Life is So So Short… 

You hear all the cliches.  Life is short, YOLO, your health is everything, just do it, and so on.  They are everywhere you turn. When you are younger and you hear “if you have your health, you have everything”, you probably smile and nod then go on with your day.  It never really sinks in unless you are suffering some medical maladie at the time.  Most of these saying float around us, especially on social media, and we note them or ignore them but never really consider what they mean.

Yesterday was my first volunteer day at a local nursing home.  I chose the state-funded home rather than a private nursing home because they don’t have a lot of volunteers and most of their residents had no money or family to help care for them.  I’m no expert on nursing homes, so if this is ring, forgive me but that is my best guess.  My employer gives us one day a year to volunteer but while I used this paid day off to help, this is also my new volunteer project outside of work.  My therapist suggested that I was missing helping people and that maybe I try more volunteering.  I’ve been lost since my mom died and my girls are grown.  You go from being needed to being well, not needed quite as much.  And while I didn’t want to rush into something that would be as difficult as caring for a parent with terminal cancer, I did miss helping people.

I chose to try the nursing home becuase when my mom passed, we donated many of her medical supplies to this nursing home.  The lady who took them said how desperate they are in need for donations and help.  The building is an old brick building that once was an old infirmary.  The inside is a little dated and worn.  It’s not posh or set up to feel like a resident is in their own home.  It is simply like an older hospital inside.  They don’t have a lot of money to work with but the place is spotless and the residents are well cared for as far as I could tell.  When I walked in and asked the activities director about volunteering, she whisked me to a nurses station to start my TB test rounds.  They don’t get a lot of volunteers it seems.  It felt good to be needed again, even if it was for a few hours or so a week. 

People shy away from nursing homes because they seem depressing.  This is the place you go to die, confined to small areas.  And honestly, before my mom’s ordeal with cancer and her death, I felt the same.  What changed my mind was in the last weeks of her life, they had moved her to the nursing floor of the hospital and kept her there as long as they could to help us take care of her in her final days.  My mom at this point could not walk or care for herself, she was a shell of who she had once been which was a formidable force of nature who had rose through the ranks of her company to be one of the top people at her site.  Even today, people will tell me, I remember your mom.  She was quite a lady and didn’t mince words.  Yeah, that pretty much sums her up a bit.  She had spent so much time confined to her house and couldn’t do the things she loved anymore.  

For a month, she was under the care of the nursing floor.  They would have different people volunteer and come in and do crafts, or bring in a dog to visit her.  She had people around her in and out all the time.  The thing that was most surprising was she didn’t seem to want to rush home like her past hospital stays.  What you don’t realize is when a person loses their health, their world shrinks incredibly.  Suddenly instead of being grouchy that someone wanted to come sit and do a craft with her, she was excited about it.  Though it seems like a small thing, to her this person added happiness to her quickly fading life.  It gave her a way to feel productive and useful from her bed.  She crocheted up until the last few weeks of her life to keep herself productive.  She hated to be idle and useless.  I read a news story where a bed-ridden man knitted thousands of hats for people in need.  He couldn’t do much, but he could bring warmth and comfort to a stranger.  

The nursing staff became my mom’s friends and they joked with her, got to know us and even shared cake in our last birthday celebration (my husband, my daughter and my birthdays are all in February – my mom died mid-March) with her.  As sad as this all seems, they are the sweetest, most precious moments.  And yesterday, I walked the halls of the nursing home, pushing carts of presents, finding residents packages for ‘Santa’ and ‘Mrs. Claus’ to pass out to people.  Santa and his wife were telling me they do over 40 nursing homes a year and they enjoy it very much.  Watching them walk into an otherwise quiet dining room where half the people are sleeping and seeing them all light up like kids on Christmas, reminded me that it’s often the littlest things that are the most important.  

If you have your health you have everything is truer than we know.  Right now I have the world in my hands because I am able to walk and care for myself.  The people in this nursing home, the only things they own are probably right in their room with them.  You can’t take it with you.  You certainly can’t.  There is a married couple that have to reside in separate rooms.  Which I wish they had a way to reside in the same room.  I’m not familiar with why this is, but I am sure there is rules that require this.  I thought about my husband and I having to live on different areas of a nursing home and I held him a little tighter as I fell asleep last night.   

I watched the staff interact with the residents and saw very real caring.  They love the residents and watch out for them.  I’m not saying you don’t get a bad person in the crop sometimes but the people who work there aren’t doing it for the money because I doubt they get paid premium working in a state home.  I collected a lot of smiles yesterday.  I helped put a new bead on a lady’s charm bracelet, I heard how one of the residents had a sore butt.  I had talked to this lady  before when I was waiting for a nurse to read my TB test.  And just like the first time we talked, she took my hand, smiled and thanked me for stopping to talk to her.  I about cried, I should have thanked her for talking to me.  She was in the memory unit so I don’t even know if she remembered me but it doesn’t matter.  If me talking to her made her day just a little brighter, then that was awesome.

I went home feeling elated.  Yes, some of what I saw could be considered very depressing but reaching out to people, strangers, it felt very good and it made me realize that at this point and time, I own the world.  I can sit around and feel like I missing out on something, that I didn’t achieve this or that goal that in the end, doesn’t even matter.  I have my health, I have my family, I have a home, a job and health insurance, I have food and clothes and more possessions than I know what to do with sometimes (and donate a lot).  

It is easy for me to feel sorry for myself sometimes especially around the holidays.  I miss the hell out of my mom.  Christmas (her birthday) just isn’t the same.  But there are people in that nursing home with no family or friends that care for them.  The activities director was telling me that residents’ families bring in the gifts to be passed out by Santa but they also donate extra items to make sure each person receives a gift.  I recognized some of the people since it is a fairly small town.  A lady who had been a cashier for years at the small grocery store.  I never knew her whole name but I do now.  A gentleman I vaguely remember from my church when I was younger.  His wife had given me a Precious Moments figuring when my first daughter was born.  She had passed years ago and her grave is close to my mom’s.  He no longer remembers me but I said hello anyway.

Yesterday’s experience really gave me levity in this week of Christmas.  It is a tough week for me.  I want to be happy and celebrate for my grown daughters to carry on our traditions but part of me just wants to take down all the decorations and forget there was Christmas at all.  Last night I came home and felt much different.   Who knows how many Chrisstmases we have to celebrate in our life or even the choice as to where we celebrate it at all.  If our body gives out, if our mind fails, we could be sitting in a wheelchair half asleep when ‘Santa’ brings us a small gift.  

Life is so short.  Love today.  Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.  Do yourself a favor in 2017 and volunteer if you don’t already.  It is a wonderful gift.  

The Best Birthday Ever… 

The other day I was going through some of my saved emails and I found a Lowe’s e-gift card that had been sent to me on my 44th birthday in 2014 by my mother.  I opened up the email and it displays the “gift card” with her message.  The message said:

“wISHING YOU THE BEST BIRTHDAY EVER.  LOVE YOU.  MOM”

Yes she had written it in all caps on her iPad while sitting in her hospital bed with just one month and five days of her life left.  She was on heavy pain killers, couldn’t walk by herself any longer and needed 24/7 care but she still insisted on doing everything she possibly could by herself until the end.   That was just my mom, independent and head strong and a hella stubborn woman.  

 I can’t tell you what I used the gift card for anymore but I remembered I printed out two copies of it.  One to use at the store and one to save in my keepsake box.  Because it was the last birthday I would celebrate with my mother.  I remember feeling incredibly sad when I presented the cashier the card because it felt as if I was losing another little peice of my relationship with my mother.  As if I could hold onto that gift card, that it was keeping her a little bit alive.  Keeping her love for me alive but it really doesn’t work that way.  

Now it’s two and a half years later, my life has adjusted to not having my mom around.  Not that you really ever want to adjust to the loss of someone you love but it happens over time.  You still feel their absence every day but it is not as acute. There are times you want to hug them, sit and talk to them and instead you end up talking out loud to yourself hoping that they will hear you, that they know.  Sometimes I wrap the yellow, ivory and brown crocheted afghan she made me around my shoulders and look at all the stitches to remind myself that she made each one of them out of love for me.  Or put on her worn red Ohio State pullover that I now wash with the care of my most delicate clothing item so it lasts for years and years.  

I sometimes look at pictures, or put on a peice of her jewelry I gave her to feel closer.  I don’t care what anyone says, she may still be with me in spirit, but it sure does suck not having her here in person.  Especially last week when I finally got a promotion she thought I deserved years ago but didn’t live long enough to see it.  No it wasn’t any big new title or a bunch of new responsibilities and money.  Simply it was just the next level in my current job position which I have been doing since 2006.  She retired from where I work in 2010.  Moments like that are stark reminders that she is absent from my day to day life making that accomplishment just a little bittersweet.  

My sister, Dad, Mom and me


Back to the gift card and my 44th birthday.  I reread her words several times.  And I realized that it had indeed been a difficult birthday.  My daughters, my husband and I all have birthdays in the same month so after my birthday, I bought a lemon cream cake from Olive Garden because this is what she wanted and we had a little joint birthday party with her in her hospital room.  We shared the leftover cake with the nurses who were giving her really great care.  And I don’t think one of us has eaten that cake since.  

On my actual birthday, she had employed my middle daughter who had quit working and school to take care of her, to be her legs and get me a card, a potted mini rose and my other gift.  As she laid heavily medicated in her bed, I opened the gift which was my grandmother’s wedding rings.  Of course I started crying and hugged her frail frame tightly.  Simply this was my hardest birthday ever.  My last one.  There was no doubt that she would not be alive for my 45th birthday.  But looking back it was also my best birthday just like she had wished me in the E-gift card.  I can’t look back on any of my birthdays and pick out a more memorable one.  

Birthdays in my family have always been fairly quiet occasions.  Sometimes family would come for dinner and cake when I was kid depending on where we lived.  There were no big parties like I did for my daughters though in today’s standards, their parties would be quite simple.  A few friends over for games, cake and balloons.  Later they would have sleepovers and in their teen years even bigger sleepovers.  Usually I didn’t have the space or the money to give them a big party.  Their birthdays being in the winter, it was hard to have a lot of kids at our house, cooped up in its cramped spaces.  We never do surprise parties either.  I don’t like surprises so that has never been an option.  

Keeping to tradition, my 44th birthday was a quiet affair celebrated with family.  Except it was celebrated with two of my daughters absent for school or work and at my mom’s hospital bedside.  It sounds bleak but really it will be the one birthday I always remember.  I will remember the presents because they are etched into my memory.   I will remember my mom’s smile as I opened my grandmother’s wedding rings.  Simply there was nothing more meaningful she could have given me and she knew it.  I am sure she knew just as I did, this was our last birthday together.  


Dying of cancer sucks.  Knowing you are going to die has to suck even more.   A close friend of mine and I have both lost parents to long battles with cancer and we have decided that our preferred way of dying is to dimply drop dead of old age.  No warning, nothing.  Though it is a shock to your family, you don’t go through those agonizing days of wondering how long you have together.  Or wondering how much time you have.  Or the pain, the helplessness.  It is agonizing for everyone, especially the person dying of cancer.

Out of the suffering, the nightmare of pain and sadness, there are some of the most beuatiful moments borne of reality of the fact that we are indeed mortal.  None of us lives forever and death is a slap in the face reminder that you need to cherish every moment of every day no matter how mundane that moment feels.  That you need to put your head up and look beyond the routine for ways to show love and e kind to others, to enjoy another precious moment with someone you love even if it is as simple as sending a text message to them reminding them you love them.  We only have so many moments.  The only guarantee in life is death.  

No my best birthday ever wasn’t spent on a Carribean Cruise or in a five-star hotel.  It was spent with my mother in a dull hospital room.  What I wouldn’t give for 44 more birthdays together but that is not how life works so I cherish the memories of the ones I did have knowing I was fortunate to have all those years with her.  

Mom circa 2002 four years before cancer disgnosis

Father’s Day for the Dysfunctional Family

Today is Father’s Day, the day where dads receive ties (not so much now) and get to blissfully barbecue.  They are admired by their spouses/ partners and their children.  They are the dads who play video games, teach sports, cook, clean, chauffeur, reluctantly discipline, have the hard talks, teach defense, work hard, fix things, fix more things (or call someone to fix them), drink beer (or wine) but who are always there for their kids.  Or so the ideals and greeting cards want you to believe.  And I know there are a lot of dads out there that fit that bill, probably the majority of fathers do.  Oh, they aren’t perfect, just like Mom’s, they mess up once in a while but it is a mistake and not a pattern.

I’ve mentioned before I grew up in a very dysfunctional, alcoholic home.  By the time I was 12, my parents had divorced and my father had migrated back to Missouri.  I was relieved though saddened, that he was no longer part of my life then.  From then on, it was my mom, my sister and I.  My relationship with my father was to say the least dysfunctional.  He has also been gone since early June 2002.  For the most part, my life has been without a father there for me.  I know that kids grown up without one all the time.  They may have lost theirs early on to an accident or illness, it is very tragic.  However, I had one for years and well, I was never much on his radar, he was fighting his own demons.

I did have my maternal grandfather as an example.  He was more “dad-like” than my father.  My uncles.  I had Dad role models.  Though none of them lived close by.  We would see them occasionally.  Am I worse off not having a strong father figure?  One that was caring and involved in my life?  Who honestly knows.  I made poor choice in men however until later in life.  Was I seeking someone who was emotionally unavailable to mimic the relationship I had with my father?  Probably.  Would I have picked someone better for me if I had grown up in a more “normal” home?  I have no idea.  Maybe or maybe not.  Children of intact homes get divorced all the time, so that really can’t be determined.

Then there is my children’s father.  MIA as usual.  We divorced when our youngest daughter was 2 almost 3 after a year of separation.  For awhile, until I remarried 6 years later, there was every other weekend though for them it wasn’t joyous.  He had gone on some new religious tear, the one that doesn’t allow Harry Potter or trick or treating.  His new wife didn’t appreciate the girls invading her space and referred to them as ‘guests”.  The pair seemed determined to tear down their self-esteem so they could feel better about themselves.  Then when I remarried the 2nd time, their dad decided to move to South Carolina.  The girls felt rejected and unwanted.  He moved back for awhile but they never reconnected even remotely.  Then he returned to South Carolina where he has stayed.  He never calls, messages, texts, IM’s or even likes their stuff on FaceBook.  He didn’t bother to show for our youngest’s high school graduation even though the date had been set for several years, they were vacationing in Myrtle Beach.  His priorities are quite evident to all.

I feel bad about picking someone like him to marry.  I have amazing daughters but I feel bad that their father is so self-centered.  But is it all bad?   Maybe not.  They are very fierce, very independent and very outspoken girls.  I used the adversity of their father trying to preach to them and tell them how they were wrong for drawing dragons, that women could not be preachers and all that other rot he wanted to impart on them, to stand up for themselves, to be themselves and to never be afraid of authority.  If he had been the perfect dad, we had stayed together and everything been like it is portrayed in the movies, would they be the amazing women they are today?  I can’t answer that either but when I watch one of them stick up for someone else who is not able to or too shy to do it, I think maybe it was meant to be this way.

They haven’t clung to boyfriends or rushed to get married.  My youngest the other day has a serious boyfriend and she was talking about how he wants to live in a city when he graduates college.  She looks at me and says Mom, I told him that if we are together, I am not living in a city.  He is just going to have to compromise to be with me.  I smiled at her and said yes, it’s about compromise. She continued on about possiblites of living near a city so they could both have some of what they want.  Compromise is great, but what I loved most about that was she isn’t like me at that age.  I moved to the city to be with the boy because it is what he wanted.  I was miserable and ended up depressed.   I ignored my needs to be loved.   She isn’t willing to do this and she expects nothing less than compromise out of both of them.

Now my daughters are not without a “dad”.  Their stepfather of seven years is here every day for them.  He grills and fixes things, he helps to provide a good living for all of us, he watches over them even though they don’t realize he does.  And he loves them very much and has always quietly looked out for them and their needs.  He is the example I wanted them to have of how a man should treat the people they love.  What it is like to be with someone or have someone in your life who unlike their biological father, puts them first at times rather than puts themselves first at all times.  So their biological dad may be MIA, but the dad that chose them and their mother is here every single day because he wants to be, not because he has to be.  He has no blood relation to any of them.

Dads come in many shapes and sizes.  Your biological father may have been MIA in your life for whatever reason.  The hardest is when they choose to not be part of your life or have an addiction/ mental illness (such as mine) that makes it impossible for them to be a father.  But “Fathers” come in many different ways.  Grandparents, Uncles, a stepfather, an older brother or cousin, a family friend.   Sometimes you just can’t get hung up on blood and you have to embrace the men who willingly step into that patriarchal role out of choice and out of love.

My Dad may be gone for 13 years now but I can remember some good times, some good memories.  Enough time has passed that I can understand that he hadn’t willingly rejected me, that he struggled with something bigger than himself.  I can be upset with my children’s biological father for making choices that ensured he was not part of their lives but I have decided that is simply his loss, and maybe their gain as they were never happy around his judgments.  That I was brought together with a man who loves all four of us and takes care of us without us ever having to ask.  We are really blessed to have him in our lives.

Happy Father’s Day, to all the myriad of types of ‘Dads’ out there.  Go grill something, drink a beer, watch some sports, and pretend you like the gifts we got you.  You’re freaking awesome!

Darkest Before the Dawn….

This past weekend, I had a few days where I felt really severely depressed.  Might have been due to hormones, latent grief, clinical depression or the fact that winter never ends in Ohio.  Or all of the above.  Worried that my depression had sunk to a point that I could not combat it with my usual exercise and taking care of myself approach, I visited my family doctor who prescribed Zoloft which I had taken back when I was 35 and finally realized what I had been feeling all that time, had been depression.  I picked up the prescription and took half of the first dose.  For the first week, you break the pills in half to see if you can tolerate the medication.

The next morning, I could barely get out of bed, my head was killing me, I felt nauseous and like a zombie.  I did not tolerate the medication very well at all and I hated how I felt.  Finally about one o’clock in the afternoon, I finally started feeling myself again though it took a good two days to completely get rid of that fuzzy feeling.  My husband and I had been talking about my depression and grief.  I had been telling him that I couldn’t understand why I was having such a hard time with the loss of my mother after almost a year.  Some days, it was more than I could bear.  My husband pointed out that because of the close nature of our relationship over the years, which included me working with her for fourteen of those years, that I not only lost a parent but it was almost as if I lost a spouse and child in some ways.  That I wouldn’t just get over it just like that.  

When I thought about this concept, it makes sense.  For some reason, just understanding why I am going through something that doesn’t make sense to me, helps me deal with it better.  Maybe it is the fear of the unknown or fear that I’m going to fall apart.  Once I really grasped that idea, that my relationship with my mom was very complicated and complex, that I had much more to mourn than just a parent, the dark heavy clouds that were suffocating me, lifted and I saw the sunshine again.  I realize, I do not want to take those antidepressants if they make me feel so awful.  So many times, we take pills to “fix” things when it is within our own power to “fix” them ourseleves.  Not that I’m advocating chucking your prescriptions, that all medicine is bad, it’s just sometimes, we want the easy out.  The quick solution and for me, though my depression had spiraled down to a worrisome level, I just needed to understand what I was truly dealing with rather than being afraid there was something inherently wrong with me.  

As they saying goes, it is always darkest before the dawn.  Keep the faith, keep searching and keep hope close.