Author Archives: Julie

A Granddaughter’s Goodbye

Outside is gray and wind blows more of the crunchy, faded leaves from the tree of friendship. It has grown from sapling and is now tall enough to be seen outside of my second-story office window. I watch the remaining leaves cling fiercely, not ready to end their season of holding space this fall. I want them to remain there as long as possible. I do not want any more time to pass.

I remember the beginning of this week. I don’t want to forget.

Monday I went to bed with plans to visit Grammy at 10:00 Tuesday morning. The last time Steve and I saw her, she was in bed. There was life in her eyes and a smile on her lips. She recognized us, commented on Steve’s long hair (Ok, put your hat back on!), and beamed over the news of my firstborn’s pregnancy. (Another baby!)

Large tears fell from my eyes and onto her covers as I remembered our pre-Covid days at Brookdale ~ when we could walk to breakfast or lunch together using her walker, when I would push her in her wheelchair, when we could no longer visit until it was the end. We are here. It’s close to the end.

Steve opens the blinds so we can look out the window at fall colors. Birds fly to the feeder. The sky is late October gray, as the sun begins its early descent. Grief catches me off guard. I hold it in.

Ok, you can go now.

It’s a familiar goodbye, and one I am not sure is for her or for us. Which of us needs permission? I hang on a little longer, unsure if this is the last time we will be together in person. (it is) I don’t want to overstay, so I lean over the bed, hug her close, whisper goodbyes and I love yous, and exit the room with tears rolling down my face.

So now it’s bedtime Monday evening, November 9, 2020, and I wonder if Grammy will be there in the morning. Should I have gone over and stayed? Each night I wonder if it will be the one. The wait is truly the hardest part. I pray rest for her. I will go over tomorrow and stay.

I startle awake in the early morning hours, Grammy on my mind. This feeling is different than my usual insomnia. I feel a strange calm unlike any other night-time wake in this season and wonder Is this it? Is Grammy passing?

There is no urgency to get out of bed ~ only to bear witness to the moment in my spirit. O Sacred Head Now Wounded plays in my mind, every verse I have ever heard, including Be near me, Lord, when dying. . . especially that one. I hear the tune, the singers, the words. I pray it for her. If it is her time. Be near.

It is followed by Sandra McCracken’s Love Will Bring You Home. I pray again that if it is time, the passage is smooth and kind. I pray she is brought home by love.

I am so present, which is unusual for middle-of-the-night stirrings. I fall back into a restful sleep without any of the usual back-to-sleep aids like reading, journaling, or hot tea. I wake Tuesday morning to a text from Dad.

Grammy died last night. The hospice nurse pronounced her passing at 2:30am . . . Please let your siblings know.

The end of her story at age 97. A long life well-lived. Over. It is Tuesday, November 10, 2020.

I scroll in my phone to find our last picture together, taken in February before Covid shut everything down.

I feel sad and glad and weary and begin making phone calls to my people.

Being the Daughter

I know that my mom is the center of her own story. The star of her own show. Dying of pancreatic cancer is traumatic. Bearing the pain, the news, the treatments. I cannot imagine the grief and loss that comes with facing the end in that way. Her story is not mine to tell.

And yet . . .

Being the daughter is difficult, too. There is a strange supporting role that overlaps. I have my own story of grief and loss in the midst of watching my mom live out her days. I am losing my mom, my hopes and dreams with her, my emergency contact person for my kids in school.

In early July when I filled out school registration forms for my three high school kids, it was so easy, because everything was the same. In August when I registered the fourth in a new space and automatically began typing my mom’s information in as an emergency contact person, I froze with the reality of the news we had been given and broke into gut-wrenching sobs before texting my sister-in-law to ask if I could use her instead. I did not even want to consider what the end of the school year might look like or where we would be.

I sit awake in the middle of the night, the time when grief barrels down like a freight train, because that is when the house is still and quiet and no one needs me. I carry my quilt and hot tea to the tiny office upstairs and sit.

One day I will have home office space big enough to hold a couch or recliner or something more comfortable than a chair and makeshift tiny ottoman. I am thankful for what I have now, space just for me and Pierre the bird, whose cage I have resumed covering again so my middle-of-night visits don’t disrupt him..

On a good night I meditate or journal or read to quiet my mind before returning to bed. Then there are the nights I spend searching my phone, scrolling for stories, for connection, for others who may be feeling similar grief. Those nights I know I should just put down the phone. It’s not good for my sleep cycle to be staring at the light.

It’s also not good for my sleep cycle to have a mom that is dying.

We won another month.

Hello, November! You bring us a new start.

I deeply hoped we would, even though the beginning of October felt tenuous enough for me to cancel a trip, even as mom planned one of her own. She travelled, saw her people. I stayed home, sat in hard places, and fed her cats. I started a new client and engaged my own grief.

l listened as my body bore witness to my story, kept showing up for my coaching group, checked on Mom when she returned, gave big space when I couldn’t.

I want to know how this ends, but I don’t want it to end. I want a place to fall, land, be held without feeling both complicit and responsible. I want absolution. Kindness. Care. I want to watch all of the amazing things everyone else is doing with their lives and families while believing that my grieving is enough for right now.

I am both a daughter losing her mother and a mother of many who need to be actively mothered. This is not easy. There is a little girl inside who just wants to be able to cry, release, speak the truth of where I am without being blamed or fixed. We all need so much of each other. We are all so alone.

Being the daughter means having young places inside stirred by this reality, places that desire deep freedom to be who I am and generous love and acceptance. Big kindness. I want to be seen, known, loved, understood, tended. Being the daughter means sitting in the shadows watching the stars of this show play out their scenes together.

The shadows feel familiar.

I am so grateful for each of you who has seen me and reached out in the ways you felt led. From cards in the mail to bread and butter left in brown paper packages on the porch to invitations for walks to understanding that my absence or silence is not personal, it all matters.

Even unspoken thoughts matter when you are the daughter losing her words in the midst of this nightmarish loss.

Hindsight 2020

Unicorn bath bomb swirls colors into steaming water. I watch, mesmerized, massaging coconut oil into my hair, a makeshift mask. I bless each dark strand that comes out in my hands. Its replacement will most likely be the color of wisdom.

Hindsight 2020 playlist fills the room with music. All the songs I didn’t know I needed this year, compiled into one list, inspired by Bethany Cabell’s annual Thanksgiving Playlist on Red Tent Living. I always choose random, not chronological, order when I listen.

Chili simmers in a crock pot on the kitchen counter. Just thinking of it’s recipe source, crock pot owner, and preparer brings tears. Such kindness surrounds me. Deep care.

I climb into hot, scented, sparkly unicorn water, letting tears fall. When a heart breaks brings sobs from a heart that has been broken for longer than I care to admit.

I have never been alone in this. Never not loved. Each song reminds me. Each link-sender seeing me in a vulnerable posture of heartache.

And yet an small place inside, a small person, just wants to be held. To not hold everything. To not be responsible for all of the intensity and pain in everyone else.

I see her. Feel her. Invite her to rest in the embrace of water and sparkles and love. I breathe in sweetness and spices and exhale grief. I hold her and let her be held.

Creamy Baked Salmon (a Diane in Denmark recipe)

I’m blogging after a successful Saturday night dinner to remind myself of this evening’s menu and to help me remember and reference this recipe easily. This feels like a bit of kind self-care in the midst of all that is happening. Here’s why. . .

Many recipes I keep in my head, which is helpful until someone asks for the recipe or wants to help me in the kitchen. My teenager often offers to cook and simply needs the recipe, so tonight I am making time to record this one just the way I made it.

It is from Diane in Denmark, one of my favorite online influencers. You can watch her prepare it on her YouTube channel below. In fact, I watched her as I prepared supper tonight. She is delightful company.

I put a spaghetti squash in the oven, halved, seeds scooped out, face down in a 9×13 glass baking dish with a little water at the bottom, covered with foil 10 minutes before putting the salmon in, and it was perfect timing, taking them out together.

Here is the recipe written down. It is fabulous when the salmon is paired with the sauce served over spaghetti squash and a sliced baguette on the side.

Enjoy!

Weeks to (New) Months

October 1 finds me reflective and with a deeper understanding of what the phrase weeks to months actually means. When Mom began chemo the first week of September, it was to give more months, not years, according to the oncologist.

Chemo was brutal. One round caused such misery that to continue for a few more months of torture to extend days was not sustainable. Mom chose hospice care instead, allowing her to live more fully and with more presence in this season.

Mom looks beautiful in her brightly colored turbans!

Eight weeks and three days since the initial heartbreaking scan, life settles into a routine of change. Each week grows day by day, then adds up with the next to create another month. And that is what we are given, a string of days, weeks, months.

We won September, full of family visits, kids settling in to school, and shifts in business and work loads. We practice turning towards each other. There was a photo shoot to capture us with Mom.

Mom and I share a moment during the photo shoot before our own mini-session. She is always radiant in red.

October brings new rhythms and boundaried settledness. Time and energy are precious resources. The walks across town, to and from my parents’ house, a sort of sacred rhythm, ground me in presence as I transition from mother to daughter and back again.

Sighting a heart shape on the brick walkway or a changing leaf from a nearby tree bring comfort and calm to the sometimes-chaos of my heart.

A heart-shaped blob on the sidewalk reminds me that love is all around me. I only have to keep my eyes open for it.
Change is the constant.

I drink coffee outside with Mom this morning, our usual Thursday routine. We enjoy the crisp air and birdsongs and sighting of a butterfly on the fence. Mostly we enjoy the rhythm and ritual and the gift of a new month.

Look closely to see birds on top of the fence and a butterfly resting, as well.
Mom wearing the prayer shawl made for her by a dear friend, Rosie.

These are the moments that matter in the weeks to months that remain. Thank you to all who continue to offer such gentle care, kindness, and understanding as we navigate the present while looking ahead to the uncertain future.

Flowers and Food

Can you stop by on your way home from Bridgewater? I have something for you. If I don’t answer the door just come around back and find me.

The text went something like that.

I wanted to say no. No, I actually can’t.

It’s the truth.

That is where I was. Where I am right now. Angry at the world. At everything. Still having to function while anticipating grief. And just angry.

My mom is very sick. She is dying. I was not even aware of this on July 26, just two months ago. Now I don’t know if I will get two more months with her.

My rational side got the better of me, because this friend’s house was literally on the way home. Also, I know myself well enough to call my own bluff. Also, she loves me. She is so kind. I needed to receive the invitation of care.

So I stopped on the way home and found her in the extensive backyard flowerbed. She is the kind of gardener who can make an everyday bouquet from twenty varieties of things she has growing, naming each one.

She was still cutting and arranging as I wandered out back and then followed her into the house for the adding of water to the jar and sending of me on my way.

I am bringing you dinner next week. Is Wednesday or Thursday better?

Thursday was a no-brainer, since my husband was leaving for his annual guys’ weekend that day.

Thursday. Thank you.

We chatted briefly in the kitchen, a safe distance from each other, before I left to pick up a child from a friend’s house, in same the neighborhood, on the way home.

Tears filled my eyes.

I don’t know what I need on a good day, and lately the days are not so good. When the text came with several menu choices, I knew instantly the one. She agreed it was one of her best.

She cut me flowers and brought me food.

And that is what I needed.

And I am so grateful.

Thank you, AM, and all of you who have known just what I needed and left in on the porch or dropped it in the mail or sent it by text. You are the hands and feet of real Jesus and love. Thank you for your care during this unbearable hard.

Waning

Look at the moon!

Husband beckons me to look out the car window on our late-night drive home from a weekend wedding. I scroll my phone looking for music to play, or maybe escape, and glance skyward.

Is that really the moon?

An orange orb dances behind a mountain ridge, peeking out occasionally. I catch a glimpse before it disappears again. I have been known to mistake a Burger King sign for this wonder of nature and am unsure whether to get excited about the glow.

Then it appears in full glory. Hanging from the sky as if about to be dropped to earth, larger than life, Mars twinkling by its side, the deep-orange, waning gibbous moon.

waning: the act of decreasing gradually in size, strength, power, etc. . .

I oohhhhh and ahhhhh appropriately, for I love the moon in whatever phase it shows up, but this one is stunning. It is comforting and kind and sad. That seems to be the way I hold life these days, comfort and kindness in the sadness.

Date saved since January, this eagerly anticipated wedding comes with unlikely surprises. We witness outdoors with masks and eat charcuterie from individual plastic cups and drink lemonade as we wait for dinner. It feels a lifetime ago that I sat poolside drinking a margarita on a work trip with my husband that same month.

Steve and I sit around a table with the Big Boss (not to be confused with the immediate boss whose wedding it was) and co-workers and their wives. We talk and wait for our table to be called. I do well managing the small talk.

Until I don’t.

I lose my steady, and my brain goes offline just long enough to float away.

What?

It is Steve’s Big Boss who looks at me quizzically.

Shoot. I just did the thing I don’t mean to do but sometimes happens. My kids say What? Why are you looking at me like that? or Mom, you’re dissociating. depending on who notices when this happens at home.

It’s my How can I be here doing this when my mom is home dying and family is in town visitng? face, and it has just come out at the wrong time, and I panic and have to be real.

I’m sorry.

I explain, and everyone is gracious and kind, and I am just sad. How can I rejoice and grieve simultaneously? This is my lesson in this season. The both, and.

Usually I keep the right feeling in the right place, but tonight sadness dumps out and lands in the middle of joy and the eyes that bear witness to the beginning of new life together hold me as ! grieve the end of another.

And the moon shines down on us all.

Waning.

Preamble to a Grief

It’s Friday morning. I set a 20 minute timer to write here, just for myself, to share with those who care to read. By the time you see this it will be afternoon. Or days, weeks, months later.

I feel a need to preamble, which I do now. This is important, because it lays ground rules and understanding and expectation, so I do not have to keep clarifying or explaining myself in the future.

Often when working with a client I will say, Let’s just write up (or simply name and pretend to write) the preamble of all of the good things and all the ways you are thankful and all the ways your parents loved you and all of the ways God is good (if they are a person of faith), etc….Now let’s talk about how there are still hard things and there is grief and your parents were human and we don’t always understand God and you were still harmed.

That helps us to jump right in with the basic assumptions that we don’t have to rehash every time something new surfaces.

I do that here with my current situation.

I am grateful. My parents loved me. Real Jesus is present. For reasons I can’t understand, I still have faith.

AND

I am grieving. My parents failed me. False Jesus was presented as judging me.

AND

I am seeing the goodness of God in the land of the living even as death lurks in the shadows. Redemption is near, close, beautiful. The hope of glory makes this present suffering bearable.

It is from this place that I write and remember and process.

I have deep support in the form of loving siblings, extended family, and friends.

We have laid such a deep foundation of healing work together, that in the midst of the ache and the grief we also find laughter and hope. Even in dying there is deep life.

I know it sounds strange, but it’s true.

As I write and share my experience here on the blog, it is from a place of deep grief and heartache, yet not from despair.

Infrastructure has been built and put into place over this past decade of my life specifically to carry me through this season. It is both brutal and beautiful to behold.

To understand more, I invite you to read this post that I wrote two summers ago for Red Tent Living.

This is the preamble for what is to come, however it looks. You don’t have to agree with or understand me. You don’t have to believe the same way I do to listen, lean in, and learn from my story.

I do ask for kindness.

Always kindness.

To my story and to yours.

Costco Run Grief

My Costco membership renews the same day I feel a burst of grief while shopping there. September 1. Yesterday. A deduction is listed in the banking app on my phone. Renewal fee. Has one year passed already?

It’s a quick run in with my husband for a bottle of wine and some beer.

Date night provisions.

I don’t grab a cart, because we are there for two things, and if I grab a cart I will fill it with extras. This is why we stopped our membership for a season. (You can read about that here, if you’re curious.)

It’s fun to look around, though, so my love and I take our time meandering through the aisles, dreaming of home improvements or new dishes or furniture. We finally arrive in the back of the store and part ways to make our separate choices.

I feel it rise in my chest. Grief in the form of a squeezing tightness. My eyes fill with tears that spill down my cheeks, and I know this is the feeling of loss. Unexpected loss. Another thing in a list of many.

Costco Run Grief

How many Costco runs have Mom and I done together?

How many times has she called me, the local daughter, to say, Let’s pretend I am visiting you from out of town, and I’ll take you shopping at Costco. I always get things for your siblings when I visit them. I want to take you on a Costco run. Get whatever you want. It’s on me.

How many breakfasts or coffees at Cinnamon Bear next door did we share before making a morning or early afternoon shopping trip?

How many times during that season of the cancelled membership, because money was tight (and even a “good deal” is not a deal if you can’t afford it), did she ask for a list of things she could pick up. She always added a few extras. Just because.

How many times?

How many times did we have the conversation that it was not expected for her to purchase my items but it was always appreciated when she did, and sometimes she let me write a check without protest because we learned to communicate about things like that?

When was our last trip to Costco together?

I don’t remember.

She was gone for the month of June, and life was still normal then, and summer vacation happened for me in July when she returned. We each did our own summer-during-a- pandemic-still things, knowing that there was always tomorrow or next time, until there wasn’t.

I took my son on a Costco run the day before he left for a trip out west. It was mid-August, and he needed some food and things, and that’s what moms do.

They take their kids shopping and make sure they are fed.

I remember thinking, This is one of my mom’s legacies. I am now shopping with my kid at Costco, and of course, I will buy him all of the things.

The following morning that son sat out on a back patio and had coffee with his grandma, and she went inside and cooked him eggs and bacon, and they shared one of the best times I have had with Grandma, Mom, before saying goodbye as he headed for his next adventure.

How many tears?

Tears fall freely as I try to finish this post. What am I even trying to say?

Costco Run Grief is real. It’s a vary real reminder that nothing is as it should be anymore and that nothing is guaranteed ~ not even the next shopping trip with my mother.

Instead my sister and I go to Food Lion today and try to make choices that will comfort and be palatable for her. We laugh at what’s not really funny and bristle at who said or did what, and at the end of the day collapse into the writing of words which is where the raw and the real is exposed.

And there is grief.

Mom’s Fall Planter

I decide to welcome fall early this year. It’s still August when I commit.

I know that’s not the official start, but something about knowing, really knowing, that you have months, not years, left with someone, makes every moment count.

We know that, right? That all of the moments count? Turn towards those you love while you can. It’s a great theory, but the practice of it, in blog-friendly language, is oh my.

Really tough.

Because life. And death. And all of that in-between. And not all of us get to know ahead of time.

And what are months, anyway? Twelve of them make up a year. That leads to twenty-four, which is two years, and so on. Not without hope, and yet, there is also reality.

So last Friday, as Mom and Dad visited the oncologist, my sister and I ran afternoon errands together. Something about a perceived sense of normalcy and control made this an adventure filled with hilarity and comic relief.

We are good at comic relief. Also irreverent hilarity.

After all of the musts, I chose a want and decided to get fall plants for mom’s outdoor planter.

Each Mother’s Day I plant one of the large planters in front of my parents’ house for Mom, and on Father’s Day I plant the other for Dad. This year was different on Mother’s Day, due, in part to the pandemic and its limitations.

Instead of selecting individual plants, I chose a hanging basket from the local food coop, planning to empty it into the planter, ready made style. When Mom saw what I was doing, she preferred to keep it as a hanging basket, so up on the porch it went.

Her planter remained sparsely populated with perennial growth from previous years, a rosemary bush, lambs ears, purple salvia, and a lone geranium, added by me to fill an obvious gap. These continued growing all summer but never fully got it together.

I tried looking back in my phone to see if I had a picture of that planter, and just the act of scrolling backwards to May brought a heaviness to my chest and tears to my eyes. We can’t go back to before.

I decided to seize my (and mom’s) favorite season and plant for fall to welcome her home from her long day of medical appointments.

And that’s what I did.

Happy Fall, Y’all! Let’s make this one count!