Today it has been one year since Mom took her last breath on this earth. So much has changed, and so much is the same. I still haven’t gone through all of her stuff, but I did finally manage to do her laundry about a month ago. I was sort of stunned to see it still sitting there in her closet. I figured she would appreciate me washing the clothes and putting them up, even though she’ll never wear them again.

Gaylon, Kendall, Abby and I went to the cemetery this afternoon. Kendall brought a dozen yellow roses, and we all just sort of stood there stupidly. I mean, what do you do? I honestly don’t know what to do at a grave site!  Do you tell them you’re there? Seems sort of silly, since they are not there! Do you say some sort of prayer? Do you have a moment of silence? I talk to Mom all the time, so it seems surreal that I’d have to go all the way out to the cemetery to talk to her. And yet, it seemed very necessary that we should go. Pay our respects. Somewhere, somehow, I think it mattered. Probably to us more than to her. It was cold and dreary, which also seemed fitting.

The last year has been a blur, and I don’t really remember a lot of it. At least not off the top of my head. If someone asks me about something in particular, I can usually recall it, but no guarantees. I’ve been really focusing on my midwifery studies, and that has been a Godsend. I think without my studies, I might not have gotten out of bed. But instead, I’ve attended 10 births and almost 100 prenatals! I’ve gone to three workshops. I am now certified in Neonatal Resuscitation and have started learning venipuncture! And, in experiencing birth again, I’ve realized that birth and death are both very much alike, in that they are both journeys that, once begun, must be completed. No matter how painful or terrifying, one must finish. There is not other way out but to go through it.

The holidays are over, and we’ve gone through our year of ‘firsts’ without Mom. Without Nana. We’ve all hung on to each other, and we are moving forward. We didn’t want to, but here we all are, a year later, still living and loving and laughing. It’s what she would have wanted for us. While the pain will never fully subside, I know it will never be as searing as it was at first. We’ve all learned to live again in a world without her.

I miss her more than I can ever express, and I know that will never change. But I no longer cry myself to sleep every night. As Abby said, I’m now able to talk more about her life than her death, to remember her living, not dying. That’s huge. So many people have tried to be helpful and tell me how to feel. I can tell within a few words whether or not they’ve ever lost someone really, really close to them. Whether or not they’ve lost their mother.  My friend, Rebecca, said that she, too, is a ‘motherless child’. Yes. I am an adult, I have my own (grown) children. Yet I am now a member of that special, secret club of motherless children. It is a bittersweet hazing, and while I don’t wish it on anyone, it’s apparently unavoidable. But there are so many precious people in that club, who have reached out to me, held me, supported me, and gently guided me through this first year. My debt to them is incalculable.

My husband and children have been beyond amazing, and without them I don’t know where I’d be. Gaylon has been so good to just hold me and love me and let me just BE. He was, without question, closer to my mother than to his own, and yet he’s stood strong for me. Kendall, Alex and Abby have all walked through this with me, while painfully journeying through their own grief. I have a very special place in my heart for my beautiful and tender daughter-in-law, Alicia, who manage to transcend her crippling pain and grief and be there not only for my son, but for my mother, and, for me. My extended family has also been there for me in so many tiny little ways that mean so much. My friends are amazing, still calling and texting me and checking on me. I pray that I will someday be as faithful and true as they are. And mom’s friends have been checking on me, too!

So, yes. Life does go on. A year ago, I couldn’t imagine it. And somehow, it seems more vivid, more colorful, more. . . real. Maybe that’s because I am so much more aware of how very fleeting it is. We had no idea that we were going to lose Mom so soon or so quickly. I have learned, a little bit more, to savor every moment. I want to make every word count, and to say it in love. I want to take risks and have adventures. Because, as trite as it sounds, it’s true: we really are never guaranteed tomorrow.

Mom’s been gone for a month and a half now. The world is still spinning, although it seems as if it’s spinning through a fog, at least a lot of the time. Our family is still trying to find “normal”, and I imagine it will be a while before we get there. Actually, I don’t really believe we ever really will. Our world has changed forever, and we have all been forever changed, both by her life and her death. We are all different now, and there’s no going back. I firmly believe that’s as it should be.

I’ve been thinking about how I can share what this all feels like, and I am reminded of my friend, Kevin, who became a father last year. He has occasionally posted the lessons he’s learned from parenthood on his Facebook page, and I think he’s discovered a brilliant way to share, in a concise manner, what he’s feeling and learning on his journey. So, I’m stealing his idea, and am going to follow suite here. In no particular order:

Lessons I’ve Learned From Grief

  1. I have an amazing capacity to cry. A lot. At any given moment, and at the drop of a hat. I’m not afraid of, or ashamed to cry. I just had no idea it was possible to cry this much!
  2. Apparently, no matter how much, or how long you cry, your eyes will not start bleeding or fall out. And yes, I really have thought those might be options on more than one occasion.
  3. One can actually get sick of crying.
  4. No matter how much you cry, people will tell you should cry more. And they seem to assume that you’re not crying enough. I am a private person when it comes to showing grief. I don’t mind writing a little about it here on my blog, but I am not likely to start crying in front of people who are not very closely related to me by blood.
  5. If your mother has just died, nobody will judge you for anything you say, or think, or do. You’re expected to be crazy, and it’s completely acceptable. I don’t think this is license for inappropriate behavior, but it is an observation I’ve made.
  6. Dillard’s is a very difficult place for me to shop now. It was Mom’s favorite store, and I have many happy memories of shopping there with her. This will take time. I love Dillard’s, too, but I think I need to wait a while before I go back there. (See #4)
  7. Everyone has a different idea of where I should be in this process, but they all basically fall into two camps. The first camp wants me to try to get on with my life, because they believe this activity will help me heal. The second camp believes I should curl up in bed or on the couch, and just feel what I’m feeling, and not worry about anything else. I’ve found that my reality falls pretty much between those two places. I simply cannot just lay around; there are things that actually have to be done. Like paying the bills, going to the grocery store, going to Mass. And, I would lose my mind if I just laid around. On the other hand, some days I can’t seem to wrap my mind around any sort of concrete plan, and while I usually manage to shower and dress (my family appreciates this) I accomplish nothing else. But I’m making progress, and Gaylon is displaying unprecedented patience and understanding! He keeps telling me I’m doing better, and that it’ll take time. And he holds me. I have an amazing husband.
  8. People don’t know what to say to me, especially if they’ve never experienced the death of someone close to them. That’s okay. I’ve lost many loved ones, starting with my Dad’s mom, when I was three years old. I’m used to death, and I’m actually grateful for that. It is, after all, the natural conclusion to life. There is nothing anyone can really say that will “fix” me. And I don’t want them to. I just appreciate folks letting me know they care, that they are thinking of me or praying for me.
  9. The coffee does not automatically make itself. The blinds do not magically open each morning and close each evening, and the plants do not water themselves. Litter boxes just keep filling up, and if we don’t gather the trash on Tuesday evenings and take it to the curb, it just keeps filling up, as well. The refrigerator does not mysteriously restock itself with creamer and eggs. Abby discovered, quite to her surprise, that the lint tray in the dryer actually has to be emptied. Every time we use the dryer. The dishwasher doesn’t empty itself every morning, either. The ‘outgoing’ mail on the piano just sits there, and doesn’t automatically deliver itself to the mailbox. And nobody cares anymore what’s for dinner. We never asked Mom to do all those things. She just did them. And more. Quietly. Invisibly. Daily.
  10. And because nobody in the world could say it better than C.S. Lewis, I’m just going to quote him: “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me”, and, “Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.” (From “A Grief Observed”)
  11. I have found that I don’t really care for the modern concept of “Celebrating” someone’s life. At least not so soon. I actually did celebrate my mother’s life while she was still alive. Right now, I’m grieving her loss, and I don’t feel like celebrating at all. I still find funny things funny, and still laugh at good jokes and funny movies. But I do not feel at all celebratory about my mother’s death, which I am unable to separate from her life at this point. This is not to say that I don’t appreciate those who are already able to ‘celebrate’ her life, and I certainly am not offended by people who embrace the concept. I’ve just realized that I don’t yet share that sentiment.
  12. Death involves a ridiculous amount of paperwork. In the immortal words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”
  13. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s “Five Stages of Grief” were inspired by her work with terminally ill patients. They do not necessarily apply to their family and friends. So, I am relieved of the burden of trying to figure out which stage I’m in, and if I’m experiencing it properly. It doesn’t matter, really. I simply am where I am, and labeling it is unnecessary.
  14. And finally, this is probably the most amazing and wonderful thing I’ve learned since Mom died. The Creator of the Universe cares deeply and personally about ME. There have been quite a few times when I’ve been really depressed, or felt like I couldn’t keep going, when I would receive texts, Facebook messages, or phone calls from friends, all over the country, telling me that the Lord had put me on their heart, at that very moment, and they were praying for me. For me!! Right when I desperately needed it! One particularly difficult night, I got two texts at the exact same moment, from two different friends! I’ve always pretty much believed that God loved me, but He has been so very close to me throughout all of this, and has made sure that I know it. I have found this scripture to be so true: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.” ~Psalm 34:18~

So these are some of the lessons I’ve learned so far. I know there are many more lessons to learn, and that I will never fully ‘get over’ my Mother’s death. It’s a process, a journey. I really do understand and accept that. I just don’t have to enjoy it.

April Westbrook 1942-2015

April Westbrook
1942-2015

My precious mother passed from this world to the next at 2:30 in the morning, on January 2, 2015. I realize that I had promised to post funeral information, but somehow, that got lost in my haze. I’m sorry. Her Visitation and Rosary were held at Beck Funeral Home on January 5, from 5:00 to 7:00. Fr. Noah Carter, our dear family friend from Salisbury, North Carolina, led the service. Allen Hebert, our close friend and fellow Catholic Homeschool Dad, led the rosary for us.

Fr. Noah officiated at Mom’s funeral mass the next morning, at St. William parish, at 10:00. My sweet friend, Tiffany Gallozzi, also from North Carolina, sang the Ave Maria, Mom’s favorite song, before the service began. Mom was laid to rest at Our Lady of the Rosary Cemetery in Georgetown, Texas. At the end of the graveside ceremony, my precious daughter-in-law gave my mother one last gift, and sang the most beautiful song. I just cried.

Mom’s grave is in the Marian Garden section of the cemetery, along the Rosary Walk, between the Glorious Mysteries of the Assumption and the Coronation. The Resurrection Cross towers gloriously overhead. Kendall and Abby chose the spot. I know Mom would have approved.  Her obituary is online, and can be viewed here.

I have sat down to try and write this post several times, and never seem to get very far. Once, I actually did finish the post, but it was mysteriously deleted, and so, I must begin again. I can only assume the missing post was not meant to be. People keep asking me if I’m okay, how I’m doing. Honestly, that changes from moment to moment, from day to day. Mostly, I’m numb. Occasionally, I can’t stop crying. I’ve been doing the next thing, and trying to wrap my mind around the fact that my mother is gone.

But I know I’m not grieving alone. My mother had so many friends, and so many people loved her! Sometimes it feels like the whole world is mourning with me. I cannot begin to convey how humbled I am at all of the love and support we’ve received from our friends and family! I have gotten countless phone calls, emails, Facebook and text messages, letters and cards. A few folks have dropped by the house, and many of our homeschool friends have brought meals. I have never felt so loved in all my life, and am honestly stunned at how many people care. And not just about my mom. They care about me. I didn’t expect that, and I truly do not have the words to express how very much it means to me.

As sudden and shocking as it all has been for all of us, even (especially?) for Mom, I know that she was not afraid of death. She told us that many times. She even said she was excited about getting to Heaven. And she told us that she felt peace. Her childlike faith in her Lord is such an inspiration to me. There was no doubt in her mind that Jesus was waiting for her. Her faith has inspired me and given me an even greater desire than ever to grow in holiness, to seek the face of God, so that when my own time comes, I will get to see my mother again. All of us feel that way. Alex has even started attending church again.

I know that it will take time to heal, and that I will never fully get over this. I mean, when Mom was admitted into the hospital on December 16th, we didn’t even know she had cancer! Sixteen days later, it was over. We barely had time to say goodbye. But we did get to say it. I know that this is a precious gift that so many people do not get. Our family was very blessed to have what brief time we did get. But we are all still in shock, and it’s not real to us yet. Its surreal. Time will help ease some of the pain, but I do know that it will never be completely gone. I don’t expect it to be.

This is not my first experience with death, or even with sudden death. My grandfather died of a stroke when I was eleven years old. He was my hero, and that was really, really awful. My grandmother died of cancer when I was twenty. But we’d been expecting it for a long, long time. She had bone cancer, and she had been slowly fading from us for so long. I missed her like crazy, and still, almost 30 years later, I sometimes want to pick up the phone and call her. My dad passed away ten years ago. Also from cancer. Gaylon’s dad died earlier that same year. Again, cancer. I’ve lost aunts and uncles, and more than a few friends. Losing my dear friend, Bonnie Musselwhite to cancer when she was only 43 years old was devastating! But this is different. This time I lost my lifelong best friend. The one and only person who was always there for me, no matter what. I really do see her face everywhere I turn. And I suppose that’s as it should be.

Sometimes I don’t want to talk about it at all. Just the idea of talking is exhausting. Sometimes, though, all I want to do is talk about her, to rehash every minute in the hospital, to cling to my last memories of her life. And I never know which it’s going to be, at any given moment. I’m grateful to the friends who keep texting me, calling me. I need that so much! I am not likely to pick up my phone and call anyone. I’m pretty sure I really wouldn’t even know what to say when they answered. So again, I am so grateful to everyone who has reached out to me, and keeps reaching out. I’m not ready to commit to any big plans. But lunch or coffee, or just a brief phone conversation is perfect. If I’m not ready to talk, I won’t answer the phone. But I will call back.

So, thank you from the very bottom of my heart to all of you who have been here for us in any way, shape, or form. Thank you to those of you who are still reaching out. Words cannot express our gratitude. <3

 

My mom’s cancer is far more widespread than even the oncologist realized at first. When we first got to the hospital, they were telling us we had 12 – 18 months, maybe more with her. Then the biopsy results started rolling in, and we learned that she had cancer in her lungs. Stage IV. And in her adrenals. And lymphs. And esophagus. And her left hip. It seems to be a plague that has invaded her body.

But, she still wanted to try chemo and radiation. So, first they had to drain the fluid off of her lungs, so she could lay down for the procedure to put in the chemo port and then also a feeding tube, because she hasn’t been able to eat or drink anything for WEEKS. So around 11:30 on Tuesday the 23rd, she went into the procedure smiling, and we both were thinking okay, things are going to get better after this! I was told that this procedure would take about 2 hours, so I went to grab some lunch. About an hour and and fifteen minutes later, I got a phone call from a nurse, telling me the surgeon wanted to see me. I threw my lunch in the trash and made it to the Medical Tower in record time. My Uncle Steve and his wife Gretchen were able to get there right after I did, and just before the surgeon came to meet with us in the Consultation Room.

Dr. H. looked really worried as he sat down to tell us that they had had to “abort the procedure”, because to do it, they would have to lay Mom flat on her back, and as soon as they started reclining her, her oxygen level would drop to 30% in 40 seconds. He said for reference, most of us could hold our breath for a couple of minutes, and still have 100% oxygen. My heart sank. He said that the only way they’d be able to get the port and the feeding tube in would be to put her on a ventilator, but he was very afraid that she’d be on it for the rest of her life. 🙁 He asked us what the oncologist had told us, and I said “Twelve to eighteen months.” He said that he was concerned about the next 24 to 48 hours. I think I quit breathing at that point. I knew she would not want to be on a ventilator.

After talking to the surgeon, we went back to her room to wait. It took a really long time, and my Uncle and I began to really worry. I called all my kids and asked them to come immediately, and they did. (Alex ran out the door of the automotive shop so fast that he forgot to leave a customer’s car keys behind, and we had to send someone to return them!) When they finally brought Mom back to her room, her whole family was waiting for her. She looked so weak and disoriented! I mean, she hadn’t looked fantastic when she left for surgery, but she’d been in great spirits, smiling and alert. This was so different and disheartening. We called Hospice, and started trying to reconcile ourselves to the fact that Mom is not going home.

But we tried make the best of it. After all, it’s Christmas, right? My lovely and amazing daughter-in-law sang Christmas Carols to Mom. The hospital staff came in to listen to her angelic voice. Mom was delighted, even through her weakness.

I stayed with her all night, as did her friend Janet, and Gaylon. It was a super rough night. She choked and gagged for much of it. She was so weak, and having so much trouble breathing! I cried. A lot. We all cried a lot. When morning came, the oncologist came to see us, I guess for the last time. She said that the cancer is just so widespread and invasive, that there is nothing anyone could do. She said it might have been a blessing that we didn’t find it sooner, because we might have been able to try to ‘fight’ it and it would have prolonged her suffering. She recommended we watch “Christmas Vacation” and try to get some rest. (I knew I liked her. . .) Mom had a much more peaceful day, and seemed to rally a bit.

I went home for a shower. Alex texted to say that he thought we should all get together and watch the Muppet Christmas Carol in the hospital room with Nana. So we all gathered in the hospital room to watch a movie. That never came to pass, because we just got distracted, but our sweet friends, Michael and Margaret brought Holy Communion to Mom. She lit right up!  I spent the night with her, alone, and she slept most of the night, fairly peacefully. It was good.

Later that night, Abby spent the night with Kendall and Lishi. Alex went over there most of the night, as well. My children, without any direction from us, got together and nurtured each other. They loved each other and clung to one another in this difficult time. Yes, a true Christmas Miracle. My silver lining in this dark and terrifying cloud. Abby set up all the Christmas stockings before she went to Kendall’s. He helped a bit. They kept some small piece of Christmas alive for all of us.

Christmas Day, I got to be alone with my mother, for what is very likely the last fully alone-time, lucid conversation I will ever have with her here on this earth. She told me she felt like she was just laying around, waiting on God. I agreed. She said she’s peaceful, and ready to go, just not ready to leave all of us. I gave her permission to leave. We talked about funeral arrangements and where she wants to be buried. We talked about how there will NOT be a viewing or an open casket. And she wants flowers. Lots and lots of flowers. Caveat: No Easter Lilies. . . Mom has always hated them. They remind her of death! No donations to the Cancer Society or anything like that. If someone is just determined to donate some money in her name, then she wants them to give money to the Capital Campaign at our church, St. William Catholic Church, in Round Rock, Texas. So. Flowers or donate to our church. No Easter Lilies. Pretty simple. We discussed how our angel, Lishi, would never make it through the Ave Maria, so we asked our friend, Tiffany, if she could come and do it. She said she’d be honored to do it.

And then I told Mom that she needed to talk to all of the kids and give them her final blessing. She thought maybe she could divid that out over two days. I told her I thought she needed to do it all yesterday. I had a feeling. She agreed, and she did it. All the kids came, and they each got private, one-on-one time with Nana. She blessed them all. It was sacred and precious.

Today she’s been very non-responsive. She can barely wake up, and can no longer talk, or even write on her notepad. I’m glad she blessed everyone yesterday, and I know she is too. Tonight, Gaylon, Kendall, Alicia, Emily and I gathered around her bed and prayed the rosary. My sister, who is not a Christian, joined us with respectful and understanding silence. Lishi sang the Magnificat in Latin, and a couple of other lovely songs before they went home. (Alex came to visit earlier in the day, so he missed the rosary).

I don’t know how many more moments I have left with my precious mother. This has all been so horrifyingly rapid, and I’m barely able to keep up with it all. I know when it’s over, I’m going to go home and sleep. For a week. And then maybe I’ll have the energy to cry. I really did think I’d have her for at least ten to fifteen more years. She thought so, too. It’s inconceivable that she’s almost gone. Yes, I believe in miracles, but it just really seems like God wants her to go home to Heaven, not to our little house in Round Rock. I don’t know why, and I’m sure it doesn’t matter. I will miss her until the day I draw my last breath, and every day I will be surrounded by the myriad things and memories that weave their way through and permeate my life, making me who I am. And yes, my world will be so empty. It already is. I understand that this crushing grief will eventually pass, but nothing will ever replace the space my mother has filled in my life, in my being. I am grateful that she showed me how to be a Christian, how to love Jesus. Her faith, her steadfastness and child-like trust in Our Lord is the glue in our family, and it will be forever. We are all who we are, because of her, because of her tireless and selfless love to all of us.

I do not know when I’ll have the chance to blog again about all of this, but I will make it a point to post funeral information, when the time comes. I cannot express how much we all appreciate all of your love, prayers, texts, phone calls. We are feeling those prayers, and that is what is sustaining all of us. Thank you. <3

 

PAGE TOP
%d bloggers like this: