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Saturday, May 22, 2010

How Can I Help You To Say Goodbye

I don’t care how old you are when it happens, being an orphan sucks. Maybe if there were a Daddy Warbucks in my future, I could tame my emotions with some retail therapy. When your mom dies, the last thing you should ever do… is listen to country music. You should also avoid Disney movies and Lifetime Television for Women. Never noticed how many dead mommy stories and how much depressing shit is in our entertainment world until recently.

I would like to thank my friends for coming out to pay their last respects and to support my family. It means more to me than I can express. Some came from out of state, others drove over 4 hours round-trip. Your dedication to my family is amazing and greatly appreciated. A couple of friends had never met my mom, but showed up anyhow. I wish you had met her in life. If you think I’m crazy…a-hem.

I don’t want to brag on him too much because, let’s face it, Lane 1 is still a pain in the ass teenager. But when I need help, he is always there for me. I got the phone call Thursday around 5 pm saying my mother wasn’t going to make it through the night. Mr. Lane was out of town. I was looking at a two hour drive knowing I might not make it in time to say goodbye to my mom.

My son grabbed my car keys and said, “Let’s go.”

I didn’t have to ask him to be strong for me as I sobbed into his shoulder and begged God to let us get there in time to say goodbye.

My mother was always beyond stubborn. She stayed with us until we got there. In fact she stayed with us all night long. Angie, Anita, Mary and I sat in her hospital room, afraid to close our eyes, afraid to blink, afraid all around.

We watched her chest slowly rise and fall. Grainy-eyed, curled up in chairs me at the foot of Mom’s bed our breath was taken away at 3:15 am. She sat straight up with this big ol’ oxygen machine (bipap) stuck to her face and in a very Darth Vader way, with a big ass smile, she asked, “Is it coffee time?”

We looked at each other as if to say, “Did she just fucking say what I think she said? Did I fall asleep? Am I dreaming right now? Is she for real? How the hell????”

“Sure” we all said in unison. Dumbfounded we looked at each other wide-eyed. Could this really be happening? We all wondered without sharing a word. I went to the nurse and said, “She is asking for coffee?” I wasn’t even sure I was telling the truth. I wasn’t sure I wasn’t sleep walking.

“She can’t have coffee. If we take her off the bipap, she will stop breathing.”

“Okay,” I said, walking away hanging my head realizing this was real. When I walked back into her room she was sleeping again. We girls made the toughest decision imaginable. We agreed if she asked for coffee, we would tell her that she would likely stop breathing.

There is no good way to tell someone they are about to die. When she woke up again a half an hour later, again smiling, again asking for coffee, I took it upon myself to tell her what the nurse said. My sisters each chimed in reiterating what I said.

“I’ll be fine, just get me coffee.”

So I went back to the nurse and said, “She is awake and asking again. We told her if the mask is removed she can die. She still wants her coffee.”

The nurse did what was asked and we all held our breath as she removed the mask from our mother’s face.

Mom smiled a big goofy grin at each of us, took the cup, sipped it and said, “This is decaf, you ain’t foolin’ anyone!”

Are you fucking kidding me?!?! I could not believe she was talking and drinking and accusing us of fucking with her coffee when an hour earlier she was almost gone. Really, Mom?!

I asked the nurse, she swore it was not decaf. I don’t think Mom believed us, but drank it anyhow and asked for a second cup of “that shit.”

Our mother was having an end of life awakening. It is something people often do. I think it is their body’s final push to tell their loved ones that everything will be okay and to say their goodbyes. Her breathing became labored again and the nurse put her back on the bipap. But it wasn’t long before she threw a fit and said, “I want this fucking mask off of me.”

We were terrified. We wanted to keep her with us. We were not ready to say goodbye. The ramifications were mentioned again as the nurse put the regular oxygen tube into her nostrils. Slowly each of us girls came to grips with the inevitable because she was awake enough and aware enough to speak for herself. I believe she was strong enough to make that major decision so we wouldn’t have to. It was just one more display of her courage and love for her daughters.

Sitting Indian-style in the hospital bed, she looked around the room at her four red-eyed daughters and said, “Was I supposed to die last night?”

Holy shit! Who asks that?! My sisters and I looked back and forth at each other seeking an answer in each others’ eyes. Together we meekly said, “Yeah, that’s what they said anyhow.”

“Well, how come I didn’t?”

Choking on an array of words, I said, “Because you are too evil to die.”

She laughed and then we told her the truth. The machine she hated and demanded removed, was what kept her alive. You could see she was absorbing that information as she looked over at the now disconnected machine.

Mom quickly changed the subject. She didn’t seem to care about oxygen, hospitals or machines at the time. She was hungry, and she didn’t want, “Anymore god-damn Jell-O!” I went out and talked to her nurse again. She said she was technically on a regular diet but they were really worried about her choking. I said, “If someone shows up in her room with Jell-O again, she is going to throw it at them.”

Mom playing dress-up.

Anita ordered some real food for her, but when it came, I believe our fragile mother said something to the effect of, “Fuck that danish!” about the half-dollar sized cheese filled danish. It honestly looked like doll food, it was so small. And that pissed her off, yet she continued to joke around as she drank a soda we smuggled in for her.

Mom plugging her headphones into her ass.

We laughed for most of the day because that was just how she was… even in her final day.

Mom goosing herself.

Sharing a brief description of her last day with the director of the funeral home was good therapy for us, and I think he enjoyed getting to know her through her daughters. Walking in to make those arrangements was something each of us was dreading. I imagine Mom and Dad guided us through as we agreed on everything from the mass and thank you cards, to her casket. Can you even imagine four distraught women agreeing on anything let alone everything?

Mom & Lane 2 having a cake fight.

When we arrived at the funeral home Wednesday for her service, the funeral director had a surprise waiting for us. During our arrangements meeting, he offered to take a thumbprint of Mom’s which could be put on jewelry. Not sure if we would want it, but knowing we had to give an answer, we said, sure. Not only did he take her thumbprint for us…he also took an imprint of her middle finger in flip-off mode. I guess as we reminisced, that man really got to know our mom.

Mom sneaking into bed with Mr. Lane.

It really was a blessing how quickly she left us. She wasn’t in lingering pain. That Thursday morning she walked herself into the doctor’s office for her second chemo treatment, and before they could begin, she was being taken out in a stretcher by EMTs.

Mom & Dad making out, and that is how you end up with so many kids!

That stubborn woman who was not expected to make it through Thursday, left her place in the world at 10 Saturday morning. She was amazing in every sense of the word.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

I Hope You Dance

Mother’s Day 2010, Mom and her girls.

Her last direct order to me was, “Get those babies home and ready for their dance, take a lot of pictures. Life is going to happen… if I’m here or not. You have to live. It’s okay. I’ll be fine, honey. See you tomorrow. I love you.”

Tomorrow never came.

That was the last time I saw my mom. Those are the last words she said to me in person. We talked again later on the phone and said good night. Yesterday she left us to be with Dad, and my sisters Mary Kay and Lucy, along with all of the other loved ones we have lost through the years.

As much of an attention whore as she always was, she wanted her illness kept on the down-low. She never liked sharing sad or difficult news. Even in her final day she had all of us laughing.

I felt so bad not being with her and my sisters at the very end. But, I followed her orders and got Lane 1 and Lane 2 back home and ready for prom. “You have to live,” echoed in my head as I went through the motions.

Before the kids left, the call came in. She was gone. I tried to not react. She wouldn’t want their prom ruined. She would want me to tell them in the morning. I didn’t cry. I didn’t react. I kept on living… but didn’t want to.

I could hear her laughing at me as I was gluing Lane 2’s fake nails on. I accidentally glued my fingers to her fingers…twice. And then I glued the kid to the table.

Lane 1 can read me like a book. As soon as he had a moment with me alone, he said, “It happened. She’s gone isn’t she?”

“I wasn’t going to say anything until tomorrow.”

“I know,” he said as he hugged me and we tried to not cry. “We can tell Sis tomorrow.”

An hour later, Lane 2 was interrogating her father. She knew too as word spread like wild fire through the world wide web. I thought she was preoccupied with getting ready, and had no idea she was on the internet reading a Facebook post, “Rest in peace, Grandma.” She didn’t want to burden me by asking if she was really gone. She knew I was trying to protect her. So she did what any little girl would do. She went to her dad and badgered him until she got an answer.

She came back in the house, put her hand on my shoulder and said, “I know.”

“She wouldn’t want you sad. As we were leaving the hospital, she told me to get you kids ready for your dance.”

As my little girl wrapped her arms around me, the feeling of role reversal nearly overtook me. Maybe it was me who really needed to wait until tomorrow.

So we followed that final order and we lived.

Lane 1 and his beautiful girl.

Lane 2 and her Jonas Brother looking boy.

My babies.

When the word cancer was brought up, all I could do was wish/hope/pray for a quick and painless journey. And that is what she got. She died in her sleep less than a month from being diagnosed.

No doubt she is at peace, with Dad.