About Me

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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, 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 question 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.

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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