Saturday, January 29, 2011


I stand there before my closet, chilled from stains of sweet breast milk on my nude camisole. The high heels I purchased from a fancy department store are perched on my shoe rack. Once so elegant, black and shiny--patent-leather--almost snobbish in the way a house-cat roams around not bothered searching for warm sun rays to nap in. I wore them the first time to a May 29th wine tasting event in 2009. I remember this date because it was the first year anniversary of my mother’s death and my friends took me there to cheer me up. There was a large handsome black man playing the guitar and singing smoky jazz notes. I drank a lot of wine, red, white, pink even. I drank on an empty stomach. I did lots of things on an empty stomach that year. Now my heels that clicked and clacked me from a grieving wine tasting event, that showcased OPI’s latest red, to a formal Spring seminar at my old job, are hanging heels out and dusty. Their gold buckles are dull. It’s almost one in the afternoon; I move away from the closet and venture into the kitchen where my coffee just finished brewing for the day. The laundry is stacked high, and the trash needs taken out. I did however; manage to run the dishwasher. I sit down with coffee in the living room, near a patch of winter sun. I place Lilly on a pillow that’s sitting on my lap and she latches on. I’m left with gentle suckling sounds, the warmth of my dog as he curls over my bare feet, and a full belly from last night’s chicken dish. I close my eyes and breathe in the wonders of what is 2011.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A quote:

This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.


He is God and his guides are His angels. They are always with us in one way or another. This quote helps me to see that through the gray and melancholy comes golden light, peace, and joy! But we have to sit with the complexity of human emotion, like depression, anxiety, fear, anger, grief, in order to address what is bothering our emotional beings, our souls. If we choose to turn on talk radio, plug our ears with I-Pod buds, or watch TV, then we are simply running away from sitting with those uncomfortable feelings long enough to find a deeper meaning as to what is going on inside ourselves, which is usually unconscious to our very own awareness. How are we to grow spiritually or emotionally if we keep numbing our depression, fears, and anger with booze, drugs--prescription or not--and other externals like TV, radio, facebook?

I did this very thing after my mother died. I avoided facing my real emotions and grief by immediately picking up my cell phone to make a call, or turning the radio on in the car. One frozen January evening, I drove home from an appointment and my hands automatically reached for my phone and the radio dial. I stopped myself! It wasn't easy--believe me. I kept nervously reaching for a way out of the silence. My fingers were fidgety, like Dennis the Menice's small fingers-- in the cockpit of an airplane with shiny silver knobs, and colorful buttons blossoming from every inch--with a flashing sign that said DO NOT TOUCH!!! I would have tried sitting on my hands until they both became prickly and numb, had I not been driving.

The silence worked. It stirred up a part of my unconscious memory and transplanted me smack in Hiawatha, IA in late May 2008. The sky was gray and it was sprinkling in the court yard of the peach-colored Hospice House. We were waiting for my mom to die. This was the third day that we waited after she stopped talking. Her breath was heavy and a patch was placed on her neck to silence the rattling sound of her last days of breathing. The nurse placed the patch there to spare my daughter, sister and I and aunts from the awkward and truth-piercing sound of the inevitable.

The end was nearing--sooner than we'd like. It happened faster than the nurses predicted. Her body was preparing for death but her young 53-year -old heart was not ready to stop. It was strong and would take longer to wear out, they kept telling us. We had said our goodbyes the last evening she had been somewhat awake, as advised by the nurses. She weakly sang "Have a holly, jolly Christmas" with Haley, her four year old hands playing with the hospital sheets. A classic Burl Ives number on the Christmas CD my mom had given Haley the year before. Haley listened to it all year, even during the summer and spring when her granny was losing her hair, with slivers of hope still alive by being hooked up weekly for high doses of chemo.

Mom took her last breath on a Thursday afternoon. The 29th of May in her hospice bed. My sister, dad, and I were in the room. Although, my parents had been divorced for nearly 7 years and had only spoken once during that time, she waited for him to come. The nurses kept saying she will go when her heart stops and when she's ready. To talk to her because she could still hear us. We did this, giving her our permission to go and be with Jesus and her mother. She kept holding on, until my father arrived, that Thursday afternoon. He told her that he was there.

And in her last act of motherhood on earth, she took her last breath, being sure not to do so until my dad was there to pick my sister and I up off of the floor. I wondered why she didn't do it sooner, because two of her sisters were there the entire time to support us. I concluded that she wanted our father there, to provide us with the support that only a parent can. Her last gift to us.

Her last few breaths were heavy, but peaceful, long but sounded with much relief. She fought so hard. Then she was pale, paler than the snow, paler than anything I've ever seen. And then nothing. Silence.

I sobbed so hard a strange sound escaped my throat. I clutched the steering wheel hard, my knuckles white and red. A deep unconscious memory unclogged my heart and mind. I felt like crap for a while, facing head on such an intense and sad memory. As I drove on, my desperate sobs evaporated into sniffles and breathy sighs. I reached home and climbed the stairs to my third floor apartment. I was relieved. I knew in that moment that I needed to unclog that memory. I had tried to suppress it for so long, and my body and mind needed to let it go in order to move on and be healthy, just like a flu bug moving it's way through our system in order for us to find physical, health and balance once again. Had I not let go of that emotion, I'm sure it's intensity would have manifested in a physical or mental illness eventually.

I laid down on my bed, still wrapped in my red pea coat. My face cool and tight with dried tears. I rested in a state of awaken sleep, until eventually I peeled my coat off and turned off the light. All that was left was the echoes of cars on the road outside and the familiar smell of Gain detergent on my pillow case. The same comforting smell my mom used on my high school basketball jerseys and the sheets to my water-bed. The same smell of her closet, the one she left behind.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Eve of Christmas Eve

The snow is falling and the right side of my back is aching! Baby is due any moment now and I've realized over the past week that I'm not a bit patient. I have a lot of experience with waiting. I've waited for Haley to come, my mother to die, my wedding to come, grades to be posted, my last day of work, but waiting for a baby when you're physically uncomfortable is not a past-time that I'm good at, especially around the Holidays!

Believe me I try to smile, say kind words, do the X-Mas shopping, wrap gifts, and remain my witty, energetic self but by the time a Mama reaches 38 weeks all of that goes to hell.......all that remains is a sad, lonely, achy, irritable gal, that somewhat resembles who you were last spring, minus the 30 pounds and water retention.

Other than that life is great! Haley is really excited for Santa. She was talking to her friend on my cell phone at Barnes and Noble yesterday and loudly announced, "Emily, everyone's at the mall getting presents because Santa's coming tomorrow." Two teenage girls overheard her while they waited in line for gingerbread lattes, they laughed at Haley's sweet innocence, which also pulled on my heart strings. I noticed grandmas shoving their way through long lines of impatient, high-blood pressured, sweaty scrooges whom are too lazy to take their heavy down coats off, for fear they won't have enough arm strength to trek through the mall with their plastic sacks of last-minute attempts to buy "the right gift", which in fact is usually a gift that the receiver does not want or need.

This negative energy is like static cling, it becomes a part of your being, even if you head to the mall in good cheers and with a peaceful attitude. How sweet is it that in the middle of all of the Christmas chaos, a little six year old remains calm and innocent, simply explaining to her friend the reason all of the people around her are mad. She did not let it affect her mood, or become agitated or grouchy. She remained herself, she still wanted to play at the train at Barnes and Noble, and have a soft sugar cookie with crystal-like rainbow sprinkles. She even dropped a few shopping bags in the middle of the mall, dumping out the shirts, movies, pants and didn't overreact. "Oh, boy!", she said calmly, squatting down to the floor.

If a child can remain unaffected by the craziness of the season, then so can I, or any of us really. We often forget the real meaning of X-Mas. Gifts and traditions are wonderful but slowing down and not getting worked up if you don't have time to prepare your grandmother's homemade X-Mas tree bread is not worth the stres, instead buy a good loaf of bread, or bake some semi-homemade cookies. In the end who will really remember these silly pressures and details we pile on ourselves. Answer: Nobody!

With that being said, I will now try to apply this peacefulness and innocence to the last few weeks and days of my pregnancy. I suppose there's no need for me to stress out or get overly anxious waiting to meet my next bundle of joy because she will come when she is ready. Even if I have to live with back pain, heart burn, pelvic pressure, etc, I can look at it through the eyes of a child and remain calm and dig down, way down, in order to find my old self again, as hard as it may be, even if the world around me is out of my control, including my body! Thanks Haley, for the gift of calm and and self-awareness! I love you my sweet, first born!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Remember that book that we read as kids, about the young red headed kid, Alexander. My daughter loves that book. We read it every night before bed. As I drove to work this morning, Alexander's words of frustration whirled through my head. "This is going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day!"
It was a gray, and wet fall morning. The rain was falling hard and wet golden yellow leaves stuck to my windshield. I couldn't find my tiny umbrella. A line of school buses wrapped around my daughter's elementary school parking lot. Kids were running in, splashing through puddles, papers over their heads to absorb the rain, a few kids carried umbrellas. My daughter and I sprinted to the school door, t-shirts draped over our heads, drenched in matter of seconds. I cursed under my breath and Haley giggled.
I kissed her goodbye, not to see her until Tuesday evening. It's a dad weekend. :(
I drove to work, my clothes cold and wet, sticking to me. I rang water out of the bottom of my pants and stuck my sweater in the dryer as work. Ryan brought me dry clothes to change into. He was one so sweet! I felt like a new woman, fresh and dry.
I had class today and the room was stuffy, the rain falling against the old thin windows, thunder shook our desks. I went home to nap between my afternoon and evening classes and woke up sweaty, but cold. Driving a few miles to class, I had to turn around, feeling nauseous and achy. Ryan had a bed made for me on the couch, with my pillow and favorite blanket. He put the chicken noodle soup on the stove top and I've retired to the couch for the evening. I hope I feel better tomorrow because we are short staffed at work and can't really miss. Ryan and I are going to watch our show Supernatural.
I've realized that even though terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days happen, the people that care about you and take care of you make those days bearable. Now it's time to go sip on some ginger tea. Tomorrow is a new, day with the possibility of sunshine, and renewed health!!!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

To Undress

It’s much easier to undress one’s body than one’s mind. Think about it: how many thoughts pass through the human mind in a day? What should I wear? Did I take my pill? What sounds good for lunch? Was that cute guy flirting with me at the post office? How should I handle this tantrum over spilled chocolate milk? Is he really dating a 19/20 year old? Should I go back to school? Does this dress make me look fat? Organic milk, soy milk or conventional? Decaf or caffeinated latte? Brown or Black? Long or short? Why did she have to get cancer? Why doesn’t he call or text? Will I be alone in love forever? Why do I care so much? What are the measurements for the furnace filter again?
Taking off my jeans and black turtle neck sweater, unzipping my boots, peeling off my tall striped socks are simple actions and don’t require much thought. It’s like I’m on auto-pilot—the same way I was after my mother died and I had to decide what kind of container to cremate her in, or what she should wear at the family viewing, which pictures to include in the slide show. Some things we do with a numb mind, others we do because our mind won’t settle down.
I’m going to make it my goal to try to undress my mind from time to time. I think it will be good for me. To sit in utter, mindful silence. To give my brain a break from the traffic noise of life. Silence. It craves it. Silence. Not even the chiming of my neighbor’s old clock, or the echoes of the traffic outside my apartment, the ice hitting my window, sounding like tiny tap dancing ants, will stir it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Why I'm Here

I'm a 28--almost 29 in February--single mother of a sweet 4 year old daughter with unruly red curly hair. My mother died from cancer last May and I'm learning how to live my life without her; although I'm constantly reminded of her when I look at my pale and blue, veiny hands. They look like hers. The same hands that prepared food for us, brushed our tangled hair, checked our soft foreheads for fever, and held our hands when we sat on the thin, papered doctor's beds to get shots. I miss her every day. One of my favorite writer's was right when she described grieving the loss of a loved one. Abigail Thomas in her book called, Thinking of Memoir, wrote this about dealing with the death of her husband, "Sadness, yes, I was prepared for that, but not the kind of grief that clobbers you, the kind that ambushes you when you're walking down the tea-and-coffee aisle at the market." This is what grief does to a person. It comes and goes like the Iowa snow in January. It hit me the other day when I opened my coat closet on a chilly fall evening and found my mauve stocking hat. My mother gave me that stocking hat last winter--her last winter--and I stood in my new apartment, smelling my hat and was ambushed by such a strong feeling of loss, and melancholy that my knees gave out and I fell to the floor. I've never cried that hard before. The tears came from deep inside and my chest hurt. I walked into my bedroom and set the smooth black box with the photo of us girls on top, on the floor. My mother's cremains are in this box. I held the box and lay on the floor, my head warm and achy from the tears. When I settled down, which came as quickly and unexpectedly as the hysteria, I placed the box back on the shelf under my nightstand. The cremains sounded like tiny pebbles sliding around the bottom of the box. That's what I'm left with of my mother's physical being--bone fragments, gritty and resting in a sealed box that my sister bought at Hobby Lobby. Anger. It's a familiar friend of mine these days! It comes and goes just like the sadness and hysteria. This is why I started a blog. Not because I want to post drunken photos of my friends, or proudly post the skinned knees and cute happenings of my four year old. I’m here in this moment to work through the emotions of loss, although I will write of other topics as well. I hope for this to be therapeutic, as cliché as that sounds and perhaps help others that have watched a love one die from a terminal illness. Life is complicated and sad at times. As Joan Didion writes in her memoir of loss, entitled The Year of Magical Thinking,
Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
The question of self-pity(3).