Thoughts about 2+ years of loss

In 2009, I lost my dad to lymphoma and Parkinson’s.

Losing my husband has been an ongoing process that started in January, but it will be “officially” over on October 3.

Two days after my last post, on May 24th, I lost my mom to systemwide organ failure.

Since then, I’ve been in no condition to comment on that loss.

But today, the entire world lost Troy Davis to a justice system that ignored recanted testimony by seven of nine witnesses as well as an admission of guilt from one of the two witnesses who didn’t recant. I am heartbroken – about all my losses – but also ashamed about the loss of Troy Davis.

The entire world has stepped up to support Davis. Noted dignitaries like Pope Benedict XVI, Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter joined comparatively-unknown citizens to decry this denial of justice.

My only hope is that there are other like me who use this tragedy as impetus to revamp our fatally-flawed justice system, by getting involved with the efforts of Amnesty International, the ACLU and other groups fighting to guarantee real justice.

On the verge of missing mom

Three weeks ago, I never imagined that I would be saying goodbye to mom this weekend, knowing that she probably had only hours or days remaining in this world.

On May 5, my Mom was rushed to the ER after experiencing what seemed to be another relapse into congestive heart failure. Even though it’s a nasty disease, I expected that diurectic drugs would rapidly solve the situation. Unfortunately, this trauma to her body precipitated renal failure, followed by pneumonia. The doctors started dialysis and antibiotics – and I still held out hope that with proper medical care, her fighter personality would allow her to pull through, just as she had in the past.

Three days ago, everything changed. The message from the hospital suddenly (d)evolved from talk of moving Mom to skilled nursing to a not-so-cryptic comment from my Mom’s hospitalist that we needed to have a “family meeting” with her other doctors and nurse. The gist of the family meeting was that a) there was virtually no chance my Mom would ever be well enough to leave the hospital, even for skilled nursing and b) that several medical professionals, after trying numerous tests and treatments, were finding no improvement in my Mom’s quality of life, and that continuing dialysis, while it would remove toxins, would result in no real improvements. I was asked, as my Mom’s only offspring and the person with power of attorney over her medical and financial decisions, to determine whether to continue dialysis. I told them that one day without dialysis was acceptable, but that I wished to retain the right to resume dialysis after considering the situation and chatting with friends, family and spiritual counsel.

The next day, the universe essentially finalized my decision for me. My Mom’s blood pressure had dropped so low that dialysis was no longer an option.

Since then, I have seen my Mom’s pulse, respiration and body temperatures slowly drop, and have seen the signs of death that I witnessed two years ago when my Dad passed from this mortal coil.

I guess the one positive in this scenario is that she seems very peaceful and without pain. But somehow that doesn’t matter much when I know I am about to lose not only my Mom, but basically my best friend.

How we survive

I just rediscovered this incredible ode to surviving loss today. (Learn more about why Mark Rickerby created this poem on the Grief Support page on Facebook).


If we are fortunate,
we are given a warning.

If not,
there is only the sudden horror,
the wrench of being torn apart;
of being reminded
that nothing is permanent,
not even the ones we love,
the ones our lives revolve around.

Life is a fragile affair.
We are all dancing
on the edge of a precipice,
a dizzying cliff so high
we can’t see the bottom.

One by one,
we lose those we love most
into the dark ravine.

So we must cherish them
without reservation.
This minute.
We will lose them
or they will lose us
This is certain.
There is no time for bickering.
And their loss
will leave a great pit in our hearts;
a pit we struggle to avoid
during the day
and fall into at night.

unable to accept this loss,
unable to determine
the worth of life without them,
jump into that black pit
spiritually or physically,
hoping to find them there.

And some survive
the shock,
the denial,
the horror,
the bargaining,
the barren, empty aching,
the unanswered prayers,
the sleepless nights
when their breath is crushed
under the weight of silence
and all that it means.

Somehow, some survive all that and,
like a flower opening after a storm,
they slowly begin to remember
the one they lost
in a different way…

The laughter,
the irrepressible spirit,
the generous heart,
the way their smile made them feel,
the encouragement they gave
even as their own dreams were dying.

And in time, they fill the pit
with other memories
the only memories that really matter.

We will still cry.
We will always cry.
But with loving reflection
more than hopeless longing.

And that is how we survive.
That is how the story should end.
That is how they would want it to be.

Mark Rickerby

Memories of the missing

Reminders of those we’ve lost were omnipresent for me this weekend. Beyond the one obvious to everyone – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – I was reminded of two others – snowboarding pioneer Craig Kelly and my dad.

When I decided to escape to Oregon for the weekend, a show by snowboard industry photographer Bud Fawcett was primary in my decision. Because the mountains were being inundated with rain, slush and mud, limiting my usual options for fun, it seemed like an opportune time to head south to check out the must-see show. When I arrived at the White Rabbit Bakery to check out the show, images of the icons of snowboarding – Craig Kelly, Shaun Palmer, Rob Morrow – were everywhere. I felt especially compelled to have the Craig Kelly print. I never knew Craig, but he is representative of snowboarding for me – flying down steep slopes at Baker, not caring about anything else when I’m slipping over the snow. Even though he died doing what he loved, that doesn’t lessen the loss.

The next two days were spent bumming around Salem in the wet, wild, winter rainstorm. On Sunday night, I decided that I would “stop by to see Dad” at the Willamette National Cemetery on my way home. The cemetery was graced by ribbons of sunlight sneaking through otherwise-grey skies, and flowers and holiday decorations dotted the greens and the columbariums. A sad start to the afternoon was brightened by these visuals.

Then three more hours were spent zipping up I-5 to Seattle, glimpsing gorgeous rainbows that seemed to span the freeway every 40 miles or so along the way, with the soundtrack of NPR in the background, broadcasting memories from those whose lives had been touched by Dr. King.

Everything about the weekend reminded me how important it is to value people and their passions now, because you never know when they’ll disappear.

Obama’s thoughts on a nation’s loss

Listening to President Obama on Wednesday, I was especially moved by several of his comments about the tragedy in Arizona, those we lost, and those who remain.

When he stated that “when a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations – to try and pose some order on the chaos and make sense out of that which seems senseless.” I think that is true of any loss, not just ones defined as a tragedy. Why me? Why us? Why them?

When Obama encouraged us to “listen to each other more carefully,” I was in tears, wishing I had more time to listen to my dad, who left us on April 14, 2009.

Obama definitely focused on the most-important issues when he asked these questions and continued with thoughts on the experience of loss:

“Did we spend enough time with an aging parent, we wonder. Did we express our gratitude for all the sacrifices that they made for us? Did we tell a spouse just how desperately we loved them, not just once in a while but every single day?

Sudden loss causes us to look backward – but it also forces us to look forward; to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us.”

I can’t think of more important questions to ask, or reminders about how to turn loss into a better future with our loved ones who are still around.

Then Obama reminded the nation about what is truly important:

“In the fleeting time we have on this Earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame – but rather, how well we have loved – and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better.”

Five more minutes

Do you still regret the things you didn’t say? I definitely do. I wish I had realized before his last few days that when my dad questioned my actions, he wasn’t putting me down, just encouraging me to reach my potential. I wish I had realized how many of my passions had been his passions before I discovered his camera gear and photos and schoolwork and books when I was clearing out the basement after he died.

Just this week, I discovered the site Five More Minutes With, where you can create an online memorial and say all those things you didn’t – and share them with the world. I’m working on my memorial to my dad. Even if it’s too late for him to hear it, it’s not too late for me and the others who loved him.

Helping others understand

One of the toughest things about grief is sometimes feeling that you’re completely alone. Those who haven’t experienced loss sometimes don’t have a clue how to act, or how to help. I discovered 12 Simple Ways to Support a Grieving Friend this Holiday Season today, and I think it’s a great resource – except that I think the tips are relevant every day of the year. Tip #3 was especially relevant for me – I’ve been surprised, and so have those around me, how quickly something can trigger a grieving moment and completely change my mood. Seeing someone shuffling along with the classic Parkinson’s gait can sadden me instantaneously, because it reminds me of my dad.

If you are grieving, share the tips with the people around you. If you love someone who is grieving, take these pointers to heart.

Missing dad and worried about mom

Two years ago today, life changed forever. My mom went into the hospital with congestive heart failure, and I rushed down to Portland. The nurses noted that my dad, who had Parkinson’s disease, really shouldn’t be alone while my mom was in the hospital, so I decided to stay in Portland and “work from home” in another state. Just when my mom was getting better, my dad had an adverse reaction to his Parkinson’s medication, and a four-month period where my parents transitioned from standard hospital care to the ICU to skilled nursing and back again began. Then things got worse – my dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 lymphoma, and when his treatment with Rituxan didn’t create any change, his oncologist noted that hospice was our only remaining option.  Barely two months after his diagnosis, he was gone. Through this experience, I learned a lot about helping my parents, dealing with terminal illness and keeping them as comfortable as possible. I hope to share some of my knowledge with others who are facing the same dark days.