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Spokane, WA
This profile photo is my mom and me at the beach--she is 26 and I am about 18 months. LOVE the joy!! I am a mom of three and a teacher; being a teacher means I have to go back and cut the f-bombs. There were a few. Because Alzheimer's sucks badly. This blog, for nine years now--skipping a few while I was too cheap to buy my domain name-- helps me un-peel and process the endless layers of sad woven with weird and--impossibly--comedy.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The memorial was last night. It was sweet to hear my dad talk about my mom as if they were old friends..because really they were. I touched on her gloominess but didn't speak of the drunkedness.. when the minister, after the shares from me Chris my dad Connie and Mary Cheryl happened--called her intense. I was like, yeah. That fits and make her sound more like me; like all of us. Anyway, Sue and Patty signing were wonderful and a little like the circle of life. I remember when they sang as Grandma Cole's funeral..who died when she should have--at 94 or something.
Anyway, I' skin and wheezing. I am just posting this mo-fo of a video projects because last night we couldn't get sufficient broadband to run it through he program, and then couldn't get it to record not o a DVD and didn't have the correct technology (the old mac wouldn't work with an HDMI cable from a new PC) people kept saying, oh so and so is a tech guy. I was like, I am a tech guy. It's not working. Whatever. Here's a damn link to it.

http://www.smilebox.com/playBlog/4e4455784e6a63344e44413d0d0a&blogview=true

or maybe here:

Lynn Memorial

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Black Plastic Box and The Twelfth of Never

   Mommy’s final touch” is what I told the nice funeral man when he asked what I wanted to engrave on the back of a thumbprint pendant that my guardian ordered…probably as a surprise.. but he thought I’d want to use my own words. (I was limited by three lines of eight characters) He wrote it down on a piece of paper next to an envelope that said “IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS” which was the official death certificate. But I had my eyes on the black boxes inside a large gift bag; also black.

I looked at the labels on them after I took them out of the nice gift bag. I took a photo of them and then posted it on Facebook but then un-posted it within ten minutes because it felt too private even for me. I feel compelled to share everything publicly that other people maybe don’t share. But I have to admit that what I count on as a reader are writers who are honest and vulnerable with sharing their crazy ugly and beautiful insights and losses and screw ups and clumsily inspirational imperfections. (Yeah, that’s why I worship Anne Lamott and lean heavily on Joan Didion and Jenny Lawson. All for different reasons.)

Anyway, after avoiding the boxes of remains all day long and feeling that they were haunting me-- I even thought of The Telltale Heart—I finally stopped resisting them.

Now, the ashes are currently heavy on my chest. And I don't mean metaphorically. The black plastic box is on my actual chest while I listen to music from the Spotify mix I made two weeks ago and labeled "Lisa's grieving mix." I hadn’t needed to listen to it until today.

When I first realized I needed to hold the box of Lynn instead of avoid and be scared of it on the dining room table, I actually spooned with it, crying very hard and I could feel pain—a new pain not like the other one on the day she died or on the day I was in the funeral home and she was still cold in a box in the same building. The part of my chest that used to be heavy when she was the sad Alzheimer's patient now feels a distinctly more empty heaviness.
Isabella came up when I was ugly crying and didn't try to fix it or say anything wrong or right she just hugged me. It was very kind and helpful. Off my chest, the heavy box isn't all that heavy. Maybe 6 pounds? Now that I'm just hugging it like an inanimate pal. An uncomfortable but beloved stuffed animal. Next to me, not on top.

The kind funeral manager guy had explained last month that the ashes aren't really ashes. They are ground bones, and whatever else was left after cremation. He says in Washington you have to grind them so they can be distributed in bodies of water and on land without altering anything. Like so many other progressive laws, Washington has a “go ahead and spread your loved ones around wherever” clause. So maybe I will do that. But not today. Not this month, or this season. Jesus now I’m listening to Johnny Mathis. She loved him. I recently added Johnny Mathis to Lisa's grieving mix. "I'll love you ‘til the poets run out of rhyme. Until the 12th of never. And that's a long, long time."

I remembered after I was done sobbing that I should have let scientists have her brain to study it. Now I'll never know if it's Alzheimer's or some kind of other dementia. I had been rattling off my book knowledge about Alzheimer’s for so many years: “Yes, well they can only guess about Alzheimer’s, the only way to diagnose with certainty is to confirm the presence of plaques and tangles in the brain tissue,” I’d explain all casually.

Then again unless a neurologist or scientist was contacting me and wanting my mother’s brain that would have been pretty strange to, what, to have just asked for it and then kept it in a small cooler? I was honestly hating myself earlier today for not thinking of research first.

I’m on the mend. I let my husband back in the room after a good 25 minute indulgent grief session (I sent everyone out stating that they were judging me for my weird methods; snot and tears pouring down my face as I gripped the remains and felt them thud from one side of the temporary storage parcel to the other), and now I am writing down what I wrote earlier today with my black plastic box under my arm as I listened to one of mom's favorite recent songs “Fake Plastic Trees" which is poetic in a way only Radiohead and my brother may truly understand. Anyway. I will do my hair and get out of my robe. It’s 9:51 PM. Turns out my snow day was a bonus bereavement day.
The “Twelfth of Never” is a long time. I do need to pace myself.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Victory of Presence and the Failure of Poetry


Oh poetry, I’d like to talk about the death of my mother with you. But you give me an inferiority complex.

I wrote poetry about wanting to wake up my infant son the first time he slept through the night and I stood outside the door struggling--with engorged breasts--about how long to let him sleep.

I wrote poetry when I had to put my baby girls back in their cribs at the Neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital after trying unsuccessfully not to fantasize about watching them dancing drunk-toddler style at some awful outdoor concert in the future. It would have been my mom’s idea--Artfest, probably.

The theme of the night my mother died started with poetry.

I had read Maya Angelou’s “Mother” before but I think I’d forgotten it was from the perspective of a daughter.

I knew at some level I was being formulaic with the way I approached sitting by my mother’s death bed.

Taking the Angelou book, and Rilke’s Love Poems to God--which I hadn’t read yet..(I just knew I loved Rilke quotes.)
As an afterthought I'd brought David Sedaris in case things got dark and the night got long and I decided we needed a laugh.
The night wasn't long, and it got very dark, pretty quickly and I made it through Angelou’s shortest publication to date in little over five minutes. I began to read Rilke; about him reading to God
I took a photo of me reading with my feet up.




Her breathing had been labored the night before. And her head--it was tilted up and sideways. It made my neck hurt.
Hospice had been called a handful of times in the past nine months. But this was no false alarm.
I had thought “hospice” was a series of visiting angelic-looking kindly-trained nurses or even volunteers--the kind who’d have avocado seeds sprouting in plastic cups above their kitchen sinks at home.
I’d pictured they’d be watching over my mother so she wouldn't die alone. That’s not hospice. Not for my mom; not on that night.
Hospice’s “comfort care” is a steady administration of Ativan and morphine. If there had been family around asking questions and hovering they’d have known what to say. But it was just me and her.
So I’d been reading Rilke and I can’t remember exactly what line I’d read that kicked me into present moment.
Her breath was more shallow; more labored.
A line, addressed to God had said “You are leaving me” and I began to cry.
I put the book down and laid down next to her.
She was wearing the fleece jammies she’d had on the previous night when my dad had touched her right leg ever so lightly and crumpled into tears.
My son had never seen his grandpa cry; he'd never known these two people together or witnessed any love between them. They'd been divorced for eleven years when he was born. Alex, my tough man child went over to hug my mom, too.
I don't know what Mike did. He was most likely handling something while I wandered in a daze.
My girls were scared to get close.
Scared of grandpa crying.
There was hugging and everyone was hungry. We had been on the way to my twins' birthday dinner.
Isabella put her arms up and said “HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!” just sarcastic enough to prove she was my kid.
Back to this night, I stroked my mom’s face, and said,
“Hi mommy, I’m here, it’s ok.”
And it was like that. For five minutes or even two. I couldn't tell because it wasn’t real time. It was another world God time. I hadn’t felt like that since I’d given birth to Alex. When it was just me and my body and the concern on the midwife’s face and the mention of a drop in oxygen and me, grabbing God by the lapels and saying, “Alright it’s you and me. We are getting this kid out.”
It’s how I felt with her. My mom’s eyes opened and locked with mine..like almost a surprised or sad look. Her blue eyes were watery.
I reassured her “Hi it’s me, it’s me, it’s me, mommy."
"It’s ok. It’s ok.”
And I felt so grown up..like I was helping--the way you know a sick child feels reassured that you are there. Even if you can't make their fever go down.
I knew different something was happening so I left and ran out to get some kind of nurse.
She came back with me--and some other nurse guy.
She said she’d passed. Then my mom breathed one more time and I got back to her face.
And I pet her again and hugged her.
The nurse said she’d passed. This time she was accurate. She even checked her pulse and looked at her watch.
I stroked her face more..her eyes were open and so was her mouth. It had been breathing wide open for a long time and you can't close the mouth like they do in movies.
But the nurse aid closed her eyes--also like they do in the movies.
I began to gush over my mom.
“I'm so proud of you! You're so smart! You're so smart you waited until I was here. I love you.”
And the nurse people changed her pants while I left the room and then I went back to her side and laid there. Anxiously.
I wrote these notes on my phone then:
“I'm sitting next to my mom’s dead body. She is still
Pretty. Pale, yes. But no longer struggling to breathe.
I was on 18 % battery left when I got here and I recorded a little of her breathing to show Mike how different it was from the night before. Were these death rattles? I couldn’t tell but it was like a kind of loud mouth breathing.”
I had posted an hour previously on Facebook to send me prayers and then I posted that my mom had just died with my hand on her face.

I see now that I was throwing a high-tech message in a bottle and waiting for responses. I don't do lonely or quiet well even in the best circumstances.
I texted my friend, whose dad is terminal.
“I’m just chilling with my dead mom next to me like ‘Weekend at Bernies’ except without bad acting and sunglasses. Hospice is coming to talk to me about stuff.”
“Are you a little in shock?” she asked.
Pretty sure I was.
“She’s a pretty corpse. Is that weird? My phone is...about to turn off (i didn’t want to say die).”
I couldn't text or call my little brother because he was on stage performing comedy in Minnesota. I had blocked him from my Facebook post so he wouldn't find out our mom died on Facebook. How much better was it to find out she'd died by text?
After the phone died, I grabbed the one attractive sweater from her closet, and a pair of socks. My feet were cold and sweaty.
And about a half hour later, my mom’s essence was no longer there. I didn’t want to be either.
I left the room when hospice came,  answered “cremation” and I think made inappropriate jokes.
I remembered the night my grandpa died when I was in the eighth grade. I had picked up the phone, too, and had heard my grandma say “the mortician” and hung up.
She hadn’t even sounded sad. “How did she get over it so fast?" I wondered at the time.

Anyway, I cried all the way home.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Cat Named Sloopy, A Mom Named Lynn




Me and Saki, 1976
The first real loss I ever experienced was when my cat, Saki, died in the Spring of my sixth grade year. My mom had two Rod McKuen poetry books and I'd cited his works in various felt and glue covered, hand-typed (yes, Smith Corona typewriter) poetry books in previous school years' English classes. I knew the magnitude of the death of Saki called for the best McKuen: "A Cat Named Sloopy." I read that poem over and over again in my wood-paneled basement bedroom to ugly cry and feel understood. Someone knew an animal could be that important; a loss could feel that profound.
I'm doing the same thing now with my mom's photographs of her with my baby Alex.
And I suppose I need to be the poet, and I can't because in spite of my penchant for gloomy sixties poems by Rod McKuen, I still don't feel I can write poetry. While I love the Aeschylus poem Bobby Kennedy read at MLK's funeral ("And even in our sleep, 
pain which cannot forget
 falls drop by drop upon the heart,
 until in our own despair, 
against our will,
 comes wisdom through the awful grace of God,")
I'm not wise yet. I'm still being knocked off my feet with bursts of grief.
The sad poem from Four Weddings and A Funeral ("Funeral Blues") by W.H. Auden is written more for lovers than mothers. So it's the cat loss poem I'm choosing. I'll post in a minute. My grief has ADD just like every other aspect of me.
Anyway, why these photos are particularly heartbreaking is this: My mom was not a fantastic or remarkable mom. Not the mom I am, or feel like most of the women I know strive to be. Lynn did what she could, but was often overwhelmed and mostly unhappy and often unavailable. But now, working full-time with three kids and being tired at the end of the day, I truly have more empathy for her daily after-work drinking through my middle and high school years.
But the Lynn that I got for the grandmother of my children? She was fantastic! She loved my baby when she visited us from both her homes in Missoula and Helena. She loved him when she lived in her condo in Browne’s Addition. She showed up, and rallied, and took care of me on bedrest; blending spirulina shakes and forgetting to bring them up to me. Lynn tried to take care of my acting-out son when he was dealing (very badly, like the upset four-year-old he was) during those 2.5 months in bed. When the twins were home, she pulled over-nighters with us when Mike was on shift and one of our newborns was sick.
          She adored Alex with a love that I hadn't remembered, known or appreciated, until my dad explained this was how she loved me.

She is 54 here. She looks so young! My grandparents first and only visit to my home. Mother's Day weekend '01

Man. This photo! We are on the tour bus, Independence Day weekend in Helena, '02

Same Mother's Day weekend. My grandparents both died within the past three years, too.

For a while
the only earth that Sloopy knew
was in her sandbox.
Two rooms on Fifty-fifth Street
were her domain.
Every night she’d sit in the window
among the avocado plants
waiting for me to come home
(my arms full of canned liver and love).
We’d talk into the night then
contented
but missing something,
(It was longer than I remembered. Read the whole poem here: Sloopy poem)
           Good God, no wonder my mom was so sad all the time. Too much freaking Rod McKuen. And Blues music. I read that poem SO MANY TIMES. It made feel so old...so intellectual. Anyway, that's what I have today. Love, tears, and a poem I thought was so rich and deep as a child--when I was naive enough to think the loss of a cat could feel the same as the loss of a parent. I used to relate to the lonely man in the poem who expected a LOT of his cat. Sloopy didn't deserve that pressure. I'm on the cat's side now.
          On the drive home, Saturday evening, January 14, 2017, after reading to and laying with my mom for the last 45 minutes of her life, it occurred to me, between guttural sobs on the 20 minute drive, that she truly--without question--loved me as deeply as I love my own children. Every single mother does. Either they do not have the words to express it, or the heavy tasks or lack of financial or emotional support or the heaviness of addiction keeps mothers from letting their children experience the profound depth of their love. But it exists just the same.That realization is the deepest confirmation and sense of loss I can explain. I wish it were as easy to lose a mom as it was to lose a cat. Or maybe to 10-year-old me it felt the same.
         I will not go running through the streets looking for my mom like Sloopy's owner, because I've actually done that many times before. The heavy place in the center of my body that has ached dully for more than seven years will only occasionally ache like it did today. I no longer have a mother to visit, or put off visiting...now I'm the lost one.




Thursday, January 19, 2017

An Obituary as An Act of Love

My dad texted me Wednesday night and asked if there was anything could do. SO I said, please write me an obituary about the beginning of mom's life. But he just wrote the whole thing. This is even more sweet, as my brother mentioned, when you consider that he and my mom have been divorced since 1989.




Lynn O’Connor Fairbanks

         Late Saturday evening, January 14th, Lynn Fairbanks slipped into stillness in the arms of her daughter Lisa at a care facility in Spokane. While in recent years Alzheimer’s disease had ravaged Lynn’s essence, her humor and spirit was often evident.
        

         Born in Missoula in the summer of 1946 to Evelyn Cole and Earl O’Connor, Lynn attended Willard Grade School, and was in the final graduating class of Missoula County High School (1964) – with two years classes each at now Hellgate and Sentinel school buildings. Ever the free spirit and the personification of “cool”, while classmates were captivated by the hits of Elvis and Buddy Holly, she preferred the jazz stylings of Dave Brubeck and Stan Getz.
        
        Following a “fix-up” with Jim Fairbanks, they dated through school. In 1965, Lynn and Jim began their twenty-three year marriage honeymooning in California, and then moving to the Bay Area. As a true child of the “sixties”, Lynn was forever a political and social activist, and advocate for those marginalized.
        
       Lynn worked for the phone company in Oakland as an equipment assignment specialist, while of course, serving as a union rep. Following a ‘walk-out’, she fondly remembered picketing with Lily Tomlin (in character as “Laugh In’s” Ernestine) Lynn gave birth to Lisa in 1969, and shortly after her little family moved to the Monterey Peninsula where son Christopher was born in 1975. They returned to Missoula to be nearer family in 1977. After a short employment with Sears, Lynn settled into a position in the Finance Office at the City of Missoula. Following retirement, she moved to Spokane to be close to her grandchildren.
       
       Her daughter Lisa and husband Mike, their son Alex and daughters Sophia and Isabella Rossi of Spokane; son Christopher Fairbanks of Marina Del Rey and two brothers, Larry and Kurt O’Connor survive Lynn. She is preceded in death by her parents, Earl and Evelyn O’Connor. Lynn has many cousins, aunts and uncles in her extended Cole family in Missoula.
 

Cremation has taken place, and a memorial service will be announced in the coming weeks.

Thoughtful young me

Thoughtful young me

Seventies chicks

Seventies chicks
Me and my mom Lynn, 1973

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