Menopause

Losing Mom: Happy Birthday to Me

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When you’re little, your mom and your birthday go hand in hand. She tells you about the wonderful day you were born (or adopted). She bakes your cake. She wraps your presents. She organizes your party. She might even paint a tile with your hand print and birth date on it (which sadly cracked  years later).

When you’re older, she still talks about that wonderful day, and she still gives you presents. Your mom and your birthday go together forever. Happy birthday, the day of my birth, to both of us!

But never, ever do you think you mom will die on your birthday.

Mine did. Last year. On March 20. The first day of Spring.

I was back in Hillsborough. Mom’s cancer pain had ramped up. She had begun to experience some moments of agony, yelling in pain. Trying her best to stay off full-time morphine, she didn’t understand she now needed constant medication. Her beloved New Yorker sat by her bed. Mom wanted to read and think and converse as long as she could.

The night before my birthday, her good friend Kathy helped her phone me. “Happy birthday,” Mom said, her voice strong. “You were a darling baby.”

When I woke up that morning, I thought my heart had shattered. I’ve never experienced such horrific sadness. Not so much that Mom was dying but that she was in pain. (That morning my brother convinced her that it was time to stay on morphine, but I didn’t know this until nighttime).

I spent my birthday crying and getting ready for a dinner for our church group. I had tickets back to Baltimore three days later. I considered skipping the party (Cliff said he could manage) and getting a flight up that day. I didn’t though.

My friends arrived, with a card and a birthday cake for me. My mood lightened as people filled the space.

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About fifteen minutes later, Kathy called. I stepped into the spare bedroom. Mom’s breathing had changed. Her eyes were closed, even though she’d been quite alert at noon. Kathy didn’t think Mom would live the night.

As I walked back to my guests, a great calm and a sort of joy came over me. This was good, good news. Soon my mother’s suffering would end.

I ate dinner, joined in the book discussion, and then everyone serenaded me with “Happy Birthday.” I cut the delicious cake Carolyn baked. When I watched the phone video Cliff took of me listening to the singing and then blowing out my candles, I am smiling. My mother is dying, and I am smiling.

Next, we sang hymns in our living room, including a favorite: On Eagle’s Wings. Alice suggested we lift Mom’s name up in another hymn, and we did. I don’t have eloquent words to describe how those moments felt. I’ve been postponing writing this post for a year because I know this writer can’t do justice to the mystical nature of that night.

Shortly after everyone left our house, my brother phoned. Mom was gone.”Happy birthday,” he said at the end of the call. That may sound odd or even cruel, but Chris was expressing kindness. I was his sister, and after all, it was indeed my birthday.

But what a happy birthday it turned out to be. Mom was at peace. So was I.

Life tosses us surprises. Joy abounds in the most shocking ways.

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My mom, Nancy Kiehne, was an artist. This is her rendering of St. Cecilia, the Patron Saint of Musicians.

 

Menopause

Losing Mom: First Christmas Gone

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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.

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

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Mom had the patience and skill to fold Moravian Stars.

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This angel is watercolor on brown paper.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Menopause

Losing Mom: A Life in the Details

Nancy Kiehne Miniature Books

In recent years, I’ve wondered: Is life about the big picture or is life in the details?

The big picture is good. It keeps us from wasting time on things that don’t matter. It enables us to step back and analyze problems, trends, and accomplishments. The big picture lets us rise above pettiness.

But details are good too. Your fingers trace the geometric design on a throw pillow. Your eyes catch the wink of a favorite cousin. You hear the clack of the roller coaster the second your feet hit the boardwalk. Details help us mark our days with appreciation and whimsy.

My mother died on Friday after a short bout with cancer. I prayed she would go once the pain became intense.

And so the job, or perhaps I should say the honor, of mourning her begins.

Do I grieve the big things? The loss of a mother. The ending of an era. The last parent.

Or do I grieve the small things, the details? I unpack Easter rabbits she painted and recall how Mom loved holidays. My grandson flies his first kite, and I can’t phone her with the news. I take out a recipe card, and there’s my mother’s handwriting.

Mom was a collector. In the photo above, you see some of her miniatures: books, animal figurines, tiny houses, a doll, and doll house furniture.

And she was an artist. Here are those Easter rabbits.

For collectors and artists, it’s all about the details. And although this grief is new, I’m thinking that’s how it will go for me. Photo by photo, memento by memento, flashback by flashback, I’ll miss my mother. I’ll miss her in the details.

But I’m not complaining! For as the big picture tells me, who would want it any other way?

What about you? Have you lost your mom? Any words of wisdom for those of us fresh to the loss?

Photo Below: My mom, Nancy Kiehne, on her 90th birthday in December

 

Menopause

Fling Wide the Portals!

 

I stood in church two weeks ago singing from our new Presbyterian hymnal, which is PURPLE! 

“We don’t wear purple,” was one of my great-aunt’s credos. Now every week, I hold a purple hymnal. The Frozen Chosen, as the Presbyterians were fondly (?) called years ago, are letting loose.

As we sang “Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates,” a line from that purple hymnal landed in my own head and stuck:

 

“Fling wide the portals of your heart.”

 

What a line!  What a challenge!

And that’s my holiday wish for you and for me. Fling wide those portals.

To the new, the daunting, the creative, the unusual, the refreshing, the funny, and the irresistible.

Like the Christmas angel above, stand with outstretched arms.

Happy holidays and here’s to the promise of 2015!

 

Angel Arms

 

My mom, Nancy Kiehne painted the angel. You can see more of her work at http://nancykiehne.tumblr.com/

Menopause

Menopause and Angel Wings

Younger--Friend for the Ride--Angel Banner

Angels.

Who wouldn’t want to be one? (Someday, that is.)

Robes that hide stomachs and veiny legs.

Wings that take you wherever you want to go, with no security line hassles.

And you can sing!  (I didn’t make the chorus in fifth grade, which devastated me, and age has done nothing for my vocal tone and range.)

Then of course, there are angels who don’t wear the standard garb. Angels, who appear with invisible halos, to help a girl out.

What’s the kindest thing a stranger ever did for you?

I love this question!

But here’s another one.

What’s the kindest thing you’ve ever done for a stranger?

I’m realizing now, that in the menopause journey, I shrank into myself, some. I became less outgoing and less willing to extend myself to strangers.

Only recently did I, a people lover, figure out this had happened.

But you can’t be an angel, even a sometimes angel, if you hide inside yourself.

But I’m back at it.

I revved up a bit on a flight home from Baltimore yesterday. When the plane landed, the woman next to me thanked me for chatting. She and her mom were flying from Dayton to visit a sister/daughter in North Carolina.

Usually, I barely speak on a plane unless spoken to, as I’m fearful I will lose my reading time.

My seatmate ended her thank you by saying that her mom hadn’t flown since 1968.

Granted I was a tiny angel, but I like to think the mom, who had a long day, found the skies friendly in 2013, in part, because of our conversation.

What about you?

Did your flight into menopause make you more outgoing or did you turn inward?

If you turned inward, any plans to spread your wings again?

Christmas Banner:  My mom, Nancy Kiehne, made the angel banner in 1965 for Divinity Lutheran Church. The rocket is a nod to the space program, which was in full swing.

Birthday:  Happy birthday to loyal blog reader Gail Crane, who owes me another guest post. Her post, “To Be or Not to Be– Grey Hair, That Is”  started a festive conversation.

Menopause, Periods

Falling Off the Roof

For your viewing pleasure, a painting created exclusively for Friend for the Ride:

Falling Off the Roof

My mom painted this young lady falling off the roof, inspired by a recent conversation with her friends.

During their high school and college days, in the forties and fifties, Mom said they felt oh so sophisticated confiding in one another:  “I fell off the roof.”

Meaning:  “It’s that time of the month.”

We wondered where this expression came from.

I had no luck googling, so I checked with Harry Finley at MUM, the Museum of Menstruation.

Harry doesn’t know either, but he remembers a visitor to the museum in 1994 who was writing a book on expressions.   The writer thought “falling off the roof” came from the Pennsylvania Dutch.

Perhaps, but when I reported this back to Mom, she commented that the  girls in Baltimore and the girls she met at Duke certainly knew it too.

Harry’s MUM site boasts an incredible online archive of materials related to menstruation.

A pamphlet titled As One Girl to Another, is dated 1943.

Produced by Kotex, the page below refers to the “crazy nicknames” girls have for their periods.

Yep, one of those crazy nicknames is “falling off the roof.”

Menstruation Booklet

But I still have no idea where the expression came from.

Any ideas?

Falling Off the Roof

My mom, Nancy Kiehne, paints in acrylics and watercolor. To see more of her work, check out her Tumblr site.

Celebrations, Menopause

Friends for the Ride!


Roller Coaster

This is my 250th blog post!

Thanks to everyone who has guest posted (I’m always looking for more!  Email me at the address on the right.)

And thanks to everyone who has supported Friend for the Ride.

My mom painted this watercolor for us.

The rider in the front reminds us that menopause is our own ride, since each and every experience is different.

We endure those dips and swoops with the help of our friends, in person and online. Those are the riders in the background.

So here’s to all of you, my friends,

In happy honor of friendship, email, call, or send a card to a friend who could use some extra cheer today!

I’m going to do the same.

Roller Coaster

Foods That Harm/Foods That Heal Giveaway Winner:  Congrats to Haralee!