Morning: A New Routine.

I am not a morning person. When the alarm goes off at 6:15 my body feels like a dead weight. My ears don’t really hear it until 6:30. And the purpose behind that annoying jingle doesn’t really register in my brain until 6:45. And then the dread sets in : the effort of getting out of my warm bed, making myself presentable, going out in the cold, dealing with morning traffic, answering emails at work, doesn’t make sense from the comfort of my fetal position beneath a pile of blankets. To my shame, I have been known to sleep until 8 a.m.
The bright spot, the one motivating event of my every morning, was my phone chat with mom on the commute to work. I would climb into my car, put on my headset, dial her, pull out of my parking space, and before I reached the end of the lot and started on the road she would greet me with a cheerful,
“Good morning, my Bethy.”
As the months of 2011 waned on and cancer took its toll on her body, this routine changed. The cheer in her voice lost its color and vibrancy. Conversations grew shorter. And there were many mornings when instead of that phone call, I received another one from my dad or my grandmother saying that they were taking her to the hospital again. I let the depression settle into me, keep me in bed a little longer each morning, away from the world, away from work, away from writing and everything “wrong” with my life.
You can imagine how different my mornings feel now, to know that our routine is forever changed. No phone calls, no cheery chats. It would be all too easy to justify staying in bed permanently.
Yesterday I pondered words for 2011. Today I ponder words for the first weeks of 2012.

 

The one word that seems to fit for this time : 

C H A N G E .

 

2012 is my year to accept that change. To live with it, work with it, respond to it. I figure that since my mornings are fundamentally different now, why not roll with it? I know what my mother would do to me if she knew I was sleeping in and arriving late to work every day. I can’t dishonor her like that.
So I’m getting up early, when my alarm actually goes off… Okay, here’s a secret : I employed the help of my best friend, who has to be AT work at 7 a.m., to text me repeatedly until I answer her that I am out of bed. And I can’t lie to her, so I might as well actually get up when I say I am going to.
And from my bed I walk to the kitchen, where our shiny new french press awaits, and my bright yellow tea kettle sings hello, good morning, and I pour a mug for myself, mom’s mug.
From there the day begins. I’ve even allotted time to pack my lunch. And instead of dwelling in the silence of a morning commute without my mother, I call my grandmother; it doesn’t do to dwell in the loneliness.
So let the change I feel be the change I need in order to rise early and greet the day in a new way, with gratitude, with discipline, with determination.

Back on the Blog.

I’ve been afraid to start this, unsure that the words would come, unsure that if the words came that they would adequately touch the depth of this experience. But as with all forms and subjects for writing, the important part is to begin.
My mother died on a snowy Monday morning two weeks ago. We missed her by minutes. I slept fitfully in a recliner in her hospice room all night prior, counting seconds between breaths, trying to remember to keep breathing myself. My father slept on an air mattress next to her bed, doing the same. The nurse came in at seven to check on her and administer more medication and left to get a stethoscope. Our eyes drooped closed, and when the nurse came back, she had gone. The air slowly exhaled in one long quiet breath from her lungs, and she crossed over into the next world. It was as simple and as peaceful as that, just as we had prayed for.
I cursed myself for missing it, for not being awake to hold her hand and say goodbye. But now I understand that I was doing exactly that for the months, weeks, days, and hours beforehand. Things had become so apparent; as much as we wished it were different, we knew what we were facing. Therefore, important words did not go unspoken. Time was not wasted. There was no limit to love in those days; how grateful I am for that. And in the moment she left, it was appropriate that she make that transition independently; she didn’t need anyone to cling to her and beg her to stay as she made her way into a new life that she rightfully deserved.
I can’t say much without saying it all, and a single blog post won’t hold the whole of it. If you’re at all like me and you haven’t experienced death first hand, you probably have all sorts of questions running through your mind :
Is it scary? Can you sense death’s presence mentally, spiritually, emotionally? How do you know when they are getting close to the end (days, hours, minutes)? How do you carry on conversations with each other when things become that serious? Is it better to talk about it, or avoid it? How do you spend time with your loved one in the days before their death if they are conscious? How do you comfort and encourage them as they reach death? Losing a loved one is hard – where and how do you find solace and strength to keep living? When your loved one suffers from a terminal illness, can you really find relief in knowing that they are no longer suffering, or is that just something ignorant people tell you when they don’t know what to say?
There is a lot that people don’t talk about when it comes to death. Why bring it up now, when things are fine? But death is a part of life. Whether it is from a terminal illness, natural causes, or a sudden accident, it happens to each of us; it’s only a matter of time, and we never know for sure how much of it we have left. And there are so many ways that it changes us as we witness it, and as we draw closer to it ourselves. A sense of our own mortality is part of what makes us human.
So in the weeks and months ahead, as I process this loss, I will write about it here. If you have specific questions, or if you have your own story to share, please email me. I’d love to dialogue about it.

A Blogging Break.

I am standing this side of something. A tunnel. A current. A dark place. An ocean of grief. It feels so strangely appropriate to stand on the precipice of a new year, and to stand at the ledge of this experience. I know that light awaits me. And I know that the light will not meet me all at once, but in slow, gradual gradients as I make my way across. And then I will stand, feet in the tides, on the opposite shore and welcome the sunrise. But first I must take the plunge.
I’m taking a break from blogging to turn my focus to my mother as she lives out her final days with us. She has battled breast cancer for 14 long years. We are deeply grateful for her life, for her love, for her unwavering faith and strength to the very end.
I wish each of you a happy new year. See you on the other side.

The Velvet Coat.

 

It hung on her coat rack for most of my childhood. My five, six, seven year old hands would pet the cuff, rub it against my cheek as she shoved my feet into snow boots before school. A picture of her in it hung above my Grandmother’s rocker for years. Her dark feathered tendrils disappeared into the dark velvet collar, her face and eyes shining out from it with happiness, mischief. She was gorgeous, I thought.
One day she handed it to me.
“It’ll fit you now. Do you want to try it? I used to wear it to see the opera in the city while I was at college. Made me feel special with heels and my tweed skirt.”
And as I slip it on in the mornings, right sleeve then left sleeve, flinging my own dark hair from beneath the collar, I imagine her in this life before we knew one another. Laughing, glamorous and innocent and young in a dark velvet coat in the amber glow of city lights. I wrap it closer to myself, this jacket, this girl in another world. Stay with me now.