30 November 2012

The End

Mom died last Friday night, surrounded by family and friends. We had 38 people at the house for Thanksgiving--Mom's sister, her nieces, their families, her children, and grandchildren. She got to visit with everyone and even sample some of the food, which had become a difficult task in the last days.

The next morning she told me and my sister Kate she wasn't frightened and didn't want to fight anymore. We gathered everyone and stayed with her as she drifted in and out of consciousness. My father-in-law is a deacon, so we called him back from work to lead us in the prayer for the dying. Later in the day, she had a resurgence and sat up and visited with my stepsisters. It is the only part of the day I regret. I knew that it meant the end was near, because it is common for the dying to have a period of alertness before they pass. I should have been more selfish and stayed in the room with her, but I felt like I'd already had so much time living with her that I let others have their time, too. I came in and said, "Hi, Mom!" and she looked at me, clear-eyed and present and said, "Hi, Meg," and I let her enjoy her foot massage.

I was so tired I laid down for about forty-five minutes. My alarm went off just as the Captain came in to tell me he thought she was dying. Everyone came back into the room, including Two's friends Six, Seven, and Eight who had come as soon as he called because she was their Mom Mom, too. She didn't struggle, for which we are forever grateful. Her breathing slowed and then stopped. I whispered, "Say hi to Daddy for me," and kissed her. We prayed and cried.

We're now at the end of what feels like the longest week ever. We had the wake on Tuesday and were truly touched to see so many people from all the different parts of her life who came to pay their respects. The funeral service was lovely because Mom had planned it, right down to the readings and music. Today I said good-bye to my uncle, my cousin, and Kate and her family. Tomorrow, Erin's husband and her girls will leave as well. Erin will stay longer to help me put things back in order, even though things will never truly be right again.

The Captain and I traded nap times today. When I went to wake him I climbed under the covers to lay in the crook of his arm. "Everyone says the service was lovely," he said, "and that's important. But really, at the end of the day, it's just so profoundly sad."

I have been moving forward, not crying, bolstering my family and my mother's friends, speaking clearly as I eulogized, thanking everyone for their support. But tonight as I sharpened a pencil for Five, I realized my mother will never again sharpen two more so we can work on the crossword puzzle together.

I am profoundly sad.

08 November 2012

Because I Miss Writing: A Third Person Post

She drove, shaking her finger, trying to dislodge the last sticky remnant of the CD wrapper that clung to her like a spurned teenager. Maybe she was taking Taylor Swift too seriously. She concentrated on navigating the twisting, narrow road as another song of love and loss filled the van.

It was the yearning that got to her--the reckless, singular desire of new love. She hesitated to call it the bastion of the young, because she could remember that need like it was yesterday. And it wasn't like the love had faded; it had just been shared for so long, pulled like taffy in so many directions that the thinnest parts snapped and dangled, begging for attention.

She understood why people had affairs. After so many years sharing the stage, one might decide they preferred the spotlight. They might miss the thrill of discovery, the stolen glances, the catch of breath from the brush of an unfamiliar hand. The shared secret. And as she aimed for home, listening to the young voice sing about a lifetime of love, she missed it, too. But she knew that love wasn't in the flash of heat or the spark of skin. It was in the unspoken. The quiet. The knowing.

Knowing when to talk and when to listen. Knowing you're right but not proving the point. Knowing that the years before don't guarantee the ones to come, but trusting they will. Knowing it won't always be easy, but remembering that when it's hard. Knowing the person next to you will always be there, even when you can't see them through the crowd. Knowing you have a place to stay.

She pulled into the driveway and turned off the music. Although it had stirred her, made her feel young again, she'd heard the lie in the lyrics. She walked toward her front door and shook her finger one last time, only to notice it was bare. Somewhere along the way the tiny sliver of plastic had left her. She ran her thumb over the remaining spot of glue, turned the handle and stepped inside.

02 November 2012


Dear Friends:

I'm thinking about you all, wondering how you are, hoping you are well and happy. I appreciate that you continue to read about my life from your homes around the globe, and I remain buoyed by your kind words of support. I wish I had more time to read your blogs or email and text you, but my free moments are fleeting. However, a few weeks ago I read this post on Julie's blog.

I was hiding in my room, hoping to finish my cup of coffee before any of the boys noticed me missing, so I quickly scanned the post. Now, normally I'm a fairly positive gal. I've overcome my fair share of adversity and I have faith that most everything will turn out okay in the end. I consider myself a spiritual person, inclusive in my beliefs, because I basically think a rose by any other name is God. But when I saw Julie's "Miracles" card, I rather cynically dismissed it. I was pretty sure Jesus Christ wasn't going to come down and cure my mother's pulmonary fibrosis. But you know, sometimes miracles aren't quite so splashy.

We've been on a quest to install a house generator since the beginning of September. Ulysses and I could debate who had the greater odyssey, from failed delivery attempts ("No, that 18-wheeler won't fit down my driveway; and no, you may not leave the 500 pound generator at my curb."), to delayed permits, locked electrical panels, and a propane company that failed to understand that MY MOTHER WILL DIE WITHOUT ELECTRICITY ("We're sympathetic, but we just can't schedule your site survey/gas line installation/final hook-up without generator placement/ permit numbers/final inspections.") So, with Hurricane Sandy bearing down on New Jersey we finally got the propane company to agree to come out last Friday to hook up the preliminary gas lines, followed by a visit from the plumbing inspector.

Then I got sick. Sick-in-bed sick. Felled, if you will, by the only thing that can keep a good mother down--an intestinal virus that had flattened Three two days earlier. I managed to get all the kids off to school before collapsing, but I knew I wasn't going to be able to direct the propane crew or meet the inspector.

But then my brother arrived. He's been taking a day off from work each week to visit my mother, so he assessed the situation and took control. The plumbing inspector arrived before the work crew, therefore having nothing to inspect, but when Sean told him our situation he told us to do whatever was necessary for my mother and to call him when the job was done. When Sean found out our final hook-up wasn't scheduled until Wednesday--you know, AFTER THE HURRICANE--he enlisted one of his friends to act as our advocate. Sean described her as a "fixer," so I don't know if she made the supervisor an offer he couldn't refuse, but the company agreed to come on Monday to finish the job.

The Captain stayed home Monday to make sure the crew showed up despite the gusting wind and rain. They did, but when they completed the pipe fittings they informed us our propane wasn't scheduled to arrive until Wednesday--you know, AFTER THE HURRICANE. The Captain made me stand in the room with him while he spoke with the supervisor, I imagine to prevent him from making death threats. Finally, at about 4:00 the propane truck arrived and filled the tanks in the 40 mile per hour winds.

And then we waited.

The power cycled on and off and each time the generator kicked in and took over. We watched through the night as substations glowed in the distance, exploding under the weight of downed trees. The boys read me their twitter feeds as their friends lost power. But we did not.

Eighty percent of my town remains without power as of today. My children haven't been to school all week and there is no target date for their return. The Captain cannot get into New York because New Jersey Transit doesn't know when trains will be running. Tracks are broken and obstructed by everything from trees to boats and cargo containers that washed ashore. He can't drive in because there is a two hour wait at the tunnel, and he can't waste the gasoline. If one can find a gas station that has power, there is a three hour snaking line to fill containers and tanks, plus a ten gallon limit. Police are deployed to prevent violence as people grow more desperate. This is just what is happening in north Jersey; the shore is completely destroyed, and those poor people face much greater obstacles.

Sean and his family lost power so they are staying here tonight. They lent their generator to an elderly couple because the husband relies on oxygen converters, just like my mother. They arrived with the food they could salvage, their clothes to be washed,their children and their dog. Our house is open to those who need it, because we feel blessed. The fact that we remain safe, that our mother is protected in this haven of light and heat is amazing. You might even say miraculous.