September 29, 2010

My Guilty Pleasure

Dear Mom,

Over the past few years I have developed quite the list of guilty pleasures- like eating fresh strawberries complete with a mound of store-bought chocolate frosting twice their size, watching hours of DVR'd episodes of reality television (except Jersey Shore. I know they--whoever they are-- preach to 'never say never', but seriously: I. will. NEVER. watch that show.), and, of course, the Twilight Saga. Ohh Twilight. Unfortunately, you have missed this recent vampire phenomenon. I've even got Gisele hooked on it. Seriously, she read all 4 books (that are, keep in mind, like 700+ pages each) in about a week AND watched the two movies that were released. Quite impressive, I know. Anyway, I became seriously obsessed with the books, the movies, the characters, etc. I don't know how much you would like the whole vampire glistening in the sunshine/feeding on poor, innocent forest critters and humans thing, but the fact that Gisele has converted into a fanatic gives me some hope.

My other guilty pleasure, that I continue to mention, is Diary of a Dying Mom. It is what truly sparked my blogging adventure and gave me the drive to start writing again, so I feel forever indebted to Michelle.

It is a guilty pleasure for two reasons. One being that some people I have mentioned her blog to find it completely morbid that I enjoy reading about someone else's death (which I think it is hard to blame them for because these same people have not lost a parent and cannot possibly understand what I'm gaining from reading it). The other reason being that Michelle's blog literally provides me with a feeling of guilt and pleasure.

I feel this weird sense of guilt and sadness while I read it because I already know the outcome regardless of her hopeful posts and positive outlook. My heart breaks each time she writes that she is feeling better because I know the end is near, but she doesn't. Yet, I also find a sense of peace and pleasure from her every word. Whether it's a post about her children, death, or friendships, I find comfort in her thoughts. She is so candid and open when discussing her eventual death, but still, at the end of the day, looks for the positives. I feel like that is how you handled yourself (although more privately and not in blog-form). She is loving, motherly, funny, and sometimes admiringly inappropriate, and she continues to remind me of you in those ways and several others with each and every post.

As much as I love the blog, it poses one problem: like everything else, it ends. I just finished up reading the month of August, and I'm having a smidge of anxiety while I try to come to terms with the fact that her posts will stop in about a month and a half (which is approximately another week or two of reading material for me). I know it sounds silly because, outside the blogosphere, Michelle passed away several years ago, but in my tiny little bubble where Michelle speaks to me daily, I worry that it will feel like another death has occurred in my life. I'm eager to continue reading, however, a part of me wants to slow down to allow us, in a way, to have more time together. But I'm just dying to know (poor choice of words, perhaps, I guess I don't want to know that bad) what she has to say in her final months. What will her last post say? Will she ever find out what was shaking her bed at night?! Will she make it out to buy her children's final birthday gifts? Can she tell her body is shutting down?

Could you? I wish she'd slip that into an entry somewhere.

I predict that reading it will stir up some emotions that were once very familiar to me as the end of her life draws near. Whether that is a good or a bad thing, there's only one way to find out.

So tomorrow I will begin reading September's blog entries during my free time. Here goes nothing!

I love you,

September 17, 2010


Dear Mom,

I wrote this column back in high school when I was the chief editor of our school newspaper in 2005. You had just been diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer earlier that summer.


On July 12, 2005, my livestrong bracelet became more than just a fad; it became my lifestyle.

I went into this past summer filled with excitement because I was finally going to be a senior in high school. I found myself eager to discover where I would be once the next year had come and gone because it would be the beginning of a very new,
life-altering stage in my life.

Little did I know that this wonderful life I live would throw yet another stage at me before the day I'd graduate. That new, unplanned stage in my life has changed me more than receiving a diploma ever could because on one drizzly evening in July, I was told my mother had cancer.

Even as I say it now a lump instantly forms in my throat. My mother has cancer. Most people don’t see what the big deal is nowadays because it seems like everyone has it, but it’s different when it’s not your brother’s friend’s aunt; it’s different when it happens to someone you love.

The word cancer is so simple and yet so complex at the same time. I eat, sleep, and breathe cancer. My vocabulary has become bombarded with other obscure words like platelets and flatus; words that most adults don’t even know and that are now second nature to me.

This summer it seemed like my life had completely demolished in front of my eyes. It made me bitter and angry. I couldn’t figure out how people could still go on with their lives when mine had completely fallen apart in the matter of seconds. My senior year hadn’t even begun, and I was already dreading what was supposed to be the best year of my life.

It took a long time to adjust to this new life, but once I did it got a little easier. Not easy though—just easier.

And sometimes I take myself back to the beginning of this mess to the first time the word cancer was linked to my mom and indirectly to me. I never thought that the emotions from that night would still continue to feel so real. I was always told to never look back, but doing so helps me in so many ways. It hurts to think of where I’ve been, but realizing how far my mom has come makes the trip down memory lane worthwhile.

I’ve learned to appreciate and care about my family so much more. There are few teenage girls who feel they are lucky to have the family members that they have, and now I am one of those few. There’s no way that I am thankful for cancer, but while it’s a huge part of my life I need to somehow turn it into a positive thing.
Everyone has a story, and as a journalism student it’s my job to write about those stories. I decided to turn the tables on myself, not for pity or for attention, but for you— the guy or girl reading this right now who experiences my story firsthand every day when you go home. You are not alone, and the worst thing I did at first was think that I was.

Don’t underestimate the power of what it means to livestrong. Every time I glance down at my bracelet, I’m reminded of my mom and how my love, support, and encouragement make all the difference in the world to her.

Some say I wear my heart on my sleeve, but they’re wrong. I wear it on my wrist.


Thinking of you,

September 16, 2010

You Are the Company You Keep

Dear Mom,

Of all you have given me over the years, my favorite, most treasured gift is not one of material posession. You would be shocked to know it's not even this to-die-for olive skin tone I inherited from you or my curvacious derriere that makes my super-thin friends quite envious. Your most special gift to me has come in the form of an unexpected, yet irreplaceable friendship.

Unexpected couldn't be a more appropriate word to describe it. I am fully aware it's not normal to be BFFs with your high school ex-boyfriend's mother... really I am! But I wouldn't give up my friendship with Gisele for the world, and I honestly feel as though it was your final gift to me that truly keeps on giving.

I am a firm believer that, in a healthy relationship, you don't just date the person-- you date the whole family. Unfortunately, the same can be said for the break-up. I think it takes a very special connection between two mothers to continue being friends even after their children end their three-year relationship. Although it was just slightly awkward that you and Dad attended her older son's wedding afterward, and I wasn't invited, it still made my heart happy that you two had found the truest of friendships in each other (and that I had a big hand in that!).

I have, for the most part, encountered two kinds of friends (with a few amazing exceptions along the way). There's the friend who thrives off feeling needed, and once she "fixes" you, she ventures off to find her next emotional basketcase, and then there's the friend who fears comforting others and only wants to be a part of your happy days.

Gisele single-handedly messes up any categories I have previously created. She is pretty much her own unique breed of friend. She was the kind of friend to you that I have only read about-- the kind that is there when she is needed, and even when she is not. There were people in your life who only called you when they heard you were back in the hospital, and then there were people who would disappear until you were well again. But Gisele was there for you always and in so many ways.

She was your partner in crime (in those lovely orange and black outfits) yelling my name as I performed at football games and in cheering competitions; she treated you to dinner and a movie the night before your chemo treatments; she bought you chicken noodle soup from Panera Bread when the broth is all you craved during your final months on Earth; she stood by your bedside as you breathed your last breath.

I remember watching the color drain from your face in that moment. It was unlike anything I had seen, and even the most realistic movies don't get it right. I began thinking about a million things at once. She's dead. I am mother-less. She won't see me walk down the aisle. She'll never meet any grandchildren. Will our family fall apart without her?

But all I managed to get out was, "That's it? She's gone?!" in a shakey, panicked voice that I didn't recognize. In response to my words, I heard someone let out a sob (that I can still replay perfectly in my head, although I'm not sure who it belongs to) from the kitchen where many of our relatives had gathered that morning. Then I collapsed, sobbing in Gisele's arms. Little did we know that in that instant we were bound together for life.

In one of Michelle's blog entries, she writes, "Life gives you many mothers, not just the one of your birth. You will always have a mother when you need one. You just need to look for her." Those words seriously need to be in some book of quotes to live by because they are a must-read for any grieving daughter (or for any woman, actually).

Still, almost three years after your death, I call Gisele multiple times a week to tell her about my day and to inquire about hers. We vent; we laugh; we swap stories that no one else would appreciate or think are funny. As much as I love every aspect of our friendship, for quite a while I felt extreme guilt about it. You are the person I used to talk to daily, so I couldn't help but worry that, wherever you watching me from now, you feel sad and replaced.

I saw a therapist once a week on campus when I got back to school that spring, and during one of the sessions I brought up these feelings I had. She said, "If I died, I would find comfort in knowing that my daughter had someone to talk to. It would be the worst feeling to leave this world without being sure someone would be there to give her all the girly advice she would need later in life." That's exactly what I needed someone to tell me. I know you would never want me to sit somewhere by myself and deal with my feelings and questions about womanhood on my own.

A year after that discussion with my therapist, I then found a new problem slowly creeping in to occupy my mind and put an ache in my heart (there's always something, right?) I began to struggle with what other people may have thought of my friendship with Gisele. If I wanted to stop in and visit her when I went home for the weekend would Dad be jealous? Would Tom think I was replacing you? Was it secretly upsetting my boyfriend that I was so close with an ex's mom? Would my aunts resent me for not having that same relationship with them?

I had to rid myself of this knot in my stomach. I couldn't take it anymore. So in the middle of my sobfest and wallowing in self-pity, I picked up the phone and called Dad. We talk often now about any and everything, but this was something I hadn't shared with him. He gave me all the comfort in the world and reassurance that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my close relationship with Gisele. It was exactly what I needed to hear. I called Tom too and continued to spill my heart out. He is the greatest big brother. Our talk took away my worry and endless guilt. I allowed myself to be the vulnerable, defeated, comfort-seeking little girl that I hid for so long and sometimes still feel like inside. It felt nice.

I talked to John about my worries (he is my new boyfriend- well, not new to me since we have been dating for almost two years, but new to you because you never met him). I actually introduced him to Gisele before I brought him to meet Dad. "And this morning we're going out to breakfast with my ex-boyfriend's mom!" If that's not the pick-up line of the century, I'm not sure what is. Luckily, he's such a good sport about my semi-nonconventional life. He noted that it was a little weird at first, but that my friendship with her is a part of who I am, and he accepted that and me. He has a way of making me quickly wave goodbye to my insecurities. You would love him (insert a big, bittersweet sigh here).

I also started keeping in touch more with my relatives. Just because we didn't already have a close relationship didn't mean that one couldn't be formed eventually. With our little messages and e-mails here and there, I feel much closer to several of them and am a happier person for it.

I owe this tremendous growth to this wonderful friendship you have given me. Gisele shares your sincere enthusiasm, encouraging words, and warm heart. I think, subconsciously, you kept her in your life for a reason- to not only be your friend, but to eventually become mine.

If we really are defined by the company we keep, then damn,
I look good.


September 11, 2010

Baby Tiger

Dear Mom,

I've been continuing to read Diary of a Dying Mom in my spare time, and surprisingly, it hasn't made me emotional-- until today. Michelle Mayer, a mother of two (a daughter and son, just like you) was diagnosed with an incurable disease called scleroderma that effects the skin, blood vessels, internal organs, etc. Knowing she would die, she had children anyway. She wanted nothing more than to be a mother, and couldn't stand the thought of leaving her husband all alone. Ten years after her diagnosis, she decided to start blogging. This was merely a few months before her death in 2008.

Today I was reading her blog entry from June 13 of that year called Baby Tiger. It was a game that she and her little boy would play. He would be a little baby tiger whose mom went into the jungle and never came back for him. She would stumble across him and decide to save him and take care of him. She writes this post because she had a realization that he has always known she was going to leave him, and this game was his way of finding comfort after the inevitable. She wrote, "Sometimes I cannot bear to look at my kids; it hurts too much. And I wonder if sometimes he looks at me and wonders, 'How can you leave me? I need you'."

That's where I lost it this morning. Not only because I know how her son felt, but because I actually voiced that wish to you. That morning when I just couldn't handle my emotions anymore, I was hysterical and begged you over and over not to leave me. I knew it wasn't a path you chose, and it was so selfish of me to be weak and plead with you to stay with me when God had other plans for you. I can't imagine how my words made you feel. I'm certain you were already filled with such guilt, and I still haven't completely forgiven myself for adding to that.

Michelle wrote, "What a burden to bear on such small shoulders. So I keep asking God or the fates or whoever is in charge, 'Please I need more time. Just let his shoulders grow broad enough to bear the burden and then I can go. He is not ready yet'."

Thinking back on that day, I imagine you did exactly that too. That morning was a turning point for our family. My sob session with you was the result of an argument I had with Dad. He scolded me for spending too much time out of the house with my friends when I knew my time with you was extremely limited. At the time, I was so furious (because he was 100% right, and I was embarassed and ashamed of my actions) that it caused me to react so dramatically. For whatever reason, I was in the mind set that if I continued with my normal, daily routine that it would all just go away. When in reality, the situation was never going to go away-- you were. This realization was devastating. I felt guilty for not spending more time with you, and instead of owning that and apologizing, I put it on your shoulders and asked you to fix it by providing me with more time.

Although you didn't stay forever, you fought to live for several more weeks. And in those weeks, I put my friends on the back burner and made our family my focus. If I had a paper to write, I moved my laptop next to your bed. Tom and I sat beside you and put together a puzzle of Vegas for you and Dad since it's your favorite vacation spot. We ate Thanksgiving dinner on TV trays in the living room when you couldn't get up to sit at the kitchen table. You were our DJ while we decorated the Christmas tree in November. When you became unable to digest food and everything you ate filtered out into a bag connected to your side, I'd sneak you cheese curls and help squeeze them down the tube before Dad came in (you're welcome!). I washed what little hair you had left on your head and styled it when you agreed to let our relatives come over to take their final pictures with you. I gained the courage to ask you what clothes I should set aside for you to wear in your casket. I stopped disappearing when visitors came over and only went into the next room. That's how I overheard you planning your funeral and stressing over who would write your eulogy. That is exactly why I decided to be that person. I'll never forget the look on your face when I asked if you would be okay with that. That was the last time I saw you smile and truly mean it.

I owe all of those moments to my argument with Dad. He brought me back to the reality that I was trying so desperately to ignore. I would have carried on acting like you weren't really dying, and I know that by the time I stopped living in denial I would have missed those opportunities to show you how loved you are. Although I feel terrible for asking you to never leave me, I hope you found even the slightest bit of happiness in knowing you stayed long enough for us to create the memories I needed so desperately. Those moments are what is keeping your baby tiger going long after we had to say goodbye.

Forever missing you,