New Way to be Human

Nov. 18 2004, my Mom was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer. I started this blog to chronicle her journey. July 19, 2005 she gave her life in the battle. This blog is my place to process through the journey I walked along with her, and now my journey through grief. It's also a place to discuss the effects cancer has on the lives it touches--survivors and caregivers alike. I'm a Navy wife, a Mom, and my mother's daughter now and forever.

Monday, July 13, 2009

I never thought I'd write here again. But I feel like this is the place that makes sense tonight.

In a week it will have been 4 years since Mom died.

And tonight that is hitting me especially hard. Tonight, for the first time in a long, long time I am awake reliving it all, and second guessing myself. My memories are skewed. All I have to go on now are the words I wrote then in my haze of emotion and stress and fatigue.

And I hope to God I did ok. I hope to God I helped my Mom. I hope to God I wasn't so self-centered, so self-pitying that I made it worse for her those last few weeks.

I needed to revisit it so I read through the LC board for the posts of that time... I can see how far in over my head I was... But I have no mercy for myself in that. I was a selfish little self-centered brat whining about how my Mom's death was affecting me instead of focusing on her. I hate myself for that right now.

I did the best I could. I know that. But it doesn't feel like enough tonight. I hope my presence was a comfort. I hope she was sure of my love. I hope she forgives me for the mistakes I made. I tried so hard.

And most of all, always...

I miss her so desperately.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Year Later--And A New Locale

Ok, so I really legitimately needed to have a breakdown. I'm not sure if I legitimately needed to blog it, but I did, so... I guess it will stay.

This is the post I wanted to write from the beginning.

Today marks the one year mark of my Mom's death.

I can't believe that it's been one year. It is inconceivable to me that she has missed one full year of Carolyn's life. When she died, Carolyn was a little blob of baby--not crawling--just rolling over. She gave winning smiles, and had quite a personality, but she was so far away from the little person that she is now. Mom missed her crawling, her walking, her first words. She missed hearing about her saying, "Butt Boost," barking at every dog she sees, and all of her adorable dancing.

She has missed a year in my life as well. I survived my first deployment. I moved into a new house that she has never seen. I traveled 7000 miles or so. And I made a decision to begin moving in a new 'vocational direction.'

I miss her. How can it have been a full year already? The most painful thing about today is that it makes her feel so far away. All year long I've known that at least her life was just last year. Now I don't have that. Now all I have is distance. A year is a long time.... 365 days. One whole trip around the sun.

The thing is, a good part of me doesn't think that the world should have travelled around the sun again... A part of me wishes that the world had stopped... Because I want the world to take notice that an AMAZING woman ISN'T HERE anymore.

I said in another post that this day doesn't make her any more gone than she was yesterday or she will be tomorrow, but this day makes the finality hit home. Mom is not on deployment like Andy was. She is not coming back. The missing doesn't stop.

I have decided, for the record, that I hate the word "acceptance." That is supposed to be the phase of grief that you aspire to. I am an overachiever, you know, so logically I should want to get to that stage. I refuse. I will not contentedly accept the fact that my Mom died a horrible death due to a horrible disease.

I will however allow for integration. That is what I want my 'final stage of grief' to look like. I want to allow the grief and the missing and the hurt to be as big as it is. As big as it needs to be. And that is very, very big. But I want to be able to coexist with that. I think I am moving into "integration." I still hurt. I still miss her every day. But my every waking thought isn't tied up with Mom and missing her. I will never be one of those people who can look back at this experience and say, "I'm really thankful that this happened because I learned so much and gained all of these new insights." If I could have traded the lessons and still had my Mom--healthy and free of pain, I would in a heartbeat. But... The grief and the missing are only a part of Val now. They are no longer the black hole-like vortex sucking all of me in and leaving me no light.

My Mom was one hell of a woman. She would have understood my meltdown today. She would have understood my tears. Days like today were hard for her too. But she would have wanted me to smile today, and to celebrate her and the life that she led instead of just focusing on her death, and so I did.

Mom was tough, and strong, and no-nonsense, but she was also incredibly compassionate. She loved nurturing people, giving to folks in small ways. So today, I wanted to honor her by doing the same. I wanted to allow her to continue giving. So... I brought Yellow Roses and buttons that said, "Cancer Sucks" to a nearby cancer center. I left them at the front desk of the infusion center with instructions to give them to anyone who came in for a treatment today. And I hope in some small way, they will be tangible tokens of encouragement to the folks who recieved them.

Mom would have loved the sentiment "Cancer Sucks." She didn't mince words. If she felt like hammered dog shit, she told you that she felt like hammered dog shit. I think she'd get a kick out of the buttons.

So it's been a year... And I miss my Mom. I will always miss my Mom. I wish she had never had to hear the word, "cancer" and I wish she was still here to drive me nuts with unsolicited advice regarding my raising of Carolyn. I wish she was here to teach Carolyn to flip people off, and to say the words, "Male Dominant Stupid Gene." I wish she was here to personally infuse Carolyn with her grit and her love of life. And I wish she was here so I could hug her, call her to process through the craziness of people and to remind me that the democrats are always right.

I miss her. And that will always be part of me. And that is as it should be.

And that, my blogfriends, may well be the last of the posts here at New Way. I want to leave it here in it's blogspace so that perhaps someone else will find it and know that it's ok to admit that Cancer Sucks, and Grief does too. From now on, though, you can find me at my new blog, Dig Your Toes In .

I love you Mom.

Why I Hate Today

If you want reflective, tie-it-up in a neat little package with a positive spin, then GO AWAY.

I hate today.

A year ago today my Mom died.

A year ago yesterday was my last day with my Mom on this earth. It was the last day I touched her hands while they still had life in them. It was the last time I spoke to her and believed she heard my voice.

At 5:35 a.m. one year ago today my Dad knocked on the door of the bedroom in which I was sleeping, and told me that my Mom was gone. No more Mom. 4 month old baby. 24 year old me. No more Mom. (Now is NOT the time to tell me how much worse it could be).

I hate today.

My husband left today. Now, he's been here for all of the rememberances of the days leading up to this day and that has been good, and I know I shouldn't complain, but he left again on a day when I need him. On a day when I hurt. It's all too familiar. And it sucks.

And true to detachment/deployment form, we have already had our first blow to the family while husband is unreachable. His brother's apartment burned yesterday. He is ok, but he lost everything.

I hate today.

I want my Mom back.

If she can't be back I want my husband to hug me and 'get it.'

And I want whatever force in the universe it is that thinks that it's fun to fuck with our family any time my husband's squadron is away from home to lay the hell off of us!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

H-word Anniversary--(Do not read if you don't want to hear about Grief, or if end-of-life discussion will hurt or discourage you.)

These July days aren't easy when it comes to the grief stuff. Please don't get me wrong I'm fully functioning, out and about, and doing the Mommy bit. (It seems like people read here and think, "Oh Val just sits around crying in her cheerios." I DON'T!). But, these are days of strong, strong memories of a year ago. These are the last days that are in the first year without Mom, and in a few short days I will have to say, "I lost my Mom over a year ago." It won't make her any more gone than she was a month after she died, but it will be a shift in language that I am not looking forward to. I have a very difficult relationship with time right now.

Today, has been an especially hard day. When I look back a year I find the day that the doctor said, "time for Hospice." The week or so before the 12th it was becoming more and more evident that Mom's body was winding down, and I knew that those words would likely come soon, but I wasn't ready to hear them.

In fact, Mom heard the words on a day when she'd gone to the doctor to find out about the clinical trial she was waiting on. She'd been waiting since the end of May. Wonder what would have happened if all the red-tape could have been waded through more quickly? I know--forget the what-ifs.

I wasn't able to go to the doctor with her that day. Carolyn had gotten her 4 month shots the previous day, and was sick and fussy and clingy. She had a fever and I didn't want to risk her actually having a contagious infection of some sort, and having her around chemo patients with weakend immune systems. I sat in the house and tried not to panic (I knew the day would be pivotal), and cried over not being able to be with my Mom to hear words that I knew would be heavy no matter which way they swung.

Until the day of the appointment we were all still geared up to fight. That day, she left the house in her wheelchair with the word, "EXTREME" painted on the back in hot pink--unable to walk even a few feet. Her lack of mobility was the telling point that made the doctor realize she wasn't strong enough to fight any longer. The next day, my Uncle Jerry would come to build a wheel-chair ramp in front of our house that Mom would never use.

She came home that day and my aunt told me what the doctor said. I can remember what Carolyn was wearing--It was an adorable little onesie with a bear embroidered on the rear end. We called it the "Bear Butt" outfit--and since Mom loved plays on words, she always laughed. To cheer her up when she got home, I pointed out Carolyn's "Bear butt" and actually got a grin... a mixed grin that told me that she looked at Carolyn and knew she wouldn't be able to be with her much longer and it hurt.

When she saw the doctor and he said the "H-word" he told her she had maybe 3 months. From the accounts I heard the word was, "Probably not six months, maybe three." So that day I remember trying to wrap my mind around the thought of only having my Mom on earth for three months.

I had no idea that a week later I would wake up and she would be gone.

Today marks a day when I want to demand from God and the universe--why didn't we get more time? (Don't anyone dare lecture me about that either). I know that no amount of time would have been "enough," but I desperately wanted more Mom time. The way things that progressed in the following week were terrible. The end bore down on us like a freight-train. None of us knew what had hit us.

It ocurred to me today that perhaps the reason these days are hard right now has more to do with finally processing the impact of the dying process and the privelege of bearing witness to the last two months of her illness.... and ALL that came with that. Those were weeks I wouldn't trade for anything in the world, but they left their mark. The illness and decline of a person you love so much are, in themselves, enough to pack a pretty hefty emotional wallop--even without the grief that comes with death. So I look back today and feel the impact, and again wish desperately that we could have had just a few more weeks... and that we could have been afforded just a few good, pain-controlled, quality time days.

Today will always be it's own anniversary.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Am I Normal?

The question I have asked myself the most often in the last 2 years is, "Am I normal?" When I was pregnant and dealing with all of those suprising little symptoms I would call my sister-in-law the nurse practitioner, just so I could hear her say those two beautiful words: "It's normal." When Carolyn was born and something concerned me even a little, I would call her even more frequently to hear those same two beautiful words.

When Mom was diagnosed and the roller coaster of that journey started--I also wanted to hear them. Is what Mom is experiencing normal? Are these out of control emotions normal?

And here I am, almost a year after her passing... Finding myself in a slump, depressed some days, ok but non-productive on others, busy and businesslike others, and ready to plunge into new aspects of life still others. Is the way that I'm grieving here--11.5 months later normal? Is it normal to cast long glances back each day that we draw nearer to the anniversary of her leaving to mark what happened a year ago? Is it normal that in the next breath I reach for the phone to call her to tell her about Carolyn forgetting for the 215 millionth time that she really is gone? Is it normal that I can't comprehend all the ways that my life is different and that some of those changes feel like more loss? Am I normal?

I'm trying to learn what it looks like to be a normal stay-at-home Mom without the addition of an extreme family crisis (at least as normal as it gets when your husband is in the Navy), and I still want to know what that looks like? I wonder what feelings that I'm feeling might be felt by any Mom in general--is this boredom typical? Is the frequent fear that I'm doing something wrong what all Mom's go through? Am I being present to Carolyn a enough? Am I enriching her life with enough opportunities to learn? Is what I'm doing ok? Am I normal? Is she normal? Or have I been blown so offtrack by our lives being turned upside down that I'm not able to give that normalcy? Could some of the moodiness I experience be just the struggles of early motherhood--the fatigue of having a toddler, or even run of the mill PMS?

My rule of thumb for all things mothering related has been: assume it's normal unless I have a gut-feeling otherwise, and wait and see for confirmation. The difference with the journey of grief and calibrating to 'new-normal' is that the landscape is ever-changing. There are new things, and old things cropping up in a new way each and every day. The intensity of the grief has subsided in some ways and magnified in others. The passage of time becomes easier and harder all at once.

Why do I write this? Not to vent. Not to whine. Not to complain. I guess I write it in the hopes that, assuming that I am in some capacities, normal, maybe someone will stumble across these words, and something will resonate and they can relax into the feeling that they are ok. They aren't going crazy. Feelings are messy and don't happen "normally." The feeling of "normal" has a whole variety of definitions. New normals don't feel normal. And... I think at least, that itself is some kind of normal.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

29 Years Ago Today...

My Dad got dressed up in brown slacks and a dress shirt--a woodsy foliage kind of shirt with the seven dwarves marching all over it...

Mom got dressed up in--to my best photo recollections--an orange and yellow pants outfit.

They were headed out on the river, and Mom always told me that it had been windy and the water had been rough all day--until right before they were supposed to go out on the boat--and then the river turned to glass.

So they got on their friends' boat, with a couple of witnesses and someone 'official.'

And they got married in the middle of the Mississippi River. Or as close to the middle as they were allowed to with the Marriage License stipulations.

It was the perfect wedding by their telling--the way all weddings should be. Simple, unique, theirs.

I wish they could tell that story to me together today--with one starting where the other left off....

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A Tale of Four Junes....

June of 2003--

I was fresh out of college, engaged, and getting ready for my wedding. I was living with Mom and Dad. Mom and I picked out flowers together at Garden Gate florist. Mom assured me that 'they'd know how to help us.' She was right.

The night before the wedding we had a everyone over to their house for pizza. Mom was in high-gear worrying about entertaining everyone. We stayed up late--Mom, Dad, my brother-in-law, Brad, and his wife, Stacey--and played Trivial pursuit. Mom and Dad got all the sex questions right. Mom got all the sports one... Also most of the rest. Situation normal.

The day of the wedding her best friend came over and did our hair for the ceremony. It might not have been out of a fashion magazine, but it looked nice and got the job done. Mom looked amazing in her beautiful pink, dress. I don't think I ever saw her look more beautiful.

And then the next morning, I went to her house, and hugged her. She loaned us her truck for the honeymoon (it was more dependable than my S-10), and we headed off to start our life together as a married couple.

June of 2004--

Andy had finished Basic Training and A School. We'd lived in Pensacola for only three short months, but something stirred me to go home before moving to Washington. I needed my Mom and Dad. I needed the familiarity of their home. I didn't know why, but I needed to be there.

Father's Day, Andy and I woke up. He was leaving for Washington that day and I was staying behind because I needed to. I indelicately peed on a stick, and found out that I was going to have a baby. I kept it to myself until I could go to the doctor to pee on a more official stick...

Except that there was Mom... and she kept asking when I Was going to make her a Grandma... And I just HAD to at least hint.

She caught on quick and was elated--but cautious--taking cues from me.... I chided myself for giving in so easily, but it was wonderful to share the secret with my Mom.

I went to the doctor and tested really, truly pregnant, ran to the mall, and picked up the "Grandmother" figurine made by Willow Tree. Then I rushed home and gave it to her. She exploded with joy. She ran around for days smiling, bouncing, giggling. She was giddy in a way I'd never seen her before.

She also yelled at me for having taken on some Republican leanings--JUST SOME! (Don't worry, I've come to my senses a bit!).

June of 2005

Again, I needed to be home. My Mom needed me. These were the last days of her life. She sat in her chair, and I sat in mine, and she just revelled in being awake--in smelling the air. She watched Carolyn, and cried because she didn't have the strength to hold her. She ooed and ahhed over all of her outfits.

She told me stories about when she was young--she knew it was time to pass on the history.

Some of her last really Mom-like days were in June of last year.

June of 2006

My Mom is gone. My daughter is turning quickly into a little girl. And I... I barely resemble the Val of four years ago. This Val is sadder, more compassionate, more serious, more adult, more somber.... But I like her better. (She still has plenty of childlikeness--Mom wouldn't have had it any other way).

Four Junes... Three years...

So very much happened.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Let Me Tell You About My Mom....

So I have this blog here... Which started to be about dealing with my Mom having cancer, and has become a place to process my grief after her death.

And it occurs to me, that although every page here seems to be about my Mom, you get no real feel for what kind of a woman she is/was.

To give you an idea of the essence of my Mom: I would come to her with normal daughter-type problems, venting about such and such or so and so who frustrated me that day. Invariably her reply was, "Val. When are you gonna learn to tell them to FU*K off?"

The woman loved trivial pursuit. I mean loved it. Not only did she clean house on the normal old trivia questions, but the woman knew her sports--I mean she knew miniscule little facts that most guys couldn't scare up. And so, she was unbeatable at Trivial Pursuit.

When I was young--I'd say younger than ten, Mom taught me the phrase, "Male Dominant Stupid Gene." She taught the phrase so well that I used it confidently. I'm almost positive that my Dad's family was convinced I was going to grow to become a Femi-nazi.

Mom worked at Maytag Refrigeration for many years. When the plant closed she worked a job that required her to travel from one side of the plant to the other very frequently. To ease the strain of all that cement-pounding, she used a tricycle. No, I'm serious--a tricycle. It was a grown-up's tricycle, but a tricycle nonetheless.

So this no-nonsense woman who I'm sure would still love for me to learn to tell people to "Fu*K off," was also so nurturing, that probably 20 people other than me called her, "Mom." Folks at work, friends of mine, lots and lots of people claimed her as a person who nurtured them, cared for them, looked out for them. That makes me proud.

But despite that, I'm the only one who can truly say now and forever, "That's MY MOM."