Friday, January 17, 2014

This day

Mom, September 2012

I don't want the dawn to come, this day to begin.

I've been dreading it for a long time now: January 17th; the day, last year, that my mother died.

After today, it won't be "this year" that my mother died, but "last year" and I will be expected to be moving on, further from her.

And yet I find the more time has passed I seem to be tumbling further into her instead.  That final year of her life, I was so consumed with taking care of her, the frail, tentative, greatly diminished shadow my mother had become blotted out the vibrant, full-fleshed woman I had known and loved for years.

And now she has come back to me, memory after memory cascading though my dreams and waking thoughts. Though mixed and tumbled in, especially now, is the pain of those final days.

I would never, in a million years, have not been present for my mother's final moments, have let her die alone. And yet I can also say that I will never be the same, and not in a good way, for what I witnessed.

When her eyes flew open, unseeing except for her death come upon her; when she huffed and puffed and fought against the tide of her bursting, broken heart; this was seared into my brain. Her terror was terrifying, and will be with me always.  She did not go peaceful into that black night.

And then she was gone. And yet her body kept breathing. For a good five minutes still. As it wound down, I sat beside the waxy husk that had been my mother.  She had so clearly vacated the premises, but still I held her hand.  A body with the spirit fled is such a strange ghoulish thing, and yet there was also an odd comfort in sitting there.

I said goodbye to the body that had been my mother, watched it draw its last breath.

A year ago, today.

My mother is at peace.

Me, not so much so.

It's going to be a busy day today, Jake with no school, Ethan a mere half-day. There will be no time to mourn, to remember. I am a mother, my children need me. My eyes must search forward, not back.

And yes, tonight I will light a candle for my mother, let it burn through the night, encased safe in its shroud of glass; watch the flickering flame and its reflection in my heart, where her ember glows, always.

Goodnight, mom.

I love you.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

One year ago, today

Mom, January 3, 2013

One year ago, today, I got a phone call.

A late night phone call.

One more in a long series of late night calls that began nine years ago, when my elderly parents moved back to New York City and into my care.

But this one was to be the last.

You never know it's the last.

Until it is.

4 am, I remember this one was.

Mom had fallen. Again.

I rushed to her side in the Long Island hospital her nursing home had sent her to; a cold, bleary ride in the pre-dawn quiet.

Another broken hip. A matched set. (I wrote a post about it.)

But this time my mother was older, frailer than the last time. This time my mother had already been through the ringer, and unbeknownst to anyone yet - but soon to be quite evident - she was also becoming septic from an undiagnosed infection.

A year ago today, my mother went into the hospital, and began the final, short sojourn of her life. She began dying.

I was by her side nearly the whole time.

I was with her when she passed, five days later, at 3:15 in the afternoon of January 17th.

I have been dreading the return of these dates, these days. January 12th through 17th.

They were excruciating to go through last year, every moment both drawing out and swiftly fleeting, galloping towards that end.

And when they are done, the wheel will turn; from first year to second year without my mother. It will be a different thing. And yet also more of the same.

I know everyone's parents die, eventually; that this is the natural order of things.

I know that ninety was a good run.

I know I was lucky to have had such a loving mother.

I know I was lucky to have had her for so long.

I miss her every day.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Of Years Old and New

It's been forever...

Dozens of posts started and abandoned, written in my head, in the shower, never making it to screen or paper...

I can't say "I'm back!" Because I don't know if I'll be able to do this again tomorrow...

But I'm here today.

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year, indeed.

Telling you that I want to write again, that I need to...

That I feel diminished in the not writing, that I miss my voice, too. (Thank you so much to all who have written words of encouragement whenever I have chanced to scratch out a post, these past desert-dry months.)

This has been a tough year.

In a little over two weeks, it will be exactly one year since I lost my mother. (January 17th, to be precise.)

It feels like both yesterday and forever ago that I held her hand, watched her die, wept my goodbye.

I have been treading lightly on this earth ever since, simultaneously here and not here,  Gratefully bound by love and obligation to those, my family (sons, husband, cat), whose need for my presence keeps me tethered in the now, I am nonetheless also floating in the ether, stretching out my open, empty hand toward my mother who keeps drifting farther beyond, never again to reach back and claim it.

I know I need to return, fully, to my life; that this dual, quantum existence cannot spin on indefinitely. I am a paler reflection of my old, colorful self and my family deserves more. I deserve more.

And yet I also know this mourning is a process that I need to go through to come out the other side. There is no around. No shortcut. No easy out. Only through.

I am hoping the year's anniversary will spiral me upward, into a higher orbit, the next stage of mourning that spins me out toward the future.


Tonight I gave away my mother's beanie babies.  A woman of normally impeccable, modern, sophisticated taste, she nonetheless had a soft spot for stuffed animals in general, and beanie babies in particular. She thought them "cute" and had amassed quite a collection of them before, I believe, my father threatened (idly) to divorce her if she purchased any more.

In the many downsizing moves I had boxed them up, except for a few that followed her into the nursing home - a beanie cat perched here, a flamingo there - on her paltry few furnishings.

I don't really want them (except for her favorite cat and flamingo) and yet could not bear to throw them out, so they became yet another box cluttering up our overstuffed apartment, the belongings of the dead commingled with the living.

And then tonight, New Year's Eve, we had an invitation to a party, for the first time in ages. A simple thing really, just three families, hanging out together, but so right for us. My friend who was hosting has three daughters; the middle one has a shortly upcoming birthday and loves nothing in the world so much as stuffed animals.

And so it came to pass that in addition to the champagne, strawberries and sparkling cider we brought to the party, came an enormous box of beanie babies.  Watching the sheer delight wash over my friend's daughter as she unearthed bear after bird after kangaroo from that box made my heart flutter.

My mother loved children so much (I'm sure it was part of her attraction to the beanie creatures, her real baby having left home so long ago) and I know that nothing would have made her happier than seeing her collection lighting up the world of a little girl.


We raised our glasses of champagne and cider to toast the new year as fireworks began to burst and boom in nearby Central Park.

And so I raise my glass to you, my friends and readers....

To a New Year, sweeter than the bitter one that has just come to its end.

May there be joy for us all. And healing hearts.

And fireworks, brightly hued and full of spangle; shimmering in the darkness, lighting up our midnights.

Friday, November 8, 2013

One toe in

I dare not say "I'm back."

I don't even know where I've been. Writing in my head only again, for months, it's now so full of words I feared the explosion would take out a city block.

I feel fake and false sharing the days' small trials and triumphs, the trivia that pile up to assemble my life right now -- meals and homework and mountains of laundry and paperwork, attending to my children's mental and physical health -- when throughout flows this raging undercurrent of grief, still; ten months in.

Ten months.

More than enough time to gestate. And yet what do I have to show for it? This egg-like orb of nothingness that is the palpable absence of my mother, lodged under my chest; barely dissipated, still.

But I feel I cannot yet either wear my mourning on my writer's sleeve. Even though it suffuses everything subtly, the constant filter on my lens, as a topic it is gray wisps, ghostly vague, deadly dull.

I am well aware that to go on and on about missing my mother now will likely incite impassioned and compassionate admonitions to "look forward" and "move on" which will make me want to shank my well-meaning readers.  Never a good place to be.

And Thanksgiving coming up.

Last year with my mother and uncle. This year without.

I almost can't look at the photos, the longing they engender so great, I fear the molecules of the screens upon which the images burn will burst apart from my desire to hold those people again against my actual body and not just in my metaphoric heart.

Mom and Uncle Walter, Thanksgiving 2012

So here I am.

Once again with all these little stories I want to tell, yet they remain untold.

I know it's okay to smile and laugh in the middle of grief, and I do, every day. I know that my mother, of all people in the world, would want me to enjoy each and every moment with my children with all my soul. And I do. Every day.

I hope the floodgates open soon (yet can make no promises).

Until then, here, now, is my one toe back in the water.

It feels good.

Even if it is just a pool of tears.

Friday, September 20, 2013

And now for something completely different...

I know.

It's been a month and a half since I last posted on my blog, something I never thought would come to pass. And yet as the days stretched on it became harder and harder to post. Once again there are a thousand half-written posts in my queue, ten thousand in my head.

But today, finally, I have pushed through the quicksand to bring you....

A recipe.

Wait... What? Have I lost my mind and suddenly turned into another person?


I know you're thinking "What about the end of summer and Ethan's camp and Jacob's camp and the annual family vacation in the Berkshires and my mother's birthday and back-to-school haircuts and back-to-school and the whole middle school transition thing and school bus nightmares and... and... and...?"

Well, yeah. I have all those stories, too. And maybe some of them will get to spill out here. But I can't keep going backwards, I can only slog forwards right now.

And I have to start somewhere, and so that's today...

And so here's my recipe for Banana-Cranberry-Panic Muffins:

Wake up at 5:30 AM

Try to clean up as much of the kitchen as possible, unloading the dishwasher and reloading it, making a neat pile in the sink of everything that doesn't fit in, so that there's room to wash the strawberries and fill the filtered water pitcher.

Wash the strawberries and fill the pitcher.

6:00 AM Wake up your autistic son for school, who is, thank goodness, in a very happy mood this morning, bouncing around and wanting to to talk to you about everything. Wonder if this is because you ran out of one of his medications and so he didn't get it yesterday.

Consider whether there is a viable trade off here -- he is definitely more hyper/bouncy/distractable. Yet also happier and more related, talking and pointing and wanting you involved in everything he is thinking and doing. Great eye contact.

Make note to call psychopharmacologist to discuss. Also his teachers to see if he drives them crazy today or not.

Get your son dressed, fed, packed-up and on the bus.

6:55 AM As you go over the morning schedule for you other son in your mind - early school day, as its the "Back-to-School-Meet-the-Class" breakfast in his homeroom this morning - PANIC as you realize that you are supposed to contribute baked goods to this breakfast and you forgot to buy anything.

Calculate that there is no way you can get to the store and back and still be on time today. Also understand that there is no time to pick stuff up "on the way" and that there is no great bagel & coffee place right around the corner from his new middle school like there was at his old elementary school. Silently curse change again.

Have a brilliant idea: it only takes 10 minutes to whip up muffins and they can bake while you get your son up/make his lunch/get him ready/get husband up/get yourself dressed.  And so maybe you'll be on time and with still-warm home-baked muffins in hand, and so his homeroom teacher will continue to like your son, and you will not fail the Mom-game today.

Remember you have some frozen over-ripe bananas, so banana muffins it is!  When you open up the freezer to get them, a bag of frozen cranberries falls out and misses your foot by and inch. Kismet! Banana-cranberry muffins then.

And begin.
<*> <*> <*>

As is usual with my cooking, I looked up a coupla-three recipes to see what the basic ratios were, what they had in common and any interesting variations, and then I winged it with what I had on hand.

We arrived (nearly) on time. The muffins were a big hit. Ethan said: "Mom the sourness of the cranberries goes great with the sweetness of the muffins!" And he ate two. Win!

And so here, finally, is the actual recipe:

Varda's Banana-Cranberry-Panic Muffins:
(you can skip the panic if you prefer)

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 really ripe bananas, pulverized
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk - Buttermilk would be nice, too. Or almond/soy/rice milk if you want them dairy-free.
1/3 cup liquid shortening - I used coconut oil. You can use melted butter if you like.
1/2 cup sugar - white or brown or combo is fine. I used raw turbinado sugar.
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon real vanilla
1 cup cranberries

Mix dry ingredients together & set aside. (Most recipes say "sift" and you can if you want to. Me, I'm too lazy for that and besides, I lost my sifter two moves ago.)
Mix everything else except the cranberries together, well.
Fold the dry ingredients into the wet and stir until just combined (don't over-mix).
Stir in the cranberries.

Fill lined or greased muffin tins to just under the top.

Bake in 350 degree oven for approximately 25 minutes.
Note: I made full size muffins. You can make minis or a loaf if you want. Bake time for mini-muffins is probably10-15 minutes, for a small loaf I'm guessing 35-40. You'll figure it out.

When my bananas get over-ripe I just pop them in the freezer, skin and all. To use, I microwave for 30 seconds, peel off the skins, remove any yucky bits and then microwave for another minute or so in a bowl until completely thawed.

I used frozen cranberries that were a bit old and wrinkly - to restore them I just filled a bowl with hot water at the start and popped the berries in for the 5 minutes while I mixed the rest of the muffins up. When it was time to add them they were plump and thawed.

<*> <*> <*>

Hey, that was fun! Maybe more recipes with stories to follow... maybe not. No promises, but let's see what the future will hold.

(And its nice to be back.)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Birthdays come and birthdays go

This morning it was just me and Jacob, his brother away still, at camp; his father off at a comic convention in Chicago.  When he woke up at the ungodly hour of 6:30, I plopped down next him on the sofa. "So is there anything you want to say to me this morning, Jake?" Expecting.... I didn't know what.

"Happy birthday, Mom!" he piped up, the first of many birthday wishes from him today. Most delivered with a big hug and a kiss too.

It was odd not having Ethan around, as well. Though we had celebrated our birthdays last Sunday on camp visiting day -- his a week late, mine a week early -- it was still not quite the same as spending the actual days together.

But the biggest, oddest absence is, of course, my Mother.

This was the first birthday of my life that I didn't see or speak to her, she who has been there since the beginning, she who birthed me. It felt so odd, that sense of "something missing" hanging about me all day. That phantom limb whose faint ghost-pain keeps the bite of absence keen.

"Who else called to wish you Happy Birthday? Dan asked from Chicago when we finally connected to catch up.  "Not my mother" was my immediate reply.  "It just feels so strange to have a birthday without at least a happy birthday call from her."

"Well, it would be stranger if she DID call, wouldn't it?" He shot back, parrying with the gallows humor that those of us with dead parents use to lighten grief's load.

And yes, I laughed. And that was good.

And thus this was neither the best nor worst birthday of my life.  Fun was had. And the melancholy came and went, as it is now wont to do.

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law sent a luscious, glorious floral arrangement that took my breath away (and I then spent the day fending off the cat from devouring it).

Friday night I was taken out to dinner by a small bunch of good girlfriends.  We had a completely lovely evening, full of laughter and talk and wine and good middle-eastern food.  Conversations swirling on, we bounced from movies to kids to husbands to jobs and back around again... getting older, middle school transitions, summer reading lists... travels or lack thereof (one of us confessed to sitting on a park bench and crying whilst reading the Facebook status updates of another of us from Paris, and I could so relate).

Presents came: handmade, floral, yummy, bejeweled, and from Paris.  Many many hugs were given and taken;  my heart light as a breeze, the whole walk home.

And no, my parents never called. Not my Uncle Walter, either.

Never again.

And yes I know it's just the price of growing older, of becoming the eldest generation, as countless families before me have so evolved.

I don't like it.  I don't have to like it.

But it surely beats the alternative.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

On brevity being the soul of wit, and all that rot.

Flying home from BlogHer13 in Chicago

If you know me, you know I tend to be "long form."

What I usually call a post, most sane bloggers without perfectionism / obsessiveness and time management issues would call three posts.

But it has also been true that the same forces that lead me to such excessive verbosity are, at the moment, shutting me down. I have barely posted in the last six months. And while I am not happy about that, I also know I don't have the wherewithal to devote the same energy to my blog at this moment as I have in the past.

And, truth be told, I'm still struggling with the emotional aftermath of my Mother's death. Ironic that this blog began as my father was dying, of my need to speak from all the jumbled pain therein. That opened the floodgates that fed my writing.

And now the fallout from my mother's death has dammed up my words again. But not completely. A trickle is still flowing through.

So I am considering this: trying to let myself write really short posts for this month.

At our LTYM BlogHer breakfast in Chicago last Sunday, I was sitting across from Lisa Rosenberg (of the blog Smacksy) and when it became clear that another woman at our table didn't know her work, Alexandra and I fell over ourselves gushing about how much we love Lisa's blog -- how adorable her son is, how lovely the writing. Alexandra mentioned how refreshing it was that the posts were so short, just a perfect little slice of life.

And it got the wheels turning... maybe I can do this... write short posts with just one thought, one story, while waiting for the longer ones to come.

I have so, so many bits of writing sitting in my "unpublished" queue that I have been thinking of as "half-written posts." What if I just call them posts (with a little polishing of course) - hit the "publish" button and move on?

Would the world stop spinning on its axis? Unlikely. (But don't blame me if it coincidentally does.)

There is so much that has gone on this spring and summer that I haven't talked about yet here... graduations... rites of passage... summer camp... visiting cousins... Bat Mitzvahs... new babies... Jake's evolving development... even a recipe I wanted to share.

Also there is one very important, very PARTICULAR half-finished post that I have pushed myself to complete, even if it is less complete than I think it should be.  I have actually put it up on my blog just before this post - backdated, of course, to July 29th, the only proper day for my boys 11th birthday post, since it was, of course, their 11th birthday.

So you can read that here: They go to 11!

See, you get two for the price of one today. (A bargain!)

And so now, of course, I have written an un-short post about how I am going to be writing short posts.

(But then again, isn't that so me?)

More to come soon, I (sort of) promise.