Category Archives: cancer

Gen Xers–Are We Sages?

My hiking buddy and I spent the early afternoon scrambling along and up and over miles of natural rock formations, pausing along the way to take in some of the most gorgeous views that our part of the U.S.A. can offer. She and I make a great hiking duo. We choose a different trail every time we go out, so we always encounter a surprise or two. The fact that we needed to use our upper bodies to traverse this trail that my app labeled “moderate” was today’s surprise, a moderate surprise as compared to some of the other situations we’ve gotten ourselves into. In the end, though, we always laugh. We laugh at ourselves and whatever behavior the hike inspires in us. And we laugh just to laugh, I think. I love days like today.

I talked to my cousin last night. She’s a mess—walking around in a daze, wearing her dead husband’s clothes and shoes, sleeping with her arms wrapped around his urn. Grief has taken hold of her and isn’t letting go any time soon, especially since she drinks all day. If she were working, which she isn’t due to a ruptured disc or something, I think she’d be a bit more in touch with her surroundings. She might have a chance to break out of the depression spell. As it is, she spends all day, every day, alone with a confused puppy that her husband bought her shortly before he left this earth, and drinking.

What can I do? I’m forty-six. I am also plagued with grief and troubles, but of a different breed. I recently reviewed a series of journal entries from 2012 in which I discuss my struggles with drinking, my worries over my cousin, and my fear that I might lose my father. Six years ago, I was where I am now, except for one difference—I was preparing to lose a parent. Fast forward to now. I’ve lost the parent, just not the parent I expected to lose first. While I circle the wheel of same-old-shit-different year, the unexpecteds sometimes throw me off my course, wake me up. I need that. Who woulda thought Mom would go first? I didn’t, but I was prepared for something big. Ultimately, I was prepared for death. My cousin wasn’t.

My hiking buddy told me that this same-old-shit-different-year scenario that I am stuck in is a result of unwillingness to compromise.

“We wanna be able to drink when we want to drink and eat what we want to eat,” she said, “yet we also want to be svelt and fit.” It just doesn’t add up. We gotta compromise. Then she joked about how we can’t say the word “svelt” without feeling like a Jewish mom: “Oh, she’s so svelt!” And we laughed like we do.

That’s what my cousin doesn’t have anymore—the laughter. She gave her whole self, her whole identity, over to that husband. He, in so many words, told her where to live, who to hang out with, how to behave, and what was funny.

“You got Netflix?” I asked her. “Watch GLOW—great eighties soundtrack. Marc Maron is hysterical. It’s a fun distraction.”

You know what she told me?

“I don’t watch anything anymore that would make us laugh.” US. Us. What does a woman do when there is no more “us”? Is it wrong to think ahead? To sit down with our spouses and hash out life insurance and wills?  Six years ago, I was thinking ahead. I was forty, and my parents were in their seventies, and my husband and I hashed out our wills, and we discussed life insurance, and we discussed moving to a place where my mom could live with us… if the situation required it. Six years ago, I was struggling with my weight and with alcohol, but I was also preparing for this shitstorm that is life after forty. My cousin. She’s gotta get there.

I just don’t know what to say anymore. I wish I had sage answers to life’s questions. Maybe I do, but no one’s asking.

It only gets… worse?

My younger cousin’s husband died today, three days after she posted a picture on Facebook of the Bulldog puppy he’d bought for her, thanking him for his thoughtfulness, announcing to the Facebook community that he was her whole world. If that was really the case, then my cousin lost her whole world today.

No one was expecting it, especially her.

I’m not saying he was a picture of health—the dude was twenty years older, and he lived like he was forty years younger. He drank day and night, and he cooked rich food dripping with butter and fat. We knew her husband would go much sooner than my cousin did. We just didn’t expect that to happen TODAY.

Isn’t that how life and death seems to work over the age of forty? Nothing is guaranteed anymore.

When we’re young, and we experience unnatural tragedy, we have reasons to howl at the moon and cry “unfair!” Now, we can’t curl up into our grief and question the gods and cry “unfair.” Now, tragedy is as natural as some niece or nephew getting married and having a baby and starting this cycle of life all over again. We live in a world in which the younger generation thrives and our parents’ friends die, and we are in the middle. We’re in a place where our parents’ generation dies, and our friends struggle with crises and life-threatening illnesses and death. Sometimes, in this over 40 reality, our friends’ children commit suicide, or our peers’ lovers die quietly on the couch after refusing to see a doctor about their weird heart palpitations.

Shiiiiit… when I started this blog, this 40s are the new 40s thing, I didn’t know the half of it. I thought I was jaded, but this jaded thing just goes on and on. I guess that’s a lesson I’ll take into my fifties, if I’m lucky enough to get there.

Freaking Shit Holidays!

Marry, Marry, MARRY Christmas! Marry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! Of course, Hanukkah is over. It’s often over by this time, like around Christmas or so, when the good stuff happens—when spy people in convincing camo and 1960s radar gear give the children of America their secret glimpse of Santa’s progress around the world. Just go to, or something like that. At this time, the whole nation is infected with Christmas frenzy. And Hanukkah? Oh, Hanukkah. I’m-so-glad-I-married-a-Jew-and-met-you, Hanukkah. Hanukkah, in our household, sometimes ends with a whimper, but not a bang. That’s alright. I’ve always enjoyed keeping it real.

So here I am. My mom has been dead for exactly two months to this day. Two months of my forty-six years on this earth I have lived now without my mother. I cry when I wander down the aisles at Trader Joe’s and see the candy that she liked so much and can’t buy it now because… who would eat it? I cry whenever I meet another soul sister who also lost her mother this year or the last, or even decades ago. This wound don’t heal. This wound is like a cut on the foot of a guy with Stage 2 Diabetes. This wound is gonna be around for a long, long time. This wound may plague me til my death. I made my hypothetical diabetes victim above a man because I actually knew a man who cut his foot at the pool and had to wear a boot for time immemorial.   I wonder where that guy is today…

Anyway, I’d like to twitter in and ask one of these Santa-stalking fuckers sometime what countries he recently visited. Not the broad strokes—I want details. Did he make it past the Taliban? What about the huts with no chimneys? Doesn’t that red suit get just so fucking restraining around the Equator? And how—this is the question I’ve been asking myself since I was like seven—how does he fit so much shit into one sleigh? Between Hanukkah and Christmas, I think my stepkids alone get enough stuff to fit in a velvet sack in the back of some eighteenth century, pre-global warming, Nordic transportation device. So many questions.

And I always thought my dad was with me in my skepticism. My dad is and always has been “the man.” He’s the oldest brother, the most responsible, the most sensible, the keenest and the fiercest. One look from my dad made me shrink as a kid. My mother always envied that power. My mother also went to church, and my dad didn’t… until two months ago. You know what happened then—the young pastor paid a visit to our house while my mom was dying and gave her some peace. Dad’s agnosticism forfeited to community values. This young pastor has won him. Today, my f-ing father brought me to church! He said it was like therapy. I saw a guy connecting with people across pews. I sat stunned as he wandered up the candles at the altar and lit one for mom. I had NO IDEA what this man was doing because I have no idea what life is like in church. My dad loved my mom. He loved her so much that he has been regularly attending church services since she passed. My dad is coping with grief. I am proud!

I cope differently. Today’s church services were nauseatingly simple. I’ll support Dad, but I won’t drink the Kool Aid.

The New Forties Means our Parents are the New Sixties… at Least.

I interrupt my grief mantra to resume this blog’s original flavor—the 40s are the new 40s. This blog is about the forties, for better or for worse. Last week introduced my 46th birthday. I am finally the age that I have been calling myself for the last year. For some reason, I never even acknowledged forty-five, that middle of middle-age that you’d think I’d want to cling to for as long I possibly could. Instead, I immediately thought ahead, to the years beyond forty-five. I don’t know why, but I have a hunch—I spent my forty-fifth year preparing for THIS.

What is THIS? This is the forties, the real forties. I woke up on my forty-sixth birthday in the same clothes I’d worn the previous day, and the same jewelry, some of which was my mom’s. Like many black-out nights before that one, I hadn’t brushed my teeth because I hadn’t been in control of when I went to bed. On my forty-sixth birthday morning, I completely missed the kids before they caught the bus for school, and my husband both spoiled me with every cooking gadget I’d ever asked for while also reminding me of how much I am slipping.

“Happy birthday,” he said, and he hugged me. Then he said, “Maybe not today, or this weekend, but maybe we can talk about your drinking.” Happy birthday to me—I am a concern to my family.

I guess I am a concern to myself as well. My experiences and memories are sort of pixilated. Sober days are high-definition days. If I take off a ring to put on some hand lotion, I remember to put the ring back on. On a low-tech day, that ring is anybody’s fortune. I never wore rings until my mother died, so if I lose a ring on a low-definition kind of day, that ring is just gone, as is another piece of my mother’s history.

But I didn’t start this blog to talk about my mother exclusively.   However, I have a lot of friends my age who know this kind of grief. It is, in many ways, a product of the forties. I am certain that my focus on the themes of the “new forties” will eventually stray from loss and grief and return to all the other experiences that make this decade so meaningful. For now, I am a skipping record. And if you know what that is, then you know why the forties are NOT the new thirties!

It’s hard to honor a loved one’s wishes when they were gleaned through a medium

I left my students with a sub, once again, in order to attend my uncle’s memorial service last week. My uncle was my mother’s high school classmate, my father’s younger brother. My unreliable memory tells me that she had dated him before she met my father. Small towns in the fifties, you know? I guess I’ll never get the whole story now because there’s no longer any first party to ask. Within a month of each other, two more members of the class of ’59 vanished, leaving the living plagued with distorted memories and random mementos. I say “plagued” because I have very little control over what will trigger my emotions–maybe a sock, maybe a billboard. I cry when I cry, and that could be in the car or before class or when an old friend of my uncle’s or my mother’s cries in front of me.   No matter where I am or who I am with, I am reminded that I no longer have my mother or my uncle. I can’t even begin to imagine how my dad feels about this.  Yesterday was their 57th anniversary.  Today is my uncle’s birthday.

While Mom was dying, I cried over all of her stuff, like pairs of shoes she’d kicked off in the landing a couple of weeks earlier when she could walk. I cried over those shoes because it was just dawning on me at that time that she would never put those shoes on her feet again. I cried over shoes, bathrobes hanging on the bathroom door, half-empty tubes of cleanser, and Walmart receipts.

The week after she died, I hardly cried at all. I had my husband to keep me company and my family all around, and I was busy writing obits and making preparations for her viewing. I felt some kind of temporary high of relief that lasted until I walked through my own front door, after.  When there was no one to nurse, no memorial preparations to make, no family to joke around with, all I had was this feeling of “after.”

I’m in the “after” now. I guess it’s where I’ll always be. There was life when Mom was here, and now there is life after she’s gone—two distinct lives. I’m not really enjoying life “after,” if I may be frank. Something big is missing. I feel it everywhere—that absence. I know Mom anticipated this absence and wanted me to fill it up, and I’m certain she didn’t want me to fill it up with Jim Beam or become the crazy dog lady who has one-sided conversations with her dogs all day (too late). She was too vain for that. She was proud of me and my brothers because we gave her something to feel pride in. None of us are slackers, despite my self-deprecation.

At my fingertips, I hold all the anticipated clichés in response to her last wishes—things I must do to honor her daily, things that ultimately end up honoring me by cleaning up my own bad habits. Honestly, I don’t know what she’d want. When Mom was here, she’d want to take a trip or go shopping for solar-powered lawn decorations or drink some salted-caramel and vanilla something-or-other from Starbucks. She’d want to tell me all the latest news about the family that she’d gleaned from Facebook posts. She’d want recognition and a travel/shopping/gossip buddy. Now, after she’s gone, and all I can do is be sad. I don’t know how to live for her, or me. I’m just lost.



There’s nothing weirder than this…

Today, I visited my family home and my father for the first time since my mother died. I was about to explain this experience by introducing it with the phrase, “There is nothing weirder than,” but then I checked myself by remembering that nearly every experience I’ve had in the last two months could be introduced by the phrase “there’s nothing weirder than…”

There is nothing weirder than showing up at your dad’s house when it used to be your parents’ house. There is nothing weirder than the look and sound of THAT house, the dad’s house with the mom’s stuff still everywhere in it because Mom’s stuff made it the place that it is… was. Dad’s disorganization and absence of an eye for detail is starting to swallow up the neat, pastel-colored, over-scented house of my mom. There are random objects lying around that were here when I left two weeks ago. For instance, there’s a box lid that Mom had used for a tray before someone with more wherewithal bought her a portable tray. On that box lid is a plastic serving plate, an extension cord, a hanger, and one of those “grabber-nabbers” like my neighbors use to pick up trash without having to touch it. Why is that assortment of objects in the dining room?

Two weeks ago, I thought Dad just needed to get the shock out of his system, and then he would find a home for that cardboard box lid that Mom had used for a tray. He didn’t. The house is filled with things, objects with no home, like the complete Harry Potter series that my aunt bought her for her convalescence. I found the fucking thing on the buffet, still in the box and the bubble wrap, exactly where it had been sitting two weeks ago. Its presence bothered me then, and it bothers me now. There is nothing weirder than arriving “home” and finding your father in a time warp. There are things he can’t part with, and I have to decide what to pitch. Even my dogs are depressed.

But you know what else is weird? My father’s raw adoration for my mother. It’s something that he doesn’t wave around like a Facebook post, but that’s because he isn’t from the generation (ahem, mine and ours and the millennials) that can do that with candor.   He’s a vintage man’s man. This shit is hard to express. I see him struggling with every sentence. He’s a walking eulogy.

I came here this week to sort out my mother’s crammed-yet-organized walk-in closet because my dad wants to move back into the master bedroom. It’s a harder task than I had imagined. For one, her travel buddy and friend-for-decades purportedly cleaned it out last week. Before I had a chance to try on those boots I saw on the top shelf, Dad had invited her to come and clean house, and she left with three, thirty-gallon trash bags full of stuff. I arrived here today expecting a closet with one or two things left, dangling sadly among the empty hangers. Instead, I got a whole closet of clothes that I didn’t know what to do with. Mom liked her clothes.

There’s nothing weirder than listening to your dad try to express his admiration for your mom by talking about the fabrics she wore. He sat down on the edge her bed and said, “You know, the clothes she wore, all of them were soft. All her clothes were so soft.” And then he wandered off again. Dad’s in a funky place. I’m in a funky place. Her clothes, her skin products, her trinkets around the room perplex him. I have to sort it all out, separate the spring and summer clothes for the Salvation Army from the winter clothes for the upcoming church bazaar.  I set aside things I don’t really need because they remind me of moments and events, like our trip to Michigan or my nephew’s wedding. I’m taking home her commemorative t-shirts that I’ll probably never wear. I’m parting with outfits that she had discussed with me in detail over the phone. There they are, no longer relevant.

There’s nothing weirder than this: new grief.

There’s nothing weirder than watching your mother die.

There’s nothing weirder than changing your vocabulary from “them” to “he.”

There’s nothing weirder than walking into that second life, the “after” phase, and realizing that that’s all there is.

There’s nothing weirder than this.

And So It Goes…

It’s November 5, 2017. My mother died on October 24, 2017, almost two weeks ago. I had the privilege of seeing her last breath. I used to count them—thirteen per minute, twelve per minute, nine per minute, one… That was the one. I stayed up most nights, as my two most recent entries reveal. I doubted myself. I went limp with fear when she woke up one morning at 2:00 a.m. and vomited her green, cancer-corrupted bile all over herself. I’m not a nurse, but I did my best.

The day she went, I went off on my family for acting casual as her corpse rested in the living room in front of the picture window. I stared at her hands before the funeral home director came to get her and put her in the back of a black, Chrysler minivan. I stared at her hands. My dad thought I wanted her to be there forever, so he waited to call the funeral home director; but I was, in truth, ready for her body to leave that house as soon as it could, as soon as we all had had our time, and BEFORE we started looking at pictures, writing obituaries, and getting tanked.

In short, her death marked a new kind of beginning—a week of family and friends and throwing myself into printing posters and making picture collages of her life. I seemed ok. My ex-boyfriend came the viewing and told me how together I seemed to be. I guess that’s how it works. Grief. It’s a tricky emotion. I’ll write an entry some time about those triggers. But first, I want to do something I never do and share the pieces of blog entries that I had started and couldn’t finish throughout this process. My computer notes the date and time of every one. I’m going to post them here, as is, without any editing and only the working title and time that I had written them. Those times were traumatic, but  worth sharing:

“Stuff around the house that Mom left unfinished last week,” October 21, 7:16 p.m.


A copy of Mary Alice Monroe’s Swimming Lessons, bookmarked at page 176.

A box of Sea Salt & Turbinado Sugar Dark Chocolate Almonds.

A thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle of a cat on a windowsill.

Three recorded episodes of The Bold and the Beautiful.

A bag of jellybeans.

Half a bottle of Ensure.
“I’m learning a few things on this journey,” October 21, 9:14 p.m.

Everything does and will remind me of Mom.

How to turn a patient in bed. I’m shitty at it.

How to check a patient to make sure he/she is cleanly and has no bed sores. I’m shitty at it.

Nurses and nurses aides are people I live for.


“CouldaShouldaWouldas,” October 21, 11:10 p.m.

Coulda, shoulda, wouldas seem to be common themes that travel around with death like barnacles on a rotting ship. They have tried to creep into my already infected consciousness this week, especially after I checked my mother’s Facebook status and noticed that she had reposted quite a few memes on October 17, the day before I decided I needed to tell her what she needed to know via Facebook Messenger. My final thoughts will be forever unopened, as my father and I plan to shut down the account.

That’s sad, sure, but that’s not nearly as sad as, well, everything else—loss, grief, a sense of tragedy, unfinished jigsaw puzzles and a her jacket still hanging off of the back of a chair. I imperfectly folded my parents’ laundry recently and haphazardly shoved it into drawers like I always do when someone puts me in charge of laundry, and I thought, “Man, Mom is gonna have a fit when she opens up these drawers and sees this.” Then I realized that Mom’s would never have the chance to scold me for not intuiting correctly which drawers certain fabrics belonged in and such. She spent a good deal of time during her comparatively lucid state on Wednesday fretting about how well my niece had cleaned the tile floors, “Had she steamed them or just swiffered them?” I told her the floors glistened. She’s never gonna see those floors again, so what’s a little lie?


“Every profession has its heroes,” October 23, 12:17 a.m.

Every profession has its heroes, people who were born to do the job. In fields of wellness and education, these heroes can make a significant difference. If I could gauge my performance by student feedback, I might determine that I have hero potential in my branch of education. Where there’s potential, there’s fulfillment. I will stick with teaching. Had I chosen to become a home health aide or a nurse, however, I would not have had hero potential. Nope.

All the love in the world can’t seem to guide me in my awkward attempts to turn my mother from her side to her back, and again to her side. The nurses and the aides tell me this is crucial. My pained mother who will spend her last moments in a hospital bed also indicates to me that this is crucial. Bedsores are the enemy. Discomfort and itchiness are major enemies as well. But I can’t do it. I’m a health care flunky when it comes to rolling that pad thing and shimmying it under the body and crossing the legs and then rolling it out and again, and I don’t what else. I feel like a failure. Tonight, I smoked a butt from the ashtray (ran out of smokes), woke my mom to give her some morphine oil, which she hates, and cried up a storm while I waited for the morphine to kick in. All so I could get up the courage to turn her on her side.

I wasn’t successful. I lowered the bed like her aide had showed me. I flattened her out and crossed her arms and rolled that stupid pad thing.   Then I wondered if I was rolling it from the correct side. Then I determined I wouldn’t roll, but I would just shift her body sideways with the pad thing. I don’t need to go any further. I caused my mom unnecessary discomfort in the last hours of her life on earth.