Thursday, December 30, 2010

Out with the Old, In with the New

This morning I sat down to transfer all my info from my old 2010 planner into my new 2011 planner. It is actually a desk planner, but I carry it in my purse. I take notes, mark appointments, stash papers, carry addresses. It is pretty much my brain extension.

My old planner is beat up, jammed with papers, full of notes from doctor visits and conversations, frayed around the edges, adorned with "visitor" stickers from Solara. It contains lists like what to pack to send to the funeral home with Dad and who to contact with news. It also carries work schedules, orthodontist appointments, playdates, birthday celebrations and travel plans. Full of dying and death. Full of life and living.

My new planner is thin, tidy and clean. Spotless, really. I've added some orthodontist and dentist appointments. I'll input school functions. I have my work schedule ready to tuck in for next week. I've marked Mom's and Loren's birthdays in January. I've also added the list of people to contact with news of Mom's death. I wrote out all the grandsons' names again so I won't have to think about who the pallbearers are. The blank pages are ready for notes and conversations to be recorded. I know that on one of those pages, I will write the time and date of my mother's passing. Ready for another year of dying. Ready for another year of living.


Meg and I stopped by Mom's today because, while we were in town running errands, we discovered in our truck...Ms. Jan's knit hat! We thought it was funny. Grandma thought it was funny too. She and Jan were already planning an outing together, so Mom can return the missing hat.

While we were there, just having a quick stand-up visit, Mom said:

I asked Nurse Christy if eating a lot of sugar could cause bad diarrhea. She said she would ask the doctor.

Gwen: Oh, are you thinking all the sweets at Poppa's brunch are giving you diarrhea?

Mom: Could be.

Gwen: You know, there were a lot of fatty foods too. That could be it.

Mom: Maybe. Or it could just be my...(points at transverse colon)...problem.

Gwen: You mean your cancer?

Mom: Yes, my cancer.

Really? Even now? If we don't talk about it, it might not be real? If we don't name it, it might go away? This family pattern is so ingrained, so automatic, so unhealthy. Please God, help us say what is real, what is true, even if it is hard, even if it is ugly. Even if it is cancer.

Monday, December 27, 2010

For Narnia!

Mom gave us a movie gift card for Christmas, planning to take us all to see Voyage of the Dawn Treader. This afternoon we picked up Mom, then zipped over and picked up our movie buddy Ms. Jan. The movie was amazing, as expected. We laughed. We cried. Ev and I held hands during intense parts. Mom clapped at various moments. Ms. Jan was generally confused.

On the way home, after dropping Jan off, we had this hilarious conversation:

Mom: I don't think Jan understood much of the movie. She read the book but she forgot. I think she is having a little...memory problem.

Karis: Ya think??? (general snickering)

Mom: It's worse even since the last time we took her to the movies. How long ago was that? I can't even remember what movie we saw. (general laughing, including Mom)

Then Mom had us all in for burgers and cookies. Yum! And then she told us it was time to go. Quintessential Mom.

Karis put into words later something to the effect that, "Grandma observes things about Ms. Jan that are true about herself." Mm-hmm.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime

How did that happen? I feel sort of like the Grinch when he discovers Christmas comes no matter what. Even though I didn't feel joyful and would have skipped the holidays had it been up to me, it came. And it was delightful. Welcome Christmas!

Christmas Eve, Mom had dinner with Perry and Noelle. Perry had come over earlier in the week to invite her and she was excited about having steak. :) While she was at their house, Karis and I filled Grandma's stocking. It squeezed my heart to see only one stocking this year, but it was still fun to play Santa. (Although we would never mention Santa to Mom because she does. not. like. Santa.) Then we went home to a crockpot full of chicken tortilla soup and a houseful of these fine people I get to call my family.

Christmas morning, because we have teenagers and a pre-teen, we had to wake up the aforementioned fine people so we could have our family Christmas at home, then pick Mom up and head to Dave's parents' for the annual brunch. Karis drove Dave's car and picked up Gma. Those two are peas in a pod.

Mom had a great time at Lou and Peggy's. She thoughtfully brought a loaf of Jewish Rye bread as a hostess gift. She gracefully endured the flurry of gift opening and graciously received a number of gifts and another stocking full. And she loved Papa's brunch.

Karis drove Mom back home for her afternoon nap and eventually we headed home to get ready for Christmas dinner at Grandma's. We sort of had Christmas Dinner Deconstructed: Creamy Herbed Turkey Soup with Dressing (ala Sweet Tomatoes) and Cranberry Crisp. Mom set her table with crystal, her Swiss table cloth, silver, and Frankoma. A lovely combination!

We tried roasting chestnuts on the open fire, but that didn't turn out so well. No popping, mostly just singeing. Maybe it's one of those things that always sounds better in the song, but doesn't turn out so well in real life.

All in all, a wonderful Christmastime. Together.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Oh the Brain Function Here is Frightful

Can you name that Christmas song?

I've been buzzing along this month, picking up things for my Mom for Christmas. For years, for all my married life, my family has "drawn names" according to a chart. This year, I thought we had Mom's name, because last year we had my youngest brother and I figured after that we started again at the top with my mom. Well, I figured wrong.

Yesterday, as I was on my way out the door to run Meg to an appointment Houston (close to the Galleria...what was I thinking?), I pulled out my notebook just to double-check. Sure enough, we were supposed to buy for my sister Ruth and her family. Who won't be here for Christmas. Meaning the gifts should be shipped. Three days before Christmas.

My family put our collective heads together and came up with a good, easily shippable idea. After I got back from Houston, I shopped and shipped. Happily, FedEx is open til 7:00. Whew, mission accomplished.

Then today, I was relating my tale of ding dong-iness to my sister-in law Carrie. She said, "I thought we didn't do that anymore." What? I texted my sister Gayle who has a memory like a steel trap, knowing that if anyone knew the deal, Gayle would. Gayle replied, "I think it happened a few years ago, yes."

What? Where have I been? Did I know this once and then forget? Or did I miss it altogether? Does everyone else know this?

Frightful, indeed. But hey, as I said to another sister-in-law yesterday, if there must be confusion, gift confusion is the best kind. Right?

By the way, I pulled the chart out of my notebook and threw it away to avoid gift confusion in the future. Think it will help?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Winter

Our first day of winter was beautiful! I called this morning to invite Mom out for a field trip to Sur La Table and lunch at Sweet Tomatoes. She said yes! Meg, Ev, and I headed over to pick Mom up and drove south. We parked and enjoyed our walk along the shops on our way to SLT. Mom was looking for something to roast her St. Louis chestnuts in over the fire. I was looking for a pastry blender, since mine expired and we have been sadly biscuit-less. A charming girl helped Mom and then just struck up a long conversation with her about culinary school. She invited Mom to her graduation in March! I told Mom she would have to make it to March so she could attend. The store clerk (who obviously didn't know Mom's story) said, "Of course she will make it to March!"

As we were walking back to the truck, the girls suggested eating at Johnny Rockets instead of Sweet Tomatoes. Mom agreed and in we went. Then out we went. The atmosphere was too noisy for Grandma. So we had a delightful meal al fresco. At least I thought it was a delightful meal. After Mom finished eating, she pulled out her satellite radio and plugged in. I guess she had reached her social limit for the day. What a hoot!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Time, Love and Tenderness

Nate, Ev and I went over to Mom's last night. She wasn't expecting us, but we were delighted to see her little Christmas tree lighted up. Mom welcomed us at the door and invited us in. She said over and over how happy she was to see us! She was super chatty and Ev even observed that "Grandma kept going from one subject to another!" I had warned the kids that if Gma was not up for company, we would go do some shopping. Ha! I had to tell them it was time to go after a couple of hours, when we needed to pick up the rest of our crew from youth group.

Mom also talked about how excited she is about joining us for brunch at Dave's parents' on Christmas morning. She even asked me if we would pick her up.

Who knew? I was texting with Gayle later last night and she observed that Mark's mother became sweet a few months before she died. Interesting. And nice.


My brother Loren is coming to visit Mom in January. Mom and Dad's anniversary is in January. She and Loren both have birthdays in January. It's a good time for him to come, for both of them. Loren is having a hard time with the idea of letting his mama go. Karis and I were watching Forrest Gump recently and this scene captured what I feel from Loren.

The look on Forrest's face is perfect! When the scene began, I thought, "That's Loren!" Not that my brother looks like Forrest Gump; it's the emotion. It's terror and love and confusion and affection and grief and admiration and disbelief and devotion, all rolled into one facial expression. Poor Forrest! Poor Loren.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Cracks in the Armor

*Gayle told me Mom said to her that she could not sleep in the master bedroom without Dad. I hadn't thought anything about Mom sleeping in the sewing room. She has slept there for a long time, even when Dad was alive and well in the master bedroom.

*Mom got teary-eyed the other day when I was at her house. I asked her about it and she said that after being married for 62 years, your husband becomes your life. She didn't want me to think she cried all the time (as if), but told me that the tears just come sometimes.

*Mom said again that she is concerned about how the end will be for her. We talked about it some and I told her I thought with her weakened heart and continuing weight loss, that when the cancer started to take over it wouldn't take long. Are those words of comfort? I think, for Mom, they are.

St. Louis Highlights

Last Saturday morning, we woke up to this:

I was concerned that Mom would be bothered with the snow and cold. But when she came up from her cozy basement bedroom, I could hear her all the way from my upstairs bedroom. "Oh! Oh! I get to see snow again!"

We opted to stay home while Gayle trekked over for her church cantata rehearsal. Mark had two performances with his male chorus. The three girls went out for dinner at Sweet Tomatoes. Mom and I had Creamy Herbed Turkey soup with stuffing. Oh my! We are planning a trip to our ST in our area just so we can have another bowlful. After our delicious dinner (Mom's treat), we bundled up and headed out for Gayle's civic orchestra Christmas concert. It was delightful! The conductor spoke before each piece and did a lovely job introducing the music. Mom was just over the moon and I tried to imagine what music would make me that happy. The closest I could come would be a U2 Christmas concert. :)

Sunday morning, bright and early, Mark drove us over to his church for the Christmas cantata. The choir sang, the instruments played (Gayle playing her beautiful flute again), and Mark preached. Mom loved it all!

Afterwards, we went downstairs in the church for Breakfast in Bethlehem. Here, Mom ate pancakes, met tons of people (a stretch for her), and met her match!

(A really funny text conversation transpired when I sent that photo out to my siblings. My brother Loren, who is not as churchified as the rest of us, texted back to ask, "What is that with Mama?" When I answered and told him it was a camel, he wondered, "Gayle has a camel?" Oh my gosh! I laughed and laughed.)

After church, we zipped over to see Mom's great-grandson, Emrys. What a treat!

Our next event was dinner backstage before Mark's final men's chorus performance. His group is called Ambassador's of Harmony. The first act of the Christmas concert was Grinch-themed, and Mark dressed as a Who. The second act told the story of Jesus' birth and Mark was dressed as a shepherd. It was very, very good and again, Mom loved it!

What a weekend. What a woman.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Meet Me in St. Louis

Friday morning, bright and early, Dave and I picked up Mom and headed to the airport. Once again, Mom's luggage was on the sidewalk. But this time, Mom got into the truck saying, "I don't know why I make these plans. This is the last time. No more. This is it." Not an auspicious start for our weekend together!

We breezed through security. Seriously, it is the easiest time I've had since 2001. I didn't have to take off my belt or jewelry. I even recklessly wore an underwire bra. No full body scan, no strip search, no pat down, no nothing. I don't know if the public outcry has changed things or if the whole security thing was media hype, but I didn't experience any of the well-publicized invasions of privacy. And I am thankful.

Gayle and Mark picked us up at the airport in St. Louis. We had a lovely bowl of Gayle's Italian Chicken Noodle Soup (I meant to get that recipe), then headed out to Trader Joe's. (Be still my heart.) I found the legendary Dark Chocolate Dipped Peppermint Joe Joe's (yes Virginia they do live up to the hype) and Mom picked out some Social Snacker crackers. Which is just funny. Really.

Mark grilled steaks for dinner, then headed off to his Christmas production. We enjoyed Gayle's orchestra rehearsal, then called it a day.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas Plans?

I have it on good authority (both my brothers) that Mom is planning to spend Christmas with my family! That is news to me, but YIPPEE!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Life with the Anti-Social

Today I picked Mom up in the afternoon to go to a bridal shower. Some time ago, when Mom received the invitation, I asked if she would like to go. When she said yes (!), I asked if she would like to ride with me. She said yes! And she asked if I would purchase a gift to be from the two of us. I said yes. :)

So off we went today, on a nice drive in the country. As we drove along, Mom and I chatted about various things. One topic was our upcoming trip to St. Louis. Mom was telling me about talking with Gayle. The more Mom talked about her conversation with Gayle, the more she started to question our trip to St. Louis.

Mom: "The more I hear about Mark's chorus, the more I wonder if we should be going on this trip."

Gwen: "What do you mean?"

Mom: "Well, they are both so busy. It is quite a production."

I reminded Mom that Gayle had invited her and assured her that we could help around the house while we were there. Mom is planning to bake cookies and bread and pack them in her suitcase to take to Gayle. I did point out that we had several occasions to wear clothes and would need to pack some.

At the shower, Mom seemed a little foggy and tired. She had a cup of coffee and some cake. She talked to the lady sitting next to her and watched some gift opening. Then she came across the room to where I was visiting with someone and asked if I thought it was time to go. So of course I did. On the way home, she asked if I had been ready to go. I told her I was ready to go when she was. A little later, after she asked what I had planned for the rest of the day, and I said I needed to do some laundry and write lesson plans, she pronounced that it was good we left early since I had so much to do.

Also on the way home, I asked Mom if any of my siblings had mentioned coming for Christmas.

Mom: "No. You know, I think Christmas is such an intimate family time. I don't expect anyone to come. I think St. Louis will be my Christmas."

Now, Christmas was never "an intimate family time" at our house. Was it? Am I just not remembering those moments? Surely I would remember something like that, right? I really think this is just Mom laying the groundwork for her "I vant to be alone" speech, which will come when we invite her to join us for Christmas, or ask to come by, or suggest spending Christmas together in any way. She seems to be gearing up for her traditional holiday isolation. I don't really know what to do about it, since she finds it acceptable to reject my overtures.

To top off her anti-social afternoon, Mom as usual tried to open the car door before we came to a complete stop in her driveway. Then when I put it in park and the doors unlocked, her door didn't unlock because she was lifting the handle. And as usual she asked:

Mom: "Why can't I get my door open?"

As usual I replied:

Gwen: "Because you tried to get out before the car came to a complete stop."

And she laughed, got out, and went into her house.

Thanksgiving Happy

My sister Ruth and her family came to Texas to spend Thanksgiving with Mom. They had a really nice visit and Mom enjoyed spending time with them all.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christmas Comfort

So I've been asking God for a little bit of that comfort and joy this Christmas. Today Dave was preaching on Zechariah from Luke 1. God gave me this from Zechariah's song of praise.

Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,
God's Sunrise will break in upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness,
those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,
down the path of peace.

Luke 1:78,79
The Message

I'll have to edit this on our newer computer so I can underline the parts that jumped out at me as I read and listened.

I love that God has heartfelt mercies toward me.

I love that He calls Jesus "God's Sunrise".

I love that He shines on those sitting in the shadow of death. That's me. I'm sitting in the shadow of death.

I love that He will show me the way down the path of peace, one foot at a time. The path of peace sounds really good. And I definitely need step-by-step directions.