Christmas Thoughts in August

This morning, we found our old video camera and some tapes. I had been looking for the camera for years, as I got it as a gift from my parents the Christmas before we had my son. It was also what we knew was going to be the last Christmas with my mom.

That Christmas was such a strange mix of happiness and devastation. My now husband and I drove down to Virginia to spend Christmas with my parents. Until that point (we were still dating at the time) I believe we had each spent the holiday with our own families, but this Christmas was different. My family is British, so of course we held it all together and put on the famous British “stiff upper lip” but each of us knew that the next year, it would be very very different.

Christmas was always my favorite holiday. It was just my parents and I in the US but my mom made every effort to make Christmas magical. If we got to go to England for Christmas it was even MORE magical because then I had my cousins to play with and my massive family around me. While my parents didn’t have a lot of money in my younger years, my mom somehow managed to pull together enough money to get whatever was on the top of my list plus more. It wasn’t just gifts though. She just had an air about her that made the holiday absolutely magical.

2005 was the year my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. By the books, she wasn’t supposed to live more than a couple of months. The cancer had started in her lungs, spread to her liver and pancreas, which are some of the worst places for it to go. She would end up living until June of 2006, but at the time, we never looked up what the books said. We just lived and took each day at a time. That year, I was inherently aware that it was likely my last Christmas with her. This broke me inside in ways I’ll never be able to explain, and I hid that grief from everyone, including my husband. He knew I was struggling, but nobody else knew just how bad it was for me at the time. I put on a brave face most of the time, and soldiered on. It wasn’t until I could be 100% alone that I really let it all come pouring out, and then I bottled it right back up. I couldn’t let my parents see how bad it was because they had their own battles to fight and I didn’t want extra worry about me falling into the mix. They were worried enough.

I was very pregnant that Christmas, and the hormones sure didn’t help me tackle the grief process. My parents I believe had gotten me the camera (althought perhaps we got it?) but I remember recording moments in the kitchen, including one of my mom cooking Christmas dinner. I’ve thought about that moment for years. This was back before smartphones and everyone having a camera and video recording device in their pocket. I’ve spent years wondering if that video was there, and most importantly, if I could hear the sound of her voice. I’ve missed that voice…the sing song “Hello Sweetheart!” and joking “Ya cheeky bugger!” in her British accent more than I can ever say. I just wanted to hear her voice.

This morning, my husband found the camera and tapes, far back in his closet, and handed them to me. It felt like Christmas. I was beyond excited. What was interesting is that yesterday, after having a particularly bad day, I looked up in my linen closet and saw the quilt my mom had given me that Christmas in 2005. I remember the card she had written, asking me to remember that particular Christmas as it was likely our last Christmas together. Somewhere, I have the card stashed away and the blanket has been in my linen closet to keep it safe.

I plugged the old camera in and was thrilled to see it still worked. I popped in tape after tape. Sadly, it looks like the footage I was looking for may have been taped over. On the bright side, it was footage of my husband’s family gathered around the table at a family event, and my father in law is there. He passed away a few years after my mom did. I excitedly told my husband we had footage of his dad, as well as another clip of him holding our son for the first time in the hospital. It was incredibly sweet to see, and to see everyone from 13 years ago in all their youth. There is video of me in the labor and delivery room, in labor, recording while my husband is fast asleep. I found video of them laying my newborn son on my chest while I was in recovery. There was video of my husband talking to the baby in silly voices, and making me cry with laughter by doing silly dances. There was footage of his first birthday party, some of his first steps, him telling me he was scared of thunder, and us being first time parents. There are silver linings.

My house was clean back then too. Isn’t it funny that I made note of that? but it was. Lots of toys around, but it was clean.

2 kids, work, pets, life happened, but ok, I did miss the cleanness of the house back in the day.

That being said, I wouldn’t change it. I love our life and our crazy house. Floors can be dusted. I want the memories.

If there’s one thing that’s been reiterated to me today, it’s to get in the pictures. Get the videos and get IN the videos. One day my kids may be looking for me and my voice in the old home videos. One day they will want to see our memories in a visual form. I want to be in them, and leave them my voice, my love on a screen as a reminder, and to be present. Times have changed and videos are so EASY to make now. I know my mom often didn’t like being on film etc, but I wish I had made more of an effort to get her one screen and in videos. I’d be more content now to be able to hear her and see her on screen on those days I miss her.

In a few weeks, I am headed down to see my dad and step mother. I plan on taking videos. I want voices, and memories for not only me, but for my children as well. I realized I don’t have many pictures and videos of my dad. Not as many as I would like, anyway. It’s time to correct that, while I have the chance.

Seize the day.

One Day

Oneday

One Day.

That’s all it took.  Just one, unimaginable day, and she was gone. I woke up to a call from my father saying I needed to come quickly, as the time had come and she would likely pass away soon.  The problem was, there was no “quickly” about it.  I was a good 5+ hours by car away, and still a good 4 if I tried to take a plane instead.  There was no quick. There was only tears, and fear, and horror as the “should be” 5 hour drive turned into 11 painstakingly slow hours.  I was right near the George Washington Bridge when I got the call.  I was too late. I also had a very long drive ahead.   But I am ahead of myself.

One Day.

That day I got married, and she couldn’t be there because cancer made her so weak she couldn’t travel up.  It was a Justice of the Peace wedding, not at all as I had planned in my youth.  But if my mom couldn’t be there, I didn’t want the big wedding.  I married the love of my life without either of my parents able to be there.  That’s a hard pill to swallow.

One Day.

The day my son was born.  The day I truly believe she fought and battled that cancer to be able to be there for.  She couldn’t get there until well after he was born, but she was there.  I remember her telling the nurses to be extra kind to me, because her mum was dying and there was all just so much STRESS when there should have been only happiness.

One Day,

That day my daughter was brought into this world, without her Grandmother there to wonder out loud if she had a curly haired grandchild, and to marvel how pretty and delicate she was.  I remember telling the nurse that I had held it together all day in front of visitors that I was just so heartbroken that my mom wasn’t there to meet this beautiful baby, but I couldn’t hold it any longer.  That nurse called the station to say she would be a while, sat down and let me cry while she held my hand.

One Day.

The day my father finally remarried, and I wrote a lovely speech that thrilled him, smiled for pictures, and made peace with the idea of him making that next step, all while hurting that the change had to take place because she was gone.

One Day.

The day I had my uterus taken out and knew I’d never have another baby for my mom to meet, but that same nurse was working, so I asked for her and thanked her so profusely for what she had done for me to get me through the happiest day that was still tainted with a touch of sadness.

One Day.

That day every year when mothers, including myself, are celebrated and revered, but the day is so bittersweet.  The card displays I walk past, the gift ideas I scroll past online, and the thought of “oooh, she’d love that!” only to know I won’t be buying it because she’s not there to give it to. The day when my husband and kids take me out, and I feel so special, but also a little tinged with the reminder of the loss.

One Day.

That day that I remember how she trusted me to get on my bike and ride to my friend’s, and my son asks me to do the very same thing.  Only this time, I say yes.

A lot can happen in One Day.

My worst day

I’ve often mentioned how the loss of my mother has changed my life, and I’ve said before that one day, I would write about it in further detail. Perhaps it’s because I know that somewhere, there is a person who is slowly losing someone they love to cancer, and they want to know what to expect. Maybe it’s the fact that parts of that day haunt me, 8 years later, but I think it might be the time to write about it. “It” being the moment that has changed my whole world and how I view it.

In the spring of 2005, we found out my estranged aunt had died from breast cancer, and the news hit me hard. My mom asked me why I was so distraught, when my aunt and I had not really had much of a relationship. “My cousins,” I choked. “They don’t have their mom any more….I mean, what would I do if I didn’t have you?”. Losing my parents had been my greatest fear. I had grown up an only child, with just my parents. My large, extended family was 3,000 miles away, and losing my parents had terrified me. To know my cousins were going through that very situation (as their parents were estranged from nearly all of the family) broke my heart.

My mother had been having health issues for quite some time. She had a degenerative spinal disease that caused her significant pain, and had recently been misdiagnosed with Lyme disease,. The doctors were pumping her full of toxic stuff for the Lyme, and she wasn’t getting better. When the misdiagnosis was realized, the doctors then guessed at MS. It was horrible. Shortly after an X-ray on her neck to check on a prior disc surgery, my mother was suddenly going for tests. They were very vague about was going on, and worry started to take me over. I told my dad I knew they were hiding something from me, and that if they wouldn’t tell me, I would pack my bags and drive the 6 hours to their house. My mother was panicked and told him he needed to fly here immediately, to explain the situation, but my dad said he wouldn’t have time. “you know her,” he said, “she’ll make the drive here in 4 hours she’s in such a panic”. My dad called me, not realizing he had reached my office phone, rather than my cell. “It’s cancer. It’s lung cancer, and it’s already spread”. A sound like that of a wounded animal shot from my throat. I got up, walked into my boss’s office and said “My mom has cancer, and I have to go.”

I made the drive that night. There were tears. Oh, so many tears, my mother told me she didn’t want chemo, she would just let the cancer do it’s thing. This enraged me…..how could she give up? I asked her to do me just one favor. I asked her to discuss her options with her doctor, and what to expect from each one. After we went to the doctor, my mother changed her mind. Chemo it would be.

She did well on the chemo. She didn’t even lose her hair. There were some side effects, but I don’t think it was as bad as she had pictured. Her spirits were up. I was in shock, and I struggled to keep it together sometimes. There were days someone would ask how I was and I would blurt out “my mom is dying” and burst into tears. AWKWARD. (I’m sorry to everyone who casually asked me that and got a response WAY deeper than the usual “Good. You?”). My mother even found ways to joke about cancer, and slowly, so did I. It relieved the dark cloud that seemed to linger above. When we were going through some cabinets and closets and commented on how nice some items were, my mom told me she was “saving them for best” (meaning to save them for a fancy occasion). I gave her a raised eyebrow and a smile and she burst out laughing. “I guess best is now!”. She also had me giggling when she lamented “ugh, these steroids! I can’t even lose weight by getting cancer!”. The jokes were the horrible, inappropriate type that only those in their darkest moments can pretty much get away with. But we laughed, because if you weren’t laughing, you’d want to cry. We’d cried an awful lot.

A few months after her diagnosis, I found out I was pregnant. It was a surprise to everyone (including me!) but looking back, the timing couldn’t have been better. My mom became determined she would live to meet her grandchild. While it must have broken her heart to know she would never see him grow up, never experience all the things that others might take for granted, she kept it all hidden from me. We talked daily, and her excitement was contagious. Her excitement grew when my now husband asked my parents for permission to marry me. I will never forget the day she told me that she felt more at ease because she knew He would always love me and take care of me, My mother loved my husband. She saw right into him and knew him to be a kind, generous, and loving would who would be a wonderful husband to me. It made me glad she got to know him. Sadly, she was too ill to see me actually say my vows, but she knew I had found happiness.

For a long time, I prayed. I had never been an incredibly religious person, but I felt I was a spiritual one. I practiced active hope, even wearing a bracelet that I had engraved with the word “hope” to remind me each day to practice hopefulness. I wished. I begged the powers that be. I kept fingers crossed, and toes crossed. I begged for the wisdom to understand not only what was happening, but why and how it could happen. I believed, with all my might, that my mom would get better because dammit, I NEEDED her. I celebrated when the doctors said that the new drug the had given her was working, and that he tumors were shrinking. I felt the crushing of a thousand buildings falling on me when hey told us they had made a mistake. I rode this horrible roller coaster all while being pregnant with my first child. It left me drained, exhausted, and rather bitter. I believed she was getting better right up until the very end, and then I simply didn’t believe in anything at all.

My mom and dad came up the day I had my son. The pride and joy in my mom’s face was unmistakable. She adored him with all her might. She was tired from the drive, and I know it had worn on her, but she would not be denied the joy of holding her grandson. The next few days, it was wonderful having my mom with me, even though she needed to rest a lot. When she caught the nurse giving me a hard time about something, she snapped into action and told the nurse to leave me alone. My mother told the nurse that not only was I a brand new first time mom, but was losing my own mom as well and that the nurse should BACK OFF. I knew at that moment I was going to be a mess without her. I needed my mom.

I drove down to visit my parents several times, and my mom looked well, considering. Mostly she was tired a lot. There was a lot to deal with. My parents had started doing some renovation on their house before the diagnosis. The plan was to renovate, sell, and retire somewhere. My mom insisted the renovations continue. There was an electrician in the house the day the house was struck by lightening. My dad was at work, and the electrician was in the basement when he heard what sounded like a sonic boom, and a ball of fire shot out of the wall. It turns out a bolt of lightening hit the chimney, blowing about 4 feet of the chimney off. Breaks rained down on the deck, destroying some of it. Half of the electrical system in the house was messed up, and a huge mirror in my parent’s bedroom shattered and smoldered. The electrician ran upstairs, threw open the door to the room my mom was staying in (my parents’ room was under renovation) and told my mom what happened. She put on her robe, padded down the hall and peeked at the destruction of shattered glass and smoldering frame. She then shrugged and went back to bed. Her theory was, what good is it going to do to get upset? She had bigger fish to fry.

Hospice was contacted, but my mom still wanted to do chemo, so they wouldn’t come to the house. I guess the whole active treatment thing meant they didn’t come on board yet. When I went down to visit, she was getting visibly frustrated because she was forgetting things, and because she would struggle with certain words. She would ask me to get her something, but when I brought it to her, she would say she wanted something else. It was as if her brain wasn’t putting the words together the way she wanted it to. We got her to laugh about it eventually, but it bothered me, because i could see a decline in her health. The morphine wasn’t flushing through her system well, which was causing some of the confusion. She stopped talking to me on the phone as much as well, putting my father on whereas before she would happily chat for ages. It felt like she was distancing herself. I found out after doing some research that it is common for those in the dying process to withdraw a bit from the living. I took that pretty hard. My mother lost her hair on the next round of chemo. I think that bothered her because she said my dad looked upset by it. I guess up until that point, she hadn’t looked sick, and it was easier to believe she would get through it. When her hair went, it was a visual reminder of how sick she was.

Once I realized that I was in fact going to lose my mother, I became obsessed with looking up signs of death. I didn’t want to be caught off guard. I wanted to know what to expect. Looking back, this was my way of coping with my biggest fear. I read about signs of death, and how the body reacts. I never knew what day it would come, but I wanted to try to gauge if she was doing ok or getting worse. I was several states away from her, stuck working. I had a newborn baby at home, a new husband, a new house. I became obsessed with getting the nursery ready before she died. I don’t know why. Maybe it was a “you can’t go yet, I’m not finished” type of thing. I was exhausted and mentally drained. I felt a shell of myself. I was working long hours. I was at the end of the rope. The distancing, the confusion she was going through were signs I was dreading, the fact she was barely eating or drinking were another sign that things were going south.

I got a call from my father saying that I should probably come down, it was rather late in the evening, and I was physically and mentally just toast. I had been getting no sleep and had worked late. I was so tired I was getting a migraine, I could hear my mother making a strange sort of moaning noise. He said that she had been making this noise for a while, and wasn’t with it. I was afraid to drive 6 hours in the dark with the baby while being so tired and asked if I could come in the morning, or did he think I should come right then. He told me to come in the morning. I burst into tears, and he told me that he needed me safe and that it would be better to come in the morning.

The next morning, I got a call from my dad saying to come right away. I threw random things into a suitcase and left. My husband told me to just go, and he would follow me down with the baby in an hour or so once he could grab the baby’s stuff. I left and promptly got stuck in traffic about an hour from my house. I sat in traffic for hours, My father called to tell me my mom had died while I sat on the George Washington Bridge. I told him I would let family know. I called my father’s job to let his secretary know what had happened, i called my job, While sitting in stopped traffic on the GWB, I called my Grandmother to tell her that her daughter had died. That’s one of the worst feelings in the world. The other worst feeling in the world is knowing my dad went through the trauma of that morning by himself and I wasn’t there, because I hadn’t left the night before. Those decisions haunt me to this day. I had put work first, and that will never, ever happen again.

I sat in traffic for 10 hours. Just when I was getting on the last highway near my parents’ house, there was a multi car pileup on one side of the highway, and a car fire on the other. I’m surprised it didn’t rain frogs. After I finally arrived, I head the story of what had happened. I won’t go into too much detail, because somehow death seems such a private thing. I also recognize that there may be someone out there who is in this same position and wants to know what will happen. Effectively,my dad went downstairs and opened the back door to et fresh air in, and went to also brush his teeth. When he went back up, my mom was on the floor, not on the bed. He tried to pick her up, but her breathing got very shallow, he started to panic, and decided to call hospice. The phone was on the bed, and he was trying to hold my mother up (her breathing would get more shallow when laid flat) while yanking the blanket to bring his phone closer. Hospice told him to call 911. My dad paused..my mother hadn’t wanted to die in a hospital. The hospice worker told him that at that moment, the most important thing was to make her comfortable. My dad called 911, and they took my mom to the hospital, where they tried to make her comfortable. She had a DNR. He was with her when she died. My parents were each other’s best friends. I don’t know how he handled it. I don’t think I could have. I know my mother wouldn’t have wanted me there. She would have wanted to protect me from that memory. I know she would. But it doesn’t erase the guilt I have lived with for all these years that I wasn’t there,

The world laughs less now that little feisty woman is gone, I know I do.

When a parent dies, it changes your world, regardless of your relationship. For most, a parent is your biggest cheerleader, your biggest supporter. They have molded you into who you are, when that person dies. It’s like losing a piece of yourself. You lose one of your biggest cheerleaders, and it is a lonely feeling. If the relationship with the parent is bad, it can often make the child go into a tailspin of “why wasn’t it better?” and a lot of self doubt. My mother and I had had our difficulties, and things hadn’t always been rosy, but we had gotten to a place where I called her every day to chat and catch up. I loved chatting with her and wanted her opinion on everything. She was my best friend. One of the hardest moments was calling her, and as soon as the phone began to rang I realized she would never answer, There’s a scene in a movie called “Everyone’s Fine” between Robert Deniro and Drew Barrymore about this same scenario. I would put a link to it on YouTube but I have yet to be able to watch it without flooding into tears. I am now a member of the club that nobody wants to belong to. Once you’re in, you have a lot of support though.

Grief is a strange thing. People experience it differently. For me it was a slow process. At first, I was overwhelmed with being a new mom (my son was 4 months old when my mom died), a new wife, a new homeowner, and a full time employee. There was always someone, or something that needed my attention, and I didn’t allow myself to grieve in one chunk. It was, cry for 5 minutes and be sad, but then pull it together because the baby just woke up and I have to switch to mom mode. I grieved in tiny doses, and tried not to feel too much at once in case I would just fall apart. After a couple of years, my dad started dating, and eventually remarried. I took that INSANELY hard. I was pretty much a real asshole about it, and because of that, I am still trying to repair and rebuild a relationship with my stepmother. It’s hard, but we’re getting to a better place. I know it makes my dad happy to see me make an effort, and that is what drives me, it took a long time to realize that his new wife in no way replaced nor overshadowed my mom. If anything, it was probably hard for her to come into the situation. It’s not like my father divorced his bitchy ex. She was beloved and passed away, so some folks, like ahem, me, were not as welcoming as they could have been.

I have more good days than bad, I miss my mom every day. I now find moments to laugh, like when I was mulling over a question in my mind and swear I heard my mother’s voice utter a sarcastic response. I laugh at stories she told, and I love telling funny stories about her. I smile when I think of how much my daughter looks like her when she was a little kid, I was thrilled to pieces when I came across an old card I found from her. Some years, on her birthday, I buy myself a little present that reminds me of her. I tell my kids funny stories about their grandmother and show her pictures to them. Some days, when the husband is home to help with the kids, I take an hour to hop in my mom’s convertible and drive it up the coast with the music pumping and the wind in my hair. I remind myself to live. I try to keep her memory alive. I have my regrets too though. I wish I had her voice or image on video. I wish I had interviewed her about her life. I wish I knew more of her recipes, so that when I was missing her, I could make one of her dishes to mother myself a little. I wish I had asked more questions. I wish I had spent more time. I wish I had told the job to go screw and hung out with my mom instead. (They laid me off anyway). I wish I would have rubbed her feet more, and massaged her hands, because she enjoyed that. It’s the little things.

Some questions I get asked:
Q. How long between diagnosis and her passing?
A.about a year and a couple of months. This was way longer than predicted and i believe her attitude had a lot to do with it.
Q. Was she was a smoker?
A. Yup. I used to get bothered by this question, as if people were trying to find a reason for her getting the cancer. I now think that when we hear of anyone youngish dying, most people want to know the “why? What happened?” to know if the same thing could happen to them. My mother denied for as long as I could remember that anything would happen to her because she smoked, after she got sick, she wished she had quit or never started. Look, smoking causes cancer, my mom smoked, she got cancer. I don’t get phased by this question now. I encourage people not to smoke.
Q. Do I smoke?
A. I did. A LOT. I smoked like it was my job. Then my mom got sick and I got pregnant, and I quit. I never went back. Now if I am around smoke, I feel sick and hung over the next day. I don’t understand why I ever did it in the first place. I felt like a new person after I quit.
Q. How hard was it to quit?
A. Nowhere near as hard as you would think. Break it down small. Don’t smoke for 1 day. If you get through that one day, you can get through two. Tell yourself that if you smoke on the second day, that whole first day then means nothing. Once you get through 3 days, you’re in good shape. You’ll need to change some behaviors that you associate with smoking as well.
Q. Which is harder, to lose someone suddenly, or the way I did?
A. My friends and I have discussed this at length. I guess I feel now that losing someone suddenly would be worse. At least we were able to talk openly and honestly about what was happening, and say what we needed to say. It isn’t easy to watch a love one go through an illness like this, but I can’t imagine someone leaving the house and just never coming back without warning. To me, that would be worse.
Q. How is the whole guilt thing going?
A. Pretty shitty. Everyone tells me I shouldn’t feel guilty, and that driving 6 hours with no sleep and a newborn is a positively awful idea. I would agree, and tell anyone in the same boat the same thing. I just can’t overcome the guilt that I wasn’t there when she died. I should have been, even though a part of me knows she wouldn’t have wanted me to see that.
Q. What would I tell other people going through this?
A. Get your loved one on video. It will be priceless to you, even if it hurts too much to watch it at first. A day will come when you would give anything to hear that voice, and if they are on video, you will be so grateful for it. Interview them, make it funny but ask them some interesting questions. Once they are gone, you keep their memory alive. The more you know, the more you can share. Know what their wishes are, what they want done when they die. Lastly, after they have passed, throw a party to celebrate their life. My mother was specific she didn’t want a wake with people marching past her body in tears. Instead, she wanted a party where people drank and laughed and told stories that celebrated her life. We had such a party and it left such a wonderful lasting impression. I had people fill out a card with their favorite memory of my mom. I love looking through them and seeing her through other people’s eyes.

Thanks for reading. If you made it this far you’re pretty amazing. This was a sad post, but one I wanted to write to help others, as well as to find some peace within. Lastly, lung cancer is one of the top killers of women. It is a far bigger epidemic than people thing. I am one of 6 people in my circle of friends who has lost a parent to lung cancer. Not all of them smoked, and most died within a month of diagnosis. My mother was an exception. We need research on battling this type of cancer so that it doesn’t need to be a death sentence.

Finding a sliver of the past

Today a news article caught my eye about an arrest made locally. The police raided a house and found bombs, guns, ammunition and the like, The ages of the person was the same as mine, and the name sounded familiar, so I went to look for my old high school yearbook to see if he was in fact a classmate of mine back in high school. I found him in there, his picture next to a picture of one of my high school friends. What I also found in the yearbook, was several papers, pictures and cards. I must have slipped them in there within the past 6 years or so in order to keep them flat and safe until I could find a better place for them. (story of my life..things put somewhere “safe” only to get lost for years until they turn up again.). As soon as I saw my newfound treasure, I beamed with happiness,

Tucked inside my yearbook, was a small treasure of cards, letters and pictures of loved ones and people I had never met. One of the items that made me smile from ear to ear and then get a bit nostalgic, was a card from my mother. On the front is a child and a cat, looking up at the moon. Inside, it says “how I wonder what you are” in type. My mother, in her careful writing, in red pen, had written “have a wonderful holiday. As you can see I have saved up a little money for you. Sorry it isn’t more. Extra $3.00 for a drink on the flight”. The $3 comment shows it was quite a long time ago she gave me the card, because drinks on planes costs quite a bit more these days I believe. I’m not sure what trip this card was for. I don’t remember how much she gave me, or the picture on the card. What I do remember, is being on a plane, opening up this card, and the feeling it gave me, I remember the warmth, love, and feeling so, so loved when I opened this card. I remember feeling guilty she had saved up money to give me some extra spending money so I could enjoy myself. I felt…..mothered, and it was the best feeling ever. I lost my mother to cancer almost 8 years ago. I’ve mentioned it and alluded to it in the blog, and I’ve said I’d write more about it, but haven’t been able to bring myself to. I probably will soon. I lost my mother the same year I got married (she was too sick to make it to the JOP wedding we had in hopes she could see me get married. ). I lost my mother right after I moved into my house, and most importantly, right after I had my son.

At a time when new mothers call their mom’s for advice, soothing, or babysitting, I couldn’t call my mom. When I battled postpartum depression quietly, and felt more alone than ever, I couldn’t reach out to her. When I needed her more than ever, I didn’t have her. I was angry, I was depressed, and I was heartbroken. I don’t care how old you are, if you have a decent relationship with your parents, you always need them in some way, I wanted and needed my mom more than anything, and she was taken from me. I had a wave of the exact same feeling the day I had my daughter. When my hospital room was empty, and the visitors had left, I would cry big fat sobs that my mother was missing out on what would have been such a joyous, proud day for her, and for me. I cried for all the times i knew i would have questions about how to raise a little girl, knowing i couldn’t ask her. I cried for all the stories of my childhood that only she knew. I cried that she would never hold my daughter or son. I cried that they would never know her infectious laugh, her sly sense of humor, or her huge heart that made her always befriend the underdog. On that day, I wanted to be mothered. I wanted to hear my mom’s thoughts on my beautiful little baby, to hear her laugh, and to see her smile. I wanted a hug.

This morning, when I found that card, for a moment, I felt mothered. I felt the exact same way I remember feeling on the plane that day when I opened that card. It was simply awesome. For a brief moment it was like I had stepped back in time. What made it all even better was that right behind that card was a card from my mom’s mom. My grandmother and I, despite living 3,000 miles apart, we’re always close, I thought the world of her and she never made me feel any different from the other grandkids, even though I lived so far away. When she babysat me, she’d let me have fruit and icecream for dinner, for God’s sake. How awesome is that when you’re a kid? Why did she do it? Because once in a while, grandparents can do that sort of thing! That’s why! The card had a picture of the church in the village where I am from. There was also a letter that went with it asking if I remember the church, and that her, my mom, and my aunts and uncles had gotten married there. This made me laugh, because I didn’t remember this particular letter, but I too chose to fly to England and get married in that church, on the same weekend that my parents had gotten married there years before, and my bridesmaid was the daughter of my mother’s bridesmaid. The letter also said that she was sending a picture of her mother, and also her grandparents. I had been looking for these photos for several years and and had been devastated I had lost them, as I was the only person I knew of who had a copy of the picture of my great great grandparents.

Who would have thought that a house raid of a guy with tons of explosives would give me a huge gift on a snowy morning? A few pieces of paper instantly took me back to wonderful moments back in time, and reminded me of the two women who have had the greatest impact on who I am today. Of course, I am reminded yet again that I simply must archive all these family moments and notes. For a long time I couldn’t bare to do it because it often hurt too much once I’d start, and I’d quickly give up. I am getting to a point now where these tokens and memories of the past bring me renewed hope and happiness. My mother gave me a card once to bring me a smile, but I bet she had no clue that day she gave me what a truly great gift, all these years later, that it has become.

Bye for now,
Messy. Xx

Devastation and a new lifelong friend

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I am writing this blog so tired that I can barely think, but I just have so much to say. As many of you know, this weekend I came across a story of a family that had lost everything in Hurricane Sandy. their home, their cars, and everything they owned. This wasn’t the only story like this I had heard, but something struck a chord with me and I just couldn’t shake it. The husband was one of the first responders to ground zero on 911, and had worked there for 9 months. Now, he has terminal cancer. Plus he’s diabetic. They had moved to the Jersey Shore because he wanted to live out his days by the beach, with less stress. Now, they are homeless. I was trying to find a family to help, and this, my friends, was the family I chose.

One phone call with the wife and I knew I had met a “sista from another mista”. I felt, from that first conversation, that I had known her my whole life. She told me they hadn’t evacuated because her they didn’t want to leave their sons, who were firefighters and staying, they also couldn’t leave with their dogs because no shelters there would allow them. They chose to stay and ride it out. I had always been someone who thought “why don’t people just evacuate when they are told to?” yet for some reason, i understood, as a mother, why they wouldn’t leave their sons on the island. I promised her I was coming the next morning, and told her I would bring her husband the insulin they needed.

I barely slept a wink last night. I was nervous. Would I have enough gas to get there and back? Would I be able to get the supplies there? There is currently a gas shortage, and in NJ they ration each day according to whether your license plate has an odd or even number. I had the right plate for the day, but the lines could run a half mile long. The other issue I knew I would face is that the family live on Long Beach Island, and the island is closed off completely and blocked off by the national guard. We had made alternative plans, but I really wanted to meet the family. The other issue I faced, was that they were 3 hours away. I set off this morning with my car jam packed with supplied and donations. What to give those who had lost everything??

Along the way, I passed one car accident, more roadkill than I can tell you about (or would ever want to), tons of downed trees, and strangely, one young boy of about 10 or 12 wandering around on the median of the Garden State Turnpike! He was wandering with cars whizzing past him at 80 mph as he pulled wooden spikes out of the ground. Not a parked car or adult anywhere to be seen. I couldn’t pull over, so I called 911. I’m not even sure if they believed me, but they promised to send a squad car out to search.

I arrived at LBI, and drove up to the bridge, on the side of the road was a toppled RV, and boats strewn about in ditches. I went to the first checkpoint and was shocked when they told me to proceed. I went to the second checkpoint and explained who I was, why I was there, and who I was trying to help. The guards asked a police officer to come over. He heard my tale, and asked me to clarify who I was there to see. “I’ll escort you myself” he said. I couldn’t believe it…I almost shrieked with glee! I had access. They were letting almost NOBODY over. This was huge…and a testament to the family I was trying to help. He asked how I knew them..I told him I didn’t, I just knew they needed help. He shook my hand and thanked me.

I met the family and was given hugs. There were tears. I cried too. I was taken to their house where they had weathered the storm. The neighborhood was devastated. Boats slammed through houses, garage doors and house doors ripped off. Refrigerators were washed outside. “see that green house across there?” she asked me. I replied I did. She pointed to a space next to it. “There was a house there. I don’t know where it went. A whole house…disappeared.”. We entered her house. The first thing that hit me was the smell of flooding and water. The air felt damp and heavy. Everything was covered in mud. There were marks on the walls over four feet high where the water had come in. The stove had water in it. It was easy to see the water had picked up everything downstairs and dumped it elsewhere. Dressers were moved or tipped over. A lifetime of memories were sodden, muddy, and destroyed. I looked at her in horror. Nothing appeared salvageable. What do you say? She looked at me and said “I can’t believe I’m homeless”. My ears welled up with tears. It seemed completely unreal that this had happened, especially when the sun shines brightly on the bay, making the water sparkle.

We walked around the neighborhood and surveyed the damage. I took a few pictures with my phone. I wish I had had a better camera, because it’s impossible to show the level of devastation. I saw a mountain of wood blocking a yard. “that was their back deck”. I saw a boat smashed into a house, but resting on a garbage pail. I saw their cars, misted windows from the dampness on the inside, items inside had obviously been floating. The gas had been cut off to the island. When the power company attempted to restore power, 4 houses exploded due to an undiscovered gas leak. She told me how they had a little swimming dock, and she had been out before the storm tying it up frantically and her family had been laughing at her tying all sorts of knots and ropes, that dock was right where it should be, safe and sound. I couldn’t help it…when I’m nervous I make jokes. “who knew the cars would have been safer parked on that dock you spiderwebbed to safety?” I asked. That made us both burst out laughing. You have to find humor, or you’d never stop crying. The other moment of humor we found was a rowboat that had floated down the street and landed on a fire hydrant. The fire hydrant had broken through the bottom of the boat and it looked almost like a decoration in its absurdity. The boats’s name? “Life’s a Beeeetch,”. The irony of it had us in stitches.

Now, keep in mind, there is pretty much nobody on the island…save for a few people at the fire stations, some national guard members (who were there as 4 pm drew closer as there has been some looting), and us. The streets were EMPTY. You couldn’t see any cars or people hardly at all. It was like life after the apocalypse. I never knew silence could be so eerie. There were streets so full of sand they were impassible. Houses were ripped to shreds.

Before I left, we stopped at the Surf City fire station, where they were setting up clothes, food and water for people. There was a decent supply, but many on the island were still unable to return. They were in for a rude awakening. My newfound friend introduced me to everyone at the fire station. I met Art, an 86 year old man who had lost everything. He was camping out at the fire station. It was heart wrenching.

I almost didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay and help them however I could, but I had to go. There are curfews and national guard patrols at night. The fact I had gotten ON the island was a miracle…I wasn’t going to push my luck!

After I said goodbye, with hugs and agreement we would be lifelong friends, I pulled the car down the street. Then I stopped, when I was out of eyeshot, and burst into tears. How unfair that this family had given so much during 911, only to have the husband end up with not only diabetes, blindness, but cancer as well. I cried for them having to deal with all of that, knowing what cancer and diabetes does to a family, and then I bawled for them losing their home and cars. They had moved there to live as stress free as possible, and now…the stress was mind blowing. the insurance companies wouldn’t pay out for the cars because they said they were supposed to evacuate. Never mind two of the car owners were on the island as firefighters! It was sickening.

I drove home in about 4 hours. I stopped to check Twitter at a rest stop, Half the tweets were people trying to help victims of the hurricane, and the other half were whining about political candidates and trying to push their agendas. I wanted to scream….”we need to help all these people!!!!”. I know that after Sandy, we were fortunate to have power after the storm and nearly no damage, I live about a mile from the coast. I was in shock we had fared so well. I think a lot of people thought the storm wasn’t so bad. Areas like Staten Island, Rockaway, and LBI to name just a few were devastated. I’m not writing this blog to make myself out to be something special
for going, but to give you a clue of the turmoil and complete devastation these people are facing. The wife tried to apply to FEMA for help, but was denied because she could’t get off the island to sign the paper they wanted signed. She is frantic.

Please. Contact the fire departments and ask what people need. Help people. Hell, drive down and give them a hug and some tequila. Hand them a 20$ bill. Help them clean up the damage. Do SOMETHING. It’s what makes us human. Help in whatever way you can, big or small. Foster a pet for them. Do some laundry. Bring fresh pillows and towels. Bring coffee.

I drove about 7 hours round trip to help a stranger and to teach my kids how to be kind. It was the best lesson I could teach them, and they are proud of me. They learned from the pictures how lucky we are to have a home. I made lifelong friends today. I feel like I have known them my whole life. It’s kind of eerie. I am mobilizing people to continue to send supplies down there. Please don’t forget these families. If you know anyone in the LBI area who will have a rental where this family can stay, please let me know. When they called one place, the landlord changed the rent from the advertised price of 1400 per month to over 2,000. They need a home. Help me help them.

Night Loveys. Thanks to all those who cheered me on, and to those who are out there doing great deeds!

Messy xx
Ps…sorry if lines don’t make sense or typos…writing on an iPad with a bad autocorrect and I am exhausted!!!

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Calling all folks…my one legged lesson just arrived. Help me help them.

So there I was last night, lying in my bed with a horrifically aching back, throwing myself a big ol’ pity party just for one (world’s smallest violin playing just for me…wah wahhhhh) when I thought of my mom and her common phrase “no matter how bad it is, someone else has it worse”.  I remembered the story of my mother in pain, struggling to walk, and telling my dad how someone always had it worse…just as the elevator in front of them opened and a one legged man stood before them.   I blogged about it.  (This will all make more sense I’m sure if you read the prior blogs, but if not, just take it at face value I might be a bit nuts and keep reading this one at least.)  I blogged about life handing you lessons.  I meant every single word.  Yet life has a funny way of making SURE you got the lesson, and just in case I hadn’t, life handed me a refresher course, and a final exam today.

I headed into work this morning with somewhat better, albeit still abysmal morale.  Without going into too much detail (ya don’t bite the hand that feeds ya, ya hear now?) I was possibly losing 2 days of pay this week for the hurricane, or I had to borrow against whatever vacation time I would get next year.  Now, all my paid leave last year went to my kids getting the stomach flu or other ebola type cooties that keeps a mama home except for 3 days where I made a stressful pilgrimage to Vegas (see prior blogs for deets on that).  Going unpaid was not an option as my husband’s business was shut down all week due to lack of power.  I was bummed.  So bummed, I awoke and decided that said company would get me with unwashed hair today.  I pulled it into a high ponytail as a tiny picket sign of my silent protest.  The pity party was over, but the hangover remained.

After a short while, I spoke to a customer who called in.  I’d spoken to her before, and her story was tragic.  I won’t go into too much detail in the interest of privacy and such, but suffice it to say that her story was robbed a few years ago.  During the armed robbery, her husband shot the intruder, the intruder shot her husband.  Both died, and an accomplice escaped.  Since that time, she has been threatened, robbed again, and harassed.  There is a conspiracy involved here that would BLOW YOUR MIND.  Still, she has persevered. Only now, after being robbed yet again, has she decided to close her business and move on.  I can’t imagine that any other word other than bitterness would come to mind, but when speaking to her, she speaks of healing, blessings, and moving forward.   She is my hero of the moment.  I was so impressed by her that I can’t even fully put it on paper (screen).   My pity party hangover lifted.

Flash forward to this evening, and I was scouring twitter and facebook.  (Mr. is back at work today and I finally can enjoy bad reality TV, beer, my couch and twitter feeling no guilt that I should be doing something else)  One of my favorite authors who lives out west posted a story about her friend in New Jersey who had lost EVERYTHING from the storm.  The woman and her husband had lost their home, their cars, and insurance would cover none of it. (renters insurance).  The family had grabbed their dog, their cell phones for communication, and run.  They don’t even have spare underwear.   They are living in a firestation at the moment, scared and with nothing.

But it gets worse.

The husband worked at Ground Zero for 9 months after 911.  He has since been diagnosed with terminal cancer of the esophagus.  His oncology meds were the only other things they grabbed when they left the home.

I have mentioned my mom dying from cancer, but I haven’t yet told you the full story of how cancer has effected my life.  That’s to come.  What I can tell you is that cancer doesn’t just destroy the person who has it, it destroys caregivers, families, willpower and hope.  Losing my mom destroyed a part of me.  Losing my grandfather to cancer of the esophagus and my last memories of how the disease affected him destroyed a piece of me too.  I felt a connection to this family.  I looked at the wife’s fb page.  Red hair, sassy. I looked at her posts from when  Sandy hit.  Comedic at first…a bit sarcastic, but clearly showing some nervousness.Then wry.  Then the fear set in.  Then devastation and exhaustion.  She is Homeless. She has a husband with cancer and 2 sons.  What does she have?

She has little old me.  Why?  Because life has presented me with my “one legged man” that I spoke about last night, and dammit, life, I am listening!  I have no money, but I have heart, and I have kind friends.  I told her I will try to find her some help…clothes, a toothbrush…socks, undies…for her and her family through my FB people and my twitter followers, as well as anyone who reads my blog.  There is a link on my TL to a donation site, and I have her information here:

Lucille Ascolillo

297 route 72W #111 suite 35

Manahawkin, NJ 08050

She needs: well, she has NOTHING but her family, her dogs, and her husband’s oncology meds.  They have clothes on their backs and nothing else.  I am sending a winter coat and likely some toiletries, maybe some shirts.

Her: size 16/18 pants.  shirts: size large.  9.5 shoes.

The husband and sons: XL sweatpants, XXL shirts.  30/30 jeans. medium or large shirts.  Size 11 sneakers.

Donations:  https://www.everribbon.com/ribbon/view/9254

Anything will help.

This is my one legged man, life, and I’m listening.

I’m gonna go kiss my babies now.

Messy xx