Thursday, October 31, 2013

I remember...

I remember walking by the checkout at Target and seeing these warm, fuzzy socks with animal faces sewn onto them. They had lots of different kinds – penguins and polar bears and reindeer that only kind of looked like the animals they were supposed to be. Her feet were always cold, especially after she couldn’t walk, so I bought her a pair.

She loved those socks. She wore them almost every day, at least during the wintertime. When the faces started to come off she had me sew them back on. I ended up buying her more pairs of different kinds of animals, because I wanted to see her smile when I brought them to her.

It’s getting colder, and I guess the cold made me remember. I’m really going to miss seeing those socks. I really miss seeing her.

This is my 200th blog post. That seems significant, somehow, even though this memory isn’t, really. But I guess that’s what its like when someone dies – even the insignificant becomes important.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


I say that on my good days and my bad I love you more than one more day. But I don’t think that’s really true.

Pretty much every day I wish you were back with me. And I don’t care if that’s selfish or impractical, painful or misguided. I just wish you were here with me.

And maybe I get to wish this – I am your daughter, after all. Your child that you spent your life caring for and protecting. Maybe this can be part of what it means to be your daughter – like a child, just wanting her mom. 

I don’t want to be the bigger person, I don’t want to be rational and adult about this. 

I just want my mommy.


Location: the floor of my room, with this view:

Soundtrack: Josh Garrels, "Ulysses"

Reading: C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
"What sort of lover am I to think so much about my affliction and so much less about hers? Even the insane call, 'Come back," is all for my own sake. I never even raise the question whether such a return, if it were possible, would be good for her. I want her back as an ingredient in the restoration of my past. Could I have wished her anything worse? Having got once through death, to come back and then, at some later date, have all her dying to do over again? They call Stephen the first martyr. Hadn't Lazarus the rawer deal?"

I'm always more reflective when I'm sitting on the floor. I don't know what it is - maybe I feel more free? I can sit, lay, curl up - be in whatever position I want. The Christmas lights (which are really year round lights for me) help too - they give everything a warm glow (though some of that is admittedly from the filter I chose for the photo).

C.S. Lewis strikes again.

I really am pretty selfish - I mostly just think about how this all affects me, about my affliction and not hers. I do wish she could come back, for my sake. It's easy for me to forget how much pain she was in after the stroke, especially right before she died. She was in pain - so much pain that any little movement hurt. Would I really wish her back, after that? To have to go through something like that again, later on?

On my good days (and with the help of my dad, who helps me keep perspective) I remember her pain, and I'm glad that she doesn't have to endure it any more. I remember how hard she had to work after her stroke, to do everyday things, to communicate, and I'm glad that she doesn't have to work that hard any more. I remember how selfless she was as she struggled with both bouts of cancer, choosing to fight to live more for us than for herself, and I'm humbled to live my life like hers.

And so on my good days, and even on my bad days, I try to love her "more than one more day."

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

C.S. Lewis says it best

After I wrote the last post I opened up C.S. Lewis's A Grief Observed and started reading where I had left off:
"It's not true that I'm always thinking of H. Work and conversation make that impossible. But the times when I'm not are perhaps my worst. For then, though I have forgotten the reason, there is spread over everything a vague sense of wrongness, of something amiss. Like in those dreams where nothing terrible occurs - nothing that would sound even remarkable it you told it at breakfast-time - but the atmosphere, the taste, of the whole thing is deadly. So with this. I see the rowan berries reddening and don't know for a moment why they, of all things, should be depressing. I hear a clock strike and some quality it always had before has gone out of the sound. What's wrong with the world to make it so flat, shabby, worn-out looking? Then I remember."
Yes. That is exactly what it feels like. When the energy fades, this is what it feels like - a flat, shabby, worn-out-looking world. Thank you, C.S. Lewis, for giving words to my experience.


Every so often I'll get a burst of energy, of excitement, of adrenaline, of something that acts like a natural high. For a few days I'll be happy, smiling, my old, vibrant self. I'll watch less TV and get more things done.

Two weeks ago I got this burst of energy from getting a new tattoo. The new tattoo made me feisty at my small group, gave me thrifting power, and kept me smiling for a weekend.

Yesterday I got another burst of energy after enrolling in a new health insurance plan for next year through the Affordable Care Act (OBAMACARE!). Getting health insurance in less than two hours, instead of being in limbo for at least four months like I was the last time I tried to get health insurance, was a victory. The insurance-having adrenaline helped me run errands, get a lot done at work, and even get my oil changed.

But I'm starting to crash. The energy and excitement of insurance won't hold out for much longer. I'm starting to feel more and more tired and blue. And even though it feels over-simplified to say it, I know why: I'm sad.

Sure it's been six months, but I'm still sad - as sad as I was when she first died. I still miss her, and wish more than anything else that I could have more time with her. My therapist keeps asking me why I'm feeling sad - I think she's wondering if there's a specific traumatic situation we should work through, but there isn't one - I just miss my mom.

I'm hoping that some day the bursts of energy will last longer, and the crash won't feel as hard. But for now, every time I'm feeling able I know I have to milk it for all its worth, since the sadness will come back soon. (And maybe someday I'll write a blog post on a happy day - that would be a nice change!)

So here it comes. That feeling of sadness, of missing my mom. Maybe Halloween candy will give me an energy spike this week, at least for a little bit.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Six Months

It’s been six months. Six months since my mom died.

Why does six months seem so much more significant than five months or seven months?

So little has changed, and so much has. I’m still hurting, a lot. Every day. Especially when it slows down, when I’m by myself at night. But I’ve also done the work – I’ve been diligent about letting my feelings and my tears come, and spending time processing and remembering.

I remember that night so vividly. Not the what happened before she died, what happened that evening before I went to sleep – it was just another day – but the what happened when I woke up in the middle of the night knowing she was gone.

Because I knew she was gone. I woke up a little before 2am, and I knew something had happened. Or at least in hindsight I know I knew. Then, in the middle of the night, I just felt like I should go check on her, see if everything was okay. I felt that something had happened. But then the rational part of my brain kicked in, and told me I had just heard a loud noise outside, so I went back to sleep.

My dad came in just after two and said “Katye. It’s your mom.” And that was it. He didn’t have to say any more. I knew she was gone. So I walked over to their room, and I stood by her bed, and I held her hand, like I did when she was alive. And I told her I loved her, and I smoothed back her hair, like I did when she was alive. And I kissed her cheek like I did when she was alive. And I closed her eyes just a little more, because it seemed wrong for them to be open, even a little bit. (It was the same, but different. The big vein that had been popping out of her forehead the last few days, when she was struggling to pump blood and oxygen, was gone. She felt a little colder.)

And then we waited. We waited for my sister to drive over. We waited for the hospice nurse. We waited for the funeral home. As we waited my dad dozed off in his chair, and I sent in a few things for work (so I wouldn’t have to deal with them later that day), and I sent an email to my friend Alex who was going to spread the news. And we waited.

The hospice nurse came, and pronounced her time of death, and took out her catheter. She pointed out the rings on my mom’s hand, so I maneuvered them off her finger. (Her hand felt even colder.)

And that was it. We sat in the living room as the funeral home people came and got her body. They wheeled it out, not in a visible body bag, but covered by something that looked a lot like a piano cover.

We sat for awhile longer, and then agreed to sleep for a bit and then go to brunch together later. I ate a bowl of cereal and then went to bed. I think I slept for a few hours, but I can’t really remember. I know that by the time I got to bed it was about 5am, and the sky was starting to lighten.

Somehow writing this down is cathartic. It helps me step outside the memory, step away from reliving it into just remembering it. It keeps me from replaying it in my mind, wanting not to lose the memory. Because even though it was a landmark day, it still felt pretty ordinary. Death, in the end, is pretty mundane.

I love you, mom. I tell you “I love you very much,” and I hear your response: “I know.”

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Friday, October 11, 2013

True Friendship

"True friendships are lasting because true love is eternal. A friendship in which heart speaks to heart is a gift from God, and no gift that comes from God is temporary or occasional. All that comes from God participates in God's eternal life. Love between people, when given by God, is stronger than death. In this sense, true friendship continues beyond the boundary of death. When you have loved deeply, that love can grow even stronger after the death of the person you love. That is the core message of Jesus."
              --- Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love
My mom was my best friend. And heart definitely spoke to heart - sometimes that's all that could speak.

I know that love between people is stronger than death - I feel it every day. But sometimes, when I'm having a really rough day, I wish it didn't grow stronger after death - that just makes it hurt more. But most days I count myself lucky. I think I'm finally understanding the adage:
"'Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all."*

*I learned, by Googling, that this phrase comes from a poem that Lord Tennyson wrote as a requiem for his friend who died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. That seems appropriate, and tells me that Tennyson really knew what he was talking about.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


My family has a long history of cancer – specifically breast cancer. My grandma on my mom’s side had breast cancer in her mid 30’s, which they treated with a huge surgery and tons of radiation. My mom’s older sister had breast cancer in her early 20’s, which they treated with a mastectomy and no chemo or radiation (the doctors said she didn’t need them). My mom’s older sister, my aunt, had a daughter, my cousin. When my cousin was one year old my aunt was diagnosed with bone cancer, which had metastasized from the breast cancer, and after three years and a hard fight, she died, when my cousin was four years old.

When my mom was in her early 40’s (when I was 10 years old and my sister was six years old), she was diagnosed with breast cancer. (Sidenote: her brain cancer was not at all related to her breast cancer.) She wrote this about that cancer diagnosis:
“When I was in my early 40’s and had two girls, one 6 and one 10, I too was diagnosed with breast cancer. Needless to say I was thinking of my sister and her death and my niece and the loss of her mother. It was very, very important to me that my sister’s situation did not become the situation for my girls and me. I wanted almost more than anything to be able to watch my girls grow up. So I had to make some difficult choices regarding my cancer and my cancer treatment. 
I was given a number of options for surgery. Because wanting to be with my girls as they grew up was one of my priorities, I chose to have the most involved and longest surgery, a bi-lateral mastectomy with reconstruction. I spent a week in the hospital, and a few weeks recovering, but, when the oncologist said that I needed to take six months of chemotherapy, I readily agreed.  
Now, usually my husband drove me to these ‘charming’ chemo appointments but I remember one day he was talking on his cell phone as we were getting ready to leave and I ended up driving. All the while I kept thinking ‘so why exactly am I driving myself to an appointment that I really, really don’t want to go to…?’ Well, you might have guessed that I did it because it was important to me to survive, a priority in my live to watch my kids grow up.”
She wrote this in 2010, a year before her stroke, as a part of a talk about priorities that she gave at a retreat she was leading. I read it yesterday for the first time, though I’d heard this story before. But I hadn’t heard the story from her, I’d heard it from my dad. When my mom had breast cancer I was really young, and my sister was even younger. It wasn’t even a possibility to me that my mom wouldn’t always be there. So I never knew, until after my mom had her stroke, until my dad told this story when she was in the hospital after major brain surgery, that this was why my mom had had reconstructive surgery and chemo, that my sister and I were why she fought so hard.

It was beautiful to hear my dad tell the story, but it was even more beautiful to hear it in my mom’s own words. To know that she wanted, “almost more than anything,” to see my sister and me grow up. To know that she underwent extensive surgery and painful months of chemo and radiation just so she could be with us.

It seems a little like a cruel joke that my mom was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer when my sister was 21 and I was 25 – two major milestones in becoming adults. It’s like the cancer was just waiting for us to grow up before it struck again, giving my mom her wish and nothing more. Rationally I know that cancer doesn’t have an evil mustache that it twirls as it cackles maniacally, but some days it really feels like it does. And some days it makes me want to fly to Neverland, so I’ll never grow up, and so my mom will never be able to die.

Whether it was cancer’s evil plan, or just a coincidence, or a gift from God that her breast cancer went into remission and she got to see us grow up after all, it just makes me love her more to know how much she loved us. She fought for my sister and me – she fought, and endured pain, and did so much, just so she could be there as we grew up.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Turn to stone

It would be so much easier if I could just pretend, forget, ignore the grief. If I could just go on a vacation, a lifetime-long vacation, where everything is sunshiny and peaceful and beautiful. It would be so much easier if I just stopped putting in the work of mourning, if I gave up on therapy and remembering and honoring my mom.

Most days I talk myself out of the “live in an idyllic, imaginary world” scenario. I remind myself that it’s impossible. I remind myself that if I stopped putting the work in now it would just come to back to bite me later. I remind myself that if I were to give up I would be separating myself from her, and that separation is what causes the grief.

But some days all my sensible, rational arguments for doing the work aren’t strong enough. They aren’t convincing enough – they don’t speak to the ache in my chest that I just can’t shake. On those days I resort to metaphor:

If I gave up, I would turn to stone.

And I don’t want to turn to stone.

“Let’s take a better look
beyond a story book.
And learn our souls are all we own
before we turn to stone.”

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Why Contemplative?

This week I’ve gone on a pilgrimage to a contemplative retreat. This week I’m practicing silence, stillness and solitude.

Why the contemplative? Why sit in silence, stillness and solitude?

I mean, really. Why? Because it can be really hard to be silent. In the silence my mom comes, my grief comes, my pain comes.

This pain is too deep, to visceral for my mind to understand. It can’t be put into words; it can barely be put into sobs. It leaves me breathless, wordless, prayer-less. And it hurts like hell.

But the contemplative – the contemplative is prayer without words. The contemplative is prayer without thoughts. The contemplative is prayer outside of mind, outside of reason. Instead it lives and breathes in body and soul.

When there is no logic that makes my mom’s death okay, the contemplative is there. When senseless things happen in my community, the contemplative is there.

So even though the pain comes in silence, the silence also gives voice to the pain. In the silence of contemplative prayer, God meets me. The God of mystery and miracles, the God of the unexplainable, the God of the voiceless. In contemplative prayer I’m free of rationalization, free of comprehension, free to know the God my mom knew – the God of children, of those with child-like faith. And slowly, slowly, as I sit more and more in God’s presence, as I let God unite my body and soul, the pain starts to heal, just a little bit.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

On Pilgrimage

This week I’ve gone on a pilgrimage to a contemplative retreat. This week I’m going to practice silence, stillness and solitude.

I’m on this retreat because my mom was dying, and I was exhausted out of my mind, and I was so overworked, and I couldn’t stop, and it was so hard, and I couldn’t stop, and I had to keep going, and I couldn’t stop, and I wouldn’t pull myself away from her because I wanted every possible minute with her.

And so I told myself that when my mom died I was going to go on a contemplative retreat.

Because for almost two years I didn’t have stillness, didn’t have solitude, couldn’t have silence.

But now – now I can stop. Now I can be still. Now I can soak in the beauty of the silence, of the solitude.

Except I’ve realized I’m here because even now I don’t know how to stop. I don’t know how to sit in silence, because my memories of her are too loud and hurt too much. I don’t know how to be still, because I was moving for so long. I don’t know how to be alone, because all I want is to be with my mom.

So I need to practice. I need to train. I need to exercise my silence, my stillness, my solitude. I need to train my body, my mind, my soul to stop.

Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know
Be still