October 29, 2010

OMG, What a TMM.

Dear Mom,

College kids, for the most part, have it made... or at least I did: Classes two days a week; weekends that start on Thursday; living in a house with 25 of my sorority sisters (therefore never running out of things to wear and friends to procrastinate with... jackpot!); having a fantastic cook at my disposal Monday-Friday; school vacations that totaled to be about 6 months a year. I could go on all day. College students even have their own special, shortened lingo. Having a bad day? A simple ‘FML’ when you walk through the door will inform your roommates. Can you be excused? No, but you can certainly BRB. Accidentally insult someone? Don't worry, she totally knew you were JK.

I graduated less than 6 months ago, and unfortunately there was no slow transition from college girl to working adult. I work 5 days a week with an occasional Saturday shift; my weekends consist of cleaning, doing laundry, and trying my hardest to stay awake past 9PM; Fridays are even more exciting now because I get to wear jeans to work; and vacation? What’s that again? I get zero days off until I work here for a year. ZERO. Count ‘em. Oh that’s right, you can’t.

And lastly, I became a true member of the adult world when I could no longer keep up with the lingo used by my younger friends and had to ask for clarification. I recently learned that ‘TFM’ stands for ‘Total Frat Move’ and is used to describe something that only someone in a fraternity would do. For example, “I spend money like it’s not mine... because it’s not. Thanks Dad. TFM.” And that was the only one appropriate enough to share with you. Ugh. Way to go people. Nothing like giving Greek Life even more of a bad reputation! Fortunately, I do not have any TFMs or TSMs (Total Sorority Moves, of course) of my own to add. What I do now on a daily basis is more likely labeled a TMM...

A ‘Total Mom Move’.

One of my more major TMMs was just a few weeks ago. I wrote a letter to an old friend of mine that was extremely heartfelt and sincere. I cried through the whole thing. I wanted her to know that even though we drifted over time, I will never forget all she did for me and all she got me through during the most difficult years of my life. She was to me, how Gisele was to you. She was the friend I never had to say ‘but don’t tell anyone!’ to because I just knew she never would. She was the one college friend of mine who got to meet you. And she was the only friend who provided me support after the funeral when everyone else must've assumed grieving couldn’t possibly last more than a few weeks or something. I hope with all my heart that someday I will have a friend my age as wonderful as her again. She is the definition of a true ‘best friend’, and I am lucky just to have had her in my life for a short time. I learned from you that it’s not the number of years you spend together, but the quality of the moments that matter and are most impactful.

Weeks went by, and I hadn’t heard from her. I was trying not to feel hurt or take her lack of response as a loud and clear message that she didn’t feel the same. Bottom line, I told her how much I care about and appreciate her, and that was what was important to me. What a TMM. But at least now she knew, right? No harm done.

I check my e-mail every day out of habit. Eventually I stopped opening it with hopes of seeing her name in my inbox. That’s when the message appeared. At first glance, I could tell she spent a lot of time on it. It was fairly lengthy, and, from our many unproductive trips to the library where we got dirty looks and the occasional “SHHH!” after our frequent outbursts of laughter, I knew that she hated to sit down and write. It was also grammatically correct with capital letters, punctuation, paragraphs, indentations-- the whole shebang! This was huge (this observation? Obviously another TMM). After actually reading it, I was in no way disappointed by her.

She felt the exact same. She recalled funny memories from our past and sentimental moments she shared with you that she had never told me about. Again, I cried. I don’t think people understand just how much it means to me when they tell me stories about you. It brings you to life all over again. She described dark times in her life when I returned the favor of being a true best friend. She felt lucky to have had me in her life too.

One time when we went to the mall, there was a fortune teller there. We obviously just HAD to get our fortunes told. I went over after she was done with hers, so the lady had no way of knowing we were there together. She first hit the nail on the head when she mentioned that I lost someone recently. She said, “she wants you to know that she is not in pain anymore, not to worry about her, and that she loves you so much.” That was pretty generic, but I was so fragile at the time that I ate it right up (and I know all those things are true anyway). She also mentioned that I recently ended a relationship with a boyfriend that I felt was always burdened by my situation. Ding ding ding! I was convinced I had just met the 21st century version of Nostradamus after that comment. She went on to talk about my future career path and some other mumbo jumbo before telling me that she was feeling a strong connection between me and someone she had just spoken with. She said we were “meant to be sisters, but were just born to different families.”

Although neither of us mentioned the desire to be close again in our letters, we both acknowledged that we will always be a part of each other lives and a support system for one another. I think we both know how different we have grown to be, and that having a friendship like we did two years ago is impossible right now. We would both end up being disappointed. Maybe things will be different down the road, but we still have a long way to travel.

My little TMM paid off this time, but if I get carried away and trade my heels for tennis shoes and my bikini for a one-piece, you better send me a little sign from above that I’ve gone too far!

Your favorite/only daughter,
Sami :-)

October 24, 2010

A MidAutumn Night's Dream

Dear Mom,

Some people believe that the dead can come to you in your dreams at night. I'd like to believe that too, but I don't recall ever meeting that werewolf that kept reappearing in mine back in high school, so I'm not completely convinced. Nonetheless, I keep trying to find a hidden meaning when you appear in my dreams, like last night, and are dying all over again.

The first time you ever showed up one of my dreams was a few months after you passed away. While I was asleep, I relived everything from the night in the hospital when you told me you were stopping chemo treatments, right up to me clinging desperately to your casket in the snow before they lowered your body into the ground. I woke up to find that I hadn't only been crying in my dream. I was hysterical and shaking. I had been working so hard to move forward, and that dream sent me right back where I started. It wasn't just a dream, but a representation of how much I really hadn't gotten over yet. I hadn't even begun to deal with losing you. I just wanted one day without crying. Just one day. So I pushed those memories out of my head instead of working through them. The realization was devastating. I stayed in bed for the next 24 hours, completely numb. Even crying seemed like too much work. That’s when I made my first appointment with a therapist. She saw me immediately.

Since that day, I have never had a dream quite like that one, but there have been two other variations. I have dreamed that you are dying, but I make it clear that I know you have already died before. I always comment to someone random that you “came back to life, but are really dying forever this time.” I feel a rush of urgency and desperation because this is actually the last time I will see you. Your funeral is never exactly like it really was, but the feeling I had that everyone was staring at me is intensely magnified. Then I wake up, and my sobs carry over to real life. It’s pretty much a given that the rest of my day will be emotional and gloomy, and that was no different when I woke up today. I don’t know why, but I just can’t shake the feeling. Gisele thinks that maybe it means that there are still some moments or emotions that I haven’t worked through. But that leads me back to my original question: are you coming to me in my dreams to tell me that? If so, you’re pretty twisted, Mom.

I’m not at all convinced that you have a hand in me reliving the worst time in my life over and over again while I’m asleep. The other dreams you have been a part of however, are what are keeping me from ruling this possibility out completely.

The next time I dreamed of you was a few months after my initial bad dream. It was a simple and beautiful moment. You and I were sitting on your bed watching a movie with Dad and Tom by our sides. I stopped watching the movie and just stared down between us for the remainder of my dream-- we were holding hands. It was so peaceful. I woke up feeling happy and loved. I want to believe that you were letting me know that you are still holding my hand through my life’s journey like you promised. A simple, heartfelt message.

This past summer, you appeared again. This particular dream was in reference to my fear of the world ending on 12/21/12. I got all upset while watching a documentary on TV the summer before—silly I know, but hear me out! It’s a scary thing being told that we are all going to die in a few years (whether it’s true or not), and all I could think about was how you must have felt being told that you, and only you, were going to die in just a few months. My heart ached for you. Luckily, John was with me, and I literally cried on his shoulder while I shared my thoughts with him. In moments like that I appreciate his silent nature. His embrace comforts me more than any words ever could. Things like “she’s in a better place” just don’t do it for me when I’m upset. You didn’t want to die; you didn’t want to leave me. So those words aren’t comforting. Unless someone simultaneously hands me a postcard from “Better Place, USA” letting me know you’re in it, let’s just save the BS for another day when I’m more stable. Did I just go off on a tangent? Weird, that never happens…

So, in my dream, I’m guessing it was 2012 because I was visibly upset that the end of the world was relatively near. I was back at home, and Dad recommended I talk to you about it. You pulled into the driveway in the little red truck you loved so much, and I ran out to see you. We had a long chat about my fears about the world ending. You explained that death doesn’t hurt, so I shouldn’t be scared. You told me that heaven is indescribable, and that what we feel as ‘happiness’ on Earth doesn’t compare to how you feel once you are in heaven. You also talked about what God is like, and how he visits you every day. I told you that I was worried that, since there are so many people in heaven, John wouldn’t be able to find me after we die. You promised me that he will, just like Dad will find you, and we will all be together again.

I believe you.

All my love,

October 22, 2010

Whoever Said "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems"... Was Probably Broke & Bitter

Dear Mom,

I realize that slow and steady isn't the ideal blogging pace, and that my nickname should be 'turtle' rather than my little green Toyota Echo parked in the driveway. My old high school cheering coach once told me that I don't speak much, but when I do, it's always something worth listening to. Let's hope this is a similar scenario.

Before I continue, yes, I know what you're thinking... YOU?! Not talk a lot?! I can practically hear you, Dad, Tom, John, and Gisele laughing from here. But I know you all secretly love my long-winded, overly-detailed, never-ending stories.

Anyway! Back to my point...

Over the past week or two of my absence, I have been preparing for a new chapter in my life; something that I will be financially responsible for for the next 18+ years. That’s right... I'm having a baby: her name is College Loans, and she's due in a week.

Oh I'm bad, I know. Feel free to take a few moments to compose yourself.

I am in fact entering the dreadful land of College Loan Repayment. All aspects of college loans have been absolutely terrible: taking them out, getting them on time, using them up too fast, talking to the phone robot for 20 minutes before I can hit '0' to speak to an actual human being, and now, preparing to pay them off. I envy anyone who does not have my $65,000 worth of debt (and don't forget about the $30,000+ interest that will accrue over time as a nice little bonus!).

But Sam, didn't you go to school in state? Oh, I most certainly did! I guess that's what you get when your mom dies when you're 19- absolutely nothing. I lost all my financial aid once your life insurance showed up in Dad's yearly income the following semester. Did anyone take a minute to question if that money went towards your casket? Your funeral? The burial? Your headstone? What about the stack of hospital bills that kept coming to pay for the previous chemo treatments, surgeries, and frequent emergency room visits?

I was told I could repeal the decision made by those sweethearts who determine financial aid packages, but that it probably wouldn't get me far because that added income made it seem like Dad makes 'too much money'. I completely understand that, but last I checked it was ME enrolled in college, not my dad. It would make perfect sense if he were actually paying for me to go to school. However, he's trying to teach me a little something called financial responsibility, and unfortunately these love little penny pinchers are making it a tad difficult for me to be thankful for that at the moment.

It’s safe to say that life was much less hectic when you were filling out my FAFSA forms every year and calling the school and loan companies to get things squared away for me each semester. I was spoiled rotten! And all those hours I later spent trying to figure it out by myself after you passed away was just one of the many wake up calls reminding me of how lucky I once was.

I know how much you loved taking care of me. I was (and still am) your little girl! But if I could turn back the clock, I would have been more independent. Not emotionally, because our endless phone calls and girl talks were the highlight of my daily routine. But I would have wanted to be more independent financially. Not necessarily paying for things on my own, since that's nearly impossible at 14, but just being involved in the every day financial process at home. I think all of us could have benefited from that. You enjoyed taking care of the check books, bill payments, and all the other household and business paperwork. You were organized, dependable, and methodical with your assorted notebooks and folders (which, by the way, made it easy for me to find the ‘Sami’s Car Payment’ folder the following January to tell Dad you somehow started paying off my car for me over the past few years, and now it was his turn… woops!) And it’s completely fine that you wanted to be in charge of that stuff-- afterall, you were the parent!-- but I wish you would have at least taught me how to do it too. I mean, I learned how to write a check when I was in like 4th grade, but I wish I would have learned other things from you.

Maybe we could have sat down together, put the phone on speakerphone, and had me call to set up a loan—that way you were still there for guidance, but I was the one talking (we could have even started with baby steps and just had me order a pizza for crying out loud. I developed a weird nervousness about calling companies for things, so I always relied on you to do it!). Or we could have talked about budgets together once I started working at Alex Pizza in high school. Clearly, that would have not been high on my priority list, but I honestly wonder now if I thought money literally did grow on trees since I had zero savings when I went to college.

I’m not trying to knock your parenting skills in the finance department in even the least bit. It’s easy to look back on everything now and pick it apart. There are a lot of things we would have done differently if we didn’t think you’d be around to help me. You were a great mom—the best mom. And you obviously did something right because I at least have the ability and drive to figure things out for myself after a valid attempt or two. And that’s just what I’ve been doing for the past few weeks with my college loans.

I have been calling each company multiple times to set a better payment plan that doesn’t involve me sleeping in a cardboard box for the next 15-25 years of my life and living off saltines and puddle water. Four pages of loan questions, an astonishing excel spreadsheet, and three color-coded folders later—I have finalized my repayment schedule. Hooray! I guess in the days that I’m not blogging, I’m spending my time becoming a little more like you, and that sounds pretty good to me.

Love you,

October 11, 2010


Dear Mom,

I finished reading Diary of a Dying Mom early last week. So much for it supplying me with another 2 weeks of reading material… I just couldn’t stop turning the pages (I printed out all the entries, highlighted certain parts I loved, and made little comments in the margins—I plan to pass it on and wanted to include my own thoughts along with it). My heart breaks for Bill and their children, who are about a year behind me in my own grieving process (theoretically at least, we all definitely grieve at our own pace—I see this in even our own family). In reality, Michelle was in heaven long before I even knew her blog existed, but for me, she was very much alive. Until last week. And for that, I am sad. There are no more pages left to turn; no more new, witty comments left to read; no more comfort to seek. However, that in no way can take away from all I have gained from her words.

A big question I had prior to reading these final posts was whether she knew the end was drawing near. Obviously she knew this all along, but I mean… could she tell when her body was finally really failing? I learned that, yes, she most certainly could. She wrote, “I now need help to walk from the bed to the bathroom, and I am gasping for breath when I return to bed. I am beginning to accept that this is a battle I cannot win… I’m tired everyone. I have fought a long and hard fight, but I need a graceful exit strategy now. Of course my heart is broken and my dreams are shattered, but I feel in my heart that the most loving thing to do is set myself, Bill, and the kids free. I have to follow my heart.” In a weird way, this puts me at ease. It helps me to feel as though you allowed yourself to go, rather than that you were taken from me. To think that you went (internally) kicking and screaming, makes me feel sick. I want to picture you allowing yourself to slip away into a much happier, more serene existence. And that’s what I intend to think from now on. It’s reassuring that, while you were in an induced-coma for the hours before your death, each of us provided you with permission to let go… and you did. Is that what you were waiting for all along? For months you noticed severe changes in your body and what it could and could not handle. You became too tired to shower; too weak to walk; unable to digest food… everything became a challenge. Now looking back on our final night together, I am certain that you knew it was your time (however, this is a recollection for another day).

Ironically, Michelle touched upon the topic of ‘pictures’, which I did previously in my post on regrets/lessons learned. She said, “As I poured over photos over the last few weeks, I realized how few I had of me and the children. I was always the one behind the lens. ‘You cannot see me,’ I thought to myself, ‘but I was still there.’ I realize now that I will never really leave. My children, husband, family, friends will carry me with them in their hearts and their memories. Perhaps that is eternal life.” Not even all of my favorite things in the world (deer, corn on the cob, John’s fuzzy couch blanket, a McDonald’s quarter-pounder with cheese, Jodi Picoult books) COMBINED could make me feel better than this. Through this I realized that the words I needed to hear have been staring back at me for 3 years right there on your headstone: “Our family lives on because of the love we shared”. NOT because of our pictures together. When I close my eyes, I can still remember what it feels like to hug you and hold your hand. Things like that give me more comfort than any photo ever could.

Michelle wrote that “in some ways it’s a privilege to die slowly. We have had so much time to adjust and prepare… In some weird way I feel lucky.” For a while, I went back and forth between what was “easier”: having years to build up sadness and anxiety in anticipation for losing you, or if you would have just passed away randomly in a car accident or something. To the everyday person, duh, you’d want time to prepare; time to say all you wanted to say and make those final lasting memories together. But, as someone actually having to wake up every morning and wonder if her mom was going to be dead in the living room when she went downstairs to eat breakfast… I was slightly torn. I once also said that if I could go back in time to relive this and have one more day with you, I wouldn’t do it. It hurt too much to lose you and try to move forward without you. Now that I have had years to process my feelings and let go of some of the pain—I am 100% certain we were lucky, and I would relive my life again and again, even with the same outcome, just to have one more moment with you. Losing you in a slow fashion hurt; it hurt terribly. And not just emotionally or mentally—it hurt physically. My heart, literally, hurt. Some days to the point where I thought it was going to give out on me from the immense stress and sadness, and this is in no way an exaggeration. But I couldn’t imagine living a life you weren’t a part of, even if you were only in it for a little while. Our lives together were like an extra large cup of Maxwell House coffee… good to the last drop ;-) I cherish every minute, no matter how difficult. The joy from our laughter outweighs the hurt from my loss; it just took me time to realize that.

Today marks two years since Michelle Mayer passed away. I grew attached to her in merely a few months just through her writing, so I know there are some deeply aching hearts out there tonight. You have my permission to watch over them during this difficult time-- but just for the night-- I'll need you back tomorrow!

Dream sweetly,

October 4, 2010

Come One, Come All!

Dear Mom,

Today I took it upon myself to continue growing my blog audience. Not that Gisele, Aunt Dot, and a few other people here and there aren't enough of course, but my hope, as you know, is to have my words reach someone that can pass this on to people who could really use them. So what better way to do so than to google 'blogs about cancer'? Geeenius. A few dozen people just received a notification that some girl in Maine writing letters to her deceased mother is 'following' them. Not at all creepy, right? [For those of you just tuning in, read my 'about me' before continuing!]

My criteria on which blogs to start following was simple- read the first paragraph of the most recent blog post, and if, in that 30 seconds, I have done any of the following:

1. laughed
2. cried
3. related to the author
4. stayed awake

then, congratulations! You made the cut! Lets be friends!

On a more serious note, I think reading some blogs about actual survivors and those still fighting will be a nice change of pace (especially as I finish up reading Diary of a Dying Mom in these next few weeks). And after recently coming across statistics like 'one in every three women will develop cancer in her lifetime', it doesn't hurt to remind myself that not everyone's story ends the way yours did. If cancer ever comes knocking at my door someday, I'm going to need to remember that.

Missing you,

P.S. I just realized I have my first follower ever! Thanks Alli! What a great start to my day.