Tuesday, April 30, 2013


I think I'm thrifting to find my mom.

In the past two weeks since she died I've been to six thrift stores. And even for an avid thrifter like me that's a record. Some of it is because I have the time - I've had the past two weeks off of work and no mom to take care of so I've been free to do whatever I want.

But I think it's more than that.

I've been looking generally for clothes when I hit each store - shirts, jeans (a pair of Lucky jeans for $19!), shoes, really anything. But I've also been looking for a dress for the memorial service.

I have a black dress that I picked out of my closet a few months ago as my designated funeral dress. It's one my parents bought me when my whole family went shopping together at the H&M in San Francisco, when it was still new and before there was a store in San Jose. I don't wear it that often, which I thought was good, in case I didn't feel comfortable wearing the dress again after the funeral, and it had a connection to my mom. All in all a good solid dress choice.

But in the past two weeks I've found myself almost frantically searching for a new (well, new to me, since I only buy clothing at thrift stores) black dress. Or black top and black skirt. Heck, even a grey dress would be fine. Even if I only have a few minutes in a thrift store I grab all the black dresses that might be in my size and try them on, though I can already tell that at least half of aren't really my style.

I still haven't found a black dress. And I've run out of time and thrift stores to look through. And maybe it's good. Because I think I wasn't just looking for a black dress at these thrift stores - I think I was looking for my mom. If I had ended up finding a black dress it might haven given me some wild hope that if I just looked hard enough I could find her too.


Today I ordered flowers for my mom's memorial service this Sunday. My dad was going to do it, but he's been in a lot of pain these past couple days, so I offered so he could rest for awhile.

I walked over to a local flower shop, on a mission to order two arrangements - one for the altar and one for the table when people arrive and sign in (apparently you have a guest book for these type of things. Who knew!). My dad gave me specific instructions - the one for the altar should be two feet long, and they should both be spring colors.

So I go in and explain what I'm looking for. I said everything my dad told me to say, but the person helping me is confused about the altar piece, so she had me look through this book of flower arrangements. She pointed out arrangements to go on top of caskets, and arrangements that rest on big easels, and she showed me all different sizes and styles and colors. She asked me tons of clarifying questions, and I kept trying to answer them as well as I could, but I was overwhelmed with all the choices, and all the decisions that had to be made about something that I thought would be easy. I wanted to scream "I don't know! I've never done this before!" but instead my eyes started to well up.

By this point she was just as confused as I was so she called over her boss, the owner of the shop. I explained what I needed and the owner understood it right away - she knew what I meant when I said I wanted an arrangement for the altar. We finish all the paperwork, and I paid for the flowers and got out of there (though there was a little more confusion when I paid for my mother's funeral flowers with her credit card. Maybe paying for things with your dead mother's credit card looks a little shady...).

But I did it. I ordered flowers for my mother's funeral, and I did it all without breaking down in sobs in the middle of the flower shop (though I was pretty close. If I hadn't had some time to pull myself together while the worker got the owner, the poor flower shop workers would have had to comfort a crying woman). Now on to the next thing on the list of "things I'd never thought I'd have to do." Here's hoping it's something a little more pleasant than ordering funeral flowers.

Close my eyes

For the last few days every time I close my eyes I see my mom the way she looked when I went in to see her after she had died.

I see her head turned to the side (in the last week of her life her right side didn't have any more strength to keep her head from turning). I see her mouth slightly open. I see her left hand just barely hanging over the edge of the bed, like it had ever since she fell asleep and didn't wake up. I see her not moving, and I miss her shallow breathing, her chest quickly moving up and down. Everything was too still, to silent. Even the light, the same light we'd had the whole time she was in bed, seemed more garish then when she was alive.

When I went in to see her, to say my last goodbyes, I kissed her forehead, held her hand. They felt cooler than they ever had before. I wiped the gunk that had collected in her right eye (that happened a lot in the last few days) and closed her eyelids a little more - they were slightly open, and looked a little creepy, so it felt right.

Later, when the hospice nurse came, she reminded us about my mom's rings, so I took took them off her finger. It was harder than I expected, and I had to use some lotion to help slide them off. Her skin felt even colder.

I don't want this to be the memory that's burned in my brain. I don't want this to be the mom I see every time I close my eyes. I want to see her laughing and smiling, full of life. But instead I have this.

Maybe it will fade.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Alternate reality

Sometimes, instead of falling asleep, I fall into this dream, this story I've created unintentionally in my head.

In it my mom is already gone, and my dad is the person who dies. But it's not a slow, quiet death - it's a violent death at the hands of a killer, a part of some huge plot (because my dad is of course some sort of super sleuth working for the good of mankind) to overthrow the powers of good in the world.

It happens in England, and they don't catch the guy who set off the bomb that killed my dad. So we're in the middle of this investigation led by a savvy British female detective who is both amazing at solving crimes and at comforting and caring for my sister and me.

I've fallen into this dream a number of times instead of falling asleep, and every time the details of my dad's murder are the same, but I enter into different parts of the story - tonight we found the killer's associates and we're interrogating them to get answers, last night was just the explosion. Sometimes I get stuck in this alternate universe - I'm aware that I'm there, I'm aware that I'm not asleep like I should be, but I can't get out of the story - it feels so real.

I don't know why this is the story that keeps playing in my head. There may be some hidden meaning to it - fear of loosing another parent, remembering the violence and suddenness of the original stroke, or maybe simple proof I watch way to many crime solving shows on TV and that I really like British sleuths (...ahem...Sherlock).

Whatever the reason, sometimes it's nice to live in this alternate reality - where the entity that killed my parent has a face and a name, where I have someone to blame. Where we're being proactive and figuring out the puzzle of death instead of just having to sit in grief.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The box

I was going through some stuff from my parents' (my dad's) storage unit, and I wound up with a box of old papers and paper bags that I need to recycle. I was sorting in the living room, and I left my box of recycling there, towards the edge of the room so it's mostly out of the way.

But I keep looking at it, and every time I do I think "I need to move that box so mom's wheelchair can get by." And then I remember that now I can leave the box there as long as I want, because my mom won't be coming through the living room in her wheelchair anymore.

So I leave the box there, because it's not in the way. But I really leave the box there because I'm too tired to deal with it. But really I leave the box there because every time I see it I forget for a moment that my mom isn't just in the other room. Every time I see it I have this feeling, this hope, that my mom will be here, in the living room with me, if I just wait for her. And that split second of hope, of forgetting that she's gone, is worth the pain of remembering, every time I see the box, that's she's not here anymore.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Coffee table

When my parents moved from our big old Craftsman house to a two-bedroom condo they gave away a lot of furniture and housewares. Some of my friends were the happy recipients of a lot of what they gave away. Whenever I go over to my friends' apartment I eat out of my childhood bowls, drink from what used to be my ice cream mug and sit on the leather couch that feels just like home.

Today I was hanging out with these friends - eating out of their (my) bowls, lounging on their (my) couch, my feet up on their (my) coffee table. And this memory struck:

My mom was hemming some pants for me - a pair of jeans I had bought that were too long, as most jeans are. We were being meticulous about the hem - they were going to be a little shorter in the back, so the hem wouldn't drag on the ground, and a little longer in the front, so they wouldn't look geeky. (My mom was an expert jean seamstresses. She taught me what she knew and I sometimes patch and hem jeans in exchange for homemade scones.)

Because the hem was so complicated, and because I was so picky, my mom had me stand on our coffee table in the living room so she could see the hem more easily and so she could more precisely pin. I remember my dad watching TV and being confused as to why I was standing on the table in his way. I remember my mom pinning the jeans, having me step off the table to test them out, and adjusting the pins a few more times until we were both satisfied with the future hem. I remember prancing around on the table - this was the one time I was allowed to stand on it, so I wanted to make the most of it.

I'm glad my friends still have my parents coffee table - it means that every time I visit I'll picture me dancing around on the table with my pinned up jeans and I'll see my mom watching me, laughing.

Monday, April 22, 2013


Some days I feel the melancholy, the ennui of grief. On these days I glide along, feigning interest in everything. On these days I mostly want to curl up in a ball and sleep for a long time (but the sleep doesn't come).

Some days are a little lighter - I can laugh, I'm inquisitive, I want to read a book or watch TV. On these days I need to let myself be lighter, and keep myself from manufacturing sadness. On these days I let myself watch Community or Parks and Rec, instead of forcing myself to cry while reading my memoirs about death.

Each day, each mood is valid. Each is a part of "the process," part of the ebb and flow of grief. Though I certainly wouldn't mind if "the process" was a little more predictable.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Past tense

When I speak about my mom I speak in the past tense. But in my heart it's still the present tense.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The beach

For my mom's birthday earlier this month I gave her a popup card. It's a beach scene - two beach chairs in the sand, with a book and some drinks. When you push a button at the top it makes beach sounds - waves crashing and seagulls squawking.

She loved this card. I gave it to her before breakfast and she had me put it in front of her so she could look at it while she ate. She put it on the table next to her so she could push the button whenever she wanted. Most of the time she would forget about the button, though, so whenever I would push it she'd be confused for a second and then she'd remember the card and smile.

My mom loved the beach. My parents used to go to Monterey at least once a year, their little vacation. And earlier, when she could still leave the house, the one place she wanted to go was to the beach, so we took her there.

I took this card off my mom's table yesterday and put it by my bed. Whenever I push the button and hear the ocean and the seagulls I think of her love for the beach and her smile every time she re-remembered it when I pushed the button. Hearing it makes me think, and hope, that she's sitting on a beach somewhere, whole again, sipping on a drink, reading a book and smiling at me.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


My mom died. She passed away in her sleep, sometime between when my dad went to bed at midnight and when he woke up to give her medicine at 2am.

April 17th - a new day to mark. April 17th between 12am and 2am.

(I think it's closer to 2am though - I woke up at 1:57ish with this feeling that something had happened.)

She looked the same as she has for the past few days, except she wasn't breathing anymore.

I love you very much, Mom. And I know this is one more milestone on the long journey to say goodbye.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Don't go

The adult in me, the compassionate part of me, the me that hates to see my mother in pain says, "it's okay, you can let go whenever you need to," and hopes the end comes quickly.

But the child in me, the instinctual part of me, the me that can't imagine life without her screams, "mommy don't go!" and wishes the end would never come.

Most days the adult in me is louder than the child in me. But tonight - tonight I just wanna scream, "mommy don't go!" until my voice gives out.

Really asleep

She's really asleep now. Her eyes don't open, she doesn't move, she doesn't whisper. She doesn't respond at all.

But we still talk to her. Why not? She's still in there somewhere, hearing everything we say - or at least I hope she is. And we spend as much time as we can with her, watching TV, eating meals in her room so she's not alone.

Her heart rate is up, and her blood oxygen levels are down. She's taking about 30 breaths a minute - they're very quick and shallow. She has a fever. Somewhere in there it means that her body is shutting down. Soon, soon, she won't be in pain, and she won't be held back by a broken body. Soon, she'll be gone.

Monday, April 15, 2013


This morning when I went in to say good morning to my mom I noticed the veins on her forehead. They look like they're popping out of her forehead and they're a really deep blue. I can't tell if her skin is just getting more transparent or if her veins are working harder and therefore sticking out more. Either way it reminds me of the plot if some sci-fi show - I'm not sure which one, but I'm sure if I looked through the episodes of all the Star Treks, all the Stargates and The Outer Limits (movies included) there'd be something about veins popping out of foreheads.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


It's coming quickly now, and I want it too. I don't want her to be stuck in a body that can't talk, can't move, can't respond to the people she loves.

We're as ready as we'll ever be, and I think she's ready too. Please Jesus, bring her home quickly.

Eyes closed: addendum

She did open her eyes today. Just for a few seconds.

I went in to tell her a few things, some of those last things I'd already told her but wanted to tell her again, to make sure she knew. And as I was talking to her, she opened her eyes. I'd say something, and she'd open her left eye for a few seconds, and look at me, lovingly. When I stopped talking she'd close her eye again, and she'd open it when I said something important.

She can't move anything else. She can't move her mouth or arms or legs. I don't think she could shake her head if she tried.

But she still knows it's me. She can still hear me and respond to me, even if it's just by lifting an eyelid for a few seconds at a time.

Eyes closed

Every day she slips a little farther into sleep.

Thursday she was awake for an hour in the morning - talking, joking, eyes open and everything.

Friday she only opened her eyes for about 10 minutes, but she was having a harder time speaking. She couldn't speak above a whisper, but she was still responding when we talked to her. When I told I loved her very much, she responded with "I know."

Saturday she only opened her eyes while she was getting checked out by the nurse - and it was mostly because the blood pressure cuff hurt her. But she still responded, with her eyes closed, when I told her I loved her - she whispered "I love you too."

Today, Sunday, she hasn't opened her eyes at all. She can barely speak - it's pretty much an unintelligible whisper. Her breathing is really shallow - yesterday the nurse said her heart rate was high and her blood oxygen was low, which means we're getting close to the end. So Dad and I have been sitting with her, watching golf as she sleeps. (Yes, I actually enjoy watching golf, especially when I'm watching the first Australian win a Masters, ever!) We'll sit here with her as long as we can, as we let her slip away.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


My mom is most awake in the afternoons. She wakes up when we give her medicine and stays awake-ish for a few hours. Today she was awake from about 10:30am til 3pm.

But she's awake-ish, not awake. She kinda responds to us, but most of the time she stares off into space and can't answer our questions.

But tonight, a little after 9pm she was awake. I mean awake awake. She was the most lucid she's been in at least a week. She laughed and joked (we even did our favorite "funny looking - pow!" joke, which she hasn't understood for weeks), she was responding in sentences instead of syllables, and she even initiated thoughts. Granted, there was one moment when she told me to change my jeans because they were bothering her, which was a little weird, but she actually used the word "bothering" so I'm going to count it as mostly normal.

Her eyes started to droop a little before 10pm, so it wasn't a long period of lucidity, but it was a sweet one, and it was beautiful.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Today my mom was only awake for about 4 hours. Yesterday it was 6. Tomorrow who knows.

I'll just keep telling her that I love her, as often as I can. And, in her more lucid moments we'll just keep joking like we always have.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


Today my mom didn’t wake up until 12:30pm. Considering she went to be at 9:30pm last night, that’s a lot of sleep – a good 15 hours.

It’s not surprising, though. That’s what it’s supposed to be like, at the end. She’s just supposed to sleep more and more until she sleeps all day long, and eventually passes.

Today is also the first day since she got home from the hospital that she’s spent the day in bed – this is the first time in one year, six months, two weeks and four days that she hasn’t gotten up to sit in her comfy chair in the living room. This is the first time she’s been too tired to get up.

And it’s still not surprising. On Wednesday (her birthday) a hospice nurse put a catheter in because she couldn’t control her bladder. On Thursday she couldn’t remember why she wore glasses, and tried to convince my dad to pull out her catheter because she couldn’t remember what it was for. On Friday she woke up at 11:30am and looked bad all day – in pain and exhausted, but too stubborn to go to bed early. On Saturday we gave her morphine every hour and a half, and she dozed off a lot while we watched TV. She also forgot how to brush her teeth and had a hard time using her fork at dinner.

So it makes sense that today she can’t get out of bed. It makes sense that she can barely speak now, that she’s in more pain, and that she doesn’t want to eat. Sometime in the next few days she probably won’t wake up at all.

And so we’ll move our base of operations to the bedroom – we’ll watch TV, eat meals and hang out with her as she lies in bed. We’ll be here with her until she slips away.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Monday, April 1, 2013

Perpetual motion, and a Q & A

Right now, this near the end, it’s too dangerous to enter into the pain, the grief, the darkness. When I sit still and leave myself open to feel it hurts too much – it overwhelms me, it cripples me and it makes me want to roll up in a ball on my bed and never move.

But right now I can’t afford to go catatonic. Right now I’m in the last days, weeks, months (?) of my mom’s life, and I want to spend as much time as I can with her. Which I can’t do if I’m rolled up in a ball on my bed.

So I keep moving. I keep doing. I keep working, watching TV, cleaning, driving. I don’t stop, I don’t pause, and for now that’s okay. Someday soon things will stop, or at least slow down, and then you’ll find me rolled up in a ball on my bed, and it will almost be a relief.

In the meantime I’m still moving, and people are still wondering how my mom is, and how I’m doing. So here I go, answering the most common questions I get, in case, when you see me, I’m moving too fast to be able to pause and answer from my heart.

“How’s your mom?” She’s dying. Her body is slowly shutting down. She’s in some pain, so she takes morphine every few hours. The morphine helps her to keep talking in 2 – 4 word sentences and sitting up in her chair instead of being in bed all day. She’s still eating and using the bathroom like she always was. Her right side has no strength anymore – it’s basically dead weight. It’s getting harder to lift her and some days I have to call my dad to help me get her from her chair to the wheelchair. But she’s still putting up a fight, and she’s not willing to give in yet. She always stays up until 9pm, even if she’s exhausted, because that’s when she goes to bed.

“How are you doing?” I’m hanging in there. See above to the discussion of perpetual motion. My dad and sister are hanging in there too.

“What are you doing to take care of yourself?” I’m eating, sleeping, exercising, and spending as much time with my mom as possible. Oh, and I’ve stopped feeling guilty for watching so much television. It keeps me going, so it’s totally worth it. Especially Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

“How’s your prayer life?” It’s great (and I'm not saying that sarcastically). It’s integrated. Jesus is with me, and he’s not going anywhere, and I talk to him a lot. It might not look like head bowed, palms together, eyes closed, dear God in heaven kind of prayer, but it works for me.

“Is there anything I can do?” I don’t even know what I can do, so I don’t have a good answer to that question. Lift us up to Jesus or send us good thoughts, suggest good television shows, and just keep being our friends, I guess. Not very tangible, but I guess that’s how it goes.


Two TED talks that have given me the courage to share vulnerably, through this blog and with friends in general:

Brené Brown, "The Power of Vulnerability"

Brené Brown, "Listening to Shame"