Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The last post

This will be the last time I write. On this blog, I mean.

My mom died 15 years ago yesterday. I remember the shock of hearing this news in the middle of the night. Oddly, I went back to sleep for awhile. My way of getting ready for weeks of crying and grieving and changes, I guess. Plus, mom couldn't get irritated with me anymore if I showed up somewhere late. I was pregnant and exhausted and scared. It's difficult forging ahead in life without a mother.

Another strange irony was that I thought my mom's funeral was lovely. I remember beautiful music and poetry - I don't remember the specific pieces- I wish I did - but I remember thinking that they were lovely. I felt like I was floating through her funeral and her burial. Graceful, peaceful, and sad.

In the end, my oldest sister had the incredible courage to put a flower - a perfect pink rose- on my mother's casket, in front of everyone, and say 'goodbye, mama'. It was heart wrenching. My other sister and I followed suit. There's so much comfort in having older siblings lead the way through life. And death.

The most powerful memories I have of my mom are when she would ask me to come over and visit when she was depressed. She felt better - sometimes much better - after we talked, and that made me feel good. I couldn't stop her addiction to cigarettes but I helped ease her depression. And it was during those times that she was with me in the present moment. She was honest and sincere and thoughtful. I think that's the person she truly was - at least that's the person I truly connected with. I was closer to her than I was - or have been - to any other person. Ever. I imagine I won't find that kind of depth with anyone ever again.

So this is the end. Of this blog. Not the end of my mother's presence. She will continue to live through my memories and writings and stories that my sisters and I share.

My mother's story is just one of many. . many people who die from an addiction. And all these people are complicated and multifaceted, too, I imagine. Just like my mom. I didn't want to write a polly-annish blog about how wonderful and perfect my mother was. I think we have a habit of putting loved ones on a pedestal - especially in families with addiciton. I know - I used to do that with my mom. Cigarettes are an addiction that kills - more than any other addiciton. My parents were addicted to cigarettes and my family suffered because of it.

I miss my mom. Not all the time, and not all of her. I miss her laughter and energy and her strong hands. I miss the sound of her voice and how much she loved me. I miss those deep, intimate talks that brought me closer to any person ever. Her laugh - I loved her laugh. And her innocence and beauty. So for now I'll say what I haven't been wanting to say for a long time - because I know I can come back to visit her anytime I want, simply by writing.

Good-bye, Mama.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Minnesota funerals bite

My mom died in January - almost 15 years ago. I was pregnant with my third child at the time. I remember my nurse midwife being so worried about me when I told her about my mom. She wanted me to take a few weeks off work to reduce my stress. I laughed at the idea of taking so much time off and, or course, only took a few days off work.

My mom didn't have any nice clothes for her burial so my sisters and I had to go shopping for her. The saleslady in a small shop asked is she could help us and we told her we were looking for a dress for our mother. She said, "Oh, how nice." After a few more questions we finally told her mom had died. It was all so awkward. We didn't want to make the saleslady uncomfortable.

Which brings us to the topic of "Minnesota Nice". Minnesotans don't want to make a scene. We don't want to rock the boat. So we stuff our emotions while we take care of everyone else.

Funerals in Minnesota are a minimal expression of our losses. We make small talk with relatives and show composure and say and do all the right things. We even cry when we are supposed to. Right on cue.

What I wanted to do at my mom's funeral was scream at the top of my lungs. Or hit someone. I was so angry. And afterwards, at mom and dad's house, to see all the ladies helping out in my mother's kitchen triggered more primal rage. This was my mother's space - her kitchen, her life. People had no right to be in my mother's home.

What really happened at my mother's funeral is that I comforted others and made small talk. I tended to my kids and stuffed my emotions. I took care of my pregnant self - drank enough water so I didn't get dehydrated and ate a bit.

It makes sense in those cultures in the world that have professional mourners who go to funerals. They cry and moan and carry on. Minnesota should have professionals who grieve like that since it's so difficult for us to do. I wonder where you get one.

It wouldn't be in autumn

You know that song from the musical 'Camelot' where the king sings about what he'd miss about his wife if he left her? He goes through the seasons and each season sparks new memories.

I miss my mom in autumn. Fall was her favorite season. I think she liked the cool air and the color of the leaves and anticipating the holidays. I think she especially liked when school started and she could finally have some alone time. She was a housewife and home was her office. I don't blame her. If I had three kids running around my workspace all day long that would drive me nuts, too.

Having alone time didn't stop her from smoking. I think she would do housework for awhile and then take a cigarette and coffee break - I think that's how her day went. When I was young I used to think if us kids would be nicer or quieter or anything to help reduce mom's stress then she would quit smoking. But she smoked when she was happy, too. Nothing I did made a difference. I was powerless over her cigarette addiction. I wonder if she was, too.

So if someone dies from a cigarette-related death, is it considered homocide or suicide? Humans have free will. Which leads us to do lots of stupid things. Like have unprotected sex. Or drive while intoxicated. Or light up that first cigarette.

Smokers play their addiction the way all addicts do - with lots of denial and blaming others and minimizing. That's what keeps people using their drug of choice. That's what keeps smokers smoking.

The cigarette companies, meanwhile, load their products with addictive substances to keep smokers hooked. I've heard that it's more difficult to quit smoking than to quit using heroin. I wonder why there are no government controls over the lethal substances put in cigarettes.

I don't think we can place blame on just the individual or just the tobacco companies for a cigarette related death. I think both have an equal part in these deaths. I think you can't have one without the other. So I (being the dorky person that I am) came up with a new word that explains this. Shomicide. Say it ten times fast. My mother's death was a shomicide. And, beleive it or not, I feel better after having figured this out.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Money can't buy me love

I like things to do with money. I like to plan my budget and figure out new ways to save money. I like to go to the bank. I like the smell of the bank. One of my favorite field trips in grade school was when we went to the old Farmer's and Mechanics Bank in Minneapolis. Go figure.

It's not that I'm stingy with money or all that great at staying on a budget. On the flipside I don't need new things all the time, either.

I just like the concept of money.

So I've been thinking that there should be a 'pay to play' tax on cigarettes. The money would fund medical care for smokers if they get lung cancer or emphysema. Sort of a cross between medical insurance and life insurance. It's easy for me to be smug and angry and petty about this, with all the mixed up emotions I have about my mom's lung cancer. But I'm not above giving into my own craving for some things.

My mom couldn't overcome her nicotine cravings. I struggle with food cravings. And, to be true to my inner financial wisdom, I think there should be a 'pay to play' tax on fatty foods. Anything over a certain percentage of saturated fat should have what I call a 'cheesecake tax'. Think of all the tax money that could help offset the medical costs of strokes and heart attacks and diabetes.

Burgers, fries, and of course, cheesecake, would all be taxed. If we had this tax I think sometimes I would give in to my cravings and hope that the rest of my healthy living habits would offset a heart attack. Other times I'd forgo the urge for something fatty and opt for healthier food (maybe). And I'd be helping other people that struggle with food abuse. That feels good.

There's a song that my kids listen to. It's about a friend who has a girlfriend that doesn't work and spends his money. The advice he gives is to tell his girlfriend 'I won't pay, I won't pay, no way'. There's more to the song, and lots of swearing, but the tune is catchy and I like the message. No one likes to be taken advantage of. With money or anything else.

I don't want my tax money to go to people on medicare who smoked and are in need of medical care because of it. For that, I won't pay. No way.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Summer at home

I miss my mom most in the summer. My sisters and I spent our summers at home and we'd cook and sew and garden and do arts and crafts. My mom taught us the basics in these areas and then we took off on our own. I remember making a macrame chair and candles and a quilt from all the fabric remnants from all my sewing projects.

When we were younger we'd play outside all summer long. We rarely watched TV and we didn't snack much. Back in the '60s there wasn't much snack food. No chips other than Fritos. Potato chips were bought to go along with meals. Ice cream was for an occasional bedtime treat. Sometimes my mom would give us popcicles or soda crackers for a snack, but we didn't go looking through the fridge or cupboard for something to eat.

Sometimes my mom would send us up to the corner store - it was called Rog & Jim's - to buy her cigarettes. She would send along a note giving the cashier permission to give us the cigarettes. We would buy penny candy with the change. Back then you could get a brown paper lunch bag sack filled with candy - normally 5 pieces of candy for a penny. A quarter bought lots of candy.
Or we'd buy candy cigarettes or wax lips or candy lipsticks.

It seemed like such an innocent time back then. When you're living your life, living in the moment, you don't really expect that things will change so dramatically.

Forty-some years later the 'mom and pop' stores have been replaced by Super America gas stations. Children can't buy cigarettes with a hand-written permission slip. The penny has become obsolete.

Some things haven't changed. Summer comes every year. I still like to can tomatoes and sew and cram in as much gardening and arts and crafts as I can while I have time off from my school job. People still smoke. Lung cancer still kills more people than any other type of cancer.

My mom's spirit is strong in the summer. Actually, her spirit is strong within me all the time. Sometimes I feel like I'm strong in spite of her. Today I feel like I'm strong because of her.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Can you say EL-A-VIL?

I've gone through some guided imagery - sort of like hypnosis. I can't remember the exact script of this imagery, but you're supposed to visualize yourself walking through a meadow. After a while you come to a clearing and you see a tree. The tree can look anyway you want. I visualize an oak tree - huge and strong and comforting. I touch my tree. The bark is dry and weathered. I try to wrap my arms around it but the trunk is too big. That's O.K. This tree gives me strength.

If my mom had been a tree she would have been an elm tree. Slender, slow growing, providing some dappled shade for her little seedlings. Beautiful and graceful but vulnerable to storm damage. Swaying with the wind until a branch breaks.

My mom was hospitalized for 'nervous breakdowns' in the 1960's. That was the term back then for depression that spiraled out of control. People were allowed a much longer in-patient stay for mental illness in the '60's . She stayed at a place called Glenwood Hills Hospital. She missed my first birtday because she was at Glenwood Hills. She was also hospitalized when I was 5, and then later when I was 8.

My sisters and I were farmed out to friends and relatives during her hospitalizations. I have few memories of these times. I do remember visiting mom at the hospital and she showed us the swimming pool. I sense that she was distant; kind of shell shocked. She had lost alot of weight. She didn't make much eye contact. She had had shock treatments-that ultimately helped ease her depression quite a bit. Back then they didn't have the newer anti -depressants that may have helped. But maybe not. I think her bouts with depression were quite severe. I remember her being on Haldol and Elavil - heavy duty anti-depressants and tranqulizers used for psychosis. I don't know if she ever had psychotic episodes with her depression, though. I don't think so. She never told me.

All of these words and phrases were a part of her vocabulary, and so they became part of mine - Haldol, Elavil, Glenwood Hills (a.k.a 'the nut house') and Dr. Dorsey (her psychiatrist). I knew these words and phrases well.

One phrase that wasn't part of her vocaulary until shortly before her death was 'sexual abuse'. As a young girl my mom had been sexually abused by a relative and hadn't told anyone about it - not even Dr. Dorsey. Maybe if she could have addressed some of this trauma her depression could have eased. There's a theory that depression is anger turned inward. What happens when it's not anger but rage that's turned inward?

Mom didn't want to take a closer look at the trauma of her past. She said she had forgiven her abuser. My guess is that if she had focued on this in therapy maybe she could have grown stronger and more resilient. Maybe she could have found the strength to quit smoking.

She died an elm tree which is really sad because she started out life as an oak tree. I really needed the shade of an oak tree.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Smokey smokerson

The attitude towards smoking was so different in the 70's and '80's. Restaurants had designated smoking areas and the VFW's and bowling alleys and bars allowed smoking. Even the high school that I went to had a smoking area outside for the students.

I worked at Sears as a teen ager and there was a 'break room' attached to the ladies rest room in the back of the store. That's where all the sales ladies went for their smoke break. You couldn't get to the bathroom without walking through a haze of smoke. Sometimes I'd sit down and visit with my mom's aunt, who worked in the lingerie department of Sears. She was a heavy smoker and I generally knew where to find her on her break. I got the feeling that the smokers felt like you were 'stuck up' or better than they were if you didn't stop to visit for awhile. So I'd stop and visit. I didn't want to appear rude. I probably got a contact high just from the second hand smoke. I'd walk out with a head-ache, slightly dizzy from inhaling all the smoke. It would take a few hours before I wasn't smelling smoke with every breath I took.

I wanted my wedding reception to be smoke free. I vaguely recall making a few whining noises to my parents about how smokey the wedding would be - but they wouldn't even pursue this line of argument. After all, my husband-to-be smoked, as did my parents and most of my aunts and uncles. In fact, between me and my husband only a hand full of our relatives didn't smoke.

And our wedding reception was at a VFW. Like my oldest sister says, the bowling alleys and VFW's are the last bastion for smokers. I don't know exactly what that means but I like to say it and it seems to fit.

After a few hours into our reception, you could see a thick cloud of smoke hovering below the ceiling. My mom and I had tried to make sure to find a VFW with good ventilation. (I wonder how things would have been with a VFW's with poor ventilation!). With the festivities over, I felt nauseous and head-achy and smelling of smoke. I would have rather smelled like perfume or flowers. The tobacco and smokey smell doesn't quite fit with a bride's dream of gorgeous flowers and white dresses and satin ribbons. I felt sorry for myself. I was a pretty bride but I felt more like a pretty ashtray. I hate second hand smoke.