My mom loved throwing parties. Holidays were always celebrated and they were celebrated in a BIG way. St. Patrick’s Day was always one of her favorites. We like to refer to our extended family as “The United Nations”, because there is a little bit of everything intertwined. Catholics, Jews, Mormons. Irish, Italian, English, Scottish, German…the list goes on and on but on St. Patrick’s Day, to my mom, everyone was Irish. That was her rule. She would cook pounds and pounds of corned beef, cabbage and potatoes and we’d all gather at my parents house to eat. This year, we decided, would be no different. What better way to celebrate her. So today, I went to their house early and started cooking. Since we were preparing nearly 30 POUNDS of corned beef, my cousin Lisa came over with her crock pot so that we could cook it all at once. It was much easier than I expected it to be. Other than needing to be there to make sure the pots didn’t spill over, there was very little to do.
Drew wanted to be a part of the preparation so much. He helped peel and cut the potatoes. He carried chairs up from the basement so there would be places for everyone to sit. He opened the blinds in the family room that have not been opened in awhile. He said it was “so that grandma could look in while we were celebrating”.
Around four o’clock people started arriving. There were 26 for dinner. It was a typical St. Patrick’s Day at mom’s. Neighbors were dropping by all evening to pay their respects and I think they were surprised to see the festivities and laughter and joy that was going on. We told them it was just what she would have wanted. She would want us to go on as normal. We were celebrating her. It was a welcome release from the previous days that were spent dwelling on sadness. We have a lot of emotional days ahead of us. The normalcy of today was a good break for all of us.
We are all going to grieve, and we will do it in our own way, but I know that my mom would have wanted us to be together tonight. It was good for all of us. There is no time line for when we will stop grieving for her. The pain will lessen eventually and for all of us it will be different. Holidays have never been small in our family. Those days are going to be bittersweet from now on. She might not be there physically anymore, but her spirit will live on for all of us. It wouldn’t be a party without her!
One of the benefits of being a teacher and living in the town that I teach in, is that I get to bump into my students and their families quite often around town. My own family laughs because we can rarely go anywhere without seeing someone I know. Being a Kindergarten teacher is a blessing in itself. The joy that these 5 and 6 year olds find in the simplest things, brings a smile to my face on a daily basis. Children teach us how care for the small things, love unconditionally and to simply laugh.
In the weekly journal writing class that I have been taking we have been focusing on vulnerability. The definition of vulnerable is “exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally” Many people might think that children are vulnerable, but perhaps the people who really are vulnerable are adults. Children laugh, care and love unconditionally. They are giving, compassionate and empathetic. They are tolerant and unbiased. They want to love and they want to be loved. Simple. Maybe this is why being a Kindergarten Teacher is “my calling”. They all just want to be friends!
Being vulnerable is not a bad thing. After talking and journal writing about it for a few days now, I think it is part of a growing process. Vulnerability is necessary to grow and move on. It is a process of change and learning to accept that you can move forward. I am secure in the way my life is right now….but now that my mom has passed, that life is going to be different. I am vulnerable. I have to learn to live without her. I can’t just call her like I want to tonight, to ask her for her corned beef and cabbage recipe that I will be preparing for 20 people tomorrow. I have to rely on other ways and open myself to new possibilities and opportunities. It will taste just fine. It may not be her recipe, but it will be as close to it as I can get it to be, and perhaps be a new tradition for our family.
That brings me back to teaching in town…
Today, while I was at Target, buying all of the ingredients I needed for tomorrow’s meal, at the exact same time, three of my students and their parents and I all wound up in the same part of the store. I got hugs and enormous smiles and in return, I was able to give them one of the biggest, most genuine smiles I have been able to give all week. When one of them told me, “I missed you! Where were you”? I told them, “My mom was sick”. One of them just smiled and said, “She needed you to take care of her right?” My eyes filled with tears and I was able to reply, “Yes. That is exactly what I was doing”. Perhaps I am breaking through my vulnerability and it is my Kindergarteners who will help me to get there.
Tonight at the hospital, my mother’s doctor told us that there was no brain activity and that she would never be able to breathe on her own. There is also no chance of her regaining consciousness. We have been told that this was a possibility since she arrived at the hospital on Friday night but it was very difficult to believe.
My sister and I have been understanding and accepting this since the beginning. My brothers and father could not let go of that glimmer of hope. We did not argue about it, we just needed to deal with it in our own way. Tonight though, we all gathered at my parent’s home and there was no longer disagreement, just harmony as we all came together. We laughed and cried, shared stories and looked at pictures. We read the hundreds of messages of support that we have gotten from friends and family. I always knew what an amazing, generous and kind woman my mom was and these messages have only confirmed what I already knew.
We have not decided when we will turn off the life support. I know that she is ready to go, but we want to give family and friends who love her so much, the opportunity to say good bye and let her know just how special is to all of us. She had the biggest heart of anyone I have ever known and she had a remarkable affect on everyone she met.
That’s what we are doing. It’s not easy for someone like me. I like immediate results. I like to be in control. This probably doesn’t surprise anyone who knows me well. That’s the most difficult part of this whole ordeal. The “what ifs” and the “when”. What if she doesn’t wake up? What if she does but is unaware of her surroundings or doesn’t know who we are? What will we do if she comes out of this but is incapacitated in some way? “What if??? The list of whats keeps getting bigger and bigger.
When will she wake up? When will we know if anything is going on in her brain? When do we need to make decisions?
The fear of the unknown and not being in control is the hardest part. For now we will just wait ….
As we continue to wait for news on my mother’s condition, we are all experiencing a range of emotions. Each one of us is dealing with it differently. A few of us are focusing on nothing but the positive – which I understand and pray for. A few of us, (I am included in this group), are looking at the “what ifs”, because…..what if??? This is causing tension because there really is no one way to deal with this. Each of our reactions is based on a so many factors. Our personalities, age, relationship with mom, and our spiritual beliefs. Our entire family is going to be affected by this process and by the entire experience that she, (and all of us), are going through.
I do not think that there is only one “right way” to deal with this situation. It is going to cause arguments and it is going to cause stress and tears but each of us need to go through it in our own way and none of us should judge the other for how we are dealing with it. Coping with it differently is natural. It is going to be an exhausting and depressing experience, but I am hoping for small rewards on the journey. It might be a blink of her eye, or a squeeze of her hand. I am still holding out hope that this could happen. I want nothing more than to have her back. I miss her already and keep thinking that I need to call her to tell her what’s been going on. Maybe I am afraid to hope for the best because I am afraid of being let down, and maybe by preparing for the worst, I am allowing myself to feel good when the worst doesn’t happen.