Sunday, July 6, 2008

feeling reflective- a post about my mom.

I tend to get particularly reflective this time each year.

9 years ago....
Nine years ago today I sat at Sunrise Hospital. Waiting. My mother's friends filled the waiting room with worried looks and looks of concern for us. I can picture some of those faces still so clearly as if it were yesterday...not nine years ago. Michelle.  Annette. Kathy Mitchell.  Oh Kathy, that was so hard.  DH's mom and sister came too.  He was at BYU for the summer and I had called him in a panic. He sent them just to give me a hug. It meant so much.

It was July 6, 1999. I didn't feel like going to work that day. Just felt like hanging out at home with my mom. I'd gone to Utah to be with (now DH) for the 4th of July and to get a feel for BYU's campus before heading there in August. She gave me a hard time, teased me, and made me feel guilty so we came back for the actual holiday. She teased DH for not spending enough time with her either.  My dad sang with the Bluth Chorale in a memorial pageant in Boulder City that year so we watched the fireworks there. It was fun but the memory of that night haunts me. We were all playing around and pulling each other over in our low lawnchairs. I pulled my mom's and she hit her head. I didn't really hurt her, and I certainly didn't mean to cause any harm. But that memory haunts me because my brother once wrote that he thought her hitting her head (because of me) had caused things- or at the very least sped things up. I have asked countless doctors, including my neurologist, and they have assured me over and over that it would have had no effect whatsoever on what happened...but it haunts me because I know he accused me for my mother's death. Whether he blames me still, I don't know. I have always been too afraid to ask. But it doesn't matter. She's gone either way and we all hurt, and grieve, and blame, and so much more in our own ways.

DH flew back to Utah on Monday night. He had midterms to get to. I spent Tuesday morning (the 6th) chatting with my mom. We sat at the kitchen table eating out of a tub of Blue Bunny ice cream. It was a new flavor she insisted I try. It was really good. I've never been able to find it since. I asked her if she thought I would marry DH.  A good friend had recently sent her boyfriend off on his mission (or was about to) and I we pondered whether they would get married. That gave me the guts to finally ask my mom if she thought (now DH) and I would. She got a little twinkle in her eye and said that she did. She told me of the things she would like for my wedding. Somehow we went from that conversation to talking about the new millennium  Funny how conversations run. She made a comment about not wanting to be around for it. Too much bad stuff. She finally convinced me I should go to work, at least for a little bit. I worked for my dad doing clerical stuff. So sometime around 12:30, I think, I left.

I was in the habit of talking to my mom on the phone as I worked. I'd think of something to tell her and I'd call. Sorting through papers was boring work. I had been on the phone with her and she got off as she was filling up the mop bucket. She didn't really want to mop but it needed to be done. Not fifteen minutes later I was in the office with my dad when he picked up the phone- it was my brother. He yelled "Call 9-1-1" and hung up.  He looked at me and said "It's your mom. Go home."  Of course we both raced out of there. His office then was on North 5th and Gowan. I raced up Ann Rd at speeds of 100mph, praying that there would be no cops or cars. Back then Ann Rd was far less developed. As I went over the overpass at US-95 I saw the ambulance about to get on the freeway. I saw my brother's face in the front seat. I continued home. For one, I was going too fast to turn around. I didn't have a cell phone and didn't want my dad to wonder where I was. I didn't know what hospital they were going to either. And I didn't know what was going on with the rest of the kids.

I got home before my dad. His good friend worked in the office across the hall from him and had heard everything. He called his wife who is a nurse. She pulled up just as my dad did. The neighbor was with the kids and told me what had happened. My oldest brother had found my mom collapsed on the kitchen floor, mop beside her. He thought she slipped and hit her head. She was unconscious and having a seizure... just like one I had had several months earlier after getting some immunizations (mine was the result of hypoglycemic shock). He'd been there that day too and it scared him. He did CPR and called 9-1-1. They took my mom to Mountain View Hospital and my dad left for there, telling me to stay home with the kids. I went into immediate business mode- as I often do when crisis calls. I called the a family friend. She came over right away to take all the other siblings that were home with her (the oldest one was in the ambulance remember). I called my friend, who insisted she drive me to the hospital because I was in no condition to be driving again. I grabbed my mom's address book, some granola bars, and my calling card. We got to the hospital just as they were getting ready to put my mom on a life flight helicopter. My Grandpa was there and I knew from his face that things weren't good. Inside I already knew what was going to happen. A strange thing had happened to me exactly a week earlier. I had been driving home from work, on the overpass at Ann Rd & 95, when I had the thought occur to me 'what would I do if I lost my mom at this stage in my life'. I went through all of the emotions and thoughts at that time. I knew. So I went to say goodbye to my mom just before they took her onto the helicopter. They gave me a few minutes alone and I whispered to my mom "It's okay. If you need to go, I can take care of everyone. We'll be okay." I knew she'd missed her mom for a long time.

We got to Sunrise Hospital just as the helicopter had landed. I will never forget that image of the parking lot blocked off because it was too much of an emergency to land on top. I used to get anxiety attacks any time I went by there. It's a little better now but I still avoid it. A lot after that is a blur. I called people from the payphone with my calling card to let them know what was going on. I remember being taken to the cafeteria because everyone was concerned about me eating because of my low blood sugar. I assured them repeatedly that I was fine and capable of taking care of myself. After all, I'd had the sense to grab granola bars and other snacks for myself and others there. It was when we were in the cafeteria that my uncle came in and said my mom had been given a blessing but it didn't seem good. I told those there then about what had happened to me a week earlier. It was late at night, somewhere around 11, when they were taking my mom in for surgery. See, she'd had a brain aneurysm, and they were going to do what they could to cut off the bleeding. They said it would be 48-72 hours before we knew anything so my dad sent me and my brother home to get some rest. Our family friends had brought the kids down before bed and we'd been taken to a tiny room to explain what was going on. We headed home. That's when it started to rain.

The house seemed so unbelievably empty that night.  My brother went to bed, exhausted. He'd always been a better sleeper than I. I got on the computer and sent out an email to everyone about what was going on and asking for prayers. I called a few people on the east coast and I called DH. It didn't seem like long before my dad called saying that we had better come back quickly. I woke up my brother and we left again.

We drove quickly to the hospital but it didn't seem quick enough. We had to laugh when we found ourselves detoured because the completely empty highway was closed due to two trucks carrying hay bales that had collided and spilled hay all over the highway. It was 4 in the morning. When we got to the hospital my dad explained that my mom's pressure had gone haywire. He said she was 'alive' still but that he and the nurse had both commented that they felt her leave. He didn't think she was going to make it. I could feel it too and I knew he was right. I didn't leave again. Time passed too quickly and yet it dragged on. I watched the rain out the window falling on the parking lot. Everything seemed so peaceful out there.
My aunt was there, painting my mom's toes. "It would bug her" she said. My dad looked like a wreck. I was trying to think of what else needed to be done, what else I could do. It was July 7th.... 7/7/99. At some point in time the doctors told us that she was essentially brain dead and we needed to take her off life support. They said she probably had been brain dead since the very first moment. She'd had a rare brain aneurysm that burst on both sides in the center of her brain, much like a balloon. Our friend brought the kids to the hospital to say goodbye. I will never ever forget the looks on their faces. Taking my youngest brother in to say goodbye and trying to explain to him that mommy would never be back. He was 4 1/2 but he understood. He told us that she was an angel now and with the lady with the yellow hair who had been hurt by the red car. My Grandma. My mom's mom who had, 6 years earlier, been hit and killed by a car while riding her bike. I didn't know before that that the car had been red. One brother was almost 13 and my sister was almost 10. I was 17 and my oldest brother was 15.

Nine years ago tomorrow they took my dad and I into a room with the organ donor people. The lady's name was Sherry. It was fitting. Sherry was my Grandma's name. My mom had been a crisis volunteer with T.I.P (Trauma Intervention Program) and every serious call she had been on had involved someone named Sherry. She said it made her feel like her mom was with her. So we laughed that this person who had come to discuss what parts of my mother would be preserved would be named Sherry. It felt weird, talking about donating organs and turning off breathing machines. The time had come and I was given some time again to be alone with my mom. I curled up in the bed with her. I couldn't think what else to do. I felt so small, so much like a little child. I curled up there and I just cried. I have no idea how long it was. But she felt hot. She didn't feel like her... only like a thing that was kept functioning by machines. They were keeping her hot to keep the organs alive for donation. It was when I could no longer ignore the feeling that my mom really wasn't there, that it was just a shell of a body, that I said goodbye and I left. I saw my friend's sad eyes and those of my mom's friends. My other best friend hadn't come. She'd been at work. I was numb and tired. And it hadn't stopped raining.

I drove home by myself that day. When I got in the car at the parking lot to leave I turned on the radio. The theme song for Tarzan was playing. "You'll be in my heart.... From this day on, now and forever. Always." I felt like it was my mom telling me she was there with me. I cried the whole way home. My dad was right behind me. We pulled into our driveway at 4pm.... exactly 24 hours after my brother had made that phone call. The house was always emptier after that. Even when it was filled to the brim with flowers. You couldn't walk through our living room because it was so full. It felt like the fridge at the florist's shop. The smell was comforting to me though and I slept on the couch in there. The lilies were the strongest and felt like a hug.

There was a lot of business to be taken care of and I was there for all of it. I went with my dad to make the funeral arrangements. It wasn't right that I was 17 and picking out my mother's casket. I don't remember if I said that aloud but I do remember thinking it. There was no question to me where my mom would want to be buried. At the cemetery and near the pond where her mother's ashes had been sprinkled. We'd gone out there often with her to feed the ducks and visit. So my dad and I rode in the mortuary's limo across town to pick out a burial site. The rain had still not stopped. I had fallen asleep lying down in the back when I was woken up by a jar and strange noises. I looked out the window to see that we were in a flood and the water was to the door. But we were just around the corner from the cemetery and we made it. My dad asked me to do my mom's makeup and I agreed. I remembered my mom and aunt complaining about how my grandma looked nothing like herself. I had spent hours sitting and talking to my mom while she'd done her makeup. She had taught me anything I knew about it and I knew I could do it how she would. So my aunt met me there along with a friend of the family's. The led us to a room where it was just us and my mom's body in a casket. I'll spare the details because it would be hard to explain anyway and I prefer not to think of my mom that way. I was glad my aunt was there though because she can always turn everything into a joke. We laughed more than I felt appropriate but as much as I knew my mom would wish us to. She painted her fingernails and I did her makeup. When we were done she just looked like she'd been sleeping.

The funeral was on the 10th. We were supposed to be at my dad's family reunion but it was canceled because of the funeral. My brothers and I got a kick out of this because we knew she didn't want to go that year and we thought it funny that she'd found quite the way to get out of it. Funnier still, but then not really, was that everyone came to the funeral and it was like the reunion came to her. Maybe you had to be there to get the joke. The Relief Society kept us well stocked with food. I knew the drill from friends' experiences with crises and I expected dinners. But I was overwhelmed that they also brought lunch and they also brought food for our family and friends that would come in town. We were overwhelmed. They took our photographs and photo albums to put the loose ones into albums to be on display at the viewing/funeral. The bishop came over and played chess with my youngest brother. My brother won. A friend of ours flew in from England. DH drove back down from Utah. My uncle came down and was the one to dedicate the grave. It was his one year wedding anniversary. DH drove me to the viewing at the mortuary the night before the funeral. He just sat there in the back the whole time. Just sat there so that I would know I had someone to lean on. I remember a friend's parents coming and thinking that was so nice of them. My piano teacher came. He was mine and my brother's piano teacher. I can still see him sitting on the bench with my brother and holding him as he cried. It broke my heart. I remember my friends sitting there, clearly not knowing what to do but wanting me to know that they were there for me. I felt bad because I didn't know what to do either or what to tell them.

The morning of the funeral, the rain stopped. They'd called it "The 100-year flood." The sun shone bright and strong and it was more humid than anything I could remember. I'd gone back to New York with my mom the August before for her 20 year class reunion and it was more muggy than that. My dad hadn't wanted a normal funeral. He didn't like the "stupid Plan of Salvation" talks. I wasn't surprised... he hadn't been active in church for years. In fact, on the way to pick up our friend from the airport we had wondered if my mom had 'chosen to die' so that my dad would find his way back to church again. I thought that and I understood and I only hoped that I wouldn't blame my dad for her needing to make that sacrifice. At the funeral we displayed a lot of the things she had made, crafts and paintings, flower arrangements etc along with the photo albums. Seems like she had wished her mom's funeral was recorded so we set up a videotape. In the end it needed 4 tapes. Some unknown person had taken care of switching them out, even getting additional ones from somewhere. The chapel was overflowed. There were so many people that they had to set up chairs and sound in the Primary and Relief Society rooms. I was touched by the friends of mine that came. My mom was the kind of mom who was a friend and mom to all of my friends as well. I knew it was hard for them as well and I wanted to be able to comfort them. DH had to take some of them home after the funeral and before the graveside service because it was just too hard. I remember him saying that one in particular was having a really rough time. I played the piano during the service. There was never any real question about what the service would entail. I played two of my mom's favorite pieces... "The Forrest Gump Suite" and "Hymne". I didn't think I could do it but I prayed I would do it justice for her. When I played it was as if someone else's hands were playing. I have never played them that perfectly since, though I have tried. We didn't have a closing song. I hated "God Be With You" that was always sung. We had opened with "Families Can Be Together". My brother had started playing it seemingly nonstop since my mom had died. To close we played on the radio "The River" by Garth Brooks. It had been my senior class song and I had played it at graduation only a month earlier. My mom said she wanted it played at her funeral. I still wonder if she knew.

I don't think a lot of things truly hit me until we were there at the cemetery. It felt so final then. I didn't want to leave. I couldn't will myself to leave. It was so hot and I could hardly breathe. I just laid on the grass next to the flowers. The poor cemetery workers were waiting for me to leave so that they could lower the casket into the ground, but I didn't want them to. One of my mom's friends gathered flowers from the bouquets to make into a wreath for us. Someone finally pulled me up off the ground and got me to go back to the church for the luncheon that had been prepared. It was nearly done by the time I got there.

Nine years ago. It seems so long ago and yet so recent. I can hear her in me, especially when I laugh or yell at my children. Billy hears it too. My mom's closest friends still call me Pam sometimes. My mom's family hasn't kept in touch much. I think it was hard for them. Many of them aren't LDS either and don't share the same beliefs about families and being together forever. It was hard for me for a long time, still is sometimes.... feeling like I didn't just lose my mom but like I lost her entire family as well. It's gotten better since with some of them. I know it was really hard for my Grandpa. He had never really been much of an emotional man. He softened a lot after that and I was grateful that he and I were able to develop some relationship. It had upset him to outlive his daughter, especially when he had always expected to die young himself. It's hard sometimes being the reminder of the sadness, and I think we kids were a little bit of that for them. Even more so for me. Everyone always told me how much I looked like my mom, how much I reminded them of her. I'm not sure if I realized that completely until I moved back into our ward. Back around some of those friends who were there that day. They still talk about my mom and that's nice. It's nice to have her still 'alive' and not forgotten. But sometimes I still see that sadness in their eyes. It's gotten better recently but I saw it a lot when we first moved here. They would look at me and they would see my mom and would be sad. They would look at my children and see what my mom was missing, especially with P, and you could see their heartstrings pulled a little bit.

I try to get over it but I know I never really will. I had dreams that I won't get to live. I used to go to the park and on outings a lot with my mom and grandma when I was little. I dreamed of doing that with my kids and mom. I knew she was so excited for me to be a grown up with her. We had gone on the youth conference trek together just a year before and she had written in a note to me a quote from Joan Rivers "It's a beautiful thing to have your daughter grow old and realize she's your best friend." She said she already felt that way about me. I dreamed of my mom taking me off to college and sending me care packages and talking to me on the phone all the time because she hated that I was so far away. She told me that's how it was going to be. I dreamed of my mom fussing over my wedding and getting so excited for me to get dolled up, the way she had at senior prom. I dreamed of her being there when my kids were born, helping me and telling me what to do and having them over for sleepovers like I had done with my grandma. I don't get those dreams and sometimes I still get mad about it. Sometimes I still get jealous of those who do, especially when they don't realize just how lucky they are that they get to. Instead I got nightmares as a freshman in college. I would get nightmares where I had killed a loved one. They got so vivid and real and scary that I was afraid to go to sleep. My roommate used to read me stories and sing me lullabies to help me fall asleep. I hurt but I didn't want anyone to see that. I didn't want them to hurt for me. I didn't want them to be sad about me being sad, they way they had seemed at the funeral. And so I shut them all out without even meaning to. I didn't know how bad it was until years later when DH and my roommate (who was one of my hs best friends) would tell me. I'm glad they stuck it out.

It's not so bad anymore. The nightmares are different now. Instead, I sometimes have dreams where my mom is in them and has abandoned us. Or she is there trying to be there but I am arguing with her about the fact that she is dead. Those are the unpleasant dreams that leave me unhappy and unsettled the next day. I once was walking to the Celestial Room in the temple and I had the feeling that she was walking there beside me, holding me. It was so strong that I could hardly breathe. I prefer to hang on to that feeling and I sometimes hate that I can't just feel it whenever. Whenever DH and I truly get into a fight I get mad all over again that I don't have my mom. He knows it too, and he understands. It's this weird psychological thing. It must be getting better though because it doesn't last quite as long, though I think it depends on the 'fight.' When someone important to me says unkind things to me or is unsupportive of me, I get upset that I don't have my mom because I know she would not be that way. Don't get me wrong...she told me my faults. But she was only ever being honest, never hurtful, and I always knew she was in my corner. When I was 6 I tried to run away for the first time. She made me a cross stitch that I still have hanging. It says "A Mother is a forever friend." Sometimes I get mad at her for leaving me and I turn it around... but that doesn't last long either and I usually just laugh at my ridiculousness. I know that's what she would do. Oh, the pain is definitely still there and just as strong but I don't think about it as often. The ache will always still exist but in different ways and for different things.

But nine years has gone by fast. My mom was 38 when she died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. When I miss her it seems like it's been forever already. Those memories seem so far and distant. I still have her in me and I think I realize that more now than ever. I can't be 'fake' like some people would like me to be because it's not in the nature she gave me. Honesty and openness are important to me. I try to laugh more because that's what she did and I know that's what she wanted of me. I stick up for myself because she used to stick up for me. I don't forget about myself and my talents just because I am a mother because she never did. I have girlfriends that I do things with because I know how much they enriched her life and how much they meant to her. I think it's okay to miss my mom and to sometimes be sad about it because she taught me that it's okay to feel and I know she'd felt the same way after her mom had died. I make jokes with my children and call them names like 'dork' and 'nerd' in a loving way, just like my mom did us...because I find that I just can't help it. I read something in a book called "Motherless Daughters" by Hope Edelman about how a motherless daughter often finds some fulfillment when she has a daughter of her own because she is able to reestablish a mother-daughter bond. I think there is something to be said for that. More and more I see that my mother is still alive in me as a mother. It's something I'm happy to see, even though I know she wasn't perfect. I always wanted to be just like her. My mom's best friend once told me that our children will always be better parents than us and better people than us because they will see our mistakes and improve on them. They take the best parts of us and fix the worst. I think she was right. I'm pleasantly surprised when I 'find' my mom in the random moments of the day and I'm happy that she was open and honest enough with me that I know what I want and don't want and that I can be like her, only my own version with my own touch. It's been nine years mom but I still miss your smile and laughter...and your fight and compassion and your honesty and acceptance....oh, and your sarcasm. ;)