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.

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Live. Laugh. Love.

When I was 18 years old I got a tattoo on my ribs saying “Live. Laugh. Love”. It is a sentiment that I believe will guide me through life. It will help to remind me to live in the moment and live for the reasons that truly matter.

But at 18 years old it meant something totally different. It meant to enjoy life by hanging with my friends, to laugh at jokes and to love a cute boy. Shallow, it may have been, but I was young and naive. Life wasn’t real. It wasn’t hard.

As I grew up and matured, and life got hard, I realized my tattoo was something that meant a lot more. It was there to guide me. To keep me on the right track. And when it all clicked, it helped me.

So, what does Live. Laugh. Love. mean? Now, as my family and I are going through the hardest trial of our lives, that $100 dollar tattoo has a voice in my head. It keeps me grounded and it keeps me pushing forward.

Live.

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To me living is about having no regrets. Making sure I spend as much time with my mom as possible. Making sure I keep making memories with her. Every day is different, there are good days and bad days, but each day is a blessing.

When the doctors said, time is limited and to be ready for the next step whenever that may be – I didn’t believe them at first. To me, I was still 13 years old giving my parents a run for their money as my teen years started. To me, I was 16 and still laid with my mom in bed at night watching our favorite shows. To me, I was 18, in college and wanting to come home. To me, I was 20, waiting for one more year to be able to enjoy a glass of wine with my mom. (I know I talk A LOT about wine, but how could you not?) To me, I was still a baby who needed her mom to rock her, tell her it would be okay and to kiss her before she fell asleep.

12063394_10156174812760077_4511922669924497089_n.jpgBut, here I am, 24 years old, the roles have reversed and I am taking care of my mom. I am spending every day talking with her, because we never truly know when our time is up. I look at my mom’s diagnosis as a blessing in disguise – a puzzling disguise. Many people have no idea when their loved one’s time is up. But, we, we get to make the most out of every day. I have spent more time by my mom’s side than ever before. I have learned more about her each day – I have learned more about her strength, pride, dignity and love. And most importantly I have watched my parents fall more in love. My dad doesn’t leave my mom’s side and he takes care of her as much as he can. He goes home to eat, sleep and does it all over again.

So, we’re living to the best of our ability. Some days are harder than others, but we have each other. And when I go home at night, I thank God for the day.

Laugh.

We laugh, a lot. We laugh about the changes we’re experiencing.

11223308_10155593826685077_4444846249177362675_n.jpgWe laugh about my dad learning how to do things on his own – except for dressing himself and knowing what size he is. He’s still not very good at that. We laugh about the food my mom is served at the rehab facility. Is it dog or cat food? We laugh about the “friends” she’s making – some may be nuts, but it keeps it interesting. We laugh about the crazy things that happen. But the best part is we laugh together.

In my last post, I talked about my mom’s infectious personality. She has always been outgoing and the loudest in the room. I always envied her ability to walk into a room and command attention. She could talk to a wall and laugh with a rock. She could make light out of a serious situation. She would crack a joke in the middle of an argument and I no longer could be mad at her. She would blow her nose and everybody would turn, look and just laugh. Because really, you HAVE never heard anything like it. I promise.

But I think that’s what has kept me strong 75% of the time is the ability to laugh. When I look at her I see the person who has taught me to laugh at my mistakes, the person who has showed me that life is too short to be anything less than happy, and the person who has told me over and over again to stop being so god damn up tight.

So as we go through these changes, we turn to laughter as a drug to cure our hurt, sadness and fear.

Love.

Love is strong. The love I have for my mom is indescribable. The love I have for my family could never be explained. So love is one of our drugs of choice.

When our worst nightmare became a reality two months ago, all I could say was that I wasn’t ready. My mom is supposed to be there for everything. I call her a gazillion times a day, asking her every question under the sun. I just love her so much. Our phone calls used to be lengthy and we would talk, now they’re short and there isn’t really anything said, but one thing you can hear is the love we have for each other. Things may be different, but our love has only grown.12742494_10156563961110077_5734276570640593030_n.jpg

About a month ago, we were sitting in her hospital room at Yale – Smilow Cancer Center and my dad and I were sobbing. My mom sat there composed and starred at the wall. We were begging her not to leave us any time soon. We were begging God to not let any of this happen. And I stopped crying for a minute. In that moment I realized, as hard as it is for us, it’s even harder for her. The one thing that could bring us through this was love.

I am the luckiest daughter in the world because my parents have inspired me every day. Growing up, I love you’s were said as many times a day as possible. Love was something that flooded through our house. And today, love is something that sweeps my mom’s rehab room. And every day when we talk and when I see her, I say I love you.