Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween

No words. Just laughs.

Preparing the Room

Dad is settled in to his "new" room in the adult family home. It's not exactly a new room because it's Mom's old room. She had the larger bedroom with a lovely view of the back yard and a flowering magnolia.. Several days before Mom died when it was clear to all  that she didn't have much time left, Dad asked me if he should "move in to Mom's room" or stay put in his smaller room. I think he made the right decision to move because not only is it brighter and roomier, he also spent countless hours in there with her. They each had easy chairs and when they weren't sleeping, eating or out in the family room, they'd be together in that space. We all thought he'd be more troubled by someone else living in that space, remembering the last 18 months they had been together. The room was such a focal point in their lives and in ours as visitors.

The Sunday after Mom died, MM and Earl took Dad to church. Those few hours with Dad out of the house gave me time to get in there and work like mad to empty  the dresser and closet and sort through drawers. I assumed it might upset my Dad to watch me with this task so I was glad for a time when he was elsewhere.

The work wasn't easy. I cried at the start; removing jackets and sweaters from hangers, emptying out her drawer of nightgowns, and untangling necklaces but I gained courage as I went along and plowed through  quickly. The staff offered to help but I didn't ask for any until it was time to haul everything out to my car. It seemed right that I be the one to pack up; first the suitcases and then large, sturdy trash bags. How many times in the past years have I packed and then unpacked personal items belonging to both Mom and Dad whenever they've made yet another move for a so-called  "higher level of care"? Countless, it seems.They've lived in four different places since moving out of their home in late summer 2006.

Several days later I moved Dad's things into her cleared out closet. He was very specific about which of the framed pieces on his wall he wanted to keep. "Put those framed diplomas away; I know what degrees I have.", he remarked. "I want pictures of my family on the wall". OK, Dad. Will do..

Dad admitted to me that it took him a few days to feel comfortable in the new space. I suspect it's the memories of Mom but he says he's had to get used to new routines (like where he stores his hearing aids and spare tissue boxes). Mom's electric recliner chair sits in the room like a monument to her. He doesn't use it and neither do I when I visit. I wish he would use it; her chair is so much more comfortable than the one he has but I don't say anything. His choice. The pot of flowers next to the chair gives off  a sort of sickening smell.. They're the type the live on for awhile and are visually pleasing so we'll probably keep them.

Last week Dad asked me to remove some of the "extra stuff" around the room. "It looks cluttered and busy", he said. I took down some of the photographs taped to the walls and sorted through the books on the rosewood shelves. "I took out all the cookbooks, Dad. That should lighten things up a bit."  He nodded knowingly. Yesterday he told me that he liked the room. "Thanks to your hard work, Kitty Kat; it looks more masculine."

Yes, I guess it does. That's good.

What I'm avoiding for the moment are the suitcases and plastic bags with all of Mom's things. I moved them into the Arapahoe home and there they will sit. Until I'm ready. Until I can face the fact that tears will flood over me when I touch the sweaters. Especially the sweaters. They smell just like my Mom, like she has always smelled to me from the time I was a child. Wonderful and safe, like love.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


I've written no blog post in almost a week.

I've had lots to say but not a lot of time. And, more importantly, not a lot of creative courage.

I've lost grandparents, a cousin, and my mother and father-in law but losing a parent is new. I'm comforted by the long life she lived and reminded by all the comments from former students on the positive impact she had in the classroom. "The best teacher I ever had", written over and over in one form or another. She touched so many. "A beautiful person both inside and out" and remembered for her "beautiful Christmas choirs". I'm overwhelmed by all she accomplished in her life. She touched the lives of so many people in ways that would surprise her. Isn't it strange that when one's  life on earth comes to a finish, the expressions of love, admiration, and gratitude flow like a rushing river?

I miss her. I long for her. Sometimes I feel her presence but the feeling is so subtle that I want to doubt its significance. When I'm driving I'll see a brilliant spray of fall color along the roadside or the misty, barely visible partial rainbow after a downpour and my eyes tear up. Uncontrolled. Before I know what is happening, the tears flow.

Where is she?  Where is she?

Probably 5-6 years ago Mom and I had a discussion about death. Like a small child  in need of reassurance and the eternal presence of my mother, I asked her if she would send me a sign, something we agreed upon in this life on earth, that would mean she arrived to wherever she was going and was safe.  Safe has always been an important word in Mom's vocabulary; she never felt quite at ease until she'd hear from us that we were "home safe" or at our destination safely. Our conversation that day was lighthearted. We didn't weep; we just talked. She told me her sign would come in the form of feathers. Feathers. Mom loved birds of all kinds. I thought this was fitting.But, she wasn't specific and that, of course, leaves me wondering. I guess that's the mystery left to explore.

It occurs to me that the metaphor of feathers fits perfectly with her love of the 91st Psalm which my son, Chris read so beautifully at her memorial service. This passage says it all.

"He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; 
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart." 
Safe. Safety from the storm. 
Mom, I hope you are safe. I'm looking for feathers. 

I haven't seen what I'm looking for yet. Will I? Will I know? The imponderables.

The opposite of life is not death. The opposite of death is birth. Life has no opposite because it is infinite and limitless.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Comfort Food/Comfort Weekend

Ever been to Troutdale, Oregon to experience an enormous, steaming bowl of chicken and dumplings with a side of green beans and bits of ham? Tads has been in business for decades, the chicken 'n dumplins famous since the 1940's. Check out this feast and those who enjoyed the delicious comfort food on a stormy October evening.

Mega Dumplins

Photo taken by Tina
We've had a wonderful weekend at Tina and Wayne's home in Vancouver, joined by Heather and Chris. Despite the intermittent rain, we did make it to the Japanese Gardens in Portland and Multonmah Falls. Thanks to Tina for sharing her photographs with me. My camera was nowhere to be found when I packed for the trip.

Multnomah Falls; Denny and me on bridge to right
A very good day was had by all.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Week Ago

Mom has been gone for a week. On a morning much like today, bright and sunny with a slight chill in the air, she died at home. "Died at home" is comforting to me; although she never quite considered the adult family home her home-home. She had a lovely bedroom outfitted with some of her favorite things, precious photographs and framed art on the walls but her escalating confusion regarding place and time made accepting her living situation tough.

I wasn't with Mom when she died although I had wanted to be there. I missed her death by minutes having jumped in the car when a beloved caregiver conveyed by telephone that she wasn't "doing well" early on that Tuesday morning. Halfway there I had a call on my cell that she was "gone". Gone. And, my Dad didn't yet know.  I rushed to get there with MM not far behind in her car.

I think we knew that her death was near the night before; we didn't leave the home until 9:30 PM even though Dad had gone to bed several hours earlier. He probably sensed her imminent death as well because unlike the other two nights that MM and I were with him, he decided to sit by her bedside the night before and hold her hand. I remember him asking her if she was cold, did she need another warm blanket and telling her that he loved her. He said, "I'll see you in the morning" and then he went off to his own room to sleep.

When I arrived at the home around 8:10 AM Dad was seated in the family room. He smiled at me as I came in the door and asked, "Are you going to check on Mom"? My heart was breaking. I knew I'd be the one to deliver the news. I told him, "Yes." and headed down the hall to her room. The caregiver gave me a hug. The card table and the puzzle we had worked on the day prior and nearly finished had been taken down, put away, and there was a sheet pulled over my Mom's face.

I've never liked the pulled-up-sheet business so the first thing I did was pull back the fabric and kneel down at the side of her bed. I didn't have long because the sound of his walker on the hardwood floors told me Dad was on his way down the hall to her room. I got up and met him just as he appeared in the doorway.

I told him as best I could and brought him into the room, his tears and mine raw edged. "It just happened, Daddy; she just died, just died", I told him. Somehow I wanted him to know that he'd not been kept in the dark. We sat next to her, holding her still warm hand. I held him. I held her. And when MM arrived it was the three of us together.

The events blur. There were phone calls to Houston and to my children. Text messages. The nurse arrived. The sunshine brightened her east facing window. Denny came through the door. Dad sat down in the chair diagonally across from Mom, quiet but watching everything. When Elaine suggested that we take Dad out for awhile, we decided to gather at their former home for lunch and time together. MM left with Dad and I stayed behind to fulfill a promise I made to my Mom many years ago. I waited with her until the last moment, feeling the life slowly recede from her body. Gone. Gone.

Where is she? I want to know and am waiting for the sign she promised to send me. MM says it may not come for some time. The impatient type, my faith stumbles in times like these. But I will open my eyes and ears and heart and wait.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Her Life Remembered

Thanks to my sister who worked tirelessly on the preparation of my Mom's obituary last week.

Doris Bain Thompson died at age 93 on Tuesday, October 12, 2010, in Seattle, WA.  Born in Inkerman, Ontario, Canada on August 10, 1917, she was the youngest of four children and the only daughter of James A. Bain and Della Hawn Bain. She is survived by Dean V. Thompson, her husband of 69 years, three children and their spouses: Mary Margaret Hansen, John and Trish Thompson, Houston TX and Kate and Denny Maher, Seattle WA, seven grandchildren and spouses, Caroline Hansen Kleban and Steven Kleban, Jeanne and Dan McGrady, Seattle WA, Mary Bain Hansen and Queta Gonzalez, Tanner and Greg Page, Carrie Thompson, Christopher and Heather Maher and Laura Maher.  Five great grandchildren survive her: Charlie Bean and Lulu Della Kleban, Kelan Bain and Lauren Grace McGrady and Peyton Carrie Page. 

Doris Bain Thompson graduated from Houghton College in 1938 and received a Master of Science in Music Education from North Texas State Teachers College, Denton, TX.  She was a talented musician and teacher her entire adult life, teaching music in the Bolivar, NY public school system, followed by a choral teaching position at Crane School of Music, Potsdam, NY.

In 1951, she and her husband moved to Seroe Colorado, Aruba, Netherlands Antilles, where Dean, employed by Lago Oil & Transport Co.  (Standard Oil, N.J.), served as Lago Community Schools administrator. Doris developed the Lago Community Choir, and taught American History and English at Seroe Colorado School.

In 1977, after 26 years in Aruba, Doris and Dean retired to Houston, TX where their three children lived. In 1982, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. published Vocabulary Workshop, a series of textbooks for grades 7 – 12 that she authored using Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition.

In 1992, they began to spend summers in Seattle, WA, living near daughter Kate, becoming members of Seattle First Baptist Church.  In 1999, they moved permanently to Seattle. Doris served for a time on the church’s Music Commission and contributed to the organ fund and to the purchase of new choir robes. Doris’s life long love of animals and birds expanded in Seattle as she tended a menagerie of squirrels, crows, raccoons, gulls, possums and a Steller’s Jay at their home near Discovery Park.

A Memorial Service will be held at Seattle First Baptist Church on Friday, October 15, 2010, 11:00 a.m., followed by a reception at the church. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the National Audubon Society in memory of Doris Bain Thompson to Audubon Society on line donation or to National Audubon Society, Attn: DMOG, 225 Varick Street, New York, NY 10014.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

This is What I Said

My comments at my Mom's Memorial Service 10/15/2010. Words finally came to me.

" To be honest, standing up here to speak about my Mom in the context of her Memorial Service was never something I thought much about, even during the months of her declining health. I’ve struggled to find the theme that felt right for today. After a few false starts yesterday, it was at dawn today on this lovely fall morning that I found my stride.   

There are so many ways to remember my Mom, Doris Evelyn Bain Thompson. What I’ve chosen to focus on today was likely the greatest love of her life; HER FAMILY. None of us in this room who knew my Mom could ever deny how much she loved and cared for her children, grandchildren, and now great grandchildren. And, as a testament to their reciprocal love for her, her entire family with their spouses and partners are gathered here today to honor her life and legacy.

Gathered here are three generations of her family; three children, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. We fifteen persons share a common genetic lineage which would not exist precisely as it does were it not for the union of Doris Bain and Dean Thompson nearly 70 years ago. And so we honor not only Doris Bain but also Dean whose love and devotion to my Mom is obvious to everyone present here today.

At Doris and Dean’s 69th wedding anniversary this past April, we celebrated with a party to honor their years together. I have many memories and photographs from that day. I know she enjoyed the celebration as did my Dad who still comments about the three piece band that played swing music.  We are blessed to have witnessed and to have learned from their lives together. Mom once told me that LAUGHTER was the key. In later years, Mom said many, many times; “Your father and I have such a good time together; just laughing”. I believe she’s right. Laughter with the one you love is a balm that smoothes out the rough edges. 

Mom not only loved her family; she was proud of her family. She expected the best from us and encouraged us to be who we were meant to be; whatever path that might take. She was an amazing writer of letters; her own special form of communication, her own special way of expressing love, concern and support for us. She was also the consummate teacher; whether it was instructing us in the making of traditional Christmas pudding or correcting our grammar when writing or speaking. We were to be the best we could be. Always. She reveled in our successes and offered words of encouragement for our struggles be they trivial day to day tribulations or the bigger issues of life. 

Mom did so much to support me when times were rough. A few examples come to mind. When one of our cats died, she wrote a special eulogy.  She sat with me and held my hand as I wailed at the injustices of the world when neighbors decided to cut down a beloved bank of trees between our properties. She stood up for me when I felt downtrodden, weary, and sad. She’d say, even if all I can do is just SIT with you, I want to do it. Such was her love.

Mom’s greatest fear was that she might lose a child or grandchild or great grandchild during her life. I know she prayed daily for our safety and asked the Lord to protect us as we journeyed to and from. I’m thankful she never had to suffer what she would have considered her greatest loss. 

In her last days, Mom asked to “go home”. I knew she was finally ready. To Mom, HOME was a powerful word, a metaphor for a safe haven, a place of peace, a place of beauty where sadness and struggle is no more. May God bless you and keep you, Mom. May the Lord shine his face upon you and give you peace.  I love you always."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What Do I Say?

Tomorrow morning we celebrate the life of my Mom at her Memorial Service. I never imagined this day although I should have, witnessing first hand the slow but steady deterioration in her health over the last years. I could envision her death; how I might feel and react. But the service? I've had no particular thoughts. I've surrendered most of the details related to her service to others. Grateful for the steady, devoted work of my sister and her daughters to move this special day forward, I feel I've done little. I've made lots of phone calls, sent many emails, advising friends of her passing and the date/time of her service.I've spent time with my Dad. I've cried a few times; been irritable, sad, exhausted, wistful, but  firmly in the moment.

But I'm Thinking. Thinking in between living, eating, cleaning, falling asleep, and putting together pieces of a puzzle that we started the day before she died. Disorganized and primitive these thoughts. I'm hoping to get some grip on a theme, some way I can organize my jumbled thoughts into flowing words that have special meaning for me. I;m searching for words that I might speak at her service tomorrow. Easier said than done.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Reflections on her Last Day

It's hard for me to write. MM has been writing much more on her blog. Having just read through her posts from the day before Mom's death, I thought links to her posts would say more than I've the energy to write myself. She and I spent almost every moment together on Monday.

1. Standing By

2. Day in Pictures

3. Vigil

I find myself overcome with emotion at odd moments. Today I saw a cluster of trees caught in a ray of sunshine, their golden leaves shimmering. The sadness bubbled up from my heart; "Mom will not see these leaves". She loved the fall colors.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Let Her Soar Most High

Doris Bain Thompson
August 10, 1917-October 12, 2010

"She who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, 'He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in who I trust.'

'Because she loves me,' says the Lord, 'I will rescue her; I will protect her, for she acknowledges my name. She will call upon me, and I will answer her; I will be with her in trouble, I will deliver her and honor her. With long life I will satisfy her and show her my salvation.'"

91st Psalm (shortened and personalized)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Waters of Crater Lake

This photograph was taken by Bebin Cypher, a friend from high school who I've not seen in decades but with whom I've reconnected via FaceBook. I asked Bebin if I could post this beautiful image of the waters of Crater Lake on my blog.  I've never visited Crater Lake (Oregon) but it's on my list.

I could get lost in this image. Inviting and comforting. Peaceful. Magnificent.

Water. Without it, we perish.

Last night I dreamed of water; swimming amidst the creatures of the deep.

Last evening I cried until I could cry no more. More water.

Water. Without it, we perish.

Friday, October 8, 2010

"I Love You, Darling"

A lone telephone message from my Mom is saved on my home answering machine from a call she made at least four months ago, maybe more. She called one Thursday afternoon, left a 45 second message and hung up. Although I  listened to her message only once, I decided to save it. I couldn't bear to hit the erase button but have no idea why. Dozens of messages have been received and deleted since then, including several today. Mom's message remains in the #1 spot, saved and archived. But I never listen to it; I haven't wanted to.

Tonight, in the midst of moods of alternating sadness and calm, I hit the play button on that machine and listened, really listened to her words. The story line didn't make much sense but that's not the point. It's what she said at the end of the call that put me over the top. "I love you darling". How many hundreds if not thousands of times have I heard her call me darling and tell me I am loved? As recently as a month ago, she'd say the same words just as we would hang up the phone.

And now?

I'll never hear these words again.. 

I still want my Mother.

It's so hard to let her go.

There is no one else who has ever called me darling.

"These are Difficult Times"

"These are difficult times.", my father-in-law would say. He might be referencing the personal issues of the day or the general state of affairs.

I'm remembering him today and what it felt like to lose him to an illness that was sudden and swift in its progression. He had many famous quotes but this is one of my favorites. "These are difficult times" about sums up life for me right now.

My Mom is dying. She is on hospice care at the adult family home. I see changes in her daily; a letting go and a holding on, surrender and resistance, fight and flight. Last evening she was sleeping in a reclining wheelchair and was difficult to arouse. She opened her eyes after much coaxing but I imagine she saw little of the real world. As if  in a dense fog, her eyes seemed empty and blank. She had no words for me. She gently pushed my hand away when I tried to touch her arm.

I told my Dad that I thought her refusal to eat and drink was her way of "giving up", surrendering to death. He looked at me with wistful eyes and said, "I bet you're right". He knows she won't come back from this. We all do. It's just a matter of time and a short time at that.

"These are difficult times."  I hear you, E.J. I hear you loud and clear.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Surprisingly Calm but on the Brink

With all the stuff on my plate I'm rather surprised by the calm. No panic. No tears. The strength comes from a place unknown.

Mom left the hospital to return to the adult family home yesterday. I have no idea how her night went; almost too afraid to inquire. I'll see her tonight.

How is my Dad holding up? Again, an unknown.

Why would this be the week I am the on call hospital doctor with 15 patients? Last night I was at work until 9 PM with two very sick patients taxing my brain. Today, I start all over again.

My daughter is miserable: "I hate my job, I hate my life." Great words to hear when there is so little I can do but listen and listening time is a rare commodity right now.

Denny is out of town on business; back today but leaves again tomorrow.

Too many questions. No answers.

Moving forward. My eyes are dry which tells me something. I'm on auto pilot.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Take Off

The Alaska Air jet lifted off the runway in Seattle last Friday morning packed with passengers bound for  Chicago. Four on that flight were headed to a much anticipated family wedding.

The view of Mt. Rainier to the south and the brilliant blue sky of early morning brought me a surprising sense of calm. For days I wondered if I'd be on that flight with all the concerns germinating on the home front. Mom, in the hospital with no signs of improvement, Dad  profoundly aware of the gravity of the situation, and sadness contained in every breath made for unknowns.

Many thanks to J.T. who flew from Houston to offer support to my Dad during these difficult days. Who knew if Mom would live through the weekend? Without J.T.'s  presence, I wouldn't have made it to what turned out to be a wonderful, joyous weekend far removed from the overwhelming uncertainties at home.

Flying east in the morning sun was therapeutic; with each mile I felt further removed, as though weights were lifting slowly from my arms and legs. I felt excited for the upcoming events, happy to be with my husband and grown kids as we  headed for Carolyn and Mitch's wedding. By the time we arrived in Chicago, Seattle seemed all of its 1700 miles away. What does one do with a gift of of time to celebrate and to put aside sadness for awhile?

To come....