Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hello, Goodbye

We joined Brandon's family today in welcoming home his parents. They spent the last 18 months serving an LDS mission in Western Massachusetts. This was their 2nd mission. The first was to Cambodia. I felt abundantly blessed both time they were away on their missions and I will miss that special spirit that comes from having a missionary in your life. It was beautiful to hear them share their experiences during Church services and feel their love for the people there.

Last Friday my mom passed away in her apartment overlooking the beach just like she wanted. I am comforted to know that she is happy and free from the physical pain that plagued her life and celebrating with my dad and Jesus and her parents and I'm sure a host of other good souls. There was no one quite like my mom. Brandon called her a "force of nature." She was funny, eccentric, brilliant, wild, dynamic, and stubborn all rolled into one person. She was my mom and she made life beautiful and fun. I will surely miss her!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

DARE to be Different

"Just Say No!" I think we all remember being raised on that anti-drug slogan preached from the school auditorium.  As a young kid I remember sitting on the gym floor during one of their revivals and having this inner dialogue:
1. What ARE drugs??
2. They must be a big deal because all the grown ups are getting real worked up about them.
3. EVERYBODY must be doing them.
4. I'm really curious....

I followed  up on my curiousity, harmlessly, by making my own chart of all the different kinds of drugs complete with a plastic baggy "sample" of what they looked like. On my poster I wrote "cocaine" and stapled a plastic bag with a little powdered sugar. For marijuana, dried crushed leaves, etc.  My high school brother was a tremendously helpful resource in my quest to name and identify street drugs. When I was done with my project I proudly showed it to my mom and was surprised at her response: Shock and Horror! "Why are you doing this???"  I think it just showed an early proclivity for the medical field.

I have never had a desire to do drugs. I had good friends who felt the same. Had I been a recalcitrant youth, or wanted to rebel, a path toward drugs and the vices that go with it would have been the clear choice.  Amazingly to me, I've never even been offered drugs in my 30+ years of life--that is until last week. I was walking to my hotel after visiting my mom when I was invited inside someone's apt. to help myself to a mountain of cookies, and by the way, they offered, "do you smoke weed?"  Interesting timing based on last week's events..."I don't, thanks.  I prefer to de-stress by passing out:)?!"  Of course, I only said the first part.

So, let's hop off memory lane to the present:
Our 5th grader Kate, was recently asked to write a paper about what she learned from the D.A.R.E program this year. All I've heard from her about the program up to now are complaints, "We had to miss recess again just so they could tell us not to do Mary-jew-wanna."
I didn't tell her my above feelings... but I did tell her she was free to do some internet research and find out for herself the effectiveness of DARE.
Ohhh, she did that alright.
She wrote a paper that stirred the pot of controversy and got all the teachers,  officers, and principal talking...I didn't actually get to read it before she turned it in but her very concerned teacher called to let me know what it said:

"The U.S. Department of Education forbids most schools from spending its, money on D.A.R.E. because it is a total waste of time, effort and money."

She also cited some studies that showed increased drug and tobacco use of kids participating in DARE as opposed to non-participants.
Piqued their interest? I could attest to that.

The teacher wondered if we as parents made her do it.
In the book,  "Samantha the American Girl"  the protagonist is a young girl who shocks her school by giving a speech about the atrocities of factory labor conditions.  The factory controversy she ignites ends up rallying the public in her favor. We read and discussed this story a couple years back. Kate remembers it well and defended her paper. Literature has taught her that women of courage stand up for their beliefs even if they are unpopular. I totally support that, but no, I did not make her write that. Kate's feelings are her own.

 "Drugs are a huge problem in our area." the teacher contended.
And don't we know it!  My husband has a job because of it. He is currently our county Drug Court Coordinator, which does have a successful track record for helping people get off drugs and stay off.

The controversy is that these papers were going to be put in a book as a sort of "thank you" to the city who currently funds our local DARE program (the city also is currently bankrupt.) Kate's opinion isn't exactly the rainbows and lollipops they were hoping for. So now the question is to publish or not to publish Kate's opinion. I left the ball in their court.

Since that conversation last week I decided to do my own research and found out basically what Kate already knew. The D.A.R.E program exists because it makes parents, teachers, and police officers FEEL like they're doing something to combat drugs, but it just doesn't work.  It has cost billions of dollars over many years unsuccessful at doing what it set out to do.  Sounds like a few other government programs. What's your opinion?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Heck in Paradise

I flew out for one last visit to my mom in lovely Laguna Beach.After being diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer, she sold her house and came here to paradise.  It was hard to see the reality of my mom's situation. Between the cancer reaching her brain and a toxic regiment of end-of-life medications her physical and mental states have rapidly declined from a month ago.  She was like ten behaviorally challenged toddlers in one adult body-- Impulsive, agitated, quick to laugh or cry, and more stubborn than ever.

4:30 p.m. My sisters pick me up at the airport with her in the car. Mom recognizes me but doesn't know what day it is or month. Her speech is slow and slurred and as we drive she engages us in a mostly nonsense conversation. Some of the things she says are funny, "I gotta quit smoking."
 Others are more concerning-- like seeing things that  aren't there. "Look! It's snowing!" on PCH? She becomes very agitated, repeatedly trying to rip out her IV and open the car door. It takes one sister to drive, one to block the door handle, and me trying to restrain her from getting out of her seat to go who knows where.  I don't believe it can get worse until I see her taking her shirt off. Ugg.

6:00 a.m. I relieve the newly hired night time caregiver. My sisters are catching up on sleep that as her previous primary caregivers they haven't had in days. My mom is feeling fresh and fully awake after a 3 a.m. shower.  While making the bed over and over she tells me she wants to write something... A letter to each kid? I suggest. Yes, that's it. We start with Dave. She tells me what to say and I dictate it back to her as I write in my notebook. She talks about what a wonderful son he is and how proud she is of him, even using big words like "munificent." I'm pleased with her level of cognition today and thinking what a heartfelt letter this will be when she says,
 "I hope you use this money (?)
 to take a special trip--
 to the Mississippi River--
to see the bullfrogs mate."
She is perfectly serious. Sigh.

My mom has none of her wishes in writing, at least not that we can find. She tells something to one sibling, and a completely different story to another. At least that is what we are finding out. It becomes apparent that my mom's situation is bigger than we can handle. Those of the siblings who are in town, meet with a hospice provided social worker to assess the immediate and future needs of my mom's healthcare. We meet outside on a picnic table at the park in front of my mom's house, overlooking the beach.  She does her best to piece together everyone's opinions, weigh in with the facts, and come up with a plan.  I gain a new appreciation for what my husband does. I also gain new insight for the Jews vs Muslims in the Middle East. Some people are just never going to see eye to eye in this life. 
The social worker presents a recommended plan: 24 hour professional caregivers so my mom can stay in her apt. Family coming only to visit, a few at a time,  for 2-3 days max. We vote, and it passes.

I'm feeling okay about it, the plan that is. I'm taking it all in and try to quench this thirst that I haven't been able to satiate all morning. My whole water bottle has been consumed and my mouth is still soo dry. I wonder if the gum I've been chewing is really a cotton ball. I came into this with a headcold and took a Sudafed earlier in the morning, so why am I still so stuffy?    The meeting is wrapping up and as the social worker concludes I'm trying to focus on keeping the palm trees from spinning. The SW and my bro start to walk back to my mom's house and my sister hangs back with me. I start to walk but realize that any moment I'm going to pass out. I shout out to my brother for help. My legs are becoming weaker. I'm not going to make it across the street to the house. The sw calls the nurse that is taking care of my mom to come down and take my blood pressure. It's 90/40 which I know is too low and my pulse is a racing 120.  I see flashing, like turning the lights on and off. My legs officially won't work now. I'm on the ground fading in and out of consciousness. The SW calls 911 and tells me 5 good looking guys will be hovering over me in no time. They take my blood pressure and this time it's 160 over something. I immediately get an IV, oxgen, heart monitors and they move the body I can't feel onto a gurney. As they load me in the ambulance I yell to my brother to call Brandon.   I am fighting to stay conscious. I don't want to die and I'm so afraid that if I give in I might not wake up. I blame that on Hollywood. (you know the scenes where theyre slapping the cheek and shouting, stay with me!) The paramedics tell me I'm going to be okay, even if I pass out. I wish I would have believed them.
While I struggle for consciousness (for what I find out later is the next 3 hours) they do every kind of test, including pregnancy. I think what an interesting ending that would be to this story but it's negative. The doctor comes in later to explain the results.  I'm relieved that I don't have an awful diagnosis just an embarrassing one: stress.  Apparently, the body can only handle so much before it shuts down. I'm ordered to take it easy for at least a full day and traveling back home is not an option, yet.

I sleep all night.  My sister gives me one of her stellar massages. I rest again then head down to the beach. The world is still slightly out of focus.  I lay on the warm sand with my back against the boulder we stood on for our family picture last trip.  It's a beautiful day. I close my eyes, let the sun warm me, and listen to the waves. After a couple hours or so I feel so much better. I want to chalk it up to beach therapy but then acknowledge it's probably due to the arsenal of prayers that Brandon has rallied up. I get a mango smoothie and walk along the beach as the sun sets over the water. Healing.

12:30 a.m. I get a call from the healthcare worker to please come help. (my sister and I are in a nearby hotel) We run over and find my mom extremely agitated. She has gone a night a day and now another night without a wink of sleep. She wants to take a shower. She wants to go for a walk. She wants to use the typewriter, go to the bank, buy flowers. I give her more meds and we get her to sit on the bed but for it's only 2 seconds before she lurches up again.  . We try to get her to sit down and tell her it's okay to sleep "No, I won't wake up." I wonder if in her case it might be true. "I'm not finished." I remember for years, she told us to hire a Dixie Land Band and celebrate when she died.  Through years of suffering from various health problems she couldn't wait to get to the other side. Why is she fighting it now that's it's so close?
It takes another hour of me singing lullabies and holding her tight, and my sister brushing her hair before she dozes off upright and we ever so quietly lay her down and sneak back to bed.

8:30 a.m. A new day, a new caregiver. I go over with her the schedule of meds, the idiosyncracies of my mom and what she can expect for the day. We take my my mom for a walk through Heisler Park on the beach. One of us steadies her on each side. She seems to be in a good state of mind. She introduces her caregiver to the all the monuments. She points out and names the flowers. She is overjoyed to find out they are making the park even more beautiful with some mosaic artwork along the path.  "Thank you! Thank You!" she tells the world. The head groundskeeper comes over to tell her they're doing it for her.  She is glowing. We walk further on to the flagpoint. I point out to her a pod of dolphins about 50 yards away. She is overcome with happiness and scares us by climbing on the railing for a view that can't get any better. Her voice is weak but she gives it all she's got and shouts out to all the passersby. "Look! Everyone! Dolphins!!  She scares us even more by putting her foot on the other side of the rail. She is now looking down 30 ft. to the tumult of rocks and waves below while I clutch her legs and beg her to get down.  She leans over to me with tears in her eyes,  "I can't think of a better way to go." The nurse and  I immediately pull her down.

My brother treats us to lunch at the Ritz-Carlton. I've never seen so many fresh flowers in one place. Red roses,long stemmed, dozens and dozens of them flank the corridors as we walk to the restaurant. We are all overcome by the sparkling ocean view from the floor to ceiling windows. I don't understand the menu. I order fries with truffle oil and what turns out to be an asian style chicken salad. Everything is otherworldly delicious, including the rolls on the table with their flavored butters. My mom asks for fish and chips. It's not on the menu but they bring it anyway. She gets up twice during the meal to find the restroom, each time giving me this look, "I don't need any help." But, she does.

11:00 a.m I say goodbye to my mom for the last time. I give her a big hug and feel the cancerous growths that are overtaking her body. I know it won't be long until they claim their victory and then I realize why my mom is fighting death. It wasn't her idea.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Good Grief

Believe it or not I've been having my share of trials and tribs. over here. My mom is dying and as hard as that has been to deal with it is even harder to have family conflict in the process. Thank heaven for the spiritual feast that is General Conference. I felt like all the talks were given directly to me and written for me at this time in my life.
  • Life was never meant to be easy or fair
  • We learn from our children more than we ever did from our parents
  • There is seemingly no end to our capacity to love
  • ...if the billowing surge conspire against thee...and above all if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou...that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. (Doctrine and Covenants 121;7)
  • Personal Integrity with each decision is what gets us through the storms of life
  • Forgive
  • It is the hardships of life that bring us to God
  • Ask
  • Richard G. Scott's in it's entirety
  • Also Dieter F. Uchtdorf's
  • Anger, hurt, defensiveness drive away the Spirit.
  • The merciful will obtain mercy
  • Come unto Jesus, ye heavy laden
  • In reference to the Big Bang Theory: Could an explosion in a printing shop produce a dictionary?
  • Wise parents teach their children to be able to live without them.
  • Never delay a prompting
  • Daily record our spiritual promptings (ideas, inspiration, etc.) Shows commitment and gratitude
Sweet is the peace the gospel brings.
General conference addresses can be found in their entirety on

Kate did her part to lighten things up around here with some April Fool's pranks. She unhooked the pipe in the toilet that sprays you when you flush, she put mayo in the lotion bottle, and who knows what else we'll discover before the day is over:)