Saturday, August 31, 2013


Alzheimer's Disease has now impeded Mom's ability to swallow. She has been unable to eat or drink since the beginning of the week. Hospice said she is in her final days and hours.

My heart is breaking and tears come even more easily than usual. I catch myself in moments of irritability, another tell-tale sign I'm avoiding negative emotions.  But I'm also bouyed by love and gratitude. So many people have offered to help, to pray, to be close, to listen. Right now, I don't feel like I need any extra attention. I will in a few weeks. When the holy spotlight of final moments with mom is replaced by lonliness and missing her and struggling to live with questions like "WHY?" then I'm going to need an army of support.

But for now, Mom is sleeping soundly, my immediate family is close and my husband is ready to drop everything and come to my side. And that is enough.

It's been a full week.
  • Dad has been at the nursing home since Tuesday evening, when one of the nurses called to tell him Mom was unresponsive and couldnt swallow. I visited for a couple of hours, held Mom's hand, swabbed her dry lips with a tiny sponge, and sang (her eyes popped open for a moment during "There's Just Something About That Name," the same song she sang to seven-year-old me at bedtime). 
  • Wednesday afternoon, all five kids crowded into the poorly ventilated, hot little room, and wept together. We spoke words of love to Mom, held on to each other for Dear Life, and bowed our weepy heads when the Hospice Chaplain said a prayer over Mom. I told Mom we were proud to be her children, we loved her, and we didn't want her to be in pain or trapped inside her own body anymore.
  • On Thursday, the Threshold Singers came and sat at the foot of her bed and sang for 30 minutes. The two middle aged women sang like mothers: gentle and soothing. The songs were unfamiliar but sweet and each simple line was about love, good memories, and safe journeys. They filled the room with melody and harmony. That night I joined Dad again in Mom's room, one of us on either side of her bed, chatting casually as if life as we know it was not ending before our very eyes, our conversation puncutated by Mom's labored breaths and our own sudden tears. 
I'll visit again today, and every day that I can. I'll cry until there are no tears left, and I'll remember every lesson she ever taught me about being kind and good and loving.

Things I'm thankful for and don't want to forget:
  • The nurses who have been so good to Mom. Several of them have come into her room just to say hi and check on all of us. They have each said how special Mom has been to them. 
  • Roxy, the big calico who lives in the nursing home. She visited several times and purred and rubbed against our ankles.
  • Cooler weather this week. It's been humid, but not as hot.
  • Co-workers and employer who grieve with me and understand when I leave early to be with Mom.
  • Siblings who live close enough to come at a moment's notice. There's not a bad apple in the bunch. It's so comforting to be uninhibited enough to sob in front of each other, to know how much we are each individually loved and cherished by our parents, and to tell Mom she taught us how to take care of each other.
  • My Dad. His demonstration of love to mom is beyond my ability to describe. On Wednesday, he said, "Vicki, I held your hand on the day I married you, and I will hold your hand on the day death seperates us."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Art Therapy

Collage is another way I sort my emotions into a manageable form. Using magazine clippings to illustrate lessons was a popular activity during my home school years (I remember there was always a huge pile of magazines in our activity closet when I was growing up, gleaned from the library's free table - most were cut up beyond recognition).

I've carried this into my adult life as an inexpensive and flexible art form. Sometimes I use text, other times only images. Some of my collages are prescriptive (a visual to-do list, or reminder of goals), others descriptive (trying to capture how I feel in the moment).

I highly recommend that you find an unwanted magazine, a pair of scissors and a glue stick. Go wild.
Mom and Memory 1/18/2012

Storm-chaser 7/24/2010

Identity 7/24/2010

New Years' Resolution 2013

Happiness is... 6/30/2013

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Constructive Coping Cont'd: What Seedlings Do for My Soul

Recently, I shared some of my coping mechanisms for dealing with grief and anxiety. Thank you for your feedback, I appreciate the comments.

This spring, I noticed another pattern in my behavior. When I'm feeling down, I go to the local nursery. Mom loved gardening, so part of my attraction is the connection to her. But there's also an association to growth and fresh perspective.

I go alone and quietly browse. I walk down every aisle as if I'm in a mandala garden or hedge maze, observing all manner of leaf, bud, stem, and tendril. The earthy smells of peat moss and cedar are alluring. I feel the velvet leaves of woolly lamb's ear and rub the leaves of tomato starts. The scent on my fingers reminds me of the hot sandy soil on the only side of our house where tomatoes would grow when I was a kid.

Greenhouses intrigue me: even on cloudy Northwest Washington spring days, the air is warm and humid. Rain on a fiberglass roof is one of my favorite sounds. 

A money-saving trick I learned from Mom years ago is to find the nursery's sale rack. The plants here are inevitably overgrown and root-bound, usually shelved in the back and out of sight. But I know from experience that in a bigger pot with rich soil and a good pruning, even the most pitiful plants will make a comeback.

Around June, the roses get really showy. Such color! What fragrance! The beautiful blooms and foliage are breathtaking. I picture my someday-garden with a hedge of roses. I've saved the Jackson and Perkins catalogs my grandmother gave me, with her handwritten notes in the margins.  

Growing things in my own garden is therapeutic, too. It's exhilarating to see a boring brown seed magically sprout greenery.

My container garden on the back porch has been especially lush this year since I discovered Jiffy Pots and grew seedlings on the kitchen window sill when it was still too cold to plant anything outside. 

I grew nasturtiums, sweet peas, zinnias, sunflowers, and pole beans from seed. They are all blooming now. The daily practice of watering and watching their growth has been such fun.

I dream about having a yard someday, big enough for a compost pile and a chicken coop. Nothing centers me like the metaphorical significance of fertilizer.

When I'm working with plants, life seems hopeful. I know I'll have to be vigilant in caring for my garden: plenty of water, sunlight, and weed-pulling. But even the most delicate flowers can withstand dry spells with a good root system.