours, how special she tried to make them.  I’m sure if you’ve kept up with the blog you recall my post about my own birthday in September — gosh, it seems so far away now.  When I turned 16, I was walking home from the bus stop wondering how Mom was feeling, selfishly wondering if she’d been okay to do anything for me.  I wouldn’t have been mad if she hadn’t, but deep down I hoped, since everyone always made a big deal out of “sweet-16s” that she’d maybe baked a cake or something.  When I approached the front door I saw she’d hung a paper plate on the front door that read Happy Birthday in permanent marker, her elegant scrawl taking up nearly the whole plate, and complete with several exclamation points.  I smiled and walked in the front door, disappointed when I didn’t see her.  I figured she was resting, which meant she wasn’t feeling well.  But in fact, no, she was in her bedroom wrapping my gifts.  

I don’t remember what she got me that year, and in fact I don’t remember what she got me for most of my young birthdays, because it wasn’t about the gifts.  It was about her.  It was one day of the year where I knew that no matter how sick she was, she’d try to make it special.  I knew she’d smile and laugh and hug me and make it all about me — I don’t mean that to sound as self-centered as it does.  But it was just the way she was, trying to make everyone feel special on their own special day.  If I wanted to go to the movies, we’d go to the movies.  If I wanted to play video games, we’d play video games.  She always made time, always baked a cake (or, in her later years, purchased one from the store.)  

Birthdays symbolized normalcy for me.  It was the one day where I could forget that she was as sick as she was because for a while, for a few hours, things were just normal.  

Today, I couldn’t make her feel just as special as I always tried.  Today was full of sadness, probably more so than on my own birthday.  Especially with Christmas, which was her favorite holiday, being right around the corner.  Even Dad said he’s not into Christmas this year with her not being around, while I, on the other hand, actually decorated the outside of my house for the first time in my life.  More so as a tribute to her, I suppose, since she loved to decorate for Christmas.  So much so that she kind of ended up leaving the decorations up all year.  

There was one thing that I think kept us all going today, though.  This morning we all woke up to the same sight outside our windows;  beautiful, fresh, glistening snow.  The first snowfall of the season, and it just so happened to fall on Mom’s birthday.

Happy Birthday, birthday girl.  I love you.    

If you saw me now… an open letter to Mom — and a simple vow that everyone should make

Oh, Mom.  I wish you could see me now.  Finally making an effort to stick with writing.  Finally trying to make my passion a career, a reality.  No longer living in the fairytale of becoming some world-renowned A-list multi-millionaire author.  Dad bought me a tablet for Christmas and it came today, so I’m busy making sure everything I need to write that perfect first novel is on it.  He even bought one for himself!  Never thought we’d see the day Dad tried to use technology.  (Sorry, Dad!)  

Teaching him how to use it brought me back to the times when I taught you.  We had our first desktop computer about 15 years ago.  That big, bulky white thing (which in retrospect was so heavy it could have been used as a murder weapon) and we had that horrible NetZero dial-up.  Gosh, how excited I used to get to see that flashing white envelope signaling a new e-mail.  (Pretty sure we still called them “letters.”)  

I put the Post-Its on the power keys for you so you’d know which ones to press to turn them on.  Who would’ve thought ten or 12 years later you’d be using a laptop???  That took some getting used to, I know.  I tried to help as best I could.  If I ever seemed frustrated when you asked me a question, it wasn’t because of you.  I wasn’t frustrated that you were asking questions.  I’m the last person to get mad at someone for asking questions because I pretty much base my entire existence off asking questions!  My frustration was because I was on the other end of the phone, usually driving home from work or sitting in my office and trying to figure out how I could help you, wishing I could be there to figure out what the problem was, and trying to think of the best way to explain it to you without making you feel dumb.  I never wanted to make you feel dumb. 

You had so many problems with that computer toward the end.  You were always asking me for help, and I just didn’t know how to help you.  You wanted your new printer set up– the printer that I helped you pick out online.  I wanted to do it.  But every time I came over we would get caught up talking.  It never got done.  It still hasn’t been done, even though Dad has asked me.  Of course I’m always busy, only able to stop by for an hour or so at a time.  

And that’s where my frustration is.  Frustration at the fact that I don’t have time to help those that mean the most to me.  That when I do have time, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have time.  It’s realizing that everyone’s life doesn’t revolve around my schedule, and that sometimes I just need to shift things around or give up me time to help those that need me.  I’ve learned.  There were plenty of times, especially in your final few weeks, where I had time but you weren’t feeling well.  I was frustrated.  Not really with you– I understood that you didn’t feel well– but I was frustrated because all I wanted to do was see you.  All I wanted to do was hug you.  Play with your hair.  I was frustrated because you weren’t feeling well and I just wanted you to be better.  I wanted you to be okay. 

I guess, in the end, you were okay.  At least, you are now.  That’s what I like to believe.  But I think it’s true.  I think that wherever you are, you’re finally out of pain and you’re happy.  

But here’s my vow
:  I will make time.  I will do what needs to be done to help people when they need me.  It’s so easy to take people for granted.  It’s so easy to pretend they will always be there.  Have you ever noticed that, generally speaking, when it comes to family and best friends we’ve known for years, we tend to slack off a little in our friendship/relationship with them?  We tend to maybe not give as much as we used to, whether it be time, affection, whatever.  But, when a friend that we’re close to but not necessarily “locked in” to comes along and needs something, we seem to bend backwards for them as far as we can.  Why is that?  Perhaps because when it comes to family and lifelong friends, we are a bit TOO comfortable.  We know they aren’t going anywhere.  We know they’ll always be around no matter what (I mean, unless we kill their puppy or something…  That might change things.)  But with them, it’s nothing a simple “Sorry, I was so busy!” can’t fix.  

And that’s not fair.  It’s not fair to anyone involved.  One day, you will wish you’d made time.  I know I do.  

Another vow:  I’ll hook up that godforsaken printer if it’s the last thing I do.  

Been Away

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written.  There’s actually a good reason for that.  Well, sort of.

Only a couple weeks after my last entry, Ron passed away at home.  It was exactly three months from the day Mom passed.  Antoinette called me early the next morning and broke the news, her voice cracking from having been crying presumably all night.  We attended a dinner she held at a restaurant in his honor where friends and former co-workers of his joined us.

Beside that there was work, and more work.  Ideas for topics came to mind as fleeting thoughts that never saw the inside of my blog notebook, for I was always doing something, whether it was driving around to run errands, working on a client, or on a time crunch for a transcription deadline.  Today, I managed to give myself most of the day off.  I transcribed this morning and then spent the afternoon wrapping Christmas gifts.  I like to get a head start on that stuff so I’m not rushing around last minute.  Plus, it makes me happy to see them all there under the stumpy plastic tree, waiting to be opened.

Although, this Christmas is not quite so happy.  Well, not as happy as it should have been..  The closer it gets the more I think about Mom, the more I wonder what it will be like when the day finally comes and Dad arrives by himself.  I wonder what it will be like without seeing Mom’s face light up when she opens the gift– whether she likes it or not, she would always get excited to see what we’d picked out for her this year.

I’ve also been thinking about death a lot.  Death around me, my death, all sorts of death-related issues.  Fate, coincidence.  Just a few days ago there was that plane crash that killed almost an entire soccer team.  Why?  It “just so happened” to happen?  What about the man who was on the plane whose son was supposed to be on there but he’d forgotten his passport?  Was that fate?  Or do we, as human beings begging for an answer, manifest fate from coincidence?  If it was a coincidence, if fate doesn’t exist, then what does that mean for us?

I have many theories and personal beliefs, most of which have been shattered by the year 2016, but I don’t pretend to know exactly what the truth is.  Some days I wish I could die just so I could figure it out.  Other days I’m terrified of the thought that there may not be anything after death.

In any event– I don’t want to bring anyone down since I did promise this to be a happier post– I have started a new blog which I am about to go post on next, a writing blog.  It’s still in the works (I don’t know how to take it down to get it up and running, so I’m just dealing with it the way it is right now.)  I plan to offer tips, advice, information on writing contests, and my own personal writing journey.  You can find it here at www.mymindclutter.com.  Don’t judge it right now, please, since I haven’t been on there any more than I’ve been on here lately.  I am trying to figure out a way to quit one of my jobs to devote more time to writing.  Chef continues to encourage me to do so, but out of fear of the future and financial woes, I choose not to do so right now, so I’m working with what little time I have.  However, I do plan to enter several writing contests and if I do end up winning one (fingers crossed) the prize would give me enough time to take between two weeks to a month off of my transcription job so I would only have to work one job and focus on writing.  That’s the goal anyway!

Would love to hear some thoughts on holidays following the loss of a loved one.  Whether it be the first year without them or 20 years, tell me how it feels, tell me what you do to honor them– tell me whatever you want to tell me!

Deja Vu

I feel sick.  Not physically, but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  I feel empty.

Several years ago– probably about four or five, perhaps a couple more, Mom and I used to attend the flea markets every week in her area.  She lived in a retirement community and it was divided into several different “villages.”  Each Saturday a different village would have a flea market.

That’s where we first met Antoinette and Ron, an older couple from Toms River who spent their Saturdays selling DVDs.  If you were looking for a DVD, that’s where you went to get it.  They would spend the rest of the week watching them before they sold them, then put them in clear plastic sneaker totes to set out on the table they rented.  We all became fast friends.  Mom and I would visit them as often as we could (at the time I was only transcribing and was still married, so I visited Mom quite often in those days to escape my husband.)

Once I divorced and started cosmetology school, working every hour I wasn’t in class, our time grew thinner.  For a while we still went to the flea markets, but Mom’s health continued to decline.  Eventually she only went out once a week, if that, and she no longer drove.  But we all still talked, and Mom and Antoinette were quite close friends, mailing each other packages (Antoinette didn’t drive either) and talking on the phone, exchanging Christmas and birthday cards.

When we did manage to visit, Ron would hug my mom and tell her how he prayed for her to get better.  We said our I-love-yous and our prayers for each other.

When Mom passed, Antoinette was one of the first people I called.  Poor thing, never had a chance to say good-bye.  Never had a chance to have one last healthy debate about who would make the better president.  And Mom never had a chance to give Antoinette the latest thing she had ordered for her (Dad later delivered it to her.)

The first time I visited Antoinette a few days after Mom passed, I brought her a ceramic box with a lid.  It was black and white, small, and had a picture of two stick figure women with crazy, stuck-my-finger-in-a-socket hair.  Underneath the two women hugging it read: “Best Friends.”  Antoinette had given it to Mom some time before.  Mom never used it, but instead kept it on display with the rest of her knickknacks, things that made her happy just to look at.  She kept the ribbon wrapped around it to keep the lid from falling off.

I haven’t been in touch with them as much as I should have been since Mom’s passing.  Not that I didn’t want to be, but because of course I allowed life to get in the way.  I took for granted them always being there.

They came to the dinner my family had in Mom’s honor.  Ron didn’t look well.  The side of his mouth was drooping and I was concerned he’d had a stroke.  He kept repeating a lot of the same things over and over again, speaking slowly, walking slowly.  Antoinette would shake her head as she saw him trying to move around, unable to help him as much as she wanted to.

Today, I received a phone call from Antoinette.  Ron fell last night and hit his head.  He was taken to the emergency room where he is currently being hospitalized.  They discovered tumors in his brain and a mass on his lung.  They were going to biopsy, but after speaking with Ron, Antoinette declined the biopsy.  They never wanted to do the radiation or the chemo, she explained.  It was a joint decision they’d made a long time ago.  There was no point in doing the biopsy because they won’t treat it.

Ron will be returning home on hospice and is expected to live for maybe another six to eight weeks.

I called Dad to let him know.  “Good thing Mom’s not around,” he said.  “She’d be so upset.”

“I know.”  My voice cracked.  He was right.

Now Antoinette will have to go through what Dad went through, losing a spouse.  The only positive aspect (if there is one) is she gets advance notice.  Does that make it worse?  Better?  I don’t know.  But they say that sometimes when you know sooner, it makes it easier to begin the grieving process.  It’s not so much of a shock when the day finally comes.

I think back to Dad, the fear in his voice when I called while Mom was still alive.  I think about how he must have pleaded with her not to go– I’ve heard it before.  I watched him hold her hand and brush the hair from her eyes the night she was rushed to the emergency room on Mother’s Day of this year.  I watched his watery eyes dart between doctors as he tried to list all the medications she was on, tried to tell them every test she’d had recently done, tried to reiterate all of her illnesses.  I think about the times I asked about dialysis and whether Mom would do it and he would say with frustration, “That’s just the way it’s gotta be.  She’s just gotta do it.”  He wasn’t ready to lose her.  None of us were.

And Antoinette is not ready to lose Ron.  None of that know him and are close to him are.  She lost her best friend, and now she’s losing her husband.  Her mother recently moved in with her as well because of her failing health, and soon she will no longer have her.

Then what?  What happens when everyone we love dies and we are the last one standing?  What happens when we walk up and down the aisles of the graveyard, placing a flower upon the graves of our loved ones, with no one to walk beside us as we dab our eyes with a tissue.

I suppose I’m one of the lucky ones.  My siblings as well.  My sister has her son, my brother has whoever he has.  Plenty of friends, his girlfriend.  I have a few close friends.  I have Chef, at least for this very moment.  We all have Dad.  Chef has his mom.  Antoinette, though, she doesn’t have kids.  She has a sister who she doesn’t speak about much.  I’m sure she has other friends.  But there’s a difference between people you live for, and people you “know.”

What will I do when Dad goes?  When my siblings go?  I’m the youngest, so the chances are quite good they’ll go before me.  I haven’t talked to any of my cousins in years.  What will I do if I remarry and my husband goes before me, if we never have children?

At what point do you say, enough is enough, and just throw in the towel to keep from receiving any more pain and heartache?

Well, this wasn’t the most uplifting post I’ve ever written… to say the least.  Suppose I’m just in a state of shock after already having a bit of a rough day to begin with.  Been thinking about Mom so much and with finally having some time to myself today, being idle is never good for my racing obsessive thoughts.   I promise next time to be a little more upbeat!  In the meantime, I still haven’t received any tributes or stories from others who’ve lost loved ones.  Come on, people.  Let’s tell the world how great they were and how much they meant to us.  (Okay, I know I don’t have many followers yet, so that’s probably why…  I’m working on it!)

The Family Genes

Mom first got sick when I was a baby.  Two years old maybe.  It started with a simple tick bite when we first moved down the shore.  She developed Lyme Disease, but none of the doctors knew that at the time.  For weeks she struggled with the illness– joint pain, headaches, depression, and eventually she became numb and forgot where she was.  By the time they figured out it was Lyme, it was too late.  They put her on an IV for quite a while– I don’t remember how long, but I remember the nurse that came to the home, Lois, who used to blow up gloves and draw funny faces on them for me.  I remember mom and I watching the air bubbles going through the IV tube.  The little bubbles were ‘cars’ and the big ones were ‘trucks.’  She didn’t want me to be afraid of what was happening, so we tried to laugh about it.

I remember her sleeping a lot.  All the time.  She would go into episodes where she would barely get up for weeks at a time.  Sometimes she would blare her stereo with Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan and lock her door.  She wasn’t neglectful; she was sick.  And no one knew how to fix her.

Eventually her immune system became so compromised from the Lyme that she developed other illnesses.  Diabetes was the big one.  She was diagnosed when I was maybe 10 or so maybe.  I can’t remember exactly.  She hated losing freedom, and to her, having to constantly monitor her blood sugars, watch what she ate, take her insulin, it was all losing her freedom to her.  She loved her sweets– cakes, candy, whatever– and she would continue to eat it.  You could see the sadness in her eyes when she did.  She knew she shouldn’t eat it, but damn it, no one was going to take away her freedom to do as she chose.

There was several times she ended up in the hospital for her blood sugar or complications from the diabetes.  She was diagnosed with neuropathy in her legs.  She had scarring on her brain from the Lyme.  Some doctors even thought it was MS.

Then they found a brain tumor in 2009.  I remember the day they first discovered it.  Mom and I had been driving to BJs Wholesale in Toms River.  I was driving my first car, a Mitsubishi Diamante, dark green.  Looked like a BMW.  I loved that car.  Anyway, we were stopped at a red light and I put my blinker on to get into the turning lane up ahead.  Just as traffic began to move, we were rear-ended by an F-350.  Phew, it hurt like a bitch.  The car careened forward and I hit an older couple in front of us.  Mom’s scream from the passenger side as she hit her head on the dashboard (or maybe the window– we were never too sure because we were both wearing seatbelts, but the force was just too strong) sent me into immediate tears.  I was more worried about her back as she had recently fractured her spine after a filing cabinet incident (a story for another day…) but she just kept grabbing her head.

I jumped out of the car and checked on the people in front.  They were fine.  I ran to the guy who had hit us who was apologizing profusely.  I told him ‘whatever, man.  Are you okay?’  He said yes, he was fine.  We pulled over to the side of the road and waited for the police.  The ambulance came.  We left my car at a restaurant and rode the ambulance to the hospital.  I called my husband at the time and told him what happened.  He seemed pissed at the time about having to leave work.  We had only been married for barely two months at this point.

At the hospital, Mom and I had rooms across from each other.  They did MRIs on our heads.  I came out fine, except with some pretty rough whiplash.  The car was totaled as far as insurance goes, but I was still able to drive it.

I remember hearing the doctor talking to Mom across the hall.  Something about a spot on the MRI.  Something on her brain.  I don’t know why– maybe it was the shock of it all– but at the time I didn’t think much of it.

I don’t know how long it was later that I discovered it was a brain tumor.  To be honest, I wasn’t shocked.  I’d always sort of suspected it.  Mom had some pretty severe mood swings as we were growing up — and I don’t say this to disparage her memory in any way, of course, but to give people an insight into certain illnesses.  I don’t know if it was the brain tumor that caused these mood swings.  It could have been menopause.  It could have been the Neurontin she was taking for the neuropathy (well, that DEFINITELY had a lot to do with it, and at one point I told her that and when she stopped taking it, the mood swings definitely became milder.)  It could have been depression.  It could have been a combination of all of these things.

But I digress…  Recently Dad told me he’d found an article in the paper about long-term use of antibiotics causing diabetes.  I’ve included a picture of it.

newspaper-articlr

We’ve always suggested that the amount of antibiotics she was prescribed were excessive.  Not even just for the Lyme– although she was on them even then for way too long– but even in her day to day life.  It seemed like every time she went to the doctor she came home with a prescription for Amoxicillin or Rocephin or Zithromax or free samples of whatever the doctor had lying around waiting for some test dummy to walk through the door.

I don’t want to make this a rant about doctors and their practices.  I don’t want to turn this into some advocacy spiel for “healthy living” and “herbal remedies.”  That’s not what this is about.  I’m not saying all of her doctors were horrible and didn’t deserve their degree.  I’m not saying every doctor that prescribed her an antibiotic didn’t know what the hell they were doing.  The truth is, she saw so many doctors that they probably had no idea what she was getting from all of them!  What I am saying is that I firmly believe the ridiculous amount of antibiotics she was given was a contributing factor in the grand scheme of things.  Sure, some things need antibiotics, I’m sure.  I had Lyme Disease three times and antibiotics “cured” it every time.  I’m lucky that I didn’t end up like Mom (at least not yet.)

There’s two sides to every argument.  I’m riding the fence on this one.  In her case, she was on too many over too long of a period of time.  I don’t want to discourage people from taking things they are prescribed by their doctors, but I want you to stay informed. If you’re seeing more than one doctor, make sure each doctor is aware of what the other one is prescribing.  Don’t rely on them to read medical records or notes that state it — tell them yourself.  When you get a new prescription, ask how it interacts with other medications you are on.  Ask about long-term effects.  Ask about any and all contraindications.  Speak up.  This is your life we’re talking about.  Your health.

I intend to spend a lot of time talking about Mom’s illnesses.  This is barely the tip of the iceberg.  But this is where it all began.  I found journals she kept of her symptoms dating back to the early ’90s.  I have copies of medical records and bloodwork.  I always promised her I’d figure out what wrong with her.  I don’t pretend to be a doctor by any means, but one day I hope I can keep my promise somehow.  Doing this research is helping me stay sane at this point…  And if I can help others from ending up like her in the process, well, then I’d love to do that, too.

My First Birthday

Yesterday was my birthday.  I haven’t been excited about a birthday since I turned 25, but this one was especially difficult.  I remember crying when I turned 25, upset that I wasn’t where I thought I would be.  I was living in a cramped apartment with my then-husband, we had no money, and I was overweight.  I had thought by that age I would have a family, own a home (or at least be renting a home) and have somewhat of a substantial amount saved up in the bank.  Instead I was watching him drink his life away and deciding that if I couldn’t put an end to it I would just join him.

26 came and I was finally renting a home but we were on the verge of separation.  27 came and I was already divorced.  When I turned 28 I was working two jobs and going to school full-time, so it was no different than any other day– getting up at 6:00, coming home at 10:00, going to bed.

But there was one thing I had for all those birthdays that I didn’t have yesterday.  My mom.  Mom was all about making birthdays special.  It wasn’t just a celebration for us, I feel, but a celebration for her, too.  A celebration of the day she gave birth to us, brought us into this world, and looked down at our wrinkly, pudgy little faces with a smile on her face.  She would text me or e-mail me on my birthday, “Happy birthday, slick!” or, “Have a great day, birthday girl!” And always end the messages with, “I love you, sunshine.”  On her birthday (December 15th) I always tried to make her feel just as special, calling her an extra couple times to see how she was, calling her birthday girl– she would always giggle when I said that.

Chef told me at the beginning of September that he was booking us a room in Atlantic City for tonight to celebrate my birthday.  It was probably the best gift I could get because I spent all month looking forward to a night on the town with the man I love, instead of sulking about the upcoming birthday.  In fact, the only time I remembered my birthday was coming was when someone would remind me.  Whether that was because I was trying to push it out of my mind or because I was focused on going to AC, I don’t know.  Either way, it helped me get through the month.

The girls at work, they knew how difficult it was going to be.  They already know how I feel about birthdays– especially since I didn’t tell them when my birthday was last year so they weren’t able to decorate my station.  But they made sure they did it this year.  They went all out with spider webs and skeletons (in their words, because I’m not a girly girl so they couldn’t do streamers and flowers and other ‘girly’ things) and even bought a small tombstone-shaped chalkboard to write Happy Birthday on.  They bought me a cake, a gift card for Jersey Mike’s so I could buy lunch, a ton of little knick-knacks, and a brand new blow-dryer.  It’s the same one as my friend (and coincidentally, co-worker) Amy has, and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since she purchased it for use at work.  They all chipped in and made it such a great day — and people wonder why I have no problem working on my birthday!

Oh, there was even a pinata involved, which my manager let me take outside, tie to a tree, and bash the crap out of until Snickers and Milky Ways flew in all directions.

So all in all, a good day.  But still that one element missing that always made my day.  Mom would always mail a card, usually with some lottery tickets, and she’d even mail one that was supposed to be from my dog!  She’d order a gift online for me, since she didn’t get out that much to do shopping.  At some point when I’d go to see her, whether it be on my birthday or at some point surrounding it, she’d ask me to drive her to the store so we could pick out a cake (she didn’t bake much in her later years… although she used to make whatever cake we wanted.  I usually picked the chocolate cake with her homemade whipped cream in the middle.)

I saw Dad on Thursday and he gave me my birthday card.  There was $50 inside, although he’d already purchased my gift as far as I’m concerned– a tattoo I got earlier this month in memory of Mom.  Opening the card was a bittersweet moment.  In Dad’s capitalized scribble he’d written his nickname for me since the day I was born on the envelope.  He always pressed the pen hard into the paper, leaving an indent on the other side– in contrast to Mom’s writing in which she barely touched the paper.  Her elegant, large cursive was absent from the card, obviously, and my chest ached as I opened it.

I joked with Dad that he’d have no idea what to buy any of us for our birthdays or Christmas now that Mom was gone.  The running humor in the family was that when we went to open our gifts, Dad would peer over our shoulder and say, “What’d I buy you?”  It’s sad to think that along with Mom, a lot of other things died as well….  Inside jokes, special birthday wishes, those random free samples that would show up at our doors for everything under the sun…

I sit here now, the day after my first birthday without her, and I can’t help but wish she had given me a sign.  Just something.  To let me know she was there with me.  Maybe she did and maybe I missed it.  But there was nothing that stood out to me, and it made me realize, she’s truly forever gone from my life.  Wherever she is, it was the first birthday in my life that she wasn’t with me.  That I didn’t hear her voice.  That I didn’t receive that text.  (Oh, how long it took her to learn to text!).

I’ve been told the first year is the worst, so hopefully next year, maybe I’ll be able to smile a little more.

Getting Back to Normal

I yelled at God the other day.

Well, I yelled at someone.  I know that much.  I was standing in the shower, completely overwhelmed, letting the hot water pound against my body, steam rising into a fog.  I was alone my house (unless you count my dog) and I just started yelling.  “What is the point?”  I screamed out.  “Why put people on this planet only to watch them suffer and then die?”

Some more things were said, but I never got an answer.  Not one I heard, anyway.  I eventually got out of the shower, wiped my eyes (I’ve been pretty teary lately, for some reason), and got dressed.  I dried my hair, styled it, and stared at myself in the mirror.  My eyes were puffy and red from crying.  “You have 24 hours, God.  Show your children what the point of all this bullshit is.”  I have no idea what I was threatening “God” with. I have no idea what I was thinking when I said these things.

Let me backtrack a bit…  I personally don’t believe in the Catholic version of God.  Mom and Dad raised us Protestant, but we never avid church-goers.  In fact, my last time in a church before Mom’s passing was for my ex-husband’s great-grandmother’s funeral.  Before that, probably when I attended Bible Study as a child, or maybe some flea market or something.  Mom always talked about going to a Mass of some sort around the holidays.  She really wanted to go and sometimes asked if I would attend with her.  Of course I said yes, and I would have, had she went, but she never did.

But my personal beliefs are more of the polytheistic variety.  I am Wiccan.  A few years ago, after I had separated from my husband, I talked to Mom about it.  She’d always known I was interested in the occult and anything New Age-y, but it was the first time I really came out and told her the entire truth.  To my surprise, she was quite supportive of it.  I still use “God” as a generic term because, a) I don’t like to draw attention to my beliefs because they are personal and I’m not willing to engage in any sort of “debate” with people over why what they believe I’m wrong, and b) it’s just simply easier.  God, to me, represents a Higher Power, a source of Life, something bigger than everyone on this planet, not a specific entity confined to one particular religion.

That being said, Mom always asked me in the months leading up to her passing whether I would take her cross necklace and ring when she passed.  I told her of course, but I had no intention of actually wearing it because I felt it was wrong to wear it if I didn’t believe in it.

That all changed on the day she left our world.  I saw her lying there on the ground, covered with a blanket, eyes still open but clouded, staring off into a blank space above her.  Her hands were clasped on her chest.  My brother, sister, Dad, and I were crowded around her, saying our good-byes.  When we agreed it was time to let them whisk her away, I said we should remove her jewelry.  I’ve heard so many horrible stories about how things go missing, jewelry gets stolen, and I didn’t want that to happen.  She loved her jewelry.  And I was so adamant about respecting her wishes that I take a certain piece of the jewelry.  My sister is not a jewelry person, and Dad and my brother obviously didn’t want it.  So I asked if it was okay to take the ring.  Everyone agreed.

I put it on my finger to keep it from getting lost in the midst of everything.  I’ve not taken it off since.  I realized it doesn’t matter if Mom and I believed the same things, it didn’t matter if our religious symbols weren’t the same, the point was that I was respecting her wishes.  I was wearing something that meant so much to her.

Which brings me back to this day.  It was last Thursday.  I spent most of the day in tears, stressed from working all day and knowing I’d have to get up and do the same thing all day Friday.  I just wanted my day off to come.  I wanted the pain to stop.  I wanted to sit and relax, maybe take a bath.  Instead I was rushing to get ready so I could take my dog to his rehab.

I loaded him into the car and made the drive to the plaza where he received his treatment.  (The belief is that he has a ruptured disc in his neck,  but this was never confirmed with an MRI or other scan.)  There was another dog getting his therapy when we arrived, so I walked him around the plaza.  I thought about Mom, what she was doing, if she was watching over me, over the rest of us, if she was happy and pain-free.

I took Mr. Biscuits down an alley in the middle of the plaza.  The alley was paved, empty except for little sprouts of grass that fought their way through the concrete.  I turned the corner and there, in the middle of the alley, was a large white feather sitting on the ground, at least eight inches long and in perfect condition.  Almost as though, as crazy as it sounds, it was placed there by… something.  I stopped in my tracks and stared at it, then a smile crept across my face as I picked it up.

I put it on the visor in my car.  Some people probably think I’m crazy, but I know Mom.  I know what she would leave for me to let me know she’s thinking of me.  To let me know I’m not alone.  She’s gone from this world, but somewhere, she still exists.

The Last Conversation

Chef and I spent a week in Chincoteague Island (Virginia) from July 11th to the 15th.  It was my first vacation ever, so we made sure to enjoy every second of it.  We stayed in a cabin (okay, it was a trailer, but whatever), bought fireworks (illegal in Jersey!), visited restaurants, bookstores, took a sunset cruise, a fishing charter, and went crabbing down by a stream on the cabin property.  It was beautiful.

The Monday after we returned (the 18th) we were supposed to get together with my parents, but Mom said Dad wasn’t feeling well so we were going to reschedule for the following Monday.  Chef and I went crabbing instead at a pier near our home.  On the way back from the pier, I realized my phone wouldn’t turn on.  Turned out, a manufacturer defect caused the phone to completely crap out on itself.  I lost everything.  Contacts, messages, and most importantly, pictures.  Hundreds of them.  (I’m quite the amateur photographer, if I may say so myself.)  What hurt the most, though, was losing all the pictures from vacation.  The pictures I never got to show Mom.

Over the course of that week I dealt with a lot of Verizon reps who eventually sent me a replacement phone.  I went to a Verizon kiosk to try retrieving the pictures before sending back the broken one, but it was no luck.  They were completely gone, the rep said.  There was some sort of defect in the operating system, he said, causing it to shut down and never go back on.

I wasn’t quite ready to  part with the phone yet, even though I was supposed to send it back within five days.  I couldn’t bear to send it knowing the pictures of my first vacation were on there and I’d never get them back.  I was determined to figure it out.  I researched and tried different chargers, left it overnight on the charger, left it off for two days to make sure the battery was completely drained before trying again — all to no avail.

Fast forward to the following Monday, the 25th.  My last conversation with Mom.  Again, we were supposed to get together with my parents, but Mom wasn’t feeling well, was hardly getting out of bed.  Her kidney failure was taking its toll.  In the weeks leading up to her passing I pressed on the issue of her starting the dialysis as soon as possible.  She continued to brush it off.  August 10th, she told me.  August 10th was when she’d have the appointment with the surgeon to implant the port which would then expand her artery and she would be able to begin dialysis.  I pushed her to go with the emergency method — the neck.  I told her, “Mom, you’re not going to make it until then if you stay like this.”  I remember telling my boss even after Mom was released from her three week stay in the hospital in May, “She won’t make it to dialysis.”

My parents never did make it over, and so again Chef and I went crabbing.  I spoke to Mom later that night.  She sounded tired, worn out, and kept nodding off in the middle of the conversation.  At one point she asked about my book I was writing.  (I believe this was the same conversation, or this part of the conversation may have taken place the previous day… Now I can’t be sure…)

“That part about Purgatory,” she said, in reference to my paranormal thriller, “where people who die before their time don’t know they are dead, did you make that up?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“That’s really cool,” she said.  I smiled.  I was on a roll lately with the book and was making great progress.  I spent hundreds of hours researching the afterlife and different belief systems and then sort of combined it all into one giant world-building experiment to see what stuck.

“Thanks,” I said.  “I can’t wait for you to read it.”

“Yeah,” she said, starting to drift off again.

There was silence.  “Mom?  Are you there?”

“I’m here, I’m here,” she said, with the tone us kids had grown accustomed to– the ‘fake awake,’ we called it, where she tried to pretend she wasn’t falling asleep.

“Are you okay?”  I asked.

“I’m okay,” she said.  Another pause.  “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” I said.  “I felt a little sick earlier while crabbing, but I’m better now.”  (This was true.  Chef and I actually thought I was suffering from morning sickness, but it turned out to be a false alarm.

“Okay,” she said.  “That’s good.”

“Why don’t you get some sleep, ma.  I’ll call you later,” I said.

“Okay.  Yeah.  I’ll get some sleep.”  We said our I-love-yous and our good-byes and got off the phone.

I never did call her that night.  From the way she sounded, I didn’t want to wake her up if she was sleeping.  Instead, the next time I called the house was the following morning around noon as I left for work.  I didn’t know when my dad answered that the police were there trying desperately to save my mother’s life.

Less than a week later I realized I had forgotten to send the old phone back and decided to try plugging it in one more time and see what happened.  It turned on.  Immediately I transferred all my pictures, videos, and contacts to my computer and backed them up on the cloud for good measure.  I sent a text to my sister to tell her the first piece of good news since Mom’s passing.  Her response was:  “Wow.  Thanks, Mom.”

I don’t know if Mom had anything to do with it at all, but what I do know is that Mom’s final task of her life was to make sure her kids were going to be okay.  She’d said to me numerous times in the past, especially as the time grew closer, “At least I know you kids will be okay.  You’ve got Dave (Chef), Danny has his new girlfriend, and Jackie has Ben (her son.)  You guys will be okay.”  In our final conversation, she made sure of it when she asked me if I was okay.  I just wish I’d known at the time why she was asking, because my response would have been, “Yes, Mom.  Of course I’m going to be okay.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t need you.”