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tracks in the snow

Arno and I are getting to know each other still. And we will continue to, of course, for years to come. He has seen that deeply personal messages sent originally to him will sometimes end up in a public forum. He said he’s realizing that <in his words> I am a writer, and a writer is going to write.</in his words> And the fact that it ends up posted on the Internet for all the world to see does not cheapen the intimate moments we have shared.

So yesterday at lunch when he told me my last email to him about my mother’s death was so passionate that it made him cry, I told him “Well, I just typed and then clicked Send. But if it’s that good, honey, it will probably end up on my blog.” Well, here is a part of my email to Arno. Only slightly edited.

***

snow rabbit

I stopped for the night at a hotel in Ritzville. I need to write Mom’s obituary. I was going to do that today, but got interrupted by packing up her things. It was hard, and upset me. Jim feels bad now, and I know he didn’t realize what a difficult thing he was asking of me. I don’t want him to feel bad about it. There is enough pain without adding more.

This morning when I woke up, I heard Mom’s ragged breathing. I had to look over to reassure myself that the hospital bed was gone, and Mom was not there, suffering. I knew I couldn’t bear another night there. I guess we probably all have a limited amount of tolerance for trauma. People who suffer with trauma for extended periods of time must go half crazy and get sick too. In the moments of her death, I thanked Mom for making it so easy on us. The quick journey through her dying was a gift for us and for her. Gramilda (Mom’s mom) said she thinks Mom did that on purpose, to make it easier on us. Ha, I can’t help but think she’s probably right. If Mom could find a way to take care of us while she was dying, I’m sure that’s what she did.

whose little feet made these?

So anyway, I may linger here alongside the freeway and take care of my last critical task. I can send the obit to the paper via email. My car is packed full of her stuff, and I may or may not get to it in a timely manner. Being away from the cabin makes it easier for me to fall into my old pattern of avoidance. I wish that trauma didn’t make me want to run. I went for a walk in the snow today (when I saw all those great tracks and sent you pictures from my phone), and I thought “I just can’t walk far enough.” No amount of running fixes anything. Today the walk didn’t even make me feel better. But being away from the cabin helps. I was still trying to take care of everybody. Maybe they didn’t need it. Maybe they didn’t even want it. But I can’t help but try to shoulder responsibility and boost everyone else’s feelings. It just sucks my energy out. I am not good at moderation. I seem to want to do things fully or not at all.

Man, I’m so glad I went to north Idaho when I did. The whole thing was so much quicker than I ever expected, or was mentally prepared for. But I’m tremendously glad I was there. When she died, it was such a relief to hear her quiet and at rest. Finally. I just wrapped my arms around her and held on to her and cried and cried. I felt greedy for the last bit of her life. Her body was warm, and I remember thinking I wanted to have her warmth, because that was all that was left. I held her until I realized it was my own body still keeping her warm in the cold room.

When I was finally able to leave the room, it was my biggest step toward letting her go. I did not look at her again. I did not watch when they took her away.

Driving away from the mountain, everything I saw was her. It was like the essence of my mother was in the air. Those mountains, the valleys, the river, the town of Bonners Ferry – they are all my mother. All I ever knew of those places is because of her. I was always with her there. I would never have gone there but for her. I know it all so well, and it’s always been flavoured with her perspective, her stories, her spirit and influence, her friends, her dreams, her thoughts.

I think the next time I go back will be another step of letting her go, if I can learn what life is like without her, then go back. If I can look at that part of Idaho in a world without my mother, I can re-frame what I see with new definitions. What will the snowy peaks look like without Mom? The yellow fields of cut hay and wooden fences and horses? They will still have her face and her voice when I stand there. The birds will sing in the trees the way that they do because of her. The squirrels will scold with all their boldness in the world she polished up for them. But how will that world change when she’s not here anymore?

And when I get home, what will my world look like without her? Her artistry is behind my world too. What is the next chapter of my life, where I am the mother now, and I look behind me at Tara instead of in front of me at my Mother? I don’t even want to know. But I guess I will find out.

Mom and I at a favourite Bonners Ferry, Idaho cafe two years ago.

My mother is dying of cancer. From the looks of things, combined with my extreme lack of experience with cancer, or of death, I think she has anywhere from a few days to a few weeks left. Or maybe a month, but I hope not, because this is no life.

I wish I had written sooner. I wanted to record my feelings as I went through this, so it might be of some help for me when I grieve in the future. But it is very hard for me to write about my denial, and then shock, and then determination, and then despair.

She’s my mom! My pretty Momma. The woman who was always there is now mostly gone, though some of her is still here, like when she was fighting me just now. I’m trying to get her into the bathtub, because it’s the first time I’ve seen her stand in 24 hours. But she won’t go. And what power she yet yields! It makes me smile.

And so yes, the despair is gone and now I have an immense sadness, and an awed sense of beauty and love.

I am so very lucky and grateful to have spent Veteran’s day weekend with her, and then Thanksgiving. It was shocking to see the vast changes from the middle of November to the end of November. During Thanksgiving she asked me to help her write her living will. She has a terrible fear that she will be taken to the hospital, because she does not want to die in a hospital. So, I was sitting beside her on the couch, the Friday after Thanksgiving, and she was asking me to read and explain things to her. She made a few notes to herself, so she could go ask her doctor about them. Her pen hovered above the paper for a moment, and she made a curve in the air with her finger, then turned to me, “Sis, how do I make a question mark?”

Mom's question mark on the living will

It’s the loss of her clear thinking that I did not expect, and that I have the hardest time dealing with. My mother, who has written long, detailed letters her entire life, couldn’t remember how to make a question mark. During that late November week, she had frequent periods where she would fade out, and fade back in with conversation from a different topic. But I could talk myself into believing it was because of her fatigue, or the pain meds. I talked with her on the phone December 3rd. She drifted and stopped talking a couple times, but it was still very easy to communicate with her.

But now, she speaks only a few words a day. Maybe she’ll say “no” or “water,” but that’s about it. And as vastly helpful as those few words are, I sense they will not be around much longer. I remind myself to transition to non-verbal communication.

She hears just fine, though sentences are often too confusing for her to understand. But simple ideas get through. “My beautiful Momma,” I said to her, as I stroked her hair, and though her eyes had been closed, she smiled. It was so wonderful to connect.

P.S. My mother and her husband Jim do not have health insurance, and she’s too young for Medicare. I made a website to solicit donations. There is also a prize for one person, whose name I will draw from the donators. So, even if you don’t know us, maybe you’d like to have a little holiday fun for a good cause. Please see the website.

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