Menopause

Losing Mom: The Second Year Anniversary

March 20 is my birthday. Cliff and I are headed off on a small adventure that I hope will end in cake with buttercream icing.

March 20 is also the day, two years ago, that my mother died. You don’t grow up thinking your mother will die on your birthday, but mine did (and it’s okay!)

Each death is different. Each grief is different, but active grieving helped me so much in the weeks after Mom died. Washing her punch glasses, ironing her linens, setting the table like she would, let me honor her legacy of whimsy and taste.

It was a year though until I really told the story of what happened on my birthday in 2015: Losing Mom: Happy Birthday to Me.

I was so relieved when my mother died. So happy that she was no longer suffering. While my mind still drifts to some regrets, to words not said, questions not asked, all in all, I’ve been surprised by how gentle my grief has been. Shocked, really.I’d dreaded my mother’s death since I first learned as a little girl that people die.

In the weeks before Mom died, I felt the deepest, most excruciating sadness I’ve ever experienced. The pain the cancer caused my mother broke my heart and not knowing how long she would suffer terrified me. Yet in her death, my overwhelming emotion has been peace.

But at the birth of my first granddaughter this year a new touch of grief set in. Not a deep sadness but a longing for my mother. I want to pick up the phone: “The baby is smiling!” If only I could print out the pictures and mail them to Mom: “Who do you think she looks like?”

As I said goodbye to Emerson last month in Dallas, I saw in a flash the faces of my mother, and my father too. They would be bonkers, as I am, over this little girl. If only they could see her.

But maybe they can. Maybe they do.

I’ve wondered where my parents went. I even have days when I think, bizarre as it sounds, that I can bring them back. I wrote about this idea in Bringing Back Dad. I sometimes ask myself:  Where are my parents? Deader than dead? In the ashes we’ve yet to sprinkle? Or are they in the clouds? In the treasures they left behind? In the habits and speech patterns I inherited? In heaven? (My first choice, of course.)

For years I’d observe people I knew whose parents were dead. They seemed fine. They laughed and went to work and traveled and celebrated holidays. If those people were fine, maybe I would be too.

And I am. For those of you who haven’t lost your parents yet, know there comes a grace in the loss. A peace in knowing your parent is not suffering. A rich contentment in the good memories. A fading of the bad ones. But most of all, there come flashes of longing for your mom and dad that feel like love in its purest form.

Just like looking into the face of a tiny baby who is looking right back at you.

Top photo: Mom smiles as I hold my oldest daughter Katherine.

Bottom photo: Laura holding Emerson at five months. Gosh, can this baby smile!

Menopause

Losing Mom: First Christmas Gone

20151211_131745

My mom died in March, and so this is my first Christmas without her.

Every year, when December came around, I’ve wondered: What will it be like the first Christmas when I unpack Mom’s things, and she is gone? Our Christmas treasures include decorations she created over forty years in a variety of mediums.

So this is it. This is the year.

Above, you see Mary and the Baby, done in spools. Below, a Santa ornament of paper mache.

20151211_131939

Mom made this  angel from a tissue tube. The angel slips over a tree branch.

20151219_134731

Mom had the patience and skill to fold Moravian Stars.

20151219_103618

This angel is watercolor on brown paper.

20151211_132557

This felt angel on velveteen is one of six Christmas banners Mom made for our Lutheran church in Towson, Maryland. She’d visited the Vatican exhibit at the New York World’s Fair in 1964 and admired the banners there. Mom’s banners graced our church before banners even caught on as liturgical art in the U.S. She was cutting edge in the banner world!

20151211_132625

Mom and the ladies at church turned eggs into ornaments. They sold enough of these, at 75 cents each, to put a kitchen in our church.

Mom’s art projects were a hit with the Sunday school kids. Here’s a three-dimensional angel ornament she made with them. I recognize her style, so I imagine she painted this one as a sample. The paint has faded over the years.

20151220_083215 (1)

Toward the end of her life, Mom painted with acrylics. This is the Holy Spirit watching over Mary and the Baby. Mom liked to envision the Holy Spirit as a colorful bird, capable of influencing folks quite convincingly.

20151218_112603

My mother didn’t like a lot of mushy gush. She avoided sentimentality in words and on greeting cards. But since I had warning the cancer would soon overtake her, I was determined to say my piece, my happy piece before she died. So these were some of my last words to Mom: “Your creativity has inspired me since I was a little girl and made me the person I am.”

This is what I know about the death of a parent, especially written for those of you yet to experience this sad time:

 You never lose the person’s legacy to you. You never lose their spirit.

Your mom or dad won’t go away. Not all the way away.

 

 

Losing a Parent, Menopause

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

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?

images

Life, Losing a Parent

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

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

dsc_0186ann-1

Photos:

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

Middle– Jake and Ann in Midland,Texas

Bottom– Ann Jacobus

Aging, Life, Losing a Parent

Losing a Parent Part One: Lessons for the Living

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

dsc_0186ann-1

Photos:

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

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

Bottom–Ann Jacobus

Celebrations, Losing a Parent, Menopause

Myrtle: A Love Story

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

Life

Guest Post: To My Mom, Who Taught Me Not to Wait (and a Novel Giveaway)

A guest post by writer Janet Fox:

I want to write this post about my mom.

She died young. Correction – she died at an age that I now consider too young to die, since she was only fifteen years older than I am now when she died. And frankly, fifteen years is going to go by like – click – that.

She didn’t have the chance to be the grandmother I longed for her to be for my son. She didn’t have the chance to see my first (or second…) novel published. She died suddenly and without warning, and as in all things in my life, she taught me something very important.

She taught me not to wait.

Among her papers as I was sorting them – because my father couldn’t – I found a pile of unpublished children’s stories. They were sweet, old-fashioned, lyrical. I read them and thought, huh. These are wonderful. What if I could do that. What if I could write something like that. What if…

I’ve always been a cautious person. Wait and see. Take it one step at a time. Consider the plan. But when Mom died she gave me the courage to open up my creative heart and let it all pour out. There’s no question that my first novel was written for and about her (a girl loses her mother, tries to find her, and instead finds herself).

In fact, all my writing now is about reaching out to my mother, finding the girl to woman connection, letting myself grow into the woman that she would admire.

I’m burning with stories now, stories that I must get down on paper, stories that are bursting to be told, characters that are reaching for the light, and this is all because she taught me to let them out, taught me not to wait.

What if we didn’t wait? What if we never waited for the right moment, the settled-downness, the quiet? What if we didn’t wait for the nudge of death to drive us to action? What if, as women, we shifted into the fullness of our lives right from the start?

If you are a cautious person, the time is now. Don’t wait. Take my mom’s lesson to heart. Find your stories and let them pour out like honey. Give them to the page, to your daughters, to the world.

Give them to yourself.

And, to my mom, I give my sweetest thanks.

Janet Fox is the author of award-winning books for children and young adults. FAITHFUL (Speak/Penguin Young Readers 2010), set in Yellowstone National Park in 1904, is a YALSA Best Fiction for YA nominee and an Amelia Bloomer List pick, 2011. FORGIVEN (Speak 2011), set in 1906 San Francisco during the great earthquake, is a Junior Library Guild selection 2011, and a 2012 WILLA Literary Awards Finalist.

Her most recent novel, SIRENS (Speak 2012), is set in 1925 New York and is told from alternating points of view of two girls who must confront a gangster and uncover dark secrets.

Janet is a former high school English teacher and received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults in 2010 (Vermont College of Fine Arts). Janet lives in Bozeman, Montana but you can also find her at www.janetsfox.com and   http://about.me/janetfox.  She blogs at: www.kidswriterjfox.blogspot.com.

Giveaway:  For a chance to win a copy of Sirens, simply enter a comment by December 5 saying you’d like to win.  I’m giving away two copies!