Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Gift Of Chocolate

Before Christmas my sister and I went to the cemetery to see the basket we ordered for our parents' grave. From the car we could see it had been delivered but it was when we walked up to the grave, when we made that walk up the hill and stood where we stood together in April and said good-bye, that we saw that we were not the only ones who missed her. Not the only ones who think of her. Not the only ones who still care that she is gone. Resting beside the pine branches and red flowers was chocolate. Two Reese's Peanut Butter Cups to be exact. We know who left them, one of Mom's favorites.

In this season of gifts, this season of shopping, this season of wrapping and tagging and baking and delivering, we received a great gift, this unexpected gift of love for our mother. The power of this candy, this chocolate, was immediate and now remains a part of our story, part of our mother's story.

Gifts come in all sizes and shapes and colors. Gifts come in the mail, or from the mall or down the chimney on Christmas Eve. Gifts come from obligation or tradition or expectation. A gift of chocolate, this gift of chocolate came from love. Love of a woman who lived simply and loved in the same way, simply. As simple as a piece of chocolate.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thinking Of Mom

I did not think of my mother yesterday. Not once that I can recall. I sit with that thought this morning and discover a new depth to grief, another layer to the guilt that rests with me, guilt I can intellectualize away, but guilt that nonetheless sits in my heart, its presence heavy.

There are more times now when I picture my mother not as she was at the end of her life, but as she was in the middle of it, that time that I now occupy in my life. I see her with my father, with her friends, with us. I see her smile, hear her laugh and watch her sit on the couch with a book, always with a book. I hear her on the phone when I am home from school, sick....well, maybe not that sick...and watch the way she took each day as it came, from joy to tragedy and back again. I see her and know that I was loved and pray that she knew she was, too.

It is hard to know that I have friends, new friends, wonderful women who come into my life at a time of significance, a time of transition and know they will never meet my mother, never recognize her face, hear her voice. But then I see how it is, how it always has been. They will know her through me. They will learn of her by how I live, by how I love, by who I am. They will know her warmth through mine, her laughter through mine and her life through mine.

I did not think of my mother yesterday but I carry her with me always.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sometimes I Wonder

Memories of my mother surface at odd times, times when I least expect them, times when I'm not prepared for the image of her face, the sound of her voice. I quote her, use her words to make my point, use her wisdom as mine. This is the way she lives with me now.

She lives with me in my days and in my nights. She lives with me at work and at home. She lives with me in ways I never expected and in some ways I did. Either way she lives with me and I am glad she does. I am glad that the memories I have of her have shifted, shifted from her last days to other days, days when she was healthy and active and alive and fun. Days when it would take my repetition of "Mom!" three times to pull her away from the book she read, days when she joked with my children by asking the person at the McDonald's Drive-thru if he got tired of being stuck in that little box that held the speaker, days when she would stop by my house unexpectedly.

I miss her. I don't worry about her now, not the way I used to worry. I know she's not on the floor, she's not hurt, she's not lonely or afraid. I do wonder though, sometimes when I'm alone and it's quiet and I think of her. I wonder if she misses us, if she misses the earth, if she misses life. I wonder this because she loved it all so much when she was here, loved us all so much. This is the way she lives with me now.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sometimes A Crown Makes It All Okay

There are friends in our lives who allow us to be ourselves, to relax into an evening and not worry about what we say or how we look or what we feel. Friends who love and accept you for who you are and no matter what we feel at the moment it is okay to share it, to talk about it, to live it. These are the friends who stand by us no matter what. Who live with us and love with us, who win with us and lose with us. These are the friends who assure us that no matter what, we are loved. These are the women I was with tonight. These are my friends. My Queens.

The story of the Queens is delightful and quirky and funny and loving. The story of the Queens is a story that culminated tonight in drinks in the fading sunshine on the porch. Laughter and love and catching up with each other's lives. It is the story of survival, whether we want it or not. It is the story of friendship that grew and endured and strengthened and survived. It is the story of stars on a crown and in the sky. It is the story of women. Women who have loved and lost and loved and won. The story of women who have passed on to our daughters all that is good in life and love and loss. It is the story of friendship.

This is where it is okay to say, "I hurt," where it is okay to say "I grieve". It is where it is okay to be loved.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Odd Or Even

My mother liked to add the numbers on license plates. I asked her what she thought about the totals she got and she said odd was good, even, bad. I'm not sure how she came to that conclusion. When my mother went into the Nursing Home I found myself adding license plate numbers occasionally, it made me feel closer to her somehow. Now, it has become a habit and I rarely make it from my house to work or to the store or anywhere else without glancing at the plates of the cars around me and quickly adding the numbers. For me, even or odd is unimportant, over 30 on a Maine plate is the goal!

I think of my mother every time I add a plate. I think of her and how she viewed the world, what simple things pleased her and how I wish I could be more like her. I add the numbers and let that simple act connect me to my mother and it makes me feel better.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


I continue to choose seclusion for myself, to prefer solitude and quiet to my usual inclination toward the social, the people, the noise. At times over these past weeks I've worried that this choice, this intentional aloneness is unhealthy for me, a choice or change I should work against, push against until my circle opens wider and I fill it.

In my aloneness my mother is with me, with me intensely, with me in her humor, her smile. Often while I sit and write she enters my thoughts and I picture her here with me, all the times we spent together here in my home, here when we drank tea, watched movies, sewed her baby quilts together. I know this is grief and it will pass.

Other thoughts eke in, welcome or not, and as I grieve for my mother other grief emerges and works its way to the surface, works its way up from where it has been buried, hidden in me. My mother did not choose to leave us, my son did. Months have passed without contact, without communication from him and in those months I relive every moment of his childhood and teenage years and each time fail to find what I search for, fail to understand the reason he would walk away.

So I will keep my aloneness for as long as I need to, as long as it serves me, protects me. I will seclude, I will hide, I will grieve.

Friday, June 12, 2009


I miss my mother. Beyond belief and from the depth of who I am, I miss her. On the outside I am certain this doesn't show, that I am able to conceal this ache for her as I busy myself with work and home and friends and all the moments and people that comprise my life. But it is there, this ache, this longing, this grief.

Early evening is the worst, the hardest. This is the time that was mine with her, became my time with her and even as I recall how I wished I didn't have to go to her room, that small room that had become her world, I ache to be there with her, be anywhere with her. Have her with me.

The middle of the night is bad, too, those hours when I wake and listen to the quiet of my house around me and know she is gone. Those are the minutes, hours, when I search for memories, memories of our life, not her death. Sometimes I find them and when I do I lose her again.

My sister and I visited with our mother's best friend yesterday. It was good to see her, to hear her voice, have her with us. She misses Mom, too. Misses their friendship, their time. We sat at the table, my sister, my mother's best friend, her daughter and me and ached together.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Watching and Waiting

Last night I sat with my daughter in her world, her world of a local restaurant, a small place down the road from her home in Connecticut, a place where she and her husband and their friends gather and relax and eat (and eat and eat and've got to try the salmon!). A place where the owner (and cook) emerges from the kitchen and hugs his customers, no, not his customers, his guests. He hugs them and greets them by name, makes sure they are having fun, that they like their food, that he knows who is there so he can return to the kitchen and cook for them.

I sat with my daughter in her world and watched her ease with the people in this place, her place. I watched her ease of being absorbed into the embrace of this community and in that ease I see that she is happy. She has found her place, her home. I watched her and in her I saw the child she was and the woman she is and know that her life is here and now and as she waits, waits yet again for her husband to serve, to serve his men and our country, that while she waits she does not wait alone, she will not wait alone. She has a place where others will wait with her.

I sat with my daughter in her world and watched her. While I watched, she waits. She waits with patience, she waits with confidence, she waits with love, both in her for her husband and around her from her friends. While she does this waiting, while she waits in small blocks of time now as her husband and his troops prepare, she prepares for the longer wait, the big wait. This big wait that comes for her in a matter of weeks will come and through it I will wait with her. I will wait and watch. Watch and wait. And as we do this, as she does this I will picture her in her place, picture her in the arms of her community, in the arms of those who love her, in the arms of this place that has become her home.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Time On My Hands

It has been just over one month since my mother died and I find myself with time on my hands, time I haven't had for a very long time. This time, this time that at one point I wished for arrives at the end of my workday, that time when I used to sit with my mother, drink tea and watch Oprah or Ellen. Those days when I often thought how I would prefer to be somewhere else, anywhere else with my her but where we found ourselves. I never wished for her to be gone, if anything just the opposite, I wished for her to be here, fully here with us again.

So what do I do with this time? How do I fill it and at the same time relinquish the guilt I feel at that part of me that relishes the freedom I now have? The freedom to work late or go home early, the freedom to stop at the store, run an errand or simply go home and spend time with my husband. How do I quell the horror that my adaptation to life without my mother, life after her death is showing the slightest signs of normal, normal after only one month. Does that make me a bad daughter? A bad person?

My sister and I say the word "okay" a lot these days. We say it to each other as reassurance that we are okay, that 'it' is okay, that we will be okay. We started saying it at our mother's bedside one month ago. She said it to me when she left my house this weekend, this beautiful weekend that marked the beginning of summer in Maine, that marked the 35th Anniversary of my marriage. We said it to each other as we visited the cemetery. We said it when we planted flowers at the graves of our great-grandparents, our grandparents and our parents. And we mean it, these okays.

We mean it through our tears, we mean it through our hugs and we mean it through our laughter. Yes, our laughter. Our laughter that is returning, returning with almost the same spontaneity and joy it once had. Not quite full force, but we both know that it will. It will return, all we have to do is give it time.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Tree

A tree came in the mail today...well, not the actual mail, it came on a truck from the nursery. But it is a tree nonetheless, a flowering pear tree. A gift that will fill a space in our yard but more importantly, a space in our hearts because with every moment that tree rests in my garden, with every flower that blooms on it, every inch of shade it shares, every sound the breeze awakens in its branches my mother will be with us. It will be more than my mother who will live through this tree, this tree will hold my father as well and their dear friends Gloria and Martin and years of an amazing friendship. This is a magic tree, a tree that holds in its branches and flowers and leaves the memories of shared love, shared times and shared memories.

This tree is a gift from friends, friends who grew up amid the love and friendship of our parents, friends who are the second generation of this friendship our parents shared. Friends who loved my parents as I loved theirs. Friends whose voices evoke memories from childhood, memories filled with laughter, love and joy. Joy in sunshine, joy in rain, joy in tailgate picnics (my father never found joy in tailgate picnics!) and joy in all of us piled into the back of a station wagon (before seat I've revealed the area of our ages.) as Martin drove, with precise timing, under the foghorn as it blasted its warning and our screams of shock and absolute delight mingled with our parents’ laughter and that moment etched itself into our history and now holds mythic proportion. We pass these stories to our children who listen and roll their eyes on occasion but when we are together they join in and are a part of this and seem to understand the depth of this love we share for each other and how in the world to have people who love you is what matters. People who love you and tell you they love you. People who love you and show you they love you. People who send you a tree when your mother dies. People who know the fear of losing. People who share that fear. Share it because they also shared the joy. People who now share the memories. People who share a tree.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Thank You Notes

Tonight my sister and I sat at my dining room table and wrote Thank You notes, notes of thanks for the outpouring of sympathy, love and support we have received over the past two weeks. Two weeks. Two weeks in which our mailboxes filled with cards, our homes filled with flowers and food and our hearts, broken as they are, already show the slightest evidence of healing.

We sat together and laughed as we tore up one note after another. One message after another with words misspelled, words omitted and words out of order. We wrote and rewrote our thanks for the love people had for our mother and the love they have for us. We thanked them for chicken soup, for rhododendrons, for cake, for lasagna, for fruit and for simply being part of our lives. We thanked them for coming to us, for sharing with us, for being with us. We thanked them for what they did, what they brought and tears they cried. We thanked them for the music they played, the words they spoke and the hugs they gave.

As we sat at my table, our mugs of tea within reach (my sister uses the Sister mug at my house....I use it at hers) our mother was with us. She was with us in our thanks, she was with us in our tears and she was with us in our laughter. Yes, laughter. We laughed together at silly things, things like misspelled words and the inability to put words together in a sentence. We laughed at things our mother would have laughed at and then cried because she isn't here to laugh with us.

We are thankful for so many things, like how we are loved by so many and how blessed we are to have been born into our family. We are thankful that we have each other, our husbands, our children, their spouses and their children. We are thankful that we have friends and extended family who care so much. We are thankful that we did our best for Mom. We are thankful that we are finding our laughter again, subdued in a way that is foreign to us, but it is there. We are thankful that with this return of laughter, smiles more than laughter (remember how I told you we jump into laughter full force...we're not there yet!), we are assured that we will heal, we will always miss Mom, but we will recover. We will recover because she taught us to do that. She taught us to live and love and laugh and heal.

I remain sad and continue to lean toward seclusion but tonight I felt better, I felt normal, I felt like I used to feel when my sister and I would sit at my dining room table and drink tea and talk and laugh and share our lives. I felt that way for only a moment but it was a moment longer than all the moments of the past couple of years. I hold that moment tonight and know that I will have other moments like this and those moments will grow and eventually they will all link together until they outnumber the other moments, the moments that have engulfed us and held us in their grip. The moments when we knew what we were losing. The moments before we lost.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


As much as this blog has helped me manage the emotions of living with dementia I now find it a painful reminder of all we've lost. I thought I was ready, in fact I had the intellectual discussion with myself many times, you know that conversation....I don't want my mother to suffer, I don't want to see her lose more of herself, I don't want to have her not know us.....that conversation that is so easy when it is abstract. But now, it is not abstract, it is real. It is real and cold and solid and rests in my spirit and weighs on me. It weighs on me and I have to pretend it doesn't because there is life to be lived, work to be done and people who need me and don't want to know this truth.

The truth is I would take my mother back, have her here with us where I could see her and touch her and know she was there. That's how selfish I am. It's not pretty, it is the simple truth. I miss her.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Her Peace Was Good

Today we grieve. For my family we grieve our loss of Mom, our loss of Grammy Lois and our loss of Great-Grammy Lois. You come here today to grieve with us and by that simple act our grief is lightened. We thank you for that. Over the past several days we have gathered as families do and shared our memories of Mom. Shared together what we remember of our life with her and realized all over again just how precious memory is.

I remember suppers at the kitchen table in our house on Mabel Street. Mom and Dad and Penny and I in our seats, those seats assigned long ago by an unknown method all families use. As most of you know, food and cooking were not high on her list of priorities, but Mom cooked and every night we ate together. Invariably, if my father or any one of us said the steak was tough or the pork chop dry Mom’s response was, “My piece is good.”

That comment, her comment, ‘my piece is good’ is as easily applied to her life as it was to her supper. To Mom her piece of life was good. She chose to see it that way and by her example we learned to do the same.

Mom taught us a lot about life, about friendship, about love and about faith. She didn’t do this consciously, she did it simply by living, loving us and her friends and serving as an example. She taught us how to welcome people into our lives, not just for a moment but for a lifetime. Friendship wasn’t casual to Mom. Her ‘Club Girls’, women with a 60 year history of friendship continue to support us and until just a few weeks ago Mom talked of her intent to host club one more time. Friendships like that aren’t accidental, they’re intentional.

Friendship was simple to Mom, if she liked someone she invited them into her life. Once they were in, they stayed. Her ability to welcome people extended to my sister’s and my in-laws and Mom was delighted to be connected with the Hartmans and the Smiths and considered them her family as well as ours.

I can’t speak of Mom and not mention humor. Our family has a sense of humor that rivals no other. Mom told us once during a shopping trip that she never worried about being separated from my sister and I in a large store because all she had to do was wait a minute and our laughter would direct her to us. We don’t giggle, we jump into laughter with full force.

Penny and I come by our humor rightly, Mom and Dad raised us on theirs. Dry, spontaneous and quick with a comeback Mom could crack the veneer of any serious occasion, and often did. Her humor appeared at some of the most unexpected moments surprising those around her, and sometimes even those of us who knew her the best.

There were times over the past year or so when we thought we had lost our humor. Things just weren’t very funny. But it was there and it was Mom who found it first. When Medcu paramedics lifted her off the floor of her bedroom and checked her for a head injury they asked “Do you know who the President is?” Her response, “Why, don’t you?” Last week when I bent over her bed at the Barron Center, kissed her and said, “I love you, Mom,” she looked at me and said, “I don’t blame you.”

While we didn’t always know what to expect from Mom, there were times when she was completely predictable. At birthday parties or Christmas she was the first to suggest we open the presents, usually just after she had had cake or candy. We could all count on cookies in her cookie jar and candy in the silver dish on the end table. Mom had a sweet tooth. Cookies, cake, pie, candy the form was irrelevant. She loved sweets and Penny and I often found candy wrappers or candy itself in the pockets of her sweaters, jacket or slacks. One of the CNAs at the Barron Center took me aside one day and asked if we could bring in more pajamas for Mom. I was surprised because she had several pairs there already. When I asked why she said they didn’t like to put her to bed with chocolate on her nightgown. That was Mom.

As a girl Mom and her friends spent hours at the movie theatre. Mom loved the movies and Penny and I worried that Kenny and Jim would have to pass a test on Gone With the Wind before they’d be allowed to marry us. I was named for Rhett and Scarlett’s daughter and am thankful that my father stepped in and refused to go with Bonnie Blue! Mom carried her crush on Clark Gable well into her 70s, and shocked us all when she replaced him with George Clooney.

I look around this sanctuary today and realize how much of our life is tied to this church. Mom taught Sunday school, belonged to the Women’s Federation, sold books at the Church Fair and served on many committees. Dad was a Trustee and a Deacon and it seemed like they were always here ‘waiting on tables’. Immanuel is woven into the fabric of the Cash family and extends beyond to a larger circle of family and friends. Mom and Dad were married here and raised us in this church. Penny and Jim and Kenny and I were married here as were many of the Hartmans. Our last family gathering in this sanctuary was 6 months ago today when our daughter Michelle was married. Dad’s funeral was here 25 years ago and today we bring Mom full circle.

In recent months Mom talked a lot about her faith. It was rock solid and we are comforted to know through her visits with Deborah that she was not afraid. However, once again we got the unexpected when she announced to Penny last week that Jesus was a Baptist. As if this weren’t enough, she went on to clarify that even though the Catholics tried to claim him, he was a Baptist.

Mom was a lot of fun. She stirred competition between her sons-in-law by telling them both they were her favorite. She made it even more interesting when she included Penny’s brother-in-law Greg in the running. This favorite game spilled over to her daughters and grandchildren and has been the subject of much good humored debate. Penny and I called her bluff many times when we stood before her and asked which of us was the favorite. We both were. When Bill walked into her room at the Barron Center she’d wink and smile and ask him if he wanted to be her boyfriend. She particularly liked to do this if one of the young CNAs was within earshot. She’d drop a comment about her father’s six wives into random conversations just to see people’s reactions. When Penny and I would argue, as siblings do, she would tell us she didn’t understand why we fought because she and her sister Muriel never fought once when they were kids. We were 10 or 12 before it dawned on us that they didn’t argue because they never lived together!

Mom’s piece was good. She lived by the rules all her life and had a few of her own that she left with us:

Give your children two things, roots and wings. As long as those wings don’t take them out of Portland.
Surround yourself with good people.
Love simply.
Laugh often.
Neatness doesn’t count.
Faith is everything.
Some things just have to be done.
Life isn’t fair
If it’s not one thing, it’s two.
There is no such thing as too many books.
Chocolate really does make it better.

Rarely without a book in her hand or a smile on her face, Mom lived her life with simple grace and dignity. While others rage against what life offers, Mom accepted it all with thanks and joy and carried no sorrow for long. We could use more people like her in the world.

We heard Mom say many times, many, many times, “Getting old is tough, but it beats the alternative.” I picture her in heaven now and believe she’s changed her mind.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Life Well Lived....

We said farewell to our mother this afternoon. She died as she lived, surrounded by the people she loved. She faced this day with courage that I can only hope I have inherited from her. We held her hands and she held ours. She looked at us directly, one by one and then she was gone.

I don't know how I will live my life now, my life without parents, but I know I have a model by which to move on. It is trite and easy to say of anyone after they are gone that they were wonderful, that they loved life, that they touched all those who knew them. But for my mother all this is true.

We gathered at her house this evening, our family. Her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We did what all families do after a death, we talked of our time with her as we ate our dinner in her dining room. We told the stories we'd heard over and over again for the past few years and with their telling they wove themselves deeper into our family.

When dinner was over and it was time for us to leave each other we turned to her player piano, her cherished possession, the piano she played as a child, and we sang. Voices raised together in complete disharmony we sang Mom to heaven with Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Goodnight Irene. And with those songs I know she and Dad sang with us.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Beside My Mother's Bed

There are so many thoughts that run through my mind as we struggle with my mother's dementia. I remember something my father said before he died (at 58). He had heart disease and knew his life expectancy was limited. He told me that one thing he feared was that when he died people would say, "He'd been sick for such a long time". I 'kind of' understood what he meant then. I truly understand it now.

My father was not a man who cared what other's thought or said about him so to think that what he feared was what people would say is to underestimate him. What I believe he truly feared was that his life would not have mattered. That when he was gone he would be forgotten and his time here, however brief wasn't meaningful. It was and as I sit at my mother's bedside and look at the same photo albums over and over again with her I see somewhere in the recesses of her blank eyes and expressionless face the same worry. I see her look at the pictures of her family and friends in search of confirmation that her life mattered, that she was here and it was worth it. I look at her now, under 100lbs, able to tolerate only sips of fluids and maybe a spoonful or two of blended food and want her to know that not only did her life matter but it still does. It matters to me and to my sister, to our husbands and our children, to her friends and to her Pastor. She matters to all of us.

She is taking morphine now. For people who do not live in my world, the world of healthcare, the mention of this drug means nothing more than she is getting a drug for pain. For my Nurse and Physician friends, thank you for understanding on a different level the implications of this new regime. You now understand my blog absence for these past days. I didn't know there were so many sudden changes in a chronic disease.

My sister and I still visit our mother at least 6 days each week but we no longer walk with her to the Dayroom for Oprah, tea and cookies. These days we take turns, one of us in the chair by her bed the other on her bed at her feet. We think she still knows who we are but can't remember the last time she said our names. I think of many 'last times' but didn't imagine my name in my mother's voice would be among them and wish I had recognized it when it happened so I could hold onto it now. Before I found myself at her bedside I thought of our lasts in much grander terms, I thought in terms of our last Christmas, last Birthday, last Mother's Day. I had no way to know then that those days, those events are where we put so much energy but in the end are of less importance than the other days, all those everydays.

When my mother dies I know some people will offer comfort by saying that she had been in a Nursing Home, she'd been 'sick' for so long. They'll say these things and think they are offering comfort. They will utter my father's fear. When I hear this what I will picture is my parents together, together in lives that mattered, lives that made the world a better place and I will hear their voices as they say our names.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What's In A Name?

Someone at the Nursing Home helped my mother make a Birthday card for me. It has my sister's name on it. I hate this disease.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Cat Who Misses His Family

There are four pictures on the door to my mother's room. Cut from the last calendar she hung in her home these pictures are drawings of cats, her favorite animal. Her cats rest against the backgrounds of the four seasons, and daily she mentions to me how much she likes to look at them. I like them, too, although we disagree on which one we like best (for me it's winter, she claims summer).

We play a game with these cats, a "Which One's Your Favorite" game. I watch her look at them in the same way you look at a newly hung picture on your living room wall, a studious look, a look that gives thought to placement, balance, color. She does this every afternoon and even though I choose a different cat each time, she does not. She always chooses the cat of Summer.

In this picture her cat has yellow yarn wrapped around his paw, the ball sits to his left. In the window behind him, daisies and sunshine. She likes this cat because to her he is sad, visibly sad with eyes focused on the yarn. She watches him as I ask why he is her favorite. Her answer, "Because they've gone to the beach without him and he knows it."

Her ability to weave a story, to imagine stories behind pictures appeals to me and I ask her about the others. The Winter cat, staring at the cardinal through the window crusted with snow "wants to bite the bird". The Fall cat sitting in the basket of leaves "is happy", the Spring cat surrounded by tulips is "glad to be outside". The stories, her stories of her cats, as immobile as the pictures themselves fill some of our time together and with each day that passes these stories, her stories, remain between us. Between us and the cats.

Last night, when sleep wouldn't come for me, I thought about all she has forgotten and the new memories that fail to take hold in her. Her great-grandchildren, visitors, friends and even the staff who care for her day after day arrive new to her each day. But her cat, this summer cat with his sadness based in loneliness, she remembers. I can't help but wonder if she remembers this because it is what she lives and can't voice. That when we come into her room it is for fleeting moments, short-lived stretches of her life interrupted by extended hours without us. Those hours when we are at the beach without her and she knows it.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mom

On this day 84 years ago my mother was welcomed into the world, held and loved by her parents and grandparents. She was a baby with all the promise of life ahead of her. I am sure her parents saw in her what I saw in my children when I first held them. What I saw in my grandchildren on their birth days. I never met my grandmother but today I knew that at one moment of this day she held her daughter and was amazed at her perfection, her beauty.

I found myself on the verge of tears today. Not just once or twice, but repeatedly. Small things, little things caused the lump in my throat to swell and my eyes to water. I didn't give in to it, that lump that closes my throat. I forced it down, swallowed it again and again. When I sat beside my mother's bed this evening (she didn't feel like walking all the way to the dayroom) and listened to her tell the same story I realized how short a span of time 84 years really is and just how much life fills those years. How many people and places and times fill in our lives and how we hardly notice its happening until so much of it has passed. How when we are young we look only forward and when we are old we look only back. In the middle we're too busy to look one way or the other.

My daughters and granddaughter, my sister's daughter, son-in-law and grandson visited my mother this weekend. We sat together in the dayroom of the Nursing Home and wished her a Happy Birthday. We talked together and pretended everything was fine, that celebrating a Birthday in a Nursing Home was normal, that forgetting the granddaughter in front of you was born on the same day was okay. That having her ask who she had come with when she has been in the same place for 5 months was not unusual or alarming. Around us other families altered their definition of normal.

I received an email from a friend today. A friend who struggles as I do, as we all do, with life changes and decisions. Her father turned 85 last week and before he greeted his grandchildren she got him ready. I picture her with him, adjusting his shirt, shaving his chin then watching him as the family gathered. Gathered to create another memory.

Many of us don't look too far forward these days. I don't look too far back, either. Perhaps that means I have reached the middle ground. Or maybe I can only comprehend the immediate. Today the immediate is that my mother is with us. 84 years after her arrival in this world she is here and she is greatly loved. There are worse thing than this.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Missing Conversation

There are a lot of things I miss about my mother. Things I don't suppose I gave much thought to before they were gone. It sounds trite to say that you really don't know what you have until it is gone, but it is true. Cliches are truths afterall. Today I missed the part of her that was interested in life, fascinated with the movies and the stars who filled her teenage years, up to date with all her friends and their families and aware politically of what was happening in the news both here and around the world.

We don't have new conversations anymore and today I learned that while she repeats a story to me, a story about an old boyfriend and how her father told her if she married him she'd be miserable, to my sister she tells a different one, the one about her sister's mother. (My Aunt was adopted by a family in Rockland in 1928....long story....I bet my sister could tell it!) Clinically we call this scripting, the process through which a person suffering from dementia repeats a story over and over again because it is safe. This script is one they are sure of when they are unsure of so much else. The human brain is an amazing organ.

I have so much to tell her, so much I want to share with her. I want her to know that we just spent the weekend with cousins up north. I want her to hear how they are and how much fun we had and how beautiful it was out on the lake standing on 30 inches of ice. I want her to know what a good reader her great-grandson is and how sweet he is to read to his baby sister whenever she asks. I want her to know my sister is going to be a grandmother again and how we are all looking forward to another baby among us. I want her to know how proud I am of my daughters and what beautiful women they have become. I want her to know what projects I'm working on at the hospital and that I testified at the State House and on Capitol Hill. I want her to know that I miss her.

Several years ago I drove down Stevens Avenue and when I stopped at the traffic light my mother was in the next car. I honked the horn and she looked up and smiled. Her smile was not just a friendly hello kind of smile but a genuine smile that reflected true pleasure at my unexpected appearance. I have always remembered that day and her smile because at that moment I knew how much my mother loved me. I felt it in her smile and it felt like everything else faded away and my mother's love surrounded me with such sincerity and depth that nothing else mattered. Imagine being that lucky, to be loved so purely.

I want my mother to know that I remember that day and that sensation of being loved by her. I want my mother to know that I feel the same way about her. I want my mother to know that I will always be grateful to her for the mother she was. I want my mother.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Close Call

Most of the time I believe I have come to terms with my mother's dementia. Well, maybe not most of the time, it's more like some of the time. Probably closer to a short amount of time, something that borders on moments. But that aside I do know we fast approach a time when she will be gone, cognitively and physically although we have no way to know which we will face first. I know this with the same sense all children come to this knowledge about their parents not because I am more in tune with life or because my years of Nursing experience have taught me this. I know this is a fact.

So while I anticipate this parting with my mother (anticipate it kicking and screaming all the way!) I lull myself into the false sense of security that this loss will be the next one. In the natural order of things it will be my mother who 'goes' next. This morbid security was shaken to its core this weekend when my daughter called to tell me she and her husband had been in a car accident. Hearing her voice I rushed to the conclusion that a small fender bender in the snow was nothing to be concerned about. As the details of the accident traveled through the phone they brought with them the realization that this day could have ended differently, that my daughter and son-in-law now stood among the statistics of survivors and our family remained whole.

Through the night images of the accident replayed in my mind and sleep did not come. (Dozing doesn't count.) As their truck slammed into the concrete wall of the median on the interstate there were people behind them who must have watched their spin out of control on the black ice with horror. These people, strangers to my family and to each other, stopped and ran to the aid of my daughter and son-in-law. Ran to help. Called for help. A couple of them were Nurses. Nurses who helped.

I hear stories about how no one cares anymore, that our society is filled with people who think only of themselves and care nothing about what happens to others. These people must exist, must live somewhere. They do not live in my world. They are not present in the CNAs who blow kisses to my mother as they pass her room. Or in my staff who leave no stone unturned to access care for their patients. Or in my friends who continue to ask how my mother is, even though they know the answer in advance. These people do not live in the strangers who stopped their cars on a snowy day and ran to the aid of a young couple in need.

Tonight, if the images once again disturb my sleep I will change them. Instead of what could have been I will see what was and what is. I will see strangers help my family. I will see my staff, amazing women who find resources where none exist. I will see my mother, asleep in her bed, a bed she is helped into every night by people who care. I will see all these things and I will be grateful.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What I Know To Be True

My mother taught me about friendship. She didn't do this consciously, she did it simply by living her life and loving her friends and giving me an example of what it is to be a woman and to be a friend.

The women in this picture are the "Club Girls". The women who comprised a support group long before there was a name for it. A group of women who loved each other and supported each other through the ups and downs of life, the joys and sorrows of life, the reality of life. Those times when life was joyous and those times when life was a struggle. They loved each other through the wonders and the defeats, the ups and the downs, the good and the bad. This was my example.

Tonight I was reminded of the joys of the friendship of women. The joy of the freedom of friendship with true abandon. The joy of the purity of acceptance. I have pulled back from my life as I grieved for the loss of my mother. I have removed myself from my family, my friends, my church and my work. I have purposely secluded myself from the pain that love evokes and tried to hide from life. Tonight, as I sat with people from my church, some friends, some acquaintances, I was reminded that life is for the living. Life is for the pure abandon of joy. Life is to be lived because even though we are promised eternity, what we can achieve now is connection, connection to each other and to life itself. Life is to be lived.

I am thankful for the example I have from my mother and her friends. For the women in this picture. For their example of love and kindness. Their example of love and friendship. I am thankful for the friends I have and those I sat around the table with tonight. For my lifelong friend, equal in stature to me....who meets my six feet and takes it to new heights. To my friend and Pastor who knows the depths and breadths of my joys and sorrows. To all the women who share my life and my journey, those who live and love, those who care and bear the joys and sorrows, the grief and sadness that is life. My sister and my sisters-in-law, my nieces and my daughters, my friends and my acquaintances. It is truly a privilege to share my life with you.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Just When You're Ready To Throw In The Towel

My absence from the blog has been purposeful, so complete is my exhaustion. My desire to withdraw, to retreat and hide has been at times overwhelming. Overwhelming to the point where bizarre dreams fill my nights (President Obama sends his regards to you all while my boss didn't have much to say, she simply watched me climb the ladder that ended at the ceiling!) and when I wake in the morning the enormity of the changes in my mother's life presses me into my pillow and I force my feet to the floor and into my day. Once I get in the shower the tasks of the day stretch before me and my day starts.

My days usually end with a visit with my mother. This evening we watched Dr. Phil. She likes Dr. Phil. She likes his Texas accent and the fact that he's a big man. She is getting quieter lately. It's subtle but that's what I watch for now, small things, little changes, changes that mean she is further from me than the day before. Some of the staff notice it, some don't.

It is these little things, these subtle changes that are the source of my weariness. The big stuff, the major things (like the fact that she has dementia in the first place) don't seem to take as much of a toll as you might think. Our power to adapt amazes me. But those small things, those subtle shifts in her bring me to my knees.

When you rest in the low spots of your life it is often the little things that raise you up, lift you off your knees and fortify you for the next step. When you are fortunate enough (as I am) to have people in your life who care for you, love you and walk with you in your joys and sorrows, it is important to turn to them and let them help. Let them supply the little things that make all the difference. A phone call, shared time, an email and even a message on a Facebook page take on more meaning when they come at these times.

And so I return. To my blog, to my email, to my phone, to my life. And as I return I am greeted by friends and family and it feels good.

The Patience of Ordinary Things
by Pat SchneiderAnother River: New and Selected Poems

It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes.
How soles of feet know
Where they're supposed to be.
I've been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Gift From My Mother

My mother knows me again. She smiles when I enter her room and tells me how glad she is that I've come to visit. And while that makes me feel better (a lot better!) that is about the extent of our conversation these days. Oh, she talks and I respond, but what she says is a repeat of the stories she's told so many times. Stories from her past, a past that others might consider unfortunate at times, but to her it is a past filled with love and family and friends and adventures. A past filled with what she had, not what she didn't. How fortunate for her, to have such memories to recall.

This week the memories have been of family friends, of camps rented and evenings shared. Of sons and daughters who looked forward to those evenings as much as the 'grown ups' did. She talks particularly of one friend's son, a son who died last month. She talks of him in a way that makes me realize that to her he is young, too young, too young to die when in reality he was in his sixties. Granted still young, but not the young she places on him.

It is through these conversations that I learn from her. She teaches me that our positions in life and careers are unimportant and we should instead measure ourselves and others in kinder tones. Gentler tones. Tones of friendship and good times shared. Tones of laughter and tears. Tones of shared compassion and enthusiasm for life itself.

My mother has taught me great lessons and continues to teach me. From the diminishing broadness of her life she continues to reach out to me and to the world and gladly shares the beauty of her life with others. I could not ask for a more perfect gift.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Trinkets From the Islands

I wanted to share the colors of our vacation with my mother when we returned, to tell her of the rainbows we walked through, the almost indescribable aqua of the Caribbean, the blue of the sky, the contrast of the flags of a street fair against centuries old brick, the black skin of children in crisp blue school uniforms. I memorized details of the cruise ship, its beauty, its size, its elegant pastries, the voice of its Captain, his words thick with Italy as he welcomed us aboard. Memorized them to bring them to her.

In the kiosks that line every port and wait for the exodus of shoppers from the ships, wait for sunburned arms to carry away their trinkets for just the right price, the special price, the price that sounds too good to be true at the moment but in reality, the reality of home and the clash of tropical decor against the backdrop of New England, that price is higher than it was on the island. From different corners of my suitcase I pull plastic bags covered with exotic names and filled with exotic things and sort them on my bed and am pleased once again to have found just the right thing for almost everyone. Just the right piece of the Caribbean to share.

As I walked the narrow streets of the islands, ducked into the shops and looked in the windows what I searched for wasn't there. It didn't exist in the form of a coconut shell, or stuffed iguana, a hand carved tribal mask or hand woven tablecloth. It wasn't there in a miniature bottle of sand, a cake made of rum or jars of spices ground under the ancient stones of the island. No matter how bright the smiles of the shopkeepers, how full their shops were or how the sun warmed my shoulders the piece of my vacation I sought to bring home eluded me and the bags on my bed hold no tropical gift for my mother.

In her room at the Nursing Home yesterday, after being away from her for ten days, I was not greeted with her smile or the brief but present brightness of recognition in her eyes. She didn't ask how our trip was or where we went. She didn't reach for me. She didn't say my name. She didn't know I'd been gone. She didn't know me.

We talked about her rings, she turned them around her fingers and tried to remember where she got them. She looked at mine, reached for them and turned them in the light. She struggled with her heart shaped gold ring, visibly searching for the memory of where it came from, who had given her such a gift. Unable to recall she moved to her engagement and wedding rings and asked me who gave her those. I told her they came from my father. She knew me then, at least I want to believe she did, need to believe she did.

In the airport in New York I bought her some candy. Chocolates in a jar shaped like an apple. She loves chocolate.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Just when I think I have become accustomed to my mother's new life in the Nursing Home it hits me again, this overwhelming alteration in her life, alteration in our lives. Tonight my husband and I spent our evening packing for our vacation. A relatively simple task, exciting certainly, but simple nonetheless. In the midst of my choices of which shirt to pack, which pair of shoes, which necklace I was struck by the knowledge that as much as my mother loved to travel she will never again know the pleasure of this anticipation of a trip.

I took this knowledge and attempted to mold it so it would give me permission to enjoy my packing, heighten my anticipation of the week ahead. It didn't work. I still packed and I am still anticipating our time away but it is with an overlay of sadness. A sadness that I'm sure will lift once we are on our way, once the sun of San Juan rests on my shoulders, once my feet dip into Caribbean water. So now I leave for the week thankful that my husband and I have the opportunity to take this trip but saddened by the fact that when I return my mother will not remember that I was gone.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Welcome to the World

It would be difficult to post anything today without mention of the history we witnessed. History not based in the media hype of this charismatic man who now leads our country but history based in the peaceful transition of power, the passing of the torch of leadership with cooperation and participation. The transition that brought millions of people to Washington, millions more around the world and hundreds at my hospital to crowd together and watch and listen. Hundreds who stood when the Chief Justice asked us to, hundreds who applauded when the President's words evoked our enthusiasm and hundreds who, when the ceremony was over and the speech concluded willingly returned to their work, their work of caring, their work of being certain those in need of care have it, their work of healthcare.

In another hospital in my state work of a different nature was underway. The work of life, a new life, a new life for our family. As our country and the world awaited the birth of a new presidency my family awaited the birth of a child, the seventh of his generation. My sister's second grandchild, my mother's newest great-grandson, arrived just prior to the 44th presidency (a fact of his birth that will certainly bring jokes throughout his life for his Republican grandfather) and I found myself drawn to the thought of what promise and hope a new life brings. How, regardless of the struggles we face we have faith that life is good. That life brings joy. That life is worth living and we as a family will continue to grow. That we as a family will continue to love. That we as a family will continue.

My husband and I told my mother of this birth tonight. Told her the details, his weight (7lbs, 9ozs), his length (20 inches) and the fact that he has a full head of dark curls. Her smile was rich with happiness at the news that her granddaughter was recovering and the baby was healthy, her eyes bright with understanding as she asked his name again. I was prepared to repeat the news for her, to tell her again of this new life but there was no need. She remembered. She remembered not once, not twice, but several times. There seemed no end to the gifts of this day.

Today in the midst of the celebration of a transition my family quietly moved through our transition and grew. We grew by one. One life. One life who by his mere presence reminds us that our family is here and today we are stronger.

Welcome to the world little Isaac.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pink Bricks

My mother's house has life again. I drove past it last night and in place of the darkened windows and emptiness what I saw was light and warmth and family. Through the windows the most familiar of scenes greeted me. A family at the table in the dining room sharing their meal and time together. A family living their life and building their memories, new memories in this house, in this home. New laughter for the walls to hold, new tears for the foundation to lend strength to and new love to fill each room.

As we moved through this transition my family struggled with the changes in our mother's home. We cried as wallpaper came off, carpet came up and paint went on. But when it was finished, when it was more theirs than hers, more theirs than ours, the tears dried and the smiles grew and we understood the choice was right.

The memories we have of time in that house, of family celebrations, holidays and everyday life remain. They are smarter than us. They do not constrain themselves to individual rooms or a mailing address. They live in us and remain with us no matter where we are. I do not have to see the white wallpaper in the living room or the pink bricks (yes....she had painted them pink!) around the fireplace to remember them. I can see them anytime I please, I simply close my eyes and there they are right beside the blueberries in the kitchen and butterflies in the dining room. All encapsulated with the days of my family's life.

And if those memories are lost, if my path duplicates my mother's then they will be gone from me. But for now, they remain. They remain and new ones grow, new ones like the one from yesterday when I saw joy in my sister's face as her granddaughter took her first steps. This granddaughter, this precious child walked between my sister and her mother, arms out straight, knees locked tight, eyes focused on her Grammy and walked. Walked in her new home, walked right in front of the pink bricks.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


I am a guest blogger (who'd have thunk?!) this week on the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance website. Check it out at:

I will try to post on both blogs, but can't promise I'll make it. It's only for a week.....


Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Little Chocolate

My mother's face lit up when I walked into her room this evening. I mean really lit up, not just some cliche term that finds its way in dime-a-dozen novels, this was real. Her smile reached her eyes and for a brief moment there was joy, pure joy radiating from her. "I've never been happier to see someone!" Neither have I. For the shortest time I had her with me. In full. My mother. She was there and I was lucky enough to see it.

It didn't last. I think she was still happy I was there and my sister came in just after me and Mom was glad to see her, too (so was I....I always am!). But even though it didn't last nearly long enough it lasted long enough for me to be reminded that even though she's lost so much she still has emotions, still has happiness, still has moments of joy. When I asked her if she had been lonely and that's why she was so glad to see me she told me no, she wasn't lonely. She doesn't look lonely. She doesn't look afraid. She doesn't look sad. What I see when I look at her is a settling, a degree of contentment, a level of comfort. Whew!

There are still people who work at the Nursing Home who worked there when I did. Nurses and Nurse's Aids who continue to provide care, continue to provide excellent care, continue to care. As I carried cookies to my mother one of them stopped me to ask if we could bring more pajamas in. I told her Mom had several pairs and a few nightgowns in her room. The Nurse smiled and quietly told me that Mom can only wear them for one night because invariably she sneaks some chocolate at bedtime....

I am not as sad as I was this summer, or even this fall. My mother is safe. My mother is still with us, some times she's more with us than others, but she's still here. She is cared for, not just by people who perform the tasks but by people who care, people who care about her. Tonight I know she will sleep soundly and while she sleeps caring eyes will watch over her, caring hands will help her if she needs them and the clean pajamas she put on will have have a little chocolate on them by morning.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Few More Days....

My husband and I are counting down the days until our vacation. We call each other during the day to remind ourselves that warm breezes await us and breakfast on the balcony will be served every morning. Long days of walking on the beach, echoes of Spanish drifting in the sunshine and an after dinner stroll around the ship will join the memories we have of other vacations, other times together, away, relaxed.
When I was a little girl my parents took a few vacations without my sister and I. These were working vacations for my father, conventions held at resorts in Puerto Rico, Arizona, the Bahamas. I remember their anticipation, their preparation with my father's suits fresh from the cleaners, my mother's outfits lightweight and coordinated, the suitcases waiting by the door. Mostly I remember when they came home. The smell of smoke on their clothes from the plane (this was a long time ago!), the smiles they had for each other, our time together as the routine of our family returned.
I mentioned these trips to my mother the other day. It took her a minute but she appeared to recall the memories. Appeared to remember. As I continue to build my memories, create times and save events it occurs to me that I not only carry my memories but now carry my mother's for her. How fortunate I am to have them.