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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.

Time to state the obvious. Bringing guns to the Oregon state Capitol is a bad idea.

Some Oregonian politicians don’t like the bill being presented that will place a cap on carbon emissions. The Democrats have a majority and it is expected that the bill will pass. Republicans are desperate to block it, and have responded by fleeing (probably to Idaho) so that there won’t be a quorum, and the vote won’t be valid.

Up to this point in the story, I personally support the actions. It’s childish maybe, but non-violent and powerful. Although I am in support of a cap on carbon emissions, I admire clever humans who find a way to work within a system and get their voices heard. Fleeing a vote has been done before, but not very often. It’s drastic, and has definitely hit the news now, which promotes a continued discussion. All good stuff.

The problem is fear.

In Oregon and all across the U.S. are these grass roots militia groups that fancy themselves saviors of American ideals. They’ve bought into the Trump-sponsored belief that there are only two kinds of people: Democrats and Republicans, and you can’t safely have both, and one must oppress the other. These militia people are usually country folk and usually align themselves with the Republican party. They are mostly good people who take their kids out fishing and have the neighbors over for a barbecue, and are quick to offer a hand to a stranger with a broken down truck, and donate to a good cause. But mention politics and they transform.

Politics and power trigger within country folk a deeply held fear of losing a way of life, while they desperately cling to jobs that are part of lagging and changing industries. People on TV talk about systems automation and unmanned transport trucks and using hydroponics to grow crops and making burgers in a petri dish, and this is frightening at a gut level, for folks who don’t know the first thing about all that, and have families to support right now by driving long-haul rigs and feeding the cattle, and repairing the combine, and clocking in at work each day. Those people on TV seem like the same people who talk about saving the environment and advocate for gun control.

So it gets all mushed up together and amplified with Fear Sauce in the common consciousness: “The people who talk about regulating firearms are the people taking away the jobs.” and  “The people who want to put a cap on emissions are the people who want to take away our guns.”

“Is that how it’s gonna be? Well you can take away my firearm when you pry it from my cold dead fingers.”

Fear. It’s fear masked by angry words.

What will the future look like to country families who for generations have lived their lives in a way that seems to be disappearing? It is either frightening, or unknown. And not knowing is scary. It is so tempting to pull out a gun when feeling threatened, especially if you already own one. Or six of them. Legally owning multiple guns is not uncommon at all in rural Oregon.

Ok, so Oregon may be on the brink of economy-changing legislation to combat greenhouse gas emissions. Thursday, soon after the Governor said that law enforcement would be sent out to haul them back to their jobs if they left, the Republicans skipped town. One of the Republicans retorted that he is prepared to shoot any police officer that tries it. (Can’t you hear the fear in that comment?) And then militia groups rallied, convinced that they aren’t being listened to once again, and convinced that the only response left to them is firearms. They announced they will move on Oregon’s Capitol (Salem) to protect the Republicans, even though the politicians declined the offer of assistance. This has shut down the statehouse today.

If the militias want to defend American ideals, they need to focus on the primary one: democracy. Our country wants to be founded on the Rule of Law, not oppression.

Talking through difficult decisions is a skill that politicians need, and a skill that the rest of us need too. Being direct when things are uncomfortable is the only way to work through a problem like being afraid of what might happen. Imagine feeling so disenfranchised that you convince yourself that the only way to be heard is to threaten to shoot someone. It’s an awful situation.

I can’t stand conflict, and I will contort myself to avoid talking about scary stuff, but it never resolves the problem. In fact, come on, say it with me because we all know the cliche: avoiding the problem just makes it worse.

You know one way to avoid a problem? Bring a gun.

Guns scare the other people, yes. It shuts them up for a while, yes, so you can yell the stuff you want to yell. But it does not resolve anything! A protest group at the Capitol is going to be filled with fear, and hiding their fear behind angry shouts. And probably, somebody in their agitation is going to make the wrong move, probably by accident, and all hell will break loose. There won’t be any way to protect lives. Right to life doesn’t apply when there is a fearful mob and loaded guns.

Democracy turns out to be scary. Having to talk about decisions that might change your life forever is scary. Putting it all out there on the table means you might have to give something up. But you’ve got to believe in the process of negotiation and consensus. You’re probably going to have to let go of some things you want, no matter how it goes. You have to give up the idea of zero sum. The only way to win is to listen to each other, and to be brave enough to explain why you’re so scared.

If there is a gun in your hand, that will never happen.

My farm is greening up in the Spring weather.

My farm is greening up in the Spring weather.

Not to give a false impression: it’s not really a farm and I’m not really a farm girl. But just give me a little time…

I grew up on some land. We had pigs and rabbits and chickens to supplement our only meat supply each winter: deer, elk, and if we were lucky, bear. We chopped wood to heat the house and to cook on the wood stove. In the early days, Mom cooked all our meals on the beautiful cast iron stove. I learned how to make toast on the surface by sprinkling a little salt, to keep the bread from burning. We used the stove to heat a flat iron to iron clothes because we had no electricity. We took our baths in an big aluminum tub in the yard, beside the pump, because we had no indoor plumbing. And yes…we woke up sleepy in the middle of the night and shoved our feet into boots to trudge through the snow to the outhouse. I am a rare remnant of American history, in that my childhood was from an earlier century.

I’ve been nostalgic for decades, daydreaming of the someday when I could have a farm of my own, and now I’ve got it. But see, here’s the thing: in the meantime, I became a city girl. Not in my soul, but in my experience. Because of my job, I’ve had to live in cities. I’ve only known electric heat and natural gas water heaters for those luxurious hot showers inside my home. When I was lucky, I had a little patch of grass to mow and some dirt in which to bury some bulbs for next season.

Managing a big piece of land is going to be a big job, and I am confident I can figure it all out. I’m also wise enough to know there will be a sharp learning curve. But off I go! Look out world. 😉

The Hussies behind a fence.

The Hussies behind a fence.

Eggs in their proper place.

Eggs in their proper place.

I grew impatient with the idea that perfectly good eggs were being stashed in the forest, as a result of my wandering Hussies. I began a campaign to diligently collect the hens each day and return them to their pen. With a four-foot fence they were contained most of the time, and typically only one or two hens would fly to freedom per day. After one week I had a carton full of eggs and the Hussies were less inclined to escape. Then I contacted a local man I know to come and build me a respectable chicken fence.

Douglas helped me take down the old fence so we had room to put up a new one.

Douglas helped me take down the old fence so we had room to put up a new one.

I was tickled by the official label slapped onto my lumber order.

I was tickled by the official label slapped onto my lumber order.

My boyfriend and I (yes!) pulled out the old fence to make way for the fence guy to build a new one. After two weeks of being returned to the old pen, the hens got into the habit of using their lovely henhouse with perfect little boxes filled with dry straw. So, while they have returned to their wandering habits, they still come home to lay. I am so pleased to be getting daily brown eggs, with thick shells and dark yolks you get from country hens.

I had to pick up two more 4x4s in the Jeep, which is not made for hauling lumber.

My Jeep is not designed for hauling lumber, but that didn’t stop me.

Some feathers to help me remember my Lacey, the sassiest of the bunch.

Some feathers to help me remember my Lacey, the sassiest of the bunch.

Fence-building is currently underway, but we had a tragedy nonetheless. Miss Lacey, whom you met not too long ago in my post about finding a stash of eggs, wandered into the country road and was hit by a car. I researched and decided not to try to eat her. First because she died by blunt force, which likely ruptured her organs, and second, because those organs likely had a chance to contaminate the meat as she laid beside the road all day long before I came home from work and found her. I am sad to lose my Lacey, as you can imagine. I’ve grown to love the bold & sassy Hussies.

The rain let up for a week and the ground dried out enough to begin using big equipment. I backed the riding lawnmower out of the shed and got it running. I had not personally cut the grass since buying the used machine, because I had friends and neighbors who took turns on it last year. It took me awhile to figure out how to get the blades going. I chose a knob that looked promising and gave it a tug. The serpentine belt went flying and the engine cut out.

Serpentine belt came off the deck the first time I tried to use the mower this year.

Serpentine belt came off the deck the first time I tried to use the mower this year.

The grass grows fast in the Spring and it was like mowing a jungle.

The grass grows fast in the Spring and it was like mowing a jungle.

I went online and discovered that I had done the right thing, it just hadn’t gone well. I checked local repair shops and found they were closed for the weekend. And then I looked up schematics for a Husqvarna blade deck and got some tools and pulled it apart and put the belt back in it’s place. I put it all back together and tried again. Viola!

Add small tractor repair to my list of talents.

There is a lot of grass to cut here. The property is 4.3 acres and I imagine the house and pond take up the 0.3, leaving approximately 4 acres to mow. Whew. It took me 5 days of mowing to get it all done. About 14 hours total. The tractor wasn’t running well and I ended up taking it to the shop when I got done. It should be done in a week and I’ll have sharpened blades and I’ll be able to tackle all that grass once more.

I’m continuing with adding a bit of landscaping here and there: rhododendrons and azealas, honeysuckle and camelias, a bunch of hydrangeas from my Uncle who lives a couple towns over, and a few plants my mother gave me years ago: a peony, some irises, and lavender. Each day the place becomes a little bit more my own personal heaven.

Looking across the pond up to the house, while taking a break from mowing the back forty.

Looking across the pond up to the house, while taking a break from mowing the back forty.

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

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 me dressed up

My mother’s health failed rapidly, once we finally heard the diagnosis of cancer. And I have had multiple stages of not dealing with any of it gracefully. This is probably because it has come on so fast. Just when I make peace with a stage, we move on to another shocking phase.

In a meeting with her doctor on Monday, he reminded me of the date we first suspected cancer. Not too long ago, Mom had abdominal pain and went for care. A subsequent x-ray included the bottom of one lung. Something abnormal appeared on the lung, so she returned for another x-ray, just of the lungs. This showed masses on both. It was October 19th, 2011.

My sister-in-law is a nurse for a skilled pulmonologist in Boise, so Mom went down there to get some first rate attention. They ran her through a battery of tests, and importantly, a high-contrast CT scan. This showed not only masses of concern in the lungs, but also in the liver. Mom told me that she knew it was cancer, and that it confirmed what she had suspected for years. (She has been having a complex combination of undiagnosed health problems for two years.) A biopsy of the liver confirmed cancer, additional results confirmed cancer of the lungs, and both kidneys. Compared to the x-ray from north Idaho, the lung masses had already doubled in size in about 10 days.

Before Mom had a chance to speak with an oncologist, she reached the limit of her tolerance for the city. She lives in a cabin on the top of a mountain in a very remote part of north Idaho. After two weeks in Boise she could no longer bear it, and begged for her husband to take her home. The day after they arrived home, Tara and I were able to visit for Veteran’s Day weekend. Mom seemed herself, she had decided to fight the disease, even though previously she told us she would refuse treatment. I really wasn’t too upset at that point, because I planned to be by her side till we kicked this thing.

November 14th (exactly one month ago), she talked with an oncologist (cancer specialist) for the first time. She said the doctor wheeled her chair right up so they were knee to knee, the doctor took Mom’s hands and said to her, “You have stage IV cancer. It is very advanced and very aggressive. We do not recommend treatment, but rather, to focus on maintaining a good quality of life for the time you have left.”

Mom called me at work, crying. But she was resolved again to accept her fate and refuse all treatment. And that’s when I became angry. My whole life I have been extremely adept at making things happen. I can fix stuff, I can take care of stuff, I can prevent stuff, and prepare for stuff. I help others, help myself, smooth the way, and tie up loose ends. And here was something I could not help. Not one damn thing I could do. I asked Mom, “Is this the point where I step in and give you a pep talk? Should we get a second opinion, or talk to your herbal health care advisor?” She told me, “No, Sis. I know I am going to die. I am ready to go. I have fought so hard just to live, and now I finally get to relax. This news is a relief to me.”

Angry at life, at disease, at the unfairness of it all. Mom is the healthiest person I know. Never smoked anything her entire life, would have been aghast to consider drug use, and in fact avoided all pills and doctors as much as possible. She grew her gardens, canned food and prepared all meals for all us kids growing up, and for her husbands and herself. She lives on a mountaintop with no smog, no noise or light pollution, breathing fresh air and working hard every day. Mom saved up her money last winter to buy a new chainsaw this summer, and was so thrilled to tell me how great it was to use. She did everything right. She got body slammed by fate anyway.

I am living with her and her husband now. Her husband has been traumatized and – a very traditional man – is learning how to do things for himself for the first time since he was in his twenties. He is not up to assisting with caregiving, but is proud about having learned to make coffee and wash the dishes. He can keep the fire going. I leave him to that, but I can’t help but get irritated that he requires as much time and attention from me as Mom does. He is completely out of his element, in pain, lost, and scared. His helplessness bothers me. It’s another example of my failure to do this gracefully.

My mother requires constant attention now, all night long. I am so tired. My back is killing me from all the lifting. And I’m still not dealing with it as I suppose I should. Mom’s twin brother is here to help, thank the gods. My cousin is coming to help. Another strong woman – hallelujah! Despite the offers of help, I hate having so many people around me. I am not a social person. I particularly despise having witnesses to my shortcomings. I am not a nurse, and it’s not even something I’m good at. It’s the one area of life I’ve always been quick to admit I am not cut out for. But, here I am: full time nurse. Feeding Mom water with an eye dropper, applying chapstick, wiping her mouth, changing her when she wets herself, listening to her gasping breaths and trying to guess what it means. Pain? Constricted windpipes? More awake than a little while ago? Need something? Hungry? Roll over? She can’t talk, so it’s all guessing. And again, I get frustrated and angry at my own incompetence. Me. The woman who can do anything. But I feel like I can’t do this.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. You, and Hospice too, everyone says, “Oh, you can do this. You know her better than we do. You’ll do just fine. Everything you’re feeling is OK!” I just want to smack them. I know I have PERMISSION to be frustrated and angry. Well, DUH. My mom is dying. But I am not good at being incompetent. That’s what it is: a control freak who is in a non-controllable situation. I’ll get through it and soar again, even if the journey is not pretty. I always get through catastrophes. I am, after all, my mother’s daughter.

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.

Well, the good news is: I no longer own property in Massachusetts.

Other good news is: I have some pretty awesome friends…

And on top of that: My man is my very best friend, and the best guy I could ever imagine being with (and he’s hot)…

And: somehow, even though I was very recently arguing with a bankruptcy attorney about why I *should* file bankruptcy, and even though I did not make my September mortgage payment on the Mass house because I finally came to terms with the fact that in order to buy groceries I would have to cut something out, and the house was my first choice of the place to default – even with that, somehow in the end my credit is still excellent…

And: in an America where so many, many people are suffering with unfortunate real estate decisions, and the inability to unload their burdens – I sold my home…

And: Even though it sold for a gigantic loss, it only took 4 thousand to close and make it a done deal…

And: Even though that 4 thousand was almost the very last penny we had – we had it…

Yes, when all is said and done, there is a lot of good news to think about. My friend Deb-B said I should fill my cup. “Think of all the good things,” she said “and fill your cup with them.”

There is a lot of powerful good in my life right at the moment. The most amazing of all is that I have been recently welcomed into the arms of a family I didn’t know I had.

My friend Romain is a priest from Rwanda. When we first met a few years ago, I told him my knowledge of Africa was poor, and could he please help me understand where Rwanda is. “It’s right next to Burundi!” he answered.

We met because we were both in the International Mediation program at Brandeis. This is rapidly becoming a well-known international place to study peace negotiations, considering that the program is brand new. My class mates were from around the world, and helped me immensely in understanding different ways to understand a situation and different ways to negotiate. Further, they helped me understand some universals – that music and art can often be a way to speak to those who can’t communicate in any other way. My hard core conservative side is still in doubt of this concept, but sharing this idea with friends whom I trust has made it a little easier for me to believe, while I still don’t get how painting pictures can bring about peace in the world. It reinforces what April has been demonstrating for me for a decade.

Anyway, Romain is Tutsi. In 1994 sixteen of his family members were killed on one day by supporters of the new regime and the Hutu majority. He is the only one left. His dedication to, and love for, humanity inspired him to love even more, when that amount of violence could have inspired others to hate. He told me that his tragedy led him to the mediation program at Brandeis. While I have known him, he has not spoken often of his pain. He has a quick smile and an eager mind hoping for new information and new friends at every opportunity. I had known him for a year before I found out the story of his family, when I was an audience member at an international peace conference he was speaking at.

The day it happened was April 21st. He sent me an email on that day this month, telling me of his tradition. He said that on that day, rather than mourn, he thinks about whom he considers to be his current family, and thinks of what he loves about his family today. Then he told me that he thinks of me as his family now.

You must understand how deeply that touched me. I do not feel as though I am worthy of such a great love, and such great symbolism. I feel a huge responsibility and a huge connection. I hadn’t noticed before how powerful family is when you choose them. I have chosen family members already – those who are “Uncle” or “cousin” or even “Mom” – because of our mutual affection for each other, but for some reason it was Romain who showed me clearly that chosen family is an intense bond with someone.

I am grateful for this honor, and I am grateful for all of you who are my real family and my chosen family, and my dear friends who are as loved as any family member.

Comments from the old blog:

april

Thank you for sharing this lovely aspect of your life. I’m glad I took the time tonight to come see if you’ve shared anything recently. I haven’t been at Gaia in weeks so I hoped there might be something from you.

You know I am having a similar experience with chosen family as I grow into the tribe that has suddenly sprung up to hold me. My real family is about to descend for Isaiah’s graduation and I know it will be my tribe who will get me through the discomfort of everyone being together for the first time since my wedding and our first time with mom since her last melt down. Anyway, I am experiencing a belongingness like I’ve never known before with this family of friends. It’s positively wonderful.

while I still don’t get how painting pictures can bring about peace in the world. It reinforces what April has been demonstrating for me for a decade.

It’s my pleasure to be of service. : )

Kevin making me laugh during Portland Pride

Back atcha’, Kevin, I’m really glad to have met you.

Goodbye, Kevin.

I didn’t know you that well. Only spent one day with you, to be honest. You were my boyfriend’s friend – he met you at a meeting – and since that’s his private battle that I can’t begin to understand, I try to let him have a place that is his own, which includes his own friends, those friends who can understand the SHIT of the battle that you were facing, friends who don’t need him to spell out all the details like he has to do with me because I just don’t get it.

expressing a lack of inhibition

Friends like you, Kevin. Who got it.

You got that the disease is hell. You got the twisted humor of genetics that came together to both create us and destroy us. You got the insanity of screaming “no, no, no” and MEANING it, while reaching for more.

You were young, handsome, intelligent, and beautiful like so many of your peers. Yet, all the good in your life was not enough to stop the path of destruction carved by your sickness.

Sometimes there is no wall high enough, or thick enough, or tough enough, with enough endurance, with enough of an army standing by – to fight this ugly, ugly, deathly disease.

And I am really sorry we can’t hang out ever again.

Kevin and me with dykes on bikes

Because I liked you. And you were a big doofus who made me laugh. And that is a good thing.

I send my love to your fiance, who found you. I send my love to your parents, who just lost a 30 year old son to an invisible demon foe. I send my love to my boyfriend who got your text that night, “Hey, when you get a chance, call me tomorrow.” I send my love to your other brother-in-arms, who called to let us know what happened and who is still reeling.

I send my love to ALL of you with this stupid Effing disease!!! This frustrating, maddening, pull my hair out, effed up journey through hell with a promise of – not even bliss – just a promise of “less hell” if you can manage to stay clean. It sucks. It makes me pissed off to even try to put it into words because there aren’t words to paint an accurate picture.

So hey, Kevin. I hope you are feeling no more pain. While you were here, you reached out and placed a little more beauty and laughter in the world. There was a time when you were the only friend my boyfriend had, and he needed you like you had no idea. Thanks for laughing at his f’d up stories of his own freakish journey, and for helping him find calm on some days when nothing, and no one, not even me, could do it. I owe you. I am grateful to you. I am glad there was you.

Comments from the old blog:

katje

There’s not much I can say, so here are some e-hugs.

(((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((Crystal))))))))))))))))))))))))))

And I think this was a very well-written, evocative tribute to a lost friend. 🙂

crystal

Hey J,

THanks for the hugs. Need them today. It’s good to have a friend “nearby” so that I feel more surrounded by love.

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