Sunday, July 24, 2011


July 17, 2011

Hi Andrea,

July 17.  We are almost one month into summer and I am waiting for it to make it’s arrival.  I know in August we will probably have a few 90+ degree days.  Then, I will look back on these cooler days and long for them.  Right now it is 7:27 p.m. here at Steve’s house in Issaquah.  I hear and see the rain.  I feel it.

I feel the summer of 2009 building in me.  There is nothing I can do to block it.

June 25, 2009.  Michael Jackson died.  The news of his death was all over CNN—the only station Dean could tune in from the tv in our hotel room in Dresden.  I laid on the bed after a nice hot shower.  We had just finished a bike ride from Prague to Dresden.  I was tired.  Dean was flipping channels, trying to find something in English.  CNN was the only channel he could find. 

As I turned on my side, laying there half asleep, I heard the announcer break in, “Micheal Jackson, was just found dead in his Holmby Hills, California home.  Mr. Jackson apparently suffered a cardiac arrest earlier this afternoon. Paramedics were unable to revive him. We're told when paramedics arrived Jackson had no pulse and they never got a pulse back.” 

In the days that followed, I watched the world mourn, setting candles and flowers and photos of Micheal on curbsides and corners, against masonry walls.  Michael Jackson, the most successful entertainer of all times according to the Guinness Book of World Records and Wikipedia, died from prescription drugs.  Drugs his doctor had prescribed.

It was then it hit me.  It was then I knew. The drugs you were taking were killing you.

It wasn’t the Lyme disease.  It wasn’t MS.  It was not lupus.  It was all the crap that you swallowed and then put into your port.  Drugs the doctors gave by IV—morphine, dilaudid—every time you were admitted to the hospital.  It was the port they surgically implanted in your chest allowing you to inject liquid medications.  Morphine pills you crushed, dissolved, pushed through your veins into your heart.  The talc collected in the capillaries of your lungs, filling them, talc turning to cement.  Until eventually, you could not breathe.

It is 8:29 p.m.  Gray clouds have given way to blue sky.  In another hour it will be dark here.  I do not want to write about this.  I do not want this memory.  It picks at me like I pick at a scab over a large wound that has no feeling.  Lifting a brown crusted corner, there is blood.  It oozes out and down.  I bleed out a little at a time.  It is the slowness of the memory, the way it replays itself over and over that makes me crazy. 

June 29, 2009.  After I was back at Sea-Tac Airport and through customs I turned on my cell phone.  For two weeks it sat in my suitcase, off.  The green light in the corner blinked.  I had one message.  It was from you.  I could find you in room 408 at St. Joe’s Hospital. 

You saved all the hospital id bracelets from January 2008 to your death.  They filled a pink plastic hospital washtub you brought home from one of your stays.  I found others in your underwear drawer.  Littering your desk.  Wrapped around the gear shift in your Volkswagon Beetle.  St. Joe’s, St. Pete’s, Good Sam, Madigan, Allenmore, Evergreen, St. Clair’s. 

You were frantic with pain.  Each place would hook you up with a morphine drip while they tried to figure out what was causing your pain.  When they could not determine its source, they called you a drug addict, unhooked the iv, and pushed you out the door.  Once in awhile a doctor would admit you.  Especially when you started having “seizures” and blacked out because you could not breathe.  Until those last admissions at Good Sam, there was always the morphine and dilaudid.  Every few hours, right on schedule, a nurse would show up with your next dose.  Doctor’s orders.

I would watch you as you drifted from consciousness.  Your breathing turned shallow, sometimes it would stop.  And then, just as I was about ready to start mouth to mouth and call the nurse, your autonomic reflexes would kick in and you would take a breath and return to normal breathing…

July 24, 2011

I couldn’t breath.  Writing about those last weeks before your death. 

I have missed many literary moments this week sitting in this maelstrom of feeling.  Every nerve vibrates until they crescendo.  And then I am one nerve, every sensation concentrated, distilled. I braid those moments methodically, waiting until I am released again into the abyss where memories reside. 

Until then, I store up energy.  I take in everything around me.  A phrase in a song, my most recent idea for becoming crazy rich and famous (I crave attention, but then again don’t we all?), watching a seedling, freshly broken from the ground, twitching—reaching for the warmth of sun, listening to Steve as he is sleeping this lazy Sunday afternoon, the caw of a crow, a flotilla of geese in twos and threes floating by, carried on currents I can’t see, checking the shore for food and cover, the smell of laundry as it hangs in the sun drying, pictures of Annalise and Alicia my niece sends me on the cell phone.  I try to create new memories.  They do not replace the old.

I will write what I need to write when I am ready.

I was worried about the drugs.  From my perspective, it was not the Lyme disease that was killing you.  It was the “treatment”.  It was the arguing in the medical profession about whether or not you even had Lyme disease.  In the meantime, I was helpless.  Mom in the middle.  When you were scared and confused, when you were in pain and not receiving relief, it was me you lashed out at.  Always demanding the perfect mother appear.  The one who knew exactly what to do and what to say and when to say it. 

I was never that mother. 

I was only the mother who loved you. 

“Really mom?” you stared at me contemptuously, “You think I am a drug addict.”

“No,”  I defended myself, tried to make you understand, “I do not think you are a drug addict.  I think there is a problem with the drugs you are taking.” 

You would not talk to me for a whole month. 

July 2009.  I did not hear from you as drove your silver VW bug to the ocean, passing the exit to my house.  I did not hear from you as you hiked on Mt. Rainier, played at the Nisqually River, partied and drank heavily with your friends.  I had to ask your sister, your friends, if they’d seen you, how you were doing. 

You called me from your patio.  I could hear water running in the background.  Sadie was barking.  You were waiting for the Graham Fire Department to arrive.  It was over 90 degrees out.  You’d passed out and cut your head.  I tried to remain calm on my end of the phone as I talked to you while you cried hysterically, hiccupping. 

“There is blood all over.”  You told me.

“Where are you bleeding from?”  I was trying to project calmness.  Every nerve was vibrating.

“I passed out.”  You said.

“Can you move?”  I took in a slow deep breath.  Closed my eyes. 

“The water is on.  It is running everywhere.”  You answered.

I could hear sirens in the background.  The knock on the door, Medics calling out, Sadie barking, you crying, crows fighting in my yard. 

“You’re going to be ok.”  I tried feebly to comfort you from my end of this telephone call, over one hour away from you.

You remembered you were angry with me.  “What part don’t you get Mom.  It is 90 degrees outside.  The water is running.  I passed out, blacked out.  I am bleeding.  My head hurts.  I am not o.k. and I am not going to be o.k.”

She is my daughter.  She is sick.  I love her.  This was my mantra as I said, “It sounds like the medics have arrived.” 

A man spoke, “Who is this?”

“I am Andrea’s mother.”  I answered.

“We have her now.”  He told me.  The phone clicked.  Call ended.

I did not get a chance to ask which hospital they were taking you to.  I waited for that call.

It seems at times like these I am still waiting.  As I am still trying to come to terms with your death.  I mourn in increments.  I mourn in private.  I ache for space inside myself to mourn.  To let the sadness overtake me.  I have learned too much control.  Or have I? 

Thinking out loud here, I guess what I am really looking for is balance.  Where I can absorb this death of you.

Where I can live in these moments as I wait to find out for myself what is on the other side of this life.

KPLU is playing jazz on the radio here next to me.  It is 8:39 p.m.  I am thinking of going to bed early this warm summer night.  I look up and see pale blue sky, striated with salmon pink clouds, through the stand of trees outside the window I sit in front of.  I look down and up again in time to see the clouds and sky turn the color of old bruises.

What I see in any given moment depends on timing and perspective.

I breathe deeply.  Feel the air fill my lungs.  Fill my senses with a stand of black green trees, the color of sky as this day ends. 

When I climb back in bed with Steve, he will wake slightly,  “Hey Sugar.” He will mumble.  I will roll over onto my right side so he can pull me into him.  “You o.k.?” He’ll ask.

“I am fine.”  I will tell him.  Because at this moment I am.  I will close my eyes and remember filling my senses with sky colors at days end.

You are everywhere.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Cleaning the Garage

July 11, 2011

Stella runs past me quickly, quietly—the pads of her feet barely touching the maple floor. 

A few minutes ago, she was in the garage with me.  Hiding in behind the rolled up tent, I heard her as her body scraped against the fabric.  She knew I knew she was there.  I ignored her.  But Sadie and I were gone for a week.  Now Stella is “she who will not be ignored.”  The hook of her claw caught in the sleeve of my sweater.  Her movement is so fine, the claw stopped before it met skin.

I am reorganizing those things that I should sell or give away.  I have no use for any of it.  Except a lot of what is in there was yours. 

There are three things I am not particularly good at—giving in, giving up and giving things away.  Each box is a confrontation, a requirement that I do at least one of those things. 

I sit at the opening of the garage, a Cuisinart waffle iron in my lap.  You lived in Virginia Beach when I bought this for you.  I brought my waffle recipe, I had sent you maple syrup from my trip to Vermont, and I wanted to teach you how to make waffles.  So you could make them for your children, and their children.

Finding the waffle iron became a mission.  I thought you could find them in any kitchen department.  Apparently not.  At least not on that day in February 2006.  Sadie sat in the back seat of Scott’s Dodge Durango as he drove us to WalMart, Target, SteinMetz and finally Sears.  The next morning, you and I made waffles in your little kitchen apartment.  We ate them with lots of butter and warm maple syrup, until all of us, including Sadie, were sick enough to go back to bed.

I cannot eat waffles anymore.  The wheat upsets my stomach.  I should sell this at a yard sale.  Or give it to someone who will use it.  Except, I did make waffles again recently.  Stephie and her boyfriend came to have breakfast with Steve and I. 

I cannot get rid of the waffle iron.  I put it back on the shelf. Along with other memories of you.

I am full of them, these memories.  They defy the boxes I try to put them in.  They refuse reorganization. 

They run across my heart like the pads of Stella’s feet barely touching the maple floor.


Friday, July 8, 2011


July 7, 2011

Hi Andrea,

Vacations.  Without the alarm waking me in the morning I lose track of what day of the week it is.  There are no deadlines, except those I put on myself.  There are no obligations, except the ones I create.  This vacation, I have decided to just be wherever I am in the moment.  I let the days caress me, put their arms around me, accept the offerings of blessing that I find.

Lisa took care of Sadie while Steve and I went to Montana to visit with his sister.  I know this is an extra burden on her with the baby Annalise and Tanner and Alicia.  But she and the kids love Sadie, and Sadie loves them. 

This morning, I went to Albertson’s to pick up the ingredients for your favorite—what I always called a Farmer’s Omelet.  Frozen country hash browns, brown and serve sausage links, eggs and cheese.  I wanted to make it for Lisa and the kids.  In Idaho, I had picked up some huckleberry scone mix and huckleberry jam as a thank you gift. I wanted to make the scones for them also.

Sadie was ecstatic to see me.  She woo woo wooed, her form of talking, trying to fill me in on what she did while I was away.  I acted like I understood.  And in a way I did.  She missed me and I missed her.

Annalise is getting so big.  The last time I saw her was Mother’s Day.  She is 5 months old now.  She smiles easily at me and shows me she has discovered she can make sounds.  My heart rearranges itself around her.  In the space it creates, there are echoes of you.    

I remember when you first discovered your voice.  Erin, your dad and I were all out for a drive on a sunny April afternoon on Vashon Island.  From the back seat came your first vocalization of sound.  You were delighted to hear the noise you could make with your tiny vocal chords.   You had learned to consciously tighten your throat to create sounds with your sweet milky breath. 

Over the following months you learned to moderate the flow of air across vocal chords—to contract and relax muscles.  To make vibrations of air across vocal cords vibrate at higher and lower frequencies, refining the sounds you created until they formed to create your first words. 

I made your dad pull over to the side of the road so I could take you out of your car seat.  I mimicked the sound you made.  You laughed.  I mimicked you again.  You watched my mouth. I watched you.  Baby legs, creased, fleshy plump kicked at the air in delight.  You made a different sound, listened to yourself, smiled and began to experiment with the sounds and pitches you discovered you could make—arranging them, then rearranging.

Those first pitches you created, to my mother’s ears, they were a symphony of melodic sounds.  I mimicked you, you mimicked me.  Your sister watched intently.  I wonder now if she was young enough then, to remember these same moments with her when she was a baby.  Or was she wishing she were you in that moment, when you and I made that first verbal connection--a mother and her child’s communication that exists before words form.

I miss all of you, but that communication, it is what I miss the most.

A morning at Lisa’s. Making breakfast, cooking with Alicia and Tanner.  Watching Lisa as she works at her kitchen table creating a lesson plan to teach reading to grade schoolers. Annalise in her lap, absorbing sights, smells and sounds around her.  Teaching Alicia how to flour her hands when she works with sticky dough as we make huckleberry scones together, having her help me navigate the cupboards to find bowls, frying pans, cookie sheets, cooling racks.  Handing a spatula off to Tanner, showing him when to turn hash browns, how to have patience, let them crisp.

These connections that we make.  The communications.  Some are easier than others.  The more someone wants to take from you, expects from you, the more complicated it becomes.  Layers upon layers build up--create potential for avalanches, slides that obliterate the landscape.

Here, this morning, nothing is expected of me.  Nothing is asked or demanded of me.  My presence here, my vibrations and sounds blended with those of my niece and her children, my creation of food I once made for you, my observation and absorption of these tiny, flowering- in-slow-motion moments of time on this day, is a vacation in itself.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fourth of July

July 5, 2011

Hi Andrea,

Twenty one days and nights have passed since my last letter.  It is not that I have forgotten about you.  I just have not been able to write.  Life has been busy with Steve graduating, him moving back to his house in Issaquah, work, gardening, watching the birds come and go from my backyard.  Adjusting to never ending change.

This weekend Steve and I decided to take a road trip.  I have a week off work.  Destination, Noxon, Montana--where his sister, her husband and their dog Olivia live.  I was nervous about meeting Jana and Ken.  I knew I’d get along fine with the dog.  I generally always get along with dogs. 

The last letter I wrote you took everything out of me.  Erin has commented and I have nothing to say back, except to say she chose to adopt Jasmine as a young woman.  Jasmine has a lot of problems.  I do not want to be part of any of it.  Erin has made many choices I have sat back and abided by.  After all, a mother’s love is unconditional, is it not?  But as unconditional as love may be, there came a time I had to make my own choice.  I cannot accept things as they are with Erin, but I cannot change them.  I have to preserve myself—what little there is left of me.  This choice has not been an easy one.  She is my daughter, after all.  But I will not engage with her this time.  Enough of that, though.    

Ken and Jana live 50 miles from anywhere in any direction.  They share their land with cougars, elk, wolves, deer, bear, birds, chipmunks, ground squirrels and moose.  Shortly after we arrived, a doe came chasing after their dog, Olivia.

“The doe is nervous,” Jana leans in and tells me.  “She has a fawn and she is protecting it.”

I watch the doe as she stands outside the French doors.  Her big ears moving, settling in on every sound.  The ravens cawing in the distance.

Steve asks Ken, “What is all that racket?”

“Ravens” Ken answers.  When they find a fawn or a calf they make that noise when they are getting ready to attack it.”

“They kill deer?”  I ask.

“Fawns and calves.” He answers. 

“We live in the midst of nature here.”  Jana explains.  “Nature is not always kind and pretty.”

 It pays to be reminded of this.  To have this verbalized.  Mother nature.  Mother.  I am a mother, like her. 

The doe stands there for several minutes.  She turns and walks away, past the fenced vegetable garden.  Past the greenhouse.  She disappears.

In the morning, I wait to see her again with her fawn.  I sit on the front porch with Steve, Ken and Jana.  While they visit, I get the binoculars and Jana’s bird guides.  There is a feeder full of seed and various species of birds.  A chipmunk and a ground squirrel are enjoying the buffet.  I recognize pine siskins from my backyard.  There are cowbirds dark and ordinary.  I note them in my bird log book, just the same.   

Identifying birds is harder than you might think.  Even with two bird guides and over two hundred years of experience shared between us four adults. 

“What is that one?”  I am excited.  I interrupt the conversation like a small child demanding everyone’s immediate attention. 

Jana looks up.  The men continue their conversation.

The bird is black and yellow.  “It has a distinctive black mask and a bright yellow head.”  I say to Jana.

“And a short beak, built for cracking seeds.”  She adds.

It leaves as quickly as it came.

I want to call it back, study it until I can identify it.  Jana and I look through the Peterson’s and National Geographic bird guides.  We pass them back and forth. 

I think it looks like it might be a grosbeak.  But I cannot find any pictures that match exactly.  Jana and I get up and go to the kitchen.  We are after coffee.  It is 11:30 and we are still in our pajamas. No one is in a hurry to do anything.  The air is warm.  Wild daisies, hawkweed, Indian paintbrush, orange honeysuckle, wild grasses make an elegant bouquet between the small yard and the tree screened creek.  It is the Fourth of July.  A holiday for all of us.  I am with Steve and he is with me.  We are at his sister’s house.  I am meeting her for the first time.

“I was hoping we would get to meet you last summer.”  Jana says.

“Steve and I were still new.”  I told her.  “I am glad that you and I are getting to know one another now.”  Jana is just a few years younger than me.  Steve is her big brother.  

“I am glad my brother met you.”  She tells me.  “I was worried about him.  After his wife died, a part of him died too.  He seems at peace now.  Happy.” 

I tell Jana about you.  I tell her that you died. 

“Steve told me.”  She says. 

I try to say something.  There is nothing that can be said about Steve’s and my combined losses except Steve and I are of great comfort to one another.  I tell Jana this. 

The doe returns to the yard.  She stands watching the men on the porch.  Jana and I return to the bench.  I pick up the binoculars and study the doe’s face, her eyes.  She is watching, listening.  Her fawn is not with her. 

“I am worried.”  Jana says.  “I think something may have gotten it.” 

Putting the binoculars down, I pick up my cup of coffee.  Jana and I sit quietly.  The men still are visiting.  If I wanted to know what they were talking about, I could tune in and listen.  But I am content just listening to the voices of two good men and sitting quietly watching birds with a woman I am connecting with in a place that knows no words.  She, too is a survivor.  We have both been redefined by losses, but they do not always define us.

This morning, as I stood out on the porch with coffee, the doe came again.  Her fawn was not with her.  She would never leave it.  The fawn would never leave her.  The fawn is dead.  It is time for me to accept her loss, even though I still cannot accept mine.  As she looks at me with round brown eyes, giant ears moving to collect every sound around her, I wonder what consoles her.  Or even is she can be consoled. 

Somehow, the chipmunk has found his way up the pole and to the cylindrical bird feeder.  He is hanging upside down, eating seeds.  I laugh at his acrobatics.  A hummingbird buzzes me. 

Being aware of life, of these moments.  Gratitude for simple blessings that come my way.  This is what sees me through these days now.  Paying close attention to everything around me, keeps my focus away from myself.

Seeing a grosbeak, hearing birdsongs and bird calls, smelling the coolness of this morning—the hawkweed, honeysuckle, wild daisies—this is what consoles me.

Life is full of choices.  Some harder than others to make.  I choose those things that move me forward.  Even if that means sometimes I have to move away. 

A belated 4th of July to you.