Category Archives: Losing a Parent

Losing My Mom: A Peeps Poem (and a Book Giveaway)

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Barbara's Mom

A post by poet Barbara Crooker:

When my mother decided she needed Assisted Living, we moved her down here to be closer to us, and I became her caregiver, although she lived in a senior residence (and then a nursing home at the end).

I went over daily, and always brought Peeps.

She’d loved them before, but I live in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, and Peeps are made in Bethlehem, so we have more varieties than you see in other parts of the country.

We have things like Peeps cooking contests (chefs from area restaurants competing for “best dessert made with Peeps”), Peeps Easter Hat decorating contests, Peeps Diorama contests, and–the biggie–on New Year’s Eve, a giant Peeps comes down at midnight!

Peeps

Peeps, though, are seasonal creatures (why no red, white and blue Peeps for Memorial Day and 4th of July, I ask?), and so when they disappeared after Easter, I mail-ordered a case, so that she’d always have them.

After she passed, I mailed packets of Peeps to family and friends who weren’t able to be with us at the end.

Packages of Bunnies

You’ll notice I’d mentioned hospice; initially, our plans were to take Mom’s ashes back to her home church in upstate NY for a memorial. But by the time she died, at ninety, not only were all of her friends gone, but the minister was gone as well. So we held her services in my garden, which she loved, with the hospice chaplain. I can’t say enough good words about hospice. . . .

PEEPS

In those last few months my mother didn’t want to eat, this woman

who made everything from scratch, and who said of her appetite,

I eat like a bricklayer.  Now she listlessly stirred the food

around her plate, sometimes picking up a piece of chicken,

then looking at it as if to say, What is this?  Wouldn’t put

it in her mouth.  But Peeps!  Marshmallow Peeps!  Spun sugar

and air, molded in clever forms:  a row of ghosts, a line

of pumpkins, a bevy of bunnies, a flock of tiny chicks,

sometimes in improbable colors like purple and blue. . . .

One day, she turned over her tray, closed her mouth, looked up

at me like a defiant child, and said, I’m not eating this stuff. 

Where’s my Peeps?

***************************************************

When it was over, the hospice chaplain said some words

in my back yard, under the wisteria arch.  The air was full

of twinkling white butterflies, in love with the wild oregano.

Blue-green fronds of Russian sage waved in front of the Star

Gazer lilies, and a single finch lit on a pink coneflower, and stayed.

When there were no more words or tears, I ripped open

the last packet of Peeps, tore their little marshmallow bodies,

their sugary blood on my hands, and gave a piece to each

of us.  It melted, grainy fluff on our tongues, and it was good.

Pumpin Peeps

Giveaway!  Barbara’s latest book is  Gold, a collection of poems about losing her mother. For a chance to win a copy, simply leave a comment on this post saying that you’d like to be the winner. Comments must be posted by April 15.

gold

Barbara Crooker’s poems  have appeared in magazines such as The Green Mountains ReviewPoet Lore, The Hollins CriticThe Christian Science MonitorNimrod and anthologies such as The Bedford Introduction to Literature.  Her awards include the Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, fifteen residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, a residency at the Moulin à Nef, Auvillar, France; and a residency at The Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Annaghmakerrig, Ireland.

Her books are Radiance, which won the 2005 Word Press First Book competition and was a finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize; Line Dance (Word Press 2008), which won the 2009 Paterson Award for Literary Excellence; More (C&R Press 2010), and Gold (Cascade Books, 2013). Her poetry has been read on the BBC, the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Company), and by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac, and she’s read in the Poetry at Noon series at the Library of Congress.

flowers

To learn more about Barbara and her work, visit her website at http://www.barbaracrooker.com/

And to learn more about Peeps, visit the Just Born website. There are even career opportunities. Job switch, anyone?

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Losing a Parent Part Two: Going Gentle into That Good Night or Being Less Wiggy About Death

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Jake Jacobus

A post by writer Ann Jacobus:

As a writer, everything is a story for me, with a beginning, a point of no return, a crisis and a climax, a resolution, and a theme or moral.

I lost my mother, 74, in December of 2011,

My father died at 82 in January of this year, thirteen months later.

And they weren’t even married.

But they both battled cancer of one kind and another for many years.

I got a double crash course in dying, or in the “final stage” as Hospice calls it.

And the theme or moral I’ve determined is that we all should be less wiggy about death.

My folks died as they lived.

Mom, laid back and accepting on one hand; not afraid, yet on the other hand, enjoying some denial right up to the end.

Dad, fighting and refusing to relinquish control until the last forty-eight hours. That’s when, after nine months of serious illness, Hospice finally became a part of his care.

They raged against the dying of the light in their own ways, but I’m convinced they both finally made peace with their departures and went gentle, even gratefully “into that good night.” (Thanks Dylan Thomas)

I find this encouraging.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating just giving up.

But we’ll all have to die eventually.

And as we get older (versus the alternative), we all have to watch it happen to those we love.

If every plant and animal and human goes through the life cycle, with death being not only a normal part of this, but the most certain, guaranteed thing we’ve got, maybe we shouldn’t fear it so much.

There clearly comes a point when accepting it and moving forward into it makes sense. Even if it’s just the last day or two.

My mom was at home under Hospice care.

Dad was in the Hospice unit in the hospital.

I cannot say enough good things about Hospice.

They are such an antidote to our society’s fear and discomfort with death, dealing with both patients and their loved ones with dignity, in a gentle but straight forward manner, helping to make the “final stage” as rich and rewarding as it can be stressful and emotional.

I was honored and ultimately reassured to be present with both of my parents at the moment they stopped breathing in the quiet early morning hours.

The preceding days, two in my father’s case, four in my mom’s, were intense, sad, and full of wonder as the family found its own rhythms of coming and going, talking and silence, laughing and crying, keeping vigil at their bedsides.

The moment a loved one leaves this world is a sacred moment, difficult to describe in its power and awesomeness.

Being present at a birth (let alone giving birth) for me was a similar experience.

It brings us right up close with those big questions.

There’s that really big question: what happens to my parents, or to me, when we die?

Whether you are a religious and/or spiritual person, or not, check out this story—Neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander’s experience: Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. He’s written a book, but was also featured heavily in other media a few months ago. My sister, a doctor, sent it to me after Dad died.

Story, myth, spirituality and science (sort of), all intersect here.

For someone who just sent both parents off from this world, it’s comforting to contemplate reports of such a happy ending, and support for the theme of being less wiggy.

Dad Midland

Ann Jacobus lives in San Francisco with her family, where she writes YA and middle grade fiction, blogs regularly at www.ReaderkidZ.com, and is trying to be less wiggy about a lot of things.  Learn more about Ann at her website,www.annjacobus.com

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Photos:

Top–Jake Jacobus at the helm in Edgartown Harbor, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

Middle– Jake and Ann in Midland,Texas

Bottom– Ann Jacobus

Losing a Parent Part One: Lessons for the Living

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Lib

A  post by writer Ann Jacobus:

During our fifties, many of our parents are reaching the ends of their lives and many of us are helping care for them.

It’s a difficult and emotional time; however, it can also be incredibly rich and fruitful.

Dying can teach us a lot about living.

There’s a great post by a palliative care worker, Bronnie Ware, called “Regrets of the Dying.” The concerns expressed by those who have accepted that they are in the “final stage” of their life, as Hospice refers to it, are pretty consistent.

The main regret of the dying is that they wish they’d lived life true to themselves and not to the expectations others had for them.

Got that? Our most likely regret when time is up: Not being true to oneself.

No one wishes they worked more and spent less time with family.

Most wish they’d maintained better connections with friends, and had the courage to express their true feelings

And last but not least, the dying wish they had let themselves be happy. Happiness is a choice.

A year and a half ago, I was flying back and forth to Dallas to help take care of my mom who had aggressive, small cell carcinoma in her lungs, colon, internal organs and eventually her brain.

She died peacefully December 1, 2011 at the age of seventy-four.  She was otherwise in good shape and participated joyfully in all the events she could, including a shopping spree at the discount store Tuesday Morning, a mere two weeks earlier.

About a week before she died, we sat in her room.

I was leaving the next morning for California, planning on returning in eight days. I had been two weeks “on” caretaking, so was tired and ready to get home.

I didn’t know it was our last conscious time and conversation alone.

Lying in bed, she kicked up one of her legs and patted it. “I’m really going to miss them,” she said. “These have been good legs.”

I had to agree.

Then she said, “I really thought I would have more time.”

She knew the end was near.

She never did many of the things Hospice said were typical (like withdrawing), so I assumed she still had some time.

I ended up rushing back two days later because she took a sudden downturn, and didn’t really speak again.

Family members nearly always want to know how much time there is. Hospice wisely refrains from predicting. Things can change quickly and people die slower, faster and occasionally not at all.

The “final stage” of life though, is all about learning to give up control and taking full advantage of each moment.

Lessons not just for the dying.

Paradoxically, as a caretaker, you can get caught up in the taxing day-to-day and lose sight of the main event.

That night, Mom looked at me, her eyes bright with so much love it was unsettling.

Our family tends toward undemonstrative, but Mom and I hugged a long time and said how much we meant to each other.

I’m so grateful that I seized that moment to express my love one last time and say goodbye even though I didn’t realize I was.

That I didn’t put it off, certain of having more time.

Because I didn’t.

So, to your folks, and all those you love, say everything you need to say.

Hug a lot.

Also:  Appreciate your body. It’s a great piece of engineering and biology.

Mom, Lacy, Annie

Ann Jacobus lives in San Francisco with her family, where she writes YA and middle grade fiction and blogs regularly at www.ReaderkidZ.com. Learn more about Ann at her website, www.annjacobus.com

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Photos:

Top–Ann’s mom, Libby Jacobus, in Dallas, Texas

Middle– Libby, Ann, and Ann’s sister Lacy near Mexico City

Bottom–Ann Jacobus

Myrtle: A Love Story

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Myrtle

When my mom was nine, her best friend Bona Lockwood gave her a panda for Christmas.

Mom named the bear Myrtle.

It’s not hard to guess, from her appearance, that Myrtle has led an exuberant life.

Lots of love.  Plenty of adventures.

Myrtle’s favorite piece of jewelry is a red wooden heart. My Uncle Byrt made the pin when he was thirteen. She’s worn it ever since.

In 1942, Myrtle and Mom went away to college.  More good times!

Enter a new love for Mom.

Myrtle wasn’t especially pleased.

After my parents married, Dad promised Myrtle an allowance of two cents a week. His benevolent gesture improved her spirits.

Over the years, Dad worked to keep up a good relationship with Myrtle. You can see by the expression on her face that she’s a discerning bear, a careful judge of character.

For sixty-four years, Dad sometimes surprised Mom by having Myrtle move around the house. She’d go from the bedroom to the kitchen, from the family room to the study.

Two years ago, my father lay down for a nap and never woke up.

When I arrived the next day, Myrtle was sitting on Mom’s bed.

I figured Mom had moved her.  A touch of comfort at a heartbreaking time.

“You’ve got Myrtle on your bed. Nice.”

“Dad put her there,” Mom said.  “Three days ago.”

And that’s the end of this story.

Except that true love stories, as you know, never really end.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Celebrate the love stories and the characters in your life.

Myrtle