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Seven thousand military boots with flags representing each of the American service members killed since September 11, 2001.

Heading into Memorial Day weekend, Will and I visited Fort Adams State Park. The timing was serendipitous and we benefitted by being able to see a Boots on the Ground for Heroes Memorial, put on by Operation Stand Down Rhode Island. As we walked inside the walls of the fort, we saw a memorial display of military boots, each adorned with a name placard and an American flag, honoring service members killed since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

I could not walk among the flags and boots for long.

As a result of the ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan since the Trade Towers attacks, around 7,000 American soldiers have died. OSTDI is right to draw our attention in such a dramatic way to those who died. I would like to draw your attention to additional numbers, such as the estimate of around twice as many private contractors who also died while providing support to the Americans. Those private contractors don’t get the honor or the benefits that military people get, though they serve in the same theatres. And if we are kind enough to feel empathy for all of the people who died, then consider that of all nationalities involved, at least 480,000 people have died in these conflicts, more than 244,000 of them civilians. And “In addition to those killed by direct acts of violence, the number of indirect deaths — those resulting from disease, displacement, and the loss of critical infrastructure — is believed to be several times higher, running into the millions.” We could layer boots across the grounds of Fort Adams a couple feet deep, if we were able to honor everyone in this way.

I was drawn to the display immediately, and walked into the center of it, picking up cards attached to each boot, with photos and information about the service members from South Dakota and Kentucky and Ohio who gave their lives to their country and died at age 24, 27, or 19. It was suddenly too much and my chest heaved for breath as tears began streaming down my face. I marched out of the expanse of flags and over to the walls of the Fort. Will quickly followed and helped me get interested in Fort Adams history, in order to let the pain go.

Inside the walls of Fort Adams.

Is this a boiler? The remains of the Fort are very interesting and in my mind, beautiful.

Greenery takes over when the soldiers are no longer here to sweep and whitewash.

Fort Adams occupies a peninsula at the entrance to Narragansett Bay. The fortifications in the bay are the only ones in the area to have seen action against an enemy. The first earthen fort was built on this location in 1776 to protect the people who lived on and used the harbor, and also to prevent enemies from using the harbor as a base. Though there were fortifications and cannons placed all over the bay, it was not enough, and in December 1776 the bay was captured by the British. They successfully held off a major, months-long attempt by combined French and American forces to retake the bay in 1778. Then the British voluntarily evacuated in 1779 (like my cat, I guess, it just had to be their idea before they would leave), and the French took over. Put a pin in that, and I’m going to bring it up later. Major Tousard, a Frenchman who had fought there and lost an arm in 1778, was commissioned by the US Army and oversaw restoration of the defense structures. He reopened the fort in 1779 and christened it Fort Adams, after President John Adams. The current structure was completed in 1857.

Outside the Fort we walked to the tip of the peninsula and watched some college sailboat racing competitions.  It seemed too windy of a day for sailing but the water was filled with sails. The teams were 100% women and the racing was so fast it seemed reckless. After completing their loops, they hurtled their boats into the marina and practically skidded sideways up to the docks. I would have thought the speed and daring was dangerous, except that with only a little observing, I could see that these women knew exactly what they were doing. It was not reckless at all. I am impressed.

A tall ship replica.

A pet peeve of mine: when communities decide to approach the litter problem by removing trash barrels.

Will had been trying to introduce me to as much Rhode Island-ness as possible, and thus when we came across a stand selling Del’s frozen lemonade, we had to get some. Other RI traditions he ate while I was there included coffee milk, lobster rolls, and johnny cakes.

The beach at Kings Park. On a warm day with no agenda, I could have so much fun sifting through these shells for hours.

A monument to French nobleman and General Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau. Now there’s a mouthful.

At the waterfront of Newport in Kings Park, we found a statue of American gratitude to General Rochambeau, who led the French force that helped the colonies to win the Revolutionary War.

Trusting in a tourist map and a nearby information sign, we hunted and hunted for the next lighthouse. If anyone at home is still playing lighthouse bingo, this is #8! We couldn’t see a lighthouse anywhere, but for the hell of it decided to follow the maps even though it was clear we were only walking out along a pier to the Ida Lewis Yacht Club. It was quaint and interesting, so we ended up wandering around and admiring the place and…guess what?! We found the light! The Lime Rock Lighthouse was renamed in 1924 for Ida Lewis, the lighthouse keeper who became famous for many rescues she managed while working at Lime Rock.

Never would have guessed it without seeing it, but the light is mounted to the back wall of the Ida Lewis Yacht Club, above the dining room. I wonder how many Yacht Clubs can claim to also be lighthouses?

Since it was nearby, we also stopped at Goat Island, connected to land by a bridge. Goat Island was the first piece of land purchased for the purpose of building fortifications for defense of the bay. We did not see any remaining defense structures. Today it is a tamed location with a marina, restaurant, and condominiums.

We were after lighthouse number nine, so we went to Jamestown and visited Beavertail Lighthouse next. On the way we made a quick stop at Fort Weatherill State Park. There we got a great view of Castle Hill that we had been so recently standing upon, and a better look at Castle Hill Lighthouse, mentioned in my last post. My apologies for the blurry photos in zoom. For the entire two-week trip I relied only on my iPhone, having left my Nikon at home accidentally. I did remember to bring the Nikon battery charger, but alas, the gesture was entirely inadequate without the camera itself. 😦

Gorgeous coves at Fort Weatherill State Park.

View of Castle Hill Inn and the Castle Hill Lighthouse.

Poor resolution image of Castle Hill Lighthouse that we had spotted earlier in the day.

At the parking lot for the Beavertail Lighthouse, I examined a giant metal ball that looked a lot like a WWII mine. I’ll have to assume that someone has checked it out and it no longer carries a charge. Actually, it’s probably just a giant rusted float. Then we made our way to the lighthouse at Beavertail State Park.

Brave? Dumb? Actually, just convinced that a thousand other tourists stood here first, and if they didn’t trigger it, I wouldn’t.

Approaching Beavertail State Park and Lighthouse.

The Beavertail Lighthouse was first erected in 1749 and was the third lighthouse in the country. That wooden lighthouse burned down. Have you noticed how frequently I’ve mentioned that the first – and usually the second – lighthouses were destroyed, but then the current one has been sitting there for 150 years? I guess everybody figures out right away that to build a lasting structure on the coast, one needs to spare no expense or quality of materials. Anything less will be ruined. The sea isn’t mean, she’s serious, and you need to take her seriously. When you do, the lights are allowed to stand. Anyway, the one here was built in 1856.

Beavertail Lighthouse, built in 1856.

Remember how I said that the “British voluntarily evacuated in 1779” up above? Well, history of Beavertail Lighthouse website mentions that while the British were leaving the bay in in 1779, the lighthouse building was damaged. No further information. But doesn’t that make you wonder? Where is the rest of the story? If the British left their occupation of Fort Adams because they had made a strategic decision, then did that decision involve damaging structures on the way out? Were the Americans confused about what was happening and fire on them on their way out? Was there a battle? Was there an accident? Oh, History. There is so much you continue to hide from me.

The foundation of the original wooden lighthouse, erected in 1749, still stands.

Will and I kept noticing rocks and wished that Tara was with us so we could ask geology questions.

A fisherman stands alone and fishes off Beavertail Point, on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

Then we found a classy restaurant in Newport for dinner and still the night was not over. Will had a surprise, but he wasn’t sure if I was still game. Should he tell me? No, I love surprises! Lead on! The last thing we did that night was private dance lessons, followed by an hour of group dancing with beginners. Oh gosh it was so much fun. I know nothing about dancing but I’ve always wanted to learn. Though one night of dancing is certainly not enough to know how to dance, I did discover that when put to the test, I still want to learn to dance.

Ok, seriously. Can you believe all that was in one day? My last post plus this post? Wow. Maybe I’m not old yet after all.

This is one of the best ways I remember Grandma Trulove: camping.

While I was in New England, my Great Aunt texted to let me know that my Grandma Trulove died at age 99 on May 16. It wasn’t entirely a shock because she had been declining, but still came with the regret at not having visited her more often, and a discussion about whether to cancel my vacation and go home for the service. I decided to stay in New England. It was a lucky choice, since I never heard any information about a burial or funeral. That wasn’t entirely a shock either.

Grandpa Trulove married Margaret Louise after divorcing my other Grandma Freda. This happened before I was born, so I grew up knowing her as Grandma Trulove, and no amount of understanding legalities made her less of a grandma to me. She was loving and welcoming and fun to visit. Grandma loved creating with her hands, and all the grandkids benefitted from her hobby of sewing stuffed animals for us. My favourite was a large purple stuffed rabbit, and my brother’s was a stuffed green dinosaur.

My earliest memories of her are from hunting camp, when I was a child. The family, and a few friends, would all camp together during deer hunting season. The kids would play in camp and most of the adults would go off in search of deer. Grandma would stay in camp to hand out Kool-aid or in case we needed a bandaid. We rarely reached out to her, busying ourselves with digging holes in the dirt, stacking rocks, hurling pinecones or playing in the creek, but it was good to know she was right there.

At home in Klamath Falls, Grandma Trulove presided over the kitchen. She would ask me to help set the large table, and then I helped carry serving dishes to cover the whole table in comfort foods. She liked to paint, and crochet, and by combining her talents and special finds while shopping, she filled the bottom drawer of a dresser in the spare room with gifts. I was allowed to peek into the drawer, where already-wrapped gifts waited for birthdays and Christmas. It seemed magical to me at the time, a reminder that holidays were coming, and that Grandma would never forget.

Grandma Trulove in a Christmas outfit. Look at those shoes!

Here she is posing with the Thunderbird. It was probably the day she and Grandpa bought it.

She also loved to write, and we exchanged hand-written letters all my life until her last few years, when shaky hands made the writing too difficult for her. Once she got older, Grandma always apologized for the shakiness of the cursive writing and the lack of more interesting things to say. Of course I was so pleased to receive one of her letters that I never noticed the things she thought were flaws.

When I was a teenager, Grandma and Grandpa begged for me to come and live with them and go to Mazama High School, only a couple blocks from the house. When I married Tara’s dad, they were proud to make the trip and attend the wedding. Their love was undeniable, and I adored them both.

The best times we shared were when she lived in Sandy, Oregon, which was only 45 minutes away from my home in Portland. I enjoyed our visits so much. In minutes she would begin telling me stories of her life. She told me about when she left home in the 1940s and went to live with her sister in Portland, and how the two of them worked hard to pay the bills and loved the handsome military men that would come into Portland. She told me about the hard times too: her difficult marriage while struggling to raise her babies before she met Grandpa. Most of all she loved to tell me about Grandpa Trulove, who had died in 2002, how he was the best friend and partner she could have wished for, how he always took care of her, and how he gave her a comfortable life with vacations and friends. She loved traveling with him, particularly to Hawaii.

“I don’t know what it is about you,” she said on more than one occasion. “As soon as you get here I just start talking and talking. I tell you things I don’t talk about with anyone.” I told her it was my superpower: people just talk to me. And I asked her to tell me more.

Grandma hated having her photo taken, but I begged for this one and she acquiesced. This is with Tara in Grandma’s place in Sandy, OR in September 2007. I gave her that clock as a Christmas gift many years ago. She gave it back to me when she had to downsize. It’s hanging in my living room right now.

She loved to tell me about her kids and her other grandkids – estranged from my family for some reason. Maybe because they were from a different marriage. She was so proud of them all and excited to show me their artwork and family photos. She told me stories about my mother and father when I was a baby.

She was very proud of her life, and not the typical mooshy grandma stuff, but her individual adventures and accomplishments. When she was in high school, she and her best friend used to stop by the local courthouse on the way home from school, just to sit and watch the hearings. She said it was the best entertainment in town. She got jobs to support the family when she needed to, and she got good jobs, taking over secretarial and financial posts for companies and delighting in the well-earned praise that she received. One of her favourite jobs was in Shasta Lake, California and to the end of her life she marveled at her great luck in getting that job. She talked about creating a whole filing system for Crater Lake National Park in Oregon when she and Grandpa lived and worked there as full time residents. The system was effective and efficient, and she became a valuable resource for the Park offices, being called back now and then to help them on a temporary basis, even after her full-time employment had ended.

Grandma Trulove was a voracious reader, even with poor eyesight. She went through books like meals, eating them up and gaining sustenance from them. She kept bookshelves with her favourites as long as she could, and loaned me some of them: Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, Gone With the Wind, and anything by Louis L’Amour.

Because of her sharp intellect and subtle wit, she was frustrated with her counterparts while living in the retirement home in Sandy, and later in Lebanon, Oregon. She was 92 when she complained to me, “Everybody here is old. All they want to talk about is babies, and their sicknesses and which medications they take. I want to talk about interesting things. There are so many more interesting things to talk about, but they don’t want to.” When she did find close friendships there, it was when she found someone who shared her fascination with the rest of the world.

Grandma’s optometrist was far away in Portland. She needed a good eye doctor because she was legally blind in one eye and partially sighted in the other. “I’ve got to take care of my good eye!” she pronounced. Once I found this out, I took advantage of my employer’s generous family leave policy that allowed me to take a paid sick day to take care of my grandmother. I looked forward to our long days together: the drive to the eye doctor, the waiting room, the visits themselves (she invited me in so I could help explain anything, if necessary), stops for prescriptions afterward, and the long drive back home. She was exhausted by the end of those days, and I was able to keep her spirits up because I was having so much fun.

Grandma and me March 2013 in the waiting room at the optometrist’s office. This is the very last photo I could get her to agree to.

I was broken-hearted when she moved to Lebanon, separating us by 3 hours instead of 45 minutes. That made it much harder for me to visit, and the frequency dropped dramatically. I am sorry about that to this day. My Great Aunt and Uncle live just a few minutes away from the assisted living home, and as a pastor and pastor’s wife, insisted to me that it is part of their church work to visit the elderly in their community. They offered to visit Grandma Trulove, and soon became an active part of her life.

On a visit not too long ago, Grandma was talking about my Great Aunt and Great Uncle, her relatives who had been to visit. I tried to correct her. Grandma was in her nineties and of course things were hard to remember. “No, Grandma, they are from my side of the family. They aren’t actually related to you, but they love you!” Oh my goodness, the look I received. Grandma was almost never angry with me, but that time she made her anger evident. It was as though I was talking trash about her beloved family. She let me know that she was my elder, and she knew more than me, and those two were her family and there would be no further discussion on it! Well, I laughed about it later. But what better compliment than for someone to love your visits so much that she decides you are related!

For at least the last decade, Grandma Trulove wanted to die. I think it was mostly because she missed Grandpa so much, and also because of all the “boring old people” she lived with. She had wretched arthritis and her crafty hands were always in pain and not flexible, so all the hobbies she most enjoyed: painting, sewing, crocheting, and crossword puzzles, were lost to her. She was not interested in computers. Television bored her, and though she always had a set, I never saw it on. She told me without hesitation that she wanted to die, every time I visited. With dry humor she would say, “Well, I was at the doctor on Tuesday. He said I’m in good health as usual.” She would sigh. “I’m ready to go any day, but my body won’t let me: I’m just too darn healthy.” She tried to take it into her own hands by not eating, but her care providers at the home were required to make sure she ate every day. That frustrated her too. She just wanted to sleep and never wake up.

Well, Grandma, finally your battle is over and you won. Thank you thank you for loving me, trusting me, and sharing so many of your stories with me.

Mt. Hood from I-84 in the Columbia Gorge

Mt. Hood from I-84 in the Columbia Gorge

For me, leaving something in the rear view mirror is more than symbolic. Or, perhaps I should say the symbolism effects actual emotional distance to match the increasing physical distance. In my past I have made a point to watch a place recede as I drove away, to reinforce for myself the fact that I was leaving it behind.  I was reminded of that Friday when I left Mt. Hood behind me as I drove east on I-84, heading for my dad’s house near Boise.

You’ll need some background before I can tell you what happened to me Friday. Then you’ll understand how it was cathartic watching the snow-capped volcano shrink into the distance, having less and less of an impact on me. Like my relationship with Arno.

Maybe a few of you have noticed my online activity has dropped. It’s because my heart is broken and I’ve been in too much pain to interact. In May, just shy of our 3-year anniversary, Arno and I broke up. It was a loving, mutual decision, but a tremendously sad one. I said previously and I’ll repeat it: he’s the best man I’ve ever loved. Still, we shouldn’t be dating, and breaking up was the right thing to do. We had some awesome things in common: lots of energy, positive enthusiasm, wildly in love with the outdoors, relentless drive and responsibility for our own achievements, interest in travel, open minds, a love of deep conversation about challenging topics.  We had planned to get married – even shopped for rings – and had made multiple trips through the Hood River valley to find the best locations for where we would buy our future home together. We built much of our relationship in sight of Mt. Hood, and we even hiked on the mountain together. It’s no wonder Mt. Hood pretty much symbolizes Arno for me.

But we had at least one fundamental difference, and that was how much togetherness we needed. Arno needs a lot of high-intensity interaction. Crystal needs long stretches of total isolation. Arno enjoys lots of little touches, little “Hi, I’m thinking of you, I’m here, I love you” touches, like 30 texts a day (down from about 200 a day in the beginning, thank the gods). Crystal figures if she expressed her love on Monday, then it should hold the other person over till at least Thursday before she should have to think about reassuring her partner again.

We figured this out about each other early on, and set right to work on compromising. Arno worked really hard to give me space and not take it as a personal rejection when I asked for a day without him. I worked really hard to spend more time with him, to learn how to send the touches that he needed since we lived so far apart, and to learn to engage in conversation during moments that I thought would be best honored by silence. Over the years we grew frustrated and exhausted from working so hard, even while appreciating each other even more for the obvious work we were putting into it.

A month after our breakup, the ache inside was beginning to fade, and I was feeling better again. I must have been in denial. Tuesday, less than two months after we broke up, Arno told me he was dating again. The blow knocked me flat.

I thought I had been hurting before, but that news killed me.

I won’t go into details. You’ve had your heart broken before, and …it was like that. All day long Tuesday I was in shock, and ever since then I’ve been miserable. There’s nothing like hearing the other person is dating again to make it very clear that things are O-VER. There is no chance of any last minute miracle idea that will be our solution to making this work. I think it finally became real to me Tuesday that I have no more Arno in my future.

If he’s over me and has moved on already, then *I* want to move on. The knowledge that I’m still wallowing around in the pond scum of loss and pain in the face of his new relationship is totally humiliating. His readiness to date again so quickly (He reassured me that he didn’t start looking till after we broke up. “Start looking?” He had time to recover and “start looking” already?) makes me feel like a fool and doubt what we had.

That’s the cycle of thoughts I’ve had to endure this week. Yuck.

Friday morning I headed east into the Columbia River Gorge with a huge amount of trepidation because it was the first time I would be driving through Hood River since the breakup. Driving down the highway I kept thinking, “I am tired of being miserable. I want to let him go.”

But when I got to exit 62, and then passed it instead of taking it, I couldn’t breathe. Slam! The pain hit me again, and I bawled and gasped for breath as I drove.

One can see Mt. Hood for many, many miles in a rear view mirror, heading through the Gorge. I’d glance at the rearview, see the mountain, and feel an icepick in my heart. Or a boot to my chest. Or one of those dramatic metaphors that work well in YA novels.

And then something amazing happened. As I drove the mountain got smaller. And as that happened, the pressure came off my chest and I began to think a little more clearly again.

I reminded myself that we broke up for good reasons. And even though it feels terrible right now, I will find my happy spirit again. And as much as I shudder to even think about it at the moment, I will love again. In the mirror in front of me I watched that fabulous volcano I love so much, shrinking and fading as I thought these things.

I could see Mt. Hood from the town of Boardman, 100 miles after I had passed exit 62. By that time there was only a hazy tip visible of the snow-covered peak. No overwhelming obstacle, that’s for sure. Just a little hint of a mountain in the distance.

So the cure to my pain is to just keep going.

Photo credit: The Guardian

Photo credit: The Guardian

I just heard the sound of a flame being pinched out by wet fingers.

Wuff, SSssss.

My heart is in such pain over the news of the loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Young, talented, and responsible for some of my most moving moments in front of a screen. Yesterday he was capable of bringing additional decades of mind-blowing art to us. Today he is gone.

We just saw him in Catching Fire. He was just on Broadway. What the hell, Mr. Hoffman? What did you do to yourself, and why, for god’s sake?

I was in my car tonight, driving to pick up my kid from a friend’s house where she had been house-sitting. The words from the radio slipped into my brain before I had the chance to defend myself. I literally gasped out loud and took my hands from the wheel to cover my mouth. I know, such a silly movie pose, but it was instinctive. I thought back through the two-sentence newscast. When I realized I had really heard it, the tears began. I looked at the people in the cars around me, desperately looking to connect, to share this shock and pain. None of them were listening to the same radio station, or were reacting.

Crazy, huh, when a total stranger means so much to you that you cry at their death. It happened to me with Princess Diana, and Kurt Cobain. It makes my response totally inappropriate because I didn’t know the person; I just knew the way they could make me feel. As a stranger, the only things that come to my mind are weak cliches like “What a loss,” or thoughts that are so obvious it’s just stupid, as in “Fucking addiction,” and “His portrayal of Truman Capote was phenomenal.”

Forgive me, Mr. Hoffman, for not having the ability to honor you well. In words, no less, which are supposed to be my medium. Thank you for the way you lived your 46 years. Thank you for choosing to put yourself out there for public consumption for over twenty years. If the point of art is to connect to people, or to make the people react, or to empathize, or feel childlike joy, or weep like a betrayed lover, or flush red hot with anger, or yell at the screen, …or any of a number of remarkable human responses to effective art…

You have done it. 

Since my words aren’t working well tonight, I’m going to borrow from an old post that I wrote not so very long ago:

“Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of my favourite actors. Some actors can pull my emotion out of my gut the way Miller and Toole did with their writing. Hoffman’s characters can be wretched, pathetic, funny, fiercely strong, and always always achingly beautiful because they show us unflinching glimpses of what it’s like to be a person. Hoffman finds a core human soul in his character and translates it for us. He first got to me as Scotty in Boogie Nights. Didn’t your heart just break for Scotty? I know him, that Scotty. He’s been in my life in many scenes, and –as I felt when watching the movie- I just have no idea what to do with him.

“The two roles that friggin’ killed me were Phil in Magnolia and Rusty in Flawless, both 1999. As the empathetic hospice care provider, I was utterly convinced of him. “Oh, there’s no asshole like you,” he said. And it was not an insult, but an easy statement of fact, honesty, almost respect (but no respect really), that showed Phil had the courage and compassion to meet –at his level – the jerk who was dying.

“See, it’s not just the writing; it’s the actor who can make it come true.

“In Flawless… WHY doesn’t everyone love this movie? No one I talk to remembers it. In Flawless, Rusty was the real thing. Pain, love, anger, hunger, tenderness, bitchiness, mothering, beauty and ugliness all came together as clumsily and real as it does in life. PSH’s insecure drag queen playing off Robert De Niro as the epitome of a wounded arrogant asshole, gave me a reason to fall in love with humanity again. And since I saw parts of myself in Rusty – particularly the way a tenderhearted insecure person is willing to take abuse because of the faith that maybe the abuser can one day be reformed – I had a reason to love myself, too.

“I haven’t seen all of Hoffman’s work. But after Rusty, I have been a devoted, unconditional fan. It doesn’t matter what he shows me on the screen: I’m all in. Every time.”

Read that whole blog post here.

Mom at Christmastime in Coer d'Alene

Mom at Christmastime in Coer d’Alene

I miss my mom.

It’s been almost a year now since she died of cancer. The nasty black insidious mold creeping through her tiny body and taking hold everywhere before anyone knew what was going on.

I still have her last text messages on my phone. I finally found the strength to read through them today. Well, almost. I read through most of it, absorbing the awful meaning of the fumbled letters from her shaky fingers. I was at work and had to stop when the tears blurred the screen. I’ll share this desperately poignant and personal lingering bit of my mother with you.

December 1, 2011

Mom: I am thrilled with the Rosewater. (I bought some of her favourite perfume for her) Also I shake so bas in the morn I can hardly txt

Me: I was wondering about that – the texts.

Mom: sorry

Me: Pa sent the kindest email about how you need to know what a Legacy you’ve created. I will send it to you.

Me: Grandma Freda’s brother Dwight is a pastor, and he has been praying for you. He’s got an inside track to God, ha ha!!

December 2, 2011

Me: I had a great talk w your brother last night. He is perfect up there right now. (Mike parked his RV at a park in Bonners Ferry.) I am so glad he’s going to stay in Bonners for awhile.

December 3, 2011

Me: Good morning, Moma. I love you. Scrambling eggs and leftover ham for T before ballet.

Me: Are you available for a phone call?

Mom: Not yet.we R just loading laundry.I’ll call

Me: ok

December 4, 2011

Me: Good morning, my Moma!!

Mom: Gettingalot sicker.I may needU sooner. I’m trying to ignore but igs getter harder.I have to tons of xmascards, I already cant evenwrite tons of mistaaks

Me: Moma!! I can write cards for you!! I am so eager to help. Thank you for letting me know, i will talk to my boss.

Mom: Bruv (She called her twin brother Mike “Bruv”) will be livin in town,bet we can work out a plan!

Me: Yes, but you have no wireless Internet, so I may disintegrate with despair! Ha ha

Me: Is life possible without Internet?

Mom: Bruv is hooked to RVERTHING at motel!

Me: Ha ha! I’m sure. I can go visit him and check my email.

Mom: Boys here next week end,so mayby anyday after that

December 5, 2011

Me: Good morning, Moma. Miss T (my daughter) slept with me last night. She is the sweetest girl. We are so lucky to have her.

Mom: She is something that gets richer every year

Me: Yes, that’s true

Me: We dropped to 28 last night. 30 deg now

Mom: We R15. Di d U loose a maroony jacket?I found it in my closet

Me: I can’t think of any jacket I’m missing.

Mom: ok

Me: I have been thinking about how awesome your visit in June was. The food carts, naked bikers, clothes shopping, graduation dress.

Me: It was probably one of our best visits ever. How lucky we are.

Mom: Wow. That was such a suupper great time we had. amazng gift

December 6, 2011

Me: Just talked with my supervisor’s boss about leaving. I will come up there Saturday. I have enough vacation time to go through Jan 20.

Mom: I     was qoin t  o

December 7, 2011

Me: I put up the website today, and people have already donated $265 toward your medical bills! People are wonderful. 🙂

December 9, 2011

Me: I get to see you tomorrow, Moma! And you get to see your boys tonight.

And that’s it. As you can see, she lost the ability to text, and so I stopped trying. I sent two more messages in case she could look at her phone and read it.

I arrived December 10th and she was gone December 15th. She couldn’t really talk, but for a couple of days, she could tell what was going on, and I was able to make her smile once or twice.

Still can’t bring myself to clear my text messages. In fact, I still pull my phone out to send her texts. She’s that much a part of my life still. There are some moments when I can’t believe she’s gone. I know it’s a cliche. But this woman was so full of LIFE! How can she not be alive? And she was intermingled in my life in every way. I get angry sometimes that I don’t get any more of her. But mostly, I’m sad.

Last night I dreamed of Mom for the third time since she died.

The first time. I dreamt that she was sick but not quite gone. I had a chance to talk to her at the end, while she was lucid, that I didn’t have in real life. By the time I arrived at her place last December, it was too late. She could no longer communicate complicated thoughts, and was down to only a few of the most important words to convey needs. In my dream, she was able to share with me her thoughts about her own death.

I want to know what she thought of it. Of course it doesn’t matter, and maybe if I knew it would be bad, but I still want to know. But there are clues, and they are good. Mom told me about a year before her death, the thing that everyone could agree is ideal to hear. “I am satisfied. I could die happily now,” she said, back when no one (except maybe her?) suspected anything.

Instinctively, I knew she was being literal. In my discomfort, I had laughed. “Ha ha, Mom what the heck are you talking about?”

“I just mean…I realize I have had a good life. I have my dream home. My kids have all grown up into wonderful people. My husband provides everything I need, so I am never hungry and I have beautiful clothes and jewelry, and things for the kitchen and new furniture if I want it. I have reached the goal. So now I can die.”

I spent Thanksgiving with her, and on Friday after, she had me drive her to her friends’ houses so she could say goodbye. She did not say that to me, or to any of them, but I realize now she was making her preparations. She told her friends (and I listened quietly) how she was getting very sick, but that she looked forward with joy to being in Heaven soon. Mom expressed pure conviction that she was going to be accepted with genuine welcome by God and Jesus. I was relieved to see that, because she had spent a significant part of her life doubting Their love for her and doubting her worthiness. She seemed eager to go.

The second dream was the most therapeutic. Mom had already died, but she had come back to help me pack up her belongings from the house. She looked like her real self in my dream, and I didn’t touch her, but we both knew she was only an apparition. I re-lived the traumatic day of when cousin Debbie and I packed up her bedroom, only this time it was not traumatic, just very sad. I asked her the questions that had been burning.

“Mom, why did you save these antique baby clothes? Eight different, empty, antique fake leather coin purses? The empty Eau de Toilette bottle? A block of wood and a carving tool? The embroidered pillow case folded and wrapped and kept in the bottom of a trunk?”

“Is this old magazine important? Why did you keep this newspaper clipping? Where in the WORLD did you put your gold jewelry? We have been looking everywhere!”

And she told stories that were triggered as we worked. She told about being a little girl, about her dreams, her plans for the things she had kept. She told me why she hid them in old travel trunks, buried in the dust of her mountain cabin closet. We smiled and looked at each other and felt a desperate sadness, but still a peace.

I woke up, not remembering a single word she had said in the dream, but still feeling the peace that comes from having 100 questions answered satisfactorily.

My dream last night was …less… than the other two. Mom and I didn’t interact. I knew she was there, like the apparition of her in the second dream. She stood still, beautiful, with her long brown hair falling down her back.

Mom stood off to the side of the activity of my dream, which was in a house, with a family that I wasn’t a part of, but had been welcomed to join. They paid no attention to her at all, and she didn’t do anything but stand to the side. I had my dream without her really. I participated in the dream actions and had the dream conversations, but kept looking over at Mom, who merely stood there, watching. I knew she was Mom, and that she was gone. My level of sadness in the dream was about at the level I manage to keep it in real life these days: as long as I don’t allow myself to think about her, it is a dull ache in my chest and at the back of my mind.

It’s easy to tell that it’s my psyche working through things despite my efforts to resist. I refuse to allow myself to think about her during my waking hours because I would break into pieces and I don’t know how long it would take to get put back together again. So, I guess my heart tries to work it out in the night, when my willpower is not as strong.

Snowy mountains and frost-covered fields of northern Idaho

Before the year is out, I want to lament the loss of my mother once again. Maybe I can find a way to process my grief in 2012 and stop spinning around like a leaf  in a pool.

Today, after working 5 hours of overtime on a Saturday – New Year’s Eve no less – I returned to my house and realized with astonishment that I can see it! Yes, and I can see the back yard too! What does this mean? Quick calculations revealed that I have not seen my property in daylight since December 21st, which is entirely too long ago for this Earth sign girl. I work long days, and spent Christmas weekend away from home, so that explains it. And, drat these long dark winter days.

A train pulls into Sandpoint across Lake Pend Oreille under a full moon.

In any case, I recharge sometimes by catching up on my virtual world. Today it means uploading photos. I haven’t posted to flickr for two months and now I am reminded of all the things that happened in life while I fell apart. I guess even when there is dark on every side, I can still see the light. I still find the beauty. Maybe, just maybe, this quality of mine means I’ll be able to die as beautifully as my mother did.

Occupy Portland! under the splendid canopy of Chapman Square

There was Occupy Portland! And three trips to North Idaho, and Canada with the boys, my knight, stunning Lake Pend Oreille, my brothers, my cousin Debbie, my Uncle Mike, my step-dad Jim. And look how long my hair is now!

Anyway, it strikes me that our world is stunning, and I have been supremely honored by being able to live where I can walk freely and gasp in wonder at it all. So go out there, and surround yourself with beauty.

Looking south from Mom's cabin across golden Tamarack trees

Canadian flag in the bordertown of Porthill, Idaho

Tamaracks changing colour in front of the Selkirk Mountains

My brother Ian

the kids and a bonfire

Me at the Idaho/Canada border

 

 

 

 
 

Yes, I love the Tamaracks

  

 
 

 

 

 
 

 

 

My Arno

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.

My daughter burst out this morning: “Hey! It’s Saturday! That means cartoons. I haven’t watched cartoons on TV since… since…. LAST Saturday!”

We clung to each other and cried all day long yesterday at funeral service for her Great Grandmother. She told me she hoped that people wouldn’t talk about only sad things at the funeral. I assured her there would be funny stuff, because I know my family… but I underestimated the grief.

In the afternoon we gathered with my Pa, his wife, his daughter-in-law, and my partner. This small  intimate lunch was where the pent-up tension released a little for my daughter and me. We joked and laughed over our food.

Well, the final result is that despite the dull ache of losing my Gramma, with my family around me and some laughs, I feel much better today.

One of my many guises

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