Thursday, May 26, 2011


During my mother's semi-conherent stay at the hospice, she wanted to communicate her situation to the immediate family. On October 11, 2010, she was fairly lucid for most of the day. While Justin, Katie, Doug and I surrounded her bed, she began explaining. "The doctors have given me 6 months." We nervously exchanged glances. Just outside the door we had discussed this at length with the entire family. Katie sat closest to mom, hunched over and holding her hand. I sat on her other side studying the insteps of my shoes. Doug stood leaning on the foot of the bed donning his listening face, his head tipped back looking over his nose with his mouth hung open. Justin braced himself in a wide stance and his hands folded over his chest.

"They suspect I have pancreatic cancer, and at this point I have growths that are blocking my GI tract." Somebody swept her thought away, maybe a nurse came in or maybe she got sick again. After she fell asleep, the four of us sat outside and came to the conclusion that none of us needed her to explain this. We knew she had days, not months.

We helped her into a wheelchair sometime that afternoon and her head looked swollen. Someone asked her how she was feeling. "I feel, like," she explained and she waved her head back and forth to describe. The muscles in my body tensed and I found myself in a basketball defense position, although out of my mother's line of sight. I traded glances with one of my siblings. We were all doing the same thing.

At about midnight, all of us had gone home for the night (except Justin). Mom decided she wanted to get out of bed. Because of her oxygen tube, catheter, colostomy bag, and lidocaine IV, this made things complicated. Alarms bellowed and nurses rushed in. Justin stood palms up. What was he do to? She was dying. He couldn't stop her from anything, not that he could have on a normal day.

The nurses helped her into a wheelchair and she asked to be taken to the solarium at the end of the hospice. "Is there something that you'd like to do?" Justin asked. After a few minutes, he continued, "Is there anything you'd like to talk about?"

"Let's go to that side of the room and see if we can think of anything." Oscillating her over-sized head from one end of the room to another, she asked, "Is there a curtain here? I need some privacy." At one point during their short trip, she looked at him in her quirky way with a little shrug and a demure smile and said, "Blast off!"

She passed away just hours after this conversation. There was no curtain. She was awarded no privacy. Throughout the day, I heard my brother recount the story to our family. "When mom was coming in and out of consciousness and hallucinating, she asked me when the event was happening. She asked me multiple times when the blastoff was going to happen." She did not ask my sister or me. He assumed our mother was just losing her mind after the intensity of hospital care and painkillers but she was trying to communicate to him that she was going to die soon. None of us know what heaven is to be like, and couldn't it be just like a blastoff? Couldn't we just shoot off into space, into the infinity, into a place that we can't describe? Justin is an aeronautical engineer and speaks in space metaphors. This was her way of lightening and conveying such a dreadful message to her eldest child.

I now have BLAST OFF tattooed under my right clavicle. My sister has it on her left wrist and my brother has an entire rocket ship on his forearm. When I spot this black ink in the mirror, I don't feel saddened at all. In fact, I smile to myself. My siblings and I had our work done in the same tattoo parlor the day after mom died and I see this mark as my last attempt at pissing her off. As I've told my friends, "This is what she gets for dying!" When a stranger asks about it, I tell them it's a means for living my life and omit the idea that it could be a mantra for getting to heaven. I'm blasting off into my next adventure; I'm moving forward in my life. That is what my mom would want for me and these words remind me everyday.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Note from Mom

Mother's Day left a bad taste in my mouth. I arrived at work on Monday morning trying to focus on the task at hand. As Aunt Sue put it, she was "feeling a bit emotionally hung over." So was I. I spent two days on cruise control--the farther I got from Mother's Day the better. After work on Tuesday I took a minute to chill before I left the parking lot. Hundreds of employees leave at the same time and there is always a jam getting out. It was a beautiful spring afternoon with a bright blue sky. The blue stretched unscathed all morning until a few clouds wafted in to dance around horizon. Stuffing trash and used tissues into a bag, I popped the glove box open to find this note:

Dear Maggie,
I am hoping that your
days are looking a bit
brighter for you. Know that
I love you, I am proud of
you, and I want the best
for you!
Love, Mom
I sucked air and tears instantly filled my eyes. I pushed my sunglasses closer to my face and glanced around the parking lot. Slinking into the driver's side, I hung my head in my lap. My mom would have wanted me to erase the touch of sadness surrounding Mother's Day. I thought of the interchange we had hours before she died when I told her that I'd be ok. I thought of the changes I'd made in leaps and bounds since October. And finally, I thought of the new bonds I share with my extended family.

Ok, Mom. Ok.

It's been a week since I rediscovered this note. My throat is tight as I write this but everyday is better. Everyday I feel a little happier. Everyday I feel like it is easier to be happy.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day.

No joke. Today blows.

It's Mother's Day and my mom's dead. My mother would want me to celebrate and honor her. I did that. I baked delicious cookies to share with my aunts and extended family. We exercised (a long bike ride, basketball, and catch with a softball) and I know she'd be proud. She would have been out there grimacing and flexing her muscles at all of us while shouting, "I'm gonna kick your ass on this bike ride! Watch this hook shot!"

Usually I try to have a sunny out look on my situation, but you know what? Not today.

I have been busy with my new job. Saturday I went hiking with my dad, stepmom, and little brother. When I returned home, I cooked up a storm--veggie burgers, meat burgers, portobello mushroom caps, yuca root, raspberry-chocolate cookies, and almond-fig-anise cookies. The house was hazy with oven smoke for hours. I finally admitted to myself, dad, and stepmom that I was crazy with energy because I was freaked out about Mother's Day. For the entire week, I had been successful at avoiding thoughts about today. Around 10 pm, I crashed.

After hours of bizarre, stressful dreams, I woke up at 8:30 am. Crystals flooded in through the window. The sunlight on the floor will always fall (Sarah Harmer in the song Uniform Grey), I thought to myself. I frowned at the wall. As I finished reading the PostSecrets from this week, I heard Andrew present a card to my stepmom.

"What's this?"

"It's because you are such a great mom. Happy Mother's Day."

Endearing and incredibly sweet. Later I presented the gift Andrew and I bought for her at the garden center--a yellow hibiscus plant in a red pot. She had admired it last weekend and was ecstatic to see it appear on the porch.

I packed my bike and headed to my Aunt Susanne's house. In the car I allowed myself to cry, listening to the songs that make me miss her the most. I arrived at the same time as the Glowatz's. Polly noticed that I had been crying but I had to walk away, afraid that if I started again I wouldn't stop. Maybe that's what would have been expected from me. Maybe it would have been ok.

I had a blast visiting with my family. In addition to the exercise, I got to pet the rabbits, and I had a good conversation with Katie during the car ride home. Now it's almost an hour and a half from being over and I can't wait.