Sunday, September 29, 2013

How to Grieve

I should be so good at this by now, but some days it hits me in waves. We had Mom's memorial service today and it was perfect. Just the right sort of service for my mom. I was so surprised and touched by how many of my friends came. I was also so surprised at how many family came from so far away. Big family events are hard when you are shy and really bad at small talk. Let me write you an essay and we are on. Expect me to track a conversation and ask the right questions and not so much. The girls are the same way. In the car on the way we practiced what sort of questions they'd be asked (How are you?) and the correct response (I am ok. Yes, Gramma was amazing). I wish that I did not have to give them etiquette lessons in grieving. For being so emotional, when it comes to public settings my kids can either be stoic or try to hide/blend in.

For me the hardest thing is I can't call my mom. The very first thing that I wanted to do after the service was call her and tell her all about it. I used to call her when I was making dinner or stuck in traffic. I just can't wrap my head around the fact that there are going to be dozens of small occurrences everyday that I can't share with her.

The crummiest thing, is even if you wish it would stop, time marches on. Before you know it it will be time for Caroline's Homecoming and Lily's violin recital. All of these things will happen without my mom. I just keep thinking of the following poem by W. H. Auden. I can write all of the eulogies in the world and tell people that I am ok (because ultimately I am) and I am supported (which I am), but sometimes I just want to shout:

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message 'He is Dead'.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


Thank you all for coming today. We have been so touched and our hearts so warmed by all of your love and support.

It was never in my mother's plans to become a wife and mother at the age of 19. Her plan, in fact, was to become a social worker. Instead, she found herself with a young troubled husband and a baby. It is true that the start of our little family was a rough one. However, that has never colored my life, it only tinted it and that is because of my mother.

 She took motherhood and made it her own. She figured out the aspects that were the most important to her and left the rest behind. Many of the traditional "mother-type activities" confounded my mother. She didn't bake. As a matter of fact, the one time she did try to bake me a birthday cake, one of our dobies climbed onto the table and ate the middle of the cake. Mother replied, "Well, I won't be doing that again." She was not know for her culinary skills (chicken covered with canned pineapple still in the can shape) or sewing ability (my pants were hemmed with Elmer's glue). There is an infamous story of an argument I had with her when she was getting ready to go into my Kindergarten class. I put my hands on my hips, took one look at her patched bell bottoms and faded Crosby Stills and Nash tee shirt, and demanded the she "dress like a mommy!" After she stopped laughing at me, she asked "How does a mommy dress?" I replied "she wears dresses and skirts." Mom went to my kindergarten class in her patched jeans and faded concert shirt, she also added some aviator sunglasses.

I might have longed for June Cleaver, but what I had was so much better. My mother would do anything and everything to make sure her kids had what they needed. Often times, she made sure we had things that we didn't even know we needed. My mother was our cheerleader, except instead of pom poms she wore boxing gloves. We were her everything. When my brother was an infant he ended up in the NICU with bronchial pneumonia. Mom stayed with him the entire time. I truly believe that it was the force of her will that made him better. I imagine she scared the hell out of the germs.

Her love wasn't limited to us. We grew up in a household were you "take in strays." It could be animals (there were always dogs, cats, sometimes birds and fish, and once briefly a rabbit and gerbils). You also took in people. If someone needed a place to stay, be it just for a holiday or for a temporary home, they had it. Our home was their home.

Recently, when I spoke to my moms' friend and former boss, Connie, she said "Your mother was the best employee. She just got things done. She never talked about it or asked questions; she just did it." That was my mother to a tee. If it needed to be done, she got it done. You had two choices, help or get out of the way. When teachers and administrators saw her coming into a building they hopped to. It meant that her kids needed something and she wasn't leaving until it was done. I am one of the best examples of this. I was diagnosed with a Learning Disability at the beginning of second grade. At the time, I could barely read, didn't speak in school, could not write, and was confounded by numbers. I had amazing teachers who helped me and by fourth grade I had made a great deal of progress. When we moved to Virginia at the beginning of my fifth grade year, she thought the stigma of being labeled and pulled out of the room would be too much. I was already in a completely new place without much of my family. So she "lost" my IEP and enrolled me as a regular student. She figured that she could make sure I got extra help at night. The rest of elementary school and middle school went like this: Mom would work all day, come home, make dinner, and sit with me at the dining room table to go over my work. She would persist, I would resist, she persist a bit more, and finally I would knuckle under. By doing that she taught me that I could do anything that I wanted. I might have to work a heck of a lot harder than most kids, but I could do it. That lesson gave me the confidence to ask/demand that I be switched into advanced classes in high school. Much to the surprise of many of my teachers and classmates, I did very well. I went onto college and earned my master's degree. I am doing my best to pass this same determination onto my girls.

My mother wasn't just a fighter. She loved us very much. You don't realize until you have your own children how much their heart is your own. You can't separate the two. When I was 17, my first boyfriend was too afraid to break up with me, so he had his mother do it over the phone. I was on the phone crying "Ok, Mrs. Anderson..." when mom walked through with a basket of laundry. In a matter of seconds she had thrown the basket, channeled her inner track star and hurtled over the couch while yelling "Mrs. Anderson?! Give me that goddamn phone!" I had the sense to hang up the phone before she got there. That night, while I lay in bed crying like my heart would break, my mother's heart was breaking. She didn't know how to make it better. She paced and cried and quietly threatened the boy, until Chris sent her to bed and stayed up with me rubbing my back.Later that night he told her that this was just a small drop in the bucket of my life. He was right, I went onto date other boys and it is a very funny story. But in another way it showed me how very much my mother loved me. I could stand here all day and give you example after example of that love.

Later, after we'd grown up and left, Mom was able to use that fierce love and practical organization in other ways. She volunteered at church and the woman's shelter. She also got the chance to put herself first and have some long overdue fun. She and Chris found an awesome group of friends and became known for throwing some fantastic, over the top dinner parties. They also got the chance to travel. Mom really enjoyed exploring her spirituality. I also think she secretly enjoyed how much her ideas befuddled my gramma. Mom had never really rebelled and here was her chance.

I think one of my mom's happiest stages was becoming a grandmother. Many woman feel torn at the idea of becoming a grandmother. They might feel old or like a stage of their life is ending. Not my mother. She embraced it. This was during the period when she was learning about female based religions. Upon hearing that I was going to have a baby she gleefully proclaimed "I can't wait to enter my crone stage!" Being a grandmother gave my mom three little girls to love without needing to worrying about fighting for them. That was their parents' job. As far as my mom was concerned what her granddaughters needed was what ever they wanted. For the first time, my mother had extra money to spend on things like music lessons, instruments, American Girl doll clothes, full fancy back to school wardrobes etc. The first time she returned from taking Caroline shopping, I was floored. All my life my only clothing choices were what was practical and on sale. For Caroline, it was only the hippest and coolest:) The look on my mom's face when Caroline put on a fashion show for gramma and I was one of pure joy. My mom wanted to make sure that her granddaughters knew the importance of creativity. She took them to countless plays and concerts. This had a profound effect on them. My mom also loved to crochet. She made scarves, funky hats, matching girl and doll blankets, and the most amazing baby layette ever for Willa.

I know that my mom was hoping for a grandson. I think that it was perfect that she ended up with a gaggle of granddaughters. She has left behind a legacy of women who will carry on her lessons of strength and compassion.

Monday, September 23, 2013


She wasn't ready.  I wasn't ready. None of us were ready. And still it happened. My mom passed away on Thursday. The last week has been a blur of driving back and forth to the hospital, parenting through texting, juggling school and activities, worrying about profoundly stupid things (hair cuts, baths) because you don't want to think about what is looming right in front of you, and caring for my mom and step-father. The whole time all I heard from people was how strong I was. First of all, if you were raised by someone like my mother, you have no choice but to be strong. Most importantly, I am strong because my family has given me a foundation of strength and my friends give me the support. Without these things, I am nothing more than a crumbling building.

I am always surprised by how many people I have behind me. When things hit the fan, I am never alone. Some days, I might feel like a one woman army, but there are tons of invisible troops right behind me holding me up. I have lost the strongest member of that troop, so I'm going to have to rely on the others to ban together.

It goes without saying that my family has been awesome. Rob has been so patient. He's put out more fires related to the kids and the house this week and never once got annoyed by the fact that I blew up his phone texting him to check on the status of these things. My brother, my step-father, and I have held each other up. It is so much easier to decide how to help someone you love when you have a team. My aunt came immediately and stayed with Chris. She has been in touch with me all summer checking on us and making sure we were ok. Then there's my step-mother, my friends, my in-laws, my cousins, the rest of my family, my scout family, the list is endless.  It is like being hit with a lightning bolt of love. And of course, there is always my girls. My beautiful amazing girls.

Our church community has been phenomenal. My parent's friends were there until the bitter end. Cancer is a nasty, dignity stealing disease. The end of my mother's life was hard and not at all what she deserved. We could not have gone through it with grace, if we did not have people right beside us showing us the way. Her nurse was quiet literally an angel on Earth. I can never thank her enough for treating my mom like the amazing woman she was and making sure she was never scared or humiliated or in pain.

My school family just took my breathe away and filled my heart. Early on I established a rule of only communicating about my mom through text. That way, I didn't cry at work and could always focus on the kids. My teammates pitched in and made sure I had the best sub, wrote my plans, and checked on me often. They sent me silly stories and pictures. They even updated me on what was going on at school. My job is therapy for me. If I focus on one thing too long I get tunnel vision. Thinking about work and my mom and the girls gave my whirling mind enough to stay on track. I stopped by school on Thursday, mostly to get a boost of joy. I got hugs and laughs and love. I am so glad that I did because I needed all of that to pull from when my mom passed away a few hours later.

If I forgot to mention someone, I am so sorry. I have been running on adrenaline and sweet tea. My brain is addled, but my heart is full because of all of you.

People keep asking me how they can help and what do I need. You all have given me everything already. I've got the little stuff covered (food, the girls, the house) because you all already gave me the strength.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

It's the Time of the Season For.......

Did you think loving you? Then you too were raised by hippy parents! School is as usual crazy amounts of busy. It seems like every year there is more on my plate at work. I am team lead this year and well, me being me, I am taking it too seriously. I don't believe in doing something if I can't do it right. It really is the worst case of self imposed type A personality. Did I ever tell you that after spending all of high school and college thinking I was Type A, I took a quiz that showed I'm actually Type B acting as Type A. I see it as an off shoot of growing up LD. You screw things up enough times, you become determined to not let it happen again. Well, maybe that is only if your LD with co-dependent tendencies. Ok, enough arm chair psychology.  What it all boils down to is stress.

It seems so much more pronounced this year because I am sad and tired. I didn't get my usual rest this summer (I never made it to the gym or even took one nap). I keep thinking that I should snap out of it, but given everything that is going on in my life right now, a little sadness is normal. I don't let it color my day, but it is there in the background like a dull persistent toothache. Rob has been awesome trying to pitch in. He took next Tuesday off  to take care of various household jobs. Job 1: have the heating company come out and check the furnace for the winter. Job 2: take the dog to the vet. The dog did something to her jaw. Rob said if I took her, she come home with braces. Job 3: take my car in to get the left turn signal fixed again.

I have two things at the front of my mind. 1. Be the best teacher that I can. 2. Be the best mom that I can. It is really important to me that the girls have a normal a time as possible. We have had something every night this week and last. There's violin lessons, scouts, soccer, and back to school nights. Last weekend I took Caroline to her teen scout encampment. This weekend Rob is taking Lily horseback riding with her troop. Caroline and I are going to see my mom, then going to her soccer game. After her soccer game, I will meet Rob at the stables, switch kids, and camp with Lily's troop. Next weekend, Caroline and I are going to an all day music festival with her boyfriend and my cousin. I am really excited about that! In the midst of all of this we have out grown fall clothes and there are surprise school supplies that need to be purchased. Throw in homework and housework and work work and, well, it all seems so much. I am just taking it bite by bite and day by day. I don't always do it with patience or grace or even good manners, but it gets done. And in the tradition of our family, that is "good enough."