Lovingly Harsh.

Recently I was at a bar with my friends discussing some personal problems I am going through. Without going in to detail, I was feeling like things were over for me. Like my life was not going where it was meant to go and that it was hopeless that it ever would again. I am distancing myself from everyone because I have so much baggage. So much emotional damage to work through, so much harm done by my mother’s abusive words and actions that I have been wondering if my life would ever be uncomplicated again. So much fear after finding out about how scary my stepfather really is and not knowing his whereabouts after finding out this information. Will I ever be able to answer a question about my life and have the answer not be dark? Would I ever be able to say, “I’m good,” and mean it? Will I ever stop having to leave details about my day, about my life, out of my answers so as to not overwhelm or scare my friends? Will the platitudes ever stop?

One of my friends looked me in the eyes and said, rather firmly, “Cait, you don’t get to decide what other people can handle.”

Tears. Relief. I can’t put in to words the feeling I got when he said that. But the impact of that statement has not left my mind since.

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Motherless on Mother’s Day

{ I’m just now getting back to writing publicly after dealing with some pretty dark feelings and writing privately. I wrote this one on Mother’s Day and never posted it. }

Mother’s Day has been hard in recent years. The last two years, after my mom’s heart attacks, were when her mental illness hit it’s extreme (it had been at that extreme before, but this was the first time I was grown up enough to realize what was going on, and that it wasn’t normal.)

My mom died on Valentine’s Day, 6 days after a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. The day she was diagnosed she was talkative and alert. Over the next few days, I watched her physically deteriorate and mentally deteriorate even more. My daughter was 7 months old when my mom died. Throughout my entire pregnancy, the relationship with my mom was almost unbearable. I had to distance myself for my health and the health of my unborn baby. Having to nurture this new life while watching the life of someone you love spiral out of control was a difficult situation to be in.

This will be my first Mother’s Day as a mom, and also the first without my own. I know that my mom had a mental illness. All the terrible, terrible things she said and did to me were coming from her mental illness, not her heart. I know that. I know it with all that I am. I know that my mom loved me. And I know that she endured unspeakable pain growing up in a sexually abusive household, which left her unable to show me love at times. I wish that knowing this would take away all the pain that’s left from the things she said to me, but the truth is, it just doesn’t. There is still hurt. I am mourning the loss of my mother, along with the loss of any chance we had to reconcile our relationship, any chance she had to get help, to have hope. I have carried her pain my whole life knowing what she went through and knowing that I couldn’t help her.

Although there are feelings of hurt, the most overwhelming feeling is one of helplessness. I feel so devastated by all the hardships my mom went through. I feel like she never found hope. I know she was terrified during her final days, and the last conversation I had with her is forever etched in my mind, along with the look on her face. (Read about it in Part 2). It’s utterly heartbreaking knowing how terrified she was. It happened so fast after being told she had months.

There’s a quote that says, “No one told me that grief felt so much like fear.” Fear of dying myself and leaving my daughter wondering if I loved her. Fear of being so terrified in my final moments the way my mom was. Fear causing me to ask my husband to make sure my daughter knows I loved her best. Fear is crippling.

Suck It Up, Buttercup.

It’s almost been a year without my Mom. They say grieving has no timeline. But man, people sure know how to make you feel like it’s time to suck it up when it hits 6 months, a year.
This last year has been full of grieving and empty of resolve. Full of grieving for the physical loss of our mom. Full of grieving for the mental loss of our mom long ago, even when we didn’t realize that’s what was happening at the time. Full of grieving and longing for the love she didn’t show and now never will.. grieving for what never was and what never will be. Grieving over the fact that my Mom never had peace, that she suffered physically her entire childhood then mentally the rest of her life.
Most of what I’ve come to understand about my mom and her mental illness, has been only been discovered in the last year and a half… the understanding that how she acted was not who she was in her heart. She had a mental illness and did not see things as they were. I wish that just simply knowing she did not mean the hurtful things she said and did was enough to make the hurt go away. But there seems to be something permanently damaging about hearing  your Mom say that she hates you… that she hopes she dies and that it will be your fault when she does… that you betrayed her by letting the medical team save her after her heart attack… that you deserved the miscarriage you had when you were 19. Logically, I’m able to separate those hurtful things from her heart but it’s not enough to let the emotional pain go. I’ve been so terrified to ride the emotional pain to try to get through it, because having these types of feelings and hurts regarding your own mom makes you feel guilty. But, I can’t keep ignoring it. I want so badly to remember a good memory… to be able to choose what I share with my daughter and have plenty of good to share with her. I don’t want to ever run out of stories that are appropriate to share with her. But, I know there will be a time when I’ve shared all I can share with her… there will be a time I run out of positives.
It will be a year on Valentines Day. And although I will inwardly roll my eyes at anyone who says “It’s been a year. It’s time to move on”, I have to dive in to this. It has to get ugly before it’s going to get better.

 

Half a Year Without You

6 months have gone by since you’ve been gone. It seems like such a monumental benchmark, half a year. But grieving has no timeline. There are days that I call the ‘good days’, days where I’m still aware of the absent space in my heart where you should be, but I’m still able to go about my day and I don’t have to be afraid that I’m going to break down in the quiet moments, and I know that although I miss you, I am okay. But there are still moments where the heavy weight of you being gone hits me all over again. Sometimes these moments can be predicted. Your birthday, family events, my brother’s graduation. But sometimes these moments come from nowhere. When I see the car you drove, a piece of me wonders if it could be you. When I see someone that resembles you from behind at the grocery store, I have to catch my breath. There’s a quote I came across that says, “Grief is like an ocean, it comes in waves, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”

 

 

The Grief That Isn’t Talked About, Part 2

If you’ve come across this post, I encourage you to look back at The Grief No One Talks About before picking back up on this post, Part 2.



 

When the nurse came in, we were still recovering from the scene of my mom’s last lucid moment. She told us that she no longer needed to take any vitals (heartbeat, temperature, oxygen saturation, etc), but if we wanted her to, she would. My brother and I decided we wanted to continue to monitor her. We knew the end was so close and there was no avoiding it, but I think we both found comfort in continuing to see how things were progressing on a physical level. The nurse checked her oxygen saturation and even with the oxygen mask flowing at the highest concentration, her levels weren’t where they needed to be. (The day before, she had taken her mask off when I went downstairs to get something to eat. I was gone 15 minutes and when I came back up she had her mask off and her oxygen saturation was at 34%.For those that don’t know, anything below 90% is considered dangerous. Low oxygen causes tissue damage, mental confusion, brain damage, loss of consciousness, and even heart attacks.) The nurse told us it was low but the oxygen was as high as it could go. She then asked us to make a decision I never thought I would have to make.

My mom had ordered a DNR (do not resuscitate) and a DNI (do not intubate.) This meant the hospital staff did not have permission to do CPR, place a breathing tube, etc. In some hospitals it is called an AND (allow natural death) order. This means the hospital can provide pain management, but can choose to withhold or discontinue artificial feedings, fluids or any other treatments that prolong the dying process without adding to quality of life.

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These orders were not new. I found out about the DNR after my mom had her first heart attack in 2013. She gave me a form, which I don’t even think was a legal form, that listed me as a medical decision maker and stated that she didn’t want to be resuscitated under any circumstances. I remember feeling so angry at her that she would choose to have the doctors just let her die. I felt abandoned. Why, at 45 years old, would she CHOOSE to not be here for my brother anymore? To ask the doctors to let her die? She asked me if I was comfortable making that decision and I was honest with her. I told her it made me really sad to know she would choose to not be here anymore. She basically told me it didn’t matter because she had the paper notarized and the hospital had a copy. A few months later, she had another heart attack. I didn’t get to see her until they had stabilized her and put her on a ventilator. The next day, she woke up still on the ventilator and was livid. She tried to sit up and grab at the life support hanging out of her. I have never seen such a furious look in someones eyes. She pushed the call button and tried to communicate to the nurse that she wanted me to leave. The nurse asked me to leave because I was making my mom agitated. A few days later when she was off the ventilator, I walked in and she tried to say something but her throat was so sore from the ventilator. She barely got the words out. “You betrayed me.” I told her I was never consulted by a doctor about whether or not they could do it. But to be honest, if the doctor would have asked me, I would have told him yes. She then put me on the “ban” list and I was left in the dark about her condition for the rest of the stay.

Anyway, back to 2016. The nurse told us that because her oxygen was low even with the oxygen mask at full blast, that it was technically a life saving measure. She said that we needed to decide if we thought my mom would want us to take the oxygen mask off. She said sometimes the family is comforted by seeing their loved one without a mask on during their final moments. My stomach dropped. I knew immediately that the answer was yes, but I told the nurse to give us a minute while we talked about it. We all agreed pretty quickly that it wasn’t adding any quality of life and it was only making the dying process longer. I walked to the nurses station and told her what we decided. I asked how long it would take and the nurse said she would fall asleep and die peacefully in 10 to 30 minutes, she “couldn’t imagine it would take much longer than that.”

The nurse came in silently and took off the mask. We all gathered around her bed, took turns giving her hugs. Her breathing got really loud as we tried to comfort her. “We love you…You can rest now… We’ll see you again soon… It’s okay to let go…This will be over soon.” She got agitated and started mumbling. She grabbed at things that weren’t there. We tried to tell her to relax. She tried to sit up a few times and we gently laid her back down. This went one for far longer than 30 minutes. Two people left the room because they couldn’t handle it anymore. The nurse finally came back in and said that for my mom’s comfort, we should put the oxygen back on.

I felt so empty. Six days earlier she was diagnosed with cancer. They went from talking about hospice in home, to hospice in a center, to saying she would never leave and taking her off food and liquids. So many intense things happened in just 6 days and I thought my mom would be done suffering after we took the oxygen off. I needed her to be done suffering. I needed it to be over. And now I felt like I had failed her by allowing her to be off oxygen with extremely dangerously low oxygen levels for so long. I feel like we caused more harm. The physical stages of dying already does so much to a body, and now we had deprived her of oxygen on top of that. I had to remind myself that we did it so that she would die peacefully, like we were told she would do, that she would fall asleep and be comfortable in her final moments. But I wasn’t the only one who felt like they had failed. The nurse told me she felt like she had failed ME. The fact that the nurse said ME, instead of my mom, just reiterated the fact that my mom was really already gone. She would never speak to me again, she would never see my face again, never hold my daughter again. This was still the end. My mom was still actively dying.

That night my brother and I stayed at the hospital in her room, just the three of us. The nurses changed shift and she had a really great nurse that night. Robin came in every 45 minutes to give her medicine to keep her comfortable. Every time she came in, she made sure my brother and I were comfortable, too. She checked her vitals each time and kept me updated on what was happening. I asked her to turn up the thermostat because my mom was ice cold to the touch, but she explained that one of the stages of dying is loss of temperature regulation and that it was best to keep the room at room temperature. I really appreciated that she spoke to me in a way that was informative, but tender. Robin said I could check the vitals any time I wanted to and show us how to use the machine. Her oxygen saturation stayed around 60% all night, but Robin said her heart beat was getting more and more irregular. I was so tired that I was physically having to force my eyes to stay open. I have never experienced that before. I was so mentally and physically spent that it was like my body would NOT let me stay awake.

At 7, we woke up because she was stirring around and making noises. My brother and I sat on either side of her and talked to her. She opened her eyes and looked up and to the left. I moved to get in to her line of sight but I could tell she could not see me. Then her eyes darted to the other side towards my brother, but not AT him. She mumbled, closed her eyes and was calm again.

My brother and I went back to the couch and started talking to each other. I can’t remember what brought it up, but my brother did an impersonation of a singer we both like, and we both started laughing. I looked over and noticed her breathing had slowed. We walked over to the side of her bed and said her name. We nudged her like we were trying to wake her up. The room was silent. My brother turned the monitor on and we got only one heartbeat. We turned it off and just stood there, completely still. After a few moments we looked at each other and hugged, sobbing. We hugged her and told her we loved her.

I went to get the nurse but she was already walking towards the door with the two new nurses for this shift. I motioned for them to come in. I said, “Is she gone?” They all three looked at her without moving. Then they all three took turns checking for a pulse. Robin looked at me and said, “She’s passed.”

The last thing my mom heard was my brother and I laughing. She used to tell me she missed hearing my brother and I’s laughter in the house. As cliche at it sounds, I find myself wondering if she was waiting for a happy moment to let go.

The Grief That Isn’t Talked About

*Disclaimer: To be honest, I don’t feel comfortable sharing all of these details. I started writing for my own healing and to work through my emotions. But I made a post on one of my Mommy’s Groups on Facebook about this and TWENTY SEVEN people private messaged me to tell me they had been through something similar. I don’t want anything in this post to sound disrespectful to my mom. I want it to be factual, though, so some things in this post are intense. I hope that by sharing such a personal and private story, someone will read this and be encouraged in knowing they are not alone. I’m not claiming to have it all figured out, because I don’t. But I know that in time I will heal and I was encouraged by speaking with people who have been in my situation and have managed to find healing and closure.





There is so much I feel like I want and need to write about after the recent death of my Mom with whom I had an extremely difficult relationship. She was emotionally/mentally abusive and had serious mental illnesses. On and off my whole life, I was manipulated by her and after her heart attack a couple years ago, things really came to a tipping point. Let me give you some background info.

She had her first heart attack two years ago and then a triple bypass, then another heart attack and many other complications along the way. They said she needed a transplant then shortly after deemed her too weak to undergo a transplant surgery. Even before those health issues, she was emotionally abusive. The abuse had significantly intensified since then and basically for the last year and a half she seemed to totally have it out for me. Some days she claimed I never visited her at the hospital (false, I basically lived there for 2 months). She constantly sent messages saying I hated her, that she hated me, that I’m worthless, that I’m the reason for her health condition, that I should have let her die, that she wants to kill herself, that she hopes I find her dead body, that I’m going to ruin my 8 month old daughter’s life, that I’m a liar because I had an eating disorder, that I deserved the miscarriage/ectopic pregnancy I had when I was 19, etc. 

For a while I did everything I could to try to get her to see things as they really are. I would reply by saying “I’m sorry that you aren’t seeing things as they are, please remember I love you.” To begging her to get therapy, to long messages recounting what actually happened in an effort to get her to remember clearly, etc. I started recognizing different personalities she seemed to have from violent, to pleading, to bitter.

When I was 8 months pregnant and having complications I told her that unless she could talk to me with respect, I was not going to reply to any more of her messages- that it wasn’t helping our relationship when I partake in those conversations, however calmly I tried to do so, and that I wasn’t going to validate her accusations by defending myself against things that were literally SO off the wall that I don’t know where they came from. I sent her a long message about how I love her but I need to take care of my health and now my daughter’s. I made it a point to tell her I have not lost hope that she will get better, and so will our relationship, and that I love her. I told her that I want her in my life and all I need from her is for her to act respectfully and lovingly towards me.

She responded by blocking my number, email, Facebook, etc. She even took down every picture of me in her house, told my brother he wasn’t allowed to talk to me or about me, etc. Right before Christmas, my brother decided to take a break from being at her house and stay at my dad’s for a while. On Christmas Eve she broke in to my dad’s house (where my husband and I are also living in the apartment). She wouldn’t leave and eventually just sat out on the front porch smoking and crying. Then on Christmas morning we were woken up by a loud knock on the door and this time it was my step dad.

I’ve known that the bottom line is that my mom had a mental illness and it was not my mom who was speaking to me that way. But it’s pretty hard to not take those things personal, even knowing that. I know that deep down, the real her was in there somewhere but it just seemed like I would never speak to that person again. I felt like I had already lost her.

Anyway, the last month or so I had let her see my daughter occasionally when it seemed like she was having a particularly lucid day. But that was not often. I was always afraid to bring my daughter over because I have found out that my mom’s mood changed so fast that I never knew if she would still be okay by the time I got to her house. Most of the time, she was polite but cold towards me.

The weekend before she died, she told me she was in the hospital, but wouldn’t tell me why. She had lied to me about being in ICU before so I called the hospital and they told me there was no one there by that name. Turns out she had just requested that her info not be shared. I felt kind of shady for having to call and double check but, I did it because she has used that as a manipulation technique before.

Anyway, we found out that weekend that on top of being extremely weak physically from her heart condition, she had cancer in her stomach, liver and pancreas. They said it was inoperable. That Monday they did a biopsy. On Tuesday they hadn’t gotten the results back yet but spoke about the option of placing a tube to drain, to help with comfort and possibly give her more time. The biopsy came back on Wednesday and they asked me to think about hospice locations. Then on Thursday they told me that they wouldn’t release a patient to hospice if death was imminent. Up until Friday afternoon, my mom was walking around talking (even if it was in an agitated manner.) Throughout the week, she was having delusions and was extremely agitated. She was walking around yelling at people who weren’t there and taking off her oxygen and taking out her IV. The nurses tried all week to get her “comfortable” (aka sedated enough that she wasn’t so agitated.) They weren’t really ever able to succeed in doing so. The physical process of dying often causes people to have delusions, so for someone who already has mental health issues it’s even more extreme. On Friday afternoon, I left to go get my aunt from the airport and when I got back, they said they had made her NPO, so she was no longer able to take anything by mouth. When I got back on Saturday morning, I could tell that she wasn’t going to live past the weekend.

We told the nurses they could put the catheter in, which was something my mom HATED in previous hospital stays. But the alternative was not something that would have let her keep her dignity. She hadn’t been awake all day but when they started turning her to put the catheter in, she woke up and started arguing with them. After some back and forth, the nurse finally said, “I’m going to be frank with you. You are dying.” There was a moment of silence and then my mom looked over at me as I was crying the hardest I have ever cried. When she looked at me, I could see in her eyes that it was HER talking. She asked why I was crying, if she said something wrong and that she was sorry for whatever she said. I assured her that she didn’t say anything wrong. She looked at the nurse then back at me, and with utter terror in her eyes, she said “Why is this happening so fast?” I don’t remember what I said. After another moment of silence, she asked “So I’m never getting out of this bed again?” I said “No, Mom. But we’re all here and we love you so much.” I told the nurse to go get my brother who had stepped out while they put the catheter in. If she was lucid he needed to be there too. But in the 20 seconds it took for him to get back to the room, she was already gone again. That was her last lucid moment. I can not get that image out of my mind. I see it in my dreams almost every night and it’s in my mind all day long. I have a sick feeling in my stomach when I think about how terrified she was.

In my next post, I’m going to write about our failed attempt at taking her off life support later that day and her last hours of life. If you’ve read this far, thank you.

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Today Is The Day

This morning I woke up and knew it was going to be a hard day. The last several weeks have been extraordinarily hard, but this morning I just felt… sad.

My Mom died on Valentine’s Day, 6 days after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She and I had a difficult relationship, to say the least. She suffered from severe mental illness and was emotionally and mentally abusive because of it. When I got pregnant, things intensified and I had to choose to “love her from a distance” for while, as it was effecting my health and my baby’s health. After my daughter was born, things were still really tense and I decided that I did not want my daughter around that kind of environment. It wasn’t healthy for any of us, so I only took my daughter to visit her when it seemed like she was having a particularly lucid day. This didn’t happen often. 

I’ve been really struggling with the fact that my mom and I will never be able to reconcile our relationship now. Any reconciling there is to be done has to be done by me, and me alone, now that she’s gone. How does one go about doing that? I have to find a way to forgive her for the time we missed and come to terms with the fact that I felt, and still feel, like I was making the right decision by distancing myself and my new family from her. Two years ago she had a heart attack and was given approximately 5 years to live. So I already knew we were dealing with a timeline of sorts, but I always thought one day something would snap in her mind and she would realize that I love her, and if she wanted to be a part of my life then she needed to act lovingly and respectfully. In the back of my mind there was always the fear that she would have another heart attack and die, leaving me feeling guilty for not spending much time with her. 

The intensity of emotions one feels after the death of a parent is overwhelming. The flood of different emotions that one feels after the loss of an emotionally abusive parent, who was honestly already mentally gone, takes a toll on you mentally and physically. 

On top of all those emotions, I am a new mom to my 8 month old daughter. I’m finding out it’s impossible to process any of my emotions while trying to act happy and cheerful all day while taking care of my daughter. I’m human, and I’ve always been the type of person who needs alone time. Don’t get me wrong, my daughter makes getting through each day so much easier. She keeps me smiling and laughing. Through all of this, I have found comfort in the fact that I get to choose what I share about my mom with my daughter. She never has to experience what I experienced. The cycle of abuse stops with me. 

Some days since Valentine’s Day have been hard. Some have been easier. But today was one of the worst. I got out of bed and decided I should probably eat breakfast, whether I felt like it or not. I opened the carton of eggs and found this.

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I have never noticed this printed inside the carton before. It caught me off guard. I’ve been listening to worship songs on repeat that relate to the situation I’m in, about how God is faithful and His love is relentless. But I haven’t thought of this verse in a while.

Whatever season of life I’m in, each and every day is a day that He has a made. A day that He called me in to. A day that He already knew was going to happen. A day filled with emotions that He already knows about. However hard of a day it may be, today  is a day He is walking through with me. And for that, I will rejoice.