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reality settling in

As a new year unfolded in 2006, I took stock in all that had been for the past two years. I had survived a divorce, moved to a new state, and faced cancer once again with my dear mother. And she was still here, two years later. Quite the fighter, she was determined to live her live as she saw fit. And she was still with us largely due to her resolve of guiding her own path of healing, versus a path designed by traditional western medicine. As I reflect on this time, mom remains today the strongest and most courageous woman I have ever known.  I was amazed that she was still around although also aware that this could not continue forever.  A couple of weeks into 2006, I was reminded that something was changing. My reality was settling in.

It was January 11, 2006, and a stormy night in Nashville with lightening and strong winds and rain. As I walked to my bedroom, I passed the familiar pictures on the wall of my mom as a child, my father and his brother as a child, my parents wedding picture, and a picture of my maternal grandfather’s garage. Something I did several times a day without notice. Not this night. Something was different. Could have been the wind shaking the house, not sure, but all of a sudden mom’s baby picture fell off the wall onto the rug in front of me.  Shock filled my body as I had not been aware of something that seemed so purposeful before, yet quite scary. I was already unsettled by the storm and the picture falling down in front of me really frightened me on some level. On another level, I was calmed by something familiar, the feeling of my maternal grandfather, Grandpa Pat. It brought back fond memories of spending time with him when I was little in Indiana near his house, catching fireflies and fishing. I didn’t get to see him often but he always made me feel loved and calm. I remember being excited when I was five when I learned he was coming to live with us, only to be crushed when I learned he was sick. He passed away when I was six. Now, it seemed like he was trying to get my attention, but I didn’t understand how.

The storm passed and I was able to fall asleep. That night I had a dream. It felt so real, like I was wide awake. Grandpa Pat told me he had come to take mom with him, that it was time for her to go. The next morning, I talked to one of my sister’s and found out she also had a dream about mom and death. I started to feel in my heart that the time was nearing, when she would pass from this physical life. The letting go I had been practicing was serving me well, trying to trust the bigger picture called life and trusting that what came forth, was what I could handle. And that I would always have everything I need.

Despite my practice at letting go, the sadness started to catch up with me. I was not ready to say goodbye, especially because I finally was experiencing the relationship with my mom I had always wanted, one where I felt her deep love and where I knew she felt mine now as an adult. My sisters and I were in the planning stages of a big birthday celebration for mom in March at this time. Somehow, I knew she would not be around much beyond that. Her body was showing signs of fatigue. Her blood pressure had been irrative as of late and had shot up to 180 as her heart rate escalated. It reminded my father that this time was different, she may not be around much longer. He opened up to my sister that he didn’t know what he would do without mom. How in the world would we help him prepare for losing the love of his life, after 55 years of marriage? And help ourselves at the same time. Not sure we knew at the time, but each of us seemed to be moving to a place of acceptance in our own way.

I went to Austin to spend time with mom, something I was doing more often. Wanting to enjoy the time, however long I had. Our time was precious and lovely, difficult and tearful at the same time. I was also able to spend time with my dear friend Corinne then, who lived in Austin. She had lost her mother as a young child and was able to support me from a place of empathy, which felt different and comforting. Such amazing support she provided me, along with good advice. She said one of the things she wished she had now were some clothes of her mother’s, so she could make a quilt or something soft. Great advice for me and something valuable I tucked away in my memory for later. I was not quite ready to process such a thought.

As I moved into February, I felt in a state of limbo. Kind of numb, not feeling much. Probably had shifted into my detached state as the sadness and pain in my heart was increasing. I was moving through my days without much feeling, kind of going through motions without much intention. We were finishing the planning on mom’s birthday celebration, now just a few weeks away.  More news from the doctor confirmed what I knew in my heart. He said it was time for us to think about Hospice for mom. And then he said something more, put words out there that made it real. He said that ‘his thoughts and prayers were with us as we endured this time, that mom was not going to be with us much longer.’ One more example for me of my reality changing, a proof point guiding me to what was to come.


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treasuring each moment

My children and I went to Austin for the July 4th week, one of mom’s favorite holidays. We enjoyed the lake with full abandon, allowing the days to unfold and following mom’s lead. Not knowing the timing of when mom would leave us, we wanted to enjoy this time to the fullest, as if it would be our last 4th of July celebration with her. Mom always loved seeing the children’s eyes light up with various fireworks we set off from their boat dock on Lake Austin. She always had sparklers, ‘dancing’ chicks, rainbow fountain fireworks and every year we would try other kinds. Mom baked a special cake with my children and decorated it, keeping most of the icing on the cake.

I was able to spend some quality one on one time with mom, most days going for her usual 3 mile walk around her neighborhood. I was amazed to see her still walking, and while slower in her pace and with some added stops, nonetheless an incredible feat for someone in mom’s condition. I was finally able to ask more questions, continue my journey to learn more about mom. I started with asking if she had ever thought about her greatest accomplishments. Surprisingly, her first response was that she was able to raise the five of us without anything major happening to any of us or without much help or support. It was nice that she could feel how tremendous that was at this point in her life.

I then asked about the people that had influenced her most. Again, her response caught me by surprise. She said her mother and father influenced her most for encouraging her to go to college. That was in the late 1940’s and many women were encouraged to focus on getting married and having children, versus going to college. Mom then shared how she considered college to be a turning point in her life, for many reasons. I then shifted the questions to the present and asked if she had thought much about how she would want to be remembered when she did pass. She talked a little about wanting to be cremated and her ashes spread over the lake, but she spoke of it somewhat in the past tense, and I could tell by her reaction it surprised her.

So I transitioned to a different type of conversation. One where I was able to give her some feedback, share some things that amazed me about her. Mom listened very intently as I described how incrediblly amazing she was to me. She asked that I share more details, what was amazing about her. I continued with detail about her as a woman, a mother, a grandmother, a working mom, a student, a wife, a Stephen ministry representative and as a self-healer. Mom sometimes struggled with receiving praise or being called out in a setting of more than one person for her incredible gifts, but this time she was soaking in every word. I told her I would write it down so she could read them again and she smiled. I found a journal entry from about this time in her journal that sums up her desire to be worthy and to accept the best, ‘I am willing to release the need to be unworthy. I am worthy of the very best in life and I now lovingly allow myself to accept it.’  While outwardly we could see that she always wanted to be in the background, just quietly and selflessly give to others, I didn’t realize the magnatude of how inside she had deep feelings of unworthiness.

Over the fall of 2005, we continued our talks about her childhood and things she remembered. Mom grew up in a town of 600 in Indiana. Her father owned the only garage and gas station in the town and her mother was on the city council. Mom felt like her mother went to extremes to not have her only daughter grow up spoiled, and the pain still seemed real as mom described it. Mom learned how to smock and make quilts from her grandmother, Annetta. Mom experienced many wonderful memories from the time she spent with her and her eyes lit up as she described more.  Mom also shared how I reminded her of Annetta and how she wished I could have known her. Annetta died in the very early hours of the morning I was born.

Learning more helped me feel closer to mom, more connected, and helped keep the fear at bay, at least for a while. It helped me give to mom in a way she could receive and filled my heart with joy in the process. During the last months of 2005, the reports of the cancer markers increasing continued. Nothing any of us could control or change. Just a process we were to respect as it unfolded. Mom didn’t seem very interested in the reports. She mainly wanted to enjoy each day to its fullest. A great model for me, even in this situation. She was always teaching, always seeking to enjoy life.