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.

A Sailing I Will Go (Well, Kind Of)

After arriving back from Vegas, I swear I have been out of sorts. The time change, the sleeping hour changes, and staying busy have kept me losing track of time and feeling kind of always tired. I compounded these feelings by taking on some extra stuff, so I certainly have been busy.

The week after we arrived back, my best friend who I went to Vegas with went in for her knee replacement. Everything went really well and she is doing better than she anticipated she would. That being said, she is pretty much out of commission. She does the cooking in the household, so I stepped in and made about a week’s worth of meals for her and her husband to get them through. I walked in the door with loads of single portion servings of all the things she loved me making when we were roomates. Her husband looked tired and anxious, but oh so grateful for a hot meal that he didn’t need to really “cook” other than heat up. The next day I stopped by to drop off a treat for her and walked into her having just vomited, her husband looking like he hadn’t slept a wink all night, and lots of tangible stress. The visiting nurse was sorting my friend out, so I offered to run to the stores and pick up anything they needed. After a grocery run, I came back, cooked them lunch, sent her husband for a nap while I sat chatting with her, and then heated up dinner for them. I left them both smiling and feeling much more relaxed. I know they were super grateful, but to be honest, it was me who felt grateful to be able to help.

The same day I was helping them happened to be the 13th anniversary of my mom’s passing. Some years I cope really well, some years I don’t. I had tried not to commit to much that day in anticipation that the day might swing either way. I woke up feeling heavy hearted. I miss my mom, but mostly I miss having her celebrate all the amazing things that have happened. I miss having the chance to have her be a part of my kids’s lives. I know she would be so incredibly proud of my kids, and would delight in the role of grandmother. She’d spoil them rotten in all the best ways, and I know she would play a very active role in their lives. The fact she has been deprived of this has been especially difficult for me, and is a bit of a raw subject. My mother defied all the odds and lived far longer than estimated after being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. I have no doubt her determination to meet her grandchild was a big defining factor. My kids are very lucky to have other people who have stepped into the role my mother had to leave behind when she died. My husband’s brother’s mother in law is a champion and treats my kids as though they were her biological grandchildren. She asks to watch them, spends time with them, has them sleep over, and does activities with them, especially my daughter. When I went to Vegas, she graciously offered to back my husband up with caring for the kids around his work schedule. My son has reached the teen years and likes to be alone or out with his friends but still enjoys hanging out with her, and my daughter LOVES to hang out with her and goes every chance she gets. My step mother also plays an active role in their lives, albeit from a geographical distance. The very best part is that they extend the offer with no hesitation.

I miss my mom’s advice, her laugh, and her sing song “hello sweetheart” in her heavy British accent. I miss her dirty sense of humor that always seemed out of place from such a posh accent, making people blink a few times in wonderment if what they heard was really what she said. I miss the cheeky ribbing she gave me, her endless support, and knowing that no matter what happened, she had my back. I miss her stories about the family. I miss her. If she was here I’d tell her I’m sorry for all the times she asked me to rub her feet and I declined because I felt feet were kind of gross back then. I would have been a less angsty teen and I wish I could have listened more and not been so damned stubborn. I wish I could tell her that while I look horrible in yellow, and it was never much a color I liked too much, I now gravitate to all things yellow because it reminds me of her and the sunshine she brought wherever she went. I would tell her I miss how things were when she was here. It’s different, and not bad, but a bit of the sparkle has left with her. I always have loved a bit of sparkle you know. I’d probably be better domestically too because I’d constantly worry she’d be shocked at how messy the house gets some days. I’d say I’m joking there, but I’m not.

I had started the day feeling not my best, as I mentioned, so I felt determined to turn things around. It is important to me that my kids know how much I miss my mom, but also how great she was. I spend time telling them silly stories about her, and trying to create a “visual” so to speak of who she was. I need to make her more than just someone who died. I started the day by coming down for my normal coffee, but then grabbing a box of little creme brulees I had gotten from Costco. I set to work with my little torch, doing the sugar on top until it was a crispy topping. My kids walked in and stared….were we having creme brulee, a favorite, for breakfast? Yes indeed we were! I said that in honor of my mom it was a special breakfast day. This kind of bit me in the ass when I went to drop the little off at her friend’s house. The mom asked if she had eaten, meaning lunch. My girl announced excitedly “Yes! I had creme brulee for breakfast today!” Oh well. We can’t all be perfect moms.

Looking after my friend was cathartic in so many ways. She knew my mom, loved her too, and she also lost her mom to lung cancer. We get each other and get how those anniversaries can be. As I puttered around in the kitchen, we chatted about the tough days. It felt good to be around someone who understood me so well. While I was there, I got a text from my husband.

A bit of background, I grew up on the water as a kid. When we came to America we always lived within a short drive to the beach. I instantly took to the water, always wanting to swim. Eventually my dad got a motorboat and I loved being out on the water. I’m not sure why he ever got rid of it, to be honest. As a young kid, my parents saw my love of the water and enrolled me in sailing school. I had my boating license many years before I could ever drive a car. I then took further classes, and before long I was sailing, windsurfing, and spending my summers in the water. We never got a boat or a windsurfer, but I sure loved them. As I got older and had kids, the idea of buying a boat was out of my price range. I did want a kayak, however. My dad and I had mulled over each of us getting one. He lives on a lake, and I live near the beach. It’s something we talk about every time I visit but neither of us has gotten one. For me, it’s not the kayak itself, but all the “extra” stuff that was daunting. My husband isn’t much into boating, so it would be something I’d probably do mostly on my own. Transporting a kayak was the biggest reason I never got one. I’d have to get a rack for the car, and to be honest, I’m so short I doubt I’d ever be able to safely load and unload a kayak on/off the car myself. It just wasn’t feasible. I don’t have the upper body strength nor the height to make it work. While at my friend’s we were chatting about it, and I found a bright yellow kayak that was inflatable on amazon. It was cheap, inflatable, came with a paddle, and an air pump. Even better, it was about a quarter of the price of a basic kayak. The reviews were great. Instead of grappling with fitting it on the car and buying racks etc, I could deflate it and put it in the back of my SUV! It was yellow, which is a color I associate with my mom. It called to me. I sent the pic to my husband, saying I might treat myself in the next few weeks. I got a text back a little while later that said “It will be here by Monday. I wanted to treat you today.”

He’s the very best, I swear.

Best of all? It’s a two person kayak, which means I can take one of the kids with me if I want, or my husband.

The other night, the husband and I were chatting about the 4th. What to do? He mentioned the kayak and said we could go out. After mulling it over, I went back on Amazon and bought a second one. Now there is room for all four of us!

Another cool thing is that my nephew just got a kayak. I’m hopeful that once I get comfortable, I may be able to go out with him on the kayaks and have something cool to do together. I’ll have to see if he’d be up for that. First I have to build up some arm strength to keep up.

If you see the girl with a big old smile, spending time on her yellow kayak, it may be me…just puttering away. The fact my husband knew it was the day I lost my mom and chose to mark the day by fulfilling a little dream of mine, in bright yellow fashion (my mom drove a yellow car and always said yellow was the color of life) was the very best gift he could have given me. It’s also the reason my mom felt he and I were such a perfect match. He gets me, he really does.

Waving From the Chaos Whilst Finding Joy

June is one of those months where it seems like there is always a million birthdays, a million things going on, and no money with which to do all the things. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE all the celebrations, parties, events, and end of school things, but I feel like I am in constant chaos all month. I find myself constantly checking the calendar to make sure I am not missing anything.

It’s funny, I was never a calendar person. I simply kept everything in my head, like a giant mental Roladex. Then I saw other moms who seemingly had it all together, and these women had CALENDARS. Big, paper calendars with millions of things color coded and organized. I wanted to be like them. They seemed relaxed, despite their crazy calendars that gave me anxiety. I thought perhaps it might be freeing to go ahead and try this whole “organized mom” thing. I started out with a paper planner, and wrote everything super important down. I then started using my phone, putting in my work schedule, kids’ schedules, birthdays, events, anniversaries. I now live by the calendar, but spend an awful lot of time panicking that I may have forgotten to put something on my calendar and it will bite me in the ass. All too often I grab an appointment card with best intention to get the info on my calendar, but life is chaos, and sometimes I forget. Businesses that do reminder calls? I salute you!

This weekend, I need to find time to mow the grass, start work on clearing my patio, go to a gymnastics show, celebrate 3 birthdays, one graduation, prep for the week, as well as do all the laundry that I got behind on. Oh yes, and pack for an upcoming trip, get necessary items from the store, and figure out what sunblock a British lass with ultra fair skin should wear in the desert so as not to spontaneously combust. Hell, I went outside in the Northeast of the US for an hour and ended up with a sunburn! Also, what does one wear on a dune buggy in the desert for multiple hours so I won’t get a melanoma, exfoliate all my skin off, burn, or overheat and die? Do you know how much time these thoughts and concerns have consumed me the past few days? Way more than they should. I surmise I am going to overpack and still not have all I need.

So if you’ve been reading a while, you know I love a good story where I make an utter ass of myself. If you can’t laugh at yourself, it’s a sad life, really. So in the midst of my chaos, I stopped off to pick up some paperwork this week. I walked in and notice that there were security cameras around, which most businesses have. I walk in and find where I need to go. I see there is a little bell to push for service, and I look down and ring it. As I looked down to press the bell, as I am pushing it, I see that I have a situation. The button on my pretty flowy shirt with buttons has decided to unbutton itself. It also appears my boobs have decided to look out to see what it is I am up to that fine day, glad to be freed from their cotton button down prison. Now, I’m wearing a bra (big boobed girls rarely have any choice in that matter) but still we have a clear situation at hand. I begin to frantically try to rebutton myself before someone comes to assist the bell ringer. I am anxious though, and fumbling about like I am having a medical situation. I get my shirt buttoned at JUST the last second before the woman comes to help me. Now I am laughing at myself and cackling away, while looking like I am touching my boobs as I try to button up. I then realize this is all on the security cameras. #NotWinning.

My mom has been on my mind a lot lately, and I remembered looking in a closet while she was ill and remarking that she had some wonderful lotion in there. She commented she was saving it “for best”. I think we all have things we save for a special occasion. The problem was, however, that after she died I found that same lotion, untouched, in her closet. There were multiple things I found like that. It got me thinking how much she would have enjoyed that lotion, as simple as it was, and how by saving it she never got to savor it. It made me so sad. It also made me think, this past few weeks, how easily we often let joy slip through our fingers because we deny ourselves simple little pleasures for a myriad of reasons. Maybe it’s because we were taught it wasn’t appropriate as kids, maybe it’s something we are saving for “best” like my mother did, or maybe it’s because we feel we have to be a “good person” and do things we don’t want to do because “we should”. Why? The other day I wanted ice cream, for breakfast. I know, I’m a savage, right? So you know what I did, despite being told my whole life that ice cream is not an acceptable breakfast? I had ice cream for breakfast, because I’m a grown woman who can do that if she chooses. It seems so silly, so minute, but it brought me joy. My new goal is to find joy in small things at least once every day, even if it means “breaking the rules”. I had multiple conversations with various people this week who got put in a position where they were doing things they really didn’t want to do. These weren’t things they HAD to do. I responded by saying “so don’t?”. I get we all try to fit into social norms, or make people happy, but at the end of the day, nobody gets a martyr award for doing things we don’t want to. Look, I am all for kindness and doing kind things. But do them because you want to, and because they bring you joy. Why? Because the joy flows through to the recipient. If I show up and hand you something you need with a smile and light in my eyes, it’s a much different experience than if I show up looking like you disrupted my day and you’re a burden.

A prime example of joyful giving is totally evident with two of my friends. I mentioned in an earlier post that my friend and I are going to Vegas. She is basically taking me for a girls’ trip. I am utterly beside myself with gratefulness and excitement about this trip. I NEED a vacation, and honestly, I need a few days where I don’t need to be responsible for anyone but myself. Being a mom is the very best thing I have ever done. That being said, being responsible for the well being and keeping two other human beings alive and well and raising them to be productive members of society is HARD. Hard in a good way, but still hard. I have trouble keeping plants alive, but here I am, keeping two humans alive, healthy and kind. Being able to take a few days to be responsible just for myself is a strange kind of freeing. That being said, I’ll probably get out there and be missing them like crazy. My husband is a top notch dad so I don’t fear anything happening. Anywho, back to joyful giving. My friend is treating me to a trip, yet she also emails me daily with an excited countdown of how many days we have before we go. She excitedly tells me about all the things she wants to show me. She makes me feel like my presence on this trip will make her trip better, and that is an amazing feeling.

This morning, my other friend messaged me to say she had dropped off some tickets to a show in my mailbox. She asked if I was awake and I said I had just woken up as I needed a lazy morning. She texted commenting it’s the perfect day to sit outside in the morning and enjoy a coffee. A few moments later, she showed up back at my house WITH COFFEE. I can tell you it was AMAZING and awesome and SO appreciated. We stood outside catching up for a few moments, and then I sat on my steps outside after she left to do all her errands and I SAVORED that coffee. It felt like it set the tone for the whole day and I felt absolutely joyous.

Yes, I have amazing friends.

Yes, I appreciate every single one.

Yes, my circle is small, brutally honest, full of kindness, feisty, and I could call on them for anything. How awesome is that?

What else is new? (Well, it’s been a few weeks so I am feeling quite chatty today, plus I am extra caffeinated).

Oh yes, my much beloved cousin, who is like a little brother to me, is off scaling the highest mountains in England, Scotland and Wales this week as part of an event to raise money for charity. Over 1000 miles of driving, 3 mountains to scale, and a ton of physical endurance. I’m amazed and proud and am cheering him on from 3000 miles away. I am also sitting here eating cheese puffs and chocolate, drinking my coveted coffee, and realizing why I am probably chubbier than most of my cousins. Ha! I miss my cousins terribly. They were the siblings I didn’t have as kids, and even as adults. I miss my UK family to bits and I think another trip is in order. That being said, this year so far is currently stacked with trips and things to do, but maybe next year. I asked my kids where they would like to go for a next big family vacation, and they both chose to go back to England to see their family. It made me so happy to see they love it there as much as I do, and that they had such a great time on our last trip. .

Well, I’d better get moving. I’ve done a load of procrastinating today and it’s time to get rocking and rolling.

I leave you with this…find the joy in the mundane, find time to laugh at yourself and the world around you, and know that tomorrow is always a new day. Treat yo’self. Use the expensive candles or lotion, dress up just because, and find the happiness in the little things.

Waving from the chaos!

Signs, Signs, Everywhere A Sign

I love impromptu plans. Just a flight of fancy or interest that takes you on a whole day of exploration. Today was just that type of day. We were at a party last night and someone mentioned the idea of going to an indoor flea market today. It was decided we’d all make the trek, and despite a late night last night, we roused early and headed off for a day of looking for treasures.

We left with three places on our list. One, to get coffee, and two indoor flea markets (perfect for a rainy day). Coffee was a grand success, which fueled us for the drive ahead. The first flea market turned up to be closed, due to open later in the month. We ventured on to the next one, which was further than expected, but quite a great place. I had been perusing my phone while my husband drove and something came up referencing Mother’s Day. Now, Mother’s Day is quite a strange day for me, filled with love, and happiness, but it does strike a bit of a cord since my mom died. It’s always a little bittersweet, but my husband and kids always make the day super special for me, even moreso because they know I miss my mom terribly.

Now, I’m of the opinion that when someone dies, there is a time for grief. And then, I am a believer that the best way to honor your loved one isn’t with tears and misery, but with retelling their story, creating happy memories in their honor, and really celebrating who they are. My mother would have hated if the only stories her grandchildren knew about her were surrounded in sadness and grief. It just wasn’t her way. So instead, I tell them happy, silly, or funny stories about her. I tell them stories where she helped people. I tell them she liked to bust people’s chops in the best of ways, and had a booming laugh. In turn, they see her as someone they would have loved to have known, and I find them often seeing something or in a situation and bringing her up. “Nana would have LOVED that!” my daughter often says, quite accurately, which brings me joy considering she never physically got to meet my mom. It keeps the essence of who my mom was truly alive, and honors her memory.

Today, as we headed into the flea market, my mom was on my mind. I thought to myself “well, I wonder if I will find something that will no doubt remind me of mum” as I stepped in the doorway. Perhaps I was asking for a “sign” but really I just wanted a moment to feel close to her. We wandered the aisles. Everything was very organized and well placed. My daughter held my hand and my husband meandered off to a massive comic book section with our son.

“So, I am going to be looking for something that matches the rose china” I said, “or maybe something that Nana would love”.

The story of the rose china is simple. It was my parents’ wedding china, and was the Royal Albert Old Country Roses pattern. It was used for “best” which means we used it at Christmas, Thanksgiving, and an occasional Easter. It was pretty, dainty, with roses and gold around the trim. It’s a little old fashioned, definitely British, and it reminds me of all of our special holidays together. As a kid, when I saw my mom get the roses china out, I always knew a great meal was ahead, and it would be a special day. It’s funny the traditions we lock into when we are kids, but this was one I clung to. I told my mom that one day, I hoped she would leave me that china. Neither of my parents could ever understand why I loved it so much. For me, it stood for happy memories, family time, and special time together. I also thought it was beautiful and dainty. But then it accidentally got sold during the Estate sale after my mom died and my dad wanted to move. I was devastated. It sounds silly, but it was like a piece of my childhood left, but also, like losing a tiny bit of my mom again.

My husband knew the story, and he knew how sad I was about it, so for Christmas, he got me a 4 place setting of the rose china. I was beside myself, and THRILLED to put it on the table. He also got me a matching coffee mug. Whenever we go to antique shops, flea markets, or anything similar, I always look for pieces of the set, even to have as extra. It’s become a little quest of mine.

Now, as I said, I wandered into the place today with my mom on my mind, and a definite hope that with Mother’s Day around the corner, I could find something that would no doubt remind me of her. As we wandered down to where the dishes were, I saw it. It took me a moment to really figure it out, but there it was: a little tea pot, and the top had a tiny teapot, creamer and sugar bowl on top…..and it was in the rose pattern, part of the set!! It was little, dainty, and perfect in every way! I’ve mentioned it before, but we’re British. My mom always seemed of the belief that no matter what ailed you, a good cup of tea would start fixing it up. This little pot would make me feel closer to her and lift the blues of missing her.

I don’t know if it was a sign, but it sure felt like one. I picked up my tiny teapot, and saw it was only $8. That $8 made my whole day. I immediately paid for it, and walked out with a huge smile on my face. My daughter looked at it and said “Mama, it’s just PERFECT. Nana would LOVE it”.

Yes, she would.

We finished out the day with a delicious meal filled with laughter, more coffee, some shopping, and a quiet evening at home to relax. The little pot has kept me beaming all day.

Getting Old While Staying Young

I saw a meme on facebook the other day that said “One of the weirder things about being an adult is having a favorite stovetop burner, yet nobody talks about it.” I laughed way too hard at this, because I too have one (back left, because with kids back is safer and left has the bigger burner). I notice other little changes about getting older, many which are stereotypical. I go to bed earlier, I wake up easier in the morning. A night curled up in bed sometimes beats the idea of a night at the bar. I also realized this weekend that driving long distances has become a lot more difficult. When I was younger, we moved to Virginia, and I often drove up and down the I95 corridor on the weekends in the blink of an eye. Drove down Friday afternoon, back Sunday. I did this often consecutive weeks, for consecutive months. This past weekend, the kids and I drove down to visit my dad. Good Lord O’mighty, 7 hours in the car felt like time eternal! We arrived at 10PM and I couldn’t WAIT to go crawl into a nice comfy bed and relax!

The moment my little old ladyhood jump started into full effect was Sunday night. First, some backstory. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before on here but when I was a kid, my mom had her wedding china. It was a beautiful set with roses on it, very British. I loved it. I loved the print, even as a kid, but I also loved the fact it symbolized the three of us were having a special meal (usually Christmas or Thanksgiving. I unfortunately grew up 3000 miles away from all of my extended family. My dad traveled a LOT for work. My poor mom never really got enough credit from me for all she did, because she handled EVERYTHING. On holidays though, the special dishes came out, and I remember looking down at them and just feeling….happy. Well, my mom said I could have them after she died, only there was some confusion, and they accidentally got sold in the estate sale. I mourned those dishes, and was CRUSHED. Fast forward 12 years, and my husband got me a set of 4 settings for Christmas. I was thrilled to pieces, and he said he would over time help me get some more so I had at least settings for 8. Well, last week, I had just downloaded the Nextdoor app, and saw something pop up about THOSE VERY DISHES. Unused, settings for 4, for a steal. I messaged immediately, but someone had beat me to it. The seller told me someone was picking them up, but would let me know if they were a no show. I checked that damned phone every 15 minutes for the rest of the day, hoping by some miracle the original poster might not show. I never heard back, and consoled myself by saying perhaps those dishes just weren’t meant to be mine (I was full of shit. I wanted those dishes like I want to snarf down a box of girl scout frozen thin mints after a hard day). Still, I tried to keep positive, and said I’d get a set one day. Then I laughed at the fact I am still relatively young, but such a mental old lady that china dishes were such a big topic with me.

Well, a week went by, and suddenly during dinner Sunday, I see a message. It’s from the seller, saying she had waited a whole week, but the buyer never showed. Would I still want the dishes?

Would I like perky books and a rounder butt? YES GIRL, AND I WANT THOSE DISHES TOO!

I told the seller I absolutely did, and I would be home Tuesday, could I come then? So today, I am picking up my coveted dishes, in all my little old lady glory!!!

My dad was chuckling at my old lady dish desires. I explained the significance, and he understood then. The simple fact is that I am highly sentimental about things, where as he has almost no attachment to stuff or items at all. This explains my house, cluttered and chaotic, and his immaculate environment. I tried to explain why I am sentimental about such things, and told him about another Christmas gift this year from my husband. When I was a kid, I had rain shiny wellies (rainboots for the Americans in the audience). I LOVED those boots. They were probably my first pair of shoes I truly adored. I loved how red they were, how shiny, and how I could run in mud and simply rinse them off to their shiny glory. They were perfect and versatile. After I grew out of them, I don’t think it ever occurred to me to ask for another pair. It’s silly really, because I never asked for some but holy shit, I wanted some. This past Christmas, my husband got me a pair of red shiny wellies. I am joyous. My dad was so perplexed why A. I loved them so, B. why I never just simply asked for another pair once I outgrew mine if I loved them so much, and C why I have such a sentimental attachment to stuff. I explained he should be happy, really….because I had such a great childhood that things that remind me of that childhood make me extremely happy. Those dishes? I was beaming on Christmas eating off them. The boots? Joy when I slide them on. I may be a little old lady mentally, but those things bring me back in time to a carefree moment of running in fields, or eating my favorite foods with my two favorite people. They are tradition.

This morning, after a 6 hour drive last night, I feel old as hell. That drive I did so carefree and without much thought at 18 is a lot harder now. My back aches, my brain is tired from concentrating on the road for so long. I am content to be home though. This is a busy week, filled with the little getting braces, training a new coworker, a comedy show and date night, a trip to NY, my birthday (little old lady getting OLDER, y’all. I’ll be in a housecoat and yelling for people to get off my lawn in NO time!) and all the other business that family is. It’s a week of excitement.

My son and I were talking in the car on our long drive home. We have some of our best chats in the car. He is excited for our birthdays, he says. He means he is excited for HIS birthday, because he is turning 13 in a couple of weeks. I can’t even. How have 13 years gone by so fast? He asked me if I am sad I am getting older. I said I am not sad I am getting older. While getting older is a little scary, as you start to see more time behind you and less in front of you, and time seems to go by much faster now, I am grateful for a birthday. Some of my friends and loved ones no longer have that luxury. They don’t get another birthday, another year, like I do. So I am grateful for that birthday. I am grateful for my little life, filled with good people. I am grateful to be a little old lady at heart, with her favorite stove burner, a joy of a quiet night in, pretty dishes, and rain boots that shine bright and red. I enjoy it all (minus the back aches and pains) but I find joy in reminding myself of all the happy moments of being a kid.

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.