November 1st, In Great Detail

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Breast Cancer, Hauntings, Mom, Whining

Lots going on, kittens, but I am still determined to clear out my Draft posts. Only relevant ones, natch, and I decided to go from oldest to newest. I flinched and nearly fled from this one during editing, but for reasons I won’t explain here, it is miraculously timed.

The last edit date was mid-November, 2010. It’s very, very stale but I’m powering through it because I don’t want to ever have to remember it in detail again.

Apologies for the scattered nature as I try and capture the chaotic and ancient thoughts to pin them down to the page. I don’t know why I started writing about the bittersweet nature of my wedding anniversary the way I did, but I’m honoring my old draft by way of keeping the format and filling in holes.

I’m also creating a Kamikat Alert to warn when emo is flowing freely. I give this one the highest possible. I’ve been crying nonstop while reading/editing it.

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On November 1, 2002, Chooch and I went on our first official date. The following summer, we became engaged and then my mother told us her cancer had returned. A few months after that, we married. Completely by accident, we were married on the same exact date, a year later, on November 1, 2003. (When I say by accident, I mean it. Chooch would have to confirm, but I think it was well after our first wedding anniversary that we realized that it was a double anniversary.)

In the fall of 2005, my mother was over two years into her second occurrence of breast cancer. Nothing had worked, and as a last resort she had pushed really hard to get into a clinical trial for a new medication that was in its first round of human trials. She was that determined to live. I watched her fight like a battle-hardened warrior, but she couldn’t beat it alone. She needed the medical community to fight for her, too, so she got them.

This chemo ‘cocktail’ was particularly nasty, and while I won’t go into details beyond that, we realized too late it was killing her instead of the cancer, which continued to grow and spread. She was hospitalized in early October 2005 because her body functions were shutting down. At the time, it was just one more hospital trip that I drove her to, in a very long line of them in the few months since I quit school to help her and my dad as they were overwhelmed and I worried for my dad’s health. I am still haunted by the fact that when she walked into the emergency room that day that we had no idea that she would never go home, or that it would be the last few steps of freedom she would ever take.

Her body barely recovered and we almost lost her at one point. She went in and out of a sleepy/coma-like state and lost the ability to walk. She slowly emerged and then on November 1st, we finally got the answer we were bugging her oncologist for – we were told that there were no treatment options. One of us must have asked what was next, if not chemo, because he started talking about “making her comfortable” and “managing her pain” and that he believed she may have as long as six months to live.

As was common at this point, Mom and I were alone when we got the news and after he left us we grieved as you might expect. We clung to each other and wept. I reassured her and she reassured me. I don’t really remember much more of the day. I know we told my dad, but I don’t remember it. I got home that night, and don’t remember much other than picking up the phone to resume my usual evening activity after spending time with her during the day — spend the next few hours on the phone with my siblings and Mom’s siblings and whoever else wanted an update. I knew I was lucky to be able to help her and it was important to me to relay the news, in whatever detail they needed, to family and friends.

The first person I reached was my Mom’s sister. Needless to say, this particular pronouncement required an excruciating retelling of every detail. She knew that I would be on the phone with this news for anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, explaining, reassuring and relaying requests and information to and from my Mom.

Mom’s sister offered at some point to make the calls so that Chooch and I could find some time to celebrate our 2nd wedding anniversary, which was also that day. I was hesitant, but also in desperate need for a reprieve from it all.  I agreed and she promised to call my brother and sister as well as her brother. I didn’t know how much I needed to not be the messenger of this particular message any more, until she moment that she took the task from me.

Tangent: I can still remember seeing the bag of candy she had on her hospital table as we talked about what the oncologist talked. The day before had been Halloween, and she’d wanted to have candy to give out in case any kids that were stuck in the hospital were trick or treating. To my knowledge, the only trick or treater she had was my son L.T. He was eight years old. Once in his costume, we went to visit her again and she loaded him up. When I looked at that nearly full bag of candy the next day, I was thinking how impossibly wrong it was that her last Halloween was spent in the hospital. She always loved Halloween and the joy it brought kids, all kids. I still wonder if that thought occurred to her, too, the next morning as we hugged, cried and tried to make sense of it.

Back to my wedding anniversary night, and not even an hour passed before I got a call from my sister. I don’t even think we’d had time to decide whether to go out to dinner to celebrate or order in and coccoon. My baby sister (9 years younger) was crying inconsolably from my aunt’s call. Some of the information got confused and it scared the living hell out of her. At the time, my sister was living with her husband was in the Army and stationed in Texas while all the rest of us were in Virginia. She carried a lot of guilt about this, and it’s possible she still does. I really wish I could take that from her. Mom was over the moon that my sister was starting a new life married to the man she loves, rather than sitting in the hospital room, watching as she wasted away. Their mother/daughter bond was so strong, she never once questioned my sister’s love or loyalty. In typical fashion, Mom saw beyond herself and could only grin with joy for the happiness sis found and still finds with her husband of now nine years.

But when I heard the terror in my lil’ sister’s voice, I was immediately shamed. Yes, of course, I realize that I was entitled to a night off to catch my breath and stay sane and have some joy for ourselves. Just not at this price. I was grateful that she called, as the thought of having gone off for a romantic dinner while she sobbed desperately would have haunted me forever. Chooch and I agreed that it was more important that I untangle the information. I don’t even remember what exactly it was that upset everyone, it’s too deep in the shadows.

I soothed my sister and called my brother. Sure enough, he was reeling, as well. I again went over all the information and gave reassurances. I then called my mom’s brother and cleared up his questions. Finally, I called Auntie, to reiterate the information to her to make sure she understood, because what she relayed wasn’t completely accurate. I was frustrated, but never at her. After all, she’d just found out her big sis was really and truly dying now, of the same thing that took their mom and their grandmother before that. Her intentions were the very best and I remain grateful for the love she demonstrated by trying to give me a night off.

Hours later, I finished the last call and vowed to myself to never delegate that job again. Somehow, when there was something that needed to be done, I was able to push my fears and horror at what I was hearing and seeing to the side and get things done. Maybe it was because I was the one “in the trenches” with Mom, and in every way we were at war. It was every day.

A few days later, my parents celebrated their wedding anniversary. My dad snuck a bottle of wine into her hospital room and they had as romantic a dinner for two as possible. It was hard, lifting the mood before I left, but we all did our damnedest. I can’t imagine how bittersweet that dinner was, and I love them so much for celebrating their last anniversary.

Do you want to know what I think was the hardest? The cancer was already in her bones, had spread to her Mom’s skull, and we believe, to her brain. We aren’t sure because the scans and most non-life-supporting testing stopped. When it’s terminal, why continue putting her through it? We already knew from DNA testing that it was the breast cancer from 1991. It had returned and was in her colon, bones, stomach and skull. We knew she was going to die, just like her mom and her grandma had, from breast cancer.

Our suspicion that it spread to her brain was because she started losing memories, when her mind had always been sharp as a tack. Just another horrible degradation before she dies, why not? Grateful that you still have your mind while you’re dying from cancer and unable to walk? Not for long, with this disease. It’s when I first got a taste of the cruelty of a failing memory, at least as I experience it. You don’t get to choose who’s face you’ll forget. Hell, you don’t even get to remember that you forgot them to apologize later!

But the possible spread of cancer to my mom’s brain was confirmed, in my mind, by her question upon my arrival one day. The only silver lining was that LT was not at my side as he frequently was, since it was a school day.

Her question? When her oncologist would be coming to meet with her about resuming her chemo? The cancer was growing unchecked while we did nothing. Would I call him to her room to discuss it?

I froze. I blinked. The words made no sense. Wait, I thought, what’s wrong with my brain? Nothing. I just couldn’t accept what her question meant. Tears sprang to my eyes. She didn’t remember the death sentence she was given, weeks earlier. I don’t even think I took a breath.

I wanted to say, “Okay, Mom. I’ll get him here as soon as possible. Want a pedicure? How was breakfast?” Deflect, distract, redirect. Sure, it would be a lie. But it seemed like a kindness. Maybe she’d remember on her own? Was that kinder? Maybe, but I feared what would happen when she found out the truth. In my mind, it was more cruel to waste what little time we had left with deception and lies. She took great pride in being a strong woman. She hated lies and had never been a delicate flower in need of babying. She was NiNi, Warrior Queen, and she hid from nothing. Khaleesi, would’ve been more fitting, if she’d known the reference.

Yet… silence. No words came out. Just her looking up at me with those beautiful, trusting eyes.

Ah, yes, another blow, just so. I immediately understood. Our roles had switched. She was the innocent and helpless one now, and I was the one in charge (by family agreement) of protecting her. Keeping her safe. Casting out her fears. Comforting her.

But, how? She was my touchstone and my source of unconditional love, my central support beam my entire life. She was my mommy! Then, when I needed her more than I have ever needed her, to be stronger than I could ever hope to be on my own, I couldn’t reach for her hand to comfort mine.

In my head, I screamed, cried, kicked and fought against it all.
I refused.
I would not do it.
No way am I strong enough.
Nope, the doctor can come back and tell her.

Instead, I found myself holding her hands in my shaking ones as I told her, again. We cried as we had the first time, because to her, it was the first time. I don’t even know what I felt. I just curled up with her on the hospital bed, tightly clinging to each other, with vigilant and respectful eyes checking on us from the door from time to time by the palliative care staff. We grieved again.

And when she asked a few weeks later, I told her again. It’s foggy after that, I don’t know how many times I had to tell her, in total. I’m grateful that I was there for her, but she was drifting further and further away from me, one shimmery silvery wisp at a time.

By way of bringing it current, and possibly to a point (*gasp*), the intervening years has let go of our anniversary as a bittersweet day. I do think of Mom, but instead of sadness and tears from the hospital room, I now see her laughing and smiling with us at our wedding. I picture she and Chooch killing the bottle of Dom when my parents toasted our engagement. (Damn, she was adorable tipsy, although I rarely saw it.) I remember her teasing me that Chooch was using me to get to her because they were the true soul mates — straight faced and with a wickedly cocked eyebrow, as only she could do. And letting me know what I needed to know most, because she knew the three of us (my two sons and I) better than anyone else: that she approved of him as my husband and as step-dad to my sons.

She told us in a hundred different ways that she thought he was right for me/us, but most poignantly when she asked us to move up the wedding to ensure she would be alive to attend. We did, and she did. It was a chaotic and magnificent day that I treasure all the more because she was there. She was beatific, at peace over my sons and I with Chooch in our lives and the knowledge that my sister would be soon married to the love of her life. My brother and his wife were happy and strong. Everyone else was healthy. What more could a mother need to know before she dies?

She passed away in the wee hours of January 13, 2006, a little over three months after that walk in to the emergency room. She was 62. She and my father were together over four decades. She had three kids, seven grandkids and, since her passing, three great-grandkids. She wrote, painted, baked, worked gardened, taught, played and gave hugs that could make you forget why you needed one in the first place.

 

I’ve reclaimed November 1st as the celebration of love and family, as it’s intended. Chooch and I celebrate our love, our bond and our marriage, with number 10 later this year. Times are chaotic, but our love is like Valyrian steel baby, folded a thousand times in fire. Besides, Mom would kick my ass if I let anything get in the way of celebrating our anniversary. She certainly set the example on that one.

There are several songs that are intertwined with Mom in my mind. This is one of the most powerful. I didn’t find a video by Colin Hay for the song I first heard on the Garden State soundtrack, but this is my favorite of the fan submitted videos I viewed. I almost didn’t include it for fear of being accusations of being maudlin, overly sentimental or pity seeking, but…

Fuck that. I really miss my Mommy today. I’m going to treat my broken heart to a good cry.

“I just don’t think I’ll ever get over you”
Song by Colin Hays, formerly of Men at Work
Video submitted to youtube by EmjayTulip.And as always, Mom was right. Chooch is my soul mate. No one else could have given my laugh lines and wrinkles in the intervening years.

Time Heals All Wounds? Meh.

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Breast Cancer, Family, Mom, No Whining, Whining

Today is my Mom’s birthday.  Somehow, the math shows that she would have been 70. It doesn’t seem possible for her birthday and not her to make it to a new decade and new things that the public would allow for her to complain about. Aches, pains, less patience with the horrible people that you encounter during a random day. All the stuff society deafens an ear to, but doesn’t disrespect them for. She would have met her first two great-grandchildren and would be rubbing her granddaughter’s belly in anticipation of the one on the way. It’s unfathomable to me that these beloved children were never held in her arms. Surreal.

I was going to choose today as my first time intentionally not going to her grave on a significant day. (I certainly haven’t made it for every birthday, Mother’s Day, death day and Christmas, so don’t try and paint me with a Sainted Daughter brush. Illness or other issues sprang up and prevented me on those occasions that I did not make it. This is just the first time I made a decision to not go.)  Kind of a tip of the hat to all the progress I’ve made in therapy, by honoring her here instead of at her graveside, where it honors her death, not her life. But LT wants to go, so we’ll go.

As for the title of the post, I was reflecting on how we had to do math to figure out how old she would’ve been. And we did it several more times because the milestone aspect of the year was like a kick to the babymaker. So, I guess time “heals” all wounds, if you mean that you forget just enough to feel a bit guilty. I’ve also recently discovered that I couldn’t remember the final chemo (clinical trials) primary drug name that I believe shortened her life by at least 3 months, so good was it at destroying every living thing in its path, including most of my Mom’s remaining abilities. (No, I’m not litigious, she knew what she was signing up for. But I remain pissed.) I remember it now, but the fact that for even a few weeks, I couldn’t recall it –I was stunned.

Whether because of time or my terrible memory lapses, I’m forgetting things about her. Hopefully just the unpleasant things, but even if I do lose more, there are a kajillion wonderful and loving memories there. I really only need a few, preferably the ones with her arms squeezing me in a tight hug. That and her laughter are the things I miss most. I guess I’ve reverted back to being a little girl where she is concerned. It really is the stuff I miss most. Hugs and giggles from a woman long gone, but wow, did she leave a mark on those that loved her.

I write this guiltily, as I have loved ones that have lost their Moms, too. Some that have been grieving as long as I have and may still be in or just coming out of the denial phase and some who are just starting to fear the grief coming their way.

A little girl, far too young, that has found maternal nurturing in her step-mother, Thank God. I still miss her Mom, tho’, as our friendship was only just reaching full bloom. The young girl is immeasurably happy in her new life, and the memory of her mother is respected and kept alive.

A beloved friend of mine, with the loss of her Mom so fresh that I am at a loss on what to say and can only seemingly give physical comfort. I remember what that feels like when you have a bond as close as theirs, and I remember that nothing anyone could say could soften the blow. All I can suss out to do is hug her a lot and say, ‘I love you,’ as much as possible.

Another loved one, who lost her Mom around when I lost mine, is a Mom herself. She had a biopsy yesterday, so we are praying and waiting out test results. Additional prayers are welcome!

A childhood friend and former sister-in-law has had a recurrence of breast cancer, she’s a Mom of two and their Dad died previously this year. The cancer is spreading quick and I don’t even know what to pray for anymore, other than peace and no-pain for her and her family. Okay, and a miracle that cures her. (Dream big or go home.) My Mom loved this woman, too, and I know she’s fighting for those babies to keep their Mommy as long as possible.  Any positive energy you can spare her way would be immensely appreciated.

If the urge strikes, maybe you could throw out a prayer, energy, vibes, best wishes or whatever you feel appropriate to any or all I’ve listed, or to women or men in your life struggling with loss. It’s pretty fucking ridiculous that I know this many, but in truth, I know of even more fighting for their lives or supporting someone in the fight to survive. Having been a support system during such a time, I know it takes a toll. I’m sending out positive energy, strength and peace your way. And hey, don’t wait as long as I did to get help with all you are seeing/experiencing. It’s a real mother fucker to dig out from under years later.

Tonight we honor her by having dessert first. LT has requested an ice cream cake, and we are picking it up on our way back from Arlington Cemetery. Today we celebrate her life, laughter, joy and love for her family.

I’m the wee one in the middle of the picture. It’s the earliest I have been able to find of her holding me, with my adorable brother happily taking the Big Brother moniker.

The mimosas are indeed in bloom. Love you forever, Pocket Mom.

 

**Apologies for any spelling or grammatical errors. I don’t have it in me to proofread this.

Ahhh! So, That’s What’s Wrong With Me

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Hauntings, Mom, No Whining

I realized the day after writing my last post, WTF is up with me?, exactly what was wrong with me: it’s January.

Over the years, it has become a month full of emotional landmines, one right after the other. My son LT has flown back to his father’s, the 5th is the anniversary of the death of a dear friend and also the birthday of Chooch’s deceased brother, the anniversary of my mother’s death from breast cancer, and my son’s 15th birthday (won’t get to celebrate with him this year either, thanks to finances) is in a week.

It was six years ago, also a Friday the 13th, that my brother called me and said the words I had feared hearing since her first occurrence of breast cancer in 1991.

I was fresh from the shower, rushing around and getting dressed to stay with my Mom so my brother could go home and sleep after spending the night with her. We knew she was near the end of her life and in clear moments she knew it and was scared. We never left her alone. It was bittersweet that she spent less and less time clear of mind as the cancer had spread into her skull and brain.

I was half-dressed and rushing to the kitchen to make a PB&J to eat in the car on the way to the hospital. I didn’t have a scheduled time to get there, in fact, in hindsight I’m no even sure I was expected that morning. I just felt an urgency to get to her as quickly as I could, waking hours before my alarm was set and bolting out of bed.

The phone rang and I immediately collapsed to my knees mid-stride and started crying and praying. My husband woke up instantly, which never happens, and answered the phone. He then came to find me and wrapped his arms around me on the dining room floor, telling me that she was gone, crying just as hard as I was. (I now have a begrudging smile, because I again recognize that there are no two other arms on this planet that she would want comforting me more than my husband’s. She adored him on sight.)

I knew what the call was (why else would the phone ring at 6:30 am) and immediately went from praying for her release from the horror of her life to begging for her to come back because I wasn’t ready to be without her. I needed her to teach me more, to make me a stronger woman. The kind of woman that could lift a burden from the heart of my children the way she could do for mine. Tirelessly and full of unconditional love. And I mean unconditional, because I was not an easy person to parent. I frequently rebelled, still do, even against myself. But I still needed her and suddenly was unable to imagine life without her presence.

Shortly thereafter, I reflected that to be in the room where your Mother is and know that this body, the one that you had been pampering, comforting and consoling, is no longer your Mother… well, it is the strangest bit of surrealism that I have ever experienced. My Mother was literally 2 feet away from me, but she was no where to be found. Still, I couldn’t help tucking the blankets around her feet as I always did, because they were always cold. I felt a fool when I realized what I was doing, but no one mocked me. Hell, wrapped as deep as they were in their own grief, they probably didn’t even notice.

So the subconscious knowledge that this day was coming, along with all the other anniversaries, good and bad, are what I believe to be my huge sense of being swallowed in negativity. In talking with my therapist about the dates mentioned above, the excruciating negotiation process in selling our home, an devastating ongoing family crisis that I am not free to discuss here (we are fine), frantically packing and selling everything we own without sentimental value in preparation for downsizing to a smaller living space, having a near-death experience with Kaylee and missing another birthday of my son’s – these have all managed to make this a real crapper of a month to get through after the stress of Christmas.

Happily, we have no fewer than four loved ones born in January to celebrate. And we got to ring in the New Year with people that rejuvenate us. Moving forward we also have the unexpected joy of taking part in the daily lives of powerfully close friends, and by extension, two beautiful young girls. This includes watching a dance recital for 3 and 4 year olds that was so magically rejuvenating that I could feel the weight of sadness falling off of me in chunks as we giggled and cheered their performances. I told their father that I wished for a pill that could impart what we were feeling as we watched these vibrant little spirits dance and twirl in front of us. Nearly all of the adults to a one were shiny-eyed watching not only their child, but also being charmed by the other girls, all of them working so hard to be brave with such nervousness and barely controlled frenetic energy. I found that it filled my heart containers to over-flowing and used the memory of the two sisters dancing together to pull me out of a panic attack the next day. The memory is truly powerful and medicinal to this old girl.

The highs and lows of this month, in addition to new health issues for myself and for my husband (we’re fine), have me both hiding and clinging to the people that give me strength, whether we talk about the hard things or the good things going on in each other’s lives. It’s just the being with them, the contact with them, that soothes.

I will go to Arlington Cemetery to take my Mom flowers and will return home to work on the book I am creating in her honor. I will survive the emotional landmines of January as the tough chick she raised me to be. And I will take time to revel in the joyful moments that occur along the way, exactly as she raised me to do.

I will love you forever, Pocket Mom!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2 (No Spoilers)

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Dizzy, Family, Mom, Movies, Our Kids

I will touch only lightly on the movie itself, as it just opened today and don’t want to spoil anyone else’s experience.

It was everything I hoped for, and save for a nitpick by my niece afterward that I agree with, it was perfection. We saw it in 3-D, even though I knew it would likely bring on the spins. I was, but it was worth it. Chooch said he didn’t feel 3-D added much, and maybe it’s my condition, but I noticed constant use of it to more fully immerse the viewers in the story. In hindsight, he thought maybe that’s the difference between good and bad 3-D, it’s not in your face, so to speak, like (my example) the old SCTV “3D House of Pancakes” skit. It was subtle and masterfully done in my opinion. Yes, I was extremely dizzy afterward, with nausea and a returning migraine. But I’m glad we sprang for it. It may be the last time I’ll have the chance to see Harry in 3D on the big screen, after all.

Watching the actors grow and develop their skills along with these beloved characters over the eight movies depicting this beautifully written but very dark children’s series has been bittersweet. I was amazed at the acting chops they demonstrated, and in fact the entire cast truly brought their A-game. I hope to see it again before it leaves the theaters, at least one more time, so I can more fully enjoy each and every nuance.

I will say this is not a film for young children or those with sensitive dispositions. As in the books, terrible things happen. I won’t go into it, but will instead point you to a SPOILER FILLED review written by my favorite kid review site, Kids In Mind. The site offers reviews based on a numerical score for nudity, violence/gore, and profanity. It then lists every scene in which each of these occur with description. I’ve used it for years, and have never found error with their reviews. In a quick reading of the Deathly Hallows 2 review, I find the descriptions to be wholly accurate. I highly recommend that you spoil yourself, if you are considering taking young ones to see it. There are things that can be unseen, and if you’ve not read the books you owe it to your kid(s) to know what they’ll be seeing to make an informed decision on their behalf. /steps off soapbox/

Now for the real reason for the post, to describe the journey. Christmas of 1999, my son Naughty Bear was given the book series (up to that point , 3 books) by both grandmothers, and the first book by an aunt. We’d not heard of the series, but all three of these wonderful women sensed that NB would love it. We split the difference, keeping one book from each of the sets given. He tried reading it, but at 8 couldn’t really sink his teeth into it. That spring, his dad left me and the boys and I moved in with my parents as I was an unemployed, stay-home Mom of two. While trying to find our way in our new life, we reached for J.K. Rowling’s magical world. Instead of him reading the books alone, I read the Sorcerer’s Stone aloud to him. LT was 4 and had little to no interest other than being in the room with us and sharing this special time, and played around us or snuggled with us as his mood warranted.

We enjoyed the book, but we were hooked when Fred and George entered the story. The light-hearted shenanigans they brought to the story where the turning point for NB, and we then read with gusto as quickly as I could. I then read the next book to him, and when my voice would give out he would read sections aloud to me. This was how we finished the books available to that point, and eagerly awaited book 4. We were transfixed by this world, full of loss, new friendships and the transformative new life little Harry found.

That Halloween, my Mom hosted a Harry Potter Halloween party for the family and close friends. My dad set out the Christmas light reindeer made to look like a unicorn with a pool of blue lights at its feet as if it were in front of a lake, taking a drink. My former sister-in-law and family friend made an ornate cardboard front for the door, making it look like stonework with a Hogwart’s shield on it. We set up a wand making station, and held a scavenger hunt for the Goblet of Fire that nearly ended in disaster as the kids thought one of the clues led to my Mom’s actual cat. We served theme foods (Mad Eye Moody deviled eggs comes to mind) and had Jelly Bellies since Bernie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans were not yet available. Everyone came in costume, even the 3 month old baby in the sorting hat costume made by his mom. My Mother went as Madame Pomfrey and handed out chocolate coins to the children all night for their “restorative powers.” It was an amazing night, that I think shows a small amount of the way that my family embraced that world.

When the movies started coming out, for the first few I played hooky with Mark and my folks to go see them on opening day. Yep, if his grades were good, and they always were, I pulled him out of school to go to the movies. Judge me all you like, it was one of the few irresponsible choices I made, and I stand by them to this day.

So when this one came out, and my boys are actually here to see it with me (Thank God for the timing), we turned it into a big family event. We met at my brother’s house at 11 pm, as it’s 4 minutes from the theater. Chaos ensued, as it always does with us, and we headed off to the theater at 11:15. By the time we got there, we couldn’t get seats together. I expected that we wouldn’t all 9 have seats together, but I had expected to sit together in small groups. Nope. We had to settle for solo viewings, save LT and his cousin, who I was able to finally get seated together. It was highly stressful as they either over sold, or more likely, had people sneak in from other theaters. I finally managed to get everyone a seat, then almost lost mine as I ran to get drinks before the movie started. Luckily, my seat was next to an adorable couple, aged around 16 years old. They had wands and great excitement, and he saw what I was dealing with and guarded my seat with vigor, as did Chooch who was seated behind me.

Side note: The trailer for The Dark Knight actually has me wanting to see it now. The snippet with Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) sold me completely. That man remains one of my favorite actors. The Sherlock Holmes trailer resulted in “meh,” but the trailer for John Carter looked pretty cool. The Twilight trailer for the upcoming movie, brought immediate booing and laughter at the dramatic scenes. Apparently, Bella and Edward are fairly despised, but Jacob is adored. The only cheering that happened was when he was shown, and the rest of the trailer was mocked. I was really surprised to find that there seemed to be a rivalry between the two franchises. I’ve never had interest in that series and know only what people have told me, so was shocked at the reaction. These Rowling loyalists don’t seem to dig the sparkly vampires one bit!

Once the movie started, cheering began and I saw people raise their wands at the screen in excitement. At different points during the movie, there was heartfelt cheering, uproarious laughter, total silence, gasping and a great sense of unity. At the end of the movie, some then raised their wands saying “Mischief managed.” I get goosebumps again thinking about it.

I’m extremely grateful that I did not re-read the last book as I had intended. There were things completely forgotten, and when they happened I was as shocked as if I had never read the books. It was a total and complete roller coaster ride.  I’m happy to say that my adoration of the tale was not from blind devotion, but rather true appreciation for what I find to be a rich and beautiful world filled with joy and pain, just like our own world.

As is true with the Lord of the Rings, my favorite characters are not the “heroes” of the story. Samwyse stole my heart there, and Neville Longbottom has had his name in my heart since, hm… The third book? Maybe the fourth. He, Luna and Snape are by far my favorites, although Mrs. Weaseley is right up there as well, especially after this installment.

The family gathered after the end of the movie and we excitedly shared our favorite parts and utter amazement at what an amazing experience it had been. It was bittersweet, knowing that this part of that experience is over even as I’m happy to finally have seen the final movie. As I expressed last night in Twitter, I’m very grateful that Ms. Rowling put pen to paper to such exquisite result. The impact on my life and that of my family has been huge and unexpectedly extraordinary.

Thank you, Ms. Rowling, from the bottom of my over-flowing heart containers.

Zombies, Harry Potter and Healing

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Family, Mom, No Whining, Too Long For Twitter, Uncategorized

I had previously never given zombies much thought, but recall that as a teen my friends and I watched every B-movies our tiny Texas town’s video store had. The grosser the better. Naturally, many of those had zombies of one type or another. I had certainly seen many more nasty movies in the intervening 19 years. And while I became more squeamish after my children’s separate but critical health issues, I don’t recall any zombie anxiety until Halloween of 2006.

While out shopping for Halloween costumes and decorations with the kids at a cheesily and spookily decorated party store, I realized I was shaky and freaked out by the skeletons and zombies. Although none of them resembled her, I envisioned my Mom in their place. Even worse, I was unable to stop picturing her in various stages of decomposition in her coffin, wearing the clothes she had been buried in. It was the first Halloween since her passing away, and I can assure you it freaked me right the fuck out. Happily that effect has eased immensely, mostly due to being inundated with movies, TV shows, songs, audio dramas, games and apocalypse preparedness plans. And I’ve been working hard with meditation to shut it down when it start to creep in.

But at my core, zombies still freak me out. It’s not something I like to think about, and have worked really hard not to hate those that make Zombie Jesus jokes and stuff like that. Especially those that continue to make them when they see my discomfort. But they don’t realize it’s not a religious issue for me. The Christian/Catholic in me doesn’t care. I reconciled that bit long ago. But having those images in my head? It’s why my zombie preparedness plan only has one constraint: Are our kids relying on me for survival? If yes, I’ll fight tooth, nail, blood and tears for their lives. No? Self-destruction. If my kids aren’t with us, then I want to be a goner in the first wave. I don’t want to see my loved ones like that. Yes, that’s very literal and takes the fun out of it. But that’s how my brain works. When I visualize it, it’s extremely hard to un-visualize it. This is true for all things. Chooch and I even have it as part of an “In Case I Become Undead” Pact: Zombie = bash my brains out. Vampire = join me.

But when hearing about zombies, I almost always return to  standing next to Mom’s coffin at the cemetery at her funeral.  I tried to be a solid and calming influence on all the kids, as I calmly put a rose on her coffin and gave the cold, hard wood one last touch. But on the inside, I felt like a four year old, screaming and throwing myself on the coffin and begging for Mommy to wake up. Not having to be brave or strong or a good example, and just being able to grieve and let it all out in one hysterical rush.

My family rode together to the cemetery in two limos and, to my comprehension at the time, were wanting to leave pretty quickly after the ceremony. But I had to force every step away from her. I didn’t want to leave her alone. I wanted to stay and keep her company the same way I had during her chemo treatments and for all those months in the hospital. Even when she was unconscious.

I wanted a blanket to cover her, as it was so cold that morning. I knew what she was wearing was lovely, but had no warmth. I worried about the rain and the snow, and her being left out in the elements without even an umbrella to keep her dry. Crazy, right? But I’d spent the last five months in constant care of her. I even carried her pain pills with me that morning, knowing she had no use for them but unable to leave them behind.

My whole life her feet were always ice cold, and I was suddenly mad at myself for not remembering to wrap the blanket I had been crocheting for her for months around her feet to keep them warm. I remembered too late and still have the unfinished blanket.

As we slowly walked to the cars, I remember telling Chooch how mad I was at myself, for not having anticipated the need to stay and driving separately. The family needed to leave, to be in motion, to have this part over. But I needed to stay and watch over my Mom for just a little bit longer. I curtailed my time and headed to the waiting car.

It doesn’t come as a shock to anyone who knows me that I have an undying love for my Mom. She was not perfect, and she made a lot of mistakes. I don’t see her through rose-colored glasses. But I still miss her everyday, and I don’t care one whit if anyone else thinks that it’s “unhealthy” or that I should be “over it” or that I’m “using it for sympathy.” My loss is my own, and I expect no one else to fully understand it. Not even my husband, and he knows everything about me. It’s a multi-faceted issue, one that is very private and inexplicable. I don’t see it ever completely fading away.

Today would have been Mom’s 68th birthday. I’ve been pushing it out of my mind with lots of activities and stuff going on, but now I can’t ignore it any more and the blues have arrived full force. Part of it is because of the big part that Harry Potter played in our lives. The first three books had a tremendous healing power after my divorce, and it was also a huge bonding thing for me and my boys. My oldest son, Naughty Bear was the perfect age to be spellbound by it, and we were just reminiscing about playing hooky to see the first showings on opening day for the first few movies to watch it together with my Mom and my Dad. We even had an Epic Harry Potter Halloween party. And I do mean Epic.

Chooch and I watched Harry Potter 7 tonight with LT and NB in anticipation of watching the final installment at the midnight showing on Thursday night. It pisses me off that she only got to see the first four movies, but at least she got to read all the books. Having it come out the same week as her birthday stirs up a bunch of sadness at what she’s missed in the last 5 1/2 years, but I’m working really hard to shift my attention instead to all she did experience, as well as the tremendous impact she had on the lives of her family and friends.

While DM’ing with a friend about it in Twitter, she reminded me to celebrate Mom, enjoy Harry Potter and have dessert first. That last is a tradition that had slipped my mind, based on my Mom taking LT to dinner one day and randomly deciding to have dessert before dinner. So I’m deciding on her birthday dessert in the morning.

I also want to toast Mom, but, and here’s the irony, when trying to think of a wine or liquor that she preferred, I suddenly remembered that the drink I most remember her ordering was a Zombie. She did order one or two Long Island Iced Teas in my memory, but over the years when she was in the rare mood for a drink in my presence, it was a Zombie.

Isn’t she a kick in the pants? It feels as if even now she’s pushing me to toughen up. I don’t even get to hold on to a weird weakness! So, yes. Mom. I get it. I need to do some more healing. Message received, loud and clear. The family I embrace is helping me to come to terms with a lot of things, including not having your physical presence in my life any longer.

I guess at this point I should apologize to anyone that’s bothered to read this far. I don’t have any grand closing statement or clear train of thought. I’m just clearing out the shadows in my brain and dumping ’em here for my own purposes.

So, Happy Birthday, Pocket Mom. I was damned lucky to have you as long as I did, and I know it.

Mom and Me on my wedding day, 2003

Vivid Mommy

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Breast Cancer, Chooch, Dizzy, Dizzy, Family, Friends, Mom, No Whining, Too Long For Twitter, Vestibular Migraine

Just like millions of other people, Mother’s Day is a rough one for me because my mother is deceased. I’m also a mom, which makes it a very bittersweet day. When you add that this year, for what I recall as the first time in 20 years, I won’t see any of our kids, it ensured that I’d be avoiding social media and anywhere that I’d be inundated with the message that I don’t want to be reminded of. Yep, I’m bitter. Then I realized I hadn’t checked in on friends since yesterday and decided to check Twitter and make sure all was well.

As expected, there was a deluge of Mother’s Day wishes being exchanged. One that really touched me was by friend and author Mur Lafferty: “PT has made me toast and yogurt and a can of selzer and brought it to me in bed. “i didn’t know how to make coffee.” I nearly cried.”

On the other end of the spectrum, brand new dad Cheyenne Wright posted “A bit out of sorts. This is the first chance I’ve had to celebrate a Mothers Day in 18 years.”

That one got me right in my vulnerable spot. I closed Twitter as I realized my dizziness had kicked in with an anxiety attack and now-standard accompanying trembles. It was not at all surprising if you understand my current health situation, and I cursed myself for logging in. My husband unwittingly helped my through the brunt of the symptoms (Hey Chooch, this is why I was upset earlier), but I still feel the need to share something about my Mom today. I don’t do this easily because:

  1. I’ve been told in extremely loving ways that I need to try and move on from grieving her as I do, out of concern that it may be unhealthy;
  2. I’ve been accused of talking about my Mom and/or my health issues to garner sympathy for some unknown purpose, either witnessed by me or as reported by others;
  3. I’m not entirely sure Mom would approve of what I want to share.

To those from item 1, I say a sincere thank you for your concern. But my highly remarkable Mom left a massive hole in my world, and it is simply taking a long time for me to heal. In some ways, I never will because I will always miss her. That’s simply the price of having a jewel like her for a Mom, and I’m willing to pay it. Know that I’m making progress and doing the best that I can, and you should feel free to delete any message, change the subject, or ignore any posts. I expect nothing from you when the need arises for me to talk about her.

To those from item 2, I say without hesitation ~ kiss my ass. You don’t understand me now and never did, regardless of what you may believe. Yes, yes, I know, “Never feed a troll,” as it only encourages them. But I’m tired of not defending myself when I’m being vilified and disrespected to those I care about. So I’m using this post to “balls up” and remind myself that my Mom didn’t raise me to be a doormat. In fact, she specifically counseled me on the need to stand up to some of the aforementioned “item 2” people. I feel no guilt over including this paragraph, because they will only be identified to themselves and to those that they’ve trash talked about me. It’s unlikely that most of them will ever read this, except for some that may be looking for ammunition, but this is my little corner of the internet and I’m tired of censoring myself when others won’t.

And for item 3, I mean that Mom would probably not like this picture because she’s not wearing makeup. She was intensely self-conscious and hid from cameras most of my life. I’m posting it anyways, because later in life she embraced her silly side in fantastic fashion and stopped running from cameras. Also, it’s one of my very favorite pictures of her, as it documents a very special moment in our lives.

The tiny hair clips were part of her 60th birthday gift from me. I had gotten a basket and decorated it with silk flowers and ribbons and filled it with brightly colored hair clips, ponytail holders, barrettes, hair bands and a tiara. I wanted to celebrate that the chemo for her newly diagnosed breast cancer wouldn’t make her hair fall out like it did when she battled it in ’91, and it was insanely fun (and cathartic) to pick them out in the girl/teen accessory section.

When we realized that some of the little clips matched her vibrantly colored shirt, my sister put her hair in the little twists that my then-early-teenaged nieces were known to wear for a time, and we couldn’t resist snapping a picture of the spontaneous hairstyle and her reaction to it. A few months later her chemo was changed because it wasn’t working, and her hair promptly fell out. Two and a half years later she was gone.

But I present you with photographic evidence that my Mom was highly remarkable. Even when faced for a second time with the same life-threatening disease that she watched eat away at her mother and grandmother until there was nothing left of them, she was still able to laugh. And when presented with a gift that in hindsight may have unkindly brought the cancer back to the forefront of her mind, she giggled and was delightfully silly. As only she could be.

I won’t exaggerate and say it was Great Bravery or Courage documented in this moment, because it wasn’t. It was just a silly and spontaneous moment. And damned if it’s not one of the most treasured moments of my life. Isn’t she glorious?
Funnest Mom Evah!

This post is written to honor my Mom, Nat, Jaimie, Terry and Zach ~ five people who are no longer with us that are at the forefront of my mind. The first three I miss terribly. The fourth and fifth I never met, but because of their impact on people that I dearly love, I desperately wish I had. You are missed.

Rules of Etiquette, Lesson Four

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Breast Cancer, Health, Mom

This week addresses a breach of etiquette. Having had to deal with this exact situation when my mother was terminally ill, I cannot stress enough the kindness in the simple phrase:

“To go to the room of an invalid unless invited (is a breach of etiquette).”

When someone that there is a less than pleasant history pops into your room on the palliative ward unannounced, it doesn’t matter how lovely the flowers you bring are. The patient is in whatever state allows them momentary comfort and they’re suddenly left scrambling to improve their appearance for the well-meaning visitor. And that’s what it was, someone from the past that knew that Mom was terminal and stuck in hospital and wanted to come by and show support. There was no malicious intent at all.

Nevertheless, an act of kindness when one is struggling through illness should also give thought to the wishes of the patient’s comfort. Surprises sound like a great idea, but are not in this situation. When she was expecting guests, we had a beauty routine that made her more comfortable as to her appearance and allowed her to fully enjoy the visit.

So yeah, check first and then shower them with as much love and attention as they welcome.

It is about them after all.

March Fourth Is A Day To March Forth

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Breast Cancer, Firsts, Friends, Mom, Soulful, Too Long For Twitter

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but I hate posting twice in the same day. This second post is not one I can resist, so you’ll have to bear with me.

Earlier today I submitted my paperwork to establish my own small (teensy, really) business. This is extremely exciting, as it will hopefully allow for some income in a “work at home” way as well as allow us some creative opportunities.

Now, this morning I already announced that I now have the verbal, soon to be written, legal rights to publish my Mom’s short story and will be moving forward with my breast cancer charity anthology. Submission guidelines for written works as well as cover and inside art will be posted as soon as I have the details fine-tuned.

Then, around noon, I excitedly dropped off the business filing paperwork at the Richmond office immediately prior to picking up my visiting friend M.A. in PA from her mass transit delivery system.

She immediately told me that it was the perfect day for it because of March the Fourth being a day to March Forth, which is exactly what I had done. The crazy coincidence of it all swept me up in a giddy excitement. The perfect, unplanned timing of it was such a lovely surprise. Especially when I looked down to see that I had absent-mindedly put a t-shirt with “Realize” emblazoned across the front.

So take a moment today and be bold. Do something you’ve been putting off. Take on a new project or finish up an old one. Do anything, so long as it’s a step forward in some way.

Happy Fourth of March!

Hard Work and Good Fortune

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Exercise, Family, Friends, Half-Marathon, Mom, No Whining, Soulful, Weight Loss

In these days of migraines, allergy symptoms, and tiles being blown from our roof it’s easy to get a bit saddened. Add to that financial issues from a now longish-term illness preventing me from making any real income and it’s a down-right downer of a time.

But take heart, dear reader, because you never know when fortune will befall you and hard work will pay off.

  • We have a fantastic week ahead full of fun, frolic and friendship that we’ll carry in our hearts for a long time.
  • I’ve hit the “lost 10% of my flab” goal. I’ve got a long way to go, but am damned encouraged.
  • My half-marathon training is coming along nicely. I will never win a race, but I will definitely finish it.
  • Today I’m submitting paperwork that will create our very own small business, teensy even, in the hopes of generating income at home since I can’t get traditional employment until I can hopefully get my health issues better managed.
  • And the best news of all? My father, sister and brother are 100% behind the publishing of my Mom’s short story. I’m giving myself two weeks to develop a good plan to move forward in the request for submissions, and will post details as soon as I have them. This is a passion project that I can’t wait to begin shaping.

Happy Friday, indeed!

Road to Arkansas and Back ~ Final Thoughts

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Chooch, Family, Friends, Kaylee, Mom, No Whining, Our Kids, Our Kids, Soulful, Twitter/Facebook, Vestibular Migraine, Weight Loss

Note: If you haven’t read the first five installments, plus the reason for this trip, you may want to start with the links below before reading this post. Also, know that this was stream of thought and confessional, therefore very long. I intended this to serve as my memory since the trip was as chaotic as attending Dragon*Con, and I didn’t want to forget a thing because of its importance to me.
Reason for the trip
Day One

Day Two
Day Three
Day Four
Day Five

Final Thoughts
It took me awhile to sort out how I was feeling after waking up on Friday. It was like a dark cloud settled over me, and I chalked it up to the migraine and extreme fatigue. But it was more than that. I realized the similarity between it and my Mom’s last Thanksgiving. Well, actually the day after her last Thanksgiving. She was near despondent, slept all day and just couldn’t be roused to do anything, including the physical therapy that she so loved and looked forward to. I was terrified, but my conversations with the staff and doctor said that they saw it with many of their patients after a holiday or celebration. They called it post-holiday letdown, where the patients would sort of pull inside themselves and grieve what their expectations had been versus what the reality and likely length of their life was.

Obviously, this was no where near as painful as that, but I did realize that after I initially bounded out of bed, planning to take on the world that I ended up back in bed with a migraine and licking my wounds, so to speak. There were many ups and downs during the trip, and a lot that I can’t say here for obvious reasons. But “let down” is definitely a key part to what I was feeling the day after my return.

The one thing that screams at me, is that I didn’t have more time with LT. Had I thought that Naughty Bear and I were capable of driving the entire way without stopping, I would have left a day later to have had more time with LT. Because reflecting back on the trip, I still just really ache for more time with him. Now, I knew this trip would be all about Naughty Bear’s move back, but I was sure that I would be able to spend one night with LT, just the two of us. The one night that would have been possible, I ended up facilitating the meeting with Roomie. My contribution there was huge and many prickly situations were soothed, so I’m glad I did it for Naughty Bear and the ex’s sake. That was followed by dinner with the ex and his family. It was a fantastically good time, so I don’t regret the trade-off. I just wish we had left a day later and planned on driving straight through the night. It’s entirely possible that we would have had to stop based on the migraine I had most of yesterday. I can’t imagine that I wouldn’t have had it had we stayed in the stressful environment. Still, I want more time with my son. Call me greedy, I don’t care.

I feel so guilty even saying that, because I have so much more time with my sons than Chooch has with his, but the dynamic is very different, like it or not. I’m working hard to ensure that at least Chooch will make a visit this Spring or Summer and that we’ll all four fly to California to visit him over Christmas. But that includes airfare, rental care, and this time we will likely have to stay in a hotel. Still, even with our financial chaos right now, it has to happen.

Happily, the migraine I had for most of Friday subsided after multiple doses of medication and I was able to attend Chooch’s band practice after all. The surprising warm glow of friendship and love with this group of amazing people was exactly what my battered psyche needed, and our overnight stay with friends was just as magical as last time. We enjoyed a wonderful Saturday morning being spoiled by dear friends and then spent the rest of the day day with other friends, some old and some new. At one point, after my very first Ethiopian meal, I made an utter fool of myself by being “that guy”, feeling so joyful and at peace for the first time in weeks that I thanked them for the random luck of having this already scheduled before my last minute trip was planned and said “I love you guys!”. No, I can’t even blame excessive alcohol. I was just that happy. And dammit, if I can complain loudly, I choose to also proclaim gratitude loudly.

I’m blessed and rich in friendship, and I refuse to deny it. I think that cheapens it, and I won’t tolerate that. So for the family and friends online, the friends I haven’t seen recently but have offered me support via Twitter, email, FB, WordFeud chat and also in person, I thank you sincerely. Although I didn’t have time to respond to all the support sent my way, I read each and every one and they truly helped me through what I was facing. I humbly thank you for the gestures of friendship.

I will always treasure the trip, because of the deeply satisfying conversations with Naughty Bear. I am so honored that he shared so much with me, of his personal and private hopes, experiences and dreams. Also, the time spent with my ex’s wife and their kids ended up very positively and I’m very grateful to have found peace there, finally.

As I’ve done throughout this series, I’m ending with the health aspect of the trip, this time the results of my activities: My Friday morning weigh-in showed that I was actually down one pound from the previous Friday. I’m very proud of this, as I usually gain when off my routine, especially when traveling. I didn’t even starve or deprive myself, as I allowed a waffle from the breakfast bar during the hotel stay, ate moderately at P.F. Chiang’s, ate modestly at El Chico’s (a fave mexican restaurant from my childhood in Texas that does not exist in our local area) and two nights with Blue Bell ice cream for dessert. I even negotiated three fast food restaurants successfully. I only got in two workouts, although two of the days were fairly physical with cleaning and packing. I carried bananas with me everywhere and since I was with my kids, had no alcohol. The lesson from this loss is one I hope to never forget – I can be healthy anywhere, regardless of the stress, and feel empowered by exerting control over how I react in relation to food.

Lookit, I’m growing!