Monday, December 26, 2016

Annette's 2016 Brag & Gag! (electronic version)

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes in waves, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” — Vicki Harrison

If there is one recurring theme I have heard from friends near and far about this year, it has been “Sweet Baby Jesus, can this year get any worse?” Of course, hearing those words in January and February should have been the clue to beat all clues. I remarked to a friend the other day that it was strange to realize that 2016 was both the best year of my life and the worst year.

My odd year actually began somewhere just before Thanksgiving 2015. I found myself battling an episode of the blues that wasn’t just related to Seasonal Affective Disorder. I could not shake it, and all the positive thinking in the world wasn’t working. Add in some killer migraines, and I was not my usual sparkly self. The slew of deaths of some of my favorite celebrities in early January only seemed to compound things. Luckily, with the assistance of some good friends, I was finally able to get back into the groove of my life. I really had no idea just how much I would need to be in that happier place again, and all too soon.

As most of you know, in late February, our family faced its most difficult crisis – Mom fell very ill. We believe that her congestive heart failure worsened and led to another heart attack. Unfortunately, her body was in no position to fight back. In just four days, she had a steep decline, and the doctors asked us to begin considering all the options. As the days went on, the continuing lab work results gave us no hope, and soon we had no choice. We began the difficult and heartbreaking process of letting her go. In the earliest light on March 5, just before dawn, she left our physical presence. You know that at some point in your life, you will lose your parents. However, let me be the first to say that you’re never adequately prepared, no matter what you think. Yet in the months since her passing, I have felt closer to her than ever before. I feel her when I sing, I hear her words and inflections coming through certain phrases. And I laugh, realizing Big Nance is still here after all. I’m proud to be her daughter still.

If that weren’t hardship enough, in December, I was forced to make a similar decision for my beloved Maddox. He had developed a tumor on his side which seemed to grow almost exponentially in late fall. In early December, it appeared that the tumor had ruptured and broken his skin. After consulting with our vet, we realized there was no hope of improvement -- only worsening. With the heaviest of hearts, we let him go. Fittingly, he left us on the exact 9-month anniversary of Mom’s funeral – he and my mom were buddies to the end. He was never the same after she didn’t come home. As he was leaving, I told him that if he saw “Nanny” he’d better run to her. I’m sure the two of them are together, looking over us even now.

And it is more than just our family – it literally takes both hands and a few toes to count the number of friends of mine who have lost a parent this year. I became scared to see a name in the Facebook or Twitter “Trending” sections – for fear that if I clicked it would tell me that person had died (and sometimes it was just that). It was a horrible year to lose some of my favorite artists -- and all I can think is that Jesus finally became so bored checking out the shoes of heaven’s newest occupants that he decided he needed an ongoing “Heavenstock” or “Glorypalooza” because he took some of the best!

But he didn’t get all of them! The “Best Year Ever” side of the equation was that I got to see some amazing concerts and do some fabulous traveling! It all started in January when Pearl Jam announced that Greenville (my quasi-hometown) would host a concert on their 2016 tour. Of course, I wasn’t going to miss that. My brother and I went and had a great time – especially when they played “Given to Fly.” It had extra-special meaning for me, as I’d used some of the lyrics to announce mom’s passing (And sometimes is seen a strange spot in the sky / a human being that was given to fly…).

That was only the beginning of the amazement. I am completely convinced that my mother (who fostered my love for music) has been my supernatural conduit to amazing shows and tickets. On the day that we were finalizing her arrangements, I bought tickets for a Chris Cornell show in June in Charleston. I got home from the mortuary to check the seating chart, and I was center stage in the fifth row. I knew then Mama was still looking out for her baby girl. It was also the anniversary of her mom’s passing that day -- so I know she and my grandmother teamed up to give me an unbelievable gift. Trust me when I tell you that if you ever have an opportunity to see him in a solo show, GO. I don’t care if you don’t know much of his music (you probably do and don’t realize it), I’ll give you pointers beforehand. But yes, you must go see him. You will be in awe.

I also got tickets in May for The Mavericks, whom I have adored for 25 years now. They were amazing; too bad the crowd was half-dead. In August I finally got to see Rick Springfield, whose posters adorned my walls as a teen. He had The Romantics and Night Ranger with him, and both groups were fantastic! In October, I saw The Avett Brothers – wonderful show, lousy row-mates (coming in, out, in, out, back in again, oh wait, back out again….). Also that month, I saw a new blues/roots rock artist named Fantastic Negrito. He is another artist you must check out. He had opened for Chris Cornell’s spring/summer tour, and then he had a small tour of his own this fall, which made a stop in Asheville. Little did I know that I would see him twice more after that, because he was selected as opening act for Temple of the Dog for their 25th anniversary tour! I ended up seeing them twice….

For my first Temple of the Dog show, I spent a weekend in New York City—it was my first trip there, and I fell immediately for the Big Apple! My dear cousin and her husband were there as well, and we had an amazing time! Even though our seats weren’t all that awesome (nosebleed level), we saw the whole band -- our seats were right over the side of the stage. We also got a bonus comedy show from the 3 clowns behind us! Before the show, we did a tour of NYC, including a stop in Little Italy for lunch, picking up stuff in Chinatown, a harbor tour to see the Statue of Liberty, and a show on Broadway! And you must go see Kinky Boots, it is phenomenal!

My second Temple show came about rather unexpectedly. In September, a friend who had tickets to the Seattle show asked me if I wanted to go with her to Seattle. Her niece (who was supposed to go) was not going to be able to make it. Plans were made for me to join her, and we met up in Seattle that weekend. What an amazing place and weekend! We did the Space Needle, the EMP/Museum of Pop Culture (which is unbelievable), Uber’d our way to other spots we wanted to see (including the apartment complex from the movie “Singles”). And of course, the concert was fabulous! The band was just as phenomenal as they had been in NYC. Apparently, we were also right in the middle of a VIP section, not that I recognized any of them. But they all had super-duper badges and access codes. SPECIAL!

Work: I cannot begin to say just how blessed I am to be part with an amazing work team. They have been there for me whenever I’ve needed them this year. I am still in Customer Service/Dispatch and this year became the Onsite Escalations Specialist (slash Team Lead). We have an awesome company and I’m excited to be part of our growth forward. Last year, I gave up working for Weight Watchers when Mom got sicker. As much as I enjoyed the people I met and what I did, I needed to be there for my family. No regrets at all.

Travel: Besides New York City and Seattle, I finally got to visit a few other new places and knocked some states off the “been there” list! First up in my travels was a weekend trip to Jacksonville for my cousin Scott’s wedding to the adorable Edith. I’m so glad that she’s part of our family, and that we didn’t scare her too badly…. Ha!! In the early fall, I made a visit to my friends Russell and Amy in Louisville, KY/southern Indiana. During part of my trip there, we met another friend Amy K. and wandered over to the boot-heel of Missouri for a cool road trip. There was no concert while I was there, but I saw the possible venues (including the very gorgeous Palace). And we got to see the graves of Col. Sanders and the still-fresh dirt at Muhammad Ali’s plot. I am sad to report that the Colonel is not interred in a bronze replica of a red-and-white-striped bucket, much to my dismay. While I’m definitely planning to return to quite a few of those places, I already have one trip planned for 2017: a trip to Columbus OH for a weekend festival/concert. Yes, I am insane, I realize that….

I am still singing both with church choir and with Premium Blend (a capella). We still practice monthly and try to do a few small gigs here and there. As jampacked as last year’s schedule was at the holidays, I’m glad this year was a little slower. And I was thrilled to be able to meet up with some college friends for a long-overdue dinner out and catch-up session. It was fabulous to see people -- some of whom I hadn’t seen in possibly 25 years (which cannot be, since we’re all still 27 and fresh out of school, right?)

I also had the delight of making some wonderful new friends who are becoming part of my framily – thanks in no small part to the power of music. Many of us share very similar musical tastes, and it is a joy to share not just the music but our sadnesses and joys with each other. We know that music uplifts and heals, comforts and strengthens.

I also cannot overstate what a blessing my family has been this year. It has been them, along with my closest friends, who propped me up, held my basket when I dropped it, and served as a lifeline for me during the dark moments. Through laughter and tears, they have kept me safe and sane. Never ever take these people for granted: both the family of your birth, and the family you have chosen through friendship. You will need them all one day, and I am honored to have amazing people in my life.

To all of you, please know that my best wishes for a beautiful, peaceful, and prosperous 2017 go out to you all. May we all be shining lights in a world where too often we see only darkness. May we always seek the higher truth and the greater good. And may every blessing descend upon you and remain with you!

Remember my "Year of the Concert" post from June?

Yeah - it got way better after that. At that point in June, I had only 2 more shows planned on the agenda: Rick Springfield in August and the Avett Brothers in October. Life had other, much greater plans for me.

Okay, so let me talk about the planned shows: Rick Springfield was there with The Romantics and Night Ranger. All three were incredible. The Romantics did a short set, and they were pretty much as I remembered. Night Ranger tore the place up!! Not only did they play their songs but they pretty much owned their side projects too -- the guitarist had played with Ozzy, so they did "Crazy Train." Jack Blades trotted out "High Enough" from his Damn Yankees days. And "Sister Christian" made me feel like I was 14 again and the world lay before me, just for the asking. I would easily go see them again. Then Rick Springfield -- 3 days after his 67th birthday, and looking hotter than the 12th level of Hades -- kept us all on our feet! Even the newer material was very well-received. And yes, "Jesse's Girl" was the encore.

In between this show and my planned Avett Brothers show, I had the opportunity to go see Fantastic Negrito as a headliner in Asheville at a small club. Fantastic Negrito was the opening act on Chris Cornell's tour, and so I was honored to go see him again. He did not disappoint, and if you haven't seen my bazillion tweets and posts about checking out his music, then you're definitely not reading my posts and tweets. Seriously, this guy is speaking truth in his music and we all need to pay attention.

Then came the Avett Brothers -- I'm not a superfan of theirs but I like the music of theirs that I know. They did not disappoint either! They were way more energetic than I'd expected just from the music I was familiar with, and that was awesome to see! The only thing I hated about this show were some jerkwad row-mates. I had an end seat - no biggie, I almost prefer those - but these people took in-and-out to a whole new level. They showed up 80 shades of wasted and proceeded to ratchet it up to 100 while they were there. In with a yard of beer, out to expel a yard, in with another, back out because her bladder is teensy too. Back in 20 minutes later and 10 minutes later, out again. I left before an encore ever happened because I could not take one more minute of it. I had had enough. I'll definitely go see the Avetts again, because what I did see was incredible!!! And I'll definitely familiarize myself with more than just the hits.

But the best -- the very best -- was yet to come.....


On July 20, the shared birthday for two musicians I adore (Chris Cornell and Stone Gossard), they announced that there would finally be a tour for the 25th anniversary of the Temple of the Dog album. Oh Mah Freakin' Gawd. You see, at the Pearl Jam show, when they mentioned that very day was the exact 25th anniversary of the release of the TOTD album (04/16/91), the roof just about came off the place. By a miracle of miracles, I managed to get 2 tickets for the show at Madison Square Garden.

Yep. I was going to be going to Mecca. The city that never sleeps. The city I had dreamed of visiting since I was a young girl. I could not wait. Originally a coworker was going with me, but in some strange twists of fate, she could not make it at the last moment, and my cousin and her husband went instead. We had a blast!!!! Both of us girls had not ever been to New York, but we've decided we simply must go at least once a year, if not more often. Live there? Maybe not, but visit often? Oh yes!! We got to see Kinky Boots on Saturday night, she and her husband saw Phantom of the Opera on Sunday night (while I rested off a bout of seasickness; don't ask....), and then we went to MSG for the concert of a lifetime!!!!

Our seats? Meh. Section 413. But we were in the building!! Seriously, you do not know how many complaints there were online from "longtime loyal fans" who were either griping about the lack of available tickets (which true, they sold out quickly) or the price of said tickets. So I kept my mouth shut and went, I didn't care if I had to sit on a freakin' toilet seat to see them. As it turns out, they may have been in the nosebleed section but we were front row of that section and could see the stage with no problem -- including all the guys in the band. And Temple of the Dog completely and totally rocked the joint. Speaking of joint, the guys behind my cousin and me were very much into joints for most of the concert. Cheech and Chong would have told them to slow their rolls (literally).

Then there was Seattle. My first trip ever to the opposite coast. I'd only been as far west as Breckenridge, Colorado before -- and at that point, the farthest north I'd been was 49th Street in Times Square -- all that changed! Seattle is lovely - there is no other way to say it. Even with the grey skies and rain, it is beautiful. At first it was a little discombobulating because while NYC was almost overly friendly (yes, really - put every misconception out of your mind, they're awesome), Seattle was a little more reserved. But the people were truly genuinely nice, once you kind of settled into their vibe.

New York was a place where I could visit over and over again, but I'm not sure I could live there (though I wanted to so much as a child and teen). Seattle, though -- yeah, I could live there. It's laidback and relaxed and that isn't just due to the legal doobie. It is a different vibe altogether. A very pleasant one. Yeah, Seattle was awesome. The people were chill in the best way.

Our seats for this? 14th row on the end. And somehow we were smack in the middle of the VIP section. I don't know how, and I didn't recognize anyone (although there was this very handsome slightly older than me guy who could have been Matt Cameron's brother --  just the smile and the way the eyes crinkled made me think so). But it was AMAZING. They rocked just as hard there as they did at NYC. I headbanged to a bunch of the songs. It was freaking awesomeness!


So I've had a quiet December, musically speaking ......... well, kinda:

You see, I already have 3 concerts lined up before next June. In February, I'm going to Bon Jovi, who is kicking off his tour in Greenville - yeah, THAT Greenville!! (to use a tagline). Then in May, going to see Soundgarden twice. Hell to the yeah, they're touring in the spring, doing a weekend festival circuit (which makes me hope for a full-on tour come the fall with the new album release). So I'm going to Carolina Rebellion in early May for the one day/night they're headlining. One, it's close to home and two, I'm not really interested in seeing any of the other acts for the weekend. Especially since so many of them will be at Rock on the Range, which I'm going to see 2 weekends later in Columbus OH. What drew me to this festival above all the others? The Sunday headliner: Metallica. The opportunity to see them (although as my brother says, most of their stuff since '95 has sucked) is much better than Kid Rock (the Wisconsin festival) or even Def Leppard (the Southeastern US shows). Plus, I've never been to Ohio! Not that I've been to Wisconsin either but if I'm going there, it had better be for a Packers game, ya know?

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Second Hardest Day of My Life

2016 will be memorable. And by memorable, meaning I'll never forget how sucky it was. Yesterday -- on the 9-month anniversary of my mom's funeral -- I had to say goodbye to the Best Puppy In The Universe, my beloved Maddox.

Maddox came into my life near the end of April, 2007. My then-boss sent out a mass e-mail looking for someone who would be willing to rehome their dog. Something in my heart and soul screamed, "DO THIS" and without so much as a consultation with my family, I went to see him at the kennel that lunch hour. He was 11 months old but already almost full-grown. He stood up on those hind legs, reached out his massive front paws, and gave me a big scratch down my right arm that lasted for days. The marks he left on my heart in that moment will never go away. I came back and told my boss, "I can't take him home with me tonight, but do NOT give that dog to anyone else. He's mine." God love them, they did just that, and on Thursday of that week, May 2, I took him home.

He immediately latched on to my mom (he probably thought, "Sucker!") and to my dad, "Papi," who never ever did anything wrong in Maddox's eyes. I might have been the one to claim him, but Papi did no wrong. Nanny (my mom) was just as awesome to him. We had some rough moments -- that first night, his dream state caused my brother to say, "Is that dog seizing?" (he'd never seen puppy dreams before). And about 4 weeks later, Little Buddy got himself a bad case of E. Coli that I assume came about from eating a hot dog he found in the street. Don't ask. That dog never ever passed up an opportunity to eat.

He had a few health issues, as Labs/Lab mixes are prone to have. He had an underactive thyroid that eventually went kaput. He had horribly dry skin and fleas flocked to him nearly every summer. He scratched constantly. I swear, he had just as much anxiety as his owner(s) did. But he was a trooper.

And when it came to the sad look -- oh my gosh, he was a master. My mother, The Sucker, could not resist the beggy-face. There were constant admonitions: "MOM! Do not give him anything, he's already eaten!" ("But he looks so sad" or "He just stares at me - I have to give him something.") Or when we were out walking, the bumps into people and the looks of "rescue me, I'm SOOOOO abused, they don't treat me well!"  But he also perfected the Ladies' Man Tail Swish -- when we were out walking and he'd seen a group of females approaching, suddenly he would perk up and give them the look that said, "hello ladies, you know you wanna pet me..... c'mon, you know you do!"  He never quite understood when he got the occasional resistant person. He was a "sniffer" extraordinaire. There was never a back side or front side he wouldn't stick his nose into....... I had to apologize so often that after a while, I just stopped.

He got older, more set in his ways, slower, sometimes grumpier. But I loved him in every place and stage of his life. He kept my mother company through her retirement, and then he witnessed her decline as much as we did. They kind of kept pace together through that. Usually around 1:30 each afternoon, he would go into my parents' bedroom, hop up on my dad's side of the bed and look at my mom as if to say, "Hey, nap time, get in here."

He wasn't quite sure what to think this past February, when the three of us sprang into action because Mom was in bad shape. He didn't quite know what to think of the EMS workers coming through our house and Mom being placed onto a gurney. All he knew was that Nanny left the house, and he did not know why she didn't return. We took him to see her at Hospice House when she was moved there. He sniffed at her, and she tried her best -- drugged up and weak as a baby kitten -- to pet him again. In my heart, I believe he realized at that point she was going, because he sniffed a little more and went away. I don't know if he sensed that she was decaying or what. But he went to the foot of her bed there and whimpered.

His whimper? Oh my gosh, to see this 120-pound big goofy beastie, you'd think he was fearless and powerful. But he was a big baby at heart. He'd see people walk down the street and bark ferociously -- but a kitten on the porch? Whimpers and vocalizations that would make any Husky proud. Our question back to him was usually "what are you womp-womp-womping at?" (to mimic the sound). I'd have to record an audio clip and post it because this doesn't begin to do it justice. Other doggies? Same thing. Squirrels, rabbits, birds..... none were immune from the whimper of doom.

And that same whimper -- but with more whine -- was uttered that day. He knew. He knew. And he would look at the chair that she occupied -- that I now do -- and be confused, even with knowing that Nanny was gone. He refused - absolutely refused - to hop up on her side of my parents' bed. It was as if he were saying, "She'll be back. I won't take her spot." We tried..... we tried, but no, he was loyal to her till the end.

When Mom was sick, I had noticed a small lump on his side but my focus was on her. And really I didn't notice much more about the lump until the summer. We had our family vet look at it, but we all thought it was just a lipoma and nothing much to sweat over. Then October came and it was much worse. The vet referred us to a specialist. He advised that it might be a sarcoma but unable to determine what. He drew aspirates to see if there might be some sort of clue, but nothing. The slides were inconclusive. The next option was a biopsy and surgery.

I was torn -- should I pursue this option? The specialist was very clear that even with this information, there were no guarantees, they'd have to operate and be sure they'd gotten enough margin and if not, perhaps more surgery or other treatments. I had to weigh the fact that he was ten years old now. Was I going to prolong his life by taking these measures?

As I pondered these questions, even more health issues began springing up. He began to drink excessively -- and I mean around 2 gallons a day. We had a huge water station for him that held 4.5 gallons. We went from filling it every 5-6 days to every other day, sometimes the 3rd day if we were lucky. He began waking in the middle of the night, panting heavily and wanting to roam the house. We had more labwork done to see if there were liver or kidney issues -- no, all clear, the other things were perhaps a product of his age, maybe even the early stages of doggy dementia.

Then this Tuesday, when I got home, I noticed he appeared to have scratched himself pretty heavily near this now-rather large lump. My dad and I investigated to discover that no, he was bleeding -- and dripping it everywhere. It was fairly consistent and we rushed to the emergency vet clinic. They did what they could with what they had -- bandaged him up, gave us meds (antibiotics and pain meds) and did a chest x-ray to see if the mass had perhaps metastasized into his lungs, causing the heavy breathing. Nope again. Chest was clear.

This mass had seemed to grow almost exponentially over the last couple of weeks. We woke the next morning to find he was still bleeding. And the next morning too. We added another med from our family vet. And none of the meds appeared to handle any of his pain. He woke again every night, sometimes at far too early an hour. He went outside in the very chilly temperatures at 2:30 AM - and wanted to stay outside. My dad, God bless him, stayed with him for 30 minutes, trying to coax him back inside, to no avail. Finally my dad, ever practical, said, "Just stay out here then." And he did -- and at 6:30 AM he still didn't want to come inside but did.

Food no longer interested him. Even peanut butter -- which he loved so much -- was turned away. This scared me more than anything. I'd seen it before with Mama. She suddenly lost her appetite for anything except sweets. For Maddox, it was bacon.

So Thursday, we put him to bed with no medicines, intending to go on Friday morning to the vet and pick up new prescriptions. He slept there all night. My father woke to find him in the same position. He even got the flashlight to shine in his eyes to see if he were still alive. He was but the breathing was shallow and a bit ragged. He didn't want to get up to go potty at all. It was almost as if he had no energy left to do anything. I went in to see him and knew. The time had come. The mass seemed to be in 3D compared to the rest of him.

Dad tried to coax him up with 3 strips of bacon. Behold the power of bacon - it heals the sick and raises the almost-dead. Maddox sat up and within 15 seconds, all three strips were gone and the plate was being licked. He finally got up onto his back legs, limping. His front paws were starting to swell - whether from edema or what, I don't know. At 8:30, their opening moment, I called the vet's office. I cried the whole time I talked to them. I told them that I was making the choice to relieve his obvious pain.

They called back and said to be there at 10:45. We would be there through the sedation, but couldn't be there for the final injection. We got there, and Doc came in. When he saw Maddox he only said, "Bless his precious heart....." and got misty too. He looked at us and said, "You're right. That mass is not going to get any better. He's not going to get any break from this. I'm so sorry." They came back with a sedative, and poor Maddox....... he just got panicky. He tried walking around but looked like a punch-drunk boxer trying to fight one last time. Yes, I wept all the more. We finally got him to sit, but he was fighting it. The doc came back, realized we needed a little more (given his size) and then Maddox lay on the floor, his breathing evening out to a very shallow puff. We stroked his fur, his nose, his thumpy-thump tail, and told him over and over how much we'd loved him, how wonderful he had been in our lives, and how much we'd miss him. I told him that when he saw Nanny, I wanted him to run to her and love her up for us, and that she would be smothering him in hugs and kisses. And I told him he was the best puppy in the universe.

Finally they came and told us it was time to leave. We hugged the staff, and walked out.

We will pick up his ashes next week. We're checking with the cemetery to see how much it will be to open the grave spot below Mom and put Maddox there. I had the idea that we could put him on the shelf until the next of us passes, but no, they didn't like that idea.......

The "best puppy in the universe" was something I would call him when I would be in the floor with him, giving him ear scratches and nose rubs and asking, "Who's the best puppy in the universe?"

He knew. He knew.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Trying to deal

So here we are, December 2. I feel only the slightest -- and I do mean slightest -- inkling of any sort of holiday merriment. Last year was far worse, but this year isn't exactly celebratory.

Most of my loyal readers and friends know that Christmas isn't my favorite holiday. It hasn't been that way for pretty much 20 years. Even I can't pinpoint why this is the case. For me, I suppose I associate the holiday with my paternal grandmother.... and once she was gone, so too went my sense of the holiday.Then The Goon left and a large part of Christmas joy did too -- part of what I loved was trying to find just the right present for him. Obviously I failed there too. At any rate, shortly thereafter, whatever sentiment I had for this time of year went out the door and hopped on a train for parts unknown. And I can certainly say that working for a church at the holidays will leach every last drop of joy and cheer from you.

And then there's this year. My dad has already cleared the deck for outdoor decorations, but I really don't think we will do anything in the house. And honestly, I don't want to. It would be different if my brother or I had kids. You have to do Christmas for the kids, always. But it's just three adults, and truthfully we're fairly practical people. I was the one who used to pitch a huge hissy fit if things weren't JUST right at Christmas. It was more during my college days and shortly after, when I needed something solid to hold fast as life progressed so quickly.

Mama loved Christmas. She could never understand why my Dad was so blasé about it -- or especially why I couldn't have cared less after a while. I could understand Dad's unwillingness to get caught up in the hype. I couldn't explain mine. I still can't, not really. She would tell us how much her dad loved Christmas and how he would have totally gone overboard if he'd known us. And wisely, I stopped myself from saying, "But he's not here. He doesn't know us. We don't have to make it special just so you can retread an old memory."

Last year was awful. Anxiety and depression were keeping me in a never-ceasing cycle of junk in my head, junk I couldn't clear at all. Then as I was handling that, Mom got sick and.... well, you know.

This year, low-key is my buzzword .

Thursday, October 20, 2016

You Did It Again

Mom, you continue to amaze me.

When I wasn't sure how I was going to make NYC work, you found a way. I have a feeling you and another mother ONCE AGAIN are working behind the scenes. And so yesterday's pleasant surprise was a gift.

But today, you outdid yourself yet again... Bon Jovi tickets. Kicking off their tour right here at The Well. And you helped me once more.

I am in awe. I am so humbled and grateful and awestruck. I have no words. I don't know what to think, how to feel. What I feel is a sense of amazing love that transcends the barriers of time and space.

I know that in life, we often had our tense moments. We had lots of times we really may not have liked each other. Yet flawed as it was and limited by our own biases and issues, love was always present. I feel that now, I know this as truth.

This is your message to me: spread my wings and soar now. I hope you understand why I held you and your memory so tightly for so long. I understand now why you had to get my attention as you did that Saturday, in telling me to let you go and soar too.

Flying high together, Mom!

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Twenty Years Ago Today

I woke on October 5, 1996 with the knowledge that I was now grandparent-less. My lone remaining grandparent had died in the late hours of October 4.

I never knew either grandfather -- one passed before my mom ever married, the other when I was 5 months old. My mother's mother died when I was 12 -- and nearly 35 years later, I still miss her terribly. But my paternal grandmother and I didn't exactly see eye-to-eye on many things and so I felt a little conflicted.

Was I sad? Yes, of course, but more for my dad and his siblings. This was it for them. And I felt very sad for myself, because for me, Christmas would never be the same. Christmas was her holiday. Command performance at her place and if you weren't there, then you got the cold shoulder.

But I didn't necessarily feel personal sadness, not the deep bereavement I'd felt for years over Granny P's death. As I said, we didn't often agree and my feelings for and about her had led to years of visiting her when I had to. I didn't make it a point to just go visit because it was something I wanted to do. I went when I was dragged. I'd reflected a lot in my early adult years on her role and influence on certain areas of my life -- and gotten very angry. I couldn't figure out the inconsistencies and match them to the person who I knew her to be.

Nevertheless, at the end of the funeral, I made a sound I have yet to make again -- not even at my own mother's death or funeral. I came close to the same sound at Padre's wake but still nothing like this. It was primal, raw, deep -- a strangled wail that commenced in my toes and in my brain, met in my abdomen, and projected forth from my lungs in one big deep-voiced scream. It was one big squall, and then......

That was it.

In twenty years, I have not grieved, at least not in the same way that I have for Granny P and especially for my mother. As time has gone on and I've gleaned more nuggets of information about my grandmother, there will be no more grief. One gigantic wave and done. Sometimes I wonder if that is any better than those waves that seem to never stop, the ones that lessen over time in frequency and intensity but which never go away.

I still feel for my father who now has lost one sibling and a few in-laws in the ensuing years, along with his wife. But I don't think he's ever unpacked things about his childhood, not the way my generation has, or even to the extent that others in his family have. Dad and Mom both, in their own ways, love the warm fuzzy blanket of denial. I've been there too -- and while it comforts, it also strangles. I am choosing to breathe and daily strive to be authentic. Denial is an okay place to visit but not to live. Once you're out of the tomb, you sort of refuse to go back in, ya know?

So on Friday, I'll pause a few and remember that day and that strange wail. I may try to analyze yet again the place from where that sound came. Twenty years of pondering hasn't helped so far but I'd love to know, for my own sanity.

And when I get to the afterlife, don't worry. I'll find her and Ol' Roy. I got a crapton of questions for them. An interrogation that would make Lennie Briscoe proud.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

A Liminal Moment

Yesterday (September 5) was exactly 6 months since Mom passed. After Saturday's events, however, I must say that I have felt much more peace about things. 

Yesterday, Dad, a friend of his, and I went  to some area orchards to buy apples. It was an enjoyable trip into the mountains for the afternoon. I kept my earphones in most of the time, to keep my ears open to stop the possibility of motion sickness or another migraine attack. But it also cut out some of the chatter. I don't mind conversation but I don't always need to be involved. Another area where Mom and I differed. She loved chatting; I endure it unless it's with a small group of trusted people in my life.

Anyway, we got back and I had to run a quick errand before dinner. When I pulled the car back in, it happened.

A butterfly landed on my car. 

I had to stop. I knew in my marrow that this was an important moment. I heard Fr. Sandy's voice saying something about a liminal moment. He'd use that phrase sometimes in his homilies and I had a pretty good idea of its meaning. But I reminded myself to look up the word, just in case I was on the wrong track.

I watched the butterfly move its wings as if it were stretching. I mean, one of those awesome, full upper-body stretches out through the arms and through the chest and everything feels opened up. It was as if the wings themselves were fluttering from the stretch. I sat there, afraid to even open the car door because I knew this was important.

But I had to go in. As soon as I got out and closed the door, the butterfly flew away. I said aloud, "oh no, come back!" But it had gone.

I smiled. Time for it to fly. No cages. No restraints. I kept smiling. I got inside, put down my gear, and looked up "liminal." The definition above is exactly what popped up.

A moment at a threshold. I don't know that any other word would have fit so perfectly. I'm forging a brave new world for myself. Mistress of my own high seas and navigator of my own soul's depths. Wings ready to soar to new adventures greater than I ever guessed.

Because of one who gave me roots and wings.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Birdcage Wisdom

I was dreaming. 

Odd that I actually recalled what I was dreaming about.... I rarely do. Not in ages have I recalled more than a snippet of a dream, if anything at all. But yes, I was remembering the dream.

It was a vocal audition. I had to do three songs: one of the judges' panel choosing, one that was more traditional of my choice, and then a more modern piece. I don't remember the judges' choice, I think Paula or Mary helped me choose a more traditional piece but I DEFINITELY remember my modern selection. I began to sing it and had gotten part of the way through it.

And then I heard the clock chime quarter till..... My eyes flew open and I had to get up to see exactly quarter till when. I saw the time and that was that. I was up. I then knew why I had chosen my modern piece and awakened when I did.

It was 5:45 am. The song was "Release" by Pearl Jam. I had been awakened in time to sit vigil today that I didn't get to do 26 weeks ago. 

I went out to the back room/man cave-ish area, sitting on the steps and silently weeping. Trying to sing the lyrics and feeling tears absolutely dripping off my face. I waited in the dark for her to speak to me.....

And she did. I did not expect to feel what I thought she was saying to me. I thought I had to be mistaken. 

Let me go, Annette.

Let you go? LET YOU GO? The hell? Mama, I appear to be the only one who gives a single solitary damn about you and your memory right now. Me, your daughter. The one with whom you battled and fought, the one who proved to be a pretty damn worthy adversary. ME. The one who hasn't just seemingly decided that well, six months is fine. Dammitall Mama, how can you say that to me? I don't get it.....

So later on, befuddled and bewildered, I got in the shower to get ready for my day of errands. I don't know why but the shower seems to be my conduit to the cosmos. I get amazing ideas and insights there that I can't get other places. I'd put on a different playlist this morning and on came "Black Days III" (aka "Fell On Black Days (Demo)") from the Echo of Miles box set.

It's a very different setting of a familiar song. So as I'm doing a little head-banging and body cleaning, my favorite lyric from the well-known version came into my mind: 

Lyrics which mean so much to me in an entirely different manner suddenly gave me the perspective I needed for mama's message to me this morning. When she was leaving this life, all I wanted for her was to soar higher and farther than she ever could as an earthbound. And she's been giving me wings my whole life -- including since her passing.

It is time for me to return the favor. I am giving Mama her wings too. I am freeing her from a life caught between my need to remember and keep her close -- and my desire to have her soar.

Earlier this week, I'd gotten a tweet response that read (in part): "The world is not the same without the one who loves you unconditionally." Indeed. My world is not the same. It goes on as ever, but differently. And so must I, figuring it out as I go along somehow -- never forgetting my mother but not keeping her hostage to my own grief.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Mama, You Are....

Never far from my thoughts .... Especially in moments like this. I am in the middle of an awesome show, during a break between Night Ranger and Rick Springfield. Now, honestly, I think of you far more often.... every day, in fact, and usually accompanied by eye leaks. But I'm thinking of you right now because of music. How much music was a part of my life and how much of a role you played in that. I know I told you this, as you lay there at Hospice House, but I don't know if you had any clue just how much the gift of music has meant to me in life ...... and how you encouraged it in me. Whether through singing or radio or piano or whatever you never once said, "Honey, this music thing is out of hand." You just let me. That was such a gift.

I was painfully aware in my teen years that our money was tight. When all my friends were going to the concerts I so desperately wanted to see -- Rick Springfield, Hall & Oates, John Mellencamp -- we didn't have the money, I had to live vicariously through friends who somehow understood and didn't shame me further.

My first live show was college.... Two of them. Then I didn't see another one for several years. Is this why you are pulling divine strings for me this year? Because keep pulling them. I am loving every minute of it. Every live show has been an absolute priceless treasure. I'm honored to share the moments with my friends in snippets of videos and pictures. 

Two more after this -- at least two planned ones. I'm looking forward to the Avett Brothers in Greenville but OMG I absolutely am freaking out over Temple of the Dog at Madison Square Garden in New York. Oh my gosh mom .... Do you have any idea? Do you? I know in the afterlife you have to know more than I do but oh my gosh, really, can you POSSIBLY know how utterly psyched I am for that one? 

Have you run into Bowie, Prince, Haggard? Have you met Andrew Wood, Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley? Please oh God please tell me you've seen a heavenly Rat Pack engagement. That IS heaven..... 

Okay so Rick Springfield is about to take the stage. I love you. Thank you. Thank you for EVERYTHING.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Already Dreading The Holidays

So it occurred to me today that it will be 20 years on October 4 since my paternal grandmother died. The following March will mark one year since Mom's passing and 35 years since her mother's death.

I pondered these events mostly because if I don't plan for the holidays now, we'll find ourselves at loose ends. For Thanksgiving, we're looking at buffets and restaurants in the area. If nothing else, Waffle House will be open. Thanksgiving was always a small affair, usually just the four of us. When the rest of the Norman Rockwell version of America is stacked 20 deep at Grandma's farmhouse, we always kept it simple. A few times we had family over or joined some friends but I loved our quiet Thanksgiving. This year, I don't know that I want to be here. We are thinking practically. A turkey for three people seems ludicrous. I will so miss Daddy and Mama's dressing but no need to make a huge pan of it for us. So.... What to do? I'm considering some options. Maybe rent a cabin in the mountains that weekend? Head to the beach? Not sure yet. 

Christmas, on the other hand, has never been the same in 20 years. And for nearly that long, I've hated the holiday season. I thought last year was my absolute worst, as I wrestled with anxiety and depression unlike any I'd experienced in a number of years. And at this point in time.... well, honestly, outside Midnight Mass, I'd really rather not take part in any holiday festivities. I didn't feel like celebrating last year. I really don't feel like it right now for this year. I don't care if we ever put up a tree, decorate the house, or anything. I don't care.

I haven't cared for Christmas in years. Some of it is the loss I felt after Granny's death -- Christmas was always the time to get with the family and enjoy the day. We did one big gathering the Sunday after Christmas 1996 -- in fact, it's the first time I ever met my cousins Heather, Brandon, Krystle, and Danielle. But after that, a few hurt feelings and who knows what else ..... And we've never met at Christmas since. To be fair, everyone has families of their own and getting as many together as possible is difficult. So I get it -- it isn't an easy task. 

And this is not what my mother would want. She adored Christmas and was forever baffled by our lack of enthusiasm. "Your granddad loved Christmas," she'd tell us. I'm glad, Mom, I'd think, but he isn't here so.... And this year, she isn't either. It is going to be so weird. No one telling us "Come open presents, come on, get up and get going. I'll never understand why y'all don't love Christmas."

I can't explain it either. I just don't. And this year, even less so.

Friday, August 05, 2016

5 Months

5 months today
21 weeks, 6 days ..... 22 weeks tomorrow
153 days
3 days from what would have been your 79th birthday.

Someday, I'll stop counting. Today is not that day. 

Mama, I've thought of you so very much this past week. You're my divine hotline to awesome concert tickets (only teasing, mom, but don't stop!!). Birds and dragonflies everywhere. I haven't stopped crying each morning for the last week. 

I have a pretty late summer / fall arrangement that I'm bringing you this weekend. I hope you like it. I thought of you with sunflowers and mums, things you might like. Hopefully it will usher in some cooler weather too! Can you work a little magic with God on that particular area?

I suppose I'm the last of the three of us to dive headlong into grief. Dad and Richard seem to be in a different place with theirs. I was so strong at first and I'm still strong. I have softened so much, and in the best way. One of my favorite U2 lyrics that came to mind: "a heart that is broken is a heart that is open." I hope that I've grown more compassionate, more eager to try new things.

I have you to thank for some of the peak experiences I've had this year. Only fair, since you're also responsible for the most heartwrenching one too. Well, it's true. And you were right.... You told me years ago that one day I'd understand (whenever you'd cry about Granny). And I do. I'm slogging my way through it, eyes filled with tears and heart filled with an ache that does not go away.

I miss you but I know you're around. Happy birthday Mama!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Thank you again, Mama

Mama, you are still looking out for your baby girl, aren't you? Thank you. Thank Saint Cecilia. Thank the six-pound eight-ounce Baby Jesus. 

First I got Pearl Jam tickets while you were still here. Then you snagged that AH-MAZING Chris Cornell ticket for me. Fifth row, center stage? If I had not been on Cloud 9, I'd have wept ...... Mavericks? Done. Rick Springfield? Oh mama!!! Avett Brothers? Nice. 

But Temple of the Dog, at Madison Square Garden in New York City? 

You have outdone yourself, Mama. Oh sure, I had some help from your love, affectionately known as #BestDadEver.  But to make it happen, a little divine intervention was needed. That is all on you.

I love you, Mama. We had strange ways of expressing it, and usually so poorly. But it was there. I'm certain of that whenever I think of you. I feel it as surely as I feel that lump in my throat. 

Your birthday is coming up soon. That will be as tough a day as Mother's Day was. But I promise I will bring you a pretty arrangement that you will love. I'm thinking sunflowers ....... 


Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Year of The Concert

So far, 2016 has been a year filled with things I never imagined. I've spoken enough about the awful ones. Right now, I'd like to speak about the good things that took place.

In January, I got tickets for my brother and I to see Pearl Jam in our hometown (well, for these purposes anyway, I'd call Greenville a hometown...... like a band of that level would ever come to La Libertad). They did not disappoint, not in the least. The two of us, and upwards of 18,000 others, were part of history as they played their sophomore album Vs. in its entirety for the first time ever. When they played "Given To Fly" I was in heaven, beaming while thinking of Mom. And closing with "Yellow Ledbetter"? Over the moon!

Then in May, I got to see a band I've loved for nearly 25 years! I've been a fan of The Mavericks since their What A Crying Shame in 1992. They did not disappoint either, but man the crowd did. It was a beautiful Friday night, there by the river, but you'd have sworn they were playing in a cemetery. I actually felt horrible for the band -- they were giving everything they had and not getting as much back. They played slightly under two hours and honestly, I wouldn't have blamed them if they had cut it even shorter. I was a bit surprised that the demographic was way older than I expected. I mean, at 46, I should have been toward the low end of average, not the low end altogether. Lots of 60+ folks. Hey, I'm glad they like the band but c'mon act like it.

Then just last weekend, I got another experience I never thought I'd get: ticket to Chris Cornell in Charleston. It's an odd story but I bought the ticket the Monday after Mom passed, while sitting in the mortuary lobby. Hey, priorities. So I got a REALLY great seat -- I thought it was fifth row, then second but it ended up as fifth. It didn't matter. It was an absolutely phenomenal show. He had an opening act from a blues/roots artist, Fantastic Negrito. And you need to check him out. Seriously. He's that good. Then out came the main act and I was mesmerized. If you have a chance to see Chris Cornell live, DO NOT miss out on the chance. It was two and a half hours (maybe 2:45?  It was 26 songs) that could have stretched into four as far as I was concerned. Did he play every song I would have wanted to hear? No, but then again some of the ones I love don't lend themselves to an acoustic treatment. The ones he did were outstanding, including a few I wasn't expecting to hear......... if you have a chance to catch one of the remaining shows over this tour, then GO!!!!! Seriously.

I have two more to see that are planned: Rick Springfield in August in Charlotte and The Avett Brothers in Greenville in October. There may be another show, if Ticketmaster lets me cash in a voucher from the class-action settlement. Most of the ones on the list, I really didn't care to see.

It's been a good year for music. Music continues to be my sanity saver, my life raft in these changing seas........

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Thirteen Weeks

Today is thirteen weeks since Mom took flight. There have been easier days and harder days. On easier days, I might only shed a few small tears. On harder days, it's an ugly eye-leak after another.

I have been so blessed to have friends check up on me -- say what you will for social media but it's been a godsend for my far-off friends and family to keep up with us. And whenever I get a message from someone just to say, "how are today, really?" I know I'm very blessed. 

I think Maddox has had the hardest time adjusting to Mom's absence. He may worship the ground that Papi walks on, but he was my mom's constant companion ever since he came into our lives. He and Nanny were inseparable. To this day, he refuses to hop up on her side of my parents' bed ... as if to say, "no, she's coming back so..." All he knows is she was here one minute and now she isn't. I took him to see her at Hospice and she tried to pet him. She knew he was there. He didn't hang around her like I would have thought. Perhaps he could sense the impending death from her scent, a body already decaying from organ failure. My brother took him to the cemetery. He laid near the foot of the plot and whimpered. This great, mighty, 120-pound wee beastie, whimpering at the final resting place. Breaks my heart. He's been in a funk now for thirteen weeks.

And for us...... the absence is so real. We're adjusted to it. I think that's all that can be said. I have little bursts of insights and memories hit me, usually driving into work..... They usually make me fan my face and try not to cry too much. We wait, yet again, for December and probate. We've already had two birthdays, Easter, Mother's Day (which was so hard anyway but just multiplied exponentially this year), a family wedding, and now getting prepared to face Mom's birthday that won't be, later this summer. She didn't get to hear our stories about the concert my brother and I attended. She's missing out on so much. So are we. 

But I do balance it by knowing she's free from pain, from a body that no longer functioned well, and from the anxiety that hounded her and she cleverly tried to hide. Mom's death, if nothing else, finally galvanized me to stop hiding my own battles with depression and anxiety. It's made me no longer ashamed to say, "I struggle" ... as she refused to do for herself.

And I think of her every single day.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

I'll Ride the Wave

Nine weeks today. And it's Mother's Day weekend.

I've never been a big fan of Mother's Day for starters. Mom and I never had the BFF type of relationship, and we're both at fault for that. Make no mistake -- there was always love present, but it was an imperfect love at best, as most love is. I believe that she had an expectation that her daughter would be a sweet, compliant, dependent child ..... and she got me, the most noncompliant, independent child ever. I baffled her, I'm sure. She'd have to wait for her son to come along in order to have that beautiful compliant-dependent thing happen.

On top of all that, I came to the realization in my 20s that my own expectations for being a mom would probably not happen. That was, at that time, a very hard pill to swallow -- while at the same time, I had the fleeting thought of "well at least I won't have to repeat things....." Such conflicted emotions about my own chances for motherhood as well as my feelings about my mom. As time has gone on, I purely have loved being a godmother and honorary auntie and "Miss Annette" to a slew of kids -- and I'll take that as my stab at motherhood such as it was. But I also know that God is wise and there's a damn good reason I don't have children of my own...... Mother's Curse and all that? It's real. I cannot imagine how far under the jail I would be if I'd had a girlchild with even half the sass and dark broodiness that I had. So yeah......

But then February 22 happened..... and all that came with it. And my heart is forever seared by March 2, the last time my mother spoke to me. Her last word to me was my name: "Hey Annette!" said with an enthusiasm she hadn't had in days. My heart shattered that day -- I knew why I was there, and I sometimes think Mom did too. All three of us in the room at the same time in the middle of the day? She had to know. After that, she went so quickly and steadily downhill, and seventy-two hours later, she was gone.

On that Friday, I couldn't hold her hand, but I put my hand on her shoulder. I kissed a dry scaly forehead over and over. I told her not to talk, that there was nothing else she could say. She was so out of it and so drugged at that point, I don't know that I would have wanted to hear her thoughts then. Then again, she might have been the most unguarded she'd ever been. There were so many things I thought I wanted to say, to get off my chest, but in the end, none of that would have mattered. Only love did. And I gave it to her in copious amounts. I sang to her....... I told her I was so glad I'd gotten her voice, her strong alto, and her love of music.

I sang "Given to Fly" conveniently omitting the F-bomb. Believe me, while it wasn't like Mom had never heard me utter the word before, I surely didn't want that resonating in her head during that time, and I didn't want her waking up out of a drug-induced stupor and using her last reserve of energy to sock me in the jaw and tell me to be more ladylike...... Although, honestly, it wouldn't have surprised me either.... HA!!! I sang "I Am Mine" -- not sure why but it was beautiful and I wanted to.

And 3 weeks ago, when I was damn lucky enough to see Pearl Jam here in Greenville, they did "Given to Fly" and I shed not one single solitary tear. I was too busy beaming. But I had told my brother that if they did "Release" then he would have to find someone to pull me off the floor, because I didn't know if I could do it on my own -- I would be a sobbing heap.

Instead, I did use lyrics from both songs when I did the Pearl Jam Fan Portrait session that day. Worth every penny (and can't wait to get my photo, can't wait to see the book when it comes out later this year!)

Today, as I type this, I listen to "Release" ..... I shed a few tears but not many.....  because I am myself like her somehow. Not just with her voice (still one of the best gifts she ever gave me and it didn't cost her a dime), but with other things too. Dad always said Mom and I were too much alike, and now I believe it. Both stubborn and headstrong -- perhaps me, even more so. Both voracious readers. People told me all throughout mom's visitation (where we used the above photo of mom) that they couldn't believe how much we looked alike. I never ever noticed it until a couple of years ago, and I still don't always see it.

I see the world, feel the chill
Which way to go, windowsill
I see the words on a rocking horse of time
I see the birds in the rain

Oh dear dad (mom), can you see me now
I am myself like you somehow
I'll ride the wave where it takes me
I'll hold the pain, release me

Oh dear dad (mom), can you see me now
I am myself, like you somehow
I'll wait up in the dark, for you to speak to me
I'll open up, release me
Release me
Release me
Release me

I still talk to her..... every time I see a bird swoop near the car. Whenever I find a feather lying on the ground in my path. Wings and birds and flight and feathers......... And there are days when I say to the air around me, "Dang it, you old bat, why? Why did you not fight harder for years when we told you to? Why did you just stop trying? Dammitall, we miss you and we wanted you here just a little longer." Yeah, just me working through that lovely little "anger" phase.

Well, I've said it a million times before and I'll repeat myself: Grief is never linear. It comes in waves and at the most inopportune times and places. And those stages are not stages but phases and you will come and go in and out of them for years on end. You do not graduate and move to the next one -- "hooray! all done with denial!" -- but you move in them for years to come.

And you do not ever -- ever, ever, ever, ever, ever -- get over it.  How in the world can you ever expect to get over love? You live with a gaping, yawing chasm which can never be filled.

This year, I have all the more reasons to hate Mother's Day. I probably will for years to come.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Saying Goodbye Today

It didn't take long. Mom passed at 5:55 am on Saturday, March 5. I felt sad but at peace. Her suffering was over, her pain at an end. Thursday night had been bad, apparently. She had 3 rounds of morphine and 2 doses of Ativan... 

She was out most of Friday. I went down Friday afternoon and spent three hours with her, just sitting in the silence. Then I talked to her. I again thanked her for all the gifts, and I expanded on what I'd said to her on Sunday. Once upon a time, I would have let loose, knowing she couldn't have responded.  But now, eh, what would it have mattered? It wasn't important, truly. Only the good stuff really mattered. 

Then I sang to her. I sang some Pearl Jam and Chris Cornell songs. I could have sung hymns but my brother had done that. Somehow, I needed to sing things that would soothe both her and myself. God forgive me -- hymns were not going to cut it. I told her that she needed to fly... that when it was her time, she needed to spread her wings and SOAR!! That if anyone in this life deserved to soar, it was her. And my God, did she ever need some unfettered moments.

So many times in life, she found it hard to fly because she was weighted down: helping her disabled parents, taking care of her mom after her father’s sudden death, and being a wife and mother and having a career herself. She was also weighted down later by a body that wouldn’t work properly: hypertension, fibromyalgia, congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, chronic bronchitis, and many other ailments – worst of all,  anxiety and depression. I think those ailments, while being partially treated, weren’t explored well enough. My mother could have benefited tremendously from talk therapy, but none of her medical team ever suggested that she seek it out. What a tragedy. How many years might have been added to my mother’s life? My mother also steadfastly refused to do anything that she didn’t want to do….. Didn’t want to exercise? Wouldn’t. Didn’t feel like eating properly? Okay, no problem, junk it is. As much as I loved her, she didn't exactly help her own cause.

We had made the arrangements in the prior week: cremation, with burial of the ashes. Visitation the night before the funeral services, everything at the mortuary. And so we did just that. We followed through with the plans, gathered pictures for a slideshow at the end of the service, and began a mad frenzy of housecleaning. The only snag -- what song to use for the slideshow? 

I'd been singing Pearl Jam's "Given to Fly" quite a bit to Mama, conveniently leaving out the F-bomb in the song. But there went that idea -- no way to take that out. Richard thought about "Time" by Alan Parsons Project, which I love but couldn't have handled. Richard suggested a hymn, but I said we already had a religious song in the program, and this one didn't have to be, so we had wide options! I thought about "The Last  Farewell" by Roger Whittaker, a song Mom liked and I did too but we both immediately thought "Naaaah..." Finally, Dad said, "Oh, I never did my Scripture reading today..." My brother said, "How about reading Ecclesiastes 3? You know, 'a time to be born, a time to die'..." I looked at him, he looked at me and we said, "THAT'S IT!" We knew we would use "Turn Turn Turn" by The Byrds. 

The visitation turned out beautifully -- the line began about 5:30 and didn't end until 8:30. I don't think I stopped talking from 5:15 until 8:45 by the time all was said and done. The flowers were absolutely amazing, once I got a moment to view them. Flowers from our workplaces, from churches, from dear friends -- including one gorgeous arrangement from my brother's football buddies! He was shocked, and they were beautiful. And the line seemed to go on forever!! What a testament to Mom that she was so well-loved and that her children's friends and loved ones came to offer their condolences as well.

The one amazing part was the photo.... We used a solo picture of Mom. I have no idea when it was done. Dad thinks it was maybe her senior year? I think she was a little older myself. But at any rate, it was a Glamour Shots type photo, only waaaay less soft focus and troweled-in makeup. She looked so beautiful!!! And everyone said so -- while also saying, "oh my gosh, you look so much like her."

I never ever saw either of my parents in me. I have Daddy's eyes for certain, and the McClellan feet (give me the boxes, thankeemuch). And I got Mom's abdomen... Ugh!! But facially, I never saw them in me. But a couple of years ago, in my mid-40s I finally started seeing just the tiniest bits of resemblance of Mom in me. And now everyone is standing there, telling me I'm her clone. I smiled and took it as a compliment. Many years, I would have sneered and aimed for their jaw. 

At the funeral itself today, I held strong -- I was proud of myself for not falling apart. Not to say I didn't cry because I did. But I did not have a meltdown. In fact, most of the time, I sat there beaming, thinking how Mom would have been proud of the send-off we gave her. It was not too stuffy, not too casual, not too maudlin, and not too insincere. It was perfect. I had quite a few folks tell me they felt good when they left .... THERE! Is there no better compliment than to leave a funeral feeling good?

And I was so glad to have my family there. A good many of Dad's siblings, nieces and nephews and their families..... all saying goodbye to their Aunt Nancy. Others came to the visitation who couldn't make the funeral. That was such a tribute to her. And one of my favorites was from a cousin's child who said, "I always felt that she never forgot us" (after her folks split) -- and I replied, "Gosh no, and she made sure we always remembered you as well!" To feel such familial love and their shared grief has been a blessing, especially since so many have now lost a parent or grandparent too.

But even with all that, there is always going to be a void for me. There will always be a hole that cannot be filled. I will always miss my mom. I've not even begun to unpack my feelings, to explore the depths and breadths of every emotion I have. I don't know where to start. I still feel a lot of numbness, as if I know it's real but my mind is slow to let the rest of me warm up to it. I don't know when I will reach tat point, that meltdown moment. I've joked with Richard that if Pearl Jam sings "Given to Fly" or "I Am Mine" I might lose it, but if they play "Release Me" then they'll need a spatula to scrape me off the floor of The Well. It would be ugly, ugly tears..... I can't even listen to that song right now. I can listen to "Fly" all day long and smile -- because I think of Mama soaring, free at last from her earthly impediments. 

Mama, I think of you .... I am looking for strange spots in the sky. I see feathers and scars on the sky, and think of you. I sing loud and proud, and hear your voice. Like I told you last week, we didn't always see things the same way, and we butted heads an awful lot, but there was no doubt that love was present.

Big Nance..... You were definitely one of a kind!

Thursday, March 03, 2016

A Difficult Decision

Yesterday, I logged in to work from home. I needed a distraction from the chaos that has been my life this week, ever since our own "Black Saturday." But at 10:20 AM, Daddy called, "Hey, the doctor wants to meet with us, how soon can you get here?" An hour later, I was at the hospital.

The news was not good -- labwork showed that Mom's small upswings were not indicative of recovery. In fact, the numbers were getting worse, especially for the kidneys. She was approaching, if not already in, renal failure. In addition, her liver was beginning to lose function. The lungs still had fluid in and around them, so much so that she doesn't even have one fully functional lung. All of this is putting extra pressure on an already overtaxed heart. What did we want to do? How did we want to proceed?

We had already begun the discussion of this on that Saturday. What would we do if it came to this? Well, now it is here; what do we do? We knew we only had one choice -- Hospice. We went back to the hospital, found Dr. Jay, and gave him our decision, through a veil of tears. Dad and Richard went home and I stayed with Mom a while longer.

Today, we met with the Hospice nurse and they accepted Mom as a patient. They moved her within the hour, and she's been there the rest of the day. The feeding tube is gone; oxygen remains. A pain med patch is on her to assist with the discomfort.

I hated to leave her, but I had to...... We had to. We are absolutely exhausted. Hours on end at the hospital have completely drained us. We come home utterly limp, and we stare into space and fall asleep......

Hospice care workers are angels. Absolute angels. 

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Two Weeks

Two weeks.

Two weeks ago, Tuesday, February 16, 2016. My mom was here at home, with her usual limited mobility, but here. She was able to pull herself up out of a chair, albeit slowly. She was able to swing her legs off the bed and bring herself to a seated position. She wasn't in the best health but able to manage.

By Friday, February 19, she was requiring assistance for everything. She could not pull herself into a stand. She could not remain in a seated position. My dad was having to help her get off the bed. He would follow her into the bathroom, fearful that she could fall into the glass shower walls.

Monday, February 22, 9:35 PM. I got home from a cappella practice to find mom and dad in the bathroom. He was loudly saying, "Sit up! Sit up!" because she was seated on the toilet and doubled over. He gently pushed her up into a seated position and she began sliding forward. I heard the commotion and suggested to my brother that we go help. It took all three of us to get her out of the floor and into a stand. It was like wrangling Jell-O, a five-feet, 170-pound lump of Jell-O. She pitched forward toward me, doubled over at the waist. My dad tried to get her to stand up straight so she could walk out but she couldn't support her own weight. The knees buckled and we gently lowered her into the floor into a horizontal position.

She was shaking, twitching. Her mouth was moving, like she was trying to say something, or even chew food, but no words came. All she could say to anyone was, "I'm sick." Well, Mom, that's everything from a cold to death's door; can you be more specific?

I looked at Dad, and said, "That's it. You may not like it, but I'm calling an ambulance." And off I went to call EMS. They brought a gurney and took her to the ER. At 4:00 am, Dad came home to pick up some clothing and other things and informed us that she was being sent to a larger regional hospital.

I didn't go until Wednesday because Tuesday was complete chaos -- find doggy daycare, go to work, keep up with the hospital news.....  But when I got there, I was shocked. There was no progress. She was just lying there. She had already had an MRI that day because they suspected she might have had a mini-stroke during the night. Thankfully, this was not the case. She did have a pretty strong infection, however, that was causing issues.

There were still no changes the rest of the week. Saturday was an awful day. Her vitals were slipping, and her kidneys were failing. Even her doctor appeared to be giving up. He decided to move her to CCU for some individualized care, but otherwise, we needed to decide -- and SOON.
We came home and began the hard business of making those difficult plans. How do you do that? How do you possibly put a timeframe on someone's life, to put a value on how long you give them? How did we get here so quickly?

We looked back at the previous ten days. What had we missed? How did we not see it? When should we call people? What did we want? What would mom want?

We visited Sunday..... Eyes were opening a bit more but I wasn't holding out a lot of hope. I thanked Mom for everything..... Basically, saying my goodbyes without using that specific word because (1) I wanted my father and brother to have their opportunity to do the same and did NOT want her to fade out on me!!!!! and (2) I did not want her to believe that we were giving up on her. I wanted her to believe that we still had hope for her, even if it was dim. I felt like I was lying through my teeth, even though I wasn't. I still have hope that she will come around, that she will want to get better, that at last she will choose to participate in her own recovery.

We visited yesterday.... Eyes opening even more but still only able to keep them open for a second or two. Trying to talk to us but I'm still telling her, "shhh, you don't have to say a word, OK?" I said something about our dog and she smiled. My aunt told her about their great-grandchild, and Mom smiled. Her vitals are improving slowly -- mostly her BP and her kidneys but the rest isn't improving as well.

It is frightening to think what can happen in two short weeks. We still don't know where things will go. Today, Dad and I will go to the mortuary to make plans just in case. We need to have something in place, because you don't know. Mom could continue to improve or she could take a sudden nosedive ......

We are in a strange place: the in-between. We are in suspended motion. We wait. Every time the phone rings, I hold my breath. Is it the hospital? Is it Dr. Jay, telling us to get there post-haste? I go to sleep each night praying "thy will be done," knowing those are the four hardest words that can ever be prayed. I wake not knowing what lies ahead. I've been given the okay to take whatever time I need at work, or to login from home if I need the distraction. I am putting guitar lessons on temporary hold until I have a better idea of what lies ahead. The in-between is a difficult place, indeed.
If you see this, please say a prayer for us, for our peace. For God's will. For sanity. That's what we need most.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Open Letter To A Favorite Band

Dear Soundgarden,

You'll probably never see or read this letter, but I felt compelled to write. You see, I'm typing this from my mother's hospital room. Right now it is an uncertain future as she continues to shuffle off her mortal coil ever so slowly and yet far too quickly for my liking.

Let me backtrack to September 2015, and an NPR piece on "Weekend Today" regarding Higher Truth, Chris Cornell's new solo album. Forgive me, I'm an old fart, they're still albums to me. I was intrigued by it especially after hearing a clip of "Murderer of Blue Skies." I've lived a similar situation so to hear someone put into words those sentiments, I knew I'd have to listen.

I downloaded the CD in early October and I was hooked. Listened to it nonstop for at least 3 weeks, and downloaded or bought hard copies of all the solo CD's. Ordered all the Soundgarden CDs when I couldn't find them in stores or even at the used CD stores (where I found all 3 Audioslave ones and grabbed posthaste). I determined that I need a 20-CD changer for my car since my 6-disc limit is woefully inadequate.

I listened to the music in the 90s but only casually. I wasn't a devoted fan. What a HUGE mistake that was! I hated not seeing you in the 90s but back then I had a crap job with crap wages, an assload of student loan debt, and a whole lot of other stuff going on in my life. If I had to do it over, there's a LOT I'd have done differently then.... But that's another story.

Back in this beautiful early autumn, I couldn't have foreseen that I was about to undergo a major battle with the depression and anxiety that have trailed  me most of my life. Normally, my mild Seasonal Affective Disorder sneaks up on me gradually in October (before the time change even kicks in) and so I can make adjustments. But not so this year. Instead, it waited until mid-November, so powerfully that it knocked me over like a wave. Insights and reflections about my 46 years so far on earth came fast and furious, almost more quickly than my brain could process them. My emotions were all jumbled, and only the music helped soothe things, helped me begin to make sense of my place in the world. 

Three songs in particular allowed me to stay sane and sober:
• "Fell on Black Days" -- it is a sad song that doesn't make me sad. It gives me hope. It reminds me that others have been through the same places I have been and made it through. Perhaps with scratches and gouges but they're here, alive and telling the story. I know. This month, I celebrate 25 years of my "semicolon" story. I plan to commemorate it with a very small tattoo later on.
• "Blow Up The Outside World" -- this song was the one I'd cue up every time in December, when I'd come out of a store filled with people behaving as total arses and justifying it in the name of Christmas. When I had "peopled" too much and the world was too much with me, I could play this song and feel a measure of sanity return.
• "The Day I Tried To Live" -- the song became a daily mantra for several weeks. Days when on the commute, I'd find just the right spot on the interstate, cue it up, and belt it out at the top of my lungs, giving myself a boost before going in to the office. Sometimes during the day, I'd sneak into the private washroom, put my head against the mirror, breathe deeply, and whisper in a shaky voice, "one more time around" .... telling myself to hang on, sometimes for the next hour. Sometimes for five minutes. Whatever length of time I could. And do it again. One more time around.

I found other gems.... "Burden In My Hand" is five minutes of pure delight when I sing along and forget that an outside world exists. "Boot Camp" is the first 17 years, 10 months of my life, raised in a small town culture that isn't always kind to its misfits. "Black Saturday," a now far too poignant piece that reminds me of my relationship with my mom... the times over the past 25 years when I'd tell my friends "if I EVER get like that, you have my full permission to take me out!" And now watching her slowly fade away..... Countless others that offered beauty and solace.

There isn't a song off any of the CDs -- solo, Soundgarden, or Audioslave -- that I haven't liked or enjoyed. I began guitar lessons, inspired by their examples. After 8 weeks of lessons, I'm no less inspired, even though I am frustrated by my own inability to just relax and not overthink the simplest things, such as strumming. Yes, I overthink a basic technique. It's helped my vocal skills..... my range has finally gotten close to the three-octave range I've sought for years.

In all this, I have also rediscovered the joys of Temple of the Dog. I found old Pearl Jam gems and got tickets for their show in my hometown..... Because OMG they are really freakin coming here!!!!! and I'll finally get to see Matt Cameron!!!!!! And I can't wait for a new Soundgarden CD and for a tour, hopefully this year. 

All this to say thank you, more than these inadequate words can possibly convey. The music you have brought into my life has saved me many times over. Thank you for your words, your quirky time signatures, your offbeat chords, your non-standard tunings...... For all of this that has made your music unique and precious to me. And right now, I need all the salvation and sanity out there that I can grab. My words seem so small, but they are heartfelt.