Monthly Archives: February 2010

How He’ll Remember Me

Lyle has been thinking about death a lot for, oh, the past year or so.  It’s the age.  We went through it with Baxter and here we are again.  (I can still see 4-year old Baxter getting right in newborn Lyle’s face and sweetly cooing, “I love you Baby Lyle, and I will always love you…UNTIL YOU DIE, BABY LYLE…”  I’m not sure I’ve recovered from that one.)

Of course, the reality of death is heightened for him these days; he attended his first funeral when my grandfather passed away a few weeks ago.

Tonight as I cuddled with him in his bed before saying good-night, he leaned over and said, “I love you, Mommy,” to which I replied, “I love you, too, Sweetie.”

A moment later he said, very seriously, “You know, when we die we won’t be able to hear each other say I love you anymore.” [Insert stifled sob here.]  I told him that while that was technically true,  we’d always be in each other’s hearts and that we’d remember each other’s voices and still be able to hear the words in our heads anytime we wanted.

He thought about this.  “Yeah, I can hear your voice right now.”

Then, with excitement,  “Like — I can hear your voice in my head sayin’ to Daddy, ‘Get me a tall skinny hazelnut latte at Starbucks’!

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Crawling My Way Out

Hoo boy, am I out of it.

I kept running when I got home from Massachusetts, paused for a moment to write a post about what the week was like and just kept going, because I came home to more stress, more to figure out, more to handle.  There was no time to sit and relax for a few minutes so that I could unwind or even take time to grieve, as everyone suggested and I desired.  In fact, the sadness and stress of the first week was overlapped with the onslaught of emotion and exhaustion of the next. Without going into details, I dealt with it the only way I knew how, which was to move forward one day at a time and figure everything out as I went along.  I was once again amazed by the support of those around me.

I blew up over the weekend, taking out on Matt the overwhelm of the two weeks I’d just had.  It was short-lived, and he understood exactly where the sudden swell of rage had come from, and I took to my bed for the rest of the afternoon.  But it wasn’t his fault and I was very sorry, because when you (uncharacteristically) have so many people you’d like to holler at and one person acts as your true lifeline to sanity, it’s really unacceptable to holler at that one person.

Since that afternoon lying in my bed with my books, sense of regret and iPhone Scrabble, I’ve been quite unable to get moving again.  I feel it, this desire to tune out for a while, and I just want to sit and be quiet.  I started to rearrange my schedule for the week, pushing anything back that could be moved and canceling things that weren’t strictly necessary.  This didn’t include the kids’ activities for this week, but things that were my responsibilities.  And so I am in the midst of a series of mismatched days where I have half a day to be on my own, followed by a busy afternoon with the kids, and it helps but isn’t quite enough. When I noted last night that my little blocks of time off weren’t alleviating my exhaustion, my wise friend Emily wrote to me, “You might be surprised at what even one day of complete decompression will do for you” and I know she’s right.  I need to run my battery all the way down before I can truly recharge it.  I know I could pull that off with Matt’s help, but I don’t see a way to make it happen in the near future.

There is work to catch up on after my week away, loads of it, and so I try to check a few things off my to do list each day, because watching that grow exponentially is also stressful.  I find myself limping along on this quiet morning at home, a meeting postponed due to the snow that has continued to fall for hours, catching up on 500+ unread blog posts (thankful for that “Mark all as read” button) and eating tortilla chips in my pajamas, half tuned out and half plagued by that which I am not doing.  I try to jump in and do something simple like communicate with my fellow kindergarten moms about filling the volunteer spots in our kids’ class and realize that I’ve screwed up the most basic scheduling task; it leaves me feeling as if I’m on drugs or like maybe stress has eaten half of my brain and I’m not actually functioning as well as I think I am.

We’ve all been in this place, and we all crawl out of it somehow, except for those of us who become unwashed recluses and live in a shack in the woods, I suppose, but I’m too attached to my nice house with its indoor plumbing and good shampoo and Internet connection, and, well, people, to make that move.  So I guess  I’ll just take my little breaks when I can get them, and start crawling my way out.

Sea Change: Lyle

There has been a sea change in Lyle, my five-year old.  I’ve written before about what a sensitive little soul he is, how easily thrown off kilter he can become at times. He’s required a lot of stability and emotional processing to maintain his sense of equilibrium.  And a lot of me.

Throughout the past few years, everyone who knows him would say that he’s a serious “Mama’s Boy”, and if they were being honest they’d have described him as very “clingy” to me.  From the time he was an infant, he wanted ME ME ME and let everyone know it.  (In fact, due to his articulation difficulties when he was a toddler, his pronunciation of “Mommy” was actually “Mimi”, which was apt.)  For a couple of years now, if I was around, no one else would do – not Daddy, not beloved grandparents or favorite aunts and uncles. In fact, one of our biggest challenges has been that he would be very rude to those people in his denial of their overtures, especially to Matt.  If there was a story to be read, Mommy had to read it and if there was tucking-in to do, well then, that would be done by Mommy, too.  This is not uncommon as a childhood phase;  as a way of life, it’s something altogether different. When Mommy and Daddy didn’t buy into this, the insults would fly in Daddy’s direction.  Interestingly, he’s always been fine when I’m not here.  That’s not to say that my walking out the door was ever easy for him, but once I was out of the picture  I could be gone all day or even most of a week and he’d cheerfully let other adults care for him without any concerns about me, so that’s been a blessing.  But obviously the situation hasn’t been ideal.

He knew that the rudeness toward others didn’t fly with me.  I made it clear that it hurt my feelings as well as theirs when he rejected people so harshly, and quite a few times he lost privileges and I refused to put him to bed at night because he’d acted rude towards Matt.  Although those reactions stung, they didn’t take care of the problem.  I used to try to figure out how to improve upon his relationship with Matt, but the part that didn’t make sense was that they were fine together when I wasn’t around, so I didn’t actually think that was the problem.  Eventually I realized that the problem had to lie somewhere within his relationship with me.

I started out by telling him that if he had mean thoughts about other adults, it was okay to talk to me about that in private so that no one else heard those hurtful words. He took to that immediately, and after an initial spurt of whispering horrifying insults about others in my ear at bedtime, he actually stopped altogether.  At the same time I tried a new tactic with him, which was to work on shifting his expressions of adoration for me in different directions. This seemed counter-intuitive because he was expressing this all day long – it’s just that his means weren’t all that pleasant.  I realized that his clinginess and whining didn’t pull me towards him, but rather made me want to run in the opposite direction much of the time, and so he probably wasn’t getting what he needed in the end, which I guessed was exacerbating the problem.  I told him that he can always tell me how much he loves me, he can ask for snuggles any time he wanted, and he could always ask nicely for me to play with him or read to him and I would as soon as I was available.  It might seem obvious, but sometimes a small child needs to hear these things spelled out for him.  I made myself extra available for all of that during the period when I was really working on it with him.

Sure enough, over time things improved greatly.  His expressions of love and adoration for me continue to range from notable to over the top.  He is still absolutely a Mama’s boy.  After all, this is the child who came out of his room crying the other night after I’d put him to bed, sobbing, “I can’t sleep!  I just can’t stop thinking about you!” (I look forward to telling him that when he’s about 14.)  He prefers that I brush his teeth, read him his story, and snuggle with him before he goes to sleep.  He wishes me sweet dreams every night, and asks me how my day was in the evening.  At dinner when we say what we’re grateful for every night he thanks me for “the delicious dinner” even if it’s something he won’t eat, and he’s prone to suddenly grabbing my arm and hugging it with all his might while we’re eating.  He will often come and tell me he needs a “snuggle”, and we spend a few minutes cuddling on the couch together before he moves on again.  The other day I noticed marker stripes on his fingers and asked what he’d been doing at school.  “We colored with markers in art,” he informed me.  I asked what he’d drawn, and he said, “It was a note for you, Mommy, telling you how much I love you!” and sure enough, this was in his backpack:

Lyle has decided he won’t go to college because he has seen that some kids leave home for college – and he’s never leaving home.  He recently mentioned a girl in his class whom he admires, and became very giggly and silly when talking about her.  I saw her for the first time last week – she is the only girl in his class with my long, dark brown hair, brown eyes, and fair skin.  I almost laughed out loud when I saw her.  Of course!

It’s like living with the world’s sappiest boyfriend, but the difference is marked: now he can ask for what he wants, get a few minutes of time with me, and then move on happily to the rest of his life.  His interactions with Matt are very pleasant.

Once in a while, for a few hours or a couple of days, Lyle will transfer his overflowing love to his special doll, Baby (in the photo above), or a favorite stuffed animal.  I know that someday he’ll move on from me, and believe me, I’ll be fine with that. But for now I am incredibly relieved that he’s been able to make this switch to expressing his love for his Mama in ways that are more positive, and that don’t exclude others.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I need a snuggle.

An Unforgettable Week

A week ago right around this time, I landed in Hartford.  Having picked up my rental car, I was cruising up 91-North towards Springfield, trying to find a decent radio station.  I knew that I would find my grandfather very ill, and understood that he’d been sleeping much of the time but that when he was awake he was uncharacteristically cranky and confused.

I expected to be helping my grandmother get her breakfast and get out of the house to visit him each day.  I imagined we’d be sitting by his side while he slept for hours at a time in the nursing home close to their apartment.  After all, that’s what the past week had looked like for the other relatives who’d taken turns visiting.  I brought my laptop and a couple of files with me, hoping to write reports while we sat there, or maybe in the evenings when my grandmother went to sleep.  I probably said three times to Matt and my Mom, “Thank God no one’s in the hospital this time,” having been through that twice in the last six months with my grandparents, the schlepping across town with the walker in the backseat, the wheelchair at the hospital, the attention to medication and care.  It’s a lot to handle, emotionally and physically.

And so I was unprepared when my mother called me, just 15 minutes after leaving the airport, to tell me that my grandfather was being transported to the hospital that afternoon and they were trying to wait for me to pick up my grandmother and bring her over there.  My grandmother wanted me to “Step on it”.  I drove to pick her up as fast as I could and we got to the nursing home five minutes before the ENTs arrived to transport him.  The staff suspected pneumonia and hugged my grandmother with tears in their eyes.  We had to follow the ambulance, as simply meeting at the hospital was never acceptable to my grandmother; that was far too much separation from her husband of 65 years.

After 5 pretty awful hours in the ER, my grandfather was transferred late Saturday night to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. We visited him in the afternoon on Sunday and again that evening.  His breathing was labored and he never seemed to know we were there.  Thankfully, the doctor on the unit found us that evening and spoke very seriously to my grandmother, recommending that her husband be switched to “comfort care”, with only morphine being administered.  She was not ready for this, despite that fact that at least five family members had discussed it with her in the past week.  You see, she has an uncanny ability to deny the existence of death. For someone who is 88 years old and has lost so many family members and friends, you would assume that she understood some basic things about it, but she did not.  She claimed never to have heard of morphine, but held very firm beliefs that both morphine and Hospice care actually kill people.  It didn’t matter what I explained to the contrary.  At one point, she told me that she had always “run from death”, which is entirely accurate.

Although I desperately wanted the hospital to switch him to comfort care immediately, my grandmother struggled that entire night over the decision to stop the interventions at the hospital.  She wanted to discuss it with each of her four children before agreeing to it, and intended to do that right away the next morning.  But she never had to make the decision.  My grandfather passed away suddenly the next morning, his heart finally giving in to the congestive heart failure that plagued him at the end.  We made it in record time when the nurse called us, but it was too late.  My grandmother thanked my grandfather for taking that difficult decision out of her hands, but was in shock.  Although we’d known he was dying for weeks, she hadn’t let herself consider it until just the night before.

We spent a couple hours sitting by his bedside that morning while she came to grips with the fact of his death.  My uncles arrived one by one and we waited for morning to come in California so that we could notify my mother and aunt.  And within hours we were at a funeral home for a 2-hour meeting, calling a minister to secure a church, and working out who the caterer and florist would be.  I had a notebook filled with scribbled notes that only I could’ve read.  I kept lists of questions for each professional so that when my grandmother mentioned a concern about anything, I could add it to the right list for our next call with him or her.  There was a to do list for each day.  We worked and reworked the obituary and four drafts later we had a final copy.  The photo for the newspaper was another major project as she had very specific criteria for the perfect picture. She examined each one through a very strong magnifying glass with a flashlight built in and could just barely make it out.  We were lucky that everyone she wanted to be involved was available the following Saturday, so we had five days to plan. All of my relatives from California and my cousin from Vienna, Austria had made it by Thursday afternoon. On Friday, Matt and the boys arrived.

I won’t ever say it was easy.  My only time alone from the moment I landed was when I had two hours to do errands for my grandmother on Wednesday afternoon, which involved going to Hertz to argue about the extension of my rental car contract, stocking up on food at the grocery store for the weekend, dropping off my grandmother’s “trousers” at the dry cleaner, and picking up her prescriptions at the pharmacy.  The phone rang non-stop.  Quite often, one of us was on the home phone while the other was on my cell phone.  To say that it was intense would be a serious understatement.

But I felt as I did when I was there with my grandfather last fall.  It was amazing time for my grandmother and me. We were a team.  I knew her routines and was able to take her out to dinner when she didn’t like what was being served in the dining room at her place.  I could take the phone off the hook when she napped in her chair and I knew she slept fairly well at night.  She stayed quite strong and relatively calm all week.  It was a shock to both of our systems when everyone arrived all at once on Thursday; I realized I’d kept things relatively quiet all week, given the situation.   We watched the State of the Union together and had long discussions about politics, laughing at Sarah Palin over breakfast.  The circumstances were horrible, but it was a special time for us to have.  I don’t regret being there when my grandfather passed away, and I will never forget it.  The two of us cried hard when I had to leave.

I could never have stayed in Massachusetts all week without the incredible support system I have in Chicago.  Matt’s parents stayed with the kids, as Matt happened to have meetings in California last week, and they extended their stay when my grandfather died and I asked to stay all week.  Matt came home a day early and somehow combined a full day of work with laundry and packing on Thursday so that he could fly out with the kids on Friday morning.  The other parents took over our carpooling for the week, and I received many emails from everyone there offering support and comfort.  I was even in touch with the boys’ wonderful teachers via email last week, letting me know that the kids were fine and that Baxter’s teacher would lighten the homework for the week with all that was going on. Matt’s father sent regular texts, letting me know that the kids went off to school smiling or that they went to sleep without a problem even after hearing about the loss of their great-grandfather.  My mother-in-law helped hand wash a sweater for me to wear to the funeral and Matt brought it to me.  My associate at work took every new referral call and did everything that needed doing right away.  It was such a blessing for me to be able to let go of everything going on back home and focus on what needed doing at my grandmother’s house.  I was only able to talk to the kids on the phone twice last week, but I knew they were doing fine.  Every time someone thanked me for all that I was doing in Massachusetts, I could only think of the large number of people back home who were making it possible, and felt enormously grateful.  It felt as if they’d all joined hands to create a web that was holding me up, no matter how far away I was, and this allowed me to support my grandmother and all of my extended family last week.

We should all be so lucky.