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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Girl talk

So I was having a pity party the other day and I told the girls how now that my mother is gone, no one loves me but them.  This is not entirely true but it's close.  Though there are plenty of friends and extended family who love me from afar, they are not day to day like my mother.  My mother was my best friend and almost like my partner in life.  I could call her most nights before bed and we would laugh and cheer each other up after a tough day or share each other's happiness on a good day.

"No one loves mama but you guys," I said as Eliza hugged me tightly.

"But Mama," Elena said, spoon in hand.  We were in the middle of our dinner of leftover ziti and embellished lipton soup.  "You're the greatest."

I laughed.  Elena says many things to me, not all of them kind.  She can also be a very tough children, she screams, hits and often shoves me pretty hard when she's not getting her own way.  A lot of the time, when I don't give her what she wants or I correct an inappropriate behavior, she says "I don't like Mama anymore.  I don't want Mama."  Eliza often gets offended when Elena says such things, jumping to my defense.  I mediate by telling Eliza that her sister is only three, she doesn't know half of what she's saying.

So considering the source, I'm not exactly walking around patting myself on the back and feeling like I'm the greatest.  It was a nice moment, a cute moment, worth recording here.  It did the trick of making me feel loved.  But the loneliness is starting to expand.

Thanksgiving weekend was a tough weekend.  I spent some of it dealing with the business aspect of losing my mom.  I met with the realtor who, if I use her, plans to list the house a full $50,000 less than what's owed to the bank.  My mother lived in her house for 20 years and was a bit of a pack rat so poking around there, figuring out how to clear it out is horrifying.  I can get a dumpster, have a sale, host a cleaning out mom's house party but still the clean up can take months.

And then there's her mail, the ominous stack of bills with no funds to back them up.  I addressed one letter after another notifying bill collectors of her death.  This process took about two hours.  All but two bills were medically related, some from collection agencies for amounts as low as $40.  I felt an overwhelming sadness as I went through these bills realizing this had been her life for so many years, a struggle to pay out money that few people would have to every lab, doctor's office, medical facility and collection agency.  Even a wealthy person would find themselves financially challenged and this was my mother's life, sending money she didn't have for "supply fees", "lab copay."

And she still met my phone calls with enthusiasm, happy to listen to me whine or giggle over my latest escapade.

My poor mama, how she deserved so much better.  I miss her and I ache for her now.  I should have been there for her more, should have helped her write those bills, just been at her side, letting her know she wasn't in this alone.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Orphan

"When the girl was still young, cruel fate took the mother's life and left the poor child an orphan, for as people say in Greece, "A child becomes an orphan when she loses her mother."

From the children's book, "The Orphan: A Cinderella Story from Greece."

My mother lost her long fight for her life around 2:30a Wednesday, November 14.  I was with her, timing a Smash script when she left me.  I sat on the floor about two feet away from her bed, my back to her, acting out the end of Act IV.  As I whispered the last of Ivy Lynn's lines, I suddenly realized that the horrific gurgle of her breath had silenced.  I looked at her, saw her chest rise and then spread out and stop, and rushed out of the room shouting "She's quiet!"  Three nurses marched in, brandishing stethoscopes.  One picked up her right arm which was pressed against the edge of the bed and rested in gently on her stomach.  I slid down against the wall and sat on the floor.

"I'm sorry for your loss," the first nurse out of the room said.  I stayed on the floor, refusing their offer of a chair, not wanting to be far from my mom as I waited for the undertaker type to arrive an hour later.  I didn't watch as he went into the room but the sound of a long zipper rising will never leave me.

I am not young and I still have a father but I feel like an orphan.  There are no words.  Eliza's birthday is next week so this weekend is filled with activities to celebrate her birthday.  She knows of my mother's death but is quietly mourning in her own way.  I don't know that the reality of forever is quite as accessible to her yet.  Frankly, I don't know that I realize it now.  I am going through the motions.  Sometimes when I'm giggle with my girls, I see Mom's face as she gasped on that hospital bed and I feel terrible that life continues, often joyously, for us when hers has stopped.  I will never stop feeling her weak arm around me for the last hug I will ever get from my mother.  It's like she willed herself to make it to my birthday and then let go.  After that, it was relatively quick.

In mid-October, the facility called to say she might code that night and what should they do about a DNR.  The nurse called to ask if she should bother to send my mother to the hospital or just let it go.  While I knew she had a terminal illness, I didn't know what was wrong with her and it was hard for me to believe that this was it.  So I told her she absolutely did not have my permission to just let my mother stay there without getting checked out.  It turned out she had a UTI which in the elderly or the very sick can render the sufferer delusional.  I met her at the hospital and watched as she screamed repeatedly that she had to move her bowels.  Two nurses pushed her onto a bedpan as she raised her arms touchdown style and grimaced but nothing happened.  I saw her naked that night, clawing at the hospital gown and the bedsheets.  My mother would not want me to see her naked but there I stood, staring at her mutilated body, the flat right breast from her mastectomy with it's useless nipple recreated by a plastic surgeon.  The long train tracks of a scar that ran down her abdomen from either her colon resection or the whipple.  Her wide fishbelly white butt as she writhed on the hospital bed.  the bruises that ran down her left arm from everyone trying to unsuccessfully extract blood from her collapsing veins.  I looked at this body, realizing it had no business being alive.

I stood over her, not knowing it was a UTI, thinking that this was it, she was leaving me.  I patted her hair, touching the misshapen scar caused by a craniaotomy that removed a benign brain tumor six weeks before Elena was born.

"I see you," she said, not to me.

"Do you, mom?  Do you see Pap Pap?"  My beloved grandfather.

"No," she said, looking at me for the very first time.  "I don't see him.  I don't see Pap Pap.  I don't want to die," she said and I understood.

"I don't want to die.  I don't want to die."

I nodded.

"I don't want you to die." I said.

But you're gonna, I thought, staring at the scars, all that damage so immediately apparent.

She didn't die, not that week.  It was a UTI and within hours of starting an antibiotic, she was greeting nurses and visitors with the words "I hear I was delirious.  Sounds interesting."

We were separated by the storm and three days passed without my being able to check in on her because the phones and the power was out.  So when I found her and I heard she was all right, that she was actually sitting up in a chair again, I became so hopeful.  The storm had passed and we were okay and I would be home and she would be with me again.

But she wasn't.  She was so very sick when we finally saw her on November 4th.  But she held it together until November 7.  She hugged me, she told me she loved me.  She went under the next day, babbling and gyrating with discomfort for two days and then comatose for the next four.  She didn't babble about seeing anyone who'd passed, it sounded more like she was somewhere else, reliving her youth.  There was no talk of white lights or some one else in the room.  Only of the steps she had to go down and the "practice" she had to do.

I think of her that night in the ER and all those battle scars.  How much that body had been through just so she could stay with us.  Before she went into the hospital never to return, she could barely get up from her chair but yet she hid how badly she felt so I'd let my kids stay with her when I went back to work for two weeks in the summer.  My babysitter tells me now how my mother told her not to tell me that she had pain.  I don't know if she didn't want me to worry or if she was afraid I'd take the kids away.  What I do know is how little she told me about what she was going through.  How little she wanted me know.  

Her sad, weak, almost useless naked body with all those scars.  I stood beside her that night, not able to hold her hand because she squirmed from one side of the bed to the other.  I stared down at the jagged lines on her navel and I felt nothing but a hot, fierce, surging pride.  I don't know that I will ever be prouder of anyone, not even my own kids, ever.

This was my mom at the end of her life but there's so much more to her, so much more.  I don't know that I even love my kids as much as I love her.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sandy Battered

So Sandy drove us from our home by the beach.  I'm happy to say our apartment was unharmed and life is slowly returning to normal for us after being displaced for ten days.  It was quite a ride and the landscape has changed in ways I couldn't have foreseen.  Though we came through it all unscathed, I still feel like I've got some kind of post traumatic stress going on and we were hardly experienced the storm itself.  It's the stories of others, the photos of so many places I loved, the shock of seeing the Mantoloking Bridge, a bridge that connected me to my Mom's house under water.  Seeing that roadway severed is like cutting an artery off between me and her.

I was prepared to ride out the storm with the girls alone.  This plan started to fall flat when I realized my next door neighbor was vacating and leaving us on our own.  On Sunday, C came down and gently urged us to come to his place in Manhattan. I thought it weird for all of us to be staying under one roof, especially now that he's got a hot young girlfriend but he said it wouldn't be weird and I'm happy to say it wasn't.  We drove back to his place on Sunday and functioned pretty well, even surviving the power outage Monday night with fun stories, candlelight and an early bedtime.

Tuesday saw things a little tenser.  The power still hadn't returned and C was getting antsy.  Brooklyn had power and I retain a small room there.  C's brother lives there and he decided to go there.  They only problem was getting there with no subways running and cabs a hotter commodity than they've ever been.  We did eventually get a cab to take us to Williamsburg where my friends Melissa and Tim waited with open arms.  C got a ride to his brothers and the girls and I embarked on our Brooklyn adventure with plenty of fine meals and fun and Melissa's.

The lack of power in Manhattan tunnel closings prevented us from returning to our area until the following weekend.  The facility my mother is in lost phone service and I went out of my mind through the week wondering how she was.  A friend was finally able to stop by on Thursday and gave me an emergency number.  A nurse happily told me she was actually sitting up in a chair and had done fairly well that day.  She'd not been in great shape over the weekend so I felt thrillingly hopeful to hear she'd been sitting up in a chair.

We came home to find our place in good shape but plenty of streets a mess.  We took a long walk through town and along the beach to survey the damage.  The boardwalk had been completely ripped from the foundation like it had never existed.  Huge pieces of the boardwalk were everywhere.  Memorial benches were stacked up in various places in varying states of ruin.  I planned to get a memorial bench for my Mom for this boardwalk.  Now this doesn't seem like such a good idea.

After decided that our home, while undamaged, was too cold to stay in with no electricity and heat, I packed the girls up again to head to my father's.  On the way to his place, we stopped by to see my Mom.  The Steeler game was on the TV but my mother was gyrating and grimacing in pain.  Elena had one meltdown after another, eventually pooping in her pants.  I'd not seen my mother for a week and in this moment, I was very frustrated with my kids for not allowing me some time with Mom.  Finally, I stuck them in the hallway and the nurses chimed in with lollipops and paper and colored markers.  I sat and held mom's hand but there wasn't much I could do.  She was obviously in pain and couldn't even feign much interest when I told her about all the damage; about the friend currently staying in her house because she got flooded from her home, about the decimation of Sea Bright and Mantoloking, about the roller coaster in Seaside that was now lying in the Ocean.

She asked me to bring her a newspaper when I came back.  I nodded and said I would.  I did bring that paper a few days later but by this point, she was too out of it to even look at it.

My mother was in pain that night but she was still my mother.  The following day, after a restless night on an air mattress at my father's, I signed her over to in-hospice care.  The day after that the nurse told me Mom would not open her eyes again but the nurse was wrong.  That night she opened her eyes and she nodded and communicated some what with us.

The following day was my birthday.  I couldn't spend as much time with her as I wanted because of an incoming snow storm but it may have been the last day I spent with my mother as my mother.  She couldn't really talk much but we could communicate with nods and gestures.  I climbed onto the bed with her and she hugged me with her one good arm.  Her left arm just drooped there, suddenly useless for reasons unknown.

A foot of snow kept me at my father's the following day longer than I wanted but we eventually made it out and came home to find that after ten days we had electricity.  My babysitter met us at our place and I dropped Eliza off at dance (her first foray into her old life in close to two weeks as school was cancelled) and I rushed off to see Mom.  Mom muttered and gyrated a lot, seemingly frustrated with her body's limitations.  I couldn't understand most of what she said.  She kept rambling about her salvation. This is not a word she used much in her life.  I finally had to head home, to get some groceries for my family and settle in to my first night in my bed in close to two weeks.

Friday, my mom was awake and alert but not my mom.  She kept muttering about her mom, her sister, how she had to get up and do her practice.  She had to do the dishes and go down the steps.  I thought she might be back in the house she grew up in with my grandparents but I really can't be sure. She was visibly uncomfortable and seemed frustrated by the fact that I couldn't help her.  I didn't think she knew who I was but at one point, she asked that her diaper be changed and said she didn't want "lisa in the room."  So she did know me and tears came to my eyes.

I came home that evening, made dinner for my kids and then headed back.  Mom was still agitated so they gave her more drugs.  The drugs seemed to work and she conked out.  But Saturday, the day they finally restored power to the area around her facilty, Mom's eyes didn't open.  She moved around a bit, grumbling like she was trying to wake up but nothing happened.  My Aunt Carm, my mother's sister, finally came after months of not bothering and threw a fit because she didn't know how bad it was.  I felt like telling her pancreatic cancer is a horrible thing and she missed opportunities to see Mom left and right but there's no point in trying to deal with Mom's crazy sister.  She came, she saw, she ran out in tears I'm sure never to return again.  I can't even feel sorry for her because I'm way too busy feeling sorry for myself.

Tonight I sat there holding my Mom's hand, listening to her grunt.  I tried to drip water into her mouth but she closed her mouth tightly.  I talk to her and I think she hears me but honestly, it doesn't matter.  It doesn't seem to be comforting to her.  Sometimes touching her, rubbing her head or holding her hand seems to soothe her but often it seems to just agitate her.

The girls finally go back to school tomorrow.  A guy I work with shot himself yesterday and the memorial is up in North Jersey on Tuesday.  I'm supposed to return to work on Thursday but I just don't know how that's going to happen.  My girls keep me going but at the same time, I feel myself unraveling.  The train that connected my home to New York sustained serious damage so there's another artery that's been cut.

I look at that picture of that roller coaster in the Atlantic and I think, that's me.  I don't belong here, I shouldn't be here and yet here I am, just bobbing above the surface, waiting for some one or something to take me to wear I belong.