My Tuesday Bliss

My cup of espresso warms my cold hands as I take the first sip of the morning. I catch up on emails which takes but a few minutes before moving on to the Wall Street Journal. It’s a quick read of the paper just as is my morning visit to Facebook.

I scroll through recent notifications. One Southern California friend is in India. She’s an avid traveler to places near and far. Her post of this morning is a photo of her stroking the trunk of an elephant. She’s had more than her fair share of heartache so I’m glad to see her smile. The elephant is beautifully adorned with bright paint and my friend sports a lovely henna tattoo on her hand. Elephant and friend look quite happy.

Further scrolling finds me at a post by my former Alabama neighbor. She lived directly across the street from us. We weren’t close but we’d wave our hello’s in passing each day and exchange neighborly pleasantries now and then. Diane’s post of the morning is a photo of her father, at home, now under hospice care. He’s in a hospital-type bed with family around him.  His days left on this earth are fewer than few. She says “he continues to amaze all around him with his attitude and faith.” He says, “Never give up…but there is a time for everything.”  It’s not a somber photo: There is the hint of a smile on her father’s face.  He is… at peace.  What a beautiful concept. 

My heavy sigh breaks the silence of the moment.

I sit for a moment more in the quiet of the morning pondering life and death, happiness and despair…love and it’s opposite.

I think about how some people seem to be so much better than others at smiling through pain and sadness. Nothing, for example, about my mother’s life in her final years was positive or joyful. Quite the opposite.  For me, It was a constant struggle to rise above the drama of her personality.

Yes…it is all about choice!  One breath…one step…at a time.

I say a prayer for my Alabama neighbor as her family prepares to say goodbye to their loved one.

The sun is just starting to peek up over the horizon.  Note to self on this chilly November day?  Be more mindful of spreading cheer however I can today…and everyday. 

So, this is my Tuesday bliss….

A Year Ago, Today

Yesterday on the yoga mat tears flowed.  They came from out of the blue.  This has happened once before, during savasana at one of my favorite Yoga Works class when I lived in Southern California.  I was mortified then, but likely no one saw me wiping tears because, well…it’s savasana.

I haven’t been on the mat for at least a week now.  So when I found myself on the mat yesterday I was not expecting that a piece from my Spotify playlist would tug at my heart-strings just so.

I may as well have been in that hospital room.  The images of tubes, monitors, tears (gut-wrenching tears), my distraught sister, and the unbelievably kind critical care nurse were strikingly vivid.

In that room, I had placed my iPhone on mom’s pillow as she lay dying after being taken off life support. I selected the first playlist that was a recent play for her to listen to;  it was an album of Albinoni’s Adagios. He was among her many, many classical music favorites.

Pressed back into child’s pose the Adagio for Strings stirred a Colorado memory from over four decades ago. Mom, fresh on the heels of divorce after twenty years of a tumultuous marriage, was driving in a posh Denver neighborhood to begin giving piano lessons to a new student.  The car radio was tuned, as always, to the classical music station.  The beautiful tree-lined avenue with opulent and stately mansions on both sides of the street was in sharp contrast to our modest home in a neighborhood that was on the verge of becoming known as “mont-ghetto.” Why I was tagging along, I don’t recall. But the stress of that time still creates a knot in the pit of my stomach–one that makes me nauseous–whenever those memories bubble to the surface.  But, as much as life with mom was difficult because she was an intense, high-strung, dominating force of nature, I realize too that she was simply fighting to survive, with minimal tools at best, any way she could during a time of great upheaval and uncertainty.   Mom stubbornly marched to her own drummer, refusing even to punch a time clock as in a regular 9 to 5 job.  She did have an amazing gift however and that was teaching piano. Her students, ages 4 to 64 could attest to that.

Tears spilled onto the mat as the dramas of my life came rushing into my present moment.   I had to quell this flood or the day would certainly be a wash, not to mention my fragile yoga practice. I sat up taking a seat on my little red pillow, the one that I am trying to get more use out of for  meditation or prayer. I closed my eyes and focused on slow and rhythmic breathing. With each exhalation I let my mantra be: Let it go.

Let it go. Let it go. LET IT GO.

The tears stopped.  The mantra worked…this time anyway.

So, It’s been a year ago today since sis and I said good-bye to our mama.

Her fall happened sometime between 10 p.m. last night and early morning today. She fell in the hallway of her “home” hitting her head.  She never woke up.

Since that evening a year ago when we witnessed her last breath there hasn’t been a day that I’ve not thought about my mother. The episode yesterday on the mat is one of many.  Some days something stirs a memory which results in emotions that I am not always proud of: anger, resentment….bitterness for things said and unsaid…things done and not done.

I may as well be a child again.

But there are other days that a smell (like nutmeg) or words (like, good grief!) triggers a smile that warms my heart.

In all sincerity, though my struggle is real, I am striving to not let negative emotions be the focus of my memories of mama.  Time is helping. I am managing to pull happier memories to the surface more often, which honestly, is surprising to me. I didn’t think that would be possible.

Like a shopping moment together at Target in 2014. I was taking care of mom in the aftermath of her husband’s death. Frail and weak from years of self-imposed hibernation in bed as well as some health issues, she agreed to accompanying me to Target.   I was practically doing cartwheels of joy over this.

“I need a new bathing suit,” she said.

“What do you think? How about this Itsy-bitsy bikini”

I was thrilled that mom had gotten out of the house and was participating in the shopping process.  During those last few years of her life, there were not many moments of normalcy and lightheartedness between us.

Mom was perched on the seat of her walker as I lost myself in the racks looking for a bathing suit for her.   I kept her within an easy arm’s reach because I was afraid she would fall.  But, while my back was turned for a moment mom decided to take matters into her own hands.

“I want this one,” she said.  I turned to find her holding up a white fringed bikini. She made the fringes dance as she waved the itsy-bitsy garment with a dramatic flourish.

Mom was smiling from ear to ear as she saw my surprise.  I couldn’t help but dissolve in laughter….and so did mom.

Naturally we did not buy the bikini but we did manage to find a couple of one-piece suits.

“So mama, now you have two new suits.  No excuses; you must get yourself back in your lovely swimming pool before your move.  Then in a month or so you will be in a new place which has both an indoor pool and an outdoor pool.  There will be people around assisting you. You won’t be alone anymore.  Promise me you’ll go to the pool mama?

“Oh sure,” she said with a dismissive wave of her hand.

She only went once during the year and a half that she was in that stunningly beautiful continuing care community and that was only when sis and I flew out for an Easter visit.

It breaks my heart to this day that mom had decided life was over long before she ever left her beautiful Villa Paradiso home.  Still, just as in that one shopping moment, there were slivers of hope–and motherly love– that she intentionally offered to sis and me despite her years of depression.  Not many mind you, but enough to know that she was trying in her own way to make her daughters happy and worry less.

Oh mama,  I pray your soul has found peace and joy in your forever home.  I’m thinking you must be enjoying spirited conversations with some of your notable favorites: Krishnamurti, Mozart, Chopin and Orianna Fallaci…to name a few that come to mind.  And even though our relationship was strained since before I left your womb, I miss you.  I really do.

I look out the window and see that the sun is just beginning to peek over the hills in the distance.  It’s time to get on with this day. It’s mighty cold out but when it warms up there will be a walk with The Poodle, a piece of cherry pie and who knows what else the day will bring!

Inhale…exhale….smile.

Addio Mamma

It came out of the blue.

The Call.

It’s the one that everyone gets at some point in their lives…one, at the very least…but most often it’s more than just one over a lifetime.

The call. It is inevitable. No one can escape it.

As I sit here, I look at the blank page before me in complete silence. This time, there is no music in the background to spur what little creative juices I may possess. I cannot think about music…actually, I cannot think about anything with much clarity. There is a huge, empty hole now where there once was a space filled with a swirling concoction of emotions, laced as always (believe it or not) with love.

But I need to put down something…even if it woefully lacks in anything….

Mamma is gone. 

 

Mamma, on her 70th birthday

Mamma, on her 70th birthday

It has been two weeks since sis and I received the call. No matter how “prepared” you think you are, you aren’t. It’s as simple as that. We knew our mamma was in poor health. We knew this day —as it is for all of us— was inevitable. Still, the call was unexpected.

Mom was found unresponsive after a fall. There is no telling how long she had been on the floor in her home when she was finally found.  If she would have worn her emergency call bracelet, she would have been found almost immediately.  If only.  If only mom would have done so many things differently…..

Sigh.  It doesn’t matter now.

Doctors placed her on life support since the DNR paperwork was not immediately found. Sis was beside herself over this. We both knew that mamma would not want extreme measures to keep her alive but still, doctors were trying to assess her condition and we needed time to get to her.  “Do whatever it takes,” my sis said.  And though it made certain people who had no right to be involved blink twice about it, it was absolutely the right decision. It gave us precious hours.  Later, a kind reassurance by her doctor reaffirmed that we had done what was best.

Sis and family were on the next plane out…and so was I. Rocket-man came home early to find me a wreck. He was not going to stay behind either. I cried with relief that he’d by at my side through what was about to unfold. He took over scheduling air travel and securing a rental car. Little did we know that spring break would make the process of getting to Arizona more of a challenge than usual. In fact, panic almost got the best of us over it. It took longer than usual to find decent flights and it would take nearly five hours to book a hotel room for all of us! Between spring break, baseball spring training and the approaching Easter holiday, most hotels in the area were booked solid.

Twenty-four hours after the call we were at our mother’s side. It took my breath away to see the shape mamma was in; she was terribly bruised from the fall, almost unrecognizable. It was if she had been in a car accident. Being on blood thinners does that to a person. And certainly, it was a shock for us to see the breathing tube and the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest due to it.

Sis and I tried to remain as composed as possible in the face of what we knew was coming. Through blinding tears we waited to meet with the doctor who would give us the story. I stood on one side of the bed holding mom’s hand and sis did the same on the other side. The critical care nurse could not have been more gentle and compassionate with us. Honestly, sis and I were like two lost little lambs in the face of a dark, brewing storm. The nurse encouraged us to keep talking to our mother.   “She knows you are both here,” she said in a soothing gentle voice. This was difficult to grasp given the scene before us. It comforted us beyond belief to learn some days later from dear friend Miss Cookie: “Hearing is the last sense to go…rest assured, she heard both of you.”

It wasn’t even a half hour later when the doctor arrived. He confirmed our very worst fears; mom had most likely suffered a massive stroke. Because she had a pacemaker he could not conduct an MRI which would have provided a definitive diagnosis. Still, the CAT scan revealed significant bleeding on the brain and another showed a mass in her lung. The prognosis was not good. Surgery to relieve the swelling? Ah, what a gut-wrenching ache to decide no. Mamma would not want extraordinary measures…and certainly not another surgery. The doctor did not think she would regain consciousness.

Sis and I knew what we had to do and the decision would cause a piece of our hearts to break over the sheer weight of sadness and reality of it all.

It was surreal; for a fleeting moment I thought I was in a dream. This happens in the movies. I never thought things would be this way.

At 5 p.m. the critical care nurse gave mom a bit of morphine to ease any pain and then pulled out mom’s breathing tube. Sis stayed on one side of the bed holding mom’s hand, talking to her in both English and Italian. I pulled out my iPhone and selected one of my a classical music playlists on Spotify. Albinoni was one of her favorites. As the music started playing I placed the phone on her pillow next to her head.

As the sweet, soulful sounds of Albinoni’s oboe concerto filled the brightly lit hospital room we stayed by our mother’s side. Caressing her forehead, we continued talking to her. We lamented…we remembered…we cried…we forgave.

A little over an hour later, at 6:20… just as the sun was setting in the desert she loved so much our mamma took her last breath. Through my tears, I barely managed a Hail Mary and sis made the sign of the cross on mom’s forehead. I was a mess of sobs over her. Sis was too. Coming around to my side of the bed, sis put her arms around me. For a moment, we clung tightly to each other. Our love for each other was never more apparent than in that moment.

Our mamma was a colorful force of nature to be sure. There were many wonderful qualities about her and yes, throughout many years, she often made it nearly impossible to like her. But we sincerely loved her and we always will. Our devotion to her, through thick and thin…good and bad…and everything in-between was met with many a shaking heads through the years. “Why are you doing anything at all given how your mother has treated you”? I’ve asked myself that question a time or two. And yet, after all the grief and pain I’m not sure I’d have changed anything. Living a life with mamma has made me a stronger, wiser, more compassionate and loving person. There were lessons to be learned from life with mamma; I’d like to think that my sis and I have aced with flying colors some of those lessons.

From here, now that our mamma is gone, but not forgotten, it’s a day to day…moment to moment journey through new territory.  My sis and I will do all that we can to carry the best of our mamma with us until the end of our days.

And so, just as our mamma wanted, we spread her ashes in the Carefree desert, alongside her husband that left us in the same month just two years ago.

Addio Mamma.  Riposa in pace…Rest in Peace.

“Into the freedom of wind and sunshine,
We let you go.
Into the dance of the stars and the planets,
We let you go.
Into the wind’s breath and the hands of the star maker,
We let you go.
We love you…
We miss you…
We want you to be happy,
Go safely, go dancing, go running home.”

~Ruth Burgess ~

Carefree Sunset

Carefree Sunset

Time Travel

I took a short late afternoon walk with The Poodle yesterday. I’d already dragged him out early in the morning for a five mile walk when it was cooler.  He wasn’t in the mood for a second walk; I had to drag him out. But I had been on the sofa in a T.V. stupor for nearly two hours, watching first an episode of The Big Bang Theory and then the remainder of a Queen Latifah movie.

I needed to get the oil back into the joints as it were.  I just wasn’t up for a spin session nor even, oddly enough in the pleasant weather, an outside cycle ride.  A little fresh air with The Poodle was really all my body wanted.

I pulled up Spotify on my phone and decided on classical instead of pop music. As soon as I selected Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor for Strings and Organ I was immediately transported back over thirty-three years. In those days I had a little Bell and Howell cassette player that my father had given me when I was a teen along with a handful of music cassette tapes (remember those?).  Most of my tapes were of the classical music variety.  My two favorites at the time were Vivaldi and Tomaso Albinoni. My then husband was in the military and traveled a great deal so I was alone a lot; Hmm. it occurs to me just now that this seems to be a theme in my life!   Anyhow, I’d listen to Albinoni  quite a lot while I was pregnant with my first born—my son—often placing the cassette player near or on my growing belly during afternoon naps or late in the evening so that the baby could hear the music too. I’d play the Adagio in G minor piece over and over. Somehow it reflected my mood at the time. While I was thrilled to be pregnant I was filled with anxiety and fear of a miscarriage since I had miscarried my first pregnancy the year before.  The Adagio evoked so many emotions in me —amplified, no doubt, due to pregnancy hormones. Poignant, sweet, melancholy (almost funereal) contemplative, graceful, hopeful, powerful, regretful, passionate; so many emotions would pulse through my veins!  Music does that to me…to most people I’d wager.  Indeed, music is a powerful mood-altering and time travel tool…a visceral stirrer of the soul.

As I walked with The Poodle, the music transported me back in time and to a place where its significance to a moment was born. It may as well have been yesterday.  And the vividness of it all was almost overwhelming.  I may not be able to recall what I was wearing yesterday, or even what I ate, mundane as many days can be, but I can clearly see me thirty-three years ago resting in my bed in the 700 square foot condo that was our first home.  With stunning clarity I see the cassette recorder on my belly and the blinds closed to the afternoon sun as I attempted to nap.  There is the wicker bassinet I had purchased from Pier 1 Imports and the yellow ribbon that I weaved around the bassinet secured with two bows.  It stands alone in a corner… in the left-hand corner of our sparse bedroom…waiting for baby’s arrival. I see the simple, modern-appointed oak dresser with a white clay vase and silk Irises…and the Matisse, Blue Lady, poster in a silver frame above the dresser.  I’ve moved a thousand times it seems since those condo days and I’ve changed decor and rearranged stuff a million different ways.  But I can see that room with baby’s bassinet in the corner as vividly as if it were here and now.  I see my son, days old in his bassinet and there too, I had placed the cassette recorder hoping that the music would lull him to sleep (I was not always successful in this attempt. He preferred to be carried around!).

And I can clearly see too—a different movie playing—many years later as I enjoy long walks in the sand along the ocean’s edge, with ear buds and an iPhone now–that Bell and Howell cassette player a relic long gone. The salty cold water tickles my toes, dolphins frolic in the distance, surfers ride the waves…and this Adagio is playing.  It still has the power to stir the depths of my soul.

The Poodle makes an abrupt stop to smell something interesting in the grass, snapping me back to the present. Wow. What a time-travel experience.

Hmm. Maybe this is the piece that should be played at my memorial? Or maybe I need to keep searching for just the right Vivaldi piece…? I think of the beautiful song that was played at Harry’s memorial just a couple of weeks ago; it’s been in my head since. Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman’s, Con Te Partirò (It’s Time to Say Goodbye).  I have the album and it’s a song I’ve listened to countless times over the years. Before I know it, I’m blinking back tears as I think of the memorial video of photos that Harry’s family had compiled to go along with the song.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the church.

Truly, I’m not being morbid folks. Yes. The end of life is a subject that I am thinking about a lot these days. And, believe it or not, more and more, I think of it without fear. I’m planning for it.  Death is inevitable. It is part of living after all.

Enjoy this dose of bliss…..Con Te Partirò…(Time to Say Goodbye)