“It all makes sense, now.”

Me and Mom
2017 – Me and Mom

My mom passed away yesterday. She was 91 years old. She died peacefully in her sleep, which is what we all prayed for. Mom suffered for over 13 years with Alzheimer’s. It truly is the most horrible disease – “The Long Goodbye,” as it is known.. Not only do you lose your connection to those around you, but you lose little bits of yourself along the way. Mom had no memory of me, of being married, of having children. During our last visit, she told me she may be gone for awhile because she had made arrangements to go see her parents in New Zealand. And I think they are once again, all together as a family, with God singing Hallelujah! And that brings a smile to my face and forces some joy into my tears.

Mom and I in 2019

Mom and I were blessed to have spent some pretty wonderful moments together. I am not going to sugar-coat anything, because Alzheimer’s totally sucks and it makes life for everyone affected particularly difficult. But you know what? I’d rather remember the laughs and the giggles. The times where she was just so funny and light-hearted. Because mom could be that way. Once we got her off all her medications, this wonderful, kind, and fun old lady emerged and I enjoyed her immensly. During the last few months of her life, she was a happy woman. She loved where she lived, and everyone loved her. I know she could be a stubborn woman and refuse to say, use her walker (which is why she suffered with a broken nose and two broken hips within a year) nor would she stay in her wheelchair when she was asked to. But she could light up a room and make everyone in it glad she was there. Sometimes the comments she would make would cause us all to shake our heads in wonder and think, “Where the heck did that come from?” Near the end, when Alzheimer’s had pretty much won, conversation was virtually impossible. “Isn’t it a lovely day today, Mom? The sun is shining so brightly!” And her response? “You know, you have to weigh wether you want some thing in your life or not. So I put things up and stare at them, and then I decide.” Okie dokie! LOL!

Our face masks together!

One day we decided to have spa day. I did our faces with masks; we soaked our nails and did manicures; I did mom’s hair and my hair. We laughed at how we looked, but it was fun. And I am so glad I did that with her. It is one of my fondest memories of when she lived with us. And as I sat and went through the box of her things, I realized how weird it was that 91 years of life was in a box at my feet. Oh, I have other mementoes and photos, but these things were the things mom had around her these past few months. It was quite the collection: random envelopes with her name on them, but nothing inside. A Carhart clothing tag (Mom owns nothing Carhart). One of those plastic hook things that holds a sales tag onto clothing. 1 glove with no matching one. A broken watch. Some cards from friends. One of the most poignant for me was that she had two photos of my oldest son out from when he was a baby. One next to her bed and the other in the bathroom. He was there and I know it touched him deeply. An Alzheimer’s mind is so interesting!

Mom had an amazing life. Growing up in New Zealand and then coming to America by steamship in the 1950s with my dad and making a life here, away from all that was familiar. She and my dad are both only children, so there are no siblings, no extended family. Mom remained a New Zealand citizen her entire life (we used to call her our “resident alien”) and always felt close to her parents. She thought she would travel back “home” to see them again, and I never once reminded her they had been dead for decades. She never felt called to become an American, and it was one of the quirks I loved about her. That and her New Zealand accent that was coming back as she aged. She had it when I was a kid and I loved it. I’m glad it came back.

I was so blessed to have been introduced to Alzheimer’s Resource Alaska. I took every course they offered. I immersed myself in all things Alzheimer’s. With the consultation of two amazing Care Coordinators, I was advised to get all my mom’s affairs in order, while she was still her, still coherent, and could meaningfully engage in decision making. It was the best advice I could have gotten. Truly. Having that hard conversation about her end-of-life wishes was just that, hard. Asking someone how they want to die, and trying to get care details out of them is rough. But mom and I discussed as many scenarios as we could and each time it was, “I don’t want machines. I don’t want intervention. If it is my time to go, let me go.” The past six months, mom was on hospice care, and we had all the paperwork in place to just allow her body to stop living. At 5:30am yesterday morning, it peacefully did that. Mom chose her end and it happened just the way she wanted it. And we also made all the arrangements for her aftercare. Mom chose to be cremated and so we met with the Cremation Society of Alaska and they came to my home and we had another one of those hard conversations about what mom wanted. They are the kindest people. And it was such a blessing for right now, for today. Why? Because I literally have nothing to do. It is all done. Oh, there are little details, but nothing major, because we planned it all ahead.

People have been texting and calling. Some stupid calls from agencies already wanting to collect the bed she used or the nightstand next to the bed. She’s only been gone 1 day! Ugh. One of my closest friends called and she was being all sweet and kind and I told her to stop being so nice, or I would start bawling all over again. So she says, “Your hair looks bad today.” I love that woman so much! It was exactly what I needed. LOL. A good laugh. And quite honestly I am doing okay, until something stupid happens and I just start crying. Like the cremation man (not sure how else to put that!) called and mentioned mom’s cremains would be ready by Wednesday and I just lost it. Poor guy. He was so kind and I am sure he deals with grief every day. You just don’t know what will trigger it.

Woodland Fern

I was given mom’s wedding ring as they were preparing to take her away. I placed it on my right hand and it fit just perfectly. I thought I would just continue to wear it. As the day progressed it got a little loose but no big deal. My husband and I did some retail therapy after leaving mom yesterday. I’ve been looking for ferns to grow in a shade garden we have and I wanted to stop by this nursery I really like. We stopped and walked around. It was good for me to be outside. We found several varieties of ferns. So today, feeling all mopey and by myself, I decided to plant my ferns. It was good for me. My dog sat next to me while I dug in the dirt. I had bought 6 ferns so I was digging 6 holes. I was down to two more when I realized mom’s ring was not on my finger. I feverishly dug through those newly planted ferns until I found it. I put it back on and just sat there and cried my eyes out. I hope my neighbors don’t think I lost my marbles!!

But one of the things that has stuck with me the most was one of the comments my son made to me, while we were sitting there waiting for them to come and get mom. I was gently stroking her hair (she had the most amazing, soft hair) and he said to me, “I’m feeling kind of happy for Grandma because it all makes sense now, for her. She’s not confused anymore.” And he is right. All this time, with all the things we were doing to help her and she bristled at it, well, now she knows we were helping her. When we visited and told her how much we loved her and we hugged hard (even going against regulations and actually touching her) she now knows why we clung to her so hard. We truly were loving her, but it didn’t make sense to her why these strangers were there, and why they were hugging her. I’d like to think on some level it made sense and she knew, instinctively, that we were family, but I know with certainty, it is all clear, now. She stands at the timeline with God and He is explaining it all to her. She is surrounded by the angels and the saints, and her parents, and she is glowing and happy and joyously worshipping God – for eternity. The Holy Spirit has completely filled her so she is perfect once again, and in no pain, and with clarity of thought denied to her all these years.

Not gonna lie, even though I knew this day was coming on swift wings, and I was prepared for it with all the details taken care of, it hurts. It really does. I am a strong person and although I have been known to weep at TV commercials, I am usually the one helping everyone else grieve. I am allowing myself some time to fall apart. I am allowing myself to grieve, whenever and however it comes at me. It will lessen in time, I know. But right now, it is sharp and my heart aches. And I miss my mom already, even though we’ve been practicing this goodbye for so many long years. The pain of loss is still real. The other part of the equation is I am also relieved. And please don’t take that wrong. Mom is clear now. She can walk and not need her walker or wheelchair. She isn’t lost anymore. She is finally with her parents in a heavenly version of New Zealand. She is making her way to eternal glory through the mercy of God and His omnipotent forgiveness. God is good, and He has mom, now. I can rest in that.

Mom – I love you

Attachments

Miss Poca

Today was a hard day. Because it was an unexpected one. Today my son retrieved the ashes of his dog, Miss Poca. The ashes also came with a small plastic bag containing some of her hair and a clay plate of her paw print that we will color and bake (who knew they had these? Not me!). The decision to put Poca down was a difficult one. As a family, we wrestled with it for months and months. She died 1 month shy of 15 years old. For an English Springer, that is a very long life. It had gotten to the point where she could hardly walk. She panted in pain most of the day, when she was not sleeping. We had her on 2 pain medications, an anti-inflammatory, and some glucosamine/chondroitin vitamins. They were literally keeping her alive. When her meds were due to run out I called the vet for a refill. It is usually hours, or at the most a day, when they call and tell me the meds are ready. Well, they called and through some sort of shipping snafu, her meds would not be available for a couple of days. Let me tell you, those were long days. She moaned and cried. She hurt in any position she was in, and moving her was awful. We had to carry her outside to do her business and squatting made her cry and moan, because her hips were so bad. We learned during those two (turned into 3) days that she was truly a very ill dog. The medicines were masking how horribly sick she was. And it just killed me.

Andrew and Poca

Technically, Miss Poca belonged to our son. And they truly had a love affair. We got Pocahontas as a rescue when our son was 10. We had relocated to a different state, leaving behind all he had ever known, and with both brothers out of the house. So we thought his own dog would be perfect for him. When we finally met her in person, she took to him like nothing I had ever seen. She laid on his lap on the drive home, and they were inseparable. She had a pillow on his bed. They were best buddies. She filled a place in his heart that no one else has since, and I think it will always be hers. He knew, in his heart, that it was time for Poca. He saw her pain. He had to carry her here and there, and clean up after her. She no longer could get on or off his bed and had gotten used to sleeping on her bed in our room, because he’s been traveling for work so much. They spent some amazing last days together. Took some short road trips. He even took her to his fire station and had pictures with her on the engine he drives. He let her sleep on his lap as he drove. He took lots of photographs and treated her with bones and canned dog food the last couple of days. The end of their relationship tore up our entire family. And that was two weeks ago. When he walked in with her ashes today and told me, “Well mom, Poca is home again,” and showed me that little box and the cuts of her hair, I pretty much fell apart. He had to comfort me. And my emotional collapse came out of left field. I am the one who had called the vet and made the appointment, because I am the one who was with her the most and I saw her pain level grow each day. In my head, I know that it was an act of kindness. But my heart is beating me up. Badly. I am so glad I gave up wearing make-up years ago.

Mom with Kolbe

My mom has end-stage Alzheimer’s. We took our 2-year old Standard Poodle, Kolbe, to visit her not long ago. Mom resides in an amazing Assisted Living Home (ALH). With Covid and all the zany restrictions, we have not spent very much time together over the past year. She no longer knows who I am. Several years ago Mom and I had the hard conversation about what she wants at the end of her life, how she wants to die, and how she wants to be buried. She is currently on hospice care and there will be no interventions. We will allow her to pass away as her body gives up. And for burial, she wants to be interred with her husband, Frank, at the Arlington National Cemetery in CA. She wished to be cremated. And that brings me to my lesson to share today!

I have the option to take mom’s cremains back with me on a plane. I can actually bring them as carry-on and have her with me at my seat, like a puppy or laptop. It just sort of bothered me, even when we were making the arrangements. “Coming through, coming through, cremains on a dolly. Please step aside!” Ewww…who does that? Did you know human cremains weigh about 40 lbs? I did not. I’d never had a reason to even think about it. And I did not think I should check her through as luggage. So undignified for my mom. The other option is that she will be taken via military airplane, because she is a veteran’s widow, and transported to Arlington by the military. We would then have an interment ceremony. After today, experiencing the intense grief at holding that little tea tin full of Poca’s remains, and holding that little baggie of her hair, I cannot fathom having to hold my mom’s cremains. I cannot fathom having them in my home or in my car. It just does not jive for me. I have been crying off and on all day. I’ve gone to stand in my son’s bedroom doorway looking at Poca’s little box, bawling like a baby. I would literally fall apart if I had to do this for my mother. So today confirmed the arrangements for me, for my mom. Grief is a personal thing. It comes in so many ways, and can hit you at the oddest moments.

We have so many different sorts of attachments. Some people say they love their car. I’ve heard of people being buried with their cars. I saw the tail of a plane at an odd angle on a gravesite here recently. So many people fly here in Alaska because we have very few roads, so the plane thing I could understand. I’ve seen dogsleds on gravesites, too. But we connect to a variety of people, animals, and things during our life times and these attachments create a web around us. I found myself looking inward, curious as to why I was so hysterical about Poca’s remains. I was not a, nor am I a, dog mom. I think that term is absurd. I certainly owned her, because I had to sign for everything regarding her death. But more importantly, I was her companion, and she was mine. She was an integral part of our family, and of its dynamics. Our 2-year old puppy has not been himself since she’s been gone. He is mourning in his own way. I hope he snaps out of it soon.

And when I was pondering “attachments,” I thought of all the ones which are disordered and not good for us. There are people in our lives we probably should distance ourselves from. One question to ask yourself is, “Is this a life-giving relationship, or does it suck the life out of me?” We can apply that question to the pets we own. Do we have too many? Do we need a companion? I know people who have dogs that keep them outside, rarely interacting with them. Or they keep them in cages, separated from the family. That just seems odd to me. I’m the sort who lets my animals on the furniture and on my bed. They are a part of the dynamics of our family as well as its rhythm. We got a new wreath for our front door and it says, “Welcome! We hope you like dogs.” Because ours are a part of who we are as a family. We are very attached to our animals. You could say they are spoiled but I think they are borderline spoiled. Not all the way spoiled. Ha-Ha.

Do we cling to things that are not good for us, but have become habit? Are we attached to tell-a-vision “programs” that are sending disordered messages? Are we inured to them so much we don’t even notice? Have we allowed disorder into our lives through various forms of entertainment, that we don’t see the level of depravity or evil that is allowed into our homes? Just look at the “programming” offered these days. We discontinued Netflix. And now they have come out with more shows worse than the one about little girls. Cable is something we need to control. Streaming needs to be monitored and controlled. Music – there is so much to music that just the change of station or genre doesn’t even touch the myriad and immensity of information about music itself, let alone the lyrics. I could go on, but I won’t.

Attachments are something we need to re-evaluate from time to time. We need to really look and decide if this person, place, or thing is enhancing my life or stealing its joy. Every moment of every day we make decisions. Our decisions, which are made from the choices before us, decide which direction we travel. We can walk in righteousness or we can choose the other direction. Each decision is to choose a direction. Towards the light or towards the dark. Which is it?

I feel like my attachment to my dog was not disordered. Her death and her absence are just so very difficult to deal with. I keep listening for her, or looking for her, making sure I don’t step on her. I even try to find her scent and it is slowly being reduced to almost nothing. I know our dog scents her…their noses are so much more powerful than ours. And I know he misses her something fierce. We decided to jump into the pet arena again and are bringing home a little sister soon for our 2-year old. Same breeder, same parents, so it is a full sister, just a few litters apart. We are over the moon in love with her already, but it is still tempered with sadness over the loss of Poca. Our son will be leaving this week for a job and will be gone at least 4 months. So he will get over Poca through time and distance. We will be making room in our hearts for little Miss Magdalene Rose – Maggie. She won’t take the place Poca has in my heart, she will make her own place there. And in the dynamics and rhythm of our every-changing lives.

Miss Maggie Rose