Sunday, November 28, 2010


Time has taken on new significance to me the last couple of weeks. My mother-in-law died of cancer on November 16. It had been a sad and speedy journey from diagnosis at the beginning of May. It's given me a new appreciation for time.

Time can fly or stand still. Time can be a gift or a burden. Time can give or take. Time can speed or creep.

Every parent on the first day of school, while wiping a tear wonders how the blanket clad bundle of baby became the backpack toting child heading off to the world of education. It happens in the blink of an eye.

Anyone waiting for a bus or a train knows the value of a minute, especially when you are standing on the platform watching the back of the vehicle pull away.

My father died in his sleep. I talked to him the night before he died. Thankfully, the last words I said to him were "I love you daddy, I'll talk to you later." Time ran out before I could talk to him about the contents of his red box of pictures, or his war memories, or his childhood. When my mother-in-law was diagnosed with metastatic cancer at the beginning of May, I told my husband that time was gift. He had a finite amount of it, so be where he needed to be, say what he needed to say.

At first, he continued as normal. It's easy to pretend normal when you avoid. His mother's health deteriorated alarmingly the last couple of months, and he started spending a great deal of time with her. He took advantage of the gift of time.

Our phone rang at 3:30am on November 16. A phone call in the middle of the night is never a good news call. My father-in-law was on the phone advising my husband to come to the hospice. My husband was on his way by 4am. I was cleaning the living room at 4:15am because sleep was no longer a possibility. We had decided beforehand that while our 5 year old daughter could visit grandma as much as she wanted to, that we would spare her witnessing the actual transition from living to death. That was a bit more reality than a 5 year old needed to deal with, and I wanted her to remember her grandma as the tea party in the special room grandma.

My mother in law passed away at 3pm on November 16.  This date had special significance for our family because of the date it wasn't. You see, dates and events were very important to my mother-in-law. She sent cards for birthdays, anniversaries, Easter, St Patrick's Day, Halloween, Mothers' Day, Fathers' Day and she kept a master list on the closet door in her room. My father in law's birthday was November 15, and we think that she waited until after his birthday to cross over. She had the force of will to do it and it would have mattered to her that his birthday remained only his birthday.

When my husband called to tell me the news of her passing, my daughter and I headed out to the hospice to participate in the candle procession. The hospice believed in sending people away the same way they arrived, via the front door. The hospice staff treated death with the same love and dignity that they treated life. A person who was in the final stages of living had a heart placed on their door, which was replaced with a butterfly when they passed away. The family was allowed the privacy and comfort of a solarium which was off the main area of the building, filled with comfortable chairs and surrounded by windows that looked out on woods and bird feeders, and a pet turkey that roamed around the grounds. The body was draped in a handmade quilt, and the family escorted the person to the hearse with a candle that was then placed in the lobby for 24 hours to honour the person's memory.  My daughter had a chance to say goodbye to grandma, and her only questions were how grandma would know how to put her angel wings on, and how she would get to heaven if she didn't have her wings. I told her God carried her to heaven, and another angel helped her with her wings. It may not be theologically correct, but it worked to comfort a 5 year old.

Cancer has robbed me of 2 acquaintances and my mother-in-law this year. Hepatitis C has robbed me of my brother of my heart. All this loss has taught me that time is a gift with an expiry date. Sometimes, you don't get another chance to tell someone you love them. Sometimes you don't get another chance to say I'm sorry, or I love you. My house may look like a bomb went off in it but helping my daughter with homework, or watching a movie with her (which has led to interesting discussions about heaven, hell, angels, Santa and teaching a cat a trick) is more important to me than the dust bunnies currently mounting an offensive in the bedroom. My mother and daughter have a finite amount of time together, and although I cringe sometimes, and grandma's house is a "no-free" zone, the time they spend together is more important than ice cream and cookies before bed.

Time can fly. Time can stop. Time can give a gift or take it away. Sometimes now is all there is.

Rest in peace, Mary. I promise I'll take care of your boys. I love you.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Should, Must and Losing Yourself

I was a little shocked to find out that my last post was the end of August. I'd like to say that it was due to having lots of work, but really, I lost my Muse. I've been buried in the "shoulds" "musts" and "need to" and I've lost myself in the process.

Like any woman who has both young children and elderly parents, I've been doing a lot of juggling. My mother, who just turned 84, is healthy and lives on her own. She doesn't drive anymore so trips to the library, the bank, for haircuts and other errands get coordinated into my day. My daughter is only in school two days one week and three days the next, so I try to get my errands done on the school days. Days spent on errands are days not spent on job writing.

My mother in law is fighting an inevitable battle with metastatic cancer. It's robbed her of mobility, appetite, breath and dignity. For a woman as private as my mother in law, having a stranger help to bathe her has been very difficult for her. I'm trying to support my husband, my brother in law and my father in law, while gently preparing my daughter about the reality that sometimes sick people don't get better. I put my own sadness on the backburner, because I need to be strong for my family. I cry in private, or in a safe place like church, where it somehow seems okay to cry. It's a good thing I'm a funeral cantor: nobody thinks it odd to see someone crying at a funeral, and I cry when I see other people crying.

And then there was my cousin Murray. We found out in June that he was in total liver failure. He died August 23. Although I e-mailed him, I chickened out and couldn't pick up the phone to call him after I found out about his health situation. Murray was a kind, gentle soul and I'd made him cry before when we talked about his son, Allie. I knew I couldn't be strong talking to Murray when I was so devastated about the news, so I took the coward's way out and e-mailed him instead. Now I'll never hear his gravelly voice saying "I love you" again. He's left a pretty big hole in our lives. We didn't see each other very often because of life circumstance, but I knew that if I ever really needed him, he'd be on the next plane. He was a brother of my heart and I miss him, even though we didn't talk often, I knew I could. I miss that.

And although it was for the best, I miss my little black cat, Max. He was my constant companion during the day, always needing to be where I was. To this day, when I pull out a kitchen chair, I have expect to find a little black face popping out from under the tablecloth to inquire why I'm moving his bed. He was only a cat, but he was a good, loving cat and a good companion.

I'm mired in "musts" today. I must follow up on delinquent payments. I must come up with some story ideas so that I can earn money. I must revamp my website, I must find my brave and get better at self marketing so that I can build my business. I must read last week's submission for the critique group, even though it's ridiculously long. I must find the perfect cake to bake for what will probably be my mother in law's last birthday on Sunday and I must bake it on Friday because I'm away all day Saturday at a conference. I must book haircuts for my mom and daughter. I must figure out dinner. I must go to the memorial mass at church tonight for all the people whose funerals I sang at this year. I must wash the dishes, help my daughter with homework, figure out an approach that works in dealing with a teacher that we're having concerns with (and kindergarten is too young for this crap) and I must feed the 19 year old tabby who is yowling in the kitchen.

And then there are the "shoulds": I should revise my YA novel, taking into account feedback I've received. I should figure out an outline for the non-fiction book, and see where the gaps are. I should do NaNoWriMo because that seems to be the only way I get fiction writing done. I should work on a picture book text for the critique group.  I should finish flipping my winter and summer clothes. I should lie down and get some rest so that I can shake this infection that is lingering on and on. I should do some knitting and finish the horse sweater while it still fits my daughter. I should put on a load of laundry, clean a floor of the house, work in the garden, go for a walk with my daughter on a cold but clear fall day even though my hip has been locking badly and it will hurt.

And I can't seem to do any of these. My emotional well is empty and I'm wondering why I ever thought I could successfully work from home. All the old doubt demons are muttering around me, making me question my abilities and my professional self worth. I'm juggling like crazy, but still dropping balls.

Somehow, I need to find my Muse again. I need to do something that is only for me, that will nourish and sustain my being in the hard days ahead. I need to be a little selfish and steal some me time. I've forgotten to take care of me in the midst of all the musts and shoulds. But first, I need to make a pot of tea and do some homework with my little girl.