Saturday, August 3, 2013

Familiar in the Unfamiliar



Many of you know that my mother has been in hospice, where I see her daily. I pick her up, take her for ice cream, then we drive to the lake where we sit quietly looking over the water and I watch the wind softly tousle her silver hair.

When my husband heard I was taking my mother out by myself, he was astounded. "You? Alone? With her wheelchair?," he asked in front of our children, "How do you do that?"

I opened my mouth to explain but our youngest returned rapid fire, "Mom's Colombian. She's immortal."

That's how my son sees me, immortal. That's how we all see our parents, as immortal.

And when the time comes for their days on this earth to end, little is more shocking.

I know that the physicians and hospice nurses involved in my mother's care must use four or five exclamation marks in a row when they document their meetings with me. "Daughter in denial!" "Daughter feels mother getting better!" "Explained to daughter her mother is in hospice!"

When I went to my mother's last Doctor appointment just a few weeks ago on July 5, I asked him why she was so quickly falling apart. He took in my question, and graciously chose his words. Slowly, he answered, "She's not. She's 88 and a half years old and in end stage renal failure."

I still didn't get it.

Last week, before leaving for a social media conference and with much left to do, I stopped in to see her. I walked into her room and I could see in her reddened eyes that she had been crying. My mother has been independent her entire life, and now being in a wheelchair and in hospice --  just imagining the weight of her thoughts crushed me. She counted on the daily rides outside with me in this summer, and I only had enough time built in my day to take her for ice cream, but I couldn't ignore the loud nudging in my mind. We went to dinner.

And of all the whisperings and life decisions I have ever made, this one, will always be one of the most important.

On that afternoon, my mother and I eat like queens and we sit at our table for over two and a half hours. We order anything we want a la carte from the menu. She savors her bean soup, declaring it, "Delicious!" She eats every spoonful as if it were lobster bisque. We share bites of the cut-up hot dog on her plate and it might as well have been filet mignon. The chocolate milk we have is the way she likes it -- made from white milk with chocolate syrup stirred in. We have lime Jello, then order mint chocolate chip ice cream, and she eats it all.

We laugh, and she smiles, and I see her looking at me like she's seeing me for the first time. Her eyes linger on my face. I glance over at the clock on the wall facing only me; I note the time, and decide to ignore it. I promise her that in five days, after Chicago, we'll have dinner here again. Her mouth breaks open, wide and excited. She almost claps.

When I come back from Chicago on Sunday, I see her and she sits on her bed while I tell her all she wants to know about my trip; I clean up her room and put away the laundry I've done, and she listens. We go outside into the warm July night and we sit by the fountain outside of her hospice center. I hand her pennies and dimes to toss into the water. She asks for quarters for the big wishes, and we both fling them in, shouting, "Hawaii!' at the same time. I remind her we'd go out to dinner again on Friday. She can't wait.

On Tuesday, we go to the aviary. There is an orange feathered bird that is a bully to two little grey birds that just want to be alone together. We keep up with the daily feathered drama and she asks me where she can write a report to let the powers that be know of the mean orange bird. After she chastises the bully bird that she has named "King," I take her back to her room. I give her my word that I'll be back Wednesday, and she doesn't seem to want to say good-bye. She asks me over and over, if I really will be back in the morning. I assure her that I will, and remind her that it's going to be a big day, because I plan on bringing her along for back to school shopping with my youngest, because she seems strong enough. She promises me she'll go to bed early and I leave her, excited and grateful, holding my hands, thanking me for everything.

Wednesday morning, as I'm getting ready to pick her up, my phone rings. One thing I hate about caller I.D. is the gut punch of a recognized number. My stomach goes cold when I see it's her hospice center. I stare at the number on the phone and I don't want to pick up. My children hear me say that out loud, but I know I have to answer. I say hello, and the supervising nurse begins to tell me that my mother has been ill since 4 a.m. I hear my mother, so sick, in the background. I need the nurse to talk quickly, so I can hang up, and leave right then -- my heart is pounding with what I will find when I get there. 

I am a thick headed, dense as a plank, silly daughter.

My first words to her hospice nurse when I walk into my mother's room and see her ill enough to not be dressed yet though it was almost 9 a.m., are, "She can't be sick. I still have her shopping list in my pocket for today -- right here, see?" From my front jeans pocket, I pull out the folded up white sheet of paper we've written out together, just yesterday. "See, this is what she wants to buy my son for back to school. And it's sunny out, we need to go out for ice cream after. We can't miss going out for ice cream when it's nice out. I need to take her for her ice cream..."

The nurse lets me keep talking.

"Mama," I bend down and speak into my mother's soft curls splayed against her pillow. With a desperation that strangles my throat I whisper, "Remember our dinner, we have to go for our dinner."

I hear the nurse click her pen to write, and imagine the notes she'd begin to take in her chart.

"Daughter in denial..."

+ + + + + + + + + + +

My mother has been semi-conscious since Wednesday morning. Surprisingly, this time sitting by her side isn't tense or frightening, but is a time of awe -- it feels unfamiliarly familiar. So much like the times my babies were born. My mother now and then opens her eyes, sees my face, and with tremulous hands, reaches for it, holding it and making the very sound my children made when they were born -- like a baby lamb.
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119 comments:

  1. I pray my daughter will love me as much as you love your mother.

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    1. I know she will. Children cling to their mothers ferociously, no matter how old we are, we remain their children, and I will miss having someone who loves me as much as she did.

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  2. as tears run down my face, I have to say I laughed a bit also. My husband was in hospice in October of 2003. I remember telling the hospice care, "we are just playing the hospice game so we don't have to go to the hospital/doctors for care or meds, but he will be getting better. - they will come to us." They smiled and nodded a little. ;)

    my mother is now in an assisted-living situation with a disease called MSA (multiple system atrophy) - in the Parkinson's family. She can't do anything for herself anymore but is of complete sound mind. I love visiting her and reading to bringing her mochas and chocolate ice cream.

    Alexandra, I don't know you or your mother, but I love you both.

    xoxoxoxo

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    1. Tess, this is what makes the internet so wonderful: having met you . Thank you for your time, and love.

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  3. This is beautiful and I thank you for sharing it with us. Treasure these days.

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  4. Lovely post. Holding you and your family in the light.

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    1. Thank you so much. It means a lot to have community at a time like this. xo

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  5. What Twisted Susan said. Thinking of you and your mom. I have tears in my eyes. Much love...

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  6. The love just oozes from you, and she can feel it, every day. What a gift for both of you.

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  7. Thinking of you, Alexandra. I went through the passing of both of my in-laws with my husband and it's incredibly difficult. xoxo

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  8. Oh, my sweet friend. I wish I could say that I don't know what it's like to watch a parent decline - especially the feeling of being so sure that they're getting better, or at least no worse, and then the sucker punch in the gut which tells otherwise.

    My heart, thoughts and love are with you right now. And don't forget to be good to yourself when you can. Take care of you.

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    1. I know you know, MrsJenB. Thank you.

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  9. OH, my beautiful friend, I know your heart is weary is full and busting right open at the seams. My heart is breaking for you. Your love for your mother is such a beautiful infinite thing. I only pray I raise daughters who love me as much.
    I'm so terribly sorry that you are going through this. If there is anything, anything at all that I can do, please let me know. You are not alone. THere are many of us praying for you and your mother and all the peace and love you both deserve. Love you.

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  10. Your comparison to your sons' births is so poignant. My mom is a hospice nurse, but I think of her as a midwife. At birth, we help people into the world, and at death we ease them out.

    So much love to you, Alexandra. It is a beautiful and excruciating gift to be with. That's not am incomplete sentence; you are being with, and there are few things in life that have more power.

    The Lord be gracious unto you.

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  11. Oh Alexandra, my beautiful friend inside and out, I am thinking of you, loving you from here and holding you and your incredible mama in my heart.

    I agree with the women who said.. I hope my children, my boys love me as much as you love your mom.. And that they always know how blessed I am to have them as children ad I know your mom feels wrapped in your love.

    With tears in my eyes and prayers in my heart.

    Xoxo

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  12. Sending you lots and LOTS of love. xxo

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  13. You are an incredible woman - daughter, mother, friend. Peace for you, my love. Hugs surrounding you all now. Prayers and light and love coming your way. xoxo

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  14. My thoughts are with you and your family in this difficult time.

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  15. Alexandra,

    I wish I lived closer. I'd bring boatloads of ice cream to the hospital---to you, to the hospice center's employees, nurses, and staff, and some extra for your mom in case she wakes up hungry.

    In the meantime, I'm only a phone call, text, or email away. I am overflowing with love for you, your mom, your family. You're a phenomenal daughter, mother, wife, friend, writer---and a million other things.

    This is a difficult time, and there are no adequate words. There's nothing I can say or do and it pains me.

    But I'm sending prayers, love, and hugs from further south of you. Please keep us posted when you are able. And know that we're all just here, loving you and holding you close.

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  16. Oh Alexandra, I can't imagine what this feels like for you but I know that your words make my heart hurt. I am sending so much love from Chicago, and strength. Know that I am thinking of you. xoxoxoxoxo

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  17. Thinking of you and all the amazing support you give to those of us lucky enough to have crossed your path. May all of that support come back to you tenfold as you need it these difficult days.

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  18. Dear Alexandra,

    Sending love and whatever peace is possible during this wrenching/contemplative/and also very sacred time. You're so loving and good to her, remember to be that for you, too.

    xoxo

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  19. Having walked in your shoes, I feel you. I'm thinking of you and sending a heart full of love. These moments, though tough, are so very precious. xoxo

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  20. I remember when my Nana was in hospice. Our last dinner together out of hospice and away from all the cancer, as best we could with it growing inside her, is a treasured memory of mine and why I could never hate McDonald's. I'm glad you have made yours even during her time in hospice. I was too young to stand vigil in the days afterward my dinner with Nana, but I'm am glad it is still peaceful. {hugs} xo

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  21. Oh Alex. This is so painful and yet so beautiful. Your mother gave you this gift. And she will always be with you. (But you already knew that, right?) Hopefully your cranky blog will let me through to let me tell you what a wonderful, dutiful daughter you have been to your mother. She is so lucky to have you -- you to have each other. I know this is a difficult time, but i am so glad that she is not uncomfortable.

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  22. Sending prayers to all of you, Alexandra. I hope you know how much grace you have shown through this process - you are an amazing example and inspiration to everyone around you.

    XOXO
    Anna

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  23. There's nothing wrong with being a daughter in denial - you do it with much more grace than I would ever be able to. Hugs to you and your family with ice cream dreams

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  24. I'm so sorry Alexandra. As you know, we deal with this with my 91-year-old grandmother right now as well. It's so hard to see them slip so quickly away, but knowing that you've such unforgettable moments that no one can ever take away is a small comfort in these tough times. Hugs to you and your family.

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  25. I'm amazed by the beauty of your journey with your mother. Bless you. Sending many loving thoughts your way.

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  26. I'm sending out as much love as I possibly can to beautiful you and your family -- your mom's legacy. Moochie sends her love too, and says she feels terrible. We love you. Ice cream pictures to come...

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  27. My immediate thoughts when I read this were about how much joy and life you have been bringing to your mother - how you are sustaining her. I want to be the kind of daughter you are to my parents also.

    I am here with you. My father-in-law is the same age as your mom, and he is fading away but we are 6000 miles away. For so many years we were so focused on our children, with our parents as a backdrop. This year they have come to the fore. It's hard and poignant but it, I hope, pushes us to become our best.

    I'm thinking of you and your mom, Alexandra.

    xoxo

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  28. Alexandra,
    Please know that so many of us are standing beside as you as you sit by your mother's side. You have touched the lives and hearts of so many, including me. I am sending love from across state lines and hoping that you can feel it.

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  29. You know I'm sitting with you and holding your hand in spirit, Alexandra - glad we got to talk about this at BlogHer. You have blessed your mom just as much as she has blessed you.

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  30. You are incredible. Wishing you peace.

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  31. My grandma died earlier this year, and my dad was with her for her final last days. He told me after that he hopes I'm with him when it's his time. He used words I've not heard him use before....precious. raw. beautiful. I think of that as I read your posts and see your updates, and I want to wrap you in a long hug that lets you know just how loved you are by so many, and that gives you the strength to keep doing what you're doing. You're amazing, in so many ways. xoxo

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  32. soon she'll be with so many that she loves.

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  33. hugs...i have sat there...with my MIL...
    a hard moment to face...i am glad though you have had this time with her....these are memories you will keep....
    hugs n prayers.

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    1. I remember those days for you, Brian. Thank you so much.

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  34. I'm thinking of you. I love you.
    xoxoxoxo

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    1. Tough times, A. I know you and I, share similar stories... We're never ready, and we always think we have more time and that the days will always be here.

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  35. I don't have the right words to say. I just want to hug you.

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  36. So achingly beautiful. Truly. I've read it 5 times and my heart still clenches. I'm wrapping my arms around you in the biggest hug and wishing you and your Mom all the comfort in the world and peace - just sweet peace in these days to come.

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    1. I wish the same, Melanie, I wish the very same. xo Thank you.

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  37. Your love for your mom just pours out over the page. I can only hope that when i am old and need to be taken care of that my daugther shows me the kind of love and respect that you show for your mom.

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  38. I hold you and your mom in my heart during these ache-filled days. Sending love.

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  39. This is beautiful and painful and makes me want to call my mother and wake up my daughters. I'm aching for your pain...but what a treasure you have in your memories.

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    1. Keely, all I really want is ONE MORE TIME. Just one more time, to take her for ice cream. I'd give everything for that right now... I always thought the days would be there for that.

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  40. You are a treasure. Love and blessings to you both. xx

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  41. This is so beautiful. Your love for your mother radiates from this post. She'e lucky to have you, and I'm sure you feel the same.

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  42. Thinking of you and your mom. Beautiful post and wonderful reminder to soak up those simple and precious moments in our lives together.

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  43. Oh, Alexandra, I'm so sorry. My heart is heavy.

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    1. Oh, Kristine, I know you know what I'm feeling, because my mother made me laugh as much as your mother makes you. Such funny, funny women... a joy this past year for me, especially...

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  44. It's such a terrible blessing to be with someone as they leave this world. I wish both of you great peace.

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  45. you honour her, with your love, your words, your denial, your presence. xo.

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  46. God bless you both... you're in my thoughts and prayers.

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  47. You honor your mom every day and you bless us by sharing these holy moments with us. Sending much love right now.

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    1. I feel so close to you, when I write of this point in my life, Anna.

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  48. thinking of you, my friend, and sending love and prayers. Your words are beautiful, as is your love. xo

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    1. Thank you, my dear dear Marinka. xo

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  49. I hadn't seen this when I called you, but I had a feeling she was slowly fading. So much forgiveness to reach this point of loving her freely. Holding you both in my heart.

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    1. Cheryl, you know so much of this story, it's why I treasure you. xo

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  50. It's wonderful that you've been able to have such great times together. It doesn't soften the blow, but there is beauty in the situation.

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  51. When my Dad was in the ICU I started calling him Pops. My sister asked me why I was calling him that and I replied, "Dunno." I know now, over 10 years later, that by calling him Pops, it was someone else who was dying, not my father. As rocky and contentious a relationship as we had, he was still my Dad.

    I knew he was on his way out when he started telling us he could see Dorothy (his third wife) and Eileen (his 4th) in his room. That's usually the end, when the dearly departed arrive to escort you over. It scared my sister but it didn't scare me. I was grateful they were "there" to help him cross over.

    I'm guessing your father is hovering close by.

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    1. Suzy, she called out his name at 7 a.m. yesterday. xo

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    2. Oh, the things they say as they go, it's so exquisite and lovely, and so humbling. Listen, listen close. As I know you are.

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  52. Just came home to shower, change, check messages. Clicked here and found this: NO WORDS for this friendship along this path. THANK YOU. Kind words are the magic when there are emotions that threaten to overwhelm. THANK YOU for listening, hearing, loving, being here so I truly am less alone. You all, each of you, are wonderful loving generous in your time and thoughts. You're good people. THANK YOU.

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  53. Oh hun, I promise you, as someone who worked hospice for a few months, I promise you, they aren't writing, "Daughter in denial." They're probably writing, "Wonderful daughter in to see her mother." I love that your mother wants to write a letter about the big orange bird. God love her and you.

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  54. Thank you for sharing this example of unconditional love with the rest of us. I stopped by to read while breaking for lunch. My throat has closed up and I can't stop the tears. You are so amazing to me. Denial and all. :)

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  55. You are such a wonderful daughter! Denial isn't always a bad thing. Your dinner with your mother is so memorable. You have helped make her life a wonderful one despite her failing health. No one can ask for more than the love you and your family have shown this incredible woman! My thoughts and prayers are with you, Alexandra.

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  56. Bless you for your tenderness and care. I'm so very very very sorry.

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  57. I am here just now. I've not been able to be here before. My dear, dear friend. I'm waiting to know how you are, how your mother is. I'm praying.

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  58. Sending you warmth, love and strength, even though I know you have plenty. Always know we are here with more.

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  59. Oh, I'm so sorry. I hope this time with her helps with the healing later.

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  60. Sending you love and peace. Such beautiful words for such a painful situation. Prayers to you and your family.

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  61. I remember that room. FWIW, it seems to me that you are fully present and not in the least in denial. Breathing in and out with you. Love.

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  62. I love you and your love for your mama so much. {hugs}

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  63. I keep coming back to read this again. I hope my children will love me this much someday.

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    1. I know they will, Momo. THANK YOU. xo

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  64. A few days ago, I was in my office at work watching your May 2013 reading at Listen To Your Mother. That single reading brought amount moments of sheer laughter and utter tears. When you "honored" your mother at the end of that hilarious story; when you stated that no one will ever love your children the way she does; when you described her pulling out the emergency rosary she kept in her bra....I fell in love your Colombian mother. I felt like I knew her. I wanted to hug her and talk to her. Your presentation was absolutely one of the BEST accounts I have ever heard.

    Today, when I read this entry...my heart flopped. My eyes became teary and my husband looked at me like I was crazy. Crying over someone's mother you have never met?

    How do I explain to him that I know this wonderful story about the Latin First Haircut Rule? I probably can't.

    But please know that as real as I am sitting in my dining room typing this that I am praying for your heart. This very second....praying for your family. Right now...praying for your beautiful mommy.

    Much love-
    Erin



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    1. Thank you, Erin, for the love you've shown me and the time you've taken with your comment. Thank you so much. xo

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  65. This is a beautiful piece. This one line says so much. "I only had enough time built in my day for ice cream, but we went to dinner." Wishing your family love and peace.

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  66. Sending love your way. I hope my daughter is like you.

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  67. Sorry...

    Sorry...I wish I could just sit with you and say "sorry" over and over.

    You know I'm worried about you. The terrible part is that I know exactly how crushing this feels. And all I can say is that I'm just so sorry. Your parents aren't suppose to die because they're your protectors. Once they're gone, you officially have to grow up. And that's scarier than anything.

    XO

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  68. Alexandra, I just don't even have words. but I want you to know you are so lucky and she is so lucky and that the incredible way you are both able to witness each other through this passage is the banister that will hold you up in the dark months that will inevitably follow after she -- so unwillingly -- leaves you. But I know you will feel her daily, and marvel at how permanent her love for you is. I am still crying about my parents' being gone, three years later. The heartbreak of all I won't get to see them see in my life. But I know they see it all, and are watching me with their hearts in their hands. As you and your mother are doing for each other now. I send you both so much love and blessings and peace, all to wrap in you both in each other's memories, forever.

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  69. My heart is breaking for you. I can't begin to imagine how difficult this journey is for you. Please know that I'm thinking of you, your mom and family. (((Hugs)))

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  70. I ache for you; at the same time I envy you for having your mom for so many years and to be able be with her in this way at the end of a long life. You've both been blessed; sending hugs to you.

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  71. I too both ache and envy you. I envy you for the wonderful bond and closeness between you and your mother. And I ache for you because you have so much to lose. I am in awe of you for how much you have to give your mother. Your love is an awe inspiring thing to read about. Thank you for writing this beautiful and personal post. It touched me. Hang in there.

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  72. I love you i love you I love. It's 7am here ... I just woke up to come see how you are.

    Sacred times, are beautiful.

    XXXXXXX

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  73. I hope that I will be as loving and generous with my mother, when those days come for her. As much as I want to deny it, I know they will, and you are offering me beautiful lessons in love, and gentleness, and the ultimate gift we can give anyone: peace.

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  74. Sending you tons of love and many hugs during this difficult yet tender time. xo

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  75. I wish I knew what to say. I'm sorry & thinking of you.

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  76. Oh, how I wish I could reach through this damn computer screen to hug you. Sending so much love your way.

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  77. I will keep you, your mom, and your family in my prayers. My mom is also in hospice care now due to pancreatic cancer. This is such a difficult time but having these wonderful moments and memories is a blessing. Again, you are in my prayers.

    Angela

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  78. I want to go to Hawaii with you one day. Even if just in our dreams.

    This piece you wrote touched me to the core. All there really ever is is love.

    xxxxxx

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  79. Oh, sweetheart. My grandma is in hospice. She'll be 96 next week. We thought we were going to lose her back in March (on my birthday... she would do something like pass away on my birthday) but she is still hanging in there. She planned out her own funeral and memorial service, made song suggestions, requested certain kinds of flowers, etc. It was surreal hearing that conversation. Thankfully, she is still with us and appears to be doing better, yet somehow getting weaker too. When we thought 'any day now,' she kept hanging on so now when she does eventually leave us we will be devastated. My mom visits her every day and takes her outside in her wheelchair to sit at the park across the street. She can't go in the car because just getting in and our of the car is difficult and will cause her several days of pain afterward. I am still thinking that she will outlive all of us. We joke that there's no way that she's going to die because she's a triple-great grandma and perhaps she is going for some kind of record to be a great-great-great-great grandma. She'd have to hang around for another 20 years but in my heart I feel like she's never going to leave. Also, she told my mom that I was her favorite granddaughter and dammit, I'm never anyone's favorite so I need her to stick around.

    What I'm sort of saying is that it's so hard. You want to be realistic but it's just hard because reality is life without that person. And that sucks.

    Love you, dear.

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  80. Oh, Alexandra. Love to you and your mother and the rest of your family.

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  81. 111 Comments to you so far about your mama. I am just one of the hundreds who have sent you our love and thoughts. I am a stranger in a sea of people on the internet who don't know you...not really. But I know love when I see it, or read it, or hear it or feel it. We are so breakable, us women. This mother/daughter bond is unforgettably strong but how very fragile. Fragile because at some point, we all will have to endure that goodbye. And if we don't break entirely, it will sure as heck feel like we're split in half. My mom turns 70 today and I can't breathe at the mere thought of losing her. That's how I know that nothing I can say will ever really matter because I can't imagine that reading a stranger's words at a time of such loss would ever matter that much to me if I lost my mom. "IF" I lost her. You are so right. It's not possible to lost our parents. It's unfathomable. So maybe hold on to that. She'll never be gone. You're here and clearly...you and she...are the same heart. Thoughts are with you.

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    1. Dearest Lindsey: your words mean a lot. To know that you feel what I feel, means a lot. Thank you, for reading, for caring, for taking the time to share and leave a comment. Being alone in this would just about do me in, but reading the comments here hold me up. Because my load is made lighter, with everyone's love. THANK YOU, for telling me how much you love your mother. xo

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  82. When we are young we think life can't possibly go on without them. I've been there. Savor her. Be with her. Don't leave anything open and don't regret not being there even for just a moment.

    It is heart wrenching and it hurts, for a long time. But I promise that someday you will remember the happy of that lunch and smile. And sometimes it still hurts and that's ok too. We are human. The fact we have such amazing parents is a blessing.

    Lots of love to you.

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  83. You and your sweet mother are surrounded by so much love.
    Still and always.

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  84. Alexandra,
    Your words are so beautiful and poetic full of life even as you witness the ebbing of someone's life who you love. The love of the Internet surrounds you clearly; your soul has touched each of us, as your mother's soul has touched you and your family and those of us who have seen her life through your words.
    Sending love and light.
    Estelle

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  85. I can't stop thinking about you and your momma, Alexandra. And this story just... well, I have goosebumps. Because that dinner you took her out to? The one where you lost track of time and she savored every bite of her delicious soup and hot dogs? Know how incredibly special that dinner was to her and how very much she loved you and your children. Though you may have lost a mother here on earth, you have gained a guardian angel who is with you always. She loves you. We love you. Take comfort from family and friends and please let me know if there is anything I can do. XOXO

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  86. As my tears flow freely, I'm reminded of the last few visits I had with my Mother. It doesn't matter when this kind of thing happens, you are never prepared for it. We live in denial because we can't imagine life without someone that means so much to us. It is one of the hardest things to deal with, watching one of the strongest people we know slip through our fingers and slowly fade away.
    Delight in memories and surround yourself with love and you will always feel her near you.
    Love & Hugs to you..

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  87. Oh Alexandra. What a beautiful piece! One year later, ten years later, you'll never lose the reality of that moment. Congratulations on the so well deserved recognition!! Thank you for posting the link!

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