Saturday, May 7, 2016

A Ship Lost at Sea...

A daughter who loses her mother truly becomes unmoored. It's as true today as it was the day she passed. More than a year ago today, I woke up to a call from the facility that was caring for my mother in her final days. It was time, she was transitioning out of this life. I started my day like any other, get up get dressed -- don't lose it -- and help my little boy get ready for school. After a discrete call to the school to let them know that my boy would be late so he good say goodbye to his grandmother we drove. Something in me felt that he needed the closure and though he was only just six, I stand by that decision.

She was the light of his life and that light was about to go out forever. I had been honest with him every step of the way. Her battle lasted years and I never wavered in answering every question he had and encouraging him to talk with not only myself and my husband about his feelings but with her. They were the saddest of conversations but they were filled with very special loving moments. There is no doubt that my mother knew the love of her beautiful grandson and the mark that she left in his heart.

Mom wasn't lucid and did not open her eyes that day. My boy made me stop for her favorite donut at that time, creme filled -- she would never eat it. Her donut sat in front of her, his in his mouth between sentences and repeated offerings of the heart shaped creme filled donut he brought her. It was a difficult visit. Thinking back on that day, I have a new appreciation for the strength of a mother's love. I knew that my mother was dying before my eyes but I had to hold it together for my son. My mother did that very selfless thing countless times in her life for her children. In the moment it felt impossible, I wonder how we come to have such strength. Possibly it is just nature...but probably it is instilled in us through the love and devotion of our mother.

I had yet to tell my son that this was it, this was the very last moment. I wanted him to have one last chance to whisper in his Grammy's ears, all the things in his little heart -- the things a six year old finds important to tell his Grammy about his day to come and the sports he was playing and how much he loved her. To this day, the most heartbreaking moments are the ones when I can see in his eyes that he is missing his Grammy. It is beyond my ability to make this better for him. He wants his Grammy. She is gone. I want her too.

After a gut-wrenching goodbye from my boy and a whispered promise in her ear that I would be right back, please wait for your family, they are coming -- I drove my son to school. I don't remember the drive there or back but I remember talking to my son as I always did after a visit, reminding him how special he was to his Grammy and that he may not see her again. This wasn't a new conversation, he understood it, in the way that a six year old boy who has lost his dog to doggy heaven understands it. I would wait until that evening to tell him everything, he would go to school, learn and play and be six. I would fall into a violent sea, created by a wretched storm that carries on and on.

When I returned to my mother's room, panicked that I was not there for her in her final moment, she was surrounded by family -- two daughters, a nephew, sister-in-law, grandchild and her life's love. She was still with us. We quietly traded places over and over. Each struck with unbearable grief. I remember feeling that though we were all there, I was alone and though we talked quietly with each other and we were not alone, the loneliness I felt in my soul was startling. Not long after I arrived my husband arrived, my anchor. And finally my last sibling. I sat by my mother's side and held her hand in mine over her heart, counting the beats and measuring the breaths, whispering in her ear that it was time. We were all by her side, it was okay to let go and finally find peace.She did.

It was the calm before the storm. A storm that continues to rage inside my heart and soul. So often you hear people say, it gets better...in time it will be easier...you won't always feel the grief so profoundly...

In truth, the storm rages on and though you get used to it -- it still hits you like a wave thrashing against the shore.

--A Daughter Unmoored

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

RIP Linda Christine (Hickey) Martin

HAVERHILL:  Linda Christine (Hickey) Martin, 64, passed Tuesday, March 17,2015 in the Brigham Manor, Newburyport surrounded by her family. First diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 2008, the kind hearted, selfless mother and grandmother began her fight. Rarely did she show the pain and suffering that she faced as she endured radiation and chemotherapy, all for the hope of survival.She was courageous, driven by her commitment to her family and the joy of being a grandparent. Determined to defeat breast cancer, she remained optimistic and it was thought that she had won. She enjoyed nearly three years in remission before the cancer metastasized in the fall of 2012.
    
With a terminal diagnosis and only the possibility of extending her time with her family and friends, she smiled through her grief and again she fought. Though Linda was known for her selflessness and kindhearted nature, it was her smile that will never be forgotten. Again, more determined than ever, the grandmother of five beat the odds for a little more than two years. She was of the bravest kind, optimistic even in the darkest moments. Again she endured countless trips to Boston for radiation and chemotherapy treatments, scans, hospitalizations and pain. Still, she formed new friendships, adding to her special group of gals from her time at K-mart and later Kohl’s and cherished every bit of time with them. Most importantly she greeted two new grandchildren, a treasure she fought dearly for.  In the end, the inspiring mother and grandmother waited for all of her daughters and her beloved spouse to be by her side before she said her final goodbye surrounded by those that she loved most.
    
Linda was born on September 24, 1950, in Alameda, CA, daughter of the late Timothy E. and Betty Jo (Martin) Hickey.  After the early death of her parents, Linda was raised in the Acre section of Haverhill by her late beloved aunts, Catherine and Elizabeth “Sis” Hickey. She was educated in the Haverhill schools and was a graduate of Haverhill High School. Linda especially enjoyed her time with her family, camping, watching movies or soap operas, listening to Irish music and having lunch with one of her girls.
    
Linda is survived by her spouse, Philip, and her daughters; Tina and her husband, Jaime Favara, Lisa Beauregard, Kristen Beauregard, Jamie Beauregard;her grandchildren; Lucca Favara, Johnathan Hanlon, Allyssa and Jacob Rodgers, Isabelle Hovey and several nieces, nephews, cousins and dear friends.
    
Visitation will be held on Monday, March 23rd, from 4 – 7 p.m. at Linnehan-Grondin Funeral Home, 129 Kenoza Avenue, Haverhill. In Lieu of flowers, donations may be made in her memory to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105. It would be an appropriate and appreciated way to celebrate her life. For more information and to send online condolences, please visit www.linnehan-grondin.com.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bake Me A Cake -- Just As Fast As You Can!

Well - this is not at all cancer related. It is, however, evidence that life does not stop when cancer slows you or a loved one down. I have learned through this process that taking time, when it makes sense to laugh and celebrate love and life as much as possible is good for your soul....especially when it aches so deeply for a loved one that has fallen prey to this terrible disease.

My husband and I have always been close to his cousin's family, the Moores. In fact, their children (his second cousins, mine by marriage), three boys, Jaysen, Torrey and Timmy were the nephews we never had for many years. Now we are blessed with several nephews but that doesn't change the special place in our heart and our home for the Moore Boys. They are smart, honorable, hard working young men whom we are very proud of.

As fate would have it one of the Moore Boys has been struck by cupid's arrow. Torrey is engaged to a beautiful young lady from the South, where he is stationed, serving our country. This is also evidence that I am aging faster than I would like to admit but let's not focus on that!

We had the opportunity over Easter weekend to celebrate their up coming nuptials. They didn't register for much, at least nothing that seemed quite special enough for such a dear family member. The truth is they are young and gifts cards and cash go along way. That being said, we hate giving gift cards or cash. We are very sentimental you see.

So what to do? Well, I found this post on Pinterest. The concept was great - a Money Cake, but it lacked the sentiment and that special touch. Knowing that the cash would go a long way towards starting their life together we settled on finding a way to make it special.

Naturally we went to the Dollar Store...

We bought some double sided tape, styrofoam discs, poster board and a batman figure. We used one of the green discs for the first level of the cake and we used three of the white discs for the second layer of the cake. Cut your poster board so that you can line the layers of the cake with it.


Then we went to Michaels...

We purchased some clear elastic bands (the kind used in the rainbow loom bracelet making kit that is all the rage these days), a hat box, cake boards, ribbon and some silk flowers.



Then we stopped at Toys R Us

There we found Smurfette.

Finally we went to the bank.

Depending on the size of your cake (ours is two layers) you'll need 200 one dollar bills or more. We chose a combination of one dollar bills and five dollar bills. This cake was made with 100 dollar bills and $150 in five dollar bills.  In the end we didn't use approximately $28 which we just through in the card to keep it a nice round number. You cannot plan your exact amount as it is quite impossible, so just guess and go with it.

The first thing and the longest task is rolling the money. The elastics hold the rolls tight.



If you want uniformity, roll them all the same direction. We chose to roll the ones green side out and the fives opposite for contrast. We also chose to put the ones on the bottom layer and to alternate fives and ones on the top layer.

Once your money is rolled you are ready to start assembling your cake. Get out the hot glue gun. First glue the poster board to each layer (top and sides), then glue the bottom layer to the cake board and the top layer to the bottom layer.


Next, use the double sided tape (must be the dollar store kind - just sticky enough to do the trick, but not sticky enough to ruin the money) to adhere the rolls of money to the sides. The tape goes on the outside, as though you are tying a ribbon around the money but instead you affix the tape to the poster board and slip a roll under it and continue all the way around.


Next you use the tape as your guide and put ribbon around each layer, using your glue gun at the start and the finish to keep it in place. We choose to layer black ribbon on top of white ribbon. The first layer relies on the tape except at the ends. The second layer is glued every two inches or so, all the way around (See pictures below).

Next we centered our lovely bride and groom on the top layer and hot glued them in place and began to decorate the cake with silk flowers (hot glued in place) and money origami (do not glue).






The Hat Box made for a truly elegant look and is practical for future use. The cake fits perfectly inside and no wrapping is required. This was a really fun project and seeing the smiles and appreciation from the happy couple was a welcome respite from the constant worry that fills my mind these days.

Family is everything.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Injustice

I feel the urge to write, yet I am struggling to find the words to convey my thoughts and emotions. Today was the hardest of days. Worse than the day when I learned that my mother had cancer, worse than the day we learned the cancer was back and far worse than the day we learned that it would someday take her life. Though I know there are darker days ahead.

Somewhere along the line I accepted that as fate would have it cancer would take my mother from this world. Until today I was able to compartmentalize that loss into the back of my mind as some distant event that would happen someday, not today or tomorrow, not even soon. My mother is a fighter, not for herself, but for everyone else. Her will to put others first has been her weapon of choice against this horrific disease and when she ran out of ammunition then I would fight for her.

Somehow though this disease takes hold of every part of you - even the insanity that is putting yourself last over all others. My mother has made that choice every day of her life, the choice that puts her second to all the ones that she loves and there are many of us. She has spent her life sacrificing little pieces of herself so that her loved ones would be whole.

The injustice of how her life will end is unbearable and knowing in advance how it ends far worse. I feel like a volcano on the verge of erupting. My emotions bubbling to the surface and trickling out like molten lava, at times bursting into the air and erasing bits and pieces of the landscape that once represented my hope for a miracle, all the while threatening to explode with devastating destruction.

I wanted so badly for my mother to be one of the few, very lucky metastatic breast cancer patients that regains some semblance of a life and lives many more years than they'd ever hoped were possible. I secretly hoped that she would live to see my son, now five, get his license, go to prom and maybe even attend his high school graduation.

My mother is frail. She is a shell of the woman that she once was, she is weak and worse she feels like a burden and she is terrified (her eyes betray her). Her disease or the treatment, which she is no longer strong enough to tolerate, or both have taken so much from her. Now we must shift our focus to the time that we have left and making the best of it together.

And so I worry that my son will be robbed of the love and the light that she would bring to his life. That she won't make it to see her newest grandchildren talk or walk. That somehow I must find a way to help my son understand and accept that which no child should ever face.

Watching my mother suffer as she does, unable to lessen her pain is a living hell. To imagine a world without my mother is unbearable. Her loss will ruin me...without her I will never be whole.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Long Angry Road

Very early this year mom was accepted into a clinical trial after ending 2013 deflated, having spent the greater part of a year taking Oral Chemotherapy that was no longer keeping the cancer at bay. The bone mets in the base of her skull were permiating her brain. It was a very scarey time.

Mom endured radiation therapy to her brain late last year, that is believed to have done it's job, all but eliminated the cancer that was permiating the brain. She then had a break from all treatment for several weeks before her clinical trial began. This afforded her some semblance of a holiday season as what was left of her hair fell out for the second time in her life. She weathered the loss like it was the most  normal thing in the world, but the hurt and fading confidence could be seen in her eyes. In those fleeting moments when she might have wondered if people were looking at her head as she self consciously brushed her hand accross her scalp and tucked the few remaining locks behind her ear. I wonder why she doesn't see her courage, the lioness I see in her.

It's very clearly there, it glows in the light of her Sea Glass eyes and in her smile. Every once in a while it shines like a beacon in the the night. If one looks closely, they get a glimpse into her soul. She has faith, somehow she believes that there is a plan for her. It was then, a very hopeful NEW year. Mom was accepted into a clinical trial and that was promising.

But, you see, I don't have that faith, faith is my struggle. I lost it sometime ago and though I long for its return, the comfort it brings and the letting go, it is lost to me still. It's weeks like this past one where I could benefit most from something bigger than me. Bigger than the grief and the loss I feel every time we hear the words: The cancer is back...It's End Stage...This treatment is no longer working...The clinical trial is no longer a fit. Instead, I am an actress in a gut wrenching walk through life as the daughter who smiles and says all the right things whenever one gets the courage up to as me how my  mother is.

Honestly though, sometimes I really want to say - Gee I don't know, she's dying, literally dying of something that causes her terrible pain each and every day, something we treat with poison to prolong  her life and her time with us - Poison! She barely eats and hardly moves. She is alone, alone! Alone nearly every single day for hours. Except of course those days in which we sit in traffic for nearly two hours, followed by at least two hours of waiting in Boston and then another two to four hours of treatment - "Poison" and another one to two hours home. Did I mention that is at least once a week now, unless of course you count the weeks with scans - like this past week, because then it's two and sometimes three days of visits. But, no, no, no - I smile. It's all I can do and the truth is that I wouldn't wish the full weight of this on anyone.

Here though, I don't have to smile and I feel that in some ways I can let go of the disciplined control that I must have to continue on this path. Today I am angry. Today I have allowed the tears to flow and I have reminded my mother that no matter how hard it gets, I will be by her side. IF it is too much I want her to know that she can stop and I will still walk by her side, steady her and love her. Today I am beginning to accept that it is likely beginning all over again because on Thursday we were told that the clinical trial is no longer a good fit, the disease is progressing again. Slowly, but growth is growth and that means it is time to chart a new course. After today, I will find the courage to smile and to look forward to the possibility that the next treatment may be the right one, the one that not only prolongs my mother's life but affords her the joy of playing with her grandchildren without pain, that allows her to enjoy good food again and returns to her a little piece of the independence that has been taken from her.

I miss the fire in her eyes.

I miss my  mom.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Attitude (written but never published in August 2013)

Life for me has been somewhat challenging these past few months...hence the blog silence. While there have been some lovely things: my son, the light of my life is growing fast and full of innocence and wickedness just the same; my sister and I have reconnected after many years of what can only be described as wasted and my mother has had a few good weeks here and there, the kind that give you hope and make you start to think...maybe just maybe the doctors will be wrong about her.

There have also been some very dark and scarey moments. Work is a challenge unlike I have ever faced before. I have had my fair share of supervisors that just plain sucked and times throughout my career where I just did my job to get food on the table and bills paid. I was past that, or so I thought. I found not only a dear friend, dare I say family in my most recent supervisor. An incredible mentor who helped me to realize that I really am capable of anything, who believed in me, pushed me and genuinely cared that my strengths were aligned properly with my goals and that I was on track to make a difference not only in my life but in the lives of others in a career I loved. 

There have since been what feels like monumental shifts in value and in mission (unstated but there just the same), the kind that result in the truly good and talented people moving on. And so she did, my mentor has moved on to bigger and better things. I on the other hand have remained and being the loyal, hard worker that I am...have stayed (for now) and traveled a path that I would not have chosen. I have never been so unhappy and unmotivated. Still I do the work...but I miss the passion...the belief that I was making a difference, that I believed in what I was doing and the people I was doing it with. There are fewer and fewer people surrounding me that I can honestly say I believe in...and those that I do aren't really part of my daily work since my most recent move. I suspect they'll be fewer and fewer as time passes.

Having a mom who is fighting everyday for some semblance of the life she once had is hard, very hard. When any of the things that can and do go wrong in life happen, it's even harder. Mom needed a blood transfusion not all too long ago, and her cancer markers have climbed back up (slowly, but up is up, and up is not good). This has coincided with some of those other things in life that can go wrong and did...it has sucked, really sucked. But worse I let it get to me.
End of August 2013 Entry
----------
4/17/2014

I recently realized that I need to write and in this realization I pulled up my blogger account to see where I had left off. I found this draft that I had never published and I have decided to share it because it is a true reflection of how I felt and what I thought at the time. I have since learned that the despair that I felt about my career and many of those that surrounded me then was a reflection of the negativity that was never mine to own. With time and a willingness on my part to consider other possibilities I found in myself the strength to be open to the opportunities that often very difficult changes present us, if we look deep within ourselves.

I would not change a moment before the loss that I experienced when my mentor and friend moved on but I have found that perception changes and people surprise you too. I have a new boss, a wonderful, kind, supportive and extraordinarily brilliant man who believes in me in the ways that my former one did and in new ways too.

I am on a new journey now. I am serving as the Interim Dean at a local college. This is an entirely new set of challenges to my already very complicated life but rewarding. I feel truly empowered again and that is wonderful.

Well enough about me...time to go start the blog post that I really logged in to write. It's been a long several months since August, today being one of the more challenging days with mom's treatment and prognosis. I don't know where I will begin or how I will get it all down, but I am off to try.









Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Fathers

This weekend, in particular [I suppose because it is "father's day"], I found myself reflecting on what it means to be a father. You might be wondering why this is important, afterall this is a blog about myself and my mother and our journey through the big "C". Don't worry, that part is coming.

As I commuted to work one morning I listened to talk radio [something I couldn't stand as a teenager, that I know have a great appreciation for - thank you Uncle Tim], Jeff Kuhner discussed his father in-law and quoted from an article that Jeff's wife had written: Forgettable fathers: Tribute to a wise teacher of life lessons by Grace Vuoto. Comrad Jeff quoted from the article and it resonated with me in many ways. The memior began:

"Fathers are like the pillars of a bridge — no one notices them unless they are not there. They are indispensable, mostly in so far as they selflessly serve others. The role of a father is not glamorous. And his value is easily overlooked, until the day he is no longer there."

The more I thought about Father's Day and how I can teach my son to appreciate the man that is his father, the more I found all the ways I appreciate the man that is his father [but also my husband]. This is a man who drops everything, leaves work in the middle of the day and drives into boston and out of boston in the afternoon [not the best time depending on the commute pattern that day] -- all so that he can retrieve a paper script for a controlled substance that is essential to managing the pain the my mother suffers from having Metastasized Breast Cancer. More importantly this is the kind of man that my son has to look up to, the kind of man who's shoes he cannot wait to walk in.

As Ms. Vuoto says, it is I who everyone associates with caring for my mother [and certainly I do more than any other] but it is he who is the pillar. No one really takes notice of how truly selfless he is, how invaluable he is and how easy it is to overlook the role he plays in all of this. Mothers [and wives] and in my case also daughers, for those are the roles I play, are gifted with the praise and the credit for the insurmountable tasks they take on raising and caring for a family. Mother's day is quite frankly a much bigger day than Father's day -- a fact that Jeff pointed out as he told stories of his father in-law. Rightfully so, Mother's are to be cherished. My gut reaction was "Excuse me Jeff! Mother's day should be a national holiday!" Jeff went on to express that sentiment exactly but he also pointed out that Father's are all too often the unsung hero in the story of the family.

A child without [an incredible] father is truly disadvantaged in this world. However, my husband, who lost his father at a very young age to cancer is truly incredible in his role as a father [and husband]. Interestingly we often hear others refer to a "mother's instinct" yet never a "father's".

The truth is that without my husband [the pillar of our family] I would crumble to pieces. For that and for so many other reasons everyday should be Fathers day.

Because...

He crawls on his hands and knees with his son on his back so he can "ride a horse" through the house.

He tells the best bedtime stories and rarely sticks to the text.

He builds chicken coops and fills waterers and feeders because mommy and lucca are in love with chickens.

He sleeps very little, commutes very far and does everything possible to make ends meet.

He loves us unconditionally.

He believes in us despite our flaws.

He puts himself last, always last and never expresses resentment.

He is here [so many children don't have a father who is present never mind engaged in their child's life].

He coaches T-ball and umpires at the Softball Jamboree [despite the fact that he has no confidence in that role and he is utterly exhausted from all the other roles he plays].

He works tirelessly and at the expense of himself for the betterment of his family.

He instills in his son the values and the characteristics that will leave him a better man.

He is the pillar...he always will be.