July 6, 2014

on grief: denial & acceptance & blah, blah, blah

The last day I saw my Mom alive was July 17, 2013.

Almost one year ago.

Her itinerary from last summer.  


I live in Cabo.
She lived in Missouri.
She and I were born in Ohio.

Nearly every summer since the husband and I moved here in 2006 we've returned to Ohio to see our families -- the majority of Craig's family still lives in Ohio and I have some family there, as well.

Usually, my Mom would meet us there. If she was coming alone, without my little sister, she'd fly from Springfield, Missouri through Chicago and into Detroit.

When I picked her up last July 10th, I was taken aback.

She required wheelchair assistance because changing planes and walking through the airport was far more exertion than she could handle. (She was 59).

Her kidneys were failing and less than a month before, in June 2013, she underwent a surgery to implant a port, a small medical device, in her chest. She would hook herself up to fluids in the evening and carry them around with her in a little bag that my Aunt gave her. She was hooked up to the fluids 12-14 hours a day. It was inconvenient to say the least. But, she made jokes and pressed on.

When we were making plans for her to come and see me in Ohio last year, I kept trying to put off the trip. Like always, I was worried about her health. I, also, was having a small surgery and wasn't able to drive long distances and go see her so I said, "Mom, you just had surgery. I'm having surgery. I will see you in November. I'll come for Thanksgiving. Don't worry about it."

"No. I will come."

"But Mom... it worries me."

"Kylee, I can do it. I'll be fine."

"Mom, have you told any of your doctors that you're going to FLY days after your port was implanted?"

"Kylee. I want to come. I want to see you."

And that was that.


Looking back, I get it. She knew. Since she's passed, I have had no doubt that my Mom knew that her time was ending... soon.

She was coming to say goodbye. To her granddaughters. To her sisters. To her Mom. To her son-in-law. To me.


When I picked her up at the airport, I specifically remember parking my car along the familiar curb at Detroit Metro under the "United Airlines" sign. I saw her and inhaled. Sharply.

My 5' 6" Mom looked so teeny. She didn't take up the whole width of the wheelchair; I think she used maybe half of it. She looked frail. Pallid. She looked exhausted. She looked... not well.

It was hard.

Still, with shoulders slumped she SMILED hugely and hugged me a little longer than normal. I remember feeling a sharp pang of sadness when I hugged her. I remember wanting to cry. Seeing your well parents after a bit of time has passed only magnifies the inevitable; that they're aging. Seeing your unwell Mom just four months after your last visit and seeing such a drastic change... scared me.

I picked up her suitcase full of 8 days worth of fluids for her port and threw it into the trunk and immediately went into my daughter/protector/caretaker role:

Are you ok?
How was the flight?
Did they treat you well?
Was everyone nice?
Are you hungry?
Are you tired?


In hindsight, what strength.
What a testament of will.
That woman, my Mama, she.was.strong.


Vivienne was in the backseat and she smiled at Nana and off we went.
We ended up eating at Cracker Barrel. She and Vivi looked at the baby dolls in the store while I walked away. (When your children don't live closely to their grandparents, it's best to get out of the way as quickly as possible when they're together. Let 'em bond.)

My mom ended up buying Lila and Vivienne stuffed baby monkey dolls that had baby clothes -- Vivi chose them. Even today Lila sleeps with hers. She named her "Baby Rose" and my Mom said to Lila, "I love that name. It's beautiful." The other day Lila told me that she was going to grow up and have 3 daughters, their names would be Lily, something else I can't remember and Rose.  The "Rose" part made me smile...


She ate biscuits and gravy and she drank hot tea.
It was summer. And it was hot. But she was cold.
Vivienne made her laugh at the restaurant and she ate pancakes for dinner.

While we were there, miles away from Toledo, my high school best friend's parents happened to have sat down at a table just inches from us. My friend's Dad had just gone through one of the most difficult experiences of his life; falling and injuring many of his internal organs. He wasn't expected to live, but he did! He looked great. My Mom had been praying for him; we all had been. On the way home she remarked about how awesome it was to see him.

His life had been spared. It wasn't his time.

In hindsight, it's still hard for me to believe it was soon her time.


Up until the day my Mom had arrived it had been raining and raining and raining in Toledo. On our vacation. It was something like 16 days straight. When she got there, the rain stopped. She told me that she would bring sunshine.

And she did.

As the trip went on, we had a great time. It was a good, good visit.
We spent time with my aunts, her sisters.
We played cards with my Grandma.
We got whatever food she wanted to eat.
We laughed.
She watched the girls.
She let Lila stay up until 11:30 p.m. "Mom! She's 4! What were you thinking?"  She responded with, "You told me she could stay up as late as I wanted."
She rested. A lot.
She rested a lot.

Her body had changed in just the few months since I'd seen her. She couldn't stand upright.
She shook. Her fingers. Her hands.
Her hair was thinner.
Her body cramped; her hands, her legs.
She was insatiably thirsty all the time.
She didn't fatigue; she exhausted.

Last summer I noticed that the color of my Mom's skin wasn't normal. She was sitting a few feet away from her sister and my Aunt's skin was pink and rosy and full of... life. My Mom's was grey.

Last summer.

Later, after the accident, my Aunt told me that during that visit my Mom had said to her, "I'm tired. I'm just... tired."

My aunt felt there was more to that statement than just a random comment about her feelings for the day.

It felt as if she was saying, "I'm tired. I'm just so tired. I'm getting nearer to the end..."

The crohn's. The surgeries. The complications. The kidney failure. It was winning.

She knew the end was near.


So she arrived on July 10th and left on July 17th. The morning she left, I got out of bed when the alarm went off to wake her for the airport. I had been up all night, sick from the post-surgery pain meds. I hugged her. I told her I loved her. I told her I'd see her soon. I'd come to see her -- we had long since known that her flying to Cabo days were over. I apologized for not taking her to the airport.

She told me not to worry, to take care of myself, to go back to bed. That she'd call me when she got to Springfield.

She left me 3 zofrans on the counter for nausea.

Because that's what Moms do.


Later. After she died. Craig told me that he was thankful for the time he got to spend driving her to the airport. She told him that she loved him. That she appreciated all we had ever done for her.

My Mom loved my husband with her whole heart. That warms my heart.


She knew.


One could argue that since I live here, I might possibly be shielding myself from some grief that I would have had to face already if I lived closer to her. What my baby sister has gone through -- continuing to live in a place where my Mom lived without her seems like such a cruel torture.

I haven't had to do that.

I talked to my Mom multiple times a day on the phone. We facetimed daily. We iMessaged and emailed all of the time. But, see, she's never lived here. Obviously she's been here, but this isn't a place where we have a myraid of shared memories.

Nope. That place would be Ohio.

The same place I'm going to be visiting in just a few days.

I'm going to fly into the airport that I've picked her up at so many times.
I'm going to drive down roads that I've driven with her for the first 21 years of my life.
Craig's Mom lives in the area that I grew up in. So.many.memories.

I'm going to be flooded with memories...
...I just don't want to drown in them.

I'll be honest.

I'm nervous.
I'm anxious.
I'm scared.

Am I going to cry this whole trip? Am I going to see the Chinese restaurant that she loved (and I hated) and lose it? Am I going to be overwhelmed by a sudden memory? There are just so many triggers, so many bitter reminders that she's gone.

What a vacation.

And then I will see her sisters.
Her sisters who look like her.
Her sisters that I haven't seen since they were guests at her home the day of her funeral.

And people might ask me how I'm doing.
And yes, even 10 months later, I might cry.

And I will see my grandma.
My sweet grandma with dementia who still doesn't know that her youngest daughter is dead.
(Our family made the decision to not upset her. My Mom would have wanted that.)

She may ask me how my Mom is and I will tell her, "She's great, Gram. She's great. She says hi."

And I hope I can say it without crying.

But that's how my Mom would want it.

And I've already thought about when I play gin rummy with my Grandma, as my Mom and I always do. I will not sit to my Grandma's right - directly across from where my Mom would sit.
I will not look at an empty chair...

Instead, I am going to sit in my Mom's chair.
And I'm going to laugh with my Grandma. And let her win. And talk about the girls. And make her smile.

And then I'm going to cry in the car.

Because my Mom is dead and it sucks.


My best friend asked if maybe living in Cabo has kept me in a sort of denial...


I think so.

However, what I'm telling myself is this:

Kylee, you only have to do this once. You only have to face "the first time" once. You only have to see your Grandma, your aunts, your family members, the spaces where you last were with her... once. You will cry and you will be sad and it's ok. It's just part of this stupid, horrible, excruciating process. But... you can do it.

This "vacation" may not be sunshine and rainbows and I expect rain.

But, just as she did last summer, I expect she will bring some sunshine again this year.


Our last email.



The Story of Loss. On Losing my Mom.
September 9, 2013  ::  The day I found out ::  Post here.
September 16, 2013  ::  It's One Week today  ::  Post here.
September 25, 2013  :: The Call  ::  Post here.
September 30, 2013  ::  Slivers of Sunlight  ::  Post here.
October 6, 2013  ::  That first week.Those first days :: Post here.
October 14, 2013  ::  14 days after  ::  Post here.
October 20, 2013  ::  I found a treasure  ::  Post here.
November 4, 2013  ::  She's been gone for 4 weeks  :: Post here.
November 13, 2013  ::  I smile and drive and cry and smile and cry  :: Post here.
November 17, 2013  ::  Weekends aren't easy  :: Post here.
November 26, 2013  ::  The holidays, the firsts  ::  Post here.
December 1, 2013  ::  8 weeks  :: Post here.
December 10, 2013  ::  The Dream  :: Post here.
December 19, 2013  ::  Vulnerability and Moving Forward  ::  Post here.
December 22, 2013  ::  The reminders. They're everywhere  ::  Post here.
December 29, 2013  :: 2013  :: Post here.
January 1, 2014  ::  The New Year  :: Post here.
January 7, 2014  ::  2 days from 4 months  ::  Post here.
January 17, 2014  ::  Another Gift ::  Post here.
January 25, 2014  ::  She would have been 60 today  ::  Post here.
February 9, 2014  ::  Five months  ::  Post here.
March 6, 2014  ::  Almost six months  ::  Post here.
March 27, 2014  ::  One of the Best Gifts Ever  ::  Post here.
April 1, 2014  ::  We're all in this together  ::  Post here.
April 24, 2014 :: 7 Months, Easter and Nope, I'm still not normal.  ::  Post here.
May 6, 2014  :: Mother's Day without a Mom  ::  Post here.
June 1, 2014  ::  Moving "forward"  ::  Post here.


  1. Oh, Kylee. Beautiful. Moved to tears. Thinking of you and wishing you a safe and happy trip to Ohio. :)

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  2. I'll be thinking of you this week, Kylee. Praying their are plenty of rays of sunshine during your trip. Memories can be good things. Tears can be good. Hang in there. Big hugs!

    1. In the light of day, we always feel braver, right? Because right now I feel like I can handle it. We'll see... Thank you.

  3. Oh this was beautiful. *hugs* Make some memories in Ohio...your mom is so proud of you!

  4. so beautifully shared. 10 years from now you will still have moments where the tears come, and let them flow, life moves on but differently and not the same as before. you will be in my thoughts and prayers as you go through these firsts.

    1. You're so kind. You know, I fear 10 years from now, but I'm sure I'll have some peace then... perhaps. Life does move on, doesn't it?

  5. Oh, HUGS to you today and during your trip back to Ohio.

    I will be thinking of you.

    When I went home a few weeks after my friend died in May, I thought I would be sad all the time seeing all the things that reminded me of him. And while I was sad, I also remember being surprised at how many happy memories I had. I saw many places that reminded me of him, but then told a story to Terry or my parents and it made me smile. And I shared stories with our mutual friends/family and it was nice. We laughed.

    Kylee, I hope even through the tears, you still have laughter. That if you go by the Chinese place you smile. That when you see her sisters and after the tears are gone, you share stories about your mom that warm your heart and make her feel right there.

    Oh Kylee, I am thinking about you during this trip.

    HUGS. Love you xoxo

    1. Friend, I am still so sorry about your loss. Such a tragedy.

      Thank you for your kind words. I am looking forward to seeing you and hugging you. xoxo.

  6. thinking of you, friend, and knowing shirl will send you rays of sunshine even on your toughest days of "firsts".

    1. You know, it always makes me happy to see her name...

      Thanks for typing it.

      Hugs to you, friend.

  7. (Hugs) my sweet friend. Love you.

  8. Replies
    1. I think of you so often and I love you, too. You've helped me more than you could **ever** know.

  9. Friend. I read this yesterday when I woke up and I still haven't been able to get the words, and you, off of my mind and heart (not that I'd want to!). I keep hearing "that's what mom's do" and I think of her leaving those pills for you. And her time with the girls and C. and you going home to play cards and be with her mom. My love, my thoughts, my strength, my joy - they are all with you. I love you so much, friend and I'm with you from across the many miles.
    love, Miss


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