Thursday, April 30, 2015

somewhere in between

I've been asked by the Embrace program through Sanford and Roger Maris, to participate in a presentation about living your legacy, in a couple of weeks.  

I'm writing, and processing, sometimes just in my head, while other times, words are tossed out across thank you notes and cards.

I'm struck by this phrase as it tumbles out, "I have such an urgency to live, while at the same time wanting to slow down enough to savor the small and often fleeting moments of my days." 

Yes, this is part of the legacy I want to live. 

I find I am somewhere in between- urgency to live big, and slowing down to savor small.  No wasting of the minutes, hovering in the midst.  Its somewhere in here that I long for my boys to truly find me and know me.  

This is my kitchen table, draped in memories of my mother.  Through the notes, cards, momentos sent, I find more of the bits and pieces of the story of my mom.

But she's here too, where the trees bud out, and the dog lies in the greening grass, and the wind blows sunshine all over my upturned face, as tears stream.  Mom, mom, I whisper, "are you here too?" 

So I collect the stories, and process the loss, as it reorders my days.  And swim in the in-between, knowing I'll surface once again.  

Thank you for your kindness in words, and the love and support I feel, and the prayers that continue to see me through.  

Thursday, April 23, 2015

waiting for the sound of the whistle

We stood at the deep end of the pool, off to the side, shivering as we heard the instructions for our last  class test.  It was a junior lifesaving swim class.  I don't recall how old I was, only how terrified I felt inside.

Our instructor, had just hurled a block of black rubber, (maybe 10 lbs?) down into the 12 foot depths of the deep end of the pool.  Our task, was to get in, swim down, and then somehow, pick it up, and bring it to the top of the water, then thrust it up over our heads.

Even our instructor looked dubious this day, at my friend, Rebekah and I, (the only two girls in the class) and our scrawny little bodies, how would we manage this task?  The boys had completed and passed the test on another day.

So our teacher said, we just needed to figure it out.  She kept shaking her head, questioning how this made sense.  If we failed this test, even though we passed every other test, we'd fail the class. 

So she said we could try and try, until somehow, we figured it out.

I just remember standing there, shaking.  I was relieved it was cold, and no one would wonder about the shivering.  Because the shaking?  Was pure nerves.

I think I dove into the water the first few times.  But I was so buoyant, I couldn't get past a mid-level range of depth before I'd be forced back up, despite my attempts to claw myself back down.  But the pressure was squeezing so tightly around my lungs, I felt like I was suffocating, my thirst for air so strong.  I had to fight against my natural inclinations to breathe, in order to keep going down.  Rebekah, was no different.

Finally, I just decided to jump in.  And somehow, the idea of propulsion kicked in.  

We both began jumping in and instinctively threw our arms over our heads, and pointed our toes straight down, in awe of how much more quickly we could get down.

Rebekah finally exclaimed she'd found the bottom, on the last try.  Now where was the brick? 

We were growing exhausted by now, nearly half the class time had passed.

How on earth would we now find and grab that brick, and get it to the top, before running out of air?

Somehow, despite our nerves, we kept jumping in.  A small crowd of swimmers and instructors gathered around.  

Eventually we found the brick with our feet.

And then.  

Rebekah grabbed the block.  And kicked and kicked with her legs.  Once, then again, dropping it to the bottom, having to come up for air. Would she ever get it all the way up?  

Would I? 

  Suddenly,  Rebekah's head finally broke the surface of the water- and she still held the brick!   Could this be it?  While she couldn't hoist the block above her head like the boys had- a small glimpse of a corner of the block was seen coming out of the water as Rebekah's head started going back under… oh no… don't let her drop the brick!

But she held on, persevering, despite the odds.  And it was all it took for the instructor to blow her whistle signaling Rebekah had passed the test.

As she swam over to the edge, completely out of breath, getting helped out of the pool to go and lie down, her sides heaving… I stood alone at the edge of the pool, summoning every last shred of strength I could muster to try again.

All these years later, I've found myself staring up from the bottom of the deep end of the pool  in wonderment once again.

How am I going to do this?

The brain MRI shows 2 tumors, both growing.  

One has been treated with radiation before.  Is it really growing?  Or could it be necrosis- or tissue dying that we really see?  Its impossible to tell on a scan.

The suggestion for my next step?

To meet with a neurosurgeon.

Brain surgery.

Just one option to consider.  Others have been presented too.  But its too overwhelming to think of too much for now. 

So, I'm standing here again, looking up from the depths of the pool wondering how on earth I am going to hoist that big, black, block, up out of the water, so that I can breathe free again.

Because I'm shaking again, and  and I have to somehow summon the courage to face the smothering and murky deep end all over again.  

And yet… all those years ago...

With all eyes on me,  I jumped again.  This part had grown easy.  Then suddenly, I felt the block with my toes and managed to kick it up with my feet.  As the end came up, I leaned down a bit, and grabbed it between my hands.  

I kicked and kicked.  The air squeezed out of my lungs as I climbed through the blackish-blue depths of the pool.  

And then… as the water turned bluer, and the light started to stream in… my head burst out of the water, as the brick stayed in my grasp between my knees. 

But no matter how much I kicked and gasped and struggled, I couldn't for the life of me hoist the brick.   

On the verge of defeat, all I recall, is that I simply leaned my head back, arched my back, and by some miracle I'll never quite understand, the brick arched through the water with me, just long enough for the instructor to see.  As my head plunged backward through the water, it was the sound of the whistle that day, that was my saving grace.  

I'm still making it through my days, but at times I feel a far off look grow upon my face.  I'm straining, listening, longing- for the sound of the whistle blowing one more time. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"This much I know is true…"

April 15, Jesus Calling, Sarah Young

"Trust Me, and don't be afraid.  Many things feel out of control.  Your routines are not running smoothly.  You tend to feel more secure when your life is predictable.  Let Me Lead you to the rock that is higher than you and your circumstances.  Take refuge in the shelter of My wings, where you are absolutely secure…"

My phone lays quietly, often in some remote spot I left it in.  No need to hover anymore for her call.  Mom's call.  It would come at 10, then 3, and then 9 pm when I was readying for bed.  I startle now, when the phone rings.  My heart leaps for a brief instant, and then I pause, realizing I no longer have any idea who it might be.  

Its so quiet.  How do you fill the silence? And that space.  That "Mary Ann," shaped space in my life that refuses to fill right now, with anything else.  

I numbly stumble my way into Dr. Panwalkar's exam room on Tuesday.  When he asks how I am, I blankly answer, "Okay, I'm okay."  

He pauses, searching my face for clues.  "Why just okay?"

The tears rimming my eyes, threaten to slip, as my voice hushes and I barely squeak out a reply "My mom died a week ago."  

We sit in silence a moment or two.

Dr. P's face registers compassion, and understanding.  As usual, his understatement speaks volumes to me.

"I'm sorry."  

But I already feel it, hovering in the space between us.  

And really?  I'm still in that haze of grief and loss and what just happened to us?  

Suddenly, I see we've moved on as I shift my focus again.

But when we go over the PET scan?  And he shows the 3 tumors that have grown?  

"Oh well,"  I think.  Because I can't multiply sadness any longer.  I just can't add more + more + more.

The news barely registers.

At the end of our conversation, I remind Dr. Panwalkar its been 4 years.  He smiles, in acknowledgement.  

Then says, "You are a trooper," while shaking his head.

And I tell him, I am lucky, and beyond grateful, and have a deep desire to keep going on.

He walks me to infusion and as he reaches over to side hug me- I reach my arm back around his side and hug him right back.  

Even though I have no earthly idea how I am going to do this.

This much I know is true.

I deeply desire moving forward.

Today, I am going to have my brain MRI with sedation.  I am bringing you all with, to pray over.  

I'll be back with results soon.

I also long to come back and share about my mom's funeral.  

Her dollar story.

The word "come," and my Uncle Ernie.

And the gem of a quote my mother wrote on a small square of paper she carried with her.

It lightens my heart to come here and share.  This is one way, I know, will help me find my way back from the grief filled haze that obscures my days right now.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Our Mom...

"Just as hope rings through laughter, it can also shine through tears."

The day before mom's party, (Saturday, April 4th) mom grew less present with us.  Sleeping more, eyes closed, working harder to just breathe in and out.  

We simply decided to leave her in her room, resting in bed, during the party.

We had a steady stream of people for her party.  They all so bravely came down to her room, and spoke to her, even though her eyes barely fluttered.  There was much laughter, with tears sprinkled in.  So many wonderful stories shared about our mom.  She'd still raise her eyebrows, or smile at mention of someone's name on occasion.  She was clearly taking it all in, as were we.  I didn't even manage to reach for my camera.

All 3 of mom's sisters were there.  So many of her nieces and nephews had come.  Neighbors and friends from years back.  Concordia College faculty and staff filled the unit.  A card even arrived, from the President of the College.  

Dr. Jalil, mom's liver specialist, arrived with this beautiful gerbera daisy.  It was his first time visiting the Palliative Care Unit, and he was noticing the tranquility he felt.  He had been so instrumental in getting mom into the unit, without even having been there.  I only hope more doctors will visit the unit and get to know what a true gem it is.  

He somewhat, apologetically said, "I thought she had longer, two maybe, three weeks."  But I assured him, we treasured any time we had with her, and nobody really knows when.   Its clearly not in our hands."

Sunday, I awoke to an early phone call from her nurse.  Mom's breathing had grown more shallow, perhaps I would like to come in and sit with her?

Lee and I both spent Easter Day with mom.  With lots of visits and support from our family, we watched over mom.   She seemed to be less comfortable and worked to position her in ways that may help.  More pain meds were delivered and yet all we could do was watch as she struggled to take in air.  

It was hard to leave her that night.  I longed to stay, as much as I needed to go.  

I spent extra time, brushing her hair.  Moisturizing her lips, her face.  Holding her hand, and whispering to her how she was loved.  Treasured.  Cherished.

My phone was silent all night.  My mind, prepared for the possibility of a call.

Yesterday, I arrived mid-morning.  

Mom labored, so, with her breathing.  Her chest, shoulders, and neck, askew, working so hard to bring in air.  I noticed a new noise to her exhale.  The pale enshrouding her face.  The positioning, again, of her head and neck at awkward angles.  And yet, the reassurance by nursing staff, that all was a natural part of the process.

So Lee and I, sat, watching, each breath, each sigh, each little thing.

She no longer responded to our words.  

Sometime, yesterday morning, I felt an energy in my chest.  Something shifted.  The air changed.  As I went out to get a drink of water, then returned, the sight of my mom stirred me.

It felt to me as though her spirit had already left.  While we still had no idea if she had mere hours left, or days, I sensed her journey moving forward.

Her sister, Marlene came.  We sat sharing stories about Mom.  About Grandma, and Grandpa, and their passing.  About her first husband Emery, and then our Dad,  and so many others who had gone before us.

And ever so slowly, mom's breathing slowed.  Our voices grew softer, as her breathing grew quieter.  

We filled the in- between minutes with chatter, 


It was Marny's voice that sing-songed through the air…

"Mary Ann, do you hear me?"  You can leave.  Time to go, Mary."  

And we chuckled, at the sight and sound of the older sister, doing what she had done since childhood.

She got up and leaned over the bed, peering into mother's face.  She kissed her cheek and told she was loved.  Then sat down.

It felt like mere minutes, as Marny and Lee sat across from me talking.

But, I noticed the lapses between mom's breathing.  Longer and longer till she breathed again.

I stood, noticing how still and quiet it had become.  Marny and Lee were right there with me.  We surround the bed, searching for signs, searching each other's faces, while stroking her hair, her cheeks, just her.  

Each breath now,  a mere sip of air.  

We all three spoke our love to her, and then, it happened.

The slightest smile alighted on mom's lips, as Marny proclaimed,

"You see the pearly gates, don't you Mary?"

The smile lingered a second.

And then it was gone.

And so was she.

Shortly before 5 pm yesterday, our sweet mother, Mary Ann, went Home to be with Jesus.

We are both joyously celebrating her entry into her eternal life, and deeply saddened by our lives going on, without her lively spirit in our midst.

“Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.”  Rumi

Today, as I downloaded a couple of quick snaps from my phone- this vision caught my eye.

Do you see it?  The reflection in the window?  

I have to tell you, I believe.  And I felt it, and now, I feel as though I see it too.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

side by side, roots and wings- plus an invitation

"Side by side, heart to heart, we will always be connected in our traveling journey.  Remember your roots, and trust your wings."  Kelly Rae Roberts

The room streamed warmth and sunlight as soon as we entered it last Friday at noon.  Mom was quickly hugged by the Resident, Dr. Harmon, who helped get mom into the Palliative Care Unit.  They chatted in earnest as we went through the admission process.

Visitors showed up almost right away.  Mom chose sitting in the recliner, covered in her warm blue sherpa blanket we bought for her long ago.  

Mom's sense of humor is as quick and sharp as ever.  Her spirit remains strong, her outlook positive, her love pouring forth from every interaction.

The loving care she receives is exceptional.  Its been a long time since I've seen my mom so rested and peaceful.  The quiet and calm, everywhere, do much to foster the tranquil environment.

My brother, surprised mom, showing up in her room on Saturday.  The sheer delight and joy on her face was a moment we'll never forget.

Lee and I have been busy, spending time with mom, and making plans for one big wish she'd like to fulfill.  

She would turn 80 in October, and had dreams for a big celebration.  Dr. Harmon so astutely said, "So why wait?  Lets celebrate now!"

So if you are a friend of my mom's or a family member that would like to come celebrate- we would love to have you!  

The gift of your "presence" is most welcome.

(please no gifts) 

This Saturday, April 4th.

From 2-4 pm- open house style.

We will have coffee and Mom's favorite treats lovingly baked and furnished by Concordia.

Sanford Hospital, Palliative Care Unit, on University in Fargo.

Take elevator B to the 5th floor, and we'll be in the Family Room directly across from the Elevator, with Mom.

Will you come help us celebrate her life?

We're simply following His plans, day by day, leaning on Him, as our Dear Mom continues her journey to her Eternal Home.  

When you get lucky

When you get lucky

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