Love Letter to my Momma

I am beginning to not like the phone.  The phone is not my friend anymore.  As I was leaving work, my sister calls to say, “Hurry Gretchen.”  Is today the day you are leaving us Mom?  “Lord,” I pray, “please Lord, let me make it to the hospital on time.”

After consulting with the family, the doctors are removing tubes and medicines from you Momma.  They fully expected you to fade away quickly.  Your BP immediately dropped by half.  But those doctors don’t know you, Mom, like we do.  You stabilized yourself and kept whispering, “I love you, I love you all.”  Then you started saying your prayers.  I really think you were saying the rosary.  And, of course, you were talking to your deceased children, Donna and Eric.  You will be seeing them soon, Mom.  I know you miss them so much, and we had you far longer than we could have ever imagined.  We are at peace with letting you go.  But it still hurts, DAMMIT!  (That brings a laugh.  DAMMIT was your favored curse word.  I think that was the first word all of us kids muttered.)

We are all in your hospital cubicle, Momma, up here in SCU at West Jefferson Hospital.  The staff is the most wonderful staff in the world.  They had all been celebrating your fighting spirit and your will to live.  They are all as heartbroken as us.  We are watching every breath you take.  We are watching the monitors.  Surprise, surprise, your BP climbs a bit and your oxygen is at 100%.  Every little sound you utter we jump up and surround you.  Please Momma, please, open your eyes one more time.  I have got to see your eyes open one more time.  Nothing.  The priest visited earlier to give you your Last Rites, and that seemed to be the end for you.

Late at night, everyone has gone home except me & Paw (my most wonderful step-dad of 31 years).  I feel a sneeze coming on.  I always said I had a sneeze that could wake the dead. Time to test that hypothesis.  Achoo!  Sure enough, you open your eyes wide and stare at me surprised.  Then you look a little angry.  I say, “Sorry Momma.”  You grumbled something and shut your eyes, possibly never to open them again.  But that is okay.  I got to see your eyes open one more time.  God granted me that wish.  And a little lagniappe, your BP rose even higher.

Paw and I call it a night about 1:00 in the morning.  Paw starts to cry on the way home talking about you.  It hurts to hear Paw cry.  He goes home to his empty, over-sized Paul Bunyan bed.  You have shrunk so much in recent years, Momma, and Paw always had those little, short legs.  The little set of steps on each side of the bed are so adorable.  It was always cute to watch you two, tiny elderly people climb in that big, old bed.  Now Paw doesn’t even sleep in the bedroom.  He sleeps in his recliner, missing you, Momma.  Your laundry basket with the rope tied to it sits empty by the dryer.  You were always so cute dragging that laundry basket behind you all around the house, dragging clothes to and from the wash room.  Your presence will live on forever in that house.  Please, Momma, please wake up and come home.

I open my eyes to a new day, Momma.  Our new life without your lively self.  Before I head back to the hospital, I have to go see your friend, Mrs. S.  You don’t know this yet, Momma, we haven’t been able to tell you that Dennis passed away.  Like you, Mrs. S is burying a 2nd child.  As I am walking across the street to her house with tears in my eyes, my mind wonders back almost 37 years.  I was 19, home alone, after visiting Donna in the hospital.  I had to come home.  I couldn’t take watching my sister die.  Everyone else stayed at the hospital.  I was home alone and the phone rang.  My phone was not my friend that day either.  It was your aunt, Momma, calling to say how sorry she was Donna had died.  But I had not known that yet.  I was home alone, after just burying my daddy a year before, and I hear my sister died.  I panicked.  I ran out of the house to Mrs. S’s house, crying the entire way.  I ran into her house and into her arms, and she hugged me and took care of me until you got home.  Today, once again, I have tears in my eyes.  Donald, Dennis’s older brother, opens the door for me before I even knock.  We look into each other’s tear filled eyes and don’t have to say a word.  I rush into Mrs. S’s arms and we cried and cried.  We cried over Dennis and we cried over you.  We remember good times and finally part, but we each have a little lift in our step.  Please, Momma, please wake up, your friend needs you.  Mrs. S needs her friend.

Kris and I are headed to see you again, Mom, wondering if today is the day.  We stop to buy a muffaletta for Paw and Cindy (our beloved step-sister of 31 years).  Today is the day you are being moved to a private, hospice room.  I do not like that word – hospice – so final.  I do not want final when it comes to you, Momma.  Your BP was down to 60/33 when Cindy first got there in the morning.  But her hugging you and rubbing your hand raised it back to 70/33.  The family is ushered up to your room to wait for you while you are being prepped for the move.  I hand Paw a root beer and he says the root beer is really big and will last him well into the night (he’s used to sharing his root beer with you).  Then he knocks it over and spills most all over the floor.  Well now it won’t last you all night, Old Man.  Then Cindy drops her muffaletta on the floor.  Well I tell you, Momma, that was the best fed floor.  We were having a good laugh when your bed is rolled into the room.  You look so tiny.  I had to tell you about Paw and Cindy how they were misbehaving and you should get up out of that bed and fuss.  Please, Momma, please wake up and fuss at Paw and Cindy.  But you chose not to comment on that.

Paw’s legs are swelling, Momma.  He’s not taking care of himself like he should.  We convince him to rest with his legs up in the recliner.  He is struggling with those little short legs and Cindy is trying to help him.  Well, lo and behold, the recliner is on wheels and Cindy inadvertently sends Paw rolling across your hospital room.  I tell you Mom, we can’t take these two anywhere!  We are belly roll laughing as the social worker walks in the room.  He must be wondering what kind of nuts we are.  We diligently listen to him speak about hospice and we become somber.  But, it doesn’t take long before we are belly roll laughing, again, and the social worker walks in, again.  We are filling your room with laughter, Momma.  Please, Momma, please wake up and laugh with us.

You have a visitor, Momma.  It’s Bradley.  Well, of course, I had to tell the nurses all about Bradley.  Remember, this is one of our favorite stories, Momma.  I remember coming home from first grade at St. Anthony.  I said, “Momma, there is this bad little boy named Bradley at school.  He’s really, really bad.”  Remember you told me to stay away from him?  Then one day I am looking out of the window from our house and I yelled, “Momma, Momma, that bad little boy Bradley is across the street!  Momma, Momma, come see.”  You told me to just stay inside.  Little did we know that 24 years later that bad little boy Bradley would become my step-brother.  Poor Bradley (my beloved step-brother of 31 years).  We never let him forget that.  But he is a good sport and let us laugh, at his expense, to make you happy.  Please, Momma, please wake up to hear the Bradley story one more time.

Kris decided to share a Katrina story.  You remember this one.  This was when you, Paw and Kris were hurricane refugees in Beaumont, TX.  Paw wanted to fill up Kris’ car and get it cleaned so he took her to a quarter machine car wash.  Well Kris is handy with a sewing machine, but don’t give her anything else mechanical.  She has never held a car wash wand in her hand.  She put the quarters in, and had no idea of the water pressure that was about to come out of that wand.  Paw happened to be standing in the wrong spot at the wrong time.  Paw was now covered in pink, blue and white suds from head to toe.  Kris is still trying to control the wand and continues to squirt suds all over him.  He said Kris wouldn’t point the wand the other way.  Cindy asked Paw why didn’t he just move.  He said he was in shock.  After the spraying quits, Paw and Kris are laughing and he removes his eyeglasses.  Kris said all she could see were two big eyes staring at her from a mound of pink, blue and white suds.  They said you were so shocked when they returned to the apartment and Paw was soaking wet.  Oh Momma, please wake up and laugh with us.

Look Momma, you have more visitors, your nephew Rusty, his wife Gladys, and one of their daughters, Ingrid.  Now Erica is here, or as you lovingly call her, your first bad-egg grandchild.  And then Shawn (our beloved niece of 31 years) stops by.  Your room is full, Momma.  We are all reminiscing, laughing and filling your room with lots of love.  Please wake up, Momma, and join us.

Well Mom, it is time for me to return home.  I have to go to work tomorrow.  I leave the hospital crying crocodile tears.  I want to call my daughter, Kodi, but I cannot get that lump out of my throat to speak.  I finally get my act together and call her, but she doesn’t answer.  So I continue with my cry-fest, Momma.  I am already missing you.  I am in full blown hysteria mode and my phone rings.  It’s Kodi.  I summoned your strength, Momma, and got my act together to talk to my baby.  Well I could have kept crying for the blubbering mess me and Kodi were.  She doesn’t want to lose her grandmother.  Please, Momma, please come back and live with us a little while longer.  Eventually, our phone conversation turns to fun times, but she has to go to tend to her young family.  Rowen, your youngest great grandson, has taken off his diaper with poop in it.  Shane and Kodi must go search the house for poop.  I am once again left alone to my memories of you.

Life is still rolling along whether I want it to or not.  I stop to see my Avon sister and we discuss our Avon booth at the upcoming Picayune Street Fair.  I called Kris to let her know I made it home.  Home – to Spooky Hollow – and the tears start flowing because you will never be able to visit here again.  Your son-in-law, grandson and great-grandchildren are all waiting to greet me in my fragile state.  Please, Momma, please wake up and come visit me at my crazy Faux Farm.

But I know that will not happen.  The phone, which is not my friend, will soon bring the dreaded news.  When that does happen, please, Momma, please come and see me in my dreams.

Oooh Oooh dat Smell! Can’t you smell dat (CrabBoil) smell?

Dang you Winn Dixie.  I walked into the grocery store with my carefully made out list and coupons to stay on budget.   I planned on sticking to the list only.  I was mentally prepared.  And bang – the automatic door opens and that smell hits me.  The smell of Zatarain’s crab boil.  All of us southern Louisiana people know that smell.  It grabs you by the nostrils and won’t let go!  I must resist.  I must resist.

I proceed directly to the meat counter.  So far so good.  But then……..in the seafood department, the Winn Dixie clerk is bagging up Zatarain’s boiled potatoes and corn.  I lost all resolve.  I grab some of this southern gold, attempt to finish some shopping on budget, and make my way to the check out counter.

The boiled crawfish were in front of the store, by the door, sitting on ice, enticing you to buy this delicacy.  I start loading my groceries on the conveyor belt and tell the check-out gal I am going to grab some boiled crawfish.  She said, “You better hurry.  Folks have been snatching them up.”  I glance towards the display, and sure enough, 3 bags remained.  I ran there as fast as my metal knees would allow me and grabbed 2 bags right under the noses of potential buyers.  I ran back to the check out line and did not feel a bit of remorse.  Not a bit!  These were mine!  All mine!  They were mine the minute I walked into the store and smelled dat crab boil smell.

Some things just stick with us southern Louisiana people for life – like Zatarain’s, seafood, king cake and Mardi Gras doubloons.

Just like when I smell seafood boiling, the same goes when I hear doubloons hitting the ground at a Mardi Gras parade, I go into a frenzy.  I will knock over young and old, step on fingers, step on toes, to grab that worthless piece of metal.  I have just got to have it.

Is this instilled in us at Christening.  Is there some bayou water in that holy water the priest dumps on our head?  Does the priest say, “You are christened in the name of The Father, The Son and the New Orleans’ ghost.”?

In the early 60s, my young brother committed his life to God.  He traveled to Ohio, joined the Catholic Seminary and became known as Brother DePaul Held.  The food just about did him in he said.  It was bland and awful.  He started cooking red beans and rice and other New Orleans delicacies for the nuns, priests and brothers.  They loved him.  And he is remembered by many that were in the seminary with him, long after his 1967 death due to cancer.  In his little 23 years here on earth, Eric made a huge impact on people sharing his culture.  New Orleans just does that to you.

In 1979, I was heading out on my first venture without my family.  My high school senior trip was a cruise to the Virgin Islands.  I kept hearing about the awesome food.  Wait?  What?  Someone lied to me.  I mean, the food was okay, but it wasn’t my food.  After you live in the New Orleans area, hardly any other food compares.  It was missing something.  What was it missing?  Oh yes, Zatarain’s crab boil, McIlhenny Tabasco and such.

Oh those crawfish.  Pinch the tail, suck the heads.  And crabs!  Fat, female blue lake crabs.  Just waiting to be thrown in that boiling pot.  That smell grabs your nostrils.  Crack that shell off and look at all that orange goodness.  Oh the fat in the female crabs.  Grosses anyone out from other parts of the good old U.S. of A., but not us southern Louisiana people.  Forget your caviar.  Give me crab fat.

In the early 80s, I met a young man that could boil better than anyone I ever met.  So I married him.  Oh the seafood boils that we threw.  People would come from miles around.

Not long after we were married, the hills were calling my husband.  He wanted to move to Tennessee.  I told him he was crazy and I just could not leave my salt water seafood.  I would call him on a Friday and say, “find me seafood, I must have seafood.”  He would reply, “I am not sure what they have now….”, but before he could finish, I would be yelling in to the phone to find me seafood.  When I get a craving for that taste, I just have to have it.  I cannot think or function properly until I have that smell of Zatarain’s grabbing me by the nostrils.  We even had our own personal soft-shelled crab man who would faithfully drive into my driveway, with a tray of still breathing soft-shelled crabs for us to pick from.  Such a spoiled person I am.

Did I mention a major reason I married the man I did is because he is the best seafood boiler around?

Alas, I finally agreed to move a little ways from N’Awlins, but not too far.  I am just over the border, the Mississippi border that is.  We are just a hop, skip and jump away from salt water fishing and crabbing.  We can still get our favored delicacy readily.  I am here to stay – for the seafood.

So I come home with the booty.  My husband knew we were on a strict budget and he was shocked I went off of script.  I fixed my platter with the goodies – crawfish, potatoes, corn on the cob, but I noticed he wasn’t getting any.  I finally asked him if he was going to fix his platter.  The goofy man said, “Oh, you bought enough for both of us?  I thought you just got enough for you.”  I was shocked and appalled.  After 35 years together, did he think I would do that to him?  No, I could never eat boiled seafood in front of my beloved and not share.

But…….if there had not been enough crawfish to share, I might have sat out in Winn Dixie’s parking lot and got my fix, disposing of the evidence, and driving home with a smile on my face………….

 

 

As a Strong Woman Hovers Between Life & Death

I get the call no one wants to hear.  You need to get to the hospital, your mom might not make it through the night.  Wait – What?  Is my Mom’s life going to end in the same hospital where she gave me life – almost to the day – 56 years ago?

I sit at my Mom’s side, 2 weeks after I buried Frank the Faux Pug.  Her breathing is terribly labored and ragged.  Her blood pressure and oxygen levels are critically low.  The doctors say the odds are stacked against her.  My step-dad is telling me I need to spend as much time with her as possible.

In a very weak voice, Momma starts calling for Eric and Donna, over and over, my dead brother and sister.  Chills run up and down my spine and I think they are coming to take her away.  Mom told Paw (my step-dad) after her kidney surgery, she had dreamed about going to heaven and Eric turned her away, saying it was not her time.  I wonder if it is her time now.  Lord, I pray, Mom’s breathing is so bad, please take her quickly.  Please don’t let her suffer.

I sit there and think about a conversation we had just the previous week.  I, as her Avon lady, supply Mom with all things beauty.  She says in her thick N’Awlins accent, “Dawlin, I need some of that Natural Beige Cream to Powder Foundation.  I’m almost out.”  I re-assured her that I had a compact waiting.  My Mom has the tiniest face, but for some reason, she sops this stuff up.  My big, round face does not use the exact same product in the short span of time she does.  Maybe her 95 years of well deserved wrinkles need extra foundation, I don’t know.  This thought carries me even further back, 37 years, to a conversation I had with my dying sister in the hospital.  I was an Avon lady back then also.  I told my sister to order anything she wanted out of the book and I was getting it for her.  I was desperate to keep the conversation as normal as possible.  My sister didn’t even look at the book.  We both knew she wasn’t getting out the hospital.  Was history repeating itself.  As with my sister, would my last conversation with my Mom be about Avon?

I am trying to prepare my sister that Mom is not coming home from the hospital.  My sister keeps nudging my Mom to open her eyes and look at us.  She tries.  She even nods sometimes to our questions.  Mom’s little hands, with her painted red nails, are so swollen, and leaking fluid.  My Mom is leaking.  Why is my Mom leaking?  Mom’s don’t leak.  The nurse explains this is her body getting rid of excess fluid.

My mind drifts back again, probably about 46 years.  My Mom came home from the doctor and said she had diverticulitis.  I grabbed our “D” encyclopedia and looked it up.  I was terrified because the encyclopedia said my mom could die.  I told her that.  She said, “No Dawlin, I just need to watch what I eat.”  When you are from N’Awlins, how do you stop eating Corn & Crab Bisque soup?  You don’t, and you end up in the hospital over the years off and on.  Then you end up in the hospital with scar tissue from severe diverticulitis, have to have a colostomy, right after you just had a cancerous kidney removed.  See Momma, I told you this diverticulitis could kill you – the dictionary told me so at 10 years old – just took 46 years – but it is happening.

We try to make sure my step-dad is eating and resting.   His daughter and family are terribly worried about him.  My husband fries him chicken tenders, mashed potatoes, gravy, Ceaser salad and deadly corn.  Paw eats and tears up as he tells us before the last surgery, my Mom told him to kiss her on the lips because she was probably going to die.  My husband said don’t count Mom out.  She is a tough little lady.  But me and Paw are not holding out hope.

That very same night, I found out a childhood friend had died.  I sit on my Mom’s porch looking across the street at my old neighbor’s house.  Another momma in this neighborhood is going to bury a child.  And this one, like my Mom, will now have lost two children.  The Angel of Death is surely lurking over our old neighborhood.  My heart is so terribly heavy.

The next morning, Paw is heading to hospital.  He picks up his WWII Veteran cap and his Retired U.S. Navy cap, holding one in each hand.  What is going on in that adorable, little bald head of his?  Is he wondering which cap will make him look most dapper?  He decides on one and heads out with tears in his eyes.  Lots of us descend upon the hospital.  Me, my sister, step-sister, her daughters, one son-in-law and our step-brother.  We are all gathered around my unresponsive Mom.

Eventually, we end up chatting about everyday stuff.  My crafty sister and the crafty niece start discussing embroidery machines and how she will go to the crafty niece’s house to show her how to use it.  Me and the non-crafty niece said we will join in and drink Bloody Mary’s that the nephew-in-law will make.  Then, a miracle happens.  Mom is turning her head this way and that, like she is trying to listen to the conversation.  We ask her to open her eyes.  She does.  She looks at all of us.  She responds to our questions – somewhat. She tries to smile.  The nurses are shocked.  The nurses said she obviously needed everyone around her.  I guess Mom wanted an audience.  Heart rate went up, oxygen levels went up. We are cautiously rejoicing.  Other family members came throughout the day – grandaughter – great grandaughters.  With each visitor, Mom responded even more.

That evening, the nurses are turning my Mom and trying to get her to respond.  Mom opens her eyes and asks, “Am I alive?  I thought I was dead.”  We leave the hospital with better spirits.  The nurse said he would call during the night if anything happened.

At almost midnight, the phone rings.  Paw and I almost have a heart attack.  Turns out it was a nun friend that didn’t realize the time.  Phew.

The next morning, Paw picks up both caps again, picks one, and said “Well, we made it through another night. I am dreading heading in.  I am afraid your mom will be unresponsive again.”  Well not so.  The drain tube was removed.  The oxygen mask was removed and replaced with the nostril tubes.  Oxygen and BP were higher.  They are feeding her warm broth through her feeding tube.  Mom was opening her eyes more, responding more, excited to see her grandson and more great-grandchildren.  Then she yells out loudly, “WATER, WATER, WATER.  Swab my mouth.”  We all almost jumped out of our skins.  The doctors and nurses are astounded at this turnaround.

Yes the odds are against her, but my Mom has met the odds many times and showed them who was boss.

Life of a Strong Woman

Mom called me from her ICU room this morning to wish me happy birthday.  Ironically, she was in the same hospital 56 years ago today delivering me.  Her little 95 year old self sounded so frail and tired.  But I know the iron and steel behind that frail sound.  Momma has been a fighter since the day she took her first breath and has lived to witness much happiness, lots of tragedy, and almost a century of history.

Late December 1921, when Warren G. Harding was the 29th president of the United States, my mom was making a two month premature entrance into this world.  The doctor and the mid-wife were at my grandmother’s house.  A lifeless, tiny one pound baby girl came into this world.  The midwife put the dead baby into a shoe box and returned to tend to my grandmother.  Once finished, the midwife was about to prepare the baby for burial when she noticed the tiny baby kicking and full of life.  1921, no neonatal, no oxygen tents, no major medical advancements, this little miracle survived and became a full-fledged fighter.  While that little baby was making her entrance, the U.S. Supreme Court had just ruled labor injunctions and picketing unconstitutional.  People were flocking to see The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which vaulted Rudolph Valentino to stardom (maybe because he did that sexy tango dance in a smoke filled Argentian cantina), and the kids were dancing to  I Ain’t Got Nobody by Miss Marion Harris, and Ain’t We Got Fun by Van & Schenck.

Valentino’s sexy tango was nothing compared to my mom’s parents going through a divorce in the late 20s.  Scandalous.  Her daddy left her, a little sister, a sick baby brother and a good wife, all for wayward women.  That left an impression on my mother all the way to this day.  This made her fight for everyone she loved, to keep them close and protect them from the hurt she felt as a child.

The Great Depression came, but being poor was nothing new.  After her dad left, the family, once thriving and financially fit, was thrust into a world of poverty.  But my mother only grew stronger.

In 1939, mom graduated high school at 17 and married my daddy.  Franklin D. Roosevelt was the 32nd president of the United States.  Lisa Meitner, a Jewish woman in exile in Sweden, published her discovery of nuclear fission, otherwise known as atom splitting.  The United States declared its neutrality regarding the war in Europe.  Kids were dancing to Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday, When the Saints Go Marching in by Louis Armstrong and crooning to Over the Rainbow by Judy Garland and Moonlight Serenade by Glenn Miller.  My mom and her friends flocked to see Gone With the Wind to hear Rhett Butler say that famous phrase with the curse word, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

The 1940s came, growing my mom’s family and taking my daddy off to WWII.  My mom was told she would never have children, that her insides were too small and deformed from being a preemie.  That didn’t stop my momma.  In 1944, while WWII was raging and FDR was re-elected, making him the only U.S. president elected to serve a 4th term, momma delivered a bouncing baby boy.  The favored movie that year was Arsenic and Old Lace about two sweet old spinster sisters poisoning lonely gentlemen callers and burying them in the cellar.  The last line of the film was censored and changed from “I’m a bastard” to “I’m the son of a sea cook.”  Kids were dancing to Swinging on a Star by Bing Crosby and the Trolly Song by Judy Garland.

In 1948, my mom thought her family was complete when they welcomed a daughter into the fold.  Harry S. Truman was the 33rd president of the United States, and he ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Korea (to be completed in 1949).  Ella Fitzgerald sang Tea Leaves and Judy Garland starred in Easter Parade.

The 1950s brought some surprises.  In 1956, Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III of Monaco, and the Methodist Church opened fully ordained clergy status to women and called for an end to segregation within the denomination.  And 8 years after they thought their family was complete with a boy and a girl, mom and dad welcomed the birth of a 3rd child, their second daughter.  Surely this was the final child and the baby of the family.  Dwight D. Eisenhower, our 34th president, was re-elected.  The movies to catch that year were Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The King & I, and the Ten Commandments.  Doris Day sang Que Sera Sera and Elvis Presley shocked audiences with his grinding hips while singing Heartbreak Hotel. My mom thought he was so vulgar.

So if mom and dad thought the 50s brought surprises, they were in for it in the 60s.  Six years after their little bundle of joy, my mom was sick and not getting better.  She finally went to the doctor for tests.  The doctor later called her and asked, “Gladys, you really don’t know what is wrong with you.?”  She said “no I don’t and you are scaring me.”  He said, “You are pregnant.”  Momma cried.  She said this baby will be in kindergarten and she will be walking with a cane.  My daddy couldn’t believe he was going to have kids going on dates while a baby still played on the floor.  They accepted this fact and just knew they were having a baby boy, which they would christen Matthew.  Surprise again.  Their 4th child and 3rd girl was born.  John F. Kennedy was our 35th president, the U. S. broke diplomatic relations with Cuba and East Germany erected the Berlin Wall. Breakfast at Tiffany’s and West Side Story were the popular movies and Patsy Cline was rising to fame, signing I Fall to Pieces.

In 1962, their son graduated high school and joined the Franciscan Seminary. In 1963 a horrible tragedy struck and Kennedy was assassinated.  In 1965, their oldest daughter got married.  But a terrible tragedy close to home was about to happen.  In 1967, their oldest child, their only son, would succumb to throat cancer.  While movie goers were being shocked by The Graduate, and young girls were fainting at the sight of The Beatles, my mom was burying her first born.

My momma’s heart was pierced.  Mom had a picture of the Blessed Mother hanging in her room.  Mary’s heart was pierced by a small sword.  That picture used to scare me until my mom said it was a representation of how Mary’s heart felt after the crucifixion of her son and how her heart felt after losing Eric. Well now I was terrified by that  picture.  Whatif my mom died of heartbreak and left me?  After that I was truly protective of my mom’s heart.  I was so afraid of her fracturing.  But my mom was tough – a true steel magnolia.  In 1968, when Robert Kennedy was assassinated, I saw tears streaming down my mom’s face.  The pain on her face was so raw.  I knew she was thinking about Eric.  I was so heartbroken for her.  But she plowed on and tried to make things as normal as possible for us.

Onward to the 70s, and we were hoping for a calm decade.  In 1975, as President Ford (our 38th president) announced that the Vietnam War was “finished as far as America is concerned.” He said that “the fate of responsible men and women everywhere, in the final decision, is in their own hands, not ours.”  We were rather oblivious to this though because my oldest sister was about to give birth.  My mom and dad were having their very first grandchild, a little girl.  Such exciting times.  Jaws and Rocky Horror Picture show were the box office hits, and John Denver was thankful he was a country boy.  At the end of the decade, mom’s 3rd child was preparing to get married, and her 4th child was going to graduate from high school.  Things were looking bright (except that Jimmy Carter was our 39th president).  But fate would try to smack down my momma again.  As people were watching Alien and dancing to Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop Until You Get Enough, my mom was burying her husband of 39 years.

In 1980 mom welcomed another grandchild, but also found out her 2nd born (and 1st daughter) had cancer.  How can that be?  How can fate deal this.  My mom lost one child to cancer, and now another had this horrid disease.  This just could not be.  But it was.  We lost Donna in 1981.  While the world impatiently waited to find out Who Shot J.R., my mom was burying a 2nd child.

Life moved on.  Mom married off her youngest child (me!) in 1982, welcomed two more grandchildren in 1985 and 1988, and married a wonderful man – our neighbor.  I told her that brought on a whole new meaning to Love thy Neighbor.  We welcomed new siblings and grandchildren to the family, faced the deaths of mom’s mother, her aunts, her sister and her brother.  Now it is just mom and her sister 11 years younger than her.  And that youngest sister has developed dementia these past few years.  My mom is the lone one standing out of her siblings – the oldest – and still kicking.

Mom was born when the United States had only seen 29 presidents and she recently just watched the swearing in of the 45th president.  She has lived through highs and death blow lows.  I truly believe had my mom not had me or my sister late in life, she would have succumbed to sadness after the death of her second child.  Eric died at 23, Donna died at 33.  The year Kris turned 43, my mom cried the entire year, fully expecting to lose another child.  Alas, the spell was broken and mom didn’t even wince when I turned 53.  Mom never expected to see me, her baby, grow up.  But she has surpassed that. She has watched me become a senior citizen and has seen her great grandchildren.

Yes she called me from ICU this morning, but she is going to recover fully and live to be 100 just like she promised me.

Frank the Faux Pug, Part 2

For months I knew it was getting closer and closer to the time we would have to put Frank the Faux Pug down.  I dreaded that day.  I teared up every time I thought about losing him.  You see,  Frank was my constant companion for 16.5 years.  He chose me as his person.  I was his voice to defend him and protect him from ‘those mean people who tried to correct him.’  My rule was no one was allowed to fuss at Frank or correct him.  Yes, he was my spoiled baby and I was his person.

I prepared myself so much that when this day came, I was clinical, I was numb, I was ready to see Frank out of pain.  But obviously, the rest of the family was not clinical, or prepared.  My 12-year old grandson was brave enough to carry Frank in his arms and put him on the table for that final shot.  And then he was shattered.  The tears came in like the mighty Mississippi River overflowing her banks.

I am a puddle of mush when I see someone cry.  I may not know what they are crying about, but I will join in.  So my tears were more for my grandson than for Frank the Faux Pug.  I was clinical and numb to the process by now.

My husband, myself and my grandson arrived back home with our lifeless Frank the Faux Pug.  My son and granddaughter barreled out of the house with tear streaked faces to give Frank a final hug and kiss.  My 10 year old granddaughter was wailing and shaking with grief.  I cried for her and my son (who was supposed to be Frank’s person, but Frank chose me) because I was clinical and numb to the process by now.

The funeral procession marched to the backyard by the blueberry bush, Frank the Faux Pug’s final resting place.  More hugs, final goodbyes and crying.  The family group hug as Frank was being buried brought on more sobs.  I cried for them because I was clinical and numb to the process by now.

I gathered my grandchildren close as we walked back into the house.  They were a sobbing mess and I hurt so bad for them.  They were already feeling the pain of a life without Frank the Faux Pug.  I was okay because I was clinical and numb to the process by now.

By bedtime, I was more weary than everyone else.  But that is nothing unusual.  Frank the Faux Pug and I always retired first.  He would let me get about 6″ of the mattress, then he would perform his ritual of 3 turns and plop against my back.  This was our nightly routine.  I could immediately drop off to sleep once Frank was firmly planted against my back.  Then we would wake up in the morning hugging each other.  We shared a pillow.  I would lay in the darkness of my bedroom petting Frank.  This moment was always my calm before the storm of a new day.

This morning was different.  I awoke hugging a stuffed giraffe.  My husband told me our grandson brought this in after I fell asleep and tucked it up against my back.  My grandson – who is usually a terror – who always writes the word ‘poop’ on the foggy bathroom mirror after his shower – who always sticks his fingers in candle & scentsy wax and messes it up, even after constant admonishment – who poured baby powder in front of a running fan and covered the entire room with powder dust – who took Vaseline and rubbed it over all the faucets in the bathroom – who also has a heart of gold.  My grandson knew that come morning time, I would  not be clinical and numb to the process.

I was clinical and numb to the process of putting Frank the Faux Pug down.  But I am not clinical and numb to life without him.  As I lay in my darkened bedroom this morning, petting a stuffed giraffe, I was having the calm before the storm of a life without Frank my Faux Pug.

Frank the Faux Pug

Oh how my son wanted a pug to name Frank after seeing Men in Black.  He talked about that constantly.  This was in 1997.  In 2000, we finally relented.  My son was turning 15 and someone had pug puppies for sale in the local paper.  Welcome to the family!  Frank was so tiny.  He would fit in the palm of one hand.

And he was sick. Very sick.  We did not buy him from a true dog breeder.  He was full of fleas and sick.  We almost lost our newest family member.  But thank God for vets.

Then Frank grew a nose.  What?  He was supposed to be a pug!  He had bulgy pug eyes, the curly pug tail, an adorable pug personality.  But where did the nose come from?  Oh well, something else was in the woodpile, but we loved Frank no matter what.  Who cares if our pug was a faux pug.

Like all 15 year old kids, my son’s attention span was everywhere besides Frank.  So Frank decided I was his person.  He was my constant companion, my shadow, my confidante.  If I sat, he had to be touching me.  When we lay down to go to bed he had to be touching me.  I carried Frank everywhere.  A friend jokingly said the little succor had no legs.

One day, as was usual in my house, my children had many friends over.  Three times I found either the front door or back door open and all of our dogs outside.  Three times I fussed at all the teens for leaving the doors open.  They swore up and down they didn’t.  I said, well who did, the Holy Ghost?  Who could have known Frank the Faux Pug was the Holy Ghost.  I walked into the foyer to find Frank standing on two legs and repeatedly hitting the door handle with his two front paws until the door opened – and out ran all the dogs.  Well now this became true entertainment.  Every party we held, Frank the Faux Pug had to show everyone his trick.

Frank had another trick.  I would say ‘catch your tail.’  He would glance backwards to see if his tail was watching.  If he thought it was watching, he quickly turned away.  When he thought the coast was clear, and that his tail had no idea he was coming after it, Frank would start spinning like a top.  He thought he was as sly as a fox, but he never caught that tail.

While recovering from bilateral total knee replacement starting in October 2014, I was on short term disability for 3 months.  My only job was to focus on recovery.  Frank’s only job was to be my constant companion. He cuddled me every time I cried out in pain.  I swear he cheered me on through physical therapy.  He rested when I rested.  Frank did his job well.

We held Frank’s funeral at dusk today.  He crossed the rainbow bridge at 16.5 years of age.  My two oldest grandchildren, 12 and 10, made no attempt at hiding their tears as we walked from the house to Frank’s final resting place by the blueberry bush.  Frank was their best friend.  They knew Frank their entire little lives.  Me, the grands and my son stood in a circle and cried, while Paw Paw buried his little buddy with tears in his eyes.

Frank will rest peacefully on Spooky Hollow ground, along with Furry Murray the Donkey, Precious the Yorkie, and a scattering of chickens.

Rest in peace Frank my Faux Pug.  Your person misses you more than you could ever know.

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