Monday, September 1, 2014

26 weeks.

It's been six months, Mom.

Half a year. When I go back and look at my pictures, which I cherish, the dates are still measured in weeks. 26 weeks.

Some days it seems like just yesterday; other days it seems years ago. But what doesn't change is how much you're in my thoughts. Some days it's a fleeting moment. Most often when something interesting, accomplished or bumming happens and I think, "I gotta call Mom and tell her..." only to catch myself and realize that I can't. Not anymore. Not like before, anyway.

Other days, it's those signs. I've determined that any time you come into my head, whether it be something I think or something I see, that's your sign. For me, it's seeing or hearing that singular mourning dove who likes to perch on the top of the trampoline. Mourning doves mate for life, and I always see them together. It's been only since you passed that I see one alone. Other times it might be when I see someone who resembles you. Or I catch myself watching one of those commercials for the Carol Burnett video tapes. :)

The other day I went to visit you, and told you I really needed to know that you were there and watching out for the boys. In my heart of hearts I know you are. Sometimes I wonder if that's why you left when you did, because you knew I needed to know that someone was watching over that precocious grandchild of yours. You know which one I'm talking about.

The day you left us we had a snowstorm. Odd for the first of March. It was a Saturday, and we had all done our normal Saturday hospice visiting rotation that had somehow just fallen into place over the past five weeks. I spent the late morning and early afternoon by your bedside, reading. Dad came later, as he usually did, after going to ReStore. He was going to go to church that evening and Chris and I told him not to come back because the roads were getting bad.

I debated making plans that night, but decided to stop back over and see you instead. In true Dad fashion and against his kids' "suggestion" that he stay home, he braved the snowy roads and showed up after church. Logan was at a friend's house but I had decided not to let him spend the night, and around 10:00 he started texting me asking me when I would be there to pick him up.

It was so snowy, but for some reason, Dad and I stayed later than usual. I asked the nurses if we should stay because you were just so unresponsive and they said no, they didn't see any change to warrant it. Funny how your language sidesteps the real question. To this day I still can't ask it.

I knew I had to get Dad home. It was an unspoken rule among us kids that the last one at hospice was to make sure Dad went home. We left there at 10:25, because I remember telling Logan I'd be there by 10:40. Dad kissed you and told you he loved you, just as he had every single night. I told you the same, but instead of my normal, "See you tomorrow," for some reason I said, "Get some sleep." We walked out and I turned to look at you. I'll never forget it, and I'm glad I did. You looked peaceful, with those two battery-operated candles I brought for you flickering against your face as you slept under that fleece Chicago Bears blanket. As we walked down the hall, Dad said, "This is gonna be tough." I linked my arm in his and we walked out into the snow.

I arrived home about 10:50 pm and put my phone in the bedroom to charge. At 11:05, I went in and saw I had a missed call from hospice. My stomach dropped, and I called the number back. There had been a change, the nurse said. "Should I come?" I said. "I'm sorry," she said. "Since we called you last, she has passed." At 11:01 pm.

I never want to have that feeling again, though I know I will. That's all I can say about that.

26 weeks.
Here's what I struggle with. We were there every day. Dad was there every, single day. Yet you passed not 30 minutes after we left your side. You did that on purpose, didn't you? I know you did. You didn't want us to see you pass. You didn't want Dad there then, did you? I have to believe that. I know the nurses were there, and I asked them if they prayed with you and they said they did. But I struggle that we weren't there. Is that my selfishness? Did you do it your way? I have to believe you did. I have to believe that.

I have to believe you see this. I have to believe you are there and seeing my boys grow and protecting them and being their guardian angels. You must. I can't think of anyone better for the job than the Man himself. I know you're watching over Dad when we can't, and I know you are with him as he struggles to live his life without you. He just loves you so very much. But you know that.

It's been six months, Mom. I miss you so. Keep showing up, OK? In my thoughts, in the mourning doves, and wherever else. Remember I told you to promise me? And I know you'll be creative about it. I'll be looking. I promise. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Why those pro football players always say, "Hi, Mom!"

What's the deal with boys and their dads? It's a question I've asked myself ever since my oldest was a baby, when even though I incubated him for nine months and birthed him for almost a day, gave his first smile to his daddy, as well as his first word and first laugh.


That kid is 17 now, and he's still responding to his dad the way he did when he razzed his belly on the diaper changing table and made him giggle like, well, a baby.

I'm not gonna lie. This really bugged me. I'm not gonna lie. I was envious. I was working my ass off and the rewards, I believed, were going to dad. What. The. Hell.

Let me just say this. I am so very grateful that my son idolizes his dad. I really am. Everyone should have a hero, and what better person than your own father? I know my dad is my hero, but I'm a girl. Not all sons look up to their dads, and I feel lucky for him, lucky for me, and lucky for his father that's how it's played out. 

But selfishly, in my darkest place, it bugged me. For like 16 years. But over the last six months or so, I've started to get it. And I say that only because of a conversation I had yesterday with a new friend who finally managed to get it through my head and completely change my perspective.

I've had more time with my son than his dad has had. That's just the way it is, and probably the way it is in most families, especially when divorce is involved. I've seen the really good and the really, really bad. I don't get the four days every other week where I'm not working and there's no chores to be done and very few errands to run. My life with them is the same as my life without them. That's just how shit played out.

I remember my son came home one day after middle school and was just being a holy terror. I asked him, "They say you're so good at school. Why do I get to see this side of you???" He replied, "It takes so much out of me to be good at school all day, Mom, that when I get home I just can't do it anymore."

If nothing else, my kid is honest about his feelings. And he was right. He COULD be a holy terror at home, because he knew no matter what, I'd still love him anyway. And I didn't see that for a really, really long time. Even though his dad said to me, "They come to me to wrestle, but if they get hurt, the first person they want is you."

Again, I caution that I'm not saying that my son can't be a holy terror around his dad. He sure as hell can. But the difference, I think, is that my son wants to prove something to his father. He wants him to be proud of him. And even though I know his dad IS proud of him, for some reason this is an elusive and continuing journey for my son.

Last weekend, we were fortunate enough to spend time together on a gorgeous lake in Idaho. My gracious friend with whom we stayed had a jet ski and offered it to all of us. My son's dad took it out first and of course opened it up on the lake. Then it was my son's turn, and he had to make sure he went a little faster than his dad. Back and forth they went, taking turns and doing tricks and pushing the envelope of speed.

Finally my son asked me to try it. I'm a huge sissy with a fear of speed and didn't want to do it. So my son offered to take me. He promised to "go slow," but as soon as we were away from the dock, he punched it. You could hear my screams all the way down the lake, but his laughter was priceless.

He had nothing to prove to me. Except that he could scare the living crap out of his prissy mom (which he did.)

My son and I have had some pretty rough conversations over the past couple of years, and I've painstakingly learned how to listen more and lecture less. This has opened up a whole new aspect of our relationship. I've stopped putting my "mom mind" in the forefront, and just started listening to him as a young man - and yes, bloodying my lip in the process sometimes. Because he wants to talk. He wants to be heard. And he knows that no matter what he says, I'll still love him. Even if I don't agree. Even if I think he's wrong. And yes, even if it scares me.

I didn't realize he knew this until my new friend brought it to my attention. It is by the grace of God that she has been put into my life. We are in similar situations, and she has had more hardship than I, I am sure. In an hour of conversation, she changed how I look at my son and how he feels about his mom and his dad.

Basically, we both have our roles. His dad's role is to lead. To lead by example so that when my son strives to prove himself to his dad, he does, and is yet still challenged to be the role model that his dad should be for him. And maybe that means that dad gets the cool ski trips, and the endless talks about cars and motorcycles. Maybe that's why when things get a little too real, my son clams up or his dad just walks away.

My role is also to lead by example, and I try to, but it's also to sit on the sidelines, quietly taking notes. To observe all that is going on, file away my opinions and "what's best" and only bring those out if asked. My role is to listen and love unconditionally. My role is not to judge, but to let my son know that he can tell me anything, no matter how much it hurts me. That's my role. Why do you think when the cameras turn to all those football players they say, "Hi, Mom!" It's because we're on the sidelines, being the biggest fans of our kids.

And you know what? For the first time, I'm OK with that. I get it now. I have to stop comparing my relationship with my son to his dad's. We both have our place in his life. And like I told my son before, when he used to play his dad and me against each other, "You're lucky you don't have two parents like your dad or two parents like your mom. You got one of each."

I'd say that's a pretty good draw.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Heaven is for real - but what about purgatory?

My son has become very interested in Heaven lately. Perhaps it was the book he read, “Heaven is for Real.” Maybe it was seeing the movie by the same name. Maybe it was the passing of his beloved grandmother a few months ago. Whatever the reason for the sudden spike in questions, he’s interested. 

It never really occurred to me that there wasn't a Heaven. I know not all people believe in it, and that’s fine, I suppose. But I just don’t know how you could live on this earth and in this life and watch people move in and out of it and NOT believe that there is something on the other side. 

I guess I just assume it’s there, up in the sky, beyond the clouds somewhere. I mean, I know it’s not technically THERE. I know we humanize all this stuff we can’t explain so we can attempt to logically wrap our brains around it. Maybe that’s why some people don’t believe – because they can’t rationally explain it. And if you can’t rationally explain it, it can’t exist, right? 

One of the worst moments of my life was walking into the hospice room where my mom lay, minutes after she had passed away. Of course the normal reaction is to take her hand, which I did. But I didn’t necessarily need to. I knew she wasn’t there anymore. Same at the visitation. That wasn’t her. “Her” was gone. And I was completely convinced that she was looking down on us already, probably pleased that her hair and makeup looked so nice and we had picked out an outfit that complemented her skin tone. It just didn't really occur to me that she was in this kind of "holding cell" somewhere waiting for the green light to move along.

I was raised Catholic, and I knew about purgatory. It was my understanding that if you were a good person but did some bad things, you might go to this limbo place until at such time God decided that you were “good” enough to enter the Pearly Gates. I guess it didn’t occur to me that EVERYONE would go there. I thought it was just for maybe criminals that had done bad things then reformed, or maybe it was kind of like Santa’s “naughty” list, where you may get coal one year but the next you get that shiny new bike you’ve always wanted. 

One day my dad mentioned that Mom was probably hanging out in purgatory – that she wasn’t in Heaven yet. I’m not gonna lie – this caught me off guard. I guess I just ASSUMED Mom was already in Heaven. And if there was a purgatory that she had to endure, it would have been the six weeks in the hospital, the six months in the nursing home and the five weeks in hospice for God’s sake. She lived a good life. She lived a Christian life. And she fought through the last year like a champion. Purgatory? Um, I don’t think so. 

According to Catholics, there is a purgatory. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it as a "purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of Heaven," which is experienced by those "who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified." It notes that "this final purification of the elect . . . is entirely different from the punishment of the damned." I guess it’s technically never really mentioned verbatim in the Bible, but “alluded to,” which, of course, is open to interpretation, which Bible readers love to do (and rightly so.) 
I guess what it comes down to is this: I gotta believe what I gotta believe. And I gotta believe that my mom is in Heaven. Why? One, because I think she served her “time” here on earth – even though that decision is obviously not up to me, and two, because I obtain an enormous amount of comfort in knowing that she is looking down on my children. I feel that so much that it just has to be true. And when my son asks me questions about Heaven and purgatory, which he does frequently these days, I'll tell him exactly what I think.

What you believe is what you believe, and I would never try to discount that. But in my heart of hearts, I have to know there’s a place beyond here. A place that we’re all working toward. A place where we’ll be reunited with our loved ones. A place where I’ll see my mom again.