Monthly Archives: November 2007

Good grief.

This is my first real experience with grief. I’ve lost beloved pets, of course, and grandparents. I’ve lost lovers, both to death and other things, and had my dreams and hopes dashed. But my siblings are alive and well as are my children and grandchildren. My dad still thrives and I still have one grandmother.

So with my mom passing away last Monday, I’m experiencing something new.

It was new to sit at her bedside for hours as her breathing slowed, talking to her about the grand adventure that awaited her on the other side, and all the people who were eager to welcome her there.

It was new to talk to my brother and sister from her room and hold the phone to her ear so they could say their goodbyes. She heard them, and died an hour afterward.

It’s new to have this physical feeling of grief that I’m carrying around in my chest. I’ve seen many people grieve, and am happy that I don’t carry around a load of guilt along with it. Usually, guilt accompanies grief in enormous doses. But my mom and I had made peace; I had made all necessary amends, and then some. We were good.

In addition to this physical grief, there are an incredible number of things to do, now that she is gone. I am really, really busy, tending to the things of someone newly passed away. I think this is part of the grand design. There are things to do so that we don’t sit and stew. There is a time for contemplation, a time for gathering of family, a time for personal, private grieving, and a time to get on with the business of the day.

My mother was elderly, and had been failing for two weeks, so this was not unexpected. Still, I was incorrect about every single thing I expected to happen in the process of death. In addition to witnessing the magic of death–the astonishing Cheyne-Stokes breathing–I’m experiencing the cleansing miracle of grief. Grief is a good thing.

What I did expect, however, was the outpouring of love from Mom’s myriad friends and loved ones, and it has been lovely. It is very touching, and allows them to express their grief over her passing, too.

But, in the long run, it’s my broad view of our roles as cosmic citizens that keeps me centered. If I thought I’d never see her again, my grief would be a completely different experience. But the fact that I am absolutely certain of where she is right now and when I’ll see her again not only makes this whole event a temporary one, but puts it all into context.

As I spoke softly to her at her bedside while she was busy dying, I congratulated her on living so well the entire human experience. She did a good job of it, and she did it all with gusto.

She heard me and agreed.

Death is just another part of the human experience, and now she’s done it all.

And I’ve got another cosmic merit badge.

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Filed under Death

Rest in peace, Mom.

I’ll see you on the other side.


Filed under peace

Life and Beauty

There’s a corner I drive by periodically that has a derelict gas station on it. The building has been vandalized, the concrete is all cracked and weedy. It is an eyesore. Al said, “That’s a nasty site.” I said, “That’s a piece of property I’d like to own.” I don’t know if it will become a commercially viable piece of land in the next twenty years. Eventually it will, but that’s a moot point; I don’ t have the money to buy it and improve it. 

The first thing I would do if I did own it, though, would be to raze the building and landscape the property while waiting for it to become commercially viable. 

Beautifying things and adding life is suddenly very appealing to me, and this morning, I learned about guerilla gardening.

Guerilla gardening is beautifying a piece of property without the owner’s permission. It is usually done anonymously, under cover of night, by a bunch of radical gardeners out to beautify the world. It encompasses everything from flinging a handful of flower seeds at an ugly vacant lot to burying a few bulbs along the freeway, to completely landscaping an eyesore.

The piece of property I have my eye on is way too much for me to handle, but a dozen workers could spiff it up in a weekend, starting with chopping down the blackberry brambles that are overtaking the building. That’s still too ambitious a project for me at the moment, but holy smoke, I could certainly do my share here and there around town.

It would be a naughty little pleasure, this secretely planting a border of flowers where only weeds currently grow. It wouldn’t take much; in fact I just bought several packs of expired seeds for $.25 each. I’m going to put them in the glove compartment of my car and wait for an opportune time and place.

Organizations of guerilla gardeners are springing up all over the place. The group in Tacoma, Washington is what came to my attention today.

Getting a group together like that sounds like a worthwhile endeavor to me, but whether a member of a group or flying solo, we can all find a few moments to add life and beauty.


Filed under Beauty, Goodness, guerilla gardening, Truth

Sometimes Life is Hard

There was a time when I was tough. I could fire an employee and get thrown out of a bar all in the same day and not blink an eye.

Those days are far behind me, but today I think I could use a little less compassion. I’d like to employ that thicker skin right about now.

Watching my mother fade away is tougher than I could ever have imagined. Tomorrow, I’m sure Hospice will become involved, and I think that is the big decision that has been my burden for over two weeks now. Once that call has been made, I hope that my heart will not be as sore as it is now.

It is so easy to redirect the anger I feel that is borne of fear: Could she possibly stay in this limbo for months? Is this the way I am going to go? Is there something else I could be doing, should be doing, that would help her? But my husband, the superior nursing staff, and my family members are not to blame for any of this, and acting out my anger toward any one of them is wrong. I need to see it for what it is–my pain and fear–and deal with it accordingly.

But man, it’ s hard.

I want to get back to my life. I want to be working. I want to be writing that research paper which is due soon. I want to be feeding the chickens and taking the dog for a romp at the dog park.

Instead, I’m going to the nursing home twice a day to watch her babble and moan, feed her gelled milk and talk to her of the wonders of heaven and meeting up again with Biff, her husband and dancing partner who died long ago. I’m standing in the endless holiday shopping lines to buy her some appropriate clothing.  I’m trying to take care of myself, but I’m starting to lose sight of what that means. I know it means to take time of every day to cry and honor the spirit of the woman I tried so hard to get along with for so many years. She didn’t make it easy.

She’s not making it easy today.

And for that I know I will be grateful. Some day, but not today.

Today, life is hard.

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Filed under Dying

What has survival value?

An interesting thing has happened as my mother lies dying. 

I no longer see her annoying habits, her prejudices, her raging insecurities. All those mother-daughter things that used to fry me and send me into loops of imagined confrontations have disappeared. Instead, I see a frail woman who is afraid of her future, still willing to fight for whatever morsels of dignity she has left in the face of the enormous medical machine.

The Urantia Book talks about things of survival value verses things that are strictly material. The book says that when we leave this world and regain consciousness on the next, all things of survival value remain with us, while those things of a material nature are left behind. I believe that to mean that all material things like anger and pettiness and jealousy don’t carry forward in our memories, but that all our relationships, friendships and loves do.  What a pleasant thought.

What is unexpected today is that this is precisely what is happening right now between Mom and me. Well it’s happening to me, anyway. I can remember, of course, all the times we butted heads and I went into a frustrated rage over her behavior, but they’re so far in the past at the moment (even though there were incidents mere days ago) that I have to really work to conjure them up. Instead, I have realized a depth of compassion for her that I would have never imagined, given our history.

I remember hearing a story about Ram Dass (forgive me if this is complete fiction, but the point is still well made) cancelling a book tour to tend to his dying father. He resented the interruption in his professional life (so the story goes), but the three months or so he spent ministering to his father were the most profound and important three months of his life.

I heard that story and didn’t believe it. Couldn’t imagine it.

But now, I get it.

Very interesting, this life.

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Filed under Death, peace

Spirit Percolates in Discomfort

I have had my share of discomfort this past week. Nothing brings out the best and worst in family members like a good crisis.

And I can feel my spirit percolating throughout it all.

I was told once: “Every time you cry, you let a little more God in.”  This may be true. The more tears I shed at my mother’s hospital bedside, the calmer I am about her situation, the more rational I can be in making decisions, the easier it is for me to tend to her, the more compassion I have for her other loved ones who are also grieving her situation.

My days prioritize themselves. I go to the hospital every morning and every evening, and sometimes in between.  Everything else has to conform to that schedule. Today is my grandson’s 6th birthday party, and that will be a delightfully welcome respite, with my two kids and five grandsons there, including the 6-month-old twins.

And my spirit, wide awake, active and percolating, will be there, too.

As  my days prioritize themselves, I see that I have no time for those whose guilt has made them angry. I just… don’t.

And more interesting yet, is the way my complex relationship with my mother — always stormy, rocky and intense — has begun to resolve itself the way a good novel wraps itself up into a very satisfying ending. She’s not changing, I am, and that is the result of my percolating spirit.

“Spirit percolates in discomfort.” Dr. Eunice Schroeder said that to our class last month, and I’m finding it to be true.

When life goes along smoothly, it’s a gentle ride. But when things get intense, as they do periodically, I’m finding that it’s a good thing to have spirit on my team.

I don’t mind a little discomfort. And I’m learning to find the good in a bad situation before retrospect kicks in.

Here it is. Resolution. Family gathering in grief and uncertainty. Compassion.

A percolating spirit.

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Filed under Spirituality

My new novel

The Northwoods Chronicles

Alan M. Clark has done the cover art for my new book. We’ve submitted it to the publisher, but there’s no guaranty that they’ll use it as is. I hope they will, I think it captures the mood of the mysterious setting with its derelict amusement park very well.

In the midst of everything tumultuous… life goes on.


Filed under My New Novel

Writing as Catharsis

Many times I don’t know how I feel until I write about it.

Right now, of course, my mom is in the hospital. She is elderly, in ill health and tired. Part of me wants to see her go to her rest, part of me doesn’t. But of course what happens is not up to me. I only have control over my attitude and how I deal with her caregivers: the spectacular hero-nurses and aides, her excellent, compassionate doctors.

But the family, all long-distance, wants frequent updates on her condition, and understandably so. I would, if she were going through this elsewhere.  Last night I was talking with my niece, who is making arrangements to come visit (the family is beginning to gather). I laid out Mom’s situation, and surprised us both with how articulate I was about her history, her current status and her prognosis. And as articulate as I was last night, I was just as tongue-tied earlier that day while trying to bring my brother up to speed. The difference? Between the two conversations, I had written it all out in a daily email to one of my dearest friends.

Writing helps writers organize our thoughts in a way nothing else will. Not meditation, not prayer, not crying over a cup of coffee with a girlfriend. We were born to write; that is our method of communication. When I write my daily email (more than daily this week) to my friend Maggie, I edit and delete and rephrase, and become precise with what I have to say and how I have to say it.

If there were no Maggie on the receiving end, knowing what I know now, I would continue to write these events and my emotional reactions to them in an email to myself.

I’ve never been one to keep a journal. I’ve always thought of those who journal as people who don’t normally write. I’m a writer; my life is reflected in the fiction and nonfiction that I write every day.  But now I am starting to understand the value of writing my thoughts down. It helps me organize them, sort them out, determine what is important and what is petty. (I’m not above being petty, and in fact I don’t mind being petty, but if I’m going to engage in pettiness, I want to do it consciously. But that’s a blog for another day.)

Anyway, the purpose of all this is to say that I’m finding great value in writing these confusing, conflicting, emotional thoughts down and editing them into a purposeful missive. It keeps me honest.

And that’s worth a lot.


Filed under Journaling, Writing

Heart trouble

My mom’s in the hospital.

She had a heart attack on Saturday night, and today she took a turn for the worse. Looks like a stroke. Might not be; might be an adverse reaction to some medication. But it ain’t pretty.

I always assumed she would die in her sleep. I always assumed I’d get a call and someone would tell me that she passed away some time during the night. I never thought I would see her like this.

I don’t know if she will die because of this incident, but she will never be the same, and she won’t be returning to her usual independent lifestyle.

But right now, where all signs point toward a stroke, to see her lying in bed, pale, comotose and unresponsive, babbling, muttering and moaning, is difficult indeed. Worse yet, when she was admitted on Saturday night she was lucid, and her clear orders were to start her heart again if it stopped, and put her on a ventilator if she quit breathing. That order stands, despite the fact that I have power of attorney for health care.

We’ll know in the morning if this is a stroke, and then we, with the doctor’s assent, will modify that order to a Do Not Resucitate. And then maybe she’ll just go to sleep and silently pass away.

Meantime, the thing that frightens me the most is that her heart will stop, and they will shock her with paddles and beat on her frail little chest and put breathing tubes down her throat, when at 86, they ought to just let her slip away. This is the scenario that hurts my heart the most.

She’s in such a pickle because she has not been to a doctor in years. She is suffering from untreated diabetes, untreated hyperthyroidism, untreated kidney disease, and untreated heart disease. She hates doctors and despite recurrent chest pain, would not see a doctor. And then on Saturday night, when the chips were down, she faced up the finality of her actions, got scared and said: “Save me.”

Well, she’s 86 and has had a good life. She has been a good mom, a good wife, a good grandma, and a good great-grandma. 

She deserves a good death, and I hope she gets one. 


Filed under Aging, family


I have boundaries on the mind today. 

I feel bombarded from every angle, from ads on the internet to ads on television, to junk email and junk mail. I feel like I have to protect myself these days from intruders, so I have erected boundaries. For the next few months, at least, I have set parameters.

These boundaries are to protect my resources for the things that I hold dear and deem most important. They protect my time, my health, my money, my family and my friends, all of which are, at this moment, at a premium. Perhaps they have always been, but I have not always been as protective as I am now.  Partly because I see a finite number of Christmases with my mother left. Partly because I see a finite number of Christmases left, period. Partly because I’m working and going to school and the holidays are upon us, and I’m feeling a little more pressure than is comfortable for me. Partly because my daughter and her sons have just moved back to town and now my mother and both of my kids and their kids live within minutes and I want to erect my boundaries to include them and exclude things that are harmful to them.

Many years ago, I learned the feeling of freedom in the word “No.” I don’t even have to explain myself. A simple “no” is polite and sufficient. These days, I’m really exercising that word.

This is the season of people wanting money.  There is no question that most charitable organizations are reputable, and that there are needy people everywhere, but Al and I have charities that we feel passionate about, and those are the charities to which we contribute. Our funds are limited, as are everyone’s, and we choose our charities carefully. So I am saying no to everyone else who calls or solicits or stands on the street corner or knocks on my door during dinner.

This is the season of parties, and gifts, and fattening food. Again, most parties are fun, most gifts are delightful, and you know we’d love to indulge in all that food. But we won’t go to most parties we’re invited to, because that’s just more stress (clearly Al and I are both introverts), I hate having to reciprocate on gifts given by acquaintances, and all that fattening food has to be disposed of, and not into our mouths. So I am saying no to most Christmas parties, reciprocal gifts and tins of cookies and fudge.

I learned the other day that when I say yes to something, I am saying no to ten other things I could be doing instead. Even if one of those things is taking a nap, or reading for pleasure, or designing a new knitting project. Napping, reading and knitting are all requirements for my mental health. So is gardening. So is sitting and staring out the window. If I busy out my calendar until there is no time left for taking my dog for a romp at the dog park, I am saying no to myself.

I want to say yes to myself. I am enjoying life more now than ever. I have time to read, to write, to study, to spend with my husband, to travel. 

And because of this, I will not feel bad about saying no to anything, ever again.  As someone recently pointed out, two-year-olds have no problem saying no, why is it so hard for us?

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Filed under peace, The Holidays