Friday, August 26, 2011

twelve-gun salute

Mom's wake was on Wednesday evening, and the funeral was today, Thursday, August 25.

Family started arriving in town on Tuesday, starting with my mom's brother Donald and my cousin Matt.  Both came in from the east coast - Donald from New York and Matt from Norfolk (he's in the Navy).  A few of us went bowling on Tuesday night, I think to take our minds off the reason for the visit and just to let off some tension. The whole week leading up to this morning had the distinct feeling of "first day of school" - but the dreadful feeling, not the nervous anticipation feeling.  Tension-letting was a huge thing.

Wednesday was full of last-minute errands, and family trickling in throughout the day.  My dad, brother, husband and I went down to the funeral home early to get "set up," though of course there wasn't much to do besides make sure everything was in order.  A Catholic wake is a bit different from the common "viewings" (I hate that word) we're otherwise used to down here, and we had a rosary and a Knights of Columbus guard for Mom.  There was an open casket; Mom was down to 70 pounds or so when she passed, and she was so altered as to be almost unrecognizable, but it was important to get an idea of exactly what this disease had done.  The funeral home had put together a DVD slideshow of pictures of Mom set to music; my dad, brother and I picked the songs ("New York, New York" by Frank Sinatra, because Mom was a Yankees fan and that's the Yankees' song; "Dream a Little Dream of Me" by Cass Elliott, because Mom loved that song and version; and "Hello Again" by Neil Diamond, because she was a huge Neil Diamond fan).  The pictures ranged from her infancy all the way through the last months from two years ago when she was still walking and communicating.  On display was her boot camp picture, at nineteen, a picture I had never seen before.

The wake was more joyful than I have gotten accustomed to, mostly because of seeing family and friends we hadn't seen in quite some time.  There was plenty of mixed emotion, because people hadn't seen me pregnant yet and I'm showing just enough to excite interest.  The biggest surprise of the evening was seeing my favorite teacher from high school (my senior AP English teacher); I hadn't seen him in thirteen years, and had completely forgotten that he knows my dad pretty well from the Knights.  I had also forgotten just how small the town where we lived for so long really could be - amazing how many people from Mom's years with the Boy Scouts are also people Dad knew from the Knights and whose kids were in JROTC with the four of us over the years.

The rosary was said by the Knights, who took turns leading prayers.  There was just a short time for more socializing, and then my aunt Helen suggested dinner, and a great big group of us went up to a Cracker Barrel for a late dinner.  Just the thing Mom would have expected of us, no doubt.  I think there was a total of 27 people that descended on that restaurant (all family!).

Of course, none of us slept well back at Dad's house.  A few of my cousins came over, and we sat up talking for a bit, unable to sleep.  Dad worked on Mom's eulogy for awhile.  I think I got five hours of sleep all told, but I did better than some.  As I said, anxiety and dread had set in.

Up-and-at-'em this morning.  I swear I heard Mom waking me up (she used to say, "Rise and shine, shine and rise!  Stretch your bones and touch your toes!").  Given how little rain we've seen here, it was surprising to find it was storming not far from here, and traffic was duly unforgiving.  Dad, Joe and I headed out in one car to the funeral home, my sisters in another, and of course there was a big, lane-reducing accident on the easiest route.  Luckily we left early.

Saying goodbye to Mom at the funeral home was hard, but we did think and talk a lot about the ways that Mom would be "laughing through tears" and that made it a lot easier.  A limo picked us up to take us to the church for Mass.  All the storms had cleared out before 8:30am so there was no trouble with the roads by this time.  Mass started at 10am - thankfully, Father Ahn knew Mom and so it was more personal.  My brother did the readings and responsorial prayers.

Dad gave an amazing eulogy, telling about how he and Mom met and giving a lot of humorous anecdotes (Mom would have loved it).  He also made a point of talking about how the last three years demonstrated how faithful Mom was, and how it all strengthened his faith tremendously.  I am so thankful to have such parents - their marriage withstood the worst, in the end, and my dad is flat-out inspiring.  They both are, really.

We piled into the limo again and the procession headed down to the cemetery, clear on the other side of Dallas (south).  By this time, it was just before noon and 94F outside, and wretchedly humid from the rain in the morning.

Mom was laid to rest in the DFW National Cemetery.  The military portion of the day was really the hardest part.  The flag-folding was done by a Navy petty officer and young Air Force airman.  She had a twelve-gun salute done by disabled, wheelchair-bound veterans, and a bugler played Taps - that was the part where I broke down, that first shot fired.  But Mom was sent off in style, I think, truly befitting someone who loved her country and served it in so many important ways.

The reception (awkward term) was low-key, mostly family, at a KofC hall.  Then it was home and we caught the Yanks as they were just leading the A's - and got to watch a record-breaking third grand slam as the Yankees put the lid on the series against the Athletics.  I know that was no coincidence - Mom was egging them on.  I knew it when Granderson connected with that ball, but then again when Jorge Posada trotted out to play second base (!!!) and his play ended the game.

We went bowling again with cousins tonight, perhaps a strange way to top things off, yet kind of fitting in that Mom and Dad used to play in leagues when I was little - it was their date night thing.  Plus, the last of the adrenaline was coursing through me for certain; I needed physical catharsis, and that was the perfect way to get it.

Tonight, I miss my mom terribly.  I am very comforted, though, by the events of the last two days.  She touched so many lives, and who knows how many more will be touched as a result of what she went through. I also know, unequivocally, that she is with the Lord in Heaven.  She belongs there, and this wasn't goodbye. It was 'see ya soon' and it was about remembering who she was.  We were not unprepared and we were not without support at any time, and the Lord went before us in all things.  This was not the beginning of grief, but part of a process that has been happening since her diagnosis and the roughest patch of her illness in 2009 (the strokes, cancer, and prolonged hospital stay that ultimately left her bedridden before the ALS did what it was inevitably going to do).

I am okay - I feel like I've said that to the point of breaking, but it really is true.  I know it will continue to hurt and catch me unawares.  There is comfort, though, as I said.  And my family and friends showed me something I was afraid I had forgotten.  I am not alone, and laughter through tears really is the best emotion.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Lillian Jane Childs Connole of Argyle, TX passed away August 19, 2011. She was 56.

Lillian was born April 27, 1955, in Westbury, NY to Brice and Jean Childs. She was one of seven children. Lillian graduated from Westbury High School in 1973. She joined the United States Navy in 1974, and trained as a cryptologist (CTO), eventually obtaining the rank of Petty Officer 2nd Class. She was a Vietnam-era veteran receiving medals for National Defense, Good Conduct, meritorious service commendation and foreign duty overseas commendation. She completed training in Orlando, FL; Navy A-schools in Pensacola, FL and specialized training at Goodfellow AFB in Texas; she had subsequent tours of duty at the Pentagon and Naval Station, Rota, Spain where she was Honorably Discharged in 1979.

Lillian met her husband, Michael, originally of Kansas City, MO, while both were stationed with the Navy in Rota, Spain. They married in November of 1977 in Westbury, NY and returned from Spain in 1979, settling in Kansas City, MO. They lived for a time in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arizona before settling in Texas in 1994.

Lillian was an active member of the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Grapevine. She was a member of the Knights of Columbus Ladies' Auxiliary, Council 7099. She was a leader for various Girl Scout troops over the years and was active with the Boy Scouts of America in Lewisville. Lillian most recently worked with Lewisville ISD as a substitute teacher.

Lillian is survived by her husband of nearly 34 years, Michael; their daughters Michele Samuelson of Austin, TX; Kathleen of Argyle, TX; Jaclyn of Round Rock, TX; and their son Joseph of Argyle; her sister Edith and family in Rockwall, TX; her brother William and his family in Poughkeepsie, NY; her brother John in Amityville, NY; her brother Donald and his family in Amityville, NY.

She was preceded in death by her parents, Jean and Brice and brothers James and Brice. Funeral mass will be held 10:00 a.m. Thursday, August 25, 2011, at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Grapevine, Texas. Interment with full military honors will be held 12:30 p.m. at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery. The family will receive friends from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Wednesday at Mulkey-Mason Funeral Home in Lewisville with Rosary being recited at 7:00 p.m. In lieu of flowers, the family wishes for donations be made to either the Paralyzed Veterans of America or the ALS Association in Lillian's name.

the dividing line

It occured to me tonight how grateful I am that my parents moved last year, just down the road from the university I attended.

I wanted to get out of the house tonight, to just enjoy this place.  The town where I went to school isn't small, but it really isn't overgrown, either.  It isn't a proper suburb, overrun by everything corporate.  For all that I am a capitalist, my heart gravitates toward the provincial, the old-fashioned, the unique.  I went to a huge university that happens to be tucked in a town that provides all of that.

So Randy and I went to my favorite bookstore (well, my favorite that doesn't belong to Larry McMurtry).  It is an old opera house on the Denton courthouse square - a beautiful, rambling place that smells like history and books, just the kind of place you imagine in a university town.  This place has secret corners and corridors and one of the best collections of certain kinds of history books (tonight we discovered a set of first-edition publications of the Nuremburg trial papers - um, whoa).  I used to go there while I was at school, with one or two friends, and we would go to the basement where they keep the Texana collection and sit on the floor reading, and come home with one or two musty-smelling tomes on obscure politicians or somesuch nonsense.

The courthouse square was lit up as always with white lights.  If it hadn't been 102 outside (according to the Denton Area Teachers' Credit Union sign), it might have felt like Christmas.  The courthouse was built in the 1880s and is still in use for the commissioners court.  And on the lawn, there were couples talking on blankets, having inexpensive college-era dates.  The fall semester of classes begins this week and the shops that were still open were full of wide-eyed freshmen getting to know the town for the first time, and wise upper classmen coming back for their first taste after a summer away.

We walked around the square, window-shopping at the antique shops that close much earlier in the evening, and headed to the old-fashioned ice cream shop that is a positive staple of life in Denton.  It was a busy evening, but you can't go to the square and not stop in this place, with the heavy, sugary smells and the hiss of the waffle irons making fresh cones.  We sat at the counter and marveled how, despite the noise and press of college kids on a seeming field trip, the place had the feel of 1905.  You almost want to order a phosphate (which they sell) or look for the kid who played a young George Bailey putting sprinkles on a glass of chocolate ice cream.

It was a most necessary adventure, however mundane.  I had to be reminded that I made it to adulthood.  This city is full of memories I made without my family, the place I came to live on my own for the first time.  Being here at home, surrounded by my sisters and my brother and my dad and my mother's ghost, makes me feel too young.  I feel uncomfortable after awhile, like I never left and everything that came after childhood was a dream.  It helps to have Randy with me; it helps even more to have tangible things with which I am familiar.  This place has changed, but there is the storage unit my friends and I rented to make our homecoming entry; there's the bar where we celebrated so-and-so's 21st birthday; there's the apartment complex where the girls lived and we plotted revolution the way naive kids in their 20s might; here's the Whataburger we went to after the radio show.

It wasn't all a dream.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


We walked into my parents' house this afternoon.  They have been in this house for just over a year.  In that time, my mother was in the master bedroom on a hospital bed with a ventilator, various machines, and a home hospice nurse, all the time.

No one was here when we showed up.  Dad and my brother Joe had gone to the funeral home to work out some things, and to pick up altered suits.  My sisters were out getting haircuts and shopping for clothes for the week.

There was no nurse, of course.  No sounds from medical machinery in the master bedroom.  No television was on anywhere.  It was so quiet, and this house feels positively cavernous even when there are people here.

I went into the bedroom.  The empty frame of the hospital bed, the cart of half-used medical supplies were there, are there.  I had not really looked around this room in a year; there is a tall metal rack with stacked supplies, like wipes and towels, hospital gowns, unused cans of the food Mom could take through a feeding tube.  The room was dark - no light on, as there usually would be, and the television which always had Mom's favorite movies and baseball games playing, was finally off.

Oddly, the thing that made me cry - Mom's golf hat, the one she always wore when out at the ballpark or at outdoor family events.  It's a white, wide-brimmed hat with a colorful band.  It was on a shelf in the closet, the only piece of clothing that really stood out (her weight changed so much over the last few years, most of her clothes seem foreign, unreal).

The silence kind of got to me, too.  This house is never quiet.  Dad and Joe got back from their expedition only a few minutes after this - the quiet, thankfully, was shattered.  We made a black wreath for the front door and picked out songs for Mom's "montage" DVD and watched baseball and talked logistics, and we had supper and we talked about what Mom would say or do or how she's reacting to all of us now.  Laughing, is my bet.  We have been laughing and telling jokes that Mom would laugh at, and it has been the kind of day where your emotions just don't stay in one place.

Despite the good, soul-cleansing nature of a regular family row (oh, that's just inevitable) and the settling into our "routine" as if we never spent a day apart, it all comes crashing back down as the wee hours approach.  The reality of the next few days, the mechanics of a wake and a funeral and the onslaught of mourners, well-wishers, is overwhelming.  What do I need?  Everyone asks.  To stop being asked, really.  To do this our way, as prickly and practical and seemingly crazy as we always are, and to leave it at that.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Today, Lillian Jane Childs Connole passed away at the age of 56.

She was my mom.

I said earlier, I feel a great sense of deja vu, writing this out.  In fact, all evening, since getting the phone call.  We had so many "scares" over the last few years.  And the diagnosis itself (which was not so much a diagnosis as a death sentence - there is no other way to describe ALS, especially to those who knew it as we did).  I cannot recall how many times I had to tell an employer that I was "on 24-hour alert" and may be called away at a moment's notice.  How many times I had to tell my friends we couldn't make this event or that because we would be away.

I am up late because we met up with some friends to drop off our dog Waylon, since there is not a place for him at my parents' house.  Waylon is very attuned to what is happening around him.  When I was sitting on the couch, taking the phone call from my dad, Waylon came over and put his head in my lap.

There is a definite calm that seems to have settled, for the moment, before the whirlwind truly begins.  Mom was comfortable, as much as she could be, in the end.  She was at peace.

It isn't that this is not hard, because it is.  It is just that has been hard for so long.  Explaining what it was that my mother had, weekend visits that became increasingly emotional over time.  Accepting each "stage" of ALS, being helpless in the face of it as it took her away.  Mourning for Mom, over and over, as different things would trigger emotions.  I remember how angry I was in the beginning, how unfair I believed all of this to be.  I remember Mom's own rage at what was taking place, her refusal to accept it and showing her defiance by putting off a "treatment" (the fight she put up over a feeding tube, over no longer being able to drive, over not being able to stand in the kitchen and make dinner).  Dad's rage, which he showed in funny ways.  The way my sisters and I shoved our grief and anger off on each other at times.

It has been a rough, long road, and I know it is not quite over.  Mom is gone.  We are left to figure out how to be us without her.

But it isn't figuring out how to be us without the Lillian we all knew.  She was a fundamentally different person as a result of her disease.  She withdrew when she figured out she was unable to communicate well, and she had strokes early on that stole what ability she had.  For the last year and a half, she's been totally bedridden. We had Thanksgiving dinner without her.  I had to tell her I was pregnant over the phone, and her only reaction (according to Dad, who had to hold the phone up to her ear) was a flickering blink of her eyes.

So what we do now is learn how to live without a nurse in the house all the time.  How to sleep without worrying that the phone will ring or her ventilator alarm will go off.  How to live in a house without a hospital bed and medical supplies.  Oh, so many little things.

Things I'm thankful for tonight:  Mom died at home, with Dad next to her, and not in a cold hospital.  Thankful for all of my wonderful friends.  Thankful for laughter, because it would be impossible to think of Mom and remember her without being able to laugh.  Thankful for her faith, and for mine.  Thankful for having her as long as we did.  Thankful for my puppy dog.  Thankful for my incredible husband, Randy, who knew how to handle this and me.  Thankful for my family, my sisters and my brother and my Dad, Mike - Dad is the strongest man I know, and as Mom's caretaker for the last three years has shown me what marriage is really about.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Sunday morning, I woke up rather earlier than I usually do.  I'm not a morning person.  I hate the feeling of coming out of a cocoon, of giving up on the imagined world in my dreams.  I've never liked the groggy, painful feeling of opening my eyes to light.  All I want is to burrow back under the covers, every day.

But Sunday was different.  At nearly 20 weeks, I have to get up to go to the bathroom whether my eyes are adjusted to the light or not.  I would usually fall back asleep, except on Sunday, I just wasn't able to.  I laid there on my back, watching the fan and listening to morning sounds I never hear (husband breathing, dog getting up, the morning birds in the backyard).  The soundtrack, really, for the kicking.

Who knows - baby might have been "fluttering," dancing, waking up on his or her own and stretching.  This was just the first time I felt any of that.  It was a breathtaking experience.

This whole week, I've been able to feel the baby move, and for the first time, I feel real excitement over meeting my little one.  I actually *feel* pregnant, too, and more so because this week also marks the first time I've had to wear a BeBand or my maternity shorts consistently.  I'm officially "showing" (though I admit, it chafes a little when people tell me so - another post for another time, perhaps).

I understand the kicking, or whatever my little one is up to, because for me it represents emotions that are familiar; kicking, stretching, just moving around are all things I associate with a need to break free.  A restlessness has begun.  Senioritis, you might say, a little early.  Baby wants to really stretch, though baby could not articulate it.  The halfway mark is important because it indicates that you're halfway to the end.  Appropriate that it would be now that baby is moving so much that I can tell.


No update on Mom tonight.  Dad called yesterday to let me know that she's had some "episodes" and that her systolic blood pressure is virtually undetectable.  We are counting hours, again.  She is ready to move on - and who can blame her, trapped in a body that has long since abandoned its function.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


My mother was born in 1955 on Long Island, New York.  Her mother was a homemaker and her father was a cabbie.  He was in the war, but he didn't talk about it.  Her mother was an awesome cook who made a lot of things her mother and grandmother made; this was a household of traditions.

My mother was a Girl Scout.  At least a Brownie - I have a framed picture of her in uniform, standing with her brother the Boy Scout and her sister, who is a Cadette in the picture I think.  She was the fourth child of seven; she had just the one sister.

She had very blonde hair, all the way until adulthood, when it would suddenly grow dark unless she kept using Sun-In (or, when I was younger, lemon juice and water in a pump hairspray bottle).

When she was six, my mother had rheumatic fever, and it was bad enough that they feared for her life.  She didn't remember much about it, except the needles, and the fact that she missed Easter and her birthday that year.

Easter was a big deal, hats and new dresses.  When my mother was a girl, they still had to wear their hats in church, and gloves every Sunday.

On St. Patrick's Day, my grandfather would wear orange, a sign of protest to annoy the little old Irish Catholic ladies he drove to church every week.  My mother grew up in a world wear the Polish kids lived on one street, the Irish on another, the Italians on yet another.

There were never a lot of stories of growing up, not real stories, about playing with the neighborhood kids or getting into scrapes or any mad adventures that only kids have.  Mom talked about the food her mother cooked, about always being "Billy's little sister" to teachers, and sometimes what they watched on television.  She remembered the moon landing pretty vividly, and always told us how it rained in New York that day.

In my mother's house, the New York Yankees were the team to watch, and they didn't really watch football.  Her father was a baseball man.  And a Republican, in a neighborhood that wasn't.  She told me that with a wry look on her face, and about how her father used that when he picked on the little old Irish ladies, too.

Mom lettered in field hockey in high school.  She never showed me pictures of this, so in my head she looks like Jodie Foster in Freaky Friday.  It kind of works.  Jodie had blonde hair, too.

I look sometimes at the small stack of pictures I have from my mom's childhood - there are more, in her photo albums back home - and I try to see what she wasn't telling me.  They didn't smile a lot in the pictures, but then they were always facing the sun, and so many of the pictures are posed.  You can hear my grandmother: "Stand closer together, go on, pretend you like each other."  I try to imagine the little girl in the dress running as soon as the shutter clicked, to grab her bike or her book or to find her best friend.

I know what she did once she left home.  I know almost all of those stories.  Going to court reporting school, changing her mind.  Joining the Navy to see the world.  Meeting my dad, in a foreign country where she never did know the language.  Marrying him, even though he was a Catholic, and how they had a big steak dinner at their reception.  Living in an apartment in Rota just below avowed Communists, who owned a big Doberman who always ran down the stairs barking when Mom had her arms full of groceries.  Coming back to the States, pregnant with me, and going to her own mother's funeral.  And all the stories after.

I just wonder, though.  Did she giggle a lot?  Did she like to bury her nose in a book the way she did as an adult?  Did she play just with the kids on her street, or did she branch out?

The only way I can ever think to connect with my mom as a girl is to make her cucumber salad, the recipe has been handed down through the German side of the family on her mother's side.  When the apple cider vinegar smell hits the air, I think maybe our girlhoods collide there.  Maybe there, we understand each other.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


For the most part, because we're on "high alert" waiting for that final phone call, I haven't been around a lot of people in the last week.  I haven't felt much like being social, which is just weird for me, but also I've had so much to do making sure I'm ahead on writing projects and whatnot in case I'm off the grid for more than a couple of days.  By the time the evening rolls around, and I'm able to write for myself or work on getting my office back in order, that's all I really want to do.

That, and Randy and our dog Waylon don't ask me how I am or how Mom is.  They don't give me sad looks that make me feel worse.  I don't feel guilty for not being sadder at a given moment.  I can be frustrated about obituary placement prices (scandalous) or be upset about a specific problem, and Randy doesn't overdo the sympathy.  He listens, and hugs, and we move on.

My mom's illness is a "long goodbye" at least as terrible, as all-consuming, as Alzheimer's.  Grief and mourning have been close friends of mine for so long now, I don't know if I recognize a change.  People tell me, this must be so hard, and well, it is - but there is a lot more to it than just the surface, easy stuff.  Grief for a loved one who has suffered so much is very complicated.  There's relief, there's gratitude, there's sadness, there's an element of joy even.  I'm a Christian, my mother is a Christian - I know she'll wake up walking in heaven.  Not everyone believes that, I understand that, but it is what we believe.  With that in mind, it is very hard to want her to stay, to keep her body alive when she can no longer be the woman we knew.

I wasn't very social all this week, partially because of all of this.  And then this weekend we had a veritable whirlwind, particularly today, seeing our closest friends at church and then seeing many of Randy's extended family at a birthday party.  I'm just beginning to really show (I'll be 20 weeks pregnant later this week) and everyone had to say something, and we don't see some of these people often, so there were lots of questions and a lot of baby discussion.  And of course, there were the sad looks, the "how is she?" questions.  It was a trying day for me.  I don't know what to say anymore.  I never really did - there was even a point where I didn't tell some friends about her illness right away, because I had to explain what it was and go through that pitying, sad look from a lot of people I didn't know very well.  For a long time, if Mom wasn't in the hospital, we were just thankful for "status quo".  Even when that meant she was falling in the kitchen and refusing a wheelchair, or when she could no longer type coherent words or sentences on her speaking machine, or when the only movement she had left was blinking and occasionally raising a stiff and shaky "thumbs-up" to Dad.

These days, the status quo is heart and lungs giving out.  Blood pressure you can hardly detect.  Pale, wan, pinched look that has totally deprived my mother of her real appearance (how she would hate to see her gray hair and ruined complexion!).  A full coma, her eyes not open for over two weeks, her eyes totally unseeing for longer.  The only change will be her passing.  Everything else is another sign, another slip.

Anti-social?  Not really.  Just too busy listening for the phone to ring, to spring into action.  My bag is already packed.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


We're on day ??? of an ongoing vigil for Mom.  She's been in a coma, probably since last Saturday. Her blood pressure is so low they can't detect it with the arm band.  Dad was alone with her during the day, because the usual nurse couldn't be there, so that's the latest update I have.  I spent a good portion of my afternoon hunting down information for submitting obituaries - because we've lived practically everywhere, I'm looking at papers in Texas, Missouri, and New York.  For the most part, every paper has a different policy, and some of the policies aren't just spelled out online.  You have to call to get rates, or the rates aren't available until you're ready to submit.

You know, I'm a capitalist and usually fairly unapologetic about it, but the profit-making schemes built around weddings, births, and funerals really make me sick.

Last night, I finished a book called The Wilder Life, by Wendy McClure.  This is a really recent publication, and I scored it in hardcover early on because I've just completed my second re-read of the Little House (Laura Ingalls Wilder) books in two years.  We found my long-lost set in a box uncovered when my parents moved last summer, and I have been retracing my childhood through them ever since.  McClure's book is about a similar experience.  While I have not gone to the lengths she did (though I had a bit of adventure by accident in 2008), I still recognize myself in her pages.  Laura Ingalls was a childhood friend; more than that, I feel like I lived an entirely separate existence through her descriptions of nomadic prairie life.  McClure describes her attempts to "find" her Laura World and, perhaps, herself through the books, the places where Laura lived, and the activities and accoutrements of 19th century living.  

What I found particularly interesting was the fact that Wendy McClure did all of this, and rediscovered the books herself, just as her mother was fading and ultimately succumbing to cancer.  I put the book down rather hastily when I read that late last night, and almost didn't finish the book.  You see, while there is not a lot about my Laura experiences that tie back to my mother, the very fact that I read the books at all is a direct byproduct of being my mother's daughter.  Read, read, read.  Books were the thing, the really big thing, that Mom and I had in common.  And the Little House books, and Laura Ingalls Wilder, were my go-to books as a kid, my well-worn and dog-eared books.  What Wendy McClure wrote couldn't have been more timely for me to read.  I felt like I had read something I might have written.  That is an extremely eerie feeling.

In writing my mother's obituary, and contemplating her eulogy, over and over again I realize that I don't have a great idea of what to say.  Who was my mother, really?  She was never one to talk much about such things.  In the last few years before her diagnosis, our conversations revolved around recipes and meal-planning for visits.  There wasn't much we seemed to want (need?) to say.  I find myself now filled with questions.  The woman I am remembering and writing about was a mother, yes.  What else was she?  This lingers.

I understand the searching.  I need to know more about myself, too, and what my life is going to be when she is truly gone.  When we can't gather around a hospital bed for Christmas morning any more than we can gather round a Christmas tree Mom herself decorated.  

The Wilder Life touched something in me, prodded a bruise that I didn't know I had.  

What next.  I keep thinking.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


The second floor of the house remains a war zone, though with the desk somewhat cleared off, I'm at least back in my home office.  This room feels a lot smaller than the other one and I'm increasingly glad we chose to convert the other room to a nursery, even if the war zone look is probably not recommended by pediatricians and other such experts.

Going through everything we've managed to collect between us over the years, it kind of amazes/disgusts me to realize how much of a packrat I really am.  I didn't think, for instance, that I had actually kept any graded schoolwork - and yet the pile ready for the trash can taunts me.  Why I considered it important to keep I'll never know, because all I can think now is that there isn't room for it and I hadn't seen it in twenty years anyway.

Destined for the trash with those sixth-grade essays are my college notebooks, full of the notes I took in political theory and Texas history.  Those are the only two that appear to have survived, and while flipping through them reminded me that I was once a pretty diligent note-taker and obviously bored doodler, I can't see a reason to save either at this point.

My mom saved my preschool student profile and "grades," and handed them off to me some years ago.  I found them again tonight, and my mind immediately went to the Biscuit (the baby's nickname while in utero, long story).  Preschool is about four years off from this point, but I wonder very much if his/her experience will be like mine in any way.  I have a hazy recollection of playing house, being scolded for taking the kitchen toys out of the kitchen area, naps, playing tag with another little girl named Michelle and two boys named Michael and Blaine.  I remember their names because Michelle was the only other girl I knew with that name for a good fifteen years (despite its seeming popularity now), and I was teased for years about the boys.  Thanks, family.

I have no idea if Mom had more of this stuff hidden away for her own purposes, though it is likely because I had to have inherited this pack-rat thing from someone (Dad is a candidate, too, believe me!).  I wonder sometimes what we'll find when it comes time to pack away her things, and I try not to think too hard about whether I'll find the goofy crafts we all made as gifts for Mother's Day or the Christmas cards or birthday cards sent from the seemingly far-away places we all left home for.  What if I find more of my kindergarten-era "homework" and "report cards," revealing Mom's sentimental side?

What did she want to always remember about me, and find a place for in her small closets or dresser drawers?

Sunday, August 7, 2011


Update, 8/21/14:  What follows is a post I wrote to explain why exactly I started this blog, from back in August of 2011.  I was charged with writing my mother's obituary.  The blog continued after those awful weeks as a way for me to talk about motherhood, and to grieve.  It hasn't been a terribly active place, but with ALS in the news every day of the last six, and all over social media and elsewhere, I came back.  

I started writing in a diary when I was about eight or nine years old.  I still have the first few books, but over the years it got harder to justify keeping some of the ranting, incoherent adolescent pages and I have discarded them.  I don't miss them.

While we're getting ready for the baby, the house is in total disarray, especially the second floor, which is full of landmines.  These don't explode, they simply reveal layers of the past that a person might usually forget under normal circumstances.  But it turns out I inherited that packrat tendency I thought I despised.

I sat down at my computer tonight to compose an obituary.  I've written so many things in my life, but this is new.  This reminds me of those stilted compositions from junior high.  Here's your topic, here are your parameters, make sure you double-space.  I have tried to write this obituary with a little color, a little life, because if the very last things said about a person are going to be in this couple of paragraphs, shouldn't they be crafted to live on?

I find that I have too much to say.  The obituary is a list of facts, a list of what is left behind more than anything.  This person lived, and this is what remains.  But I have too much to say about what was, and too much to say about what will be, and none of it fits the parameters of an "obituary."  I was always the kind of person who would get in trouble for saying too much, instead of too little.

So, this is why this blog is here.  My mother is dying from Lou Gehrig's disease at an impossibly young age.  I am pregnant with my first child.  There is so much to say that I find myself choked when I try.  I will do what I have always done - write.