Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Will to Live

I have to admit, I had been putting off another blog post thinking that there would be one last amazing story. But I should have known better. This is Mom we are talking about; a survivor, a widow, a miracle. This is a woman every week who never missed a hair appointment in order to get her hair done in that perfect bouffant style —half can of hairspray for the extra hold.

Fortunately we got through Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Blake's Birthday without any major events. There have been small peaks and lots of valley's. The valley's consist of shut eyes, little discernible talking, shallow breaths and lots of hand holding. The peaks have brought more miraculous memories and words. Christmas Eve was a valley. I decided for my kids sake since I missed the family get together on Thanksgiving, I needed to attend our annual Christmas Eve celebration where we all take a part and sing the twelve days of Christmas. Christmas day I made my daily morning call to check in on her, and her care giver said to rush over because she was talking again. My family was just about ready to go downstairs and see what Santa brought — but Shawn and the kids heard my conversation with the care giver and selflessly said "Go! We'll wait for you". And so, I was able to have another amazing memory to fill my wonderbox that morning. It was the best gift I could have ever wished for. Mom very clearly told me "I love you more than you know".

Honestly I considered the title for my post "Groundhog's Day". Like Bill Murray, I feel  like I have been stuck in one place and every day is exactly the same. Every night before I shut my eyes I say the lord's prayer and finish it off by asking god to escort my Mom to heaven. Then every day I wake up realizing I did not receive a phone call during the night about her passing and realize I have another day to live in this depressing but magical state of life.

Everyone has asked if I have given her permission to die. I not only have given her permission but I go there multiple times a day to help plan her exit. Not because I want her to go but because she needs to go. She has not eaten in more than two weeks. She is so weak. My Brother and Sister-in Law were both saying yesterday that the opposite has happened; now her mind is sharp when she is present and her poor little body, physically just can't keep going. Just yesterday during another peak she said "I have had an amazing life. I just thought I had longer to enjoy it". She asked us "What would Fonie do?"

Here is what we have said to her, hoping one of these statements will help her to feel at peace:
-"There is a party waiting for you in heaven. There is a table full of food. Lot's of chocolate. All the cocktails you can order. And everyone you love is there. Daddy, Aunt Fon, your Mom, Aunt Bun, Jenny, Char..."
-Let's get on your favorite outfit, your jewelry, your sun glasses and scarf and I'll send you off in your convertible with the top down"
-"You are the best Mom anyone could ever wish for. You are beautiful, strong and have taught us everything we need in life to be ok without you. You have done your job! An amazing job".
-"We will meet again. One day you will have a party waiting for us in heaven".
-"I'm ok. I will be ok"

I have come to the conclusion, this is not my story. That is why I created this blog in the first place. This is her story. Her life. Her journey. I am just the story teller. Trying to make sense of something that I honestly have no control over. That my friends, is the lesson here. Who am I to tell her when she needs to go? It is clear she has the will to live. She will be alive down to the last breath. Obviously she wants to see 2014. Who wouldn't? She knows how wonderful life is. She is not quite ready to see yet how wonderful life after life is too.

Maybe it's time to make another hair appointment for her? The story continues.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Eat. Pray. Love.

I would agree with the best selling author Elizabeth Gilbert that these three sensations are what makes life worth living — or perhaps fills us with pleasure beyond anything else.

Mom has loved to eat her entire life. Luckily for her, with her 5'9" height, slender shape, and legs that go on for days, she has never had to worry much about watching what she eats. As you all know one of her favorite things to do this past year was eat; "let's do lunch!". That is why it is sad to say, Mom has finally decided she is no longer hungry. Not even the temptation of her favorite meal — a cheeseburger and chocolate shake is getting an eyebrow raise.

The hospice staff and caregivers say we are moving in to the last phase of "active dying". This is the phase I have googled numerous times hoping to read something that is a different outcome.

Mom is spiritual. She is a member of the Congregational Church in downtown San Mateo. In fact, her and Dad got married there. When it came time to choosing a place for my wedding, there was no question. Shawn and I also got married there. And that church baptized me, my brother, Shawn and all my kids. Mom up until a year ago this month, had volunteered every Friday religiously in the church office helping to type up the Sunday bulletin. She is a wiz at shorthand and a super fast typer from her days being a legal secretary for all the judges in the San Mateo courthouse. You remember how spiritual she became the day the Minister visited our house a few weeks back.

I think the "Pray" part is covered not only by her, but by all of you. All the friends and family who have reached out online, by phone, by cards and physically visited. Mom and I are blessed by the people we surround ourselves with.

Love. Is there even a question? Friday was the last day that Mom was really chatty. Once again she had a lot to say. I recorded a few things that I think will bring a smile to your faces:

- It will be nice to finally get out of the house
- I see little valentines all over the place
- I need your room number in case I need to contact you
- I hope we don't have more than two blocks to go?
- Merci

These random words I don't think are random at all. I am convinced they are all things that she is thinking about and seeing on her journey.

Yesterday may have been the last day she could physically "see" us. They say sight goes before sound. Shawn and the kids came over.

She had woken up from a pretty deep state when we entered her room. It was such a surprise to see her baby blues again. She intently stared at each and everyone of us.  It was if she was talking to each of us without saying a word. Tyler. Then Chase. Back to Blake and over to Shawn. And always back to me. Shawn even cracked a joke that she was having a staring contest. I knew she was taking it all in perhaps one last time. I told her to take pictures with her eyes. I knew she knew what I meant.

Love filled the room.

Love will physically visit her today and everyday until Mom peacefully decides it's time for her to go on and "do lunch" again. As we all know — she is the one in charge.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Fear the Beard

Mom is stable. Obviously she is the "fifty percent more" that the Doctor described 3 weeks ago when she said "some can live less than two weeks and some can live more than two weeks". We continue to visit her multiple times a day and let her just talk. The conversations go from present to past to lala land. Visits can be quite entertaining.

Over the weekend she wanted to make sure she was dressed. She told us she had been talking with Fonnie and looking at photos. She said she wanted to wear white. We are told she is still in the active dying process, but is "stable" for now. So we take that to mean, this could go on for some time or the tsunami could hit at any second. Maybe it's time to hire the Long Island Medium?

The boys came by and Mom wanted to make sure she was near a window. She told them to not leave any lights on, turn down the heat and not let anyone else in. She wanted to make sure they stayed by her porch. The boys thought it was her way of making sure her house was secure in her journey.

Today the visit with Ty and I was all about caps and beards. Ty had a cute stocking cap on. Mom was quite intrigued with it. She told us she thought Ty should have one in every color. She also told Ty she should travel and have fun. Ty of course told me that meant she should study abroad and perhaps continue to just live care-free....uh huh Ty, let's not get too carried away....

Mom asked us "To look out for her Mom who was going to drive by any second". She also told us to watch out for all the animals that were running around. "You mean the squirrels on your lawn?" "No, I mean the ones with tails in the room". "Are they mice?" "Well yes, and mice don't bother me, but if you see a cat or a dog, let me know". Uh ok, I will...

Her caretaker was wearing a "fear the beard" Giants shirt so Mom wanted to get a photo with her. By the end of the visit Mom said she was hungry and wanted to have a "beard" for lunch. I told her I needed to go back to work so she ended my stay with some great advice "If you get fired, tell them it's because someone is in the ground". Good to know. I am my own boss, so I certainly will pass along that information. Today we left laughing ear to ear. The story continues.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

We Make a Great Pair

Mom sat up. Exactly two weeks from the day we brought her home.

I was at work Tuesday and the caregiver called in a panick. At first I thought something horrible happened to Mom. Then I really listened to what she said, "Your Mother is up! She is up! She is sitting here on the edge of the bed waiting for you to see her!" I dropped everything and rushed out the door.

I ran into her room and found her very peacefully sitting up in her blue hospital gown, legs crossed, holding a kleenex. "Mom, this is a miracle!". Her response "Yes, I am a miracle". I asked her what she wanted to do and she told me to take her picture and tell everyone. I immediately sent it out through text to my family. They all replied within seconds with astonishing responses.

She went on and crossed her legs, asked to look at her note pad next to her phone and have her glasses put on. Being able to share this moment was absolutely fun. Really fun.

After about 45 minutes we convinced her to lay back down. "Back away. Be quiet". It was on her own terms. She continues to want to be in charge. I ended up staying for a few hours. Her speech went back to being compromised but she grabbed my hands and continued to give me some words of wisdom but every few minutes commented on how she loved my jacket and "I looked so cute". She went on to tell me that she thought she had more time with me, but since it would be cut short that I should carry on without her. She told me "We make a great pair". That really got the tears rolling on my end.

She also told me the following in this exact order (I was feverishly taking notes on my iphone):

-Take care of my kids
-Take care of myself
-Take her place in the family
-Do my best
-Always dress nice

Today I received another panicked call. This time Mom had made it to a wheelchair. I dropped everything and rushed over.

I found her peeking out her bedroom window. She said she was looking at her lawn, the trees and her car in the driveway. She said people were coming for her and then she looked at me and clearly said "People will be dancing in the streets really soon".

I convinced her I could wheel her out into her den to see her roses in the backyard. She said "look, my apple tree. I want to eat a big red apple! Wait are those bugs? Is this my house? Fonnie is talking to me. Did you hear her?" Her thoughts went from clarity to hallucinations to heaven.

Ironically Fonnie tragically passed away on December 18th. Could she be waiting until next Wednesday?

As we wheeled her back to her room, she passed her living room and said "Oh, wait, I need to sort through my mail". I felt like she was making her last rounds. Perhaps making sure everything was in the perfect place. The story continues.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Wonder Box

People have told me that death can be beautiful. I was not buying it at all — until Sunday.

We decided to have Mom's Minister over to say a prayer. We had about 3 back to back days with not a lot of signs that things were going to improve. Her speech was impaired and she had been sleeping most of the days.

I brought Chase and Blake with me. She was sitting up in bed, lipstick on, crying tears of joy. I was shocked. She had not cried in months. This was a different sign. A spiritual, possibly accepting sign perhaps? These were not sad tears, but tears of joy.

She greeted us with a big, loud clear "Hiya". The boys both giggled and looked at me like I was crazy to have thought she was going anywhere, anytime soon. She went on to tell us that "today was a party — the best day she could ever have planned". I quickly grabbed the opportunity to have her talk to Tyler up in Eugene since their last "good-bye" was not anything really special. Clear as day she said to Ty, "What are you doing?" I could hear Ty reply "I am at a coffee house studying for finals. What are you doing Grandma?" Mom replied as clear as the blue sky "I am going to heaven". She then went on to ask Chase "Will you be my cloud?"

I could not believe what I was seeing and hearing. The Minister arrived and the tears of joy and love and admiration continued. She grabbed the care givers face and told her how appreciative she was of her taking care of her. She turned to me and said I looked more beautiful than I ever had (keep in mind I had not showered for two days and had a stocking cap on)...well, ok...

It was hard to leave her bedside. She physically grabbed my hands that day and held them tight and looked me straight in my eyes with her gorgeous baby blues.

I reluctantly had to go. I took Chase to a meeting and then we both watched Blake play basketball. Blake was also on fire that day. He had a game like no other. We went out to dinner to celebrate him and then I returned to Mom's thinking I would arrive and she would be fast asleep after such a big emotional day.

"You're back!" she said. She was still sitting up in bed. "Yes I'm back. You'll never guess the kind of game Blake just had. Guess how many baskets he scored Mom?" She looked off in the distance then very carefully and clearly yelled with lifted arms "20!". I was flabbergasted.

How did she know he scored 20 baskets? I mean, that is a pretty high and random number. "How did you know?" I asked. Mom looked straight into my eyes and grabbed my hands "Because I am a woman of wonders. You see I am collecting all of these wonderful family memories in a wonder box to give to you". I was speechless just trying to process all of it. Then without a break in her sentence she went on to say "But me, I am building myself an escape box. And I am going to escape right through the top when no one notices" and she lifted up her finger straight above her head as if she was showing me how she would escape.

She grabbed my face and grabbed my shoulders and gave me a kiss smack on the lips like no other and said "I love you. I love you more than anything". And then said "Do you see that little girl?". "Uh...no". "There is a little girl holding a balloon waiting for me." and then she gave a huge smile that never left her face.

I can honestly say Sunday was magical, perhaps even beautiful like people describe. The story continues.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Waiting for the Tsunami

Music continues to be the therapy. Last night I brought the boys to see Mom. I asked if she wanted to hear some music and she quickly said "Elvis". Sure enough I tapped my 50's radio icon on itunes and the first song was an Elvis one. Mom likes to hold my phone and look at the screen. She says she likes to see the pictures of the people singing the song. The boys got to see her yesterday when she was the most alert, so I was thankful for that.

This "active dying" process is like a marathon. When I ran the San Francisco nike for the first time and approached the visual of having to run all the way around lake merced at mile 20, I shut down. I told my running girls "I need to stop talking and dig deep to get around this lake". My girlfriends totally accepted my response. I focused on the goal, got introspective and got through it.

The past few days I've laughed. I've been mad. I've cried. It's like waiting for a Tsunami. I know it's coming. I know it will be devastating. I just don't know when it will hit.

Monday, December 2, 2013


Some fans to this day think Elvis is alive.

When I came home from school in 7th grade, Mom was not home. Instead Aunt Fon was there. She told me that Mom was not feeling well and she had to spend the night in the hospital. That seemed like a reasonable response. I asked if I could speak with her. "Sure" she replied. I called Mom and spoke with her. Thinking back she sounded weak but I don't recall anything out of the ordinary.

Days turned in to a few weeks. I had not had another conversation with her. I can remember asking if I could talk to her, but my Aunt always had some good response to divert my attention to something else.   I came wheeling up the porch one afternoon. Aunt Fon was waiting for me and my Brother in the  living room along with my other Aunt and Uncle. They asked us to sit down.

They went on to say that Mom was still in the hospital but she had slipped into a coma the day after we last spoke. Mom's last words to Aunt Fon were, "Whatever you do, do not tell the kids". Now two weeks later the doctor's told my Aunt that Mom was most likely not going to wake up. He told her it was time to tell the kids.

I was devastated. I was angry. I was sad.

I took my Mom's favorite flower in and lay it on her pillow. I gave her a kiss and said I love her. Then I got as far away as I could from the hospital.

My brother and I took the next flight up to Washington. My cousin was getting married in less than a month so I think the family thought it was best to go there and take our mind off Mom.

I have told you Mom is a miracle. Shawn and the kids are the first to say she is a cat with nine lives. Mom started to hum and whistle. The doctors were astounded. She ended up completely coming out of the coma. Her kidney's failed. She did the dialysis. She had to learn to talk, play cards, walk again. But she fully recovered. Turns out Mom had cancer and was hiding it from myself and my brother, until she got so sick she had to call Aunt Fon. Just like her — privately battle cancer so she did not impose on either of us. I tell people this story and they just shake their heads in amazement.

I knew Mom would not leave us on Thanksgiving — she would never want to leave that sad memory on a holiday. Friday however, was another story.

I have a routine. I come over every morning to help change her and see how she is. Friday she was not eating or drinking. She told me she spoke to her Mom that morning for quite a while. I was sure this would be her last day with us. She was fast asleep. Until I found a 40's radio station on itunes.

Music is magical. An old Elvis song randomly served up. I looked at Mom and all of a sudden her shoulders started to move, her head bopped around and Veronica and I couldn't help ourselves but stand up and start dancing with her. We both grabbed one of her hands and Mom perked up like she was ready to boogie on out to the dance floor. She asked us to remove her cover, take off her socks and wiggle her toes. It was a glorious few minutes. I will never forget it.

Now, almost a week later from getting the "hours, days or weeks" news, Mom is rallying again. Another miracle? Who knows, maybe Elvis is still alive too.