Posted by: Kathy | November 14, 2020

Fading Memories?

It’s been almost 2 years to the day since I last wrote in my blog. I still think of my mom every day. I still talk to her and I believe that my mom hears me.

The days leading up to the anniversary of my mom’s death are still difficult, even though it’s been 12 years. I can still remember clearly those final days and what was happening. It’s as if certain memories are engraved in my heart and mind.

Today, 12 years ago, was a Friday and the last time I heard my mom tell me that she loved me. It was around 7 pm and the sun had set hours before on a frosty November day. I stopped at a small, family run gas station to fill up for a trip the next day. Sitting in my blue Subaru Forrester with my 9-year-son in the backseat, I called my mom to say goodnight to her.

My mom told me what she had for dinner (Stauffer’s macaroni and cheese) and how she hadn’t eaten very much because she wasn’t hungry. She asked me to wish my son good luck for her (he was testing for his black belt in TaeKwonDo the next day) and to tell him that she loved him. My mom then told me she loved me and I said it back to her. I wish I had known then that that was last the real conversation I would ever have with my mom. I wouldn’t have pressed the “off” button on my phone.

This year has been especially hard because my dad hasn’t been well. In February he was diagnosed with autoimmune encephalitis. It’s not fatal, but there were times I thought my dad would just give up to be my mom, who was the love of his life. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to convince my dad life is worth living, as he’s said to me “I just want to die” or that my life would be easier without him in it.

This disease, along with being in the hospital several times and poorly run rehabilitation facilities, has zapped my father of his strength and left him depressed. My dad has worked very hard to relearn everything in life that people just do naturally — walk, sit down without falling, get up off the floor, etc. I continuously worry about him. Unfortunately, I have been left out of all his healthcare decisions from the very beginning (despite asking and being the only daughter and the only child who lives close). My dad’s doctors don’t even know who I am, so I cannot help him in the ways that I want to.

I cannot be my dad’s advocate the way I was for my mom. This breaks my hearts and adds to my stress and frustration because I only want the best for my dad. I have questions that I cannot get answered and concerns that I cannot get addressed. I have tried to do my own research, but these questions and concerns are at square 1 and I guess always will be. My dad is the only parent I have left and I only want to help in any way that I can.

On the weekends, I visit my dad and we often do a puzzle together. I always talk to my dad while we place the pieces together. My dad used to ask me to confirm dates — the year he married my mom, the date she died, the date I married my husband, and the dates my kids were born. Earlier in his disease, there were times when we’d talk about a memory. I would say “remember when…” and my dad would follow with the memory. We talked about my kids, my mom, and even things a favorite dog of his did. I was trying to help my dad with the cognitive part of his rehabilitation.

But lately I’ve noticed that my dad doesn’t really want to talk about my mom. Then, last Sunday, I tried talking about my mom (my dad’s wife wasn’t around) and my dad just started talking about something else, almost as if he never heard me. I went with the conversation he started and then said said something again about my mom. This time my dad was silent. as he worked on the puzzle.

I have “lost” the one person with the most memories about my mom. My dad and I always shared a good “mom story” or sometimes even a sad “mom story.” My heart aches right now because I can’t call my dad on the days leading up to the anniversary of my mom’s death and talk about my mom. I cannot share her loss with my father — the one person who used to truly understand.

I understand that my dad is still healing physically and mentally, but I am worried that his memories of my mom will disappear. His current wife has tried to cut me and my son off from dad more than once in the 8 years that she and my dad have been married. Even when my dad was first sick, she set up shifts in the hospital so my dad was never alone. But I was not part of these shifts. I only found out about when my brother (who lives across the country) called me in a panic because he had been told by the wife’s daughter that my dad was dying and he had to come home immediately. Fortunately, I had the number to the nurse’s station and learned that my dad’s condition had not changed. I then assured my brother that our father stable. I believe that this daughter was tired of driving the distance to the hospital and wanted my brother to start taking his share of the shifts. I would have happily been part of them, but I wasn’t included.

His current wife would be thrilled if my dad lost his memories of my mom. She was his college sweetheart, who he was married to for 43 years. My parents would still be married (for 55 years now), except pancreatic cancer stepped in and ended my mom’s life. My parents’ first date was in very early February 1962 and my mom died on November 16, 2008. I don’t want almost 47 years of memories of love, laughter, and a life together to fade away for my dad. I love being able to share memories of my mom with him. I hope it continues.

I realize this blog may be all over the place with my thoughts. I apologize for the “whiplash.” For the past 9 months, I’ve been worried about my dad and my fears increase because I am not part of his healthcare decisions. I am sad because I cannot talk with my dad about my mom right now. It is heartbreaking that, unlike previous years at this time, we are not sharing memories of the woman who made big impact on our lives in different ways. Honestly, it’s not just the possibility of fading memories, but the fear of losing my dad too.

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” Thomas Campbell

Posted by: Kathy | November 17, 2018

10 Years Later

Yesterday was the 10 year anniversary of my mom’s death. It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed since I last heard my mom’s voice, saw her smile, tasted her cooking, or spent time with her. I still miss her, and I always will.

I took the day off from work, as I always do, to honor my mom. I didn’t have any set plans. I ended up watching the movie “The Bucket List.” It was playing when I dropped my truck off for service, so I rented the movie when I got home. My mom didn’t have a bucket list. She lived 349 days from her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer until her death. My bucket list was to make the most of our time left together. We had hope that she could beat this horrible disease, but as a medical writer I knew the statistics associated with inoperable pancreatic cancer. My mom’s odds of survival were not good.

Even after 10 years, the pain of loss is still there, especially on days like this one – the day pancreatic cancer stole my mom from me. I talked about my mom with a good friend, and there were a few times I just let the tears flow as the feelings of loss washed over me and I told my mom how much I missed her. But then it was time to pick my daughter up from school, and although my heart was still hurting, on the outside my life went back to my new normal. I never let my kids see me cry 10 years ago. I wanted to be strong for them. I still try not to let them see my cry now.

The last time my mom was hospitalized before her death, she told me her biggest regret was not being able to see her grandkids grow up. At the time, my son was 9 and my daughter was 2. For 11 months, my mom held on to the dream of dancing at my son’s wedding. That was my mom’s hope.

A lot has happened in the last 10 years. My son is a Lance Corporal in the United States Marine Corps. My daughter is in middle school and is an amazing young woman who enjoys dancing and acting. Many holidays, birthdays, and achievements have passed without my mom’s physical presence, but I believe she was there for all of them. My daughter saw my mom when she was younger, and at her first dance recital at age 8, she told me that Grandmom was sitting on the steps of the stage.

I know my mom watches over her family. I have sensed her presence, and at times felt the overwhelming warmth of unconditional love that fills my chest and I know it’s my mom’s love for me. I work to connect to my mom through meditation – it’s not easy (I’ve been working for years to be able to do this). Once I said “I miss you mom” and I heard in my mind “why, I am always with you.” On Thursday night, the night before the anniversary of my mom’s death, my mom left a dime on my bed for me. I know it was from her. This night 10 years ago was the last night I spent with my mom, and a night that I will never forget.

Yesterday, I released 10 heart-shaped balloons in the park in memory of my mom. I chose purple for pancreatic cancer and blue because it was my mom’s favorite color. It was a cold windy day, very similar to the day my mom died and the day we buried her.

For those of you who have recently lost a loved one, know that it does get easier. The heartache does lessen. The pain dulls with time. There are days that are harder than others, even years later, but overall life does get brighter. However, the loss of a loved one is something you never get over. You learn to live without that person in your everyday life. I call it a new normal. You don’t forget. You don’t stop loving that person. You don’t stop missing that person. The hole in your life that was left by the loss is not filled. You keep moving forward with life and get used to that hole being there. I stopped living for a bit after my mom died, I just existed. But I know that is not what my mom would have wanted for me. I’ve learned to live my life without my mom in it, and I hold her memories in my mind and her love in my heart.

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die”– Thomas Campbell

Posted by: Kathy | June 17, 2016

Five One-Word Prompts, One Post

Each day I look at the one-word prompts from WordPress, and every day this week I thought about a post on that one word. Every word this week fit with the theme of my blog. Words swirled in my mind, posts started to form, but I didn’t find the time to write. Yesterday I thought about writing a post using a combination of the one-word daily prompts: Monday – rebuild, Tuesday – struggle, Wednesday – natural, and Thursday – open. But my busy day slipped by quickly and last night, as I was lying in bed, I hoped today’s word would also easily fit into the theme of my blog. City – a challenge, but a word I can work with. 

Moving Forward from Cancer and Loss

My mom grew up in Philadelphia, and it was a city we visited on a regular basis for family fun days. The Philadelphia Zoo, Franklin Institute, and Please Touch Museum were places we visited often. On Saturday, December 1, 2007, we all went into the city to see the beautiful Christmas displays. It was our last family outing before the words pancreatic cancer invaded our lives. After that each and every day was a struggle. My mom fought against her disease, and if hope were a cure, she would still be with us today. Sadly, pancreatic cancer took my mom from her family on November 16, 2008.

My world fell apart after my mom died. I was bombarded with so many different feelings and emotions. Grief. Guilt. Anger. Sadness. Emptiness. I had never felt so lost and the pain of my mom’s battle with pancreatic cancer and then her death echoed within the complete emptiness that seemed to fill every inch of me. Months passed by and I continued to struggle with this barrage of emotions. I went about my every day routine of work and taking care of my kids, but on the inside I was a complete mess.

I started writing to try to make sense of all that I was feeling. Words laced with pain and tears poured out of me into a blog my husband had started for me on his server. In May 2009, I moved my blog to WordPress to connect with more people. It was then I began to realize that all that I had been feeling was natural. I wasn’t a freak. There were other people who had experienced the jumble of emotions I felt as I tried to move forward from my mom’s death. About 3 months after my mom died, a friend asked me why I hadn’t gotten over my mom’s death yet. I was shocked. I had been riding a rollercoaster of emotions hoping for it to stop, or at least slow down so I could catch my breath. But the rollercoaster continued and I realized that those who hadn’t lost a parent couldn’t understand what I was feeling, especially if they didn’t want to even try. I simply told her that I missed my mom. I missed my mom then, and I still miss her today – 7 years, 7 months, and 1 day after her death.

Through my writing and talking with friends who actually understood what I was feeling, I began to heal. Slowly, I started to rebuild my life. A life without my mom. My new normal. I didn’t like life without my mom, as she added so much to it, and this was something I didn’t realize until after my mom had died. I never knew how entwined my mom was within my adult life until she was gone. Her death left an emptiness that cannot be filled by anyone or anything. So I did the only thing I could do and worked to rebuild my life without my mom’s physical presence. Minute by minute, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, I struggled to put the pieces of my life back together. Now, I can think of my mom with happiness and love, instead of heartache and tears. Now, I can remember the good times we spent together, instead of just the last days of my mom’s life. I can remember my mom without pancreatic cancer.

I will never get over losing my mom. I will always love her and miss her. I will always wish that the words pancreatic cancer hadn’t become normal in our lives. I will never get over how this disease slowly stole my mom from me and from her family. But I have healed, and one the steps to healing was to be open to life without my mom – my new normal. A lot has changed since my mom died, and my heart and mind fought against these changes. It took some time, but I learned that the only way to peace and true healing was to be open to change, especially the changes I had no control over. Pushing back against these changes, even if it was only an internal struggle, left me feeling angry and sad. By finally allowing myself to be open to all that had changed since my died, I was able to find inner peace and with that true healing.

I love you, Mom. I know that it is natural for me to miss you, even now. I wish we could make new memories together, but I hope you know that the memories of the times we spent together in the city of Philadelphia always bring me happiness. I hoped and prayed that you would beat pancreatic cancer. We fought against your disease together and gave each other strength through that unimaginable struggle. I know you are with me in spirit and were there helping me to rebuild my life and become open to all that has changed since I lost you.

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die” – Thomas Campbell

Daily Prompt: Rebuild
Daily Prompt: Struggle
Daily Prompt: Natural
Daily Prompt: Open
Daily Prompt: City




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