Mom and the Babes

There are things in life that I could only ever really say to my mother (and in her absense I say here on this blog…  perhaps not the wisest of ideas).  When I rub up against them in life, I both smile remembering her personality and cringe at missing her.  It’s a bizarre feeling to feel both entirely amused–to the point of chucking out loud thinking of what our exchange would have been in a given situation–and at the same time coming face to face again with the ‘oh yeah…  she’s gone….’ feeling.

 For example:  I was at a really, really good bluegrass concert last night with the girls and a friend of ours.  The fiddler was a particularly well-created guy.  From the moment I arrived, I wanted so badly to call Mom and say, “I had no idea there’d be someone so nice to look at at this old-timey concert!”  If she had been there she would have turned to me and said, “Val, what a babe!”  After that there might have been a comment or two on the fiddler’s uniquely suited ability to wear jeans.  As for me, I fear that if I expressed any such thought in person to anyone but her, they’d think I was an ogler…  a lustful sin-pot daring to admire other men while my husband is away.  Only Mom and I could really have that exchange without my worrying that someone was sure I was falling off the straight and narrow.  (And indeed, Neither husband, nor anyone else need worry that I am headed down the slippery slope of infidelity.  The only “babe” I need in my life is he whom I am waiting for.  And yes, he still makes my stomach do flip-flops when I tumble into his brown eyes).

My  mother, however, just couldn’t help herself in these situations.  She had to make the comment.  The glee that she displayed at her delight in getting to actually meet and hug Gary Fencik when he came to speak for one of her work events was just Mom’s way.  How long after that did she talk about the fact that he gave her a kiss on the cheek (if I remember correctly)?  She must have used the ‘what a babe’ phrase a million times that week. 

Maybe funniest of all was the weekend, she met Husband (back when he was just…  he who would be Husband).  We were just starting to realize that we were perhaps ‘more than friends,’ and he and another friend came with me back home for a weekend.  Our last night home, Mom and Dad took us to Perkins for dinner.  Mom was asking Husband what he was involved in, and when Husband told her he enjoyed doing Civil War Re-enactments Mom blurted out, “Oh Val!  Can you imagine?  He’s already such a babe…  I can’t imagine him in uniform!”  Yes…  Husband turned beet red.  Mom realized what she’d said and at least pretended to be embarassed while apologizing to Husband profusely. 

Then there are the innapropriate thoughts I have in church that only Mom truly shared and appreciated.  Things like me accidentally chuckling at the sudden-intake of breath the congregation did in unison today at the mention of someone’s friend’s friend’s arm  broken in four places.  I sincerely feel sorry for this woman….  but the chuckle bubbled out anyway at the sociological phenomenon I observed.  Then there was last week…  when a financial talk was given in the middle of the service laying out the bleak financial situation our church is currently facing.  What hymn was picked after that?  None other but, “Day is Dying in the West.”  My Mom’s gufaw would have been the only one louder than mine (lucky for me I was listening in on a monitor at that point, so as not to offend anyone…..).  Not a Sunday goes by when I don’t remember sharing such comments with her during services and wishing that she was there to share more.

To say that she was one of a kind is the understatement of the century.  It makes me smile that she passed on her love of irony, a bit of her sense of humor, and…  ok, sure…  her appreciation of well created men.  I just so miss sharing these things with her and seeing her smirky smile and hearing her unabashed laugh. 

Maybe though, these things happening…  and my thoughts immediately racing to her are just her way of checking in and letting me know she’s still paying attention.   

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Awaiting His Return

When husband is gone for long stretches, things get all stirred up within me.  I start to think deeply about our marriage and about myself and about my faith.  I almost always realize that I need to go deeper in practice in all three realms.

I love the fact that Marriage is sacramental.  I love that it is a little in-the-flesh, experiential day to day way for God to show himself to us. 

When Husband deploys or is gone for these longer stretches I just plain ache for him.  I stay busy most of the time so as not to feel it, but it catches me unaware when I find myself in a quiet moment or a tired hour.   I just feel this longing for him and for the day he’s in our arms again.

I cross off each day on the calendar (but I try to be very careful not to do any counting of days).  We tick off each little milestone:  another garbage day, another credit card payment, the visit of a friend or relative we’ve been anticipating.  All the time there is this undercurrent of anticipation and hope for the day when our family feels complete again.

And that for me is a sacramental illustration.  It makes me think of The Church awaiting her bridegroom.  It makes me long for heaven and that day when we will see clearly instead of through a glass darkly.  It makes me remember that there is more than this world full of longing.  It reminds me, that I am always anticipating His return.

Who is Intolerant?

Since when does being a Christian mean that you check your sensitivity and empathy at the door?

It’s something that I just don’t understand and something that generally infuriates me.

A blog-friend of mine has been going through a harrowing ordeal.  She battled breast cancer into remission once only to have it return with a vengeance less than a year later.  She beat it back again only to find another lump not long ago.  Understandably, that sent her mind spinning, and she understandably expressed that this has caused her to doubt God. 

It didn’t take long before scores of ‘the faithful’ showed up in droves to evangelize her.  I sat back and read in disbelief as person after person after person threw platitudes at her, urged her to ‘trust in Jesus’ and ‘gently’ berated her for her doubt.  It made me want to scream.  Folks who had never read the blog before showed up simply to ‘do the work of God.’  With every comment I cringed a little more.

My thinking was this:  If I was facing the thought of battling the beast that is cancer for the third time in far less than two years, and I expressed this struggle, it would make me shrink away from God to be so zealously pelted with platitudes and evangelistic cliches.  It would make me even angrier.  It would give me even more reason to doubt.  For as I read it seemed that His children were lying in wait to pelt a person in their weakness  all ‘in the name of Jesus.’ 

It seemed to only get worse when she posted that the lump was found to be nothing.  Then ‘the faithful’ seemed to come dangerously close to congratulating themselves for praying so hard that ‘God would show Himself,’ and instead of simply being thankful and happy with my friend, they ‘gently’ berated her for still having doubts.

I am a Christian.  I strive to keep my love of Christ at the center of my life.  I don’t always do a good job, but I try to throw myself into His grace.

There is this sense when people get really hot and bothered to evangelize someone that everything they do drips with ulterior motive.  We must speak gracefully and passionately, to gain them to the kingdom.  We must act lovingly to win them to Christ.  We must strive to make our behaviour the purest possible to influence them for God.

I can’t help but think….  NO!  NO!  We must love because God called us to.  We must love for the sake of loving.  If a person comes closer to Christ as a result, then fantastic…  But it seems so phony to me to do things simply with that motive in mind.

It seems terribly insensitive to me to beat someone about the head with Christian-speak when they are in a battle for their life…  When they are battling pain, and depression, and the thought of not seeing their children grow up.  It seems cruel to me to speak of running to God in the face of one who feels bereft by Him. 

When I am in those places, all I want is for someone to sit with me.  To let me know that I am ok there—that though I may be doubting Him, if the God who is good really is, He will meet me there with grace.  I need to be told this not with eloquent words, but with a hand slipped into mine, or a soft shoulder to sink into…  or with a wordless presence in the chair next to mine.

And what is so wrong with doubt anyway?  I have come to  believe that a healthy dose of doubt can actually strengthen one’s faith.  It keeps us from being mindless drones parrotting back every platitude we are offered at church or on Christian radio, or that we absorb in the Christian book store.   Life is hard…  Faith is hard.  There are so many things that are inexplainable…  paradoxical (yes, thank you Dr. Mannoia).  Why lie to oneself about that?  Why not be honest about it–to oneself, to others, even to God.  Isn’t He Big enough to meet us even there? 

I think all of these thoughts…  and then I think of my blogfriend, and the grace that she has shown.  Rather than shrinking away from these words, or lashing back, she remembers the intentions of the commenters are likely good and gives them the benefit of the doubt.  She says that she knows that these things comfort them and so they don’t upset her.

That is where the convinction comes in for me…  I can feel pretty self-righteous about all of this.  And…  too often (yes…  this time…  can you tell?) I do.  I don’t want to show grace.  I want to spit back and engage in a rousing game of “I’m a better Christian than you.”

But, though it seems so calculating and insensitive to me, the intent of these folks is to be loving…  To offer someone the hope that they have found.  I’ve been known to be over-zealous about things myself sometimes. 

So I’m talking to God about this–about my self-righteous knee-jerk reactions…  and what it means to speak truth in these situations.  Over at The Manning Board a discussion has begun about whether or not Christians serve to be ‘lamps on a hill’ or ‘super high-powered flashlights trained on people’s faces’ (thanks Meems!). 

May I strive to be a the former.

It’s Over

Well ‘The Day’ is over.  And I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out.

We woke up early for VBS and I got Baboo all dressed up in a little red and white outfit with ladybug shoes—Mom’s favorite outfit from when Little Miss and I were with her.  Before we left, we listened to Mom’s favorite song–“Peter’s Memories” written and performed by her brother, Ken.  We went to VBS and I did my best not to let the little bit of raincloud I had hovering with me effect how I interacted with the kids. 

Finally VBS was over and the fun could begin.  We went to Safeway and picked up 1 dozen yellow roses (my Mom flower) and  a half dozen sunflowers, and headed out of town.  Along the way, we picked up my good friend, Jamie, who also lost her mother to Lung Cancer.  We took off for another Island town, and stopped at McDonald’s.  I had a ball going in by myself and ordering 15 milkshakes–5 chocolate, 5 vanilla, and 5 strawberry.  Yes, the employees thought I was crazy.  It was fabulous.

We then took the flowers and the milkshakes to the local cancer center.  We schlepped the goodies in and got directions to the infusion room.   Much to the suprise of the folks there, we dropped everything off for the folks there for treatment.  I can’t begin to tell you how fun it was.  The room lit up at the mention of the word ‘milkshakes.’  I had to run out and get the flowers, but Jamie tells me several of the patients there latched onto their shakes and thoroughly revelled in them.

We caught lunch at my favorite little diner and grabbed some dessert at a little French bakery.

This evening, I attended a Women’s Bible Study that I’ve begun going to.  That ended up being the hardest part of the day.  I brought Baboo with me and there was much talk about the delight of ‘being a Grandma.’  It was hard for that not to sting a little.

But overall, I’m happy about how the day turned out.  It could have been full of gloominess.  Instead, I looked forward to the things I had planned.  I could have sat around thinking all day about the sadness of losing Mom.  I could have simply dwelled upon her death.  Instead, I chose to celebrate her. 

I felt so happy for most of the day.  I was happy for the woman that Mom was.  I was happy for the chance to ‘pay forward’ a little bit of the love she gave me.  I was proud that I turned the grief into something positive and made it an outward force of good instead of an inward force of emptiness.  It sounds like such a little thing, and it is really.  I in no way want to ‘toot my own horn.’  And it’s not like this is some huge ‘epiphany’ moment for me.  I did something very similar last year. 

It’s just that it was such an enjoyable day.  AIt was a day where I could feel Mom’s smile and almost hear her laugh ring out just a little bit

I hope Mom is proud.  I think she might be.

Tomorrow is Two Years.

Grief has taught me that it is possible to be ok, to be happy, to be normal–and at the very same time to be in pain.

It has taught me that I can say, “I am ok,” and mean it—mean it totally and completely.  But the truth in that ok is that I am ok sitting in a place of pain and missing.

I’ve learned that I can go on and do day to day things.  I can laugh and have fun.  I can celebrate.  I can breathe in life and love it.  I can be in awe at the wonder of my children and of sunsets and the soothing sound of the ocean.  And under it all, I can still be grieving.  I can still be aching.  I can still hurt.  That doesn’t change the living and the laughing and the celebrating.  Sometimes it even intensfies it.  But the loss hasn’t changed.  And the feelings of the loss haven’t either.

Grief has taught me that life is joy and fun and wonder and delight.  And pain and hurt and loneliness.  And that sometimes–often–it is both at once.

This week I am ok.  I have been happy and bubbly.  I have looked at myself in the mirror and seen smile lines.  I have felt…  really, really content.  I REALLY have.  But I’m also sad.  I’m also remembering.  I’m also wishing she was still here, even as I ‘accept’ that this has happened and it isn’t going to change.

Tonight.  Tonight I am angry.  I am angry for all she has missed.  I am angry for the two years of Little Miss’s life that she hasn’t seen.  I am angry that I can’t call and tell her about Little Miss praying for “Bobo the monkey who is sad” tonight after reading her bedtime story.  I am angry that she will never meet Baboo and that Baboo will never meet her Grandmother.  I am angry that every single day I have several moments when SHE is the only one I want to talk to…  and I can’t.  I am angry that I have become this new person…  I have weathered these new things.  I have grown and changed and matured…  And she hasn’t been here to see.  I am angry that my life looks so radically different.  That ‘home’ is so different.  I am angry that I can’t go back to that place that feels familiar.  I am angry that I cannot be folded into her arms.

And tonight I’m grateful.  I’m grateful that she gave me life.  Grateful that she was so incredible.  Grateful for the time I did have with her.

Last year at this time I was beating myself up for not going home to be with her sooner.  And then I remembered how life had worked before she’d gotten sick.  When we were first married, Husband and I lived near Mom and Dad.  We saw them a few times a week.  They came over and played games with us and ate pizza and homemade ice cream.  When Husband was deployed….  they were my support.  I was back at ‘home’ with them more than at my apartment sometimes.  I spent precious times chatting with Mom while she pinged away at her computer poker games (not real ones).  And before moving out to the Northwest, something made me long to be ‘home’ again…  and I got to be with her again then.  All of this is not enough…  but something.  I am so grateful for that something.  So grateful for that time. 

I look at pictures of her and it’s like she could walk off of the photo and be right here with me.  She is still so alive to me.  When I look at those photos it is incomprehensible to me that she is not just somewhere else…  And that both comforts and tortures me.  It keeps her so near…  but it forces me to be reminded again and again and again that she is gone.

Patti Davis in her excellent essay “The River of Memory” writes about the feelings of the second anniversary of the passing of a loved one.  She writes,

“To some it will sound strange that I feel my father in every gust, hear him in the movement of leaves as the breeze sweeps through the trees. But there are those who know exactly what I’m talking about.

‘The second year was harder for me,’ a friend of mine said. He lost his son to a drug overdose three years ago.

‘Why is that?’ I asked him, grateful for the wisdom of someone who is farther along this trail than I am.

‘The first year it still feels new,’ he answered. ‘By the second year, the reality of the loss just sits inside you. The permanence has hit you. It takes you to a deeper, darker place.’

 That about says it.  (And wow…  What must Mom think of me quoting a descendent of Reagan’s?!). 

Anyway…  I’m thinking tonight of my last moments with her before I went to bed two years ago.  I will think tomorrow of waking up to the words, “She’s gone.”  I will remember the call I made to the hospice nurse, the dark, final activities that happened once she arrived…   I’ll remember all of that.

And…  I will remember Mom.  I will try to laugh as much as I cry.  I will remember her smile and her sense of humor and her vibrance.  I’ll do as many ‘mom’ things as I can.  I will make a special effort to honor her.

And I’ll be ok.  Really, really ok.  I’ll even smile and laugh and enjoy.  I’ll soak into the sweetness of my girls.  I’ll do all of that.  The loss that always is will coexist with the life I know she wants me to live to the full.  That is as it should be.

Looking Back

From an email I sent Husband two years ago (he was out on the boat for a six week detachment at the time.  He was flown off the aircraft carrier on emergency leave two days later):

Hi Sweet.I’m starting to wonder if I should make the Red Cross call now. I will certainly check with Laura (hospice nurse) on Monday. I realized this evening how little Mom is taking in. She’s had less than five teaspoons of water today and only a teaspoon and a half of strawberry smoothie to eat. Her body is shutting down. I think the process of dying has begun. Would they be able to do anything if I did call? It’s all just such a horrible guessing game.

I’ve been doing all I can to do “Mom things” with Mom. I put on Conway Twitty and Willie Nelson for her to listen to. We watched While You Were Sleeping. We always used to watch that movie together. We watched it so much, that I got tired of it and wanted to watch other things instead, but she always wanted While You Were Sleeping. Now I’d watch it with her 10000 times if she could just be ok. I put in “Smokey Mountain Singin” and sang along like we would do on the drives down to college. Tonight, to get C down to sleep, I sang her hymns and sang them to Mom too, and I read her scriptures tonight–the one she’s requested for her service.

Carolyn and I took a walk today. I needed to get out, and I’ve been trying to give Carolyn at least a few doses of normal here and there. We walked up and down the lane a couple of times. She liked it. I’m worried about her. There is so much BIG STUFF going on around her. I know she is more aware than we know, and I know that my inattentiveness is confusing to her. She’s clinging, but I have to put her down so many times to tend to Mom, or even just to wash my hands for her safety, Mom’s, and ours.

I gave Mom a bed bath today with a little bath kit that you warm in the microwave. She actually responded a little when I washed her legs. She said it felt really good.

She’s not even responding to Carolyn anymore. A lot of times we can’t rouse her to get information that we need–like… Mom, can you eat?

I called Ken and Ellen last night. I got to talk to Uncle Ken for a bit. Uncle Ken reminded me he’d been through this with Grandpa. He didn’t say much… but he really comforted me.

Still self-medicating with too much sugar. *sigh* Probably why C is so wired. I will try not to be the 400 lb. woman when you get here, but no promises.

I need to get back to Mom so Dad can go to bed. I’m sleeping in her room tonight, so Daddy can get a decent night’s sleep. We’re to the point that I don’t want to leave her alone. I’m afraid she’ll slip away and I want someone THERE WITH HER.

Melody came over to see Mom today and check on us. C LOVES Melody. It was the first time she’d held her and Carolyn just got really quiet, and really happy, and beamed up at Melody. Melody said she believes babies can see things that we can’t, and she thinks C is seeing angels hovering over Mom…

So back to today, we’re staying busy here, and I feel pretty upbeat most of the time despite the upcoming anniversary.  But I do keep looking back to two years ago. 

I have happy memories of those days as well as excrutiating ones.  I think of wrangling up a guitar when Uncle Ken was visiting and all of us singing songs for hours.  That was one of Mom’s very favorite things and she passed the love on to me.  I think those were probably her happiest moments in the last couple of weeks she had with us. 

I think of giving Mom bed baths and rubbing lotion into her feet.  I think of holding her hand.

I think of the stifling heat of July in Illinois.

I remember the moment when I realized Mom hadn’t had more than two tablespoons of water all day, and it hit me that the end was coming fast even though the doctor had told us we might have 3 months left with her.

I think of her calling Carolyn ‘sugar plum’ in some of her last lucid moments, and lighting up just as she always had at seeing her.

I think of playing trivial pursuit with Mom’s best friend and Mom still knowing all the answers…  and then I think about 48 hours after that when she slept most of the time and woke up only long enough to say, “We have a dilemma.”

I think about driving to the pharmacy in the middle of the Trivial Pursuit game, speeding all the way there, and all the way  back because I couldn’t stand not being there.  I couldn’t stand the thought of stealing moments away from Mom when there were so few moments left.

I think of oral syringes with liquid morphine and Ativan, and mouth swabs to keep Mom’s mouth moist.

I cherished that last week and all of the little things I could do (not that I did much in the grand scheme), because all of those little things–rubbing lotion into her feet, giving her baths, singing hymns, giving her medicine–those were all some of the last ways I told my Mom I loved her. I said the words too, many times.  But I smile at the memories of doing those things because they were ways to say those words in a language I knew she could still receive.

As I was holding Carolyn’s hand and snuggling with her singing lullabyes, tonight, I realized that a part of me is still in Mom’s room with the hospital bed and the oxygen machine.  I still see it all so clearly.  I still feel the sensations on my skin and in my body.  I still smell the smells and hear the sounds as if they were happening around me now.  A part of me is still sitting by the bed, holding Mom’s hand, or bouncing Carolyn next to her.  Part of me is still there waiting on “the watch.”

And part of me forever will be.