Sunday, October 31, 2010

Memory Triggers

I guess that there will always be things that trigger memories of my mom, but since it's just been two weeks and a day since she died, some of these triggers are jumping out at me.  Last night, I went to help pass out candy at our town's big Halloween celebration.  The arts' council of which I'm a part passed out candy to all the little princesses, bumble bees, Handy Mannys, fairies, witches,  and such.  Darth Vader is the one that triggered a memory for me, though.  Our church used to always have a Halloween party.  One year Mother borrowed my daughter's Darth Vader's mask, put on a black graduation robe and some sort of black hood, went to the church and just sat there throughout the party.   She didn't talk to anyone.  Everyone was trying to guess who in the world that person was.  Well, at the end of the party, she took off her mask and boy, was everyone surprised to see this old gray headed lady dressed as a Star Wars character.  The little kids thought she was pretty cool!  Another year, shortly after the World's Fair had been in Knoxville, she went to the party dressed as the Ghost of the World's Fair.  She pinned all kinds of World's Fair buttons and other paraphernalia on a white sheet.  The most surprising to me, though, was the year she wore a mini skirt, a shirt that was off one shoulder, leg warmers, and painted her hair bright pink and blue.  She was a punk rocker! Mother was in her 60s when they had these parties.  We didn't live here then, but people told me about Mother's great costumes.  I also saw pictures.
Today at church, many memories were triggered.  Mother didn't sing, but she loved to hear me sing.  She loved hearing our choir's anthems every week, too.  She loved all the old hymns.  For one piano recital that I was in as a child, I had to play, "How Great Thou Art".  I was not, and still am not, a very good pianist, especially in public.  I did not have this piece memorized as well as I should have, and when I was in front of people I forgot what I did know.  I was really concerned about this.  Mother told me not to worry, that if I forgot part of the song, to just start over, that no one would know.  Well, I got near the end of the song and, of course, forgot the ending, so I started over.  I got near the end again, and again, forgot, so I started over.  I'm not sure how many times I played this beautiful hymn over and over before I finally just quit.  Our choir sang a medley today that included "How Great Thou Art".  The sermon today was about how we can see Jesus's face through other people and through doing things for others.  My mother was someone who was always "DOING" for others.  That was just the way she was.  One example the preacher used in his sermon was that some of the ladies in our church are making prayer shawls for people who are hurting or in need.  My mother received the first of these shawls.  We buried it with her.  Also, after church every Sunday, we have refreshments and a time of fellowship.  Mother LOVED this time to get to visit with her friends and the children at church.  So, today, during our fellowship time, I had more memories triggered.
This is not a bad thing, but right now, it is still somewhat painful!  I hope this wasn't too rambling!!!!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Love in the Mailbox

 My brother, sister, and cousins have been receiving acknowledgments from the church, too.  We have all been getting beautiful sympathy cards with sweet heartfelt notes. These are the ones I've gotten. One of these was sent to me by Kim, one of my great blogging friends.  Hers is the light green one int he middle of the bottom row.  So sweet.  Do you see the two Halloween cards?  One, I received today from one of my cousins who said she had bought it to send Mother.  The other is from one of Mother's former pastors and his wife.  They sent cards to each other for every occasion.  I never knew the joke, but they always signed their cards, "the X family" and Mother addressed theirs that way, too.  This card was sent before they knew that Mother had died.  The nursing home forwarded it to me.
I went by the nursing home today to take a few things that I thought they could use.  They were playing Bingo and several of the staff members were dressed in costume.  I just got a few photos.
 This is one of my favorite CNAs dressed as Pebbles.  She is such a sweet lady.  I think she looks adorable, and I'm sure the residents enjoyed seeing her dressed up today!  They loved her pink hair!
 This is the activities director dressed up like a cowgirl.   The resident she's talking to is one of my sweet ladies who I plan to still visit.  Her favorite thing to say is, "tootle oo, tootle oo." She used to walk around with her best friend.  They always had their pocketbooks and babydolls, and they were going to the store if you asked."
Here the residents are playing Bingo. A lady I've known all my life comes every Friday morning to lead them in Bingo.  The residents look forward to this time.  I know my mother did.  If one of the regular residents isn't there, this lady goes looking for them to make sure they are alright.  Today, I went to check on one lady for her.  This lady just hadn't gotten up yet, but told me to find a CNA to get her up so she could play Bingo.  So, I did as I was told!  This lady used to teach school with my aunt and is another person I've known all my life.
I will keep going back to visit.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mother's Favorite Time of Year...........

..............was not Fall.  She like Winter the best because once all the leaves are gone she could see more things.  She was like me, in that she was somewhat claustrophobic.  The leaves in the summer time "smothered" her, she would say.  I, on the other hand, do love Fall so I'm going to show you a few pictures of Fall colors.                                                 
 First, is this small display in my yard.  I have meant to do this every year since we moved here 8 years ago.  But, I've always had so much going on.  Well, this year, one of my dear friends sent the large purple mums in the back of this display.  The plow belonged to my husband's grandfather.  I bought the pumpkins from the local Methodist youth group, and I purchased the other mums from Walmart.  I love, love, love purple, yellow, and green together.  Oh yeah, I added in a few berries from my nandena bush, or I should say, my husband's grandmother's nandena bush, as she planted it long before we moved here.  I created this display the day before yesterday, before the storms hit, and I've been afraid to look to see if any of it is still there!  My husband says he's going to go to his dad's barn to get a couple of old hay bales, but so far he hasn't had time.
This is the first year that I have noticed the beautiful firey colors on our crepe myrtles (again,  my husband's grandmother's). 
Berries on the nandena bush.
Now, for some pretty colors of a different sort.  While I was carrying the mums and plow out to make the display, my ankle just turned and this is the result.  It really doesn't hurt too badly, but right at the moment, it did!  I thought I'd really messed it up.  I've iced it and elevated it, so it isn't so bad.  I usually don't have "cankles"!
This morning I called the retirement and social security offices.  That was easy.  The retirement office is sending me forms to fill out to send back in with a copy of the death certificate.  For social security, the phone call was all I needed to do.  If she gets a check in November, I simply send it back, but the nice lady told me that they shouldn't be sending her one.  She keeps the October one!  That surprised me.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A week later...........

For the most part I am doing really well since Mother's death.  The first few days were a whirlwind of activity with our family and friends being at our house.  We had to make the arrangements and actually go through the service and celebration of Mother's Life.  That was the easy part.
Mother's service was Monday evening, the 18th.  On Tuesday morning, two of our daughters and their families left to get back to jobs and school.  Our other daughter's family left on Wednesday.  My brother, sister, and cousins also had to get back home.  So, our house is really quiet!!!
I've been back to the nursing home twice (this was harder than I thought it would be): once to take some cake for the staff, and the other time to take a few pieces of Mother's clothing to a few special residents who I knew would enjoy them.  One lady likes sparkly, pretty things.  Mother had a black sweater with gold sparkly thread woven in a beautiful design.  I knew that Shirley would enjoy wearing it.  A couple of the ladies are always cold, so I took them some of Mother's jackets and the shawls that I had made for Mother.  I kept the one that I had made with the appliqued quilt blocks. 
Then, I took some of her clothes and some of my mother-in-law's clothes to a charitable organization that all of the community churches run together.  Folks come there to buy or be given clothing, food, and household goods.  I learned the other day that over 2,000 folks are served there monthly!!! 
I have written lots of thank you notes, and have more to write.  Many people are making contributions to our church in Mother's memory.  We asked for that in lieu of flowers.
Going to church Sunday was hard.  I have so many memories of Mother tied to the church and to her friends who are still there.
I've handled more of Mother's financial "stuff".  Most of that is done, I think.  I haven't contacted SS or her retirement office yet, I guess I need to do that today.   I'm just waiting on the death certificates to come and to hear from the funeral home, as to whether her insurance has covered her funeral expenses. 
So, I have been busy, but not too much so.  I have had time to sew; check out my other blog that is linked on my sidebar to see the Christening gown I just finished.  Life does go in cycles, doesn't it?  I've been working on things for the end of Mother's life and the beginning of another beautiful little life at the same time.
Sleeping seems to be my only problem.  When I go to bed and close my eyes, I "see" Mother as she was on that last night, and during the past few months (nearly a year), rather than how she used to be.  I am trying to "see" those earlier visions, and I am making some headway.  I do need to get a little more sleep.  I understand that bad memories fade and that the good ones take over, with time.  I believe that.
My mind has been a little foggy at times, for instance, when I went to the bank today and locked my keys in my car.  My family will tell you that is nothing unusual for me, though.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Celebration of Life!

We held a celebration of life for my mother.  She did not want a typical funeral.  She did not want to have a time of receiving friends for viewing of the body.  We had just a private family viewing time.  We were all sitting there quiet and somber when my brother stood up and said that it would be okay for us to talk and remember Mother.  Several of us told stories for a little while before the pastor came in to have a prayer with us.  He said it was very refreshing to hear laughter because that is what Mother would have wanted.
Then, we went to the cemetery and had her graveside service, which was very brief.  The pastor had just a short message, a little scripture, and a prayer before we left to go to the church for a memorial service.
 When we were thinking about what scripture to be read, etc.... I thought to look through Mother's Bible to see if she had any special scriptures marked, underlined, highlighted, etc..... She didn't, but she did have some things in her Bible that were of obvious importance to her.  There were a couple of pages that she had torn out of some devotional book that had scripture.  One of the verses was from James 3:13 "Who is wise and understanding among you?  Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom."
The prayer at the end of this devotional read, "Great God, you know our worth, and you love us, no matter what our age may be.  As long as we live, teach us the best way to give.  In Jesus' name we pray.  Amen"
There was a short note that she had written that explained in her own words what one of the scriptures meant to her. This scripture was  from Romans 15:1 and in her words is, "Even if we believe that it makes no difference to the Lord whether we do these things, still we cannot just go ahead and do them to please ourselves for we must bear the burden of being considerate of the doubts and fears of others."

Mother lived her life in service to others.  She was a teacher and later a social worker for Children Services.  Even after she retired she was on the Foster Care Review Board and on the Habitat for Humanity Board, was very active in her church and in ministries of the women of the church.  She constantly was reminding us to be mindful of the feelings and needs of others.

Education was important to Mother.  She had an undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee in Zoology.  She then went to Atlanta and studied to become a Lab Technician.  This was in the 40s when not many women went off to college, and if they did most of them majored in education, nursing, or home economics.  We never even gave thought to not going on to college when we were growing up.  It was just an understanding.

Mother had planned the service except for the part our pastor called "Remembrances".   My niece, who is the oldest of the grandchildren asked if she could tell a bit about Grandmother's life and about the kind of person she was to her.  She honored Mother in such a beautiful way, by telling about Christmases at her house, the stability she provided to her and her sister when her parents divorced when she was young, and about the little quirky things that made our mother so unique.  Then she asked if anyone else had stories to tell.  I went first, of course, and told about when mother made me laugh a couple of months ago (I blogged about this in July), and I read a note that I found in her stuff that I had written to her when I was probably about 10 years old.  It reads,
"Dear Mother,
I love you very much.  You have been kind to me.  But I've not been kind to you as much.  I'm sorry, for everything, I've done to make you unhappy....
You are the sweatest mother, I wouldn't have another in all my life.
Yours truly, Julia"
(I left the punctuation and spelling just as I had written the original note.  I don't know what I was apologizing for but I must have done something pretty bad!)

Then, I told a story that my brother was planning to tell.  He chickened out at the last minute.
When he was in the Navy,  our mother wrote to him every day.  He never wrote back.  So.......our mother wrote to his commanding officer and asked if he was okay because she never heard from him.  His commanding officer called him into his office and gave him a piece of paper and a pen and told him to write to her right then and there and ordered him to write to her from then on at least once a week.  He was in the Navy 22 years, and he never failed to write to her each week from then on.

Another story was told by my cousin, who was 16 when his mother died.  Our mother moved into their house to take care of him and his younger brother.  The 16 year old liked to stay out late and didn't like rules.  So, one Saturday night when he was out late she wrote a Proclamation that said something like this......."Whereas, everyone in this house does pretty much whatever they want to do from Monday through Saturday, I proclaim that on Sunday morning everyone in this house WILL get up and go to church!!!"  Sometime later, on a Saturday evening when Mother had gone somewhere with her friends, and my cousin happened to be home earlier than she, he wrote her a note that said, "Dear Aunt Ruth, I can't wate (that's how he spelled it) up any longer so I'm going to bed.  I hope you won't stay out late like this any more.  Please turn out the lights and lock the door.  Ha!"  (These aren't the exact words, but pretty close.)
There were a few other stories told that made the service personal and, as Mother wanted, celebratory.

  She chose the hymns, who was to sing, play the piano and organ, who were to be the pall bearers and honorary pall bearers.  She also decided on the order that we were to do things.  That's why the burial was first, then the service, and then........
she wanted us to have a "party" to celebrate her life.  She wanted a gathering of friends and family.  She wanted refreshments.
So, some of the ladies in our church got together and made cookies, brownies, shortbread, etc.... and punch.  We had a display of photographs of Mother from when she was a little child throughout her life till recent photos with her great grandchildren. Some photos were of her with her dear friends at various celebrations of birthdays, church functions, trips they took together.  There was one photo of her with her brother and her best friend, who died in August, that must have been taken at Halloween since they all had on costumes.  We saw people we haven't seen in a long time.  We had so much food brought to the house that we were able to feed over 40 members of the family who were here along with several close friends, for the whole weekend and still have some left over.  Everyone in the family has gone now, and most are already back to their homes.  It is very quiet in our house.  I welcomed the noise which was mostly laughter of children and of us grownups telling even more stories.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Mother is at peace, as of five minutes till six this morning.  She had a few very calm and peaceful days.  When I got there at about 4:45 yesterday afternoon, I could see a difference from when I'd been there at noon.  The doctor was shocked at the difference in her from the week before.  He checked her out and said that she should have nothing else by mouth.  He had me go into the hall where he asked me if I had ever heard of the "death rattle".  I had.  He told me that was what we were hearing with Mother's breathing.  So, I knew then that I needed to spend the night.  It just happened that one of my out of town cousins was coming to spend the night with us last night.  She ended up staying with me at the nursing home. 
The staff at the nursing home couldn't have been nicer and more sensitive to our needs.  They first moved Mother's roommate to another room for the night.  Then, they rolled a cart filled with a pitcher of ice cold water, a carafe of coffee, soft drinks, Little Debbie cakes, a tray of sandwiches, etc......  Different staff members came in throughout the night to check on Mother.  Some of these staff members were assigned to the other hall, but heard what was going on.  One of the CNAs sang to Mother.
During the first half of the night, Mother was really struggling with phlegm building up in her throat.  Several times the nurses came in to suction it.  Mother always seemed to rest a little better after each time.  As the night progressed Mother's face, hands and feet began to feel cool to the touch.  She would try to open her eyes, but I could tell she wasn't focusing.
About 3:00, or so,  the congestion seemed to lessen, and she seemed to rest much better.
At 5:30, I looked at the clock and thought to myself, "We shouldn't have stayed all night, because she's going to go on into the day."  I was wrong, though.  I actually closed my eyes and nodded off a bit, then she coughed, and my cousin said, "Julia, something's happening.  She's coughing up stuff."  I wiped her face while my cousin went to get the nurse.
By the time they came back into the room, Mother's chest was no longer rising and falling.  I said, "She's gone."  The nurse listened with her stethoscope, though, and said that her heart was still beating about 60 times a minute.  She checked her hands and feet.  Then, she listened again.  Mother moved her legs and head a bit, but the nurse looked at me and said that she could no longer hear her heart.  She left us alone till we were ready for the Hospice nurse to come to make the pronouncement of death.  Then the funeral home guy came.  He was so, so, so nice. 
Later in the morning my brother, husband, and I went to the funeral home to make the arrangements. My sister couldn't get here in time to go with us, but she said that she was agreeable to anything we chose.  We wanted to get the planning done so that her obituary can be in tomorrow's papers.  We are going to have her service on Monday.   It wasn't hard to plan because Mother had me go about 3 years ago to pick up a form to fill out with her funeral wishes.  The funeral home had her plans on file.  We had to change only a couple of things, like the number of great grandbabies she now has, etc....  We chose a simple, but elegant casket that Mother would love.  We went to the florist and chose the flowers for the casket spray.  I don't think my brother and I have ever agreed so easily on things as we did today.  We always get along great, but he usually has some really "weird" ideas.  I guess he thinks mine are "weird".  But, today, we agreed readily on everything.  It helps that Mother had done most of the pre-planning.
Many friends came by with offerings of food, prayers, and thoughts of blessing. 
All of our children and their families are coming.  All of my cousins are coming.  My sister's girls are coming. 
Tonight, I'm going to bed relaxed and thankful that Mother is no longer suffering!  I wish you could have seen the look of peace that was on her face at the end.  I have cried some tears.  We have laughed about some memories with my brother, sister, and the cousins who are already here.  We have looked through old photos and have chosen some to be on display at the visiting time.
My mother planned a celebration of her life rather than a mournful event.  First, she wants to be buried, then have a memorial service at our church with our choir singing.  Then, she wants us to have a time of remembering with our family and friends in our fellowship hall at the church.  This is sort of backwards from the normal way that people around here have funerals, but it is what she wanted!!!!!!
I will probably continue with this blog.  There are lots of observations that I made at the nursing home that didn't even include my mother.  I will be writing about those.  It may be a while, though.
Thanks to all of you who have been reading my notes about our experience at the nursing home, and who have been saying prayers and sending positive thoughts our way.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Days? Weeks????????

We don't know what to expect, really.  We are just going day by day.  Prayers for continued calm and peace, please.  I probably won't be on here much in the near future.

Monday, October 4, 2010


My Mother is officially a client of Caris Hospice.  A nurse came today to interview me, meet Mother, examine her, go through Mother's chart page by page, and to make some beginning recommendations.  She was there from 3:00 till after 6:30.  She was still there when I came home.  I was impressed to say the least.  She explained to me that Hospice clients are usually within 6 months of finding peace, but that very often that time is extended.  She said some clients have hung on for 2 years!  We don't know what's in store for Mother, but this service will be a benefit to her in that they will suggest changes in meds (oh no, here we go again!) that will keep her from being in pain and otherwise help her quality of life.  They will be extra eyes and ears and hands for taking care of Mother.  Staffing is short at the nursing home.  The CNAs, LPNs, and RNs do a fantastic job, are caring compassionate people, but they only have two hands and can't possibly do all that really needs to be done.  So they are welcoming the extra help!
Hospice will be there to answer our questions, give us their opinion about Mother's condition, and in general make things go more smoothly.  They are trained to counsel the families.  Believe me when I say that this may be the service they provide most in this case. 
Actually, I think I have come to terms with what the future has to hold.  All I ask for now, is that Mother can find some peace!
I still walk through the halls and dining room and visit with the other residents: Margaret, Katherine, Ann, Reba, Edna, Mr. Bunch, Johnny, Rebecca, Ms. Vance, and so many others that I can't possibly name them all here.  Some have such sunny outlooks that they cheer me up when I talk to them.  I think that I will continue to visit these folks even after Mother is no longer there. 

Friday, October 1, 2010


I talked with the doctor tonight.  He says there is no way to know when we will officially need hospice, but he is going to write the order tonight.  He said that, now, death does not have to be imminent for hospice to step in to help.  They will evaluate Mother and be there to help with counseling for the family and apparently a lot of other services.  Mother's nurse, today, actually was recommending that we take Mother to the hospital.  I asked what the hospital could do that the nursing home couldn't do.  She thought for a minute and said that really the hospital couldn't do anything different.  The doctor tonight said that he would send her if the family wanted her to go, but he really didn't see a need.  Yea, doctor.  I was pleased that he felt that way.  He said that an ER doctor who doesn't know Mother or her situation would be evaluating her and then would make recommendations about meds, etc......  Then, when she came back to the nursing home we would, again, have to try to straighten her meds out again.  He said that of course there are times when sending a resident to the hospital would be the right thing to do, but not in Mother's case.  She's on antibiotics for pneumonia and a UTI, but otherwise, he doesn't see that there is anything different that we could be doing.  Of course, we can still try to get her to drink and eat, but we can't force her.  He's right about that, when she doesn't want anymore (which is usually after about 2 bites of some pureed something) she will not open her mouth for anything!  Sometimes I can get the straw in her mouth, but I can't force her to drink.