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

 

 

 

 

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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:

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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

 

The Piano Player

It’s been a long time since I’ve wanted to share a story. I know I wrote my last post in May and at that time, it had been a year since my mom’s death and now it has been another six months without her. Time moves on.

Over the last few years I have been writing about her, I have shared stories about the holidays and many of the issues we went through. For many people, it is a time for family, being around our friends, good food and parties, faith and traditions. For others, it is a hard time mixed with sadness, grief and a sense of nostalgic meaning.

I have a fairly new hospice case, a sweet gentleman with a shy grin and a constant baseball cap on. This week it is a U of M cap, slightly tilted off to the side with a smudge of dirt on the front of it.

He is happy to see me and pats me on the back. I know we aren’t supposed to have favorites but in all honesty, I love coming to see him. Our banter has been the same over the past few weeks.

He: “You are here to set up my rat poison, I see.”

Me: “I see that you haven’t used your oxygen all week!”

I enter his warm kitchen and we sit down at the table. We talk a little and I start to set up his meds. I can tell he is watching me, just like my mom used to do. I can tell he is a little winded and he is telling me about riding a bike at the Y today. I warn him that he needs to keep that quiet or he will be kicked off of hospice. He gives me a mischievous grin. I grin right back.

I finish the medications and he is quiet. I know he has gone through a lot this year. It’s been hard for him and at times I know he struggles with family issues. Same issues I struggle with.

He confesses he is not excited about the holiday. I want to agree with him but I don’t. I just listen. He talks and I listen some more.

At the end of our visit he stands up and like he always does, goes to his beautiful baby grand piano. I have heard the story of the piano before.  After many years of admiring it at the home of one of his customers , he bartered a job for him and the customer let him have it. Unbeknownst to him, he got it home and it was built the same year he was born. He felt this was a sign and I agree.

He asks what I am in the mood for and I respond…holiday music. He starts to play, no sheet music and eyes shut. He plays a jazzy version of a song I can’t name but I recognize, and then he plays Silent Night. I wish I could explain how beautiful it sounded. He is now breathless from playing but still refusing the oxygen I have encouraged. I could listen to him play all day, he is that good.

We get to the door, I am running behind on my visits and need to go. I remind him I will be back the day after Christmas and he pauses. “That’s my anniversary!” I know he has been missing his wife, she has been gone for a few years. He gives me a look that I recognize and he gives me a hug. I know how hard this is for him and all of us at the holidays. Loss, grief, longing and his own mortality.

He wishes me a Merry Christmas and I yell back to him…”Wear your oxygen!” He laughs.

The Piano Man almost moved me to tears on his snowy, cold sidewalk.

I have had friends lose their mother and their father this year. Friends have also lost their brothers and their sisters. Grandparents, neighbors, Aunts, Uncles. Thinking of all you who have lost a loved one this year.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Jodi

 

 

 

The Very First Year

I have stopped and started this entry many, many times. It’s hard to sum up the first year without your mom and over the past few days I have thought about what to share with the people who read it. May 6th marked the first year without my mom.

I have missed her.

Sometimes I think to myself, why should I be so sad that she is gone? It’s not like she wasn’t ready to have her life end. She wasn’t my young daughter who has her whole life in front of her or someone’s brother who lost his life early to cancer. She was 89 years old with a horrific disease that plagued her ability to eat, walk, show emotions, make her own meals or even to recognize me. I’m sure she is happy to be free.

I still miss her.

The first few months after her death, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of love from people. People are incredibly kind and loving. People ask how you are and they have certainly lifted my spirit. I grieved but I would call it a healthy grieve.

The holiday was hard, she loved the holidays and it was very different not to have her around or in the last few years,  we would go to her memory care to visit her and celebrate there. People talk about losing a loved one and the finality of it all. Holidays are very tough.

I miss her voice.

Books and specialists talk about what stress and grief does to you. My grief came out in my hair. My hair literally changed after my mom died. It started to change texture and shape and it became kinky, straggly and I looked awful. I can barely stand the pictures of me. It was almost like whatever was inside of me, was coming out via my hair. I had my thyroid checked and my friend Martina, who cuts my hair, kept stating that she sees this with people who grieve. I spent a lot on hair products with no results. Awful, dull, lifeless hair. And that is how I felt.

I miss her love.

January was a very tough month for me. I felt like something had come over me and that I was a very angry person. I was anxious, yelled at my husband and girls, I yelled at people at work and I could not overcome what was wrong with me. I wasn’t even reading. I could barely stand to look at myself. Grief.

I miss every stage with her.

There are stages of grief that anyone goes through and I’m sure I’ve hit them all. You miss the days of being a little girl and having your mom show you how to ride a bike. She introduces you to the world of reading and teaches you how to you be kind to the kid on the bus you want to smack. She teaches you to stand up straight, friends are important and that neat handwriting counts.

You miss the high school and college years where she teaches you to be independent, self-sufficient and watches you become a nurse. She is so excited for you and she watches you meet a boy named Steve and you get married. You have two cute girls that are named after her.

You miss the days where your roles are now reversed and you must take care of her. You gladly pay her bills on Wednesdays and visit her midweek, after work and on weekends. You introduce the world of Alzheimer’s disease to your daughters and they love her all the same. You watch a beautiful woman ask her own daughter if she is indeed Jodi. You watch the kindest woman, slowly slip away.

You miss all the stages that you have been through with your mother.

On  Mother’s Day, my second year technically without her, I spent the day with my girls with their numerous adventures. I stayed off FB with the exception of posting a picture of my girls, enjoying ice cream at a favorite stop. I had butter pecan, my mom’s favorite. (With the exception of Snicker’s blizzard!) I hope you had a wonderful day with your own mother.

I miss her pats.

In honor of her birthday, on April 26th, we donated free Snicker Blizzards and cones at her hometown Dairy Queen. Thank you Carrie for helping me. I love the idea that we celebrated with her favorite treat. I hope she was proud of the way we celebrated it. I know we loved doing it.

I miss her when I see other client’s that remind me of her.

The hardest part of my job is to see Client’s that remind me of mom. Families ask questions and on a rare occasion, I will tell them about mom and her journey with the disease. Families also ask about the dying process and I share what may be to come. A few weekends ago, a daughter told me “thank you” for explaining the death process to her and she made the decision to come and see her Dad. It was the same way with mom.

I think about her when I see a cardinal, smell our lilacs in the back yard, make her rhubarb torte and see Emme snuggle with Blue Dog.

I miss just being her daughter.

In conclusion, I’m not sure I will write again. I may if something moves me. The very first year is over with and I’m feeling better. My hair is back to normal, my heart isn’t so angry and I feel back to what is semi normal. I’m not sure what else I can tell you about us…just that I gave my best, loved her hard and I’m so proud that she picked me and that she was my mother.

Happy Belated Mothers Day to all of you…

Jodi

 

 

 

The Journals

Over the past few months, I have had a chance to read my mom’s beloved journals. As I have been organizing her bins, I have found a few more of her old calendars and her journals that she was so dedicated to. They are a treasure.

I know that she has many more but I am sure in her numerous moves over her life, some have gone missing but I am thankful for the ones that I do have and the story they so beautifully tell.

I think I have told you this before but my mom actually wrote about how often my brother and I called her. Really. She even commented when she didn’t hear from us, and wondered what we were doing and why we hadn’t called. 20160423_140358.jpg

Many of her writings start with calendars and she documented their trips, their meetings with Lutheran Social Services and quick views of her day with both Ross and I. I love that she documents their struggle with adoption and their joy by writing in that tiny little space.

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She writes about the weather, her walks every morning, my dad’s golf outings, who she saw on her trip to the mail box, who has died in the community, the birth of both of our girls, the sadness regarding my dad’s death and even her loss after him is so clearly evident.

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She writes about her close friends, baking buns and lemon bars for funeral services and trips that we took after my dad died. She talks about her much loved Dairy Queen in my home town, her many years of cleaning houses after she retired from cooking for seniors and she writes about all the blankets that she made by hand. She is also grateful. Many of the entries are of her faith and her love for us. I love that in one of the entries, she states…”Thank you God.”

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Her journals are also a snap shot of the start of her memory loss. So achingly spelled out for me to read. She writes about her forgetting the eggs in the brownies and there is a confusing entry of her and the van. I think she got turned around somehow. She talks a lot about being tired and “getting mixed up”. I remember wanting her to have a MRI of her brain and she agreed after much coaxing. I was having a hard time with the start of her loss, half in denial, half knowing that she needed more help. 20160423_132920.jpg

As she continues to write, it is difficult for me to continue reading. It is the start of her loss in 2007 and her notes and entries start to get shorter and her handwriting starts to change. Her last green journal is filled with a quick synapse of her shortened days and she only wrote a short amount after I moved her into the assisted living. I know that she wasn’t very happy with me and she does not write about her new place but shortly stops writing. This was her last entry.

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I love that her last entry was about me being very busy around her apartment. I remember I was organizing her room and trying to make it homey. I should be glad that she didn’t write about her anger with me for moving her out of her home.

There are parts of me that wishes she would have continued writing about her memory loss, if she were able. I only write about her last three years, in the memory care unit but you never get to see her side of this disease, only from my point of view. My most treasured writing  of hers are her last. She didn’t want to forget my birthday ever so I found many slips of paper with my birthday on it. And if you remember, she had a special note for me that I thought was going to be a loving note. She stated her nails looked bad. That was the end of her writing.

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As you can imagine, her journals are very special. Something that my girls will keep and be reminded of their Grandma. They will note the entry of their birth and how she talked about them with such incredible love. I also can feel the love, writing about her own children and her gratefulness of her life. I wish you could see all of them, she dearly loved her home town and church.

Next Tuesday, my mom would have turned 90 years old. There isn’t a day I don’t think of her. In her honor/memory, our Starbuck Dairy Queen (her home town DQ only) will be giving away medium Snickers Blizzard or if you prefer, a medium dipped cone. April 26th. Enjoy from our family.

I know my mom would love the thought of people eating Dairy Queen on her birthday!

Jodi