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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Almost Seems Like Home

Yesterday I drove to the grocery store and back without thinking. Not a big deal to you. But it was to me. You see, I'm feeling at home.

This has been a year of tumult. In January, my mother's exam found spots in her lungs. However, the spots didn't light up, so the doctors were convinced it wasn't cancer. "Probably scar tissue," they told us. By June we knew the truth: She had terminal lung cancer.

Still, Mom clung to hope. After all, last time she had cancer, the chemo and radiation zapped it. She'd had two, almost three good years in between. "I just need to get through this treatment," she told a friend. "I think I have five more years. Okay, maybe two." But she never gave up hope.

When the doctor scoped her, he didn't tell my sisters how advanced the cancer was. Mom insisted on taking her chemo. Despite the fact it made her sick.

When I visited her on Mother's Day, I was shocked at how frail she'd become. Even before we were told the cancer was terminal, she lost fine motor control. She dropped things repeatedly. Her legs had become extremely bowed. When we drove places, she read the signs as though she were trying to ground herself in the here and now. Her conversations were erratic. She forgot things. She wasn't herself. Now I know...even then, she was dying. Even before the diagnosis, she was slipping away.

My sisters and I worked out a plan. I flew down in July to have a turn taking care of her. My plane landed late on a Saturday in Miami, so I was going to drive up to Stuart on Sunday. My son and husband were already there--my son needed a place to live for college. The guys planned to make a father-son weekend of it. Somehow their plans got confused. They visited Mom on Saturday night. She was barely lucid. They said their goodbyes. My husband David didn't think he'd ever see her again.

He was right.

By the time I arrived on Sunday, she was in a coma. For the next eight days, my sisters and I cared for her. We called upon hospice. I shall forever be grateful to them for all they did. Sally Lippert was an absolute angel. Connie, the other hospice worker, was kind, helpful and thoughtful.

But it was an ugly, painful way for Mom to go. The morphine didn't completely assuage her pain.

I won't think about that now...but I will say that at the end, we were happy for her release. These earthly bonds no longer served my mother's spirit. And when she died, the lights in that room strobed on and off, on and off, on and off, until Sally got up and turned them off at the switch. She's seen thousands of deaths, but never seen anything like that.

I came home and tried to pack to move to the Washington DC area. Actually, I wandered around my home in St. Louis like a ghost. I tried. I really tried. But I was lost. I was exhausted. I would pick up things, look at them, put them back where I found them and wander around some more. In between, real estate agents would call asking if they could show the house. That's their job, after all. So, I'd scoot everything into some semblance of order, grab the dogs, toss them in the car, and go drive around for an hour or two. I was a mess.

Finally I told David, "You'll have to pick out a house for us. I can't do it. I don't have the time to fly to DC. I trust you."

So he did.

We had a memorial service for Mom, and we moved Michael into his new condo. He loves it. David flew back to DC, leaving Michael and me to buy towels, furniture, cleaning supplies. I'm not sure he's used the latter yet! Oh, well. He's happy--and I think I've never been happier than pushing a grocery cart with him by my side and loading it with food for my boy.

Two weeks later, the packers came. I tried, really tried to organize our belongings, but I couldn't. The two women who did most of the packing were enormously kind. One took my husband aside and told him to tell me not to work so hard. Bless her. I remember wandering (again with the wandering!) from room to room, thinking, "This is the house where I raised my son. Where my mother came to visit. Where we had friends stay the night. Where we celebrated the holidays. Where my dog Kevin lived. Where I wrote my first book. How can I say, 'Goodbye'?" But I did.

We drove for two days. My dogs--Vicky and Rafferty--sat beside me in the passenger's seat. They were very, very good. Almost as if they knew I needed them.

We arrived in the DC area at 8 at night. I drove, for the first time, on the notorious Beltway, aka Highway from Hell, with its uneven lanes. I was sooo tired. At one point, my wheels bumped the uneven asphalt, and my car careened back and forth in the lane. But I made it. We drove to this house.

It's a good house.

I can live here.

And now I can go to the grocery store, all by myself. Without the help of GPS.

It's going to be all right.


canyonson said...

So sorry about your Mother. When we lose a family member, especially a parent, I think we lose a part of ourselves. Over time we find a little of what we lost, but there's always a void there. All we can do is fill in around it with memories. Glad to hear you're finding your way.
On a lighter note, I can't image driving on the Beltway with or without a GPS.

Nancy.Godbey said...

I too know the feeling of loss, it's so hard to bear. You just move to the next day and then the next......and then you just make it.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Canyonson, I love my GPS. Even when she's wrong, she's still my bud.

Nancy, it's hard, but what's the alternative, right?

Jamie Freveletti said...

This has special meaning for me--and I can only say that I can't imagine such a loss and THEN a move? Don't know how you did it, but you are one hell of a lady. I'm proud to call you a friend.

Audrey said...

I can understand how you feel. You see I was a hospice nurse and it was the best and most wonderful experience I have ever had as a nurse. Remember your Mom but celebrate her life. It sounds to me like your mom was a fighter, so fight for her. Fight to laugh and know that she is laughing with you. Mourn the loss of your Mom, but rejoice in her freedom from pain and illness.
I also understand about moving. I am now a resident of Chapala Mexico and I love it here. It was difficult as I spent the first 7 months here with just my dog until my husband could wrap up business and retire. I am now comfortable going places alone and volunteer in different activities. I know that the writer group at Lake Chapal Society would love to have you come and share, but that is a long way to go.
Be blessed and I am so glad I am now a follower of your blog.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for being here, we are so happy and lucky to have you. It is a whole new world for all of us. A great and a grand new beginning.

Losing ones mother is just the worst experience, after that happened to me I changed countries and came to America, and settled in with JKM. Now that is over and i am heading in a much better direction, and I have a brand new exciting day.


Kaye said...

Hi Joanna, I'm so sorry to hear about your Mom. Lung cancer is an ugly death. I lost one of my best friends to the same thing in May and her daughters told me how hard the end was. No one wanted to see her in pain like that.
I lost my sister when she was only 45 and for months after, I would find myself going to the phone starting to call her. I can understand your wandering and heartsick feeling. There are no words to help you over your loss but It will get easier but it will take a lot of time. She sounded like an amazing woman!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Right back at you, Jamie. You are extra-ordinary in so many ways. I look up to you.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Audrey, I couldn't have made it without the dogs. I forced myself to walk them right after the move. It got me out of the house, and I met the neighbors. Vicky and Raffi are my company during the day. I like solitude, but without them (like when they are at the Pet Spaw -- isn't that cute?), I feel bereft. They are my portable friends.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Janet, you know it. The store is fabulous, and you are one of the many reasons why. What a delight you are! How lucky we are that you came along for this wild, fun ride! We'll all do great things together, won't we?

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Kaye, I discovered a folder full of greeting cards that had gotten lost in my office--but rediscovered with the move. There are cards for my grandmother and my mother, both gone. A hard lesson. I now keep stamps at hand. I hope to never, ever let an opportunity to send someone a card go by again.