Monday, November 23, 2015

Post Marathon Blues

Finally, I'm starting to feel slightly back to normal.  The keyword there is slightly.  Let me just say that post-marathon blues are real, and they're terrible.  This year I completely expected them.  I've had them after every other marathon, and I figured they'd be there.  I also figured that, since I was expecting them, they might not be so bad.  Woo-boy was I wrong!

As you all know, two of my dearest friends came to visit right before the marathon.  This did a few things.  First, it boosted my mood and made me feel so very loved.  Second, it forced me to take a bit of time off and rest pre-race.  Lastly, it made post-marathon so bitter-sweet, because it meant I had to bid them farewell.  I very much wish that my friends lived closer to me.  The past week I've been moping around, trying to plan trips to see them.  I've been asking myself if I could fly up in a few weeks (no, I can't), or if we could all plan a mini-vacation together (difficult at best).  I miss my friends!!!  So, that's left me in a funk.

Also, my friends weren't the only ones who left the day after the marathon.  A week before the marathon, Hans' grandmother passed away, so the three of us all flew down for the funeral.  Since the funeral and burial were in different states (long story), this meant quite a bit of flying in a very short period of time.  By the end, I was wiped!  It took a little while for the shear physical exhaustion to set in, but when it did I could hardly move.  Picking Anna up or playing with her was more effort than I could stand, and for the latter half of the week I just wanted to crawl in a hole and sleep.  Of course, my body was completely out of whack, and sleep was somewhat evasive.  To put things plainly, this physical exhaustion did nothing to boost my mood.  I was too tired to be happy (I was grumpy), and I ended up just being sad because I was too tired to do things that usually make me happy (play with Anna, hike, etc).  It wasn't so great.

And lastly, there's the endorphin crash.  Runner's high is real, and after 26.2 miles there's a lovely intoxication.  The world is rosy and everything is wonderful.  And then your body realizes you're not running quite as much and suddenly you crash.  And this crash was so, so bad.  The worst part was that I could think rationally and tell myself exactly what this was, but that did nothing to make me feel better.  I just wanted to be left alone and mope.

Luckily, I have great support.  Hans has been wonderful.  He's pushed me to do the things I absolutely need to do, but he's also made sure I've gotten plenty of rest.  He played with Anna when I couldn't, and he took care of the housework when I simply didn't want to.  He's made sure I've gotten the nutrition I need, and he's taken time to simply hold me and tell me he's here.  Boy am I fortunate!

So, now I'm returning to normal.  I'm hoping I get through this hectic and crazy week, and I'm looking forward to the next big thing!

Friday, November 20, 2015

An Immigrant's Daughter

It's a fact I often forget.  I was born and raised in the U.S., and my dad has lived in the US for the majority of his life, but the reality is that my father is an immigrant.  He could never be president, he taught his mother english, and as much as we sometimes forget, this is not his native land.

My dad was born in 1950 in post-war Germany.  My Baba (grandmother) had been taken from her home in Ukraine during WWII to work as slave labor.  I know very little details about her time there, because she refused to talk about it.  The only things I do know are that the farm she was put on was owned by a family that was relatively kind to her, and she had an acid burn across her chest.  How it got there, one can only guess.

In 1946 my aunt was born.  I don't know the story of her birth or how my grandparents met, but from what I understand she was born out of wedlock.  Four years later, now married, my grandparents were attempting to immigrate to America.  My Baba had a cousin who lived in Philly, and that was helping to speed up the process, because this cousin was able to vouch for this little family.  As it's been told to me, just before everything was finalized, my dad was born, and now they had to wait even longer so they could obtain the proper documents for him.

At 6 months old, my dad was finally granted access to the US along with my Baba, my Papa Joe, and my Aunt Irena.  Baba wasn't extremely educated.  While she was an extraordinary gardener, she only had the equivalent of a 4th grade education, and while she could speak about 10 slavic languages and some German, she didn't speak English.  She had cousins in Philly, but her mother was in Ukraine along with many of her siblings.  Her brother had gone to Australia.  The move certainly could not have been easy for her, especially not with two young children.

So, one must ask why did she moved here?  The answer is simple.  She had no other options.  Germany was broken, and Baba couldn't tolerate living there anyway.  While I never heard her utter one thing against the Germans, she also made it clear she wished to never return.  After the war some of the family returned to Ukraine, but this was during the Stalin era.  Many of these people were lost forever.  Baba went wherever she could get a foothold.  She didn't see her mother or any of the rest of her family for nearly 30 years.

After a while Baba and Papa Joe moved from Philly down to Richmond, where Papa Joe set up shop as a barber and Baba set to raising her children.  When the marriage didn't work out, Baba found a factory job.  My father and my aunt would bring home school work to help her learn english.  My dad remembers helping his mom understand his kindergarten homework.  She worked hard, she pinched pennies, and after 10 years she bought a house- her pride and joy and where she lived until she died.

My father attended college, and when I was born he (and my mom) made sure I was well-cared for and provided for.  It was often difficult, but he made sure I attended some of the finest schools in the area because he recognized the importance of a good education as well as decent connections.  I attended and completed college upon my parents' persistence.  It didn't matter what the degree was in just so long as I had one.  Now, I have my own business, I employ others, and I'm looking to expand. 

Personally, I feel my immigrant family has been a plus to American society.  I may not be Steve Jobs (another child of an immigrant), but I'd like to think we've had a positive influence.  And so, I have to think about something.  What if, as my grandparents were applying for refugee status in the US, someone had said, "No.  They're living in Germany.  They could be Nazis."  What if they'd had to stay in Europe simply because someone saw where they were from and thought they might pose a threat?  How would that have changed life?  What sort of conditions would my aunt and dad have lived in?  Would they have lived at all?

I don't claim to be an expert on world politics.  There's a lot that I wish I knew more about.  One thing I do know, though, is that the immigration policy is not easy.  It's not an open door to anyone.  People work hard to get in, and it's a huge achievement when they do.  And once they're here they have to start their lives all over again, oftentimes without the support of family.  When I think of the Syrian refugees that so many politicians are trying to ban I just think of that mother with two children under the age of 5.  What will she do?  What will happen to her?  What will happen to her children?

It's just something to think about.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Marathon

I had planned on writing this post on Saturday, right after the race, but I was too tired.  Then I thought I'd write it Sunday, but the day got away.  Now it's Thursday, and I'm FINALLY getting around to it.  How did it go?  Let me just put it this way:


My goal was to finish in under 5 hours.  That was it.  I mean, I had a minor goal of finishing in 4:30:00, but that was quite lofty.  Previously my fastest time was 5:11:00.  That was even when all of my training runs had pointed to me finishing in 4:50:00 or less, so I was really nervous.  When race day came I was excited and nervous, and I wasn't certain as to what would come. 

I met up with my running buddy prior to the race and we agreed to stick together as long as we could, but we weren't holding each other back.  Luckily the weather was beautiful, and I was feeling as great as ever.  Running with her was great.  She and I trained for our first marathon together, and we've been running together ever since.  Finding a great running buddy is difficult.  For shorter runs it's fairly easy, but the longer runs are the ones that get you.  A good running buddy will talk about topics that interest you, but they'll also know how much to talk and how loud to talk.  During a long, hard run a buddy who talks too much or too loudly or simply about things you don't want to talk about can be painful, so it was quite nice to have someone I was so comfortable with. 

Through those first few miles, life was easy.  Hans and the gang missed me at the first stop (we passed sooner than they'd anticipated), but we were able to hand off jackets and what not around mile 5, even though we arrived slightly earlier than they'd expected.  We saw them again at mile 10 where I high-fived Anna and kept running.  Stopping wasn't an option.  At the half way point, a stop I normally don't see them at since they're trying to catch me further ahead, I first saw my best friend, Jessica, and her boyfriend, Andrew, along with everyone else.  I stopped to give them all hugs and hold Anna for a moment before I continued on.  I still felt great.

Around mile 16, we ran into another running friend of ours (he'd finished the Half and had come to cheer us on).  He ran with us and encouraged us on for a little while.  For the most part, we stuck together until mile 16 / 17.  At that point, I was feeling great and she was starting to struggle (she ran another marathon 3 weeks prior), so she walked a bit while I forged ahead.  I saw Jess & Andrew, Jackie, Dan, and Dad at Mile 20.  Hans was with Anna who was asleep in the car.  And then the pain set in.

Oh boy did the pain set in.  I found out later that, in filling up my fuel bottles the night before, Hans had filled them with only water instead of a coconut water mixture.  He's always filled them perfectly in the past, so I'm not sure what happened this time (some sort of miscommunication), but by mile 20 my electrolytes and everything was off.  My left quad started to cramp first due to the angle and slope of the road, and as I tried to alleviate that everything else started hurting.  I hadn't walked for the first 20 miles, but I was walking a lot now.

Just before mile 23 I started running next to another girl who was chatty.  Usually I'd love the opportunity to forget my pain and chat, but I hurt too much.  I just wanted to look at her and say, "Would you please SHUT UP!?"  It was her first marathon, she was from western VA, she wished she and her friends had made shirts, yadda yadda yadda.  I didn't care.  I was just about to start walking or run faster to avoid her when I heard a voice call my name.  I looked back and I saw MY RUNNING BUDDY!!  I'm not sure how I sounded when I said her name, but in my mind it was like seeing a long lost friend after being separated over 20 years.  Oh the joy!!!

She was running faster than I was at the time, but she was also enjoying long walk breaks.  I could run with her.  I  could let her talk and not respond, she knew to not ask questions.  Around mile 25 or so, we saw our other running buddy again.  He was going to take us to the finish (or as close as possible).  I stopped to tie my shoe in anticipation of the huge downhill before the finish.

I was worried about how I'd feel running down that hill.  My legs hurt so bad, and I was worried they wouldn't support me as I raced downward, but I didn't need to worry.  That down hill was an utter blessing.  I let myself free fall towards the finish.  My feet simply followed my body as I got faster and faster.  I past person after person after person, each just one blur after the next.  And then, I crossed the finish line.

I saw Hans and Anna and Jackie and Dan and Dad.  They were all there, cheering for me.  I stopped my watch.  How close had I come to my goal?


I beat my previous record by 36 minutes.  I didn't necessarily hit 4:30:00, but at least that second number was still a 3.  I was pleased as punch.

I stretched out afterwards and then joined my running buddies on the grass.  The one thing I'm still working on is immediate recovery.  I was fine later that day, but at that very moment I felt sick.  I couldn't eat, I was cold, and I just wanted to lie down.  Hans got me home and showered and fed, and after a couple of restful hours (reading, sleeping, etc) I was good to go.  We enjoyed Chicago pizza (Hans had it shipped in special) and pie, and Jessica joined in the celebrations.  All in all, it was a great race. 

I have a lot more to talk about it for post-marathon, but I'll leave this for now.  I'm perfectly happy.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Race Morning

Have you ever been so happy you're sad?  I know it sounds odd, but that's how I feel right now.  I'm so happy I want to cry because I wish every day of my life could be as wonderful as the past few have been.

It is currently 6:15 on Saturday morning.  My bags are packed for the day, and I'm decked out in running gear.  Hans is showering, the dogs are just waking up, I'm getting ready to wake up Anna (a terrifying prospect), and in an hour and a half I'll be staring my 4th marathon (slightly less terrifying than waking the sleeping baby).  In addition to this great day, two of my best and dearest friends, Jackie and Dan, are in town to visit. I couldn't be any happier.

Let me first say that I never really realized just how happy having them here would make me.  You see, I'm not a great long-distance friend.  I don't Skype, I hate phone conversations.  If I'm going to call you, it's going to be to make plans for what we'll do later.  I hate just chatting, (Unless I'm running.  Then I'll chat for hours.)  So, I don't often get to enjoy my closest friends.  While mentally I know they're always there, there are a few moments when not having them around leaves me feeling horribly lonely.  Those moments when life is hard and you just want to circle the wagons and have your dearest friends close around you become extra hard when your dearest friends are spread across the country.  It's just very nice to have them so close.

And I don't want to get sappy or overly-sentimental, but the past few days have been filled with nothing but love.  I love these two people more than even I think I can realize, and it's nice not just to feel that from them but also to be able to exude that love.  I know that sounds like some new-age hippy crap, and I can actually picture my mom saying something like that and me rolling my eyes in exasperation and annoyance, but it's true.  It's an energy, a joy, a happiness that leaves one feeling so happy.  It makes me feel closer to God.  It makes me feel like I've come home.  It makes me feel like I'm wrapped in a wonderful embrace.

Side note: I know at least one of these people reads my blog, and I have NO IDEA how this person will react to this outpouring of emotion.  I would like to tell this person: Yes, this is how I feel.  Yes, it's difficult to put into words.  Yes, it's awkward.  Deal with it.  I love you, and I always will.  Y'all are my giants.  :D

Yesterday, a friend sent me a Facebook message essentially saying that Mom would be with me during this run.  It was sweet, and I loved it, but I realized something.  Since my friends have arrived, I haven't been as upset about not having Mom on the course.  I know I can feel both upset over Mom and joy over my friends, but somehow the joy of having them is too great.  I find I'm thanking Mom or God for all the little treasures.  That beautiful sunrise?  That's a gift.  The little quirky things that happen?  That's a sign.  It's beautiful.

Jackie and I actually had a conversation yesterday about the belief in a higher being.  Is God real?  What are the arguments from people who believe versus those who don't?  I made the comment that I've had too much happen in my life for me to not believe in a higher power.  I've felt too much love, experienced too much grace.  I simply can't believe that there is not a higher power out there.

OK, I'm starting to ramble.  I really didn't intend for this to be a blog post about God or Love or anything else.  I simply wanted to state how happy and excited I am to have these two wonderful people in my life and to announce my marathon.  Ah, stream of consciousness!   Anyway, I have a race to run.  Am I nervous?  Unbelievably so.  Am I excited?  Unbelievably so!  Wish me luck!!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Why I Run

Hello again!  Man, I go a few months with only 1 post a month, if that, and here I am posting 3 in 2 days.  I'm just full of inspiration.  I will say I have a lot more I'd like to talk about, but I'm really struggling to wrap my head around some things and put into words what I'm trying to say.  If I can figure it out, I'll let you know.  That being said, I wanted to write today about why I run.

There are a lot of reasons why I started running.  I wanted to lose weight, it was something that was hard for me, and I wanted to get better, all the 'cool' kids did it, maybe even as a way to bond with my dad, the high school and college track star.  But none of those reasons really explain why I continued running.  For a long time, if someone had asked me why I continued running I'd have given them pretty much one basic answer.  I'd have said I got a great endorphin rush and the exercise kept me from becoming to anxious.  But there's more to it than that.  To do explain, I have to tell you a short story.

Back in college I studied music, and as part of my studies I took both piano lessons and voice lessons.  I'll never forget one particular week where both of my teachers in these subjects essentially told me the same thing.  They told me I needed to expose my soul.  Here I was, singing and playing my heart out, thinking I was being super expressive, and they told me they just weren't feeling it.  I needed to expose my soul.  Honestly, I really didn't know how to take that.  I've always thought of myself as a fairly open person; I don't really have much to hide, so I had no clue how to expose more.  After being told this, I started to notice this phrase (or some variation) popped up quite often in my life.  But, still I had no idea how to apply this to myself. I thought I did it when I was singing a song about being homesick.  I mean, I was as homesick as they come.  This was a subject I could really relate to.  Alas, no.  My instructor simply told me I was sharing enough of myself.  At the time I was frustrated beyond belief.  Now I think he may have been right.

So this leads me back to running.  For a long time I wondered if I ran to escape my emotions.  I mean, if I can't expose my soul in music then I must really be working at repressing emotions.  But I never really felt like I had anything to run from.  Running has always felt like I'm headed towards something, not away from it.  I had kind of settled on running as a way of meditation.  The deep breaths, the rhythmic pattern of my feet and breath, even the sound in my ears.  Yes, meditation.  And that almost hit it, but I don't always feel relaxed and calm after a run.  Even after good runs, I often feel slightly more agitated...slightly more exposed.

And finally, today, it dawned on me.  I run because running allows me to expose my soul.  After a run, I'm tired.  The better and longer the run the more tired I am.  In the end, I don't have any energy left to hide my true self.  Some of my best cries have been after wonderful runs.  I'll be happy but exhausted, I will have spent the past X miles thinking about various topics so there's nothing clouding my mind, and suddenly I will be hit with some emotion.  Somehow running allows me to tap into that part of me that I often keep hidden, even from myself.  It allows me to turn off my brain for long enough to truly feel my emotions.  I can't begin to explain the joy this brings me.  I'm able to feel every emotion I've buried deep within; every emotion that I normally only scrape the surface of: joy, sorrow, anger, it's all there.  Running allows me to actually feel it.

Now, I'm not saying I feel every little emotion with every single run.  Sometimes I run just to hang out with friends, and sometimes I run because I had too much cake (on my birthday), but that wouldn't keep me running in the long haul.  I run because I finally get what my instructors were trying to tell me years ago.  I run to expose my soul.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

My Birthday- Without Mom

OK.  I just wrote a post detailing the big events from my birthday.  I encourage you to read it, or else some of what I right here won't necessarily make sense.  I wanted to take a moment to talk about what my birthday was like without Mom.  I've had a couple of days to think about things, and I've had some revelations.

First, I have to reveal to you one of my biggest wishes on my birthday.  I wanted a visit from Mom.  I know it sounds odd, but I wanted to dream about her.  I'm a big believer in the afterlife, and I firmly believe that dreams about the deceased are not just dreams.  They're visitations.  Since Mom passed, I've had 3 dreams about her.  I won't get into the details of each one, but let me just say that I can only make sense out of one of them.  Anyway, that's what I wanted.  I wanted a dream.  I wanted to dream about doing all of our usual birthday traditions with her: shopping in Williamsburg, pumpkin cheesecake at Barnes & Noble, stupid, silly birthday songs.

Unfortunately, I woke up the morning of my birthday to the sad realization that I'd had no such dream.  I felt sad and alone, and that feeling very easily could have continued throughout the day except for some wonderful people in my life.

First there was Hans.  Hans really took care of me that day.  He comforted me when I was crying, and didn't make me feel bad about crying.  He stayed with me all day.  He made sure I felt well-loved.  I don't think Mom would have gone if I didn't have Hans.  She knew I'd be OK.

Second there were my running buddies.  I forgot to mention in the last post, but when they realized they'd missed running with me on my birthday, they stopped by the kennel with cupcakes (I ended up with a lot of cupcakes that day).  I didn't get to see them, but it was so nice to know they cared that much about me.  Like I said before, I wasn't upset with them or anything.  By the end of the day I was laughing over the whole thing, but that gesture was just beautiful.

Then there was the kennel staff.  They didn't have to do anything.  I certainly didn't expect anything of them.  Such a simple gesture, though, made me feel so wonderful.  It's lonely owning a business.  Most people make friends and connections with coworkers.  I don't have coworkers, I have staff, and it can often be difficult to separate out friend from employee.  It was nice to have them do something completely unasked for.  Mom's love for me showed through them.

And then there was the client who brought me pumpkin cheesecake.  I'm fairly certain he knew how much I love that cheesecake, and he knew that Mom and I always had at least one slice together, but I don't think he knew it was a birthday tradition.  He didn't have to bring anything, yet he chose pumpkin cheesecake...from Barnes & Noble.  That's when I first realized that Mom may be with me after all.

And there was the client who told me how much healthier I looked.  I'm not sure she initially knew it was my birthday, and I know she had no clue I'd spent the morning crying, but she told me how tired I'd looked when I was caring for my Mom.  She told me how much she wanted to be able to help because she was truly concerned for me.  And she told me how much lighter I looked since Mom's passing.  Of course, she knew that was the worst possible outcome, but she was happy I was under less stress.  That's the one that took a little longer to sink in.  It really didn't hit me until today.  Mom died so that I could live. 

I know it sounds weird, but I know the course we were on.  We were all slowly dying.  I'm not certain I fully understood it at the time, but I definitely understand it now.  We were under so much stress.  We could never fully breathe.  Something was bound to happen at some point.  Either exhaustion or illness or something would have taken all of us.  I think, to some degree (whether she consciously thought it or not) Mom may have let herself go.  She grew tired of the fight, and she saw that we were struggling to continue to the fight, so she gave in.

To some degree, there's a good deal of guilt that goes with this.  If I'd fought harder, if she'd known how much I was still fighting for her, would the outcome have been different?  And trust me, I've had a lot of what if moments.  But when I think of her passing as an act of love, a final act of love, things become a lot easier.

The morning of my birthday I felt sad and alone.  By end of the day, though, when I was sitting with my family, I felt loved.  I felt warm and relaxed.  I didn't dream about Mom, but she was there the whole day.  She was with me and will always be with me.  It reminds me of a line from one of my favorite childhood movies, The Land Before Time.  "I'll be with you.  Even if you can't see me."  I can't see her, but she's with me.

My Birthday- The Events

My 30th birthday was two days ago.  A year ago today, Mom got CT results back saying all tumors were gone.  Facebook from a year ago is full of so much joy and celebration.  A few people have asked me how my birthday was and how I've been holding up through all of this, so I wanted to share with you how things have been.

Tuesday morning was kind of awful.  I woke up early for my usual run, and I was exhausted.  Allergies were working hard on me, and I'd gone to bed a little late the night before.  Plus, I think I was just still physically exhausted from all the activities of the morning.  Still, I was looking forward to starting my day with a activity that makes me feel good about me and that gives me some social time with some much-loved running buddies.  Well, before I even left the house one of my running buddies bailed.  I was a little bummed, but oh well.  Stuff happens.  I grabbed my fuel belt and headed out the door.

I got to our usual meet up and was right on time (a rarity for me).  I scrolled through Facebook as I waited for my other friend.  About 5 minutes later, I got a text from him saying he'd just woken up and apologizing because he wouldn't be able to make it.  I had two options: Go home or run by myself.  Part of me feels I should have run anyway, but at 5:15 am with no one to run with and no dog I decided to just go home.  I was in the shower before the flood of emotion hit.

Here's the thing.  I wasn't mad or upset with my running friends at all.  It's early in the morning.  It happens.  I've done the exact same thing to them on a few occasions.  On plenty of other mornings I would have relished the opportunity to skip a run.  This morning, though, it simply sucked.  I was disappointed and I didn't have Mom, and I just broke down sobbing.  By the way, have you ever tried to shave your legs through a sob?  It's difficult. 

I kind of pulled it together for breakfast with Anna, but I definitely put the burden of the morning on Hans.  He got Anna bathed and dressed, he fixed breakfast, and he kept her occupied while I just sat on the couch fighting back tears.  When we went into Anna's playroom I lost it again.  I just laid on the floor and cried, which of course set Anna off, and poor Hans had to deal with both of us.  He finally managed to get us both in the car and we left to take Anna to daycare.

Lucky for me, I have an amazing husband.  Hans had decided to take the day off work, so he could be with me.  I decided that, as much as I love having all 3 of us together, I still wanted to take Anna to daycare, and I wanted the two of us to see a movie.  This was definitely the right call.  We hadn't seen a movie together since Les Miserables was in theaters, and it was wonderful to just be able to do something different.  After the movie, we had a few errands to run, we had to pick up Anna, and then I had to be back at the kennel for an appointment with an acupuncturist (for the dogs, and yes it works).

When I walked in, I was greeted by the staff...more staff than usual.  The led me into the training room and presented me with cupcakes from my favorite shop, a card signed by everyone, and pierogies (yummm).  It wasn't huge, but it was such a wonderful gesture.  Hans made certain to tell me it was completely their idea, and he had nothing to do with it, and I am just so touched.  Seriously, it meant more than I think they'll ever know.

While at the kennel I was greeted by a few clients who wished me a happy birthday.  Some of my longer clients asked how I was doing.  One brought me a piece of pumpkin cheesecake from Barnes & Noble and a scarf he knitted himself.  One client happened to comment how much healthier I looked lately.  She said had been really worried about me the past year with everything with Mom, but I really looked good now.  It was nice being at the kennel.

After my appointment, I went home where I was greeted by Dad, Cindy, my best friend, Jess, Hans, and Anna.  We enjoyed a lovely fondue dinner that Hans made; a meal I fear we don't have nearly often enough, followed by cake and ice cream.  Anna went to bed easily and on time, and I enjoyed a lovely evening.

So, to sum up, while the morning started terribly, the day turned around well enough.  I was tired most of the day from all my crying, and I had entirely too much candy at the movie, but I felt well-loved and happy.  My birthday ended up being a pretty great day.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A Great Weekend

It's time for a happy post! I have had a great weekend. 

It started with an 18 mile run.  Lately, I've had this trend where I've had one good long run followed by one horrible long run.  Last week was terrible, so I was hopeful / nervous for this run.  I knew I had to come at it with a different plan of attack than last week, and my plan seemed to work.  It was a slower run, and I easily could have gone faster, but I felt great in the end, and I'm still on track to finish the marathon in my goal time.  Yay!

I was fairly sore after my run, and I felt myself start to stiffen up, so I asked Hans to fix breakfast (kielbasa and eggs with poppyseed bread is one of my favorite meals), while I did a quick yoga routine.  This resulted in a proud mommy moment when Anna ran up behind me at the start of my routine and did mountain pose with me.  It was absolutely adorable, and I love the fact that she's starting to pick up things like that.  Hans tried to take a quick picture, but she ran off to grab a book before he could get the camera out. (Note that I'm also proud at how much she likes books.)  After yoga, I enjoyed a delicious meal followed by a wonderful, refreshing shower.  I actually felt really great and was ready to take on the day...until I came downstairs.  Then it hit me like a ton of bricks.  I was exhausted!  Luckily, Anna hadn't taken her nap yet and was starting to get a little tired as well, so Hans took her up for a nap, and I laid down on the couch.  The only thing I really remember after that was thinking how good lying down felt, and the next thing I knew it was an hour later and I was waking up from a very relaxed sleep.  I wasn't even in a great position on the couch, but I felt wonderful.  I stayed in my prone position for another 15-20 minutes until Anna woke up from her nap.  Well-timed, dear child!

After our lovely sleep, we loaded up the bikes and headed downtown for the Richmond Folk Festival.  We decided to bike simply because parking and traffic down by the festival is a nightmare, and I really think we made the right decision.  It was a great way for me to keep from getting too stiff after the run, and it's great family time for us anyway.  That said, I was pretty exhausted still, and I do think the bike simply wiped me out.  It was also kind of a grey day, so walking around the festival wasn't quite as enjoyable as it usually is.  There are a lot of things I wish we'd done differently, but we still had a great time anyway.

Folk Festival or Bust!

After the festival, we got the car and picked the dogs up from the kennel (Hans had dropped them off while I was running).  Then we went home for dinner and a relaxing evening at home.  We ended the night with an episode of Orange Is The New Black and s'mores (after Anna was in bed).  Yum!

Today had a lot of options.  It was a cool 44 degrees this morning, but the sun was out and shining.  We'd talked about going back to the festival or possibly taking long family ride on a new bike trail.  We weren't quiet sure what we wanted to do, so we made a temporary plan.  We'd bike to church (not drive because it's only 4 miles and the weather was gorgeous), have lunch with my dad and friend, Cindy, and decide from there.  Getting to church was a pleasure, Anna was fairly well-behaved (for a toddler) during church, and lunch was quite enjoyable.  We were in a great mood, and could have done anything, but I decided I really wanted some time at home.  I wanted to spend some time with the dogs, and I had some cleaning I wanted to tackle.  We ended up cleaning for a couple of hours and I finally finished a project that's been bugging me! 

After cleaning, we loaded up the car with all 4 dogs and headed out to Dad's for burgers off the grill.  I love going out to Dad's.  Dad still lives in my childhood home, so I'm fairly comfortable there (even though there have been tons of changes), and he has a much larger yard.  While Dad cooked the burgers, Cindy, Hans, and I played with Anna.  She loved chasing the dogs around the yard, and the dogs loved having the space to just run.  It was heart-warming to say the least.  After a lovely dinner, and some extra play time for Anna, we came home tired, full, and happy.

Now the house is quiet.  The dogs are wiped out, Anna is sound asleep in her crib, the windows are open and airing out this old house, and I am simply feeling wonderful.  Frankly, this is the best I've felt in months.  I hope this all holds out for a while, but either way I'm relishing this time.  I am extremely grateful for a fun, happy, relaxing weekend, and I'm ready to tackle the week ahead!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Wow I've had a rough few weeks.  I realize that I'm beginning to sound like a bit of a Debbie Downer, but I've really been struggling.  Some of it is easily explained by life.  Anna was sick, allergies are full-force, we've gotten record rain falls over the past week, and the weather has turned colder, all of which result in a tired and somewhat mopey Val.  And then there's just the simple fact that I can't get over losing Mom.  I know it's still really early, and a good part of me knows this is normal, but it's just weird.  Life for everyone else is continuing as usual, but I'm stuck struggling with whether I even want to celebrate my 30th birthday next week.  I just don't feel much like celebrating.

All of this has been starting to manifest itself in other ways.  One of the worst things about how I've felt was just how isolated I seemed.  No one else I know is going through this exact situation.  I either feel like my event was so small compared to what others have gone through, or I feel like no one could possibly understand this hurt.  An old elementary school friend lost her father recently, and my first thought was actually, "You can understand what I'm feeling!"  It was a slight moment of joy and relief at some camaraderie before I realized how awful that was and immediately felt like a terrible person.  Anyway, when I feel this isolated I often look to friends to raise me up.  Unfortunately, I don't always tell my friends how much I need their help so the process in my brain goes something like this:

-I'm really sad.  I want someone to hang out with me.  Maybe I'll call insert name to see if she wants to grab a coffee.
She's busy today.  She clearly hates me and can't stand to spend a second with me.  I won't try anyone else.


-My friend insert name really should have been there for me during that really hard time.  She totally dropped the ball on this one.  And this other friend did too.  I thought my friends truly cared about me.  I would have been there for them.  Clearly I'm a better friend, and clearly I like them more than they like me.
I could handle this like a real adult and actually tell them how I feel, but that will either leave me way too vulnerable, or I'll just hear some BS excuse, or I'll come across as a whiny baby.  I'll just ignore it, but they have officially been removed from my top friends list.

This ultimately leads to me crying to Hans about how sad and lonely I am, and while he's trying to comfort me I tend to think that he's probably thinking how he didn't sign up for this level of crazy / drama and he's probably just telling me what he thinks I want to hear just so I'll shut up.  And, in the end, I wind up under the covers on the couch binge-watching Friends on Netflix.  Of course, that only makes things worse because then I'm left with all the things I could have / should have done to make the day better and I feel guilty.

The rational part of me knows that this is all silly.  I can actually sit down and think, "Val, you're depressed.  Plain and simple.  You need to do XYZ to make this better."  And then I just don't.  I'm either too tired or too sad or, sometimes, I'm just in too vulnerable of a state.  It may be silly, but it's really hard to shake.

Anyway, I had kind of reached that point.  I truly believe a few other factors were at play, but the reality is that I have been a bit depressed.  And, then something happened to make me feel a little better.

First, I got a text from my best friend.  We've been trying to see each other more than we have in the past, so we've started setting up breakfast dates since they tend to work best with both of our schedules.  We hadn't planned one for this week, and she sent me a message asking when I was free.  It might not seem like much to everyone, but for me it was a moment of, "Somebody likes me!"  It was really nice.

Second, I got a message from another friend of mine just checking in.  Life circumstances mean we haven't gotten together in a bit, and she was wondering how I was feeling.  Guess what?  Someone else likes me!

But the kicker, the one that made me really evaluate my thoughts of the past few weeks was what Hans told me last night.  I've been upset because there were some people I really thought would be there for me after Mom passed, and I had barely even heard from them.  I thought they'd fly out just to hold me up a bit (and Hans told me he'd asked them to), but they'd made excuses.  What Hans told me last night was that he'd been lying.  He did ask them to fly out, but not for Mom's memorial. He asked them to fly out for the marathon.  Somehow he figured I might need them more at this point than I did a few months ago.  He wanted it to be a surprise, but when he realized that I was actually getting upset with them and I was feeling so alone he called them and they decided to tell me.  How did he get so smart?!  Anyway, two of my best friends are flying out in less than 6 weeks!!!!!!!!! 

When Hans told me, I didn't get super excited.  I didn't jump up and down.  I didn't even call my friends.  I simply breathed a sigh of relief.  My friends do care.  Hans has been doing more than just humoring me.  I then texted one of my friends to say I was glad she was coming out and to actually set some dates.  Frankly, I didn't have the energy to get excited, but I'm starting to now.  Just thinking about it is giving me a nice, soft, warm glow, and that's pleasant.

I know that this is just one battle won in a great war.  I know that after the marathon is done I'll go through an all new low (post race, post friends, post excitement- it happens almost every year), but having this helps to remind me that I do have a great support network.  I'm not just the person that others tolerate.  I'm the person that others love.  I do have friends who love me as much as I love them.  Yes, I know I'm a bit quirky sometimes, and I can definitely be a bit needy (I am an only child), but that's OK to them.  And that's a pretty good feeling.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

This Time of Year

First of all, let me say THANK YOU to everyone for showing their support after my last post.  It was something I really needed to get off my chest.  It's odd, though.  In many ways I feel like I shared to much, and yet at the same time there's so much more I could share.  There's so much more that I wish you all could understand.  It's hard to explain my relationship with Mom, but just know that even though there were many things she did that hurt me, she was also wonderful and kind and caring, and I miss her terribly.

Along those lines, I've really been struggling lately.  Sunday marked 1 month from my 30th birthday.  That was definitely a day I thought she'd be there.  In addition, we're now just 1 month away from the 1 year anniversary of Mom's scans coming back clean.  We're also only 2 months from the Richmond Marathon.  Those are a lot of big events.

Someone asked me what I wanted for my birthday the other day.  I don't want anything.  Well, there's nothing that I can actually have.  I want my mom back.  That's it.  I want to hear her call me in the morning to wish me a happy birthday, I want to spend the day shopping in Williamsburg with her, and I want to end the day by gathering around the table with the entire family, Mom included, and simply thinking how lucky I am.  Now, without that possible, I don't want anything.  I don't even want to gather around with family and friends because it will make it so much more obvious that Mom isn't there.  I don't want the reminder that she's not here.  It's so much easier to just stay in denial and tell myself that I can call whenever I want to.

You know, a year ago people were asking me what I wanted for my birthday, and my response was similar.  I didn't want anything because the one thing I really wanted, for Mom to get better, I couldn't hope for.  The most I could truly hope for was that chemo would have some minuscule effect on her cancer, and we were headed in the right direction.  That was it.  That was all I wanted.  And then, on October 15th, two days after my birthday, we got the results back- all tumors were gone.  I remember when the NP gave us the results.  I sat there dumbfounded until she left the room, and then I looked at Mom and said, "I got my birthday wish."  It was everything I could have ever hoped for.  She was cured.  I just knew she was.  My mom was the miracle.  For months I told people that Mom was the only true miracle I'd personally witnessed.  I said that for 6 months...until we got the scans back 1 week after my half birthday.  So, now I want the impossible again.  Except this time, there really isn't any way I can get my wish.  The most I can hope for this year is a good dream.

I did also mention that  we're only 2 months from the Richmond Marathon.  I'm so excited and nervous for that one.  I have some big goals, and I'm praying all goes well.  I miss Mom's excitement for me.  I miss her nervousness and those phone calls I'd get telling me about someone else who died after running a marathon.  I'm also really nervous about reaching that half way mark.  When I run, I'm generally so focused that I tune everything else out (except for traffic), but I always looked forward to seeing Mom at the half way mark.  She'd often surprise me at other spots, but the half way point was where I KNEW I'd always see her.  During a 10k, she was there at mile 3.1.  (In fact, during the past few Monument Ave 10ks, where she participated, I missed seeing her at that beautiful turn around point.)  During a half marathon, she was always at 6.5.  And during that full marathon, she was ALWAYS at mile 13.1...with the dogs.  Generally I'd only say hi for a moment.  I had time goals, so I never really stopped.  I'd wave, maybe give her a quick hug, pet the dogs, and then run on.  What am I going to do this year?  Who will be there this year?  Hans would be there, but I always like to see him / need him at mile 17 and traveling between those two points can be difficult.  I know this year I'll hit 13.1 and there will clearly be someone missing.

God, I miss her.  I can't begin to express how much I miss her.  I know plenty of people have lost their mothers.  I know plenty of people have lost them at harder points in their lives.  Still, I can't help but think how unfair this is.  She was supposed to be around for 20 more years.  She always saw herself living until she was 84.  She didn't even make it to 66.

After these events, we get into Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Ironically, I'm less stressed about those holidays, because I've spent a few of those away from family.  I've spent them with Hans' family, or with friends' families, so it won't be as hard to deal with.  But these next few events are leaving me a wreck.  At some point, I'll be able to think about my birthday without crying, but that point is not now.  Right now, I just want my mom.  I want to enjoy Barnes & Noble pumpkin cheesecake with her.  I want to admire the fall colors with her.  I want to laugh at her excitement over all these little things.  I want Mom.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Facing Reality: Mom Was An Addict

This is going to be really hard for me to write.  It's hard because I want to think the best of my mom.  It's hard because I can practically hear Mom denying every word I say.  It's hard because it's something I've been denying for a long time, but I really have to face reality.  Mom was an addict.

Mom was not the type of addict that's shown on TV.  She wasn't drunk all the time (although I suspect she drank more than she let on).  She didn't do drugs (although we definitely had some questions about her pain meds).  She didn't pawn off her wedding ring or lose the house in a bet.  But her addictions definitely affected everyone around her. 

I first heard that mom had a problem when I was 10.  We had gotten the internet, my parents were getting divorced, and Mom and Dad were constantly fighting about money.  Dad wanted Mom to spend less time online, less time on the stocks.  Being only 10, I really didn't understand much other than stocks must be bad.  I do remember asking Mom to stop buying stocks or to sell if they were about to drop, and I was told I didn't really understand and left it at that.  Of course, that was a theme that often repeated itself.

As I grew older, money became a constant concern.  Mom worked hard and she provided me with all of life's necessities, but there never really seemed to be anything left over.  In times when I'd get upset because of some money issue, Mom would almost always answer with something along the lines of, 'If that one stock had done what I thought it was going to do then we wouldn't have any worries.' Or, "If I hadn't had to use the money for XYZ and could have invested it like I'd wanted to, then we wouldn't be in this situation."  I quickly grew tired of stocks being an excuse, and Mom and I had many arguments over this.  At this point, I started to wonder if Mom had an issue.  In fact, I'm fairly certain I mentioned to Hans a few times that I was nervous about getting into the stock market because I didn't trust how I would handle things.  Honestly, it's still something I steer clear of when I can.  Still, though, if someone had asked me, "Does your Mom have a problem with addiction?" I would have answered no (assuming we had not just had a fight).  Stocks were just my mom's quirky hobby.

And then, all of a sudden, life events made my mom surprisingly financially secure.  No, the stocks didn't assist in this, but I was suddenly scared of what would happen with Mom's financial security if she stayed involved in stocks.  I begged her, pleaded with her, and made her promise to stay out of stocks.  We came up with a business plan together; a semi-risky investment, but one I KNEW I could make work.  There were so many promises.  Years passed, and I kept asking Mom about this future investment, and I was told that it was there.  I was told we could access it in a few years.  I was told I'd have it when I needed it.  And then, when it was really, truly needed, I was told it had been lost in the stocks.  There was so much hurt, so much anger.  She had been lying to me for years.  She had wasted her future, my future, Anna's future.  She had cost me years of back-breaking labor (character-building, sure, but I wouldn't mind avoiding it), and more importantly she had caused me so much heart ache.  When I think about Mom's life, there's so much that I miss, but that's the one thing that makes me truly angry with her.  It's the one thing that leaves me screaming up at the sky.  Why did she have to lie?

OK, so Mom clearly had a stock / gambling addiction.  Writing it out makes it even more obvious.  How could I not notice?  Oh yeah, she was my mom and I loved her.  I wanted to believe the lies she told, even if I knew I really couldn't.  But, as I'm learning, addiction doesn't really end with the act.  There's so much more surrounding this issue than just 'Mom had problems with money.'

As you may have noted, there are trust and betrayal issues.  Mom didn't want people to know her problems. She wanted to seem like one of those amazing investors who makes millions.  She never told people about the $6,000 she spent on stock market books or the years she spent just barely getting by.  She lied about a lot, and that's something I'm just really coming to grips with.

Then there were the people in her life.  I never understood why Mom chose to be around many of the people she did.  For a long time I said that Mom was too kind, too trusting, too childlike.  She let people take advantage of her.  To some extent that's true, but there's another side of that.  Mom surrounded herself with other addicts.  Many of the people she knew were alcoholics.  Some of them were extreme social drinkers, some were closet drinkers, but all of them suffered from the same addiction.  They also had one big thing in common: they supported Mom's addiction.  They never questioned her time in the stocks, they supported her.  They drew her in and encouraged her.  When Mom and I would fight, when I would beg and scream for her to stop, they would whisper disparaging words about me.  A few even called me out, saying that I was spoiled or a bad daughter.  Mom always made excuses for them.  They were just defending her.  They were just upset for her.  What she didn't understand, though, was that they were just causing us to drift further apart.  Mom, whether she knew / understood it or not, was willing to let these people come between us because it protected her addiction.  It allowed her to continue doing what she was doing, and she was giving up her family so she could continue playing her game.  She never could understand why I didn't want to be around these people.  Heck, for a long time I didn't understand it either, but the reality was that I wanted to protect myself from that lifestyle.  If I could have, I would have protected Mom from it too.

And then there are the other, side addictions.  The ones that wouldn't seem like such a big deal if it weren't for this bigger thing.  Of course, there's the smoking.  How many addicts have said things like, "It's no big deal." "I could quit if I wanted to." "It's not like that for me."?  Mom said all that when it came to cigarettes. 

And then there's the drinking.  I never saw Mom drunk.  Not once in my life did I see her even tipsy (she'd throw up first), but I did see her drink too much.  I did come home a few times to find the bottle of wine I'd had for ages had suddenly disappeared.  I did hear her say things like, "Oh, it was just a little." "Oh, I can have more glasses than usual because these glasses are small."

And lastly, there are the things I'm just not certain about.  Did she really need to take as much Tramadol as she did?  Was she experiencing physical pain, or was she trying to numb some emotional pain?  Was it a little bit of both?  When she was 2 weeks post back surgery and could barely used the bathroom on her own, did she climb the stairs and search through our cabinets to find her Percoset simply because she was so looped up on pain meds she wasn't thinking straight, or was she trying to fill a craving?  Did she accidentally take her Lorazepam (for nerves) instead of her Amlodipine (for blood pressure), or was she doing some excessive self medicating and just not telling anyone?  One of the hardest things about all this, is I really don't know how much of what she told me can be trusted.  And I don't know if I can't trust her because she was just out of it for a while or because she was flat out lying.

You should know that writing this is extremely difficult.  I hate painting my mother in this light.  I love my mom.  This woman who had all these issues was still a wonderful mother.  She fed me, she clothed me, she sang me to sleep, she read to me at night, she went on class field trips, she took me on fun, crazy adventures, she loved me.  In many ways she taught me what a good mother looks like.  She gave me butterfly kisses and Eskimo kisses and doggy kisses and just plain old regular kisses.  She held me when I cried and taught me that I'd always have someone there for me.  She cheered me on in all my successes, and talked me through all my failures.  She was wonderful, but she had a problem.  She had an illness. 

Mom never could admit or recognize that she had a problem.  How could she when some of the people closest to her could barely recognize it?  I often wonder what life might have been like if she'd sought help.  In conquering one addiction would she have been able to conquer others?  Would she have quit smoking sooner?  Would she have had a stronger support network?  Would she have surrounded herself with such toxic people?  Would she have gotten cancer?  Would she still be here today?  It's kind of pointless to ask this now, but I can't help but wonder.

There may not be much point to this post.  This may just the ramblings of a tired almost-30 year old who misses her mom.  But a lot of it needs to be said.  A lot of this I wish I could have spelled out for Mom.  I wonder if she would have listened.  So, I'm writing it for you. Maybe you knew Mom.  Maybe you're in a similar situation.  Maybe you're just interested in my ramblings.  Whatever your reasons for reading this, thank you for reading.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

I'm Back! For Real This Time. I hope.

I'm so sorry for letting so much time pass between posts.  Gosh, lately I feel like that's all I'm saying.  "I'm sorry for not finishing that."  "I'm sorry for not calling."  "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."  And while I am trying to get caught up on a lot of things, life has also been crazy-busy as well.  Plus, the reality is that I'm reaching a point where I can't use Mom as an excuse, even if she very much is the reason why some things haven't been done.  So, in an attempt to update you on everything, I'm going to write an epic post.

- I'll start with Mom's memorial.  Let me say that it was everything I could have hoped it would be.  We had the perfect number of people, and things flowed so smoothly.  I had a lot of help in planning it out, and I'm so grateful to the people who did help.  Without them I doubt I would have gotten anything done.  I'm also extremely grateful to the people who came long distances just to honor Mom.  My aunt came from AZ, a friend came from CA, and some friends came from TN.  That's quite a ways to go, but it tells me that Mom meant a lot to them as well.

One thing that really amazed me was how much of a release I felt after the memorial.  I thought I was handling things really well, but after the memorial I felt an actual weight off my shoulders.  It wasn't until after the memorial that I could even think about tackling paper work like calling banks and paying bills.  I'm not saying it's easy now, but it's definitely doable.  I finally felt like I could breathe.  I felt like I had actually said goodbye.

I should say, though, that I still miss Mom every day.  I talk to her all the time, and I'm often brought to tears thinking of her.  The hardest is at night, when I'm rocking Anna to sleep.  I'll sing lullabies to her that Mom often sang to me, and it makes me miss Mom so much.  There's one in particular that Mom tried to sing to me about a week before she passed.  She couldn't remember the words anymore, but she tried so hard.  Thinking of that makes me both happy and sad at the same time.  I hope Mom knows how much I loved her.

- As I said earlier, the day after Mom's memorial brought a new-found lightness.  I felt happy.  I felt release.  That was, however, until the evening.  That night, a friend who was staying us for the memorial received news that her sister and nieces had been murdered.  We were with her when she got this news, and we did our best to help her process and get home safely.  I was shocked at how much this affected me.  Admittedly, I think it would have been a lot easier had I not been dealing with the death of my own mother, but my reaction still shook me.

I think I suddenly became acutely aware of just how fragile this life is.  I had little panic attacks whenever I had to leave Anna.  I still took her to daycare, but I would often drop off late and pick up early because I just needed to have a little more time with her.  I would hug her ferociously and give her lots of kisses.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the panic that fueled it was.  I had to figure out what to do.

So, I finally faced that fear.  I was / am scared of losing those closest to me.  Some psycho could take them from me, or cancer to strike again, or heart disease could hit, or a simple accident could take those I love most.  Or, it could take me from them.  This is horrifying.  So, what can I do about it?  Well, I could shutter myself in my house and only eat organic greens my whole life, but that's not any sort of life I want to live.  Or, I could cherish every moment I'm here.  I could cherish every laugh, every tear, every hug, every kick from Anna.  I could cherish every moment Hans and I get to spend together.  I could cherish every day I'm able to work and every day I get with Cody, Lollie, Kyla, & Alex.  It's not always easy, and there are certainly times that I want to pull my hair out, but all I have to do is take a deep breath and say, "This moment will pass and will never return.  How do you want to handle this?"  I personally feel it makes me a better person.  It also makes me less apt to tolerate B-S.  I don't have time to deal with mean people or lazy people.  I'm going to address things head on instead of trying to put up with them.  It has really helped.  I mean, I still have little panic attack moments, but they're getting better.

- In the realm of 'living in the moment,' Hans and I actually, finally, got a vacation.  We spent the last week with Anna, Cody, Lollie, and Hans' family at the beach in North Carolina.  That was definitely an amazing, WONDERFUL experience.  We went kayaking, biking, running.  I tried SUP (something I've always wanted to do).  We finished each day exhausted, but beyond happy.  Anna did as well as she could, although I think she was sometimes overwhelmed by all the people (yes, she's my child).  Really, it was fantastic just having so much family time.  And, the big news is that Anna started walking!  I honestly feel as though we left for the beach with an infant and came back with a toddler.  The transition was sudden (time is fleeting), and amazing.

Super happy baby's first time on the beach.
Best kayaking buddies ever.
Trying SUP for the first time.  Cody was a champ!  I love my dog!
So tired after the beach.  She slept on my chest for about 30 minutes.  It was wonderful.
So, I'm living life to the fullest.  I'm trying to see friends more.  I'm treating my body better by eating better, but I'm still enjoying little treats (like the doughnut I had this morning).  I'm keeping a better house, because it makes me feel good about myself.  I'm not perfect, and I still have moments where I sulk or get really cranky, but I'm working on it. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

July 6th

It's time for a non-Mom blog post.  Honestly, I'm at a point now where I don't know that I can even describe how I'm feeling.  Each day, each second is different, and I'm just getting through it.  But there are good days.  There are days like yesterday.

Yesterday, Cody turned 8 years old.  Cody-bug- my sweet, wonderful, Doodlebug.  We've always made a big deal out of Cody's birthday.  Usually we'll take him for a hike or to some fun spot.  Two years ago we held and ice cream party at the kennel.  Last year, we took 6 week old Anna out with Cody and Lollie for two long hikes and then we all had burgers and ice cream for dinner (yes, Cody and Lollie did too).   This year, we planned on going for a short evening hike, but I'll be honest.  We just couldn't.  There was so much to do at the house, and we were so far behind.  Plus, hiking with 4 dogs is much harder than hiking with two.  Instead, I picked Anna up from daycare (later than I would have liked), went to the grocery store, came home and made dinner, and then put Anna to bed.  After that, Hans and I went back to working on our projects.

Still, though, we couldn't let the day pass without doing something special.  So, we made all the dogs dinner.  The dogs, who normally only eat kibble, were fed lemon-pepper chicken with mixed veggies.  Then we made them red velvet pupcakes with yogurt icing for dessert.  Their reactions were hilarious.  Cody and Lollie, who have always been spoiled rotten, were thrilled.  Kyla and Alex, however, who were used to Mom spoiling them but who see me as the stricter parent, gave me this look as if to say, "Ha!  Like we'd fall for that."  Kyla just kept sniffing her chicken and looking at me and Hans, while Alex kept giving his chicken tentative licks to see if we'd respond.  Once we praised them for starting to eat, Alex went hog-wild.  "Woo hoo!  Chicken!!"  Poor Kyla, though, had the hardest time figuring it out.  She did eventually eat well once Cody tried to steal her food, but she really wasn't certain about it. 

When it came to dessert, the results were even better.  Cody just scarfed his down in two bites.  Lollie ran with her pupcake into the living room where she proceeded to inhale it.  Kyla also ran with hers into the living room, but she then dropped her pupcake and just licked the icing off the floor.  Poor Alex kind of struggled with his since he's so much smaller.  He ran with his into Mom's old room and simultaneously worked on breaking it apart while also trying to keep any other dog from stealing it.  It was quite amusing.

All in all, it ended up being a good day.  I'm pretty sure Cody enjoyed his day, and I know I loved making all the dogs so happy.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Rollercoaster

Eventually my posts won't be about Mom or the aftermath, but this isn't that post.

Life has been a roller coaster of emotions since last Saturday.  Some days are great, but others leave me utterly drained.

When Mom first passed, the very first thing I felt was relief.  This nightmare we'd been in for the past few months was finally over.  I know this is a perfectly normal response when someone has been ill for a long time, but that was immediately accompanied by guilt.  How could I possibly be relieved?

Then the guilt became worse.  It wasn't just about the past few months, but rather about the past year.  I keep getting comments on what a good daughter I was for taking care of her, but nobody else was here for all the little moments.  Nobody else saw the fights and disagreements we had.  Nobody else saw how beat down and run down we both were.  Nobody else realized that there were times I purposely wouldn't go home simply because I wanted to be alone and couldn't be with Mom around.  Nobody else saw how I would sit in my car for 20 minutes with Anna asleep in the back just so I could have a little peace and quiet.  When Mom's scans came back so good last October, we all thought the worst was behind us.  We started taking each other for granted.  And then, when her cancer returned things happened so fast we didn't have time to think.  I feel guilty for not giving her more...more time, more laughter...just more.  And yet, I honestly don't know that I had any more to give.  I certainly wanted to sit down and simply watch a movie with her, but there never seemed to be a good time, and if there was, I just wanted to sleep.

I remember one time this past winter, I met Mom at Barnes & Noble for lunch.  We'd had a very tense morning together, but lunch was easy and light-hearted.  I actually told Mom, "You know, I think I like you better when we're not living with each other."  Luckily, she knew exactly what I meant.  We were just stepping on each others' toes so much.  And we both tried.  Mom tried to change little things about her...she watched less TV, she gave me and Hans as much alone time as possible.  I tried to be more patient, more understanding.  I tried to invite her out to join us more, because I knew how much she loved seeing us and Anna, and I loved watching the two of them interact.  But somehow, it was never enough.  So now, I'm coping with this thought of, "Why couldn't it have been better?"  Mentally I know that what we went through was fairly normal, but in my heart I wish I could have all of those moments back so I could tell her I love her.  When she was irrational due to pain or medication, I wish I could say, "You're crazy right now, but I love you." When she was asking me 300 questions about my day, when I just wanted to be left alone, I wish I could say, "Thanks for taking interest. I love you."  I miss my mom like crazy, and I wish I could have those moments back.

And then the roller coaster goes up. 

I cannot even begin to tell you how much lighter I feel now.  Death has a way of permeating every aspect of your life.  It lingers in your house and your heart.  It weighs you down.  It makes you feel as if simply being alive is too much work.  The past few months have just been so exhausting.  Heck, there were many times I was even too tired to cry.  Everyone in the house has suffered.  The lasts few weeks, I could barely even play with Anna because I was just too tired.  This past week, though, Hans and I have been clearing out.  We're redoing Mom's old room, we're clearing out her stuff and a lot of stuff we don't need any more, and all of that is just making life easier each day.  I've even noticed physical changes.  I'm not as hungry, I'm craving better foods, my runs are faster and easier, and I'm sleeping better.  I'm also reaching out to friends more and enjoying them more.  I can live life more in the moment, as my mind isn't being called back to what I need to take care of at home.  That is a blessing.

That doesn't mean things are easy by any means.  Last week, while clearing things out, I came across Mom's last tax return and started to bawl like a small child.  She was an accountant, so it makes sense, but I can't help but laugh because I think she'd be terribly upset to know that taxes are what made me cry over her.  I spent most of last Saturday packing up the last of her things, and I couldn't believe how exhausted I was after just 2 hours.  She didn't have a lot, but each thing meant something to her, and the whole process was just utterly draining.  After a few hours, I told Hans I needed a break, and we went to the Children's Museum for some time with Anna.  That was enough to get me moving again.

Oh, and then there's the planning of Mom's memorial.  Woo boy that's hard!  I mean, Mom and I had discussed our wishes years ago, so the logistics are easy, but choosing readings and whatnot is so emotionally tiring.  Plus, I have this fear that no one will show up.  I know this isn't true, because I know at least 3 people who are coming from out of state,  but what if they're the only 3?  Mom had so many friends spread so far and wide.  How can I know who will show up?

Anyway, just know that I'm getting through this.  Each day is different, with some being easier than others, but each day is also manageable.  I can manage, and I will get through this.  This roller coaster will end, and I will get off this ride and think, "What an experience."

Saturday, June 20, 2015

It Is Over.

Mom passed away today.

I don't even know what to say.  I feel such a mixture of emotions.  There is the obvious one: grief.  God, I am going to miss my mom. Part of me wants to wail like I did as a little girl, "I want my MOMMY!"  And then there's relief.  Relief that the worst is over.  Relief that Mom is no longer in pain.  Relief that our family can now start to move forward.

There are a couple of things, a few miracles, that I would like to share.

First I am amazed at the love my mother felt for me.  Our relationship had suffered a lot in the past few months.  We had struggled living together, and there were many issues past and present that we were having a hard time getting through.  Still, she always loved me.  The last thing she said to me was, "I love you."  When she couldn't open her eyes anymore she still murmured, "I love you."  When she couldn't speak anymore, she still murmured.  When she couldn't murmur anymore, she still grunted.  And when she couldn't get any sound out anymore, when she couldn't move anymore, she would still change her breathing whenever I said, "I love you."  This only happened with me.  I really expected some reaction to Anna, but no.  I know she loved Anna, but it's amazing the love she felt for me.  I guess I shouldn't feel surprised, but I am amazed.

Second, I am amazed at the simple miracle of life and death.  I don't often talk about spiritual things on this blog, because my relationship with God is very personal to me, but this is such a wonder.  The last time Mom was really my mom was Tuesday morning.  Since then she's slowly deteriorated until there was little left.  This morning I thought there was nothing left of her.  My thought was that there was just a shell.  She was still breathing, but I couldn't really discern Mom.  And yet, when I walked in her room this afternoon, I could tell the difference immediately.  I knew that the life that had been in her was truly gone.  While before she was merely sleeping, this afternoon was completely different.  She was really gone.  You could feel it in the air.  To me, this is nothing short of miraculous.  I feel like that feeling alone is definitive proof that there is more to us than just skin and bones.  That's proof enough that there is God and life after death.  How amazing is that?

For all those wondering, we will wait a little while for a memorial service.  Mom had many friends far and wide, and we want to allow everyone a chance to travel.  Things will be simple and all things will have Mom in mind.  I'm lucky that she and I had discussed wishes at length long ago.  Otherwise, thank you to everyone.  Thank you to all those who sent well wishes or meals or who offered to help.  Thank you to all those who prayed for her.  Thank you to all who simply thought of us from time to time.  We love you all.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

What Can I Say?

What can I say except that Mom continues to decline.  Each day she reaches a point where I don't think she can possibly get any worse, and yet each day she does.  I'll be honest.  We're nearing the end.

Mom has completely stopped eating and she rarely will accept water.  As of Sunday she refuses to open her eyes on most occasions.  If you ask her a question, she will respond, but I'm not always certain she knows what she's answering.  Comprehension isn't 100%.  She says she's not in any pain, but any sort of movement has her crying, "No, no no."

At some point over the weekend, I started to cope a little better.  I started to come out of the depression phase of things and started to focus more on the 'what needs to be done' side of things.  I was able to talk about it without breaking down or even becoming weepy.  And then last night, just as I was about to head up to bed, I lost it.  I had one thought: I'm going to be motherless.  I ended up spending 45 minutes ugly-crying on the couch with Hans bringing me tissues and just holding me.  And of course, today I'm back to weepy

I cancelled her doctor appointment for today as I'm unable to transport her, and there's not much point in it.  That said, palliative care is sending out a nurse practitioner to meet with me and seriously talk about hospice.

I feel bad for all the people who have asked to visit Mom.  At this point, I'm allowing a few select people in if I'm with them.  Otherwise, please stay away.  She won't realize you're there anyway, and having so many people around is just overwhelming.

Yesterday, I sat with Mom for a while.  I sang songs to her.  I sang the most soothing things I could think of...lullabies.  I had Anna with me, and I snuggled / nursed Anna and sang lullabies to both my child and my mom.  God, that sounds even more depressing when I write about it!  Anna has been a trooper.  She's normally good for a 30 minute visit or so, but I can tell it takes its toll on her.  After each visit, as I take her from her stroller to put her in the car seat, she reaches up and gives me the most wonderful hug.  Maybe she's just tired, maybe she's just grateful to be out of her stroller, but I truly believe that she's hugging me because she's upset to see her grandmama so ill and her mommy so upset.  Most visits now are when Hans can be home to watch Anna.

At this point, I'm just making sure Mom knows how much we love her.  I tell her I will always love her.  I tell her that Anna and I are OK, and we'll be OK.  Yesterday, I thanked her for teaching me how to be such an amazing mom.

And now I wait.  I hold my breath every time a nurse calls.  I get angry when they call me with trivial news.  "Mrs. P, I just wanted to let you know your mom hasn't been eating."  Do they not see me there every single day?  Do they think I don't already know that?  One of these days I'll receive a final phone call from them, and I won't have to hold my breath anymore.  Why must they call over such simple matters?

I know I'm rambling.  It's just how my thoughts are working right now.  Keep us in your thoughts.  Thank you for all the love and support so many people have shown.  If you see me, and I'm smiling, be happy for me.  If you see me and I'm crying, I'm sorry.  Don't run away.  It will pass and I'll smile again soon.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

We're Not Doing So Well

First of all, let me apologize to all you wonderful people who have been calling and sending messages.  I'm sorry I have not answered or responded.  It's just to hard to tell each person individually what's going on.  This is my best place for updates.  Know, though, that all those calls and messages are noted and appreciated.

Second, let me apologize for all the depressing posts.  The reality is that I just haven't been able to muster the time or the energy to post everything.  Certain things have been good, great even.  Hans' family came for a visit, Anna had her 1st birthday, and Hans' old roommate and dear friend came to visit.  Things with Mom, however, tend to overshadow everything.  It's all-encompassing and if I'm going to write a blog post at this point, it's most likely going to be about her.

Now, on to point of this post.

Mom isn't doing well.  She has continued to decline over the past week.  She's not eating and she's dropping weight.  Her last weigh in was 128 at the previous doctor appointment (down 14 pounds since her scans).  Now she's too weak to stand on her own, so weighing her is difficult.  She's on a good deal of morphine and often isn't 100% aware of her surroundings.  On Monday, though, we got the worst news of all.

Mom was supposed to start chemo on Monday, but the doctor told us they couldn't do it.  She's too weak.  Chemo would cause more harm than good.  So, at this point, unless there's some miracle, we're really just wondering about time.  We're trying our best to manage the pain and yesterday we gave her IV fluids to see if that would help anything (it didn't).  Mom doesn't really understand.  The doctors tried to bring up Hospice to her yesterday, but she just said she was too tired and didn't want to talk (we'll try again next week).  She told me she was happy that the doctors thought she was doing so well.

How am I doing?  Well, frankly I'm an emotional mess.  When I posted my last post, I got a lot of responses as to how I can get more support, and I feel I need to explain a few things.  First, the closest family Mom has is her half-sister in Arizona.  She's always had a lot of friends, but never a bosom-buddy, so that's out too.  As for the kennel, I'm making changes to make it easier for me and the rest of the staff, and in the mean time I have some really great employees.  Still, though, I miss being there.  When it comes to Anna, she's in part time daycare.  We've talked about moving her to full time, and we have a lot of family encouraging us to do so.  Keeping her home with me a little, though, while sometimes harder, also forces me to take a moment and enjoy life.  I love being with her.  My only regret is that I don't always have the energy to do the things I want to do with her.  But I do try to interact and let her know that I'm always here for her and she comes above anyone else's needs.

So, the emotional mess part?  Yeah, there's a lot factoring in to that.  Hormones and sleep deprivation are two factors (yay baby!).  Of course it's hard watching Mom go through all this too.  And then there's the guilt factor.  I often find myself just wishing it to be done.  A month ago I was praying that she would get better faster.  Now I just want her out of pain, however that may happen.  It's kind of hard to admit that, but I know she's miserable, and it's certainly no walk in the park for anyone else. 

In addition, I was surprised when I realized the other day just how lonely I've been the past year.  Hans is wonderful, and he's always there to support me, but he spends his days at work and often times we're both busy at the kennel in the evening.  He also isn't going through the same things I am. He isn't the sole care taker of his mom and she isn't gravely ill.  He isn't the head decision maker at the kennel (although he is a very important adviser and he often does make decisions).  He doesn't hear all the complaints unless they've been filtered through me.  It's very isolating.  When it comes to friends, my new mom friends aren't dealing with the same trials, and let's be honest.  Even if they were, I don't think I'd see it that way.  My childless friends, well, they don't quite understand some of the difficulties in parenthood or the fact that I actually enjoy spending time with my child.  No, I don't want to hire a sitter and go to a party or a club or out for drinks.  Those never really were fun things for me anyway, and now I'd much rather spend it with Anna.

I came to this realization while Hans' old roommate was here.  I've known him for all of 2 days less than I've known Hans (12 years), and  many college days (and nights) were spent with Hans, my old roommate, and his old roommate.  There's a bond there.  I found I felt comfortable talking with him the same way I do with Hans- free of judgement and open to almost any topic- and he was a HUGE help when it came to running quick errands or visiting Mom.  He was a second set of hands for Anna.  (Quick note just in case some of you have bad thoughts: Hans has NOTHING to worry about).  I just came to the stark realization that I really miss having that trusted confidant who's not my husband.  I miss just being able to kick back and remove myself from life a bit.  So, now I'm working on fostering friendships and relationships.  I have plenty of friends, but too often I ignore those friends to focus on other things (kennel, Mom, baby, etc).  So, while I don't always want to go to a party, I will hire a sitter because my friend wants me there.  And while I sometimes just want to stay home and hibernate, it may be better to call a friend for a brief outing.  And then, when I just can't do it anymore on my own I know I'll have friends nearby to call on.  And for the dear, dear friends I do have, whether you're near or far, know how much I appreciate you.  Even though I'm not great at calling or hanging out, your friendship is precious to me.  And someday, when you're in need, I hope you feel comfortable calling on me, and I hope I can take a moment to focus on you the way you have on me.

Alright folks, that's all I have today.  I have a tired baby who wants to nap, and I'm going to take that opportunity to get a little more rest as well!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Mom Update

In short, things have not been going well.  After my last post, Mom had a fall.  I'm not entirely clear what happened, but she'd had a long, exhausting day, and I think she just lost her balance.  The fall combined with the long days left her in A LOT of pain.  She didn't want to do therapy, and the pain often left her befuddled and confused.  There has been more than one time where I've left her in tears simply because it's been difficult to watch her decline.

To put it simply, THIS SUCKS.

The worst part is that I have no idea what to expect.  Will she start to get better, or will she only continue to decline?  This morning she was actually doing a little better, but I can't tell if that's more of a permanent thing or just a brief window of clarity.  Also, how long will everything take? Chemo starts on Monday.  Will she improve like she did last year, or will she merely be additionally weakened from chemo?  I don't know if I should even get my hopes raised.  I'm trying not to, but hope seems to be the only thing I have.

In addition to all that, I'm trying to figure out her financial situation and make sure she has decent care no matter what.  Can I just put out there that long term care insurance would be really helpful right about now?

Yeah, it's been hard.  I could probably handle things if all I had to worry about was Mom, but then I also have Anna and the business.  Thank God things are running fairly smoothly with them!  My point is that I have these terrible emotional tugs.  Anna celebrated her 1st birthday.  YAY!  Mom wasn't feeling well enough to go.  Not yay.  We took the party to Mom and she actually ate quite a bit.  YAY!  Yesterday Mom didn't want to even look at food.  Not yay.  Anna has been really loveable and giving lots of hugs.  YAY!  Taking Anna to even visit Mom is difficult, because Anna wants to crawl, and there's no place for me to set her down.  Not yay.

So, it hasn't been easy.  We're getting through, but it hasn't been easy.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Mom Update: A Week Later

This is a pretty simple update, but I wanted to keep people in the loop.

Mom is currently in a nursing facility for rehab.  The nearly week-long stay in the hospital along with having a drain put in left her week and fairly immobile.  She tired quickly and her legs lost a lot of strength.  That combined with the amount of pain she was in made me realize that I just couldn't take care of her directly from the hospital. 

The good news is that rehab has been going VERY well.  I no longer worry if she just has to use the bathroom, and I've noticed a HUGE improvement in her walking.  She's getting occupational therapy, speech therapy (for memory), and physical therapy every day.  It's leaving her completely wiped, but it's good.

The other good news is that after the original draining and the one after it, they haven't gotten much fluid out.  The slower the fluid reproduces the better, so that's all great.

Mom and I are now having some harder discussions.  They're hard for two reasons: 1) They're kind of complicated and in-depth, and Mom's exhausted. 2) The subject matter.  We're talking about things like long-term care as we progress forward.  What do we do if she gets better?  What do we do if she gets worse?  And then we're talking about things in case she doesn't get better.  What happens with her dogs? (I'll keep them, of course.)  What paperwork is there to be done?

At this point, I'm just looking at the positive side of things.  It's all very hard.  Mom will be home soon, and I'm excited to have her back, but I'm also terrified.  It's hard living with my Mom, and this past year certainly hasn't been easy.  I want her to know I love her and care for her, but I'm also worried about my family and my sanity.  So, I have to stay positive.  Here's to staying sane!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mom Update

Mom is still in the hospital.  It was just supposed to be a one night stay to ensure she got her tests and whatnot in a timely manner, but she was in so much pain after her drain was put in they decided to keep her another night.  She's most likely going to stay tonight as well since the pain hasn't diminished.  She's on three different pain meds and is still asking for more.  At this point, I'm working with the doctor and other hospital staff to figure out the next steps.  She's really not strong enough to come home, but we don't want her to stay in the hospital forever.  Ideally, I'd like to see her go to a rehab facility to regain some of her strength.  She was already having some issues with walking, and these past few days have caused her to greatly decline in that area.

Frankly, I'm not quite sure where we stand at this point.  One moment, I'll be fine thinking about how well Mom is doing given the situation, and the next moment I'll break down crying because I'm scared of losing her.  This round of things has all been so sudden and things have progressed so quickly.  Just a month ago there were just a few concerning spots, but Mom was acting and eating normally.  Now today, she's just getting some appetite back, but she's exhausted after a shuffle down the hall. 

Things to know medically: They removed 1300ccs of fluid from her left lung yesterday.  For comparison, most people normally have about 4 tsp.  The brain MRI came back, and that was clear, which is good, but her chest CT showed more activity (which is kind of a well-duh).  I can't help but wonder what another bone scan would show.

So, for now, I'm back off to the hospital.  I'm hoping I get to see the doctors again and maybe we can figure things out.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

I've had better days...

I'll keep this short, as I'm currently sitting in the waiting room at the hospital.  Mom is being admitted for the night.  Fluid in her lungs as increased causing,her significant pain and discomfort.  The doctors decided to admit her for scans and then for a drain to be placed.  Can I just say it's really hard to go through this?  It's not fair!  The end.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Mom Update

Mom had more scans a few weeks ago.  I'll just cut to the chase.  They weren't great.  Of course, we were hoping for completely clear scans like we'd seen before.  Heck, we were kind of expecting it.  Unfortunately, the scans showed a few new nodules and some "suspicious activity."  Everything is fairly small (the largest is only about 10 mm), but it's still not great news.  Our original reaction after hearing the news was to start chemo as soon as possible.  You know, let's kill this while it's small.  However, after chatting with a few different doctors we decided to wait.  The more we find out about how it's going to progress, the better we'll be able to treat it.  Plus, Mom's body kind of needs a rest from all we've put it through.

So, those are the facts that we know.  Where things get difficult is in all the unknown.  Mom hasn't been feeling well, but it's difficult to pinpoint why.  It could be due to the cancer, it could be depression, it could be the pain meds, it could be chemo/radiation, or it could be all of the above.  No matter what the cause, it's still horribly difficult to watch.  She's nauseous and lacking appetite, she's tired, she's hurting.  It's hard to watch this woman who once helped me move an entire apartment up 3 flights of stairs to now have difficulty getting up out of bed.

It's also hard not knowing what comes next.  What will the next scans say?  Will there be more chemo?  More radiation?  Mom is so happy that her hair is starting to come back.  Will she end up losing it again?  If there is more chemo, will it work?  I have moments where I think, "If this is what does her in, then let it be swift", and then I feel instantly guilty because I want to spend as much time with her as possible.  So then I think, "Let us just be over and done with this quickly and hope for the absolute best."

To add to all the stress, Anna's 1st birthday is at the end of the month.  I'm thrilled and excited about it, but it often leaves me feeling like two different people.  When I'm focusing on Anna I'm the happy mom, but then I'll be hit with this overwhelming wave of sadness.  I'm never quite sure how to feel.

I won't ramble on any longer.  I'm utterly exhausted, but I thought y'all should know what's happening right now.

Thanks for listening.