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a celebration of love

As I prepared to be in Austin for mom’s 77th birthday on March 9, I could feel myself getting more depressed yet happy at the same time. In my daily calls with mom, I started to notice her coughing more.  Probably the part that was putting me in a funk. The happy part was mom had survived long enough to be able to enjoy all of her daughters, son-in-laws, grandchildren, and one granddaughter-in-law in Austin as we came together to celebrate mom.  My godfather and his son were able to come as well. It was probably the most enjoyable all family gathering I had experienced yet. We spent time out at mom and dad’s house on Lake Austin. And one day, dad rented a paddlewheel boat for all of us. We spent several hours out on the lake, enjoying the sunshine, relaxing out on the water, and celebrating mom. It was hard for her to receive all the love that was gathered just for her. She was not used to the spotlight and was more comfortable in the background. And she was becoming much more visibly out of energy and more introspective as days past.

When we got back to the house, I was able to give mom a foot massage, something that we were all starting to do more and more. It seemed as if this type of love was something she could receive openly. I was also able to talk a little to my dad. It was becoming harder for him to watch mom’s energy decrease and the signs of her health deteriorating increase. He asked that I make sure he was never put in a hospital after mom died, that he wanted to be left where he was. And that mom was the most giving person he had ever met. We were then able to talk about the need for hospice and he agreed that he needed to talk to mom about it. Although he acknowledged that they didn’t communicate well. He committed to try as he knew hospice was needed. The next day, we had a photographer come out to the lake to take family pictures. Such a fantastic idea and such a blessing that we were all together. Family photos we usually not a fond memory, after yearly trips to olan mills when we were growing up. Several of my sisters really did not like their pictures taken. On this day, we all seemed to surrender and participate, knowing we would have some lasting memories documented. Later as we all prepared to leave on the 12th, dad asked each of us to write an obituary so we would be prepared, not knowing how much time we had. That left a sinking feeling in my stomach as I headed to the airport. I really did not want to leave. I was not sure I would see mom alive again.

The next day, back at home, I learned from one of my sister’s that mom had a rough night after we left, with lots of coughing and difficulty breathing. One of my sisters had stayed behind. Mom shared with her that mom was not sure she would make it to her birthday and was surprised that she did. Now she could let go. With this news, I started to feel completely out of control and wanted to move to Austin for a short time. Be with mom and cherish each day that was left. I was quickly reminded of my responsibilities of raising two children and working full time and knew that was not an option for me. As I considered what to do, I let go and turned my situation over to a higher power. Asking and trusting that the details of my busy life would work out as they needed to while I prioritized time with mom. Thankfully, I was able to go back to Austin the next weekend, for St. Patrick’s day. Mom loved to celebrate all the special days and holidays with décor and special food. It was a nice distraction to focus on St. Patrick’s day and tell stories of growing up, with all my sisters around.

While in Austin, I was able to talk more with mom about where she was, what her life was feeling like now. She described a feeling of being almost ‘lost’ in her own life, unable to feel her strong life force guiding her forward each day. She was struggling with even being able to feel all of our love for her. When I asked her what she was thinking about, it was all negative. The inner critic voice inside was complaining, asking why ‘she could not just get up’. She was not able to walk much on her own these days. And her appetite had vanished. She asked me if I thought it was the cancer spreading through her body or the sustained high blood pressure. Neither of us really knew, and she was no longer seeing her doctor. She told me then that if it was her time to go, she accepted it but she didn’t want it to drag on, or be a burden to any of us. We both acknowledged that we didn’t really know how or when it would happen. I still felt in my heart that she would die in her sleep.

As I looked in her eyes while we talked, I could see a lightness I had never seen. Almost angelic light shining brightly. She drifted off and closed her eyes. I held her arm as we talked. Her body was so very cold to the touch these days, almost as if it was empty. She opened her eyes again and talked about her acupuncture. Something she had enjoyed weekly for over a year. Mom talked about how she was not able to relax enough now to receive the treatment and knew she wouldn’t get the benefit if she was not able to relax. She struggled with relaxing and thought maybe it was fear, scared to let go as it may be forever. She also described how hard it was for her to do nothing every day. Mom was used to a highly active state of being and not very comfortable sitting still, just being.  I started to feel pain in my heart as we talked. Then I shared that I accepted where she was at this juncture and if her path was to leave, I accepted it. She then asked how I would remember her when she passes. Another sharp pain shot through my heart. I was so very grateful to be talking so openly with her, yet my heart was breaking into pieces from the inside out.

Mom said she did not want me to remember her in her current state. I reassured her I would remember the incredible gift of sharing such deep love with her, the unending giving and incredible support she had offered me, and the valuable guidance she had given me as a mother, learning how to raise to children from one stage to the next. Mom then acknowledged how much she felt my love and how grateful she was that I had included her in so much of my life. How she felt my presence when I would call and how she could feel my love when I visualized wrapping my arms around her when I was back in Nashville, something I was doing daily now. Such great validation for me of the deep connection we had developed. Mom drifted off again and when she re-opened her eyes, she said she knew how much I loved her. More validation and my heart filled with peace. It felt as if this talk gave both of us strength. As if we were in our own little world having this discussion, while the busyness of everyone in the house moved around us. As I prepared to leave again, my sisters and I were figuring out how to communicate better and talked about death a little easier. Dad was understandably very sad and depressed. He had seen his wife of 55 years survive late stage cancer before. He was starting to verbalize more now how he knew this time was different.

The day after I returned from Austin felt like a gift. A break from all the emotion and stress of the past couple of weeks. Felt kind of like the eye of a hurricane, calm and clear.  I felt joy again and had a skip in my step. I also could feel the love and support from my dear friends. As such, I was able to focus and knock out a couple of items on the to-do list, a helpful change from the limbo I had been living in. It was so very nice to feel normal for a day. My life was in such transition with so many changes. I enjoyed the feeling of peace and calm while it lasted.


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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.