August 30, 2010

Whether It's Wrong Or... Write

Dear Mom,

I thought writing this blog would be difficult, but I'm surprised at how natural it feels to just let my guard down and type. The hard part has actually been mustering up the courage to share it with people. I have always been a bit too critical of myself when it comes to my writing even though I often hear nothing but praise-- and I'm glad to say that this time it is different. I actually find myself rereading my previous posts and being slightly shocked that I even wrote them! I have been writing from so deep within my heart and finally letting out what has been eating at me for so long that it's impossible for me to find flaws (for once). But what if someone else does? That is my only hesitation and insecurity. I worry that, as good as it feels to open up and be vulnerable, it will be equally as overwhelming for someone else to read (especially anyone I met after you passed because they don't exactly know this side of me in such descriptive detail). Or what if the Hospice lady gets wind of what I really think about her?! Woops. No turning back now!

Something I have always struggled with is caring way too much about what people think about me and what I say or do, and I finally need to do something about it. So, I'm giving the few people I have sent this link to complete permission to share it with anyone that will enjoy or benefit from reading this. Here's to my biggest attempt at being carefree, not apologizing for the way I feel, and continuing to move forward.


August 20, 2010

Home is Where My Heart Is

Dear Mom,

Last weekend I went home to visit Dad (and to pick up the new iPhone he bought me-- I'm still Daddy's Little Girl at 22!). I know you thought that choosing to die in our house instead of the hospital would make us not want to ever be there, but at least for me, I find all the comfort in the world inside those walls. I'll admit I didn't always feel this way; I used to have a lot of anxiety about going home. It was hard; so many great memories heavily overshadowed by the painful mental images of your last two months of life. But I think a lot of things contributed to me overcoming my nerves about being back in the place I spent my entire life in:

1. Dad has pretty much remodeled the whole downstairs area. He knocked down entire walls in the kitchen and moved the bathroom completely. It looks like it's straight out of a five-star hotel (we finally have a bathtub and not just a shower, a fan that doesn't hum, ceramic tiles, and even a heat lamp over head!) The kitchen is so open and inviting. I can't wait to see it when it's finished. We also have a brand new living room set that Dad got the week before I visited. It makes the room look COMPLETELY different! It has made it almost impossible to picture the hospital bed that was in its place just 2.5 years ago.

2. Now when I go home, I actually stay home. It's almost like a mini-vacation! I get a chance to chat with Dad, relax in front of the big screen, never get out of my pjs, and let the Casino touch screen game upstairs kill millions of my braincells and consume hours of my life. It's the perfect getaway from the big girl life I wish so badly you were here to enjoy with me.

3. I look through old photographs and letters. It still makes me cry every time, but I think it is healthy. I allow myself to let go of my composure and strength, and it feels good. I used to try to be so strong while I was home, and then I'd be crying on my way back by the time I reached Portland. This is much better for me (and safer!). I never thought letting my tears fall would feel so rejuvinating and cleansing. They used to be tears of sadness and pain, and although sometimes they still are, they are ever so slowly turning into tears of admiration for your strength and of happiness for having you in my life for 19 amazing years.

4. I stopped allowing myself to feel guilty if I didn't have enough time to visit the cemetery (I did make it last weekend during my trip home. Here's the first picture I took with my new phone!). I know you feared that we wouldn't take the time to do that, so I would work myself into a panic if I got all the way back to college and remembered I never went. Don't get me wrong, I go 9 out of 10 times I am back home, but it was that one time I forgot or didn't have enough time to go that I'd dwell on for days. But I don't now. I know that you know how much I love you regardless of where I am or where I am not; I know that I don't need to be talking to your headstone in order for you to hear me. Your body is there, but your soul is everywhere.

5. Time.

Love you,

August 11, 2010

Regret Me Not

Dear Mom,

Regrets. We all like to say we have none, just lessons learned, but it seems all the same to me. Although my regrets aren't the typical ones that someone my age should have. I should be regretting the small stuff like wearing that not-so-flattering blue faded dress to my sorority formal that fall or accepting one too many mixed drinks from my girlfriends on my 21st birthday. But as you know, I'm not that lucky. My regrets are actually quite small in the grand scheme of things, but they still manage to seep into my mind when I'm least expecting them and completely ruin my day.

1. We never took enough pictures together. I guess I thought there would be enough time when you got better, but that day never came. Now I'm left with one from the final basketball game I cheered at when handed out roses to our parents in the crowd, one from the Kermesse festival that summer before you were bedridden, and the last one we took together a week or two before you passed away (but Dad doesn't like that one because it's obvious that you are sick when it was taken. I think it is so hard for him to look at because he finally could see how thin and frail you became. It's difficult to notice even the biggest changes when you're right in the middle of it all. There's nothing wrong with him only wanting to imagine you happy and healthy; I just can't bring myself to ever get rid of it even though looking at it often times brings more tears than smiles. It's our last picture together. Dad is so much stronger than me in that way). There are other pictures, but they're mainly family photos or from when I was really young. Honestly, I could have a million photographs and it still wouldn't be enough! Now I'm a photo guru. I take pictures of every person I care about and every event I encounter. I know it's silly, but I just want to capture and remember all the little moments that define my life. I wish I would have asked you to take more pictures with me.

2. I should have been a better daughter. Now, when I try to explain this to anyone they are shocked that I could ever think I wasn't a good enough daughter to you-- and I know you'd be mad at me for even thinking it! But these are my regrets, and I can't help what they are, as much as I would like to. The reason I think I feel regretful isn't a bad one, it's more bittersweet if anything. I just feel that since your death, I have grown into a much stronger, more beautiful person in so many ways. I treat people better, I laugh a little harder, and love more fully. I tell my family and friends how much I love them and enjoy the little things more than ever before. Why did it take your death to fast-forward this transformation into the person I have always wished to be? I know I was never a bad daughter, but I would be an even better one to you today. And I still try my best to be just that and honor your memory in all I do. I hope you are able to see this from wherever you are now.

3. I wish I would have gone to church with you. Religion is a whole post or 10 in it's own for me, but it's one of these small regrets I have. I remember going when I was really little, but I ironically made church-going a living hell for you, and that Sunday ritual ended quickly. Now I know how much religion was a part of your life growing up. You lived for God, church, the choir, etc. I never saw that side of your life, and I feel like it would have helped me in so many ways today. I wish I would have cared enough about it to pry myself into that hidden part of your life. You would have been so happy to share it with me. It's not too late for me to find my own sense of belief, and trust me, I'm trying so hard, but it would be so wonderful to have gotten to share it all with you.

4. I regret not requesting more family vacations together. The one (and only) I remember is the four of us going to Chicago for my cousin Sean's wedding. Later I found out that you and Dad knew this entire trip that you potentially had a cancerous tumor the size of a softball growing inside you. You had me 100% fooled. You didn't even give a fraction of a hint that anything was wrong. While we were there, I had one of my notorious allergy-related anxiety attacks after convincing myself I would somehow die from the shellfish being served even though I wasn't eating it, and Tom got a call that his old college roommate died from an overdose. You were so concerned about consoling him and calming me down (I'm SUCH a baby, I know, but I'm getting better about my allergy anxiety!) and were secretly dealing with your own issues. Besides the ending of the trip, we had the greatest time together (and I just remembered we have a picture together from that time too- wearing funny hats out a restaurant). I wish we had taken many more vacations together. I think I found more excitement from you and Dad leaving on vacation together and letting me have the house to myself growing up. I was an idiot! I missed out on so much time with you, Dad and Tom because I was selfish. I try to convince myself that all kids are. Someday, when I have my own children, I will force them to go on those silly family getaways with me because, in time, they will also see how not-so-silly they really are.

Now that I have taken the time to write these all out... rather than regrets, I think they are better labeled as exactly what I will do with my own family someday. Simply minor alterations from my very happy childhood. Maybe they really aren't regrets but truly are just lessons learned. There you go again- still teaching me lessons even from heaven.


August 9, 2010

From the Beginning (of the end)

Dear Mom,

You had been in and out of the hospital so much that summer and even into the fall that I honestly shouldn't have been so shocked the day you told me you were dying. I was headed home for Fall Break from school to see you, again, at Maine Medical Center. When I walked into your hospital room that night, you said, "we have to wait for your brother to get here, and then I'll go over what the doctor said today." Tom lives in Connecticut, and you called him to come home. This was bad news. I never told you, but I curled up into a ball on the floor in a bathroom down the hallway and cried by myself until a nurse heard me and came in.

And I thought it was nerve-wrecking waiting to perform at a high school cheering competition? Are you kidding me? Nothing in my life will ever compare to the nerves I had when my brother walked in, and the room fell silent. I sat facing you on your hospital bed, my left hand clenching your right one. Somehow (probably thanks to the ridiculous amount of drugs they were pumping through your body) you didn't even shed a tear when you told us you would be ending your chemo treatments and living out the rest of your life in whatever way you could. Did I cry? I couldn't tell you. All I could hear and feel was the deafening sound of my heart beating. Or maybe it was breaking. A life without you, my best friend, seemed like no life at all.

I later ended up in the hallway on the phone. Who did I call? What did I say? It's all a blur. I just remember the endless tears for the next several hours. Earlier that day I told you that we were going to have a sleepover, and even though everything was different now- much scarier now- I still kept my promise. But I didn't sleep a wink. I just waited for you to stop breathing all night. I can't put into words how happy I was that you looked over at me in the morning with that big smile of yours. You were still alive. Little did I know that those anxious feelings that literally made me tremble day in and day out would never cease while you were so ill. My heart constantly felt like it was ready to burst.

When Tom got there I went home to get a chance to talk to Dad alone. I needed the reassurance that, although you would leave us eventually, I would still have years with you to learn all there was to know about adulthood. When I got home I realized I had just missed him, so I called him instead while he was on his way to see you. He told me you really had between two days and two months left to live. Not years. Two days. How can they go from telling you one week that you're getting healthier, and then that you might be dead within 48 hours the next? I'll never understand that, and I hated them for it.

I also pretty much hated our Hospice nurse. Okay, okay, I didn't hate her. She was good for some things... like for giving you medicine and for telling me I should start writing about my experiences (which I did, and I'll post here and there eventually). But, yeah, that was pretty much it. Just the thought of sitting in a room for the first time with someone from Hospice was overwhelming to me. This was such a reality check. You were really going to die. And the way she threw around that topic like she was discussing what she ate for lunch was appauling to me. I wanted to kick her out. Or just plain kick her. I wasn't really sure. But in all honesty, looking back on it now, I pity her for being so comfortable with a life filled with death that meeting us didn't even phase her. She probably couldn't even tell you my name (which, ironically, I couldn't tell you hers either. Dad and I always debated whether she was saying Mary or Maria... so maybe that's not a good example!). But seriously, you had nurses fighting over you because you were such a great patient, and that woman just acted like you were another check off her to-do list when her alloted time was up. I have the utmost respect for her role, but none for her and her extreme lack of tact. Your nurses at MMC, however, now they were amazing. They made your time in the Gibson wing bearable. What more could we ask for?

Well, I could think of a thing or two.

Missing you,

August 8, 2010

Diary of a Dying Mom

Dear Mom,

I stumbled across a blog called 'Diary of a Dying Mom', and it is, in a word, brilliant. I have started reading it from the beginning and already have so many of my questions answered about what the process of dying may have been like for you: the fear of leaving us to fend for ourselves; having to go before you're ready; making medical choices that could prolong and shorten your life altogether with no way of knowing until it's happening. It's no hot and steamy Danielle Steel novel, but I still think you would have enjoyed reading it.

You always kept a smile on your face when I was around you, but eventually I lost count of how many times I woke up to the sound of your sobs filling the halls while you let your guard down to Dad early in the mornings when you thought I was asleep. In case I never got a chance to say it, thank you for trying so hard to be strong in front of me. Although we were always honest with each other, I now know that some things aren't meant to be shared with your children whether they're 5 or 25, and I'm glad you understood that. If you would have cried in front of me as often as I'm sure you wanted to, I don't know that I could have handled those last two months as well as I did. We are one in the same- if someone is crying, we provide them their strength. I'd spent so much of my life being strong already... thank you for letting me be a kid again and for acting like you believed me when I told you I still thought you would somehow get better.

I needed that.

Love you,