Mar 10, 2017

When Someone You Love Gets a Terminal Illness


This is the comment my cousin left (on Facebook) on my last blog post re: teenagers.

"Marie G. A. You are one of the best, most human and funniest writers I have read, and I have read a lot - no answers for you - just not to give up, while they're yelling at you, inside they know you are right and you love them, but they're a mess. Teenagers' brains don't function real well in some lobes which I forget, gets better by 20's. Your mom is sympathizing every minute, and staying close."

First of all, that was a really nice compliment. Secondly, Marie is super funny. Thirdly, reminding me that my mom is on the other side helping me, made me a little teary.

A very short time later, on Monday, February 27th, Marie died of complications from breast cancer.

Which was pretty heartbreaking.

And, of course, got me thinking of my Mom dying.
Which sucked and still sucks.

#CancerSucks

{Or as her daughter aptly put it at Marie's funeral: "Cancer sucks balls!!!" Which made me chuckle inwardly. (Bouncy balls, obviously.)}

Quite frankly, my mom dying is something I never stop thinking about.

See, I have all these mild to moderate regrets. Most of all, I just regret that I didn't bleed her for information every minute of every day.

Here are some questions I would ask her if I could talk to her right now. (There are about a billion more where these came from.)

What was it like when Karie turned 13 and you had your first teenager? What did you worry about? What was unexpected? Did you feel like you had any leverage or control of the situation at all, or did you feel completely crazy-train and powerless like me?

How do you get the meringue not to bleed on the Peanut Butter Pie?

What was the first book you remember reading as a kid and what did you like to read growing up? And as an adult?

What was your favorite type of ethnic food? (I already know it's Mexican, just want to hear you say it.) Second favorite?

Tell me about all of your very best friends.

What age did you get breast cancer the first time? My OB really wants to know.

How did you find the lump again...? I can't remember the story. I know it has to do with your best friend Maureen getting breast cancer at the same time. Can you tell me the story again?

How did you keep the house clean when we were little?

How did you fill your time when I went to school?

Do you regret not working in illustration longer?

How did you stay motivated to cook those big dinners for us every night?
(Alternately, did you know when it was just the two of us and we had "cereal night" or those tiny thin-cut fried pork chops that those are really happy memories for me?)

And how did you get yourself up to make us breakfast every morning when you had six young kids?

What was the best trip you ever took and what was your favorite country?
---
I also regret not asking hard questions.

If the situation were to repeat itself, I would be more prepared.

I would have gotten her to plan her funeral.
Who she wanted to speak-- and sing-- and which hymns were her favorites?

{Did you know my siblings fought while planning her funeral? 
Well, now everyone knows.
Yep, we fought. 
It wasn't pretty.
It was pretty ugly.
We're all strong-willed and opinionated and we were stressed and shattered.
No one should have to fight over the hymn you sing at your mothers funeral. Your mother should have that written down.}

What about legal and financial records? Where are they? What do I need to know?
---
I regret not recording her more.

Sure, maybe it's technically illegal and very NSA-esque, but why didn't I record every phone call I ever made to her? Why didn't I sit down and press record every single time we saw each other in person. I recorded her singing a few songs, but why didn't I record her SINGING EVERY SINGLE SONG EVER WRITTEN?!?! Or at least every song ever written or sung by Anne Murray. That probably would have sufficed. She loved Anne Murray and they have the same vocal range.

I regret that I didn't find ways for her to put her handprint on more tangible items. I did try to get her to make my unborn baby a quilt, but by that time, it was too late. Turns out when you're dying you don't necessarily feel up to quilting. But now every scrap of paper with her handwriting, every note, every recipe card, every photograph is a treasure.
Painting mom's nails before she died

{Sidenote: A few weeks ago I was cleaning out Max's room. I found Grandpa Warners old non-functioning "Nook" electronic reader. (the Barnes and Noble version of a Kindle.) I asked Max if we could recycle it. He said no. All of the sudden I had a flash of understanding. He wasn't keeping it hoping to get it fixed and use it. He was keeping it because it belonged to his Grandpa. A useless electronic brick and he didn't want to give it up. I told him, "This isn't how you remember Grandpa. You have his (neck) ties for that. You can let this go." And he did.}

Now when I hear that someone has terminal cancer, first, I feel horribly sad for what they are all about to go through. Next, I send some prayers their way. And finally, I want to go to their children and yell in their faces: "RECORD EVERYTHING! PHOTOGRAPH EVERYTHING! TAKE A MILLION PICTURES! ASK A MILLION QUESTIONS! HAVE THEM PLAN THE FUNERAL!!!!!!!"

But I don't.
And if I did, the person being yelled at probably wouldn't listen.
(Aside from being annoyed at the yelling.)
Because maybe they will get better!
And because it's awkward.
And uncomfortable.
And sometimes even if you do bring up funeral arrangements, maybe the person doesn't want to talk about it or think about it or deal with it.

I don't blame them.

But maybe you can show them this post written by a woman whose heart broke into a million pieces when her mom died and now treasures a note written in the front of a cookbook: "Emily, you'll do just great! Love, Mom"

And maybe they'll be motivated to fill out one of those cheesy "Tell Me Your Story" books you can find on Amazon.
Or make a recording reading a favorite book or singing a favorite song or lullaby.
Or pass on some hand-written recipes cards.
Or even just write a quick, handwritten note.

Maybe they wont. That's okay too.
But if they do, you'll be so glad they did!

Either way--you have my love and sympathy and all the universal good vibes I can muster and send your way!

Good luck,

Emily








Feb 11, 2017

Teenage Weirdness

There is this weird thing happening around here and it's really making me stop and take stock every few days...

I have a teenager.

A teenager who has just, in the last six months or so, turned surly. There is no other word for it. He is super,
duper,
SURLY!

And I have a 12-year-old who is entering the "question-everything-and-argue-for-the-sake-of-arguing" phase.

TWO!
Two boys who are in the throws of hormonal calamity.
Constant mood upheaval and fluctuation. Doug says he doesn't think he can handle it.
He's only here half the time.

It's just really weird watching all of these super cliche stereotypes happen before my eyes!
Let's take the eldest. He doesn't want me to touch him any more. No more hugs.
Unless he's in a *rare* good mood while also needing some attention. Then he'll come curl up with me on the couch or start trying to bait me into wrestling him. He's discovered that for the first time in his life, he's stronger than an adult and he loves getting a chance to stretch those muscles. (Me. I'm the adult. So that's not saying much because I'm super wimpy.)

Also, both boys are officially calling me on my hypocrisy. I mean, I always knew it would happen one day. You can only get away with constantly contradicting yourself as a parent for just so long before someone notices.

{Here's a good example: Me: "STOP YELLING AND TALK TO YOUR BROTHER NICELY!!!" with rage in my eyes and spit flying from my lips...
Or, another common theme: "Quit being so obsessed with devices! Go do something productive!!! *Glances down at phone and clicks on IG for 18th time...*}

 And then there's #2.

"Why do I have to go to bed early?"
"It's not early. It's 9:30."
"That's super early! I'M NOT EVEN TIRED!!!"
"Listen mister, I know you're just being argumentative because..."
"JUST BECAUSE YOU READ SOME STUPID ARTICLE ON PARENTING YOU THINK YOU KNOW EVERYTHING AND YOU DON'T! I'M *NOT* TIRED AND I DO NOT HAVE TO GO TO BED!!!"
"Hey, I'm not saying this because of an article..."
"YES YOU ARE! EVERYTHING YOU SAY IS FROM A STUPID ARTICLE!"
"Listen, you're body needs rest..."
"YOU ALWAYS SAY THAT AND IT'S *NOT* TRUE!!!

I feel like most of the time I can handle these interactions okay.
Right up until I can't. (Uh, let's just say 4-6pm before eating isn't my best time.)
And then I "Hulk Out" and go full-on ballistic.

I've tried to analyze my melt-downs after-the-fact so that I can avoid them in the future. A few common triggers I've notice for above average personal melt-downs are these:

*Senseless acts of violence perpatrated by a bored brother onto a super whiny brother. *Screaming ensues*
*Asking "Why" for the 18th time after I've already told him why. (Always followed by "But that doesn't make any sense." Even when it makes perfect sense.)
*Being disrespectful to Dad. (Alternately, Doug is not super happy with them being disrespectful to me.)
*Child yelling, in my face, for the 87th time, "THAT'S NOT FAIR". (I never said it was fair. It might not be fair. BUT FAIR IS NOT THE POINT! NOT EVERYTHING HAS TO BE BLEEPING FAIR!!!)
*And did I already say "Repeating myself for the 94th time."?? I don't like repeating myself. I repeat, I DO NOT LIKE REPEATING MYSELF! ESPECIALLY WHEN I WAS PERFECTLY CLEAR THE FIRST TIME! ARE WE CLEAR?!? I THOUGHT I WAS CLEAR!
Or do you need to hear it one more time...??

But that's just life with kids, right? They're never perfectly well-behaved and then they become teens and things get kicked up into a new realm of hormones, angst, and baffling insecurities swirled with feelings of super-human superiority.
So I try to remember that I was a teen once. I did stupid and reckless things. I fought and yelled and honest-to-goodness absolutely believed I knew more than every adult in my life, and I still somehow managed to grow into a relatively productive member of society. (I said productive. I won't throw around terms like "well-adjusted" or "normal", but I have produced five humans and that's not nothin'.)

So after the disagreements. And fights. And complete nuclear meltdowns,
I walk away,
and regroup,
maybe eat my feelings a little bit,
pray for strength and patience and help for the billionth time,
apologize if needed,
--even when it's not wanted--
and wake up ready to do it all again.

Heaven help me. Heaven help all humans living in the same house as a teenager.

Amen.

P.S. I wrote this a few weeks ago and never pushed "publish" because it doesn't feel finished. I don't have a strong conclusion because, well, I don't have a strong conclusion. I don't actually have a real life answer on how to fix this, or make it better, or any profound insights or conclusions or anything. Can bloggers even write posts that don't offer super definite answers and/or polarizing advice any more? Is it even legal? Regardless, I'll leave it up to those of you with more wisdom and older children. Help me out. How does this story end?

P.P.S. If you know my eldest in real life, how 'bout we don't mention this post to him and just keep it between us. He's still mad at me for trying to hug him earlier.