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On Grief and Healing

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On Grief and Healing

As we move into autumn watching the leaves change color and drop from the branches of the trees, disintegrateing back into the earth, I find myself reflecting on some of the major transitions that occurred during the summer.

It was a summer immersed in planning, executing a plan, packing, more planning, orchestrating flights, storage pods, painting, and even bigger than that was the “unplanned.” The “knowing it was coming” yet, sitting in that very uncomfortable space of waiting. To have the outcome be “out-of-control” and managing the moments within.

Our summer began with enormous joy over the acquisition of our pink bungalow. As scheduled, our tenant moved out on June 30, turning the keys over to Kim and I for possession. Our plan, our dream, was all coming true. And, we gave it all we had. Everything went exactly as planned, until the sale of our Houston condo fell through. Yet, we brushed that loss off and said with gusto, “Everything happens for a reason.”

Underlying all of the joy in the acquisition, moving the Houston condo contents in, enjoying a fabulous summer vacation in Iowa on the family farm, and putting the bungalow in order (by the deadline set and held) was the deep sadness that my mother was losing her Life to ALS. Which meant multiple flights back and forth to Michigan, in and around all of the other events, to be with her as much as possible.

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She was diagnosed with ALS in October of 2016. In less than six months time, she became totally bedridden due to her inability to eat, drink, speak, walk, and/or swallow. She was placed in long term care surviving on a feeding tube and catheter. She maintained minimal use of her hands. Her mind stayed completely intact!

When we would visit with her in person, she would write on a child’s writing board using a big fat stylus because that was all her crippled hands could hold. Communication was a struggle as she tried very hard to talk, which only resulted in frustration on both ends because we were unable to understand the sounds she made. Our daily text messages dwindled to my sending out, with no return back as the keys were too challenging for her to push. The silence was excruciating!

And then the phone call came from my sister, “Sandi, you’ve got to get here!”

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To be followed up with, “I hope you are prepared.” My naive reply was, “I am prepared.” Or, so I thought, in my logical, “figure everything out,” kinda way.

I jumped on a flight and arrived at her facility at 1:45 pm. Our mother was unconscious, yet looked peaceful. Her skin was almost translucent and more youthful. The lines of a difficult life had vanished from her face. Her eyes were closed and the writing board was now put into a drawer, as it had served it’s time and purpose. The only communication left was from our hearts to her ears.

Mom was an RN and had told me once, “Sandi, when people are unconscious, they can still hear, so be sure you are aware of that when you are in a room with them.” This memory immediately flashed into my mind as I sat by her side. Each grandchild arrived one-by-one, to share stories and shed tears.

As I shared on Facebook, I went outside to give everyone some privacy to have their final moments with “grandma.” When I looked up into the sky, the tiniest most delicate snowflakes were falling down. It was far too warm for snowflakes and in that moment, I *knew* it was a message that mom’s spirit was preparing to leave her body. I then received another text from my sister, “Sandi, get up here. It won’t be long!”

At 9:34 pm, with my sister and I both by her side, our mother’s heart stopped.

Everything just went silent except the sound of two sisters crying together in that indescribable moment that I thought I was prepared for …

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Our mother had a crazy sense of humor! Additionally, her family was affiliated with a carnival. We often teased each other that we were gypsies. A true fact is that my cousins were actually adopted from “carnival people.”

Something interesting that happened on the day of her physical transition was the property held an “End of Summer” picnic. Guess what the theme was? Circus (pretty darn close to a carnival). When I arrived, I saw clowns and thought, “What the hell?” And then of course, it made perfect sense.

This photo encapsulates the memory that I want to hold in my heart. Pictured above is my sister Mary, mom, and I. Mom got the biggest kick out of these clown noses and we captured photo after photo of family members with the noses on. It made her laugh. It brought her joy.

We will remember our mother for many, many, things … especially, her crazy sense of humor, big laugh, the infamous “rancho beans,” and, for the continual reminder to “wash our hands or else you’ll get worms!”

May you be flying with the angels (and Louise)! We miss you more than words could ever say!

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