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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.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Superman's Not Brave, but I might be. Possibly.

I love Chris Crutcher's writing. I love him, also. I took a class from him, 19 years ago, as if I could learn how to be a fiction writer in one class. I had been dealing with an annoying chairperson for the graduate program I belonged to. After briefly describing him, I asked "What do you do with an annoying man with that ridiculous name?" 
"Create a villain with his name and put him in a book," he suggested. 
In any case, my favorite quote of his is from "A Brief Moment in the Life of Angus Bethune." The excerpt has been mis-quoted in many comic book blogs which is a separate issue entirely. I started crying today about my mom while swimming badly, and the following section from Crutcher's Athletic Shorts was the impetus. 
I know. Grief is weird. 
~~
"Superman's not brave," he says.
I look up. "What?"
"Superman's not brave."
"I'll send him a card."
Alexander smiles."You don't understand. Superman's not brave. He's smart. He's handsome. He's even decent. But he's not brave.
....He's indestructible," Alexander says. "You can't be brave when you're indestructible. It's guys like you and me that are brave, Angus. Guys who are different and can be crushed--and know it--but go out there anyway."
~~
What does this have to do with me and my mom? 
This morning, at a moment I struggled to swim and breathe--after just 50 yards of a half-efficient crawl stroke, it occurred to me that this ridiculous triathlon, for which I will not be properly or sufficiently trained; an event I've been warned against by more than a few well-meaning people, is something I'm doing for my mom. 
It's not that she was into triathlons; they weren't relevant to her at all. It's not even all about the physical challenge. Lynn was into 5K runs, just as many moderately fit women are. Throughout her 40's and 50's she was in fairly good shape up until, and in a sense even after, being wheelchair-bound.
What struck me is that I, unlike Superman, am not indestructible. Neither am I extraordinary. I'm not even all that special. And neither was she. 
My mom tried to do special things--to be politically active and belong to causes, (just as I have) and she did pretty well for being struck with a stunningly low self-esteem and being ill-at-ease with people. But she was passionate and kind and seemingly angry and frustrated by her self-imposed limits. 
I really thought until she died that I was very different from her. After all, I am confident and comfortable with strangers and willing to speak in public. I am better at being married and I figured, simply because I didn't drink wine daily, that I'm a better mother. I am, but I'm not great. I mean, I'm good. 
I know I'm pretty, just as she was, but I talk badly about myself to my daughters, just as she did. 
I am a good writer and a good teacher, but certainly not extraordinary. And I was a little disappointed and also a little relieved to realize this in the pool today. I think it might have been Grace. 
Now, this moment of grace doesn't suggest I'm lowering expectations or settling. I'm not going to give up trying to be extraordinary. Even if the effort is futile. In fact I am nearly certain I will barely stumble through the triathlon and whatever aspects of my life it has come to represent. 
I know I can be crushed..(my husband has pictured a dozen different ways this can happen on the reportedly overly hilly triathlon route.) But I have to do it. The more I am discouraged from doing so, the more simultaneously hopeless and determined I become. I am running and swimming in sand and making barely markable progress. 
My participation in a sprint distance triathlon means nothing to anyone else, and for reasons I can't fully access, right now it is everything. It makes no sense. And it is for ordinary me and for ordinary her. If being scared--being crushable-- and doing it anyway is really the definition of being brave, than I guess I am. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

My mom's first post-mortem birthday.

I had looked at airline prices about three weeks ago to take my family to where I got married--Pacific Grove California, for my mom's first post-mortem birthday. I had thought I could bring some ashes and spread them at the site of my marriage and so many fun afternoons with my young mom. But it was going to be very expensive, and honestly, when Chris and I went with mom to PG back in 2006, it hadn't really connected that much with her. Or at least hadn't brought moments of lucidity we had fantasized about.
Instead, I rode my bike to her old stomping ground today: Browne's Addition in downtown Spokane. It's the place she chose to live for three different homes.
I stopped and took photos of places we had history with. I didn't take a photo of the Elk, but know that we spent many meals there; always with mediocre food and poor service.

Her second place was on Pacific, where we also got our hair highlighted when my friend had a salon close to there.  
She bought a condo at the Ridge and we used the pool for a few summers. Being in the parking lot and by the place where she had a prime view of the Hangman Valley made me cry today.



 This was her place in the Ridge. (Top floor) I had to sneak through the gate. Man I wish it was today's market. We had to sell it for a loss just to get the cash for a few months of private pay at her "independent living" apartment before she could qualify for Medicare. Like that was a noble goal. God I miss her but I don't miss all that awful time of her sickness and sad housing. Her Browne's Addition time was nice. Also pictured here is the community garden that drew her to try out being a member of the neighborhood Lutheran church, even though she was a dedicated Methodist. But sadly, she was too far into dementia to really build community. Or remember that she had volunteered to show up and work the garden. Eventually she forgot church or the garden were important to her.

I wrote this at the park. The sprinklers sprayed me and that was great. This is where she always took my son--and later also the girls-- to Artfest. 

          I'm in the only shaded area of Coeur d' Alene Park which doesn't currently have a homeless person napping in it. I've just taken a short tour of the places my mom lived and walked. She loved Browne's Addition not in spite of the halfway house for women or the slumbering homeless but because of it. 
One of the final steps that led us to getting her in a more secure location was when a few of her homeless acquaintances were staying with her on her condo. I checked in one of their immense backpacks (in her living room) to get information about who the young men might be and got stabbed by a needle. "He was diabetic," my mom assured me. Still I went through a six-month regimen of blood sampling to make sure I hadn't contracted HIV or Hep C. It's all water under the bridge. I miss my mom. 







Friday, April 7, 2017

"My mom wouldn't be caught dead in that shirt"

Note: this was a draft that finished today but that was written in late January.

The published obituary in my hometown newspaper last weekend stated that my mother had been cremated. That's actually not true.  Lynn's body is still being...stored in a refrigerated room. When I went to the funeral home to help complete paperwork to have the cremation happen, I stayed in my car in the parking lot for ten minutes before going in. Part of this was because I didn't want to come early; small talk with a mortician? But also I was hesitant to go inside because her dead body is there and I was scared about what I'd have to confront; about the finality of everything.

I was right to be hesitant. It sucked. Like, bad.
While sitting in my little Volkswagen I took photos of the sign outside the funeral parlor/crematorium.

What a weird word. I did it because my salvation was knowing that I could discuss it later by writing about it.
I realized that I needed to just make the movement. My hand on the door, the opening of said door, followed by my feet on the ground outside. This COULD NOT be the hardest part of Alzheimer's Disease. I visited her in a mental health lockdown unit once when she was between facilities. This should be nothing!
Except I knew this was the last time I'd spend time in a building with my mom.
Even with the delay in the parking lot I was still early. The mortuary director was so very kind. The kind of man my mom would have crushed on. About 6'3" thin and with ginger hair and mustache. Mid 50's. I could feel her spirit being flirtatious if she was hanging out above him while he examined her for..whatever needs to happen to prepare a body? And being aghast that she had been wearing adult diapers. At least she had decent pajamas. But that was one of the questions I wasn't prepared to answer:
Did I want to have my mother "dressed in a special outfit for the cremation?" I knew that some people had done that but I got the feeling it was because they had died suddenly, or had clothing that expressed who they were. My mom hadn't had a fashion preference..hadn't been able to assert any preference beyond gesturing for at least four years. I said "My mom hasn't picked out her own clothes for more than five years. And, furthermore, she would think this was a waste of money."
 Yes, we had some money for funeral expenses. But my gut told me no. I asked if she had underwear on and he said no. Then I was embarrassed for the spirit above her watching while the nice kind of handsome-ish mortician who was kind of her type did whatever work people do with corpses.
The word corpse is super weird because zombies.
He needed a current photo for the death certificate and I had one on my phone from the Mother's Day tea. That was the most flattering.
I said: 'For instance this shirt: I don't know where it came from, but she would never have picked it to wear. and she certainly wouldn't be caught dead in it." And I only half-heartedly meant to make the joke. Like I knew I'd made a pun by the time it came out of my mouth, but normally I'm conscious before then. It was too soon for humor, because I didn't even get a kick out of my joke and normally I think I am hilarious.
Thank God Mike showed up and navigated me through the rest of the visit. After I had answered specific questions and signed paperwork, I found that I couldn't get up from the chair. I had fought getting into the building and was fighting getting out.
"Ummm. I don't feel right leaving her. Should I go see her and say goodbye?"
Mike answered very gently that he didn't "think that would be at all helpful for me to see her that way." I believed him. I was then given kind of a hard sell about Jesus and Christianity that I only partly understood or wanted, but I did ask what he thought about how much of her was "present." Anyway, then I took a brochure about urns and we left. I was useless the rest of the day and some of the next day too.

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--said she sounded very "intense." I was like, "Yeah. That fits" and makes her sound more like me; like all of us.
Anyway, Sue and Patty singing were wonderful and a little like the circle of life. I remember when they sang at Grandma Cole's funeral..who died when she should have--at 94 or something.
Anyway, I'm sick and wheezing. This is the 7th time I've been sick this winter. Well, I guess that included Fall and late fall. I am just posting this mo-fo of a video project because last night we couldn't get sufficient broadband to run it through the pre-produced program, and then couldn't get it to record onto 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.
It was stressful and I put on my makeup without looking at the back of the church. I even put on fake fingernails; Agonizing all the while about the fact that I had put ALL MY TIME and energy and love into this video and it was NOT GOING TO play. Well, it actually played with limited audio at the downstair reception so a handful of people saw it. 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.

Thoughtful young me

Thoughtful young me

Seventies chicks

Seventies chicks
Me and my mom Lynn, 1973

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