Mom’s first birthday without her

Today would have been my mom’s 78th birthday.

Last year, Mom was still doing pretty well but the pain that would plague her for the rest of her life had already reared its ugly head. It was not yet the chronic, acute pain that would agonize her final months, but it was a sign that illness had rejoined the family.

I had a feeling this time last year that it would be my mom’s final birthday. At the time I feared the cancer had returned, but hoped it was just another hernia that could be surgically repaired.

My mom on her 77th birthday.

My mom on her 77th birthday.

We never did get a confirmation as to whether or not the cancer had returned, thanks to a whole host of roadblocks, from my mother’s surgeon suddenly leaving town, to appointments with the new surgeon getting bumped, to bad winter weather forcing her to cancel appointments. None of the scans that she had performed repeatedly showed a tumor, but by the time a colonoscopy was ordered, she was too weak to have it done.

I’m glad for her last birthday on this earth that I was with her and was able to present her with the Chicken Soup for the Soul book that included my submission which was inspired by my mother. She loved it and read it aloud over and over.

Today I went to an energy healing session. It was a fascinating and insightful experience and I highly recommend it if you feel like you are emotionally overwhelmed or emotionally blocked in some way. I’m an open-minded skeptic when it comes to such things, but the insights provided gave me plenty of food for thought and self-improvement tips for the mind, spirit and body.

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Brush with death while reflecting upon death

Today, while walking to the park, I was almost hit by a car. I had for the first time in my life the overwhelming fear at facing my own sudden demise.

The street I was crossing is a major road in my neighborhood, with one side being the beginning of the park. I was approaching from the other side, and was crossing at the crosswalk, which has a flashing light that by law requires cars to stop for any pedestrians.

crosswalk

Sadly, very few Atlanta drivers obey this law.

On top of that, all of the metal barriers were left up from the marathon that had been run the day before. I positioned myself in front of one of these barriers, and waited for the cars to either stop or clear the intersection before crossing.

Finally, a large SUV stopped for me. I could not see around it, but waved thanks to the driver and began crossing. That’s when I heard a horn honk, and the car behind the SUV pulled out and suddenly was barreling straight at me.

I froze, fully expecting to be struck by the car. I put my hand out, I guess hoping to launch myself on the hood instead of going under the wheels.

Fortunately, the impatient driver had good brakes. My hand landed on the hood of the car as it came to a halt.

To say the least, I was shaken. I had wanted to go for a long walk and brainstorm some of the ideas I have for essays about taking care of my mother. Instead I spent most of the time shaking off that brush with death.

I guess the takeaway is that you never know when you are leaving this world. It could be crossing a street you’ve crossed safely a hundred times in your neighborhood. Try to make each day as satisfying as possible.

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Glen Campbell documentary ‘I’ll Be Me’ a powerful, profound look at Alzheimer’s

I finally had the chance to see the documentary about Glen Campbell called, “I’ll Be Me.” I highly recommend seeing it, even if you are not a fan of Campbell’s music.

The documentary is an unflinching yet loving look at how Campbell and his family have managed his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. The film once again confirms the power of music. It was amazing to see how long Campbell’s music ability endured, even as he entered the late middle stages of the disease.

The film, made in conjunction with his family, doesn’t shy away from the ugly aspects of Alzheimer’s. Viewers witness Campbell’s temper, repeating questions, communication difficulties, wandering, discussions of incontinence episodes and paranoid outbursts.

Viewers get a behind-the-scenes look at the sometimes chaotic backstage scene before shows. As we all know, those with Alzheimer’s have good and bad days, until they end up with more bad ones than good ones. When you are performing in front of hundreds of people, the good and the bad are magnified.

Campbell is now in the final stages of the disease and lives in a residential care facility.

For Campbell fans it will be difficult to watch one of the greatest guitarists of all times deal with such a debilitating disease, but his phenomenal guitar work is on display throughout the film, as is his sense of humor and his fighting spirit.

If you’ve seen the film, please share your thoughts.

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A double whammy on Father’s Day

Not only is today Father’s Day, but it is also the one-month anniversary of my mother’s death. So both of my parents are weighing on my mind heavily today.

I can’t believe it has already been a month since Mom passed. Of course I think of her every day, but I especially thought of her when the tragedy in Charleston occurred. Mom was always so heartbroken to hear news like that. She truly could not understand why some people choose hate over love.

family pic

So just like with any death, life goes on, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

To honor my mom today, I’m getting my hair done, which was one of her favorite activities. She loved going to the salon, and sadly, she had to cancel her last appointment because she wasn’t feeling well.

To honor Dad on Father’s Day, I’m going to take a long walk in the park, one of his favorite activities.

How are you spending your Father’s Day?

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Mom’s final resting place a treasure trove of memories

I began searching for the perfect urn for my mother’s ashes even before she took her last breath. That may seem morbid, but putting energy into creating a memorial that would honor her life gave me something positive to embrace during those final dark days.

I scoured the Internet yet nothing was jumping out at me as ideal for Mom. I thought about getting the same urn that I had gotten for my father. It rotates and allows you to add multiple photos. I have received great comfort from the urn, which I filled with photos from Dad’s young bachelor days to the end of his life.

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Still, I wanted Mom’s final resting place to be unique. That’s when I stumbled upon Blocks from the Heart. (The following is not a solicited review, just my experience.)

Katie Patton is the artist that operates Blocks from the Heart. She offers memorials in a variety of formats, from blocks to memory poles and ornaments. She makes memorials for both humans and pets. She is great to work with, very responsive and determined to create a work of art worthy of your loved one.

I chose a keepsake box. I loved the idea of having 5 sides (including the top) to create a tribute to my mother’s life. It also was a challenge; how do you sum up your mother’s life in 5 ways?

On the top of box, Katie merged a glamour shot of my mother as a young woman with a poem that my mother had chosen before her death as a way to remember her. Then I paid homage to her being an animal lover with a childhood photo holding the beloved family dog, her Navy career, her glamorous side and finally, being a loving mother.

More images of my mom’s keepsake box can be seen on Facebook.

The results were amazing. I love the box and my only regret is that I didn’t create it while Mom was alive. I think she would have been thrilled and touched!

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Missing my mom to celebrate a piece of history

On Saturday evening, history was made, as American Pharoah won the Belmont and the coveted Triple Crown.

I know there is a great deal of controversy about horse racing as a sport, but for me, it reminds me of family.

After all, my parents met over horse racing results at a Los Angeles diner.

As a family, some of our best outings were to Hollywood Park (now closed) and Del Mar race tracks. My parents were relaxed, the weather was usually nice and yes, watching the horses run is quite an adrenaline rush.

Over the years, there have been many horses that have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, only to disappoint fans by being unable to clinch that final victory at the Belmont. Last year, the same thing happened. My mom was so disappointed.

This year, the hype was the same or even greater. This was the year, this was the horse, the Triple Crown was going to happen.

My mom and I were able to watch the first race together, as she was in pain but lucid for the Kentucky Derby. She didn’t feel like getting out of bed so I streamed the race on my laptop and we watched it from her bed.

She loved American Pharoah.

By the time the Preakness came, Mom was pretty bad off. She was sleeping most of the time and not very aware when she was awake. I didn’t even watch the race, as I forgot to tune in while busy with caregiver duties.

So you can imagine my mixed emotions when the Belmont ran Saturday. I cheered loudly for American Pharoah, who made what other horses couldn’t do for 37 years look easy.

But there was also a deep pang in my heart that Mom just missed this glorious moment. She would have been thrilled. I watched my phone as it remained silent. She would have definitely called and talked my ear off about the race.

I hope somewhere, somehow, she was aware of the historic win, though honestly, these things probably do not matter in another life. Still, I like to believe that if she was given a bit of luck as she crossed over, she sprinkled some on American Pharoah.

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Grief, relief and regret

As anyone knows who has lost a loved one, your grief doesn’t always progress through the designated stages like it’s described in books. Many of these self-help manuals make it clear that there is no one correct path, but it’s still something you have to experience for yourself to understand.

To all of you who left lovely comments, thank you so much. It does help to know you are not alone.

The first few days after my mother’s death were fueled by an adrenaline rush, to power through and focus on completing the necessary tasks. My goal was to get home as soon as possible.

Mom was a jokester, and would want to be remembered with smiles and laughter, not tears.

Mom was a jokester, and would want to be remembered with smiles and laughter, not tears.

I returned home and took a few days off from work to get settled in and recharge my batteries. I spent a lot of time receiving “purr therapy” from the cats. I went on walks. I got a massage.

Then I returned to work and the fast pace of my daily duties left me little time for reflection.

So here I am, 10 days after my mom’s death, and more than grief or sadness, I’ve experienced moments of relief and regret.

There is a sense of relief at how quiet my phone is now. Over the last year or so, I had talked to Mom daily on the phone, and over the last few months, she was calling me multiple times per day sometimes, usually to remark about her pain or lack of effective medication. I began to dread seeing her face when it would pop up on my phone, signaling a call from her.

Mom was about the only person to call me on the phone. (I prefer written communication whenever possible.) My battery has dipped low a couple of times, but I wasn’t frantic about making sure I was available by phone because at this moment, for the first time in several years, I am not managing the care of an ailing parent. There is relief in not feeling like I’m on call 24/7.

The regrets pop up in scenes played out from the last month, when I was taking care of Mom. I think what I can take away from these flashbacks is to not get so lost in the necessary caregiving tasks that you forget the simple things, like trying to make it possible for a loved one to enjoy a moment basking in the sunlight, or having a spoon of ice cream. There may be risks involved in trying to make a dying person happy, but looking back, they are risks I wish I had taken.

What lessons have you learned from grieving for a loved one?

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