The Cousin

I know that I don’t write often any more and that this space has been typically reserved for my mom but I’ve been up since 4:15 am this morning and I am writing.

Now that my mom is gone, I try to only share stories that have meaning for me or families/clients that have touched me in some way. I want to switch gears this morning and tell you a little bit about my cousin Tom.

Incredibly handsome, funny, athletic, smart, music lover, cook, charming and loving.

He was 10 years older than I was and he was my parents Godchild. He was the third child of my mom’s sister Gloria and my Uncle Kenny.

Growing up he introduced me to his immense love of the Doobie Brothers, his love of soccer and golf and his wisdom on boys treating me with respect. When I graduated and moved to Minneapolis, he got me my very first job at The Sunshine Factory, a restaurant close by my apartment. He looked out for me and never hesitated to listen to my younger woes. I know there were many.

He would call me and ask if I wanted to go to his soccer games. He’d pick me up, always smelling of Azzaro cologne and he’d explain his love of soccer. I’d sit on a blanket, trying to understand his love of this game but also just enjoying watching him play. Afterwards, he’d take me out for dinner and we would continue our talk of sports.

When I was in high school, he felt I needed better shoes for playing sports and bought me my first Nike cleats for softball and my Mizuno volleyball shoes. We debated between getting the white or black pair. I didn’t even know they made volleyball shoes. He was on top of it. I was not only proud of my new shoes, but even prouder that he attended many games and I was wearing the shoes that he bought. I loved Tom.

Tom took his life September 1st, 2003.

I was 8 months pregnant with Sophia and I was in the Dayton’s dressing room trying on maternity dresses when my cousin Nick called me to tell me Tom had died. At first, I thought he was talking about our family friend Tom Van Housen. I was immediately heartbroken but knew that he had lived a long, wonderful life. Nick realized I was thinking the wrong Tom and gently told me it was my cousin Tom.

I remember sitting down on the dressing room, sobbing. A woman next to me asked if I was ok. I wasn’t. No one was ok.

That time is a blur.  Questions, sadness, heartbreak, funeral. We will never see Tom again.

My mom cried. My dad asked me why. Our family now minus one.

I remember pulling out my cleats and volleyball shoes, still dusty, dirty, worn and broken. After all this time, I had kept them in the back of my closet. Surviving many moves, many games and a reminder of what Tom had given me. I still have them.

I asked Mike, his son, if I could write about him. I don’t want to be disrespectful. Fifteen years without him and it still feels like yesterday when he would call. “Hey, Jodi. I’ve got a game at 5 pm, I’ll pick you up.”

Before he died, he had invited Steve and I to a party. I know that I was incredibly tired with the pregnancy and I had declined. He was very sweet, upbeat and asking about me like he normally would. I talked to him for a long time on the phone, happy that we could connect. You really never know anything. It would be our last conversation.

In nursing, you deal with a lot of depression and mental health issues. It’s a darkness that you wish you could fix. It comes in all shapes and sizes, coming and going. Many times staying and won’t release. Looming, stifling, congested and dark.

A while ago, I had a hospice patient hide a gun under her mattress and when her family left, she shot herself. She knew that she had limited time left on this world. The bullet bounced off her sternum and she survived. Only to be shunned by her faith for trying to take her life. I still picture her and her comment to me, “I even failed at death.”

With nursing I’ve had may people ask that we just give them something. People have begged. Families ask if they can ease their pain. Pain means so many things to different people. We can’t, of course, but I understand.

In my mom’s last year, she stated more times that I can count, “I want to die”. Over and over and over.

Yesterday, a woman told me she would jump off a bridge if we moved her out of her home. She would be unable to get out of her home due to her illness but I heard clearly what she said. It’s hard to hear but yet you understand.

I wish there was something more we could do for depression and mental illness. That darkness that is present for so many.  I have said it before and I will say it again. There is nothing wrong with taking a medication to help you through your darkness. I’ve had this conversation with many families and if you only knew how many people take something for anxiety, depression or for any forms of mental illness. Maybe that stigma would go away and people would feel more comfortable treating their depression. That darkness.

It’s no different that the treatment of any specific disease. Parkinson’s, cancer, thyroid, cholesterol, blood pressure, gout, reflux, memory loss…

In conclusion, our family holds a golf tournament every year in the fall to benefit SAVE, Suicide Awareness Voices of Education. It is the Tom Boxell Memorial Golf tournament which brings education and awareness to the community. The mission of SAVE is to prevent suicide through public awareness and education, reduce stigma and serve as a resource to those touched by suicide. If you have interest in attending, I can send you the details of the upcoming golf, dinner and raffle.

If you are sad, reach out. I may not have the right words to say but I can listen. And I’m a good listener.

In memory of Tom Boxell. ❤️

Jodi

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The Third Year ❤️

The third year…1,095 days to be honest.

I really debated all week if I was going to write about it. Like last year, I don’t want people to think that I think about her all the time and I still consciously try not to talk about her. But she continues to dwell in my heart.

This is the time of year that is hard for me. It is her birthday, anniversary of her death and Mother’s Day all within a few weeks. Its hard not to think about her and miss her.

Summing up the third year has been a mix of emotions…

Like we have done the last few years, my brother and I gave away Dairy Queen Blizzards last week on what would have been her 92nd birthday. The first 100 people would get her favorite treat in honor of my mom, though they have discontinued the Snicker’s Blizzard which was her favorite. We even had a donation bucket and including on-line donations, raised over $500 for the Alzheimer’s Association. As I have mentioned before, she loved her hometown Dairy Queen. A place she knew when she would get turned around walking. It was centrally located to her walking and when her confusion took over, she knew where she was. Thank you to Carrie and staff for helping plan the event.

I have finished the manuscript of our memoir. It has been a labor or love. And I do mean labor. At times, I am very proud of it. There were many parts that were tricky to write about. I don’t want to embarrass her or write about something she would not want me to describe. I’ve added, taken out, changed things and tried to honor our time spent for those long eight years after my dad died. At times, I am terrified that people will be upset about decisions I made or that I have exploited her in some way. She knew that I started to write about her when we entered memory care and she felt she was a terrible topic. I beg to disagree. If I have helped one person understand the loss of a mother or anyone to this horrible disease, it will be worth the hundreds and hundreds of hours I have spent describing our journey. It will now go to the copy editor and book designer. I’m excited about the whole process. Many of you know of my love of books and the whole thought of putting this whole thing together is mind-boggling for me. I am hoping for a November release in honor of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.

Grief continues but has lessened.

Next Thursday, I am having minor surgery. I was in the ER a few weeks ago and I have a mass on my left ovary which is large. A lab also came up high for ovarian cancer but the doctor is very optimistic, as am I. They will be taking the mass, ovary, and two Fallopian tubes which I obviously have no use for any more. When I was in last week for my pre-op, we discussed my mom a little. I don’t have a health history due to my adoption and he was intrigued of why my mom could not have children. He confirmed that if the same thing happened maybe twenty-five years ago, she would have been able to have children. I love that he spent the time with me discussing her history. Those are the moments I wish she was here. Not only to hold me hand but to tell me everything will be ok and to have faith. She had enough faith to go around.

I continue to miss her voice.

Parenting is hard and 90% of the time I feel a failure. Truth. On a particularly bad day with my teenager, she stated I have been angry since my mom died. “You have lost your smile!” I don’t feel she is completely accurate but at times, I have lost my smile. I think when you take care of loved one for that long, go through the highs and lows of a devastating disease, and then they are gone, its hard to get that smile back. The worry. The insecurity. The loss. The grief.  The sadness. No one to share certain things with.

I continue to miss just being her daughter.

I miss her calling my name or calling me on the phone.

I miss being able to ask her a cooking question.

I miss her hugs.

I miss the time that we spent reading together or watching the birds.

I miss her stating, “Let go and let God”.

High up, above the clouds, I  hope that she is happy with my dad, drinking coffee, reading, working on her tan in a big beautiful garden and humming a song. I hope she is looking down and me and she would remind me to smile. I hope that she is also happy with the story I have told about a mother, a daughter and the love that kept them together.

Happy Mother’s Day next week to all of you with your own mama’s. And to all of you who have lost your own Mom’s over the past year, remember to find your smile.

Jodi

 

 

 

The Snowman

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you! Friends, family and blog readers, thank you for reading and sending me messages this year. I know that I don’t write as often any more, since the blog was about my mom and I but every once in a while I think of something that is important to me or that you may relate to in some small way. This has been on my mind this week.

This is a hard time of year for people.

I know that there are articles about grief, sadness and loneliness this time of year and I won’t bore you or try to replicate them. I just know and feel how hard it is for people around the holidays.

To the woman in the elevator this week at the assisted living building I was visiting. I understand.  It was just she and I in the elevator and I could tell she was sad. Really sad. She looked so lonely and broken. I was trying to think of something to say to her as we slowly made our way to the 7th floor. Her face full of wrinkles and the saddest eyes. I finally ended up saying, “You look nice today.” She looked at me and nodded. Maybe she had recently lost her husband or maybe her children could not come for the holiday. Maybe she was in pain. I kept thinking about her during my day.

To the family of the people we have lost over the past month. I understand.  It’s never easy to lose someone you love. Ever.  But it is especially hard over the holidays. Your family is not the same and it is supposed to be a joyous time. Waves of grief fall over your heart. I have lost young and old over the past month. Cancer, the main thief, stealing the ones we love.

Many of you read The Piano Player that I wrote last December. Sadly he passed away last month and I miss his sweet smile, his laughter and gentle teasing. The hard part of the job is not to become attached. There are important things to remember called boundaries. He was one of my favorite visits and he is missed. I think people come into your life for certain reasons. He and I shared a few family issues that I didn’t share with him but I watched him handle his issues with grace and strength. There’s my lesson. Grace and strength.

To the husband of the wife I take care of who hasn’t been my easiest family member. I now understand. When I first met the husband in a rehab center, I could immediately tell he was in control of his wife’s situation. He was rude to his daughters and frankly, wasn’t listening to anyone that was trying to help him. When we got his wife home, we had a rocky start. He continued to be rude, condescending, demanding and highly opinionated. I had to deep breathe with him on all of my visits. I really needed to understand him and realize where he was coming from. I will admit that I lost my cool with him on one occasion. And I’m not proud of that.

Over the last few months I have realized that if I suggest things to him and make it seem that it is his idea, things work out much better. I let him talk and listen and I try to understand where he is coming from. Normally it is from a place of love and concern for his wife. I just know that he likes to be right and does not like to be challenged. I have worked around this since my dad was the same way. I finally look forward to my visits with him and he isn’t even my client/patient. My heartbeat does not accelerate as much as it did before when I would have to see him.

Last Friday we had a nice chat together. He brought up my comment I had made to him last month about the fact that I am adopted. He had asked what my nationality was I told him proudly that I had just found out, via a DNA test. He asked if he could ask a few questions and I was fine with what he was asking. Normally I would not answer those private questions to a stranger but I felt alright with where he was going with it.

He shared that he too was adopted. His father had up and left him when he was a baby. It was late 1920’s and he never knew why he left. He knew that he was a successful attorney in St. Paul and that his mother remarried and the new husband adopted him as his own. He never ever saw his father again but had heard that he had been hit by a train and died. Never once did they ever connect. As he was telling me this story, his daughter was standing on the stairs just listening to him tell me this story. She called me afterwards and said that he only told them that story once and that he doesn’t talk about it. She was surprised he told me the details. That story also stayed with me. We are surprisingly connected.

When I was about to leave he gave me a bag with a gift in it. We had just talked about the fact that he doesn’t think he will be around this time next year. He didn’t really want to put up his old tree but he did for his wife. He’s much more frail and I know that he thinks about his mortality and worries about his wife. Somewhat like my father thought about my mom before he died.

I told him I had to get going since I was already running behind. He waved me goodbye and told me, “Merry Christmas! See you next Friday!” I got in my car and opened it up, hardly believing he gave me a gift. After our many months of “debate”. Here is what he gave me:

 

 

 

I am hardly the world’s greatest nurse but you know what? I’m going to keep it in a special spot and when I’m feeling like I am the worlds worst nurse I will turn it on and see the colors flashing.

I understand all of the feelings this month, more than you know. The fragility of this season. The high and lows, the great expectations, the missing of loved ones, the pressure, the sadness, the grief and the longing. It’s alright to feel that way. Really.

Know that I am wishing  you the best holiday possible.

Jodi 🎄 (The World’s Greatest Nurse)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Athlete

The last few months have been difficult. I have missed my mom’s wisdom and guidance. It has been gone ever since she was diagnosed with memory loss so my guess is that her guidance has been gone for about ten years. Not that I took her advice every time, but more than likely she was correct about what ever problem I was struggling with.

Emme.

My second born and my girl who thinks she looks “large”. It was early this year that she told me she looks fat. Fat. My girl thinks she looks fat. My long-legged, brown-eyed girl thinks she looks fat. I cringe to even hear or type the word.

I’ve heard her say a few times that she doesn’t look right. After her birthday party in July she looked at her party pictures and stated, “I’m the largest one in the picture”. I’m quiet, trying to think of the words to say to her that will get her to understand how worthy she is. How I see her. A beauty with the kindest heart for animals and who had the greatest understanding of her grandma’s memory loss. She was like the memory loss whisperer. All the residents loved her.

I use the words…perfect. Strong. Healthy. Everyone is different. I can hardly get past the thought that she doesn’t like how she looks at nine.

I don’t talk about people’s weight. I have girls and I know how easy it is for people to point out how people look. Sophia and Emme are different shaped but I don’t draw attention to that. They are two different human beings just like all humans are. As Emme sits in my lap, I tell her none of us are built the same. None of us.

Last month, she had her nine-year check up. I was trying to put on her intake sheet what my concerns were but I could tell Emme was looking at what I was writing. In small letters on the bottom of the page, I asked her doctor if she would talk to Emme about how she is feeling.

The conversation went like this with me in the background:

Dr. J. : Emme, I checked your height and weight and you are right on track with where you should be. I’m glad to see that you are still playing soccer and hockey. Your mom tells me that you played flag football last year! I love that you play sports. Your body is strong!

Emme: blank stare

Dr. J. : How do you feel about everything? Anything you want to tell me?

Emme: I look big.        (me tearing)

Dr.: Emme, you are the strongest girl I have seen this week. You have muscles, you’re tall, strong and your weight is perfect. All of this (points to her own belly) is normal to have. Skin and fat protects our organs. We need that to survive. Emme, you are athletic and you are exactly where you need to be. If I was worried about you, I would tell you.

Emme: Smile.

Fast forward to this week and Emme comes home with this:

 

In school, she was asked to describe herself and she had to write it down. She came through the door on Friday and set it down on the table. I took one look at it and I knew where that statement came from.

I loved the doctor’s conversation with her. Casual, non-threatening, direct and poignant. Emme got it. I got it. I think she made her feel worthy again. Even though I had been supportive and loving, it was the best ten minutes.

Worth. I hope she never loses that feeling of being worthy.

Emme hasn’t mentioned anything since her visit with Dr. Jennings. I sent a message to her the week after the visit to tell her thank you and her words were perfect.

Half the time I have no idea what I’m doing right as a parent. Highs and lows. Good and the bad. I wonder how often my mother felt this way and how she got past it. I wonder if the things I said made her sad.

I know that she always made me feel worthy. And I hope I do the same things for my girls.

❤️ Jodi

 

 

 

 

The Tree

I am hijacking my mom’s space just for today and I am writing about my dad. On Friday he will be gone ten long years. He would be 91 if he were still alive today. There is hardly a day, like my mom, that I don’t think about him.

After my dad died, my neighbors generously gave us a gift certificate and Steve and I purchased a beautiful flaming red, maple tree from Bachman’s. The three of us found the right spot in the yard and we planted and watered it and watched it grow for ten years. Steve and I argue on many occasions of the need for it to be pruned. I cringe of the thought of it being cut back, as if it were actually human. I finally allowed him to have a company prune it last year and admittedly, it looks much better. It is called, Papa’s Tree.  On the base of the tree is this:

Now that I look at the tree, I realize that it sits perfectly outside of the girls room. Looking over them with its long, hardy branches. It’s stood the test of bugs, windy days, pouring rain and our beagle, always wanting to urinate at the tree base. It’s a beauty and it reminds me of my dad everytime I look out the window or read on the deck. In the past few weeks, a cardinal has sat on its branches and watched me read. Not singing, but just watching.

It is hard to believe he left us ten years ago. I feel like he just walked me down the aisle, cradled Sophia in his arms and told Steve naughty jokes. There is a piece of him in my heart that will forever be imbedded. Right beside my mom.

I think that when we think of our loves ones we mostly think about the good things and there were many. My dad was also a complex man with many faults that we ourselves share in this complex world. No one is perfect. What I want to remember him for is this…

He once drove four hours round trip to deal with an unsavory car dealer who felt he was taking advantage of me. He was correct, I know now as an adult.

He also drove four hours round trip to help me change a tire on my tan escort that I drove into the ground as a young adult. I’m sorry about that Dad.

When he knew I was not making the wisest decision, he would type me a letter on his old, green typewriter. Tap Tap Tap. I can picture him at his old desk, coffee brewing near by, Pall Mall sitting in an ashtray.

He loved being a Papa, but only getting to watch Sophia grow to be four. Emme not getting to know my dad or his fierce love I can imagine he would have for his girls.

I remember after a long day, working in the farm fields, he’d get out of his tractor and shoot hoops with me on the basket attached to our garage. He loved watching me play sports, at times yelling things at me, like only a father will do. “Go Tiger!” I can imagine that he has a special spot, right above the clouds, watching his girls play their games. I sometimes wonder if I can hear him from up above.

I loved how fiercely he protected Mom, so concerned about her even though he knew he was dying of cancer right before our eyes. He was well aware of her memory issues.

I loved that he walked me down the aisle to marry his favorite son-in-law two weeks after he had open heart surgery. He left early but still was present and beaming that someone finally married me. Oh, Dad.

I was reminded of him weeks ago when a man I take care of hugged me goodbye. I could smell Aqua Velva on him and immediately thought of my Dad. Such a nostalgic smell.

I grew to understand his politics that we didn’t always share. I remember when we had a mock election for a president when I was in elementary school and I came home so happy that the man I voted for, won the school election. Jimmy Carter. He looked at me and didn’t say a word but I could tell on his face he was disappointed and upset. I wonder what he would think of our crazy world now.

I love that he picked me to be his girl. Out of all of the babies, he picked the fattest, two month old screamer with the big brown eyes.

I don’t miss his banging a cup for the waitress to bring him more coffee. I think that is the only thing I don’t miss. Tap, Tap, Tap. Just like the typewriter.

I hope he and mom are up there, where Emme thinks they are at. High above the clouds, finally together. I hope he watched me take care of Mom and was proud.

Miss you, Dad. xoxo

Jodi

 

 

 

 

The Second Year

It’s hard to believe that on Saturday, my mom has been gone two years. I have been consciously trying to not talk about her as much. The next two weeks will be difficult for me. In the span of the upcoming two weeks, it was her birthday (April 26th), anniversary of her death (May 6th), and Mothers’ Day (May 14th).

I was at Target today picking up things and there is a whole section of Mothers Day cards, spanning the whole row. I don’t necessarily think of cards or gifts for me, I think naturally of them for my mom. And the books I would buy her. I honestly hope the weeks go by fast.

In memory of her birthday this year, we again celebrated the day by giving away 100 free Blizzards and cones in our home town of Starbuck. She loved her Dairy Queen and in her confusion, she still remembered that it was a special place to her. The DQ is smaller, family owned and was voted WCCO viewers Best of Minnesota. They did discontinue the Snicker’s Blizzard, her favorite, but you can’t beat this special place. Thank you to all of you who came and to Carrie and staff who helped run everything. All tips went to respite care for families that could use a break in caregiving. Both of my parents would have loved this idea and its our second year putting it on.

On my off days and weekends, I have started to formulate my writings and timeline of the events that led up, starting with my dad’s death, the assisted living and finally her move to memory care. In this blog, I write a little about the past but mainly of  the days she spent in memory care. It has been very difficult to put it all down and to include all the factors that led up to it. I have boxes and boxes of papers, files, doctor orders, bank statements, cards and receipts that my husband would love for me to get rid of. It just sits there waiting for me to go through it all again, like I don’t remember how hard it was before. Its like ripping the scab off a wound and reliving the pain again. It brings up such sadness, anger, occasional hope, frustration, joy, grief and pain. I get frustrated with my writing and feel it is hardly good enough to be put out there. I am not a writer. My boss gave me a CD to listen to on writing and I know I make a lot of errors just listening to the CD. But I still keep going. I have about 65 pages completed, pre-memory care with much of it surrounding her beautiful home town and the help she received. Hence, the free Dairy Queens.

Grief.

I have come to believe that some sort of grief lives in everyone’s heart. Sometimes the space it occupies is just a tiny speck that you can hardly see or feel. It’s there but you don’t notice it. Other times, I feel the weight of grief taking up all the residence in my heart. Just sitting there. Heavy. I know it’s there and there are days I can’t shake it. It can occur at a stoplight, at a game, when I see a Client who may look like my parents, at the grocery store or especially writing. It’s hard to have both of your parents forever gone. I can’t bounce anything off of them or call them for advice. There are days that I need my dad and days that I need my mom. I feel like I need my mom more, just to answer my parenting questions or show me one last thing.

How did she always get merengue to turn out so well?

How did she turn out to be such a good parent when I constantly feel I miss the mark?

How did she know what was best for me and what would she do differently?

Did she worry all the time like I do? Did she care what other people thought about her or worried that a group of moms that maybe didn’t like her?

How did she keep so many balls in the air and how did she keep them from falling?

What was the key to her being so organized?

How did she know how I was feeling before I even knew it?

How did she deal with mean or unkind people?

Daughter questions I can’t ask her now. I wish I knew the answer to some of these.

I think that we will always be linked by love. A strong link.

It was love that started us off by both of them choosing to adopt me. Saving me.

It was love that kept us going through my elementary and high school years. We both survived and came out of it somewhat unscathed.

It was love watching me become a nurse, marry Steve, have her favorite girls and watch her grow old.

It was love watching me from her chair or bed but not quite knowing who I was most days. The Girl.

It was love saying goodbye to me and her family on that Wednesday morning at 4 am.

I miss her but it’s not like the The First Year.

“When you are sorrowful, look in your heart and you shall see that in truth, you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

Kahlil Gibran

 

Jodi ❤️

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Happy Tomorrow

While I was organizing my desk in my home office, I looked on my board where I keep special notes. Many are from friends with words of encouragement, special pictures and notes that I treasure. As I was moving something I saw my dad’s special note to me, half hanging off the board.

It’s worn, stained and proof that it has moved with me over the years. When my dad would write to me, I could tell what kind of advice I would get by just opening the envelope. If he was disappointed or upset with me, he would hand write a letter in his blocked, neat as a pin hand writing. He would let me know something of great importance and made sure I knew his opinion. In all actuality, I most likely did a stupid thing and he was letting me know.

If I received a typewritten note, I knew that I was getting fatherly advice. I can picture him right now, setting at his very old typewriter with a steaming cup of coffee and a Pall Mall cigarette hanging half out of his mouth. I can see him with two fingers plunking at the keys, formulating a letter that would spell out his fatherly advice for me.

Many years after he died and we cleaned out Mom’s house, I looked for that typewriter. I knew it was in our attic but it was mistakenly thrown out. Besides his bowling trophy, that is one thing I wish I had of his. All those letters typed on that old and dusty, green antique.

Below is the letter he typed. I know what he was talking about. I was 23 years old at the time. I was not in a great relationship, working nights while I went to nursing school, tired, having car problems, worried about things I could not control and we had a screaming match on the phone one night. I was frustrated with him not understanding what I was going through.

And then came the letter in the mail. I could tell it was typewritten through the envelope, but still apprehensive opening it. Here is what it said:

20170102_091739.jpg

Boy, do I miss him, even with his handwritten letters. It’s wonderful advice for the New Year 2017. Lets all have some happy tomorrows.

Jodi