Saturday, December 31, 2005

Snowy barn park. Posted by Picasa

I'm so glad they get to grow up here. Posted by Picasa

We found some snow. Posted by Picasa

Why are kids fascinated with eating snow??? Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Granddaughter Ella

I have good days and bad. I cried myself to sleep last night. That started a bad period for me that I'm currently in. I know this is all a part of the process, but I'm really looking forward to the "moving on" stage, although I'll feel guilty when I reach it.

I haven't wanted to post much lately because I don't want to write about the sadness over and over. It's nothing I'll likely want to read about later. I know it can be healing, but I really don't have the energy.

Today, however, I found this photo and wanted to explain it before I forget. The day after my mom's memorial service, my dad told me to go check in my parent's room to see what Ella was up to. I grabbed the camera and this is what I found. She was sitting on the side of the bed that my mom was on for the last year. Her back to the door, she was busily cutting out pictures she had drawn for "'Opa" (what she calls my dad - German for grandpa). She would then tape them to the wall on his side of the bed so that he wouldn't be lonely.

She drew him a few "Oma" angels, as she calls them. I got one yesterday. She must have known I needed one. Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 23, 2005

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Monday, December 19, 2005

One last gift to her

This Christmas I planned on giving my mother a letter expressing my deep love and respect for her. At 78, she did not have a large need for material gifts. Words on paper seemed to be more appropriate for both of us. I’ve always written deep feelings in the cards I’ve given her over the years.

This is the letter I would've given to her on Christmas...I chose to read it to her instead at her memorial service.

Dear Mom,

I want to give you the gift of gratitude this Christmas. This letter will be an attempt to show you how much I appreciate you.

You are such a positive role model to me – as a mother, a wife and a woman. I’d like to share some memories with you that are examples of the qualities I most admire in you.

As a child, I remember your willingness and drive to expose Mark and me to all types of experiences. When we first moved to Minnesota, you made sure we had ice skating lessons. This was the beginning of many activities that you encouraged; dance, gymnastics, Indian Princesses, Camp Fire Girls, softball, tennis, golf, art classes, swimming lessons, clarinet lessons, skiing and so on. We were taken to the Children’s Theater, Theater in the Round and various museums throughout our youth. To this day, I have been shaped by the multitude of experiences I had as a child.

I am an extremely sentimental person and I truly believe it is because of the exposure we had to your parents and relatives and their German heritage. Instilled in me is a pride in a background that I’ve never really lived in. Your reverence for family heritage spilled over onto me. This is probably why I have so much of your parent’s furniture in my home and keep most of the drawings my children make each day. I love being surrounded by items that have deep meaning.

As I became a student, I always knew how important education was to you. Our weekly trips to the library, when I was in elementary school, are etched in my mind. Remember your rule? We were only allowed to check out as many books as we could carry. You would also check out some books – mysteries were usually your favorite. After we would get home from the library, I would run in my room and dive into some of my books right away. You usually waited till nightfall. I have vivid memories of you sitting in bed reading. Television viewing was restricted to an hour a day for many years so that homework and reading were kept in the forefront. Reading was an integral part of our life.

You instilled in me a will to want to be successful. Giving my all to my school work and music were expected. I used to resent the thirty minutes you required me to practice my clarinet daily, but I wanted the reward. Private lessons would be dropped if I didn’t fulfill this expectation. Now as a parent, I can only hope that my children will discipline themselves for a reward that isn’t electronic or filled with sugar. You gave me the greatest gift – the drive to do my best at any task or in any situation.

As the figurative head of our household, your strength was something I never questioned. I have always seen you as independent and determined with many educational and career accomplishments. It was understood that I would go to college, get a career and maybe – somewhere along the way – get married. Looking for a husband and becoming a mother were never priorities to me and I believe that is because of you. Fulfilling my own goals first was your unspoken mantra. You were single longer than most in your era, but you never settled for just anyone. You taught me that marriage wasn’t a goal. It was merely something that occurred along the way. I remember you telling me once or twice that you had plenty of proposals over the years, but you were waiting for the right man at the right time. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been back in the fifties. I have always been so proud of you for this.

Your loyalty to me is another asset that I deeply appreciate. Through all the struggles I’ve been through, you and Dad have stood by me. Each mistake I made was met with your frustration, but also with a steadfast love behind it. My strongest memory of this was when I divorced. I opened up to you with details that were so painful and yet you accepted me with open arms. As I struggled with my own self esteem and acceptance, you guided me through the healing. I can even remember when you directed me to church to get a cassette of one of Arthur’s sermons on “grace”. You knew what I needed to hear. You’ve stuck with me through ups and downs and never once have I doubted that you would not support my decisions 100%. You always present your opinion, but if I decide to go in a different direction, you stop expressing your thoughts and just encourage me through the journey.

Another trait you passed down to me was a respect for money. Your bookkeeping skills are phenomenal. I love telling my friends that you can account for every dime you have spent. If I want to know how much you spent on the kids for Christmas last year, I know you’ll tell me to go get your books – you’ll look it up. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit your sense of organization and attention to detail. I don’t keep meticulous records, and my house and desk are a nightmare most of the time, but I do try to incorporate your values in this area into my life whenever I can. Just ask Chris, I often have a hard time opening my wallet.

Even though you appreciate the value of a dollar, the dichotomy of this is that you taught me how important it is to surround yourself with things of high quality. My earliest memory of this was shoes. You always insisted that we have good shoes – we weren’t allowed to buy any from a discount store. Our house was always decorated with the help of interior designers and you always dressed with attention to detail. When I was in eighth grade, my friend and I went downtown a few times on the city bus to bum around and buy chocolate stars at Woolworth’s. I distinctly remember that you insisted that I dress up for these trips. This made going downtown on the bus an event, not just an outing. You are the person who taught me how important it is to dress for success. I’ve always been proud of your great sense of style and taste.

These last seven years introduced me to a different side of you. Watching you fight cancer with such a positive attitude is so inspiring. Through the hair loss, intense fatigue and weekly chemo appointments, you never complain. It’s just a fact of life. Something you need to do – almost like a daily chore. You never allow anyone to dwell on the negatives associated with this illness. I quote you all the time to my students, “What you focus on is what you get.” Even though you’re in bed, you continue to be optimistic. (She would always say that she was in perfect health except for the cancer. “I don’t have any heart problems or arthritis, etc. I feel like I’m just sick – a little under the weather – not suffering from cancer.” This attitude continued till the end. In her diary, on the day before Thanksgiving just three weeks ago, she wrote, “Working on my thymus exercises (positive imagery meditations) 3 times a day and am feeling better – the cancer must be erased.”)

One of the greatest attributes I love about you, though, is your non-judgmental attitude. You are interested in people first, not their skin color, religion, sexual orientation or class. It took me until I was in my twenties to really realize this. Remember when I rented a room with that marketing Vice President in Uptown? She was very eccentric with lots of different ideas. You embraced that. I couldn’t believe it when I told you that she read Tarot cards and you wanted her to read your cards. I was nervous because of the diversity of her friends. I didn’t want you to be uncomfortable. You laughed out loud, after I gingerly told you that most of the men who would be at our house were homosexuals. “Why would I care?” you said. I doubt you ever realized how eye opening that moment was for me.

Finally, I need you to know that it has been an honor to be your daughter these past forty one years. You are an amazing woman. Your integrity, intelligence, loyalty and elegant grace exude from you. I was so lucky to be born into this home.

I love you more each day, Carol

Saturday, December 17, 2005

One more day

I've never had a more hectic week, nor more painful. Thank you to everyone who wrote such meaningful comments since this all began. I appreciate them all.

Today is her Memorial Service. No body, just family and friends gathering in a chapel room at her favorite church. There will be a roaring fire, a wreath over the fireplace and lots and lots of pointsettias. I will speak along with a few others.

I can barely remember the last funeral I attended. I hope we can memorialize with her spirit in mind.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

My mom (on the right) with her best friend from high school and college. I think she's about 20. Posted by Picasa

The end.

Nurse #2 woke me at 5:00 AM to tell me that my mom had just died. I was with her till about 1:00 AM when she finally settled down and seemed to be somewhat comfortable. Even as I write this I am still shocked. This all happened too fast.

I've had so much time to prepare, but I'm not.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The beginning of the end - Part 2

I don't know where to begin.

My mother has deteriorated dramatically. She is very jaundiced, her eyelids are dark, she slips in and out of sleep, she throws up bile every few hours and she had her first "restless" episode. That's medical-ease for delusional talk. Around 11:30 PM last night she asked me to tell the person she was on the phone with that she couldn't talk anymore. She wasn't on the phone.

Hospice is now in place. A hospital bed is in our living room. A commode was delivered. At 3:00 PM today, Don came - our first nurse for round-the-clock care. The social worker helped us talk through funeral plans. The case worker told us she will probably die this week. Needless to say, I won't be going home at 5:36 tonight. My husband and kids will come on Saturday. My mom's sister is coming from Florida tomorrow night.

She is very uncomfortable. My brother is numb. My dad is angry (feels it should be him). And I'm just sad. Really, really sad.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The beginning of the end.

I’ve been awake since 4:30 AM. The thoughts racing through my head are awful. I don’t wish them on anyone. Around my neck is a necklace carved from bone in the shape of an edelweiss flower. My German-immigrant grandfather gave it to my mother in 1955. On his own, he went to a jewelry store in Chicago and picked it out for his daughter. She gave it to me this summer along with that story. This is the first time I’ve worn it. I stumbled upon it this morning. I don't even know what I was looking for, but the minute I saw it I knew I wanted to wear it today.

I’m on an airplane. Nothing I expected to be doing this morning as I went through my day yesterday. In fact, I’m supposed to be at work right now. It’s 9:20 AM. Parents and prospective students will be walking through our doors in 40 minutes for our Saturday recruitement event and I will not be there to welcome them. Instead, I’m going to Minnesota to be with my mom. Did you know the going rate for a flight from Salt Lake to Minneapolis eleven hours in advance is $1,168! Thank God my mother gave me her password last month. I have stolen her last World Perks miles. Unfortunately, she won’t need them. Yesterday her oncologist told her that she would be dying this month.

The men in my life all knew. My husband and my brother are sad, but not surprised. Chris, I believe, feels that her body is just too ravaged by the six years of chemo. He’s not happy about it, but has a better acceptance of its fallibility. My brother sees her more often and started accepting the inevitable in the last week or so as her normally sharp math skills, and memory, have started to fail. She asked him the other day to take over her checkbook. I could probably write volumes on my mother’s bookkeeping skills. Suffice it to say that her inability to no longer calculate the accrued interest on my loan from her is hard to believe. My father just knew. He watched both of his parents die from cancer so maybe he senses the timing in situations like this.

The two of us women left over were fairly clueless. My mother went to her doctor appointment yesterday afternoon following the same routine she has for the six years since she started weekly chemotherapy. She would bathe, put on makeup, put on her wig, get dressed and grab her purse. The last two appointments, or so, my dad has had to help her walk to the garage. Her weakness has gotten worse and she can’t rely on the walls to keep her balanced anymore. As she was getting in the car yesterday, she panicked for a second, “Glenn, my calendar…my purse. I left them by the bed.” My dad knew exactly what she meant. She carries a little pocket calendar in her purse to record all of her doctor appointments. In fact, just three weeks ago, I bought her a new one. She wanted the two-year model, 2006-2007. Neither my mom, nor I, balked at her request. I didn’t even think about it until this very moment. (Ok, now I’m crying in public.) He brought her the purse already knowing that she wouldn’t be scheduling anymore appointments and drove her to the doctor. My father tells me that the conversation was very frank. The doctor said that there is no available treatment option left that would make any sense. Her blood test results indicate that the liver tumor is growing rapidly. He went on to say that her life expectancy was very short. Weeks…maybe four. He described the coming symptoms. It will be fairly painless. Since her body can no longer filter things through her liver properly, her body will fill with toxins and then she will slip into a coma and die. According to him, it is a pretty good way to die. He said that. (I guess I can’t be too upset with his candor. There are not a lot of easy ways to tell someone they are dying.) I asked my dad how my mother handled it. He said that she was surprised. Like me, she was expecting another option. This doctor has given us options for over seven years. At this point she just said, “Well, that’s that.”

I found out during my commute from work. I had a hair appointment scheduled last night so I decided to call before I went in. My Dad answered the phone. Up until last week, my mother answered the phone EVERY time it rang. Now she answers every third call or so. He recounted the doctor visit and then said that some people from Hospice services were coming this morning to talk to my parents. He then wanted to talk through the funeral. In detail. I was on a busy freeway in Salt Lake City (home of the worst drivers on this planet) sobbing. He wanted help and advice on who should be at the wake, etc. It was almost surreal. I cut him off when I reached the salon and told him I’d call in the morning. He suggested after the hospice meeting. Little does he know that we will be able to talk it all through in person.

After talking through every emotion I was having, for over two and a half hours (cut and highlights!) with my hair stylist, I felt better. I think if I had had to go directly home after I had received the news, it would have been harder. I needed time to regroup and grieve. By the time I got home, I was better able to focus on my kids and help get them to bed. Around 9:00 PM, I decided that I needed to see my mom right away. It’s amazing how skewed your thinking can get in situations like this. I had been very concerned about my responsibilities at work. I had to be reminded that it really doesn’t matter. If I were in Chris’ shoes, I probably would have said the same things to me that he did, but I’m not. I’m in my shoes. I’m the one who has to face the consequences of missing more work.

Thankfully I listened. In the scheme of things, family is ALL that really matters. My brother and I will both spend the afternoon with my parents today. No spouses, no grandchildren – just the four of us.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


So my mom went in for her procedure today. Attempt number four. Spoke to my dad tonight. After all the waiting and hoping, it was a bust. The gastric doctor wasn't able to get a stint into her liver bile duct. Apparently the mass that blocks it is too large. She told my father that it is probably a "large" cancerous tumor.

We are back to square one. My mother will have to consult with her oncologist, but my father believes the writing is on the wall. When this blockage was first detected, the doctor said that if her blockage wasn't corrected - her life expectency would be short. I have no idea what "short" means, but probably weeks.

Last night, my mom and I got in a fight. Just like the old days. She heard my kids in the background and I said something about them being "out of control". She quickly told me that I say that many times a week. She went into a lecture, of sorts, telling me that I need to take control of my out of control children. She reminded me that she hadn't parented like that, etc. It was awful. I became defensive, child-like and started crying. I was so mad at her, but so guilt-ridden at the same time.

How are you supposed to act with a mother dying of cancer? What's the protocol when their illness is in its final stages? Hell, I've never even been around anyone close to death, let alone know how to handle it.

I want to plan for the holidays, but how can I? I need to calm down and take this one day at a time. Until she meets with the doctor, I will continue to have hope.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The latest

The view from our car, on our way home, the other day. Winter is here.

My mother is still waiting for the blockage/tumor, in her bile duct, to be fixed. She was set to have a stint put in over a week ago, but they discovered at the last minute that her blood was dangerously thin and they couldn't go forward. It was rescheduled for yesterday. Her levels were checked on Thursday and everything was fine. So, for the second time in a week, she fasted for the day and then went to the hospital thinking she was going to have a tube inserted down her throat all the way to her liver. Mentally, this was taking its toll. She easily gags normally, and lately she's been losing her swallowing reflex, so she was nervous about this to say the least. Also, for the second time, she was in the gown - on the table - ready to go when a problem was found. Her potassium levels were low. This comes as no surprise to me and Dad. She hasn't been taking her potassium pills. She hates them. They are large and she can't swallow them without chopping them up. One of the reasons that I call her daily is to check on this. Sometimes it works - sometimes it doesn't. Obviously it wasn't working well enough. I feel like I've caught one of my students cheating. She's been nailed and her punishment was pretty harsh. They started her on a potassium IV infusion and checked her into the hospital for the night. She got home this afternoon, exhausted and wiser, with her procedure re-scheduled for Monday.

She's had a severe stomach since yesterday. I'm afraid that the blockage is really starting to affect her digestive system. The doctor has informed her that they may not be able to put a stint in after all. They don't know if the blockage is actually a tumor, but they assume so. If they can't open the duct, she will have to wear a bag on the outside of her body for the rest of her life. Once her liver is functioning properly, she can go back on chemo. She's been off for about 7 weeks now. That is too long.

Understandably, my father is tired and dejected. This is my mother's third or fourth stay in a hospital this year. From his perspective, things are just getting worse every day. His recovery is going well, but he still can't drive. - not until Dec. 8th (6 weeks post surgery). I have a sense that he's having trouble staying hopeful. He's where I was last week. This week, I feel better. More positive and confident with modern medicine. I just want her to get back on chemo.

A typical Saturday

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Usually we have large plans for our weekends. We have errands to run, projects around the house, cleaning, laundry, and usually we'll try to throw in at least one fun family activity. This weekend, however, is quickly turning into a total bust.

Not one thing around the house has been done, not one Christmas gift was bought today and the laundry chute is still full of dirty clothes.

Because I knew that we wouldn't be going on a lot of fun, creative outings, I was feeling guilty. The kids, sensing my weakness, begged to do some painting. We have painted in this house ONE time. It was outside, last October. The kids sat on the driveway with their pumpkins and some paint. I walked away for about three minutes. When I returned, they were both naked and their pumpkins and bodies were full of paint. It was extremely hilarious, but it taught me a good lesson. NEVER leave your children unsupervised with paint.

Now, I certainly have my moments as a parent. I have never claimed to be good at this job. I TOTALLY fly by the seat of my pants. However, I do try to keep my repeat mistakes to a minimum - until today - when I gave in to their unison chants of request for a painting project. I cleared the dining room table. Put down newspaper. Got out three brushes. Four paint colors. Cups for paint. Paper. Then I laid out the rules. Don't mix colors. Share the brushes. Keep the paint on the paper. And most importantly - keep your clothes on.

Things went really well for about 15 minutes. I was even able to hold a phone conversation, but I certainly got distracted at this point. The kids lost interest fairly quickly and I cleaned up most of the paint cups, etc. About thirty minutes later, I realized that Harrison had been in the bathroom for too long.

I think the pictures tell the rest of the story pretty well.