The funeral director wore a yellow tie emblazoned with clocks. Clocks. Every single clock stated that is was three o’clock. I don’t know if it was AM or PM but all I took away from the experience of the yellow tie was “your time is up.”

I couldn’t tear my eyes away from that tie. In some muffled section of my brain I heard his questions. His voice sounded so far away as he asked questions like “what was your mother’s middle name?” and “what was her life’s work?” I, in conjunction with my dad, answered his questions but I couldn’t help but be focused on that tie.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. I wonder if he consciously picked that tie? Or was it a gift? Perhaps for Father’s Day? Did he had children? What made him want to be a funeral director? Had he, too, buried his mother? Was he interested in the embalming process and encouraging his family into picking out just the right casket for mom? All these questions he was asking me made me think of some of my own. I wanted some questions answered, too. Like where was my mother? Was she all alone in a dark place? Did she need a blanket? Was her hair still braided like it was when she died?

Did she miss us?

Mom passed away peacefully on Friday, March 25 at approximately 7:15 PM. She was 67 years old. For a woman not particularly known for being peaceful, her quiet death was quite a beautiful thing to experience. At least it was for me. As it stood I was nearing my snapping point. In addition to losing my mother, my son has antibody therapy in New York City next week. My daughter is getting ready to celebrate her seventh birthday and I’m feeling guilty about yet another one of her milestones getting overshadowed by cancer treatment. I’m completely overwhelmed. So, for mom to go quietly within a couple of hours after being taken off life support, well, I found that to be an amazing blessing. No more machines. No more tubes. No more pain or suffering. She was finally at complete peace.

My sister, father and I have collectively decided not to have the service until after Benjamin’s next round of antibody therapy. That gives us some time to plan and catch our breath before honoring a very complex woman.

My sister and I have picked out the clothes she will wear. My dad and I picked out her casket. Honestly, we had picked out a simple shaker style casket used for cremation – minimal metal – but when we saw an eco-friendly basket style casket, we knew that was the one. Simple yet very unique. Smart. Completely unexpected. You’d never see that coming. I think it captures mom entirely.

We’ll have a cocktail hour. We’ll show pictures of her enjoying her grandchildren and her beautiful gardens. We’ll celebrate her life and her passions. We’ll probably tell stories about what a firecracker she was. We’ll definitely share how much we will miss her.

As for me, all I can think about is what she planned to do when she died. When I was much younger, I was cut from 7th grade chorus for my inability to sing. Mom told me that she while she was never a good singer either, she knew that someday – when she died – the first thing she would do when she got to Heaven would be to hit a “High C”. I like to think that she’s basking in the glow of her new Heavenly home and hitting all the high notes of the new life she’s been given.

And not missing us a bit.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Everyone just assumes that I’m Irish because of my red hair and fair complexion. The fact of the matter is that I’m a mutt – an amalgam of any number of Nationalities (I’m guessing there’s a few that I am NOT a part of) – but, sure. I’ll be Irish. Aye. Especially today.

I am a red head. A ginger. A bluey. A carrot top (even though those are green). A firecracker. A copper top battery. A siren. A witch. I’ve been called it all. Having red hair was the bane of my existence as an adolescent but now I fully embrace being a red head. Plus, despite my having a ton of gray hair you cannot see any of it because it blends in. I have natural highlights that I don’t have to pay for! Jealous? You should be. My hair is stunning. Every hairdresser says so.

Before you start to think that my daily existence revolves around shaking my glorious crown of red hair in front of a mirror, let me tell you that it hasn’t always been a pleasure being a red head. There’s the fact that my 16th chromosome is mutated, which not only gives me my red hair but also makes UV rays a natural enemy. The sun just adds more freckles to my collection and unless I’m out all day, every day in the summer, I do not tan very well. Even the sun has to put on sunglasses to deal with my glare.

While being pale today does not hold the same stigma it used to, I grew up in an era where it was popular to lay out all day coated in baby oil. The only thing to do during the summer was to go to the pool and be in the sun all day. That was so not happening for this little red head. While my girlfriends frolicked I hid in the shade under whatever was available while waiting for my Sundown “water-proof” sunscreen to dry. Honestly. You had to wait an hour for Sundown to dry but had to reapply it every 30 minutes for it to be effective. There was just no winning.

I remember one time during my youth, my aunt took my cousin and I to the swimming pool in Pataskala, Ohio. My usual hangout was the pool in Baltimore but most of the kids from my school went to the pool in Pataskala, so I was really excited to go. My cousin and I skipped through the front gates giddy with anticipation. We stripped down to our swimsuits but I left my t-shirt on – as I normally did – to protect myself from the sun’s evil rays. Before I could jump in the pool, a mean old man ran out to the poolside and yelled at me for having a t-shirt on. He said I could not swim in the pool wearing a t-shirt. He insisted that I take it off if I wanted to enjoy their amenities. Well, my aunt showed him… we left. She didn’t argue. She didn’t try to reason. We packed up our stuff and split. I was devastated. They should have just had a sign posted: No Gingers Allowed. I wonder if I had stayed and gotten a sunburn, would I be able to sue for reparations?

Thankfully, today’s redheads are equipped with SPF 10,000 and UV protection tops to wear in the pool. They got it made (in the shade). And I’ve gone on to give the world yet another Ginger. My Ben is a redhead. No matter how many times cancer comes and knocks out that kid’s hair, it ALWAYS comes back in RED. He’s determined, no doubt. He’s a firecracker.

And, FYI, Red heads will NOT be extinct in 100 years as the National Geographic “article” so wrongly reported. There are actually more redheads now than there have ever been.

Sorry, Ginger haters. We’re here to stay. 😛

Get Well Soon

I watched a shadow dance across the wall of mom’s intensive care unit. It was soothing – much nicer than looking at my mother’s terribly swollen hands, the IV’s that angrily poked into areas surrounded by bright blue and purple bruises, or the tubes that snaked in through her mouth to help her breathe. Yes, the shadow dancing on the wall was much more enjoyable to watch. I craned my neck to look beyond the machinery that was keeping mom alive to see what was making happy movements across the sterile, white wall. It was a balloon. One single, soliltary balloon brilliantly colored with a floral motif and emblazoned with the statement (or was it a demand?) of “Get Well Soon.”
Looking at mom’s body lying helplessly in the hospital bed, it was hard for me to imagine that she would ever get better, let alone have anything to do with getting well soon. Will we ever get to speak with each other again? Laugh at something completely inappropriate (one of our favorite pasttimes)? Watch “Gone With the Wind” together? I’m not sure.
So, as I often allow it to do, my mind took off on its own to a funnier time, when the sentiment of “Get Well Soon” actually threw me into a fit of hysterical laughter. Several years ago, I met a woman named Joanie through the Kids ‘n Kamp Mom’s Retreat. This annual retreat was an opportunity for “cancer-kid moms” to get out of town and spend time with one another – share stories, laugh, cry, be angry – whatever we needed. I loved Mom’s retreat. It was held in Amish country each year so it was a nice, quiet environment. The years that I was able to go there was a group of us that stayed up late and giggled just like we were participating in a grade school sleepover. This is where I met Joanie. She had the best stories ever – mostly about her mother. Joanie’s mom was famous for doing odd, yet strangely interesting, things. While one of the more popular stories was the time that Joanie’s mom left home wearing two very different shoes, the one that sent me over the edge was the following:
A relative, I believe it was either Joanie’s aunt or grandmother, passed away. At the funeral Joanie’s mom went tottering up to the casket with a bouquet of flowers in a vase. She placed the vase in the casket, took her time arranging it just so, and then went to sit down before the service began. Joanie walked up to the casket to pay her final respects when she noticed the bouquet of flowers had a big card placed right in the middle of the arrangement. The card said “Get Well Soon.” Joanie was both horrified and hard pressed to contain a snort of laughter at her mother’s faux pas. I can’t remember if Joanie took the card out of the vase or left it for others to enjoy because I was hysterically crying with laughter. It was one of the funniest things I’d ever heard.
So, when I laughed out loud at my mother’s bedside after mentally reliving this story, I had some explaining to do to my dad. He was concerned that maybe I’d lost my marbles. Perhaps I had. After briefly explaining why I had burst out in a fit of inappropriate laughter, he couldn’t help but chuckle a bit himself. It was a great tension reliever.
Seeing my mother in the state she was in was terribly difficult. Her poor hands were so swollen. Her rings were on the verge of cutting off her circulation. We alerted the nurses and they were able to try some of their tricks and succeeded in removing the rings. Unfortunately, the removal left her with more bruising and scratches.
I guess I should back-track a bit and get everyone caught up on how all this came to be. Mom had been in a nursing home on Hospice care. It was estimated that mom had six months or less to live, so we prepared for what we believed would be the end of her life. While mom was in the nursing home, she started to get stronger. She was interested in walking and trying some measures of rehabilitation. It was encouraging. Within a few days she began to experience terrible pain in her extremities and back. She went to the hospital, and despite the original order of a DNR and being under the care of Hospice, she decided to change those orders. The DNR was lifted and she was taken off of Hospice care immediately. Mom seemed to recover from the pain she had been experiencing and within a couple of days she had her pacemaker battery replaced – another step in prolonging her life. It seemed that mom was on the road to recovery.
Then she started having seizures. The medication they had to give her required her to be intubated and placed in a medically induced coma. She’s had multiple EEG’s over the last few days, which indicated that she was no longer having seizures. So they weaned her off the sedation with the hopes of being able to take her off the ventilator. Unfortunately, she won’t wake up. She should have been able to come out of it by now, but she hasn’t yet. The doctors aren’t sure why this is the case.
So, just when things were looking up for mom, it took a very fast and scary u-turn.
For now, we are waiting. And praying. And hoping for her to Get Well Soon.

It’s “International Day of Awesomeness”

Today is a fairly new holiday… someone tweeted that there should be an International Day of Awesomeness and the Powers That Be commanded it to be set in stone. It’s also Chuck Norris’ birthday, so I think International Day of Awesomeness came into existence 71 years ago when Chuck was born. Chuck is the bomb.

I wrote about Chuck last year on his birthday so I’m not going to give a repeat performance. I could never top a prior post on any given topic anyway – that’s how awesome I am.

Yeah, I said it. I’m awesome. I’ve lived a lot of my life mired in a pit of self-despair and loathing. It stemmed from many things that happened during my life – being repeatedly thrown over the edge with little to no support – and I just never believed in myself. I wasted so much time thinking that I wasn’t awesome. Then I realized it’s all just a matter of perspective.

You are what you think you are. If you think you’re a victim in life, then that’s what you are. I’m not saying that bad things don’t happen – they absolutely do – but YOU choose how to deal with it. Everything happens for a reason. And while I really hate that cliched phrase and sometimes it makes me want to punch the person uttering it, it’s ultimately true.

Bad things happen. People die. Jobs are lost. Relationships fall apart. But if you can’t see past the bad and focus on the good then you are missing out on your awesomeness. I’m not saying these things don’t hurt. I’m not saying “man up and take it”. I’m saying mourn the sad things and embrace the happy things. So many of us gets stuck in the yuck that we can’t see our own awesomeness. Each and every one of us has the power to be awesome.

Gosh. I sound like I’m trying to be a motivational speaker. All I’m saying is that I’m tired of living a sub-standard life because I have believed that I didn’t deserve better. I won’t be living there anymore.

Last night, we went to an Ash Wednesday service at church. The sermon was on the whole “giving something up” for Lent versus becoming focused on your relationship with God. Instead of, say, giving up chocolate for 40 days, why not try deepening your relationship with God through prayer or getting involved with a charity or whatever taking that next step in your journey would look like. I’ve decided that I’m giving up being envious. I’m tired of wishing I had entirely different situations. I hate that my son has been battling NB for seven years, but it’s a fact. I can’t change it. So, instead, I’m embracing how he has taught me to be stronger. I’m celebrating all the young lives we’ve had the privilege to be a part of – even though we’ve lost some of those dear friends. I’m encouraged by how my writing about this pain has benefited so many others – those on the same journey and those following from the sidelines. Nobody has a better life than me. I’m going to stop being envious of those around me – those fancy new cars, gigantic new homes, kids that excel at everything, people who seem to have it all – I’m letting all that go. I have nothing to be envious of because my life is so rich.

I’m freaking awesome.

You are, too.