A Hoot We Needed

I haven’t updated in a while and it’s because so much has changed in the last couple of weeks.

I resigned from my position at work to achieve my dream of becoming a nurse; to fulfill a promise I made to my mom in the last few days of her life. Although taking care of her was the hardest thing I ever had to do, 13124513_10156928387720077_1334661829735087786_nmentally and physically, it was the most rewarding thing in my life. It taught me patience, acceptance, empathy, sympathy and it made me a stronger person inside and out. I started nursing school and it’s difficult – but it’s supposed to be, especially when your mom passed away just shy of two months ago. But my focus on my dream is stronger than ever, reminding myself each day that I want to help patients and their families during the hard times in their lives; just as others did for us.

We celebrated the first Mother’s Day without my mom, and it was the most difficult day of my life, second to saying goodbye to her. The days that followed brought emotions that I didn’t know existed, the day itself gave me lasting exhaustion. I was tired, irritable, sad, angry and experienced feelings I can’t even begin to put into words. 13124733_10156928387605077_2966671819641217940_n

Mother’s Day is supposed to be about spending time with the woman who gave you everything, who taught you all you needed to know and more, who wiped your tears when you cried, hugged you when you were wrong and loved you no matter what. Except this Mother’s Day, it wasn’t that. She was not there to wipe my tear soaked eyes, she wasn’t there to have a glass or two of Pino Grigio with me, she wasn’t there to laugh with me or open up presents that I put so much thought into. She wasn’t there to go to a vineyard with. She wasn’t there physically and that was the hardest part.

People can tell me continuously until they are blue in the face that she is always with us, but that doesn’t change the fact that she isn’t tangible. She isn’t in front of my telling me, “Ashley, stop being a baby.” She may be with us, but physically she is not and that is something I just can’t fathom.

On Mother’s Day we tried to make the best of the day, remembering my mom in the best ways possible. We started off at church and prayed to God that she would give us some kind of sign that day. We followed it with a trip to the cemetery. It was raining and the rain fell down my face, just as my tears did. We placed an angel and flowers at her grave – two things we would never get her. First, because she hated flowers. Second, because she preferred her nails getting done more than a knickknack.

13124967_10156928387425077_2427183647542871906_nWe stood there in the pouring rain and I begged her that this was a dream that we still didn’t wake up from. I stood there until I could not stand there anymore. Visiting your mom at her grave is something you shouldn’t have to do. It’s not something I should have to do. I never expected this day to come this early and I always thought she’d be around forever, making it to her mid 90s, because that is the personality she had. I never thought that I would bury my mom so early in my life.

We continued with our day and had lunch with my husband’s family. At first, I wasn’t going to attend because 1) I was too emotional 2) because it felt as if I was replacing my mom with something else and finally 3) I was worried I would break down and cry because I couldn’t have lunch with my mom.

We came home from brunch and planted a tree in memory of my mom. My in-laws bought us this tree to help keep the memory of my mom alive. We dug out a garden and planted a Flowering Dogwood. Again, she doesn’t like flowers, but seriously, the tree is beautiful. We also decorated the garden with an owl stepping stone in honor of the first sign we ever received from her and another stepping stone in her memory – “If love alone could have spared you, you would have lived forever…”

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And as the days pass, it gets harder, not easier. My praying that it is a bad dream is frequent and all I can think of is how this happened. How did this happen to the women that was so strong, so resilient? We’re approaching two months without my mom and it feels like time is going so slow. Each day drags on and its one more day without her.

Between the stress, our busy schedules, and my mom not being here it seems some days it’s unmanageable. So as I struggle for answers, for support from her and for a sign – she pulls through just in time – just before I break.

Yesterday morning, I went outside and saw that our garbage was torn a part. The garbage can didn’t look messed up, and only the top bag was torn. I called my husband and told him I thought a raccoon got into it for a midnight snack. Well, to my surprise, last night my husband was outside with the dogs when he saw what in fact was eating our garbage. It was a big, beautiful white owl. (If this is the first time you have read my blog, the first sign the night my mom passed away was an owl hooting outside of our window – and days that followed we saw more owls and heard them hoot.)

When my husband texted me this, I was in class and tears instantly filled my eyes. She was listening to me. She knew I needed a sign – she knew we all needed her, three days before the two month mark without her.

This one moment, taught me overnight to keep the faith, to keep believing and to know when times are tough, she still will come through, she still will take care of us.

My Survivor is my Angel

This week, our family and close friends attended Seymour Pink‘s 9th Annual Pasta Dinner to celebrate survivors of breast cancer, but to also remember those who lost their lives in the battle. We had two baskets raffled off in memory of my mom. Two baskets full of things she absolutely loved, including: Pino Grigio, getting her nails done, her dinners at Rose’s Family Restaurant, and the UCONN Huskies.

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As we sat there and listened to the stories told and the memories shared, I realized we are not alone. There are people that are battling day in and day out to make the best of their diagnosis with their family and friends by their sides. There are families and children who lost a loved one too soon, with not enough memories to remember. There are communities who provide support and love to those affected. But most of all, there is a lot of heart and love in Seymour Pink.

They took a picture of all the survivors of breast cancer and they filled an entire side of a room. They had all these smiling faces, but their smiles were different. They smile differently then the rest of us when we receive good news. They smile because they have their life. They get to make more memories. And, that is a different smile.

As the picture of the survivors was taken, I couldn’t help but feel sad. Tears filled my eyes and I couldn’t stop thinking about how my mom was once a survivor, she was in that group of men and women, smiling because they had their life back. It was not too long ago that we cheered and smiled, because we found out my mom was cancer free. That feeling of happiness quickly subsided and we were back into the vicious cycle of breast cancer.

But, as I thought about myself in that moment of sadness the other night, I realized something. Just because mom isn’t here, just because mom can’t smile in a picture that gets taken, or just because mom can’t make memories anymore, it doesn’t mean she isn’t a survivor. Just because she lost her life to a battle that couldn’t be won, doesn’t mean she isn’t a survivor. In fact, she did survive. She survived through it all, better than any one of us could. And today, she’s surviving. She’s healthy, she’s cancer-free and she’s the best kind of survivor – she’s an angel. And that is where she will survive, forever.

My surviving angel, my mom, would have been proud the other night. We all held our composure and celebrated not just all the men and women that breast cancer has affected, but we celebrated her. We celebrated the life she lived and the memories she left behind for us.

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But, when it was all over, it was real again and those feelings of sadness and missing her flooded my mind. And, today I sit here, missing her more than ever. I sit here with tears filling my eyes and wanting so badly to have her here with us. I want so badly to not have to take a picture with just the three of us. I want so badly to not have to visit her at her grave. My grief will always be there, and my sadness with always stay with me, because when you loose your mother, you loose a part of you. But, what keeps me focused and keeps me climbing to my goals and aspirations; and what helps me get out of bed everyday is that my mom was so strong, and she would want us to live our lives.

 

 

The Signs of my Mom

Yesterday, I visited my mom at her grave. And as I stood on the wet, soppy ground I talked with her. I told her how much I missed her and how each day is a struggle without her. As I looked at her grave marker the tears flowed uncontrollably and the wind started whipping around. I asked her how she was doing in heaven, if she was happy about the UCONN women winning, I updated her on my life since the last time I visited her. I told her how much I missed her and how I still can’t believe she is gone.

And as I stood there talking with her, again it became real. Sometimes I don’t realize she really is gone. I can’t touch her, hug her, kiss her or drink wine with her; but for some reason I don’t think she’s dead; I think she’s just at a rehab facility or Smilow Cancer Hospital.

When I arrive at her grave, it becomes real all over again. This is where I come to see her. This is the place I now come to visit. It’s where my mom lays. It’s where her body rests.

The other day I was writing thank you notes to everyone who sent their love and support during the most difficult time in our lives. I reached Father Dom’s (our priest) thank you note, and as I wrote I heard a knock. Our dogs started barking and ran to the door. To my surprise, no one was there. I went back to writing my thank you and just as I began, another knock. The dogs ran again to the door, then ran and looked out the window. Nothing. But then as I sat there and remembered that people have been telling me over and over to be open to the signs, I smiled and a couple tears filled my eyes. It was mom.

I’ve said it before, mom had this personality that was infectious, but her personality also had a very large piece of neurotic mom and wife. Constantly checking on dad and I and making sure she knew exactly what we were doing, when we were doing it, why we were doing it and if it was safe for us to be doing it. She kept tabs on us always. At 24, she would still tell me to text her when I got home, or tell me not to drive my car because it might be icy. So naturally, it makes sense for her to send signs frequently.

I bought an owl garden gnome in honor of the first sign we ever received from mom. I put it in our garden as protection and also to remind me of how lucky we are to have such an amazingly, beautiful angel looking down on us. Now, everyday when I come home, I see it and I take a minute to look at it, even sometimes saying “Hi, Mom.”

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The other day, I came home from work, and instead of my usual glass of wine, I craved a Diet Coke. I’m not a usual soda drinker, but occasionally its DELICIOUS! So as I prepped dinner I sipped on my Diet Coke. After about 30 minutes of my chicken in the oven, I checked on it and when I went to grab for my Diet Coke, I realized – it was one of the cans that were part of the Coke name campaign – and it said MOM. I was frozen and held back my tears, washed the can and it is now sitting on our kitchen counter. Mom, you really are telling us your watching.

Each day is so hard and sometimes I wonder how in the world I will make it through. There are days I don’t want to talk, some days when all I want to do is lay in my bed and cry, some days when I want to scream, some days when I ask myself “Did I do something to deserve this?” But, what keeps me standing and what keeps me from curling up in my bed or crying all day is the fact mom would never want that for me; but even more so, for the first time in a LONG time, mom is healthy, mom is cancer free.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a struggle every day. That doesn’t mean that when I see people with their moms it’s not hard. That doesn’t mean that I am not dreading Mother’s Day and anytime I walk in the store and see Mother’s Day cards, decorations or gifts my eyes swell up with tears and I turn my head as fast as possible and turn my direction.

My mom is not here anymore. She will always be with me, but she’s not here physically. And that is something that hurts the most. It hurts that I can’t hug her. It hurts that I can’t touch her. It hurts that this has changed our family so much. It hurts not having her here. And I feel bad. I feel bad that she won’t be here for so many things. I feel bad that my dad has to go home and be alone. I feel bad that anytime someone says her name or talks about her I have to swallow hard to stop the tears from filling my eyes. I feel bad that it’s come to this.

I want my mom. I want her back. I need her.

 

 

Visits with Mom

Visiting my mom isn’t going to a rehab facility or going to Smilow Cancer Hospital. It’s not going over her house. It’s not taking her to a doctor appointment.23978caf-e603-49a0-ab61-ab535ee939d4.jpeg

Now, visiting her is at a grave.

It’s talking to the dirt and crying uncontrollably because I would give up anything to take her to just one more doctor appointment or visit her just one more time at Smilow Cancer Hospital. Even though it was exhausting, mentally and physically, I would give anything to just take care of her for a couple more days. I would do anything to have those moments back – to feed her, lift her drink up so she could take a sip, to help her change her clothes, to help her go to the bathroom, to talk with her and cry with her, to not sleep more than 3 hours a night.

People keep telling me you can still talk to her and she’s still here. But, I wish people would stop saying that because I know I can still talk to her – but it’s not the same. She doesn’t talk back. She doesn’t tell me when I’m being a bitch. She doesn’t tell me that it will be okay. She doesn’t tell me that those pair of shoes look better than the other ones or that my necklace is too bulky for that outfit.

Mom and I had such a strong bond. And I’m sure my dad felt as if we ganged up on him quite a bit, but that comes with the territory of being the only man in the house. Once a week mom and I would play tricks on him. We would stuff his dress shoes with toilet paper so when he woke up and tried to put his shoes on at 4:45 in the morning, he struggled. And when he got home from work, we’d laugh. That never did get old. It got him every time. Too easy.

A couple weeks ago, when mom was still with us Dad told me stories about him and mom. One of them being that mom stood him up A LOT during their dating days. Or, when mom got my dad a watch, and to be sentimental, engraved it with his name, except, after a year of dating she still didn’t know how to spell his name right. So she gave it to him, engraved with ALAN. Not right mom, not right.

Or, when dad tried to propose and they sat down for dinner and without saying anything mom said “Allen I know you have something for me. You have something in your pocket, I know it. Aren’t you going to ask me something?” Nothing could be a surprise with mom – and that is when I realized I really am my mother’s daughter. So, when Stephen proposed, I did the same thing. I begged and pleaded for him to give me the ring. I told him “I know you have it. Just do it. Ask me. Do it. Do It.” And, he did do it and we planned a wedding in 22 days, so that my mom’s dream of seeing me marry the man of my dreams come true, and so that our dream of having my mom there would be possible. That’s one week I remember more than any other week. The week that we sat on the couch and planned our wedding.

So, at the perfect timing, we received our wedding video yesterday. And last night, my husband and I sat down and watched the two hour film. I couldn’t wait to see my mom. I couldn’t wait to see her talk, laugh and cry. But, for some reason I find this totally crazy. Because seeing her would obvious make me upset, emotional and angry. And, I know our wedding film is supposed to be about us and be such an amazing thing to look back at. But, right now, for me it’s not. Right now for me it hits too close to home and as I cried my way through the video at every single shot of my mom; I was right back to the beginning of my grieving.

As I watched her in one scene of the video, I left the room, and it was the first time I heard what she said when I wasn’t there. She said, “Allen, she looks absolutely beautiful. So beautiful. I can’t even believe it.” And that hurt even more. I know one day I will look back at our wedding video and watch it with amazement and also watch it with a huge smile on my face, not just because it was the best day of my life, but because I can see my mom. I can watch her and hear her. I can be back in that moment with her.

 

God Gives Us all the Time We Need

Yesterday, we celebrated Easter, but also my Mom’s first birthday in heaven. When we laid mom to rest last week, our priest said, “God gives us all the time we need on Earth, to grant us eternal life. Whether it’s 6 years or 64 years, it’s enough time.” After I thought about it, he’s right; although difficult to say; he’s right.

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Mom had just enough time. When we saw those who came to pay their respects, it was overwhelming, but that was mom – mom talked to everyone, she was nice to everyone and she truly impacted those who were in her life; she impacted them forever.

Although, mom may have had just enough time to be granted eternal life, or just enough time to make a difference in the lives of those who loved her, I can’t help but feel that I lost out. I can’t help but feel that there wasn’t enough time. I can’t help but feel that just a couple more days or weeks would have mattered.

When mom took her last breath, I was numb. My heart was racing and I couldn’t feel anything. It wasn’t real. Not yet at least. Then, I sat there alone with her for a couple minutes. I had trouble saying what I wanted to say, because there was just so much. But as I sat there and looked at her, she was back to being healthy. She was free from the cancer. And I was thankful for that; but I was angry that to be free from the cancer she had to leave us. And for the days that followed, I had more anger, than heartbreak. I was mad that she was gone. I was mad that I couldn’t call her (even though I almost tried). I was mad that God let this happen. And, I was mad that no one could save her.

Then, that anger turned to sadness. And each day I cry a little more than the day before. Each day, it’s a little harder and each day I miss my mom a little bit more.

But somehow, the day of my mom’s funeral – I was strong; just like her. And people around me said, your mom gave you her strength today. I didn’t believe them at first, at first I thought it was just because I find it too difficult to cry in front of people and I am too proud to show my tears; but as I read my mom’s eulogy I remained calm, strong and stable. And, I asked myself, how is that even possible? My answer was the answer a lot of people gave me – it was my mom.

Now, five days after burying my mom, life is hard without her. In the last five days I’ve grieved more, I’ve found it more difficult to be alone. I’ve found it more difficult to sit and do nothing. I have dreams about her every night and wake up crying. I cry during the day. I cry at night before I go to sleep. I cry when the thought of her pops in my mind. And, I cry because I haven’t had a sign from her, besides an owl the night she passed away. I cry because no one can understand what I am going through. I cry because people think they can. I cry just because.

And when people ask me how I am doing, I say fine, just like my mom always did. Because if I really said how I felt, it would be something like this – I feel like my world is crashing and sometimes I feel like I can’t breathe. I’m jealous of people who have their moms and I’m jealous of people who can call their moms. I’m angry at what people say to me. I’m angry that sometimes I’m forgotten about and people only ask me how my dad is doing. I’m angry that people forget that I am 24 years old and motherless. I’m sad that I can’t call my mom. I’m sad that my mom can’t be here. I’m sad that four days after laying her to rest, we had to celebrate our first holiday without her and also her first birthday in heaven.

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So as I end this blog entry, I leave you with the poem that Father Domenic Valla read at my mom’s funeral, The Dash by Linda Ellis:

I read of a man who stood to speak
at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
from the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth
and spoke the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time
that they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own,
the cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
and how we spend our dash.

So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
that can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
to consider what’s true and real
and always try to understand
​the way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger
and show appreciation more
and love the people in our lives
like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect
and more often wear a smile,
remembering that this special dash
might only last a little while.

​So, when your eulogy is being read,
with your life’s actions to rehash…
would you be proud of the things they say
about how you spent YOUR dash?

She Wrote a Letter

The last time mom was awake was 7 PM last night. She can hear us and shakes her head when we ask her questions like “Are you in pain? Are you comfortable? Can you hear us? Do you know we love you?”

It’s real today. This is really happening. It’s not a bad dream. This is real. And, I’m not ready – and I keep repeating that in my mind. I’m not ready to let her go. I’m not ready to loose her.

She’s not talking. She’s not eating. She’s not drinking. She’s grunting. She shakes her head. She gets restless. She’s on morphine. She’s on Ativan. And she looks comfortable and relaxed.

She’s not even gone and I miss her so much. Today, I said I wanted it to be over. But that’s not true. I don’t want it to be over, because when it’s over she’s not here. Because when it’s over she’s not coming back. Because when it’s over, it’s over. And I don’t know what it feels like to not fight this disease with her. I don’t know what normal feels like. And it will never be normal.

She’s my mom. She’s my best friend. She’s my everything. I call her millions of times. I fight with her when she tells me I’m wrong. I laugh with her when she says something stupid.

The thing is though, we lost her a long time ago. But, it doesn’t feel like that today. It feels new. It feels like this all just happened. It feels real – and I’m not ready for real. We aren’t ready for real.

We planned her arrangements today. At 24 years old, how do you come to terms with picking out a burial site, a casket, a funeral? How do you do it and not feel like it’s wrong?

This is all wrong. This is not how our story was supposed to go. My heart is breaking and my world it’s crashing.

I’ve been stowik, just like my mom. I’ve taken control of all of her care, just like she would have done. And as I hear myself and see myself, I see I’m more like my mom than I ever thought or knew. I hold myself together until I break. And I break when it’s quiet and I think people can’t see me. I cry then. And I’m sure that’s when mom has cried, when no one was watching.

And now we have nurses who are here all the time. They’ve already become our family. We treat them just like our friends and family. Our house has been full of love and life these past couple of days. And as each day gets worse, our friends and family stay longer, take care of us more, spend more time with mom, and keep us sane.

Today is a week, a week since we brought her home. We made it seven days. And each day gets harder for her and us.

She told us she wrote a letter. She wrote a letter and she doesn’t understand why it’s taking so long to get answered. She hasn’t received anything back and she just doesn’t understand why. Why haven’t they answered her letter?

Mom is ready, and if she’s ready, we’ll be ready. But that doesn’t mean we want to be. That doesn’t mean that we all don’t have a little denial in us. That doesn’t mean that we don’t think about the moment it happens and how it’s going to make our knees buckle.

So, mom, I’m so proud of you. I’m so thankful that for all my life we’ve had such a close relationship. I’m so thankful that you became my best friend during my teenage years. I’m so grateful to have learned how to be the best mother from you. I’m so happy you are my mom. I’m so in love with the person you are. You will always be my best friend, my mom, my shadow, my angel and my rock. Just as you have been all my life. I love you more than words can say.

And, we’ll be okay. Dad and I will be okay. It will be different and for a while it will feel like it’s a dream and it’s not real. But you’ll never leave us. You’ll always be here. You’ll always tell me when I’m wrong, and you’ll always give me the strength I need when I am weak.

I love you so much, Mom.

The Conversation No One Wants to Have

There comes a time when reality sets in and you have to be honest with yourself and the people you love. You have to tell them the hard truth. The truth that no one wants to hear, the truth that no one even wants to speak.

There is no cure. There are no other options.

We’ve heard it all over and over again, but today, it was different. It was like hearing and living it for the first time. It was the first time my mom really knew what was going on. It was the first time we were all crippled by the outcome.

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At first we fought. We fought hard about what reality was and what my mom was thinking was possible. I fought with her for the first time in a while. I didn’t mean to. And it hurts me that with our limited time, we got mad at each other. That’s not supposed to happen. But my mom dying when I am 24 years old isn’t supposed to happen either. Not to me, not to my mom and not to my family. This was never in our life book. This was never a chapter.

So, we fought. I fought with her because I love her so much and because I care about her so much. I am her advocate, but sometimes her worst nightmare. I tell her what she doesn’t want to hear, I make decisions she doesn’t want to make and I tell the doctors things she doesn’t want me to tell them. But, it’s all for one thing, it’s for her to have the best care.

The doctor came in today. He reinforced that chemotherapy was no longer safe, it is not an option. The chemotherapy is not working and her body isn’t tolerating it. “I’m not ready to die. I’m not ready to leave my family.” Those words she said, gave me a feeling of a knife stabbing me. I tried to stay strong, for her and for my dad. But, I can no longer be the rock everyone thinks I am. I can no longer sit there and be strong for everyone else, while my world is crashing down. It’s crashing and there is no way to stop it. My worst nightmare is coming true.

We sat there. Whitney (the best big sister, maid of honor, best friend) sat there and helped bring comfort in a time of distress. She sat there, next to me, rubbing my back. She was there for the hardest conversation. And for that I am eternally grateful.

My mom asked what’s next? And, the answer to the question – she gets to decide – to come home or go to inpatient hospice. It’s her choice. She controls this. And no matter what she decides my dad and I will be there by her side; spending the most time with her as possible, as we go through the worst thing possible.

We have a couple weeks to a month or a little more at most. I knew this, but when it was said it felt like a dream, a bad dream. It couldn’t possibly be true. How can this happen to the woman who I look up to, who I call mom, who I run to for everything?

She doesn’t want to die. She doesn’t want to leave us. She’s not ready for this. I can’t even imagine what it feels like for her. She’s being told she’s dying and she doesn’t want to. She wants to live. She wants to be with us.

So, we’re here. We’re at this place in time and it sucks. It’s a living hell. It’s never going to be the same. It’s not going to be okay. Because, I’m 24 years old and I still have so much I need my mom for. I still have so much to share with her. And, because my parent’s just celebrated 25 years of marriage and my dad needs her. We need her.

Life isn’t fair.