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Moma, the woodpecker. She got her name because she brought her young each spring and taught them to find food at Mom's cabin.

Moma, the woodpecker. She got her name because she brought her young each spring and taught them to find food at Mom’s cabin.

I keep track of sunny days, to take care of the birds. I can’t simply fill the feeder, because of the squirrels. They have figured out how to get the top off the feeder. Those dang squirrels actually climb inside the feeder and munch seeds till they’re full. The reckless climbing in and out tips the hanging feeder and spills its entire contents on the ground in minutes. We are left with a pile of seeds two inches deep that eventually gets rained on and rots in a pile.

Thus I am forced to go out daily and fill only the tray around the outside. I spread handfuls of sunflower seeds directly on the mossy ground, to tempt the squirrels to stay away from the feeder, which holds mostly millet for the finches and chickadees.

Squirrel doing acrobatics to get at the bird seed in the feeder.

Squirrel doing acrobatics to get at the bird seed in the feeder.

Rainy days happen often here in Portland, as I know you’ll assume. The birds are as excited about dry mornings as the people are, and arrive in my backyard in bursts of wings and twitterings. The large clumsy jays swoop in, attempt to perch on the ledge of the feeder, and spill teaspoons of seeds each time they kick off in search of a sturdy branch.

As I scanned the spotless grey blue sky this morning, watching the pink and eggshell splashes growing brighter in the East, I began thinking about my mother, and her birds. She felt an obligation to secure the health of the animals on her mountain. Her kitchen window looked directly onto two separate feeding stations outside. The birds on the mountain became like misbehaved children, begging for breakfast if she didn’t get outside in time. The favourite, Moma the woodpecker, would dive bomb the kitchen window. (She still does this to Jim, who stuffs cookies into the hole in a piece of wood mounted by the back porch, just for this purpose.)

My mother at her kitchen window.

My mother at her kitchen window.

Who will take care of the birds in a world without my mother? Jim has to take care of his business. And he’s encouraged the company of a wild cat, to take care of the mouse population. It has also discouraged the company of birds and squirrels at the cabin.

Arno asked me if I’ve always kept a feeder. I have not. But this morning I realized that sometime during 2012 I began feeding the birds for my mom.

I felt for a moment as though I was channeling her spirit. When I am late to feed them, and I go outside for something else, birds suddenly begin appearing in the trees around me. They hover above me, and perform brave, rapid fly-bys to ensure they have my attention. “Food!” they call to me. “Make seeds happen!”

I’ve got nuthatches, chickadees, Western Scrub Jays, crows (who prefer leftover scraps I throw out), and sometimes surprise visitors like the ruby crowned kinglet and the gorgeous red shafted Northern flicker who, despite her size, can perch gracefully on the feeder ledge, hanging most of her body below and selecting seeds one at a time. The other day, when I tossed out the remains of Tara’s gingerbread house, we were visited by seagulls, who look enormous next to the others.

They aren’t the same birds. These aren’t even wild forest birds. But today, birds are being fed in honor of my mom.

Seagulls perched on the roof of the garage.

Seagulls perched on the roof of the garage.

Hanging beneath the feeder.

Hanging beneath the feeder.

 

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.

Stunning Mt. Hood - seriously lacking snow for the end of December

I’m late, but I still need to tell you about my awesome Christmas! When Mom died it just screwed up everything about the holidays. It doesn’t even feel like Christmas really happened, because it went all wrong without her being a part of it. However! I had a great vacation and it was packed full of stuff, so I’ll describe it in two parts. Part II will be available soon.

Tara spent the winter holidays in Cali with her dad, and Arno’s boys went to Wisconsin to see their mom, so we realized we were going to be granted the opportunity for a grown-up Christmas. We reserved three nights at the Lara House Lodge, in Bend, Oregon.

Passersby honked their horns while we were getting this shot!

Neither of us had been to Bend since we were kids, so it was an excellent place to get away from all the thoughts of my mom plaguing me. Didn’t have my home to remind me of her, and didn’t have any familiar sights reminding me of her.

We left from Hood River, south on highway 35, which eventually connected to highway 97, and we spent some time reminiscing about, and comparing, highway 97 memories. When you spend any time in central Oregon, you get familiar with 97, its long boring straight stretches through lodgepole pine, the caravans of RVs traveling at approximately 8 miles per hour below the speed limit, and inevitably the deliverance to one of your favourite childhood recreational sites.

We went through Madras, and I turned temporarily into a blathering idiot because I’m infatuated with Jacoby Ellsbury, who is from Madras. Ellsbury is a center fielder for the Boston Red Rox, of American Indian descent, and damn fine. Arno teased me by saying, “Maybe you’ll see him!”

Highway 97 bridge over Crooked River Gorge

Beware!

After Madras we stopped at Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint. I am always impressed with fabulous views, particularly those with intriguing geologic formations, so this captured my imagination. It was frightfully cold and windy out… but our entire trip was very cold and often windy. Just set that idea in the back of your mind and keep it handy for every single scene I describe. In fact, to assist you, I’ll suggest you simply add the words, “…and it was damn cold” to the end of each sentence from here on out.

Anyway, at the viewpoint we gawked and pointed, and I pursed my lips against the biting wind. Finally we returned to the truck and I spotted a sign warning people to keep their dogs in vehicles. Not just leash, but keep your dog in the car. Wow. I confess I thought dogs had more finely tuned senses than humans. I guess some dogs are smarter than others. Note to Bulldog owners and Ally at Hyperbole and a Half: don’t take your dogs to this viewpoint.

Anime Tshirts

We arrived at the Lara House Lodge with no difficulties at all. It is a brilliantly maintained home from 1910 and excellently hosted by Peter and Lynda who were gracious and genuine people. I even had the honor of meeting their granddaughter on one occasion, when she was helping in the kitchen. Had a lovely discussion with Peter, a retired minister who has a very interesting history of service, including years volunteering with Hospice (which is how we got on the topic of his work), and was able to wish Lynda a happy birthday on the 26th. They prepared us the most incredible gourmet breakfasts, and interviewed us each evening to ensure that any dislikes or allergies were taken care of.

living room

We arrived midday Christmas Eve and spent the remainder of the day walking the decorated streets of Bend. The Bed & Breakfast is smack in the center of town, and so convenient for vacationers. We were only a couple blocks from a lovely walking district. I found a shop entirely of Japanese gifts that I knew my daughter would have wanted to experience. More commonly, I spotted dozens of things I wanted to tell Mom about. I reached into my pocket for my phone a couple of times, with the intent of texting her… Eventually we met back at Lara House for wine and cheese, then wandered back into town for an elegant dinner.

tree

shadows

Christmas Day we opened gifts in front of a darling little tree that Arno brought as a surprise, with a silver star on top that he had made as a kid. The little tree was sent to him in college by his parents. So sweet. After a scrumptious Lara House breakfast, we went up to Mt. Bachelor to cross-country ski. However, there wasn’t good snow, so we opted to snowshoe instead. Still, the mostly ice-encrusted snow did not lend itself to snowshoeing. After clack-clacking a short way on the ice, we pulled off the snow shoes and hiked in our boots. The trail wound a few lovely miles through the forest, and we were satisfied.

Deschutes River in slanting rays of sun

icicles hanging from ice

After that, we went to hike a trail along the Deschutes River to Benham Falls. I snapped dozens of photos of the ice in the river, as it formed irresistible bubbles and icicles around the edges of the tumbling water. On the way back from the trail, we stopped at a vista across a wide valley where the region’s volcanic history was starkly evident. We saw a long and wide lava flow area (still black and crumbly!) with mounds raised over long-absent hotspots. Signs advertised cave exploration and museums available in the summer months, so we agreed to come back again when it’s warmer.

Lara House is across the street from Drake Park, and we went there every day for a short walk (are you remembering to add “…and it was damn cold”?). We ate entirely too much at our Christmas feast (with roast beast), and walked for an hour at the park before bed. The Deschutes River is wide and slow there, and holiday lights from the houses across the water glittered across the surface, Mallards peacefully floated about, and the stars made the sky magical.

the tumbling beginnings of Benham Falls along the Deschutes River

Arno and me at Benham Falls

 

Benham Falls

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.

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