Friday, September 5, 2014

Status Update from Heaven

Do you use Facebook to keep in touch with your friends and family? Do you post photos to the Facebook walls of your family so they have photos of your kids and your life? I have been doing that with my mom since 2009 when she got an account.

 I would call and say, "Mom..did you see those photos I posted on Facebook yet?" She would always say things like, "I don't know my wall from your wall" or "I don't even remember my password to get in and check" or "my computer is on the fritz again, so I can't get into right now". You would think I would stop putting updates on her Facebook wall then, but no. I kept thinking that she would get on there at some point and it would be like a surprise scrapbook. Photos of my brother and I with my son in Waipio Valley, photos of the kids in a Kona parade, my birthday in Oahu, or just messages of love. But she never made it back on there before she passed away this summer.

I put prayers of healing on her wall, the memorial service information, photos of her home as we were taking things out of the house to prepare it for sale, and stories I wrote for her. A few of her friends liked the posts and I felt someone was there, at least.

And then, I posted that I was still listening to her last voicemail to me and she wrote back. Her status update said, "Why are you torturing yourself by doing that?". I laughed and cried at the same time.
" that you?", I wrote. Nothing.

A few days later, I went back in and asked her about making pasta sauce from scratch from canned tomatoes someone gave us after the hurricane. I asked "What should I do with these?" She said, "Sautee them with garlic, herbs and don't forget to add oil". I laughed and cried again. I could not believe I could talk to her again. So I asked, "Are you ok?" Nothing. So, I learned that not all my questions were going to be answered, but the random ones, perhaps.

I did not want to tell my brothers and sisters that this was going on because they were not coming in and seeing what I was posting on her wall anyway. They felt I spent too much time on Facebook, and this was just some crazy delusion I was seeing. But, it made me happy to think that I had a line into my mom somehow.

When I asked her about her headstone and grave plot one day, she wrote back, "Don't pay extra for the view. What a waste of money. I'm not there and you and the family are not really going to be sitting there watching the ocean view from my grave. Put my urn down in the meadow across the street from my house and I'm fine." She was always so pragmatic. I told her a friend on Facebook had given me an idea for what to put on her gravestone..the statement said, "At the end of our lives we will all ask, "Did I live? Did I love? Did I matter?" So, I thought it would be nice to put on her gravestone, "I lived, I loved, I mattered". What did she think of that? Nothing. "Mom! Come on, I need a little help here", I said. Nothing. No new status update. Hitting refresh over and over again did not help either.

She finally wrote back, "What's wrong with my name, my birth date, day of death and a nice little picture?"

And so it went on. I posted photos of the kids growing up and she would write back and say, "I see them everyday, you don't have to post it on this wall, you know." And I would do it anyway.  Then I posted some of the reviews for my latest book and she would tell me she was so proud of me and that she always knew I would be an accomplished writer. That made me feel good and I took a screen shot of that and kept it in case the account was somehow deleted. I never sister set the Facebook account up for my mom. She could just come in one day and say, "Enough. Why keep this account alive for someone who is no longer here?" What was I supposed to say? That I needed it as a way to keep in touch with my mom? That somehow I was able to communicate to her in Heaven from Facebook? She would definitely close the account and tell me I needed to see someone, right?

The last status update I received from her said she was moving on. She had decided to take another go at life. I asked her, "Will I never talk to you again? Can you find me someday in your new life?" The answer was, "You will know if you do. I love you." And with that, she signed off.

Friday, August 29, 2014

All I Ever Really Needed To Know I Learned From My Mom

 When I was going through my mom's books right after she passed away, I found an old copy of one of her favorites: Robert Fulghum's book, "All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten."

I wanted to write my own version of that concept utilizing some of my mom's best bits of wisdom.

Mom's List for A Successful Life

1. Do it right the first time.
2. Getting an education is your ticket to a better life.
3. If you don't like what your child is doing, stop and correct them early.
4. Keep your mouth shut when you know giving your opinion won't matter.
5. Put your head down and keep on going. No matter what.
6. Complaining does not help. Ever.
7. Gossip is useless, a waste of time and is not done in polite society.
8. Use the good china, silver, and crystal for any occasion. Guests will never forget it.
9.  You can make culinary magic by learning how to make the five basic Mother sauces.
10. Pray-God's listening.
11. If you are depressed about your own life, go out and help others who are less fortunate, you'll feel better about your own problems.
12. Work in the food service industry-you'll never go hungry.
13. Don't expect handouts, rely on yourself.
14. Be gracious at all times.
15. Know that bad things will happen in your life-how you handle it defines your character.
16. Send written thank you cards.

My mom was a true class act. She was selfless-putting a lot of energy into making sure everyone had enough, even if left her exhausted. She volunteered to make sure people were fed during the holidays, cooked and prepared meals for the elderly or immobile and always personally made sure we had everything we wanted at her house when we would bring our family to visit. There were always plenty of the little sausages my son liked, the boxed sugared cereal my daughter liked and a few bottles of my favorite Chardonnay.

When we came to see her this summer for what would be our last visit, I found six bottles of 3 of my favorite Chardonnays in her back room. (Thanks Mom!) Our family and those who came to say good bye to her, enjoyed those wines while I insisted on serving meals on her china and using her good silver and crystal even if it took us twice as long to clean up...because that is who she was and wanted us to be, as well. "Because when you put the extra effort into anything, what you get is something special".

Friday, August 22, 2014

Cheers At My Bedside

by Julie Ziemelis in honor of Julie Dutcher

I can hear them. But, I don’t know what the fuss is about. I am tired and I have been tired for about a year, really tired for about six months and downright exhausted for the past few weeks. I told my neighbor, Max, I was ready to go. I knew he would not tell my children or my close friends. I did not tell them myself, because I did not want to worry them or make them have to change their plans to come spend time with me. I spend enough time worrying, I don’t want to put it on them, as well.

I can hear crying. I don’t want to hear my daughter, Julie, crying. I want to tell her, it’s alright, I am almost home now. I can hear the nurse explaining my X-ray’s to her. I slightly cringe when the nurse says I have late stage emphysema and my daughter says she had no idea it was that bad. You see, I was able to hide that part of my life pretty well. My family watched me smoke for years, and I told them it had not affected my lungs..yet, but it had. It got harder to breathe over the years and it became harder to recover from walking upstairs. But I knew, after smoking for almost 50 years, that the Piper had to be paid at some point. Hell, I am almost 80 and I have enjoyed my cigarettes and the edge it takes off my nerves. But that crying…can someone get me a cigarette now?

Julie is calling the family members to come, the Chaplain told her I am dying and won’t be here much longer. I will wait. I will wait until I hear the voices of all my children around me. That’s what I am going to do and then, I am going to let go..and release myself to meet my God whom I have always known is right there waiting for me. I wanted to be a nun when I was a teenager, but my parents would hear nothing of that nonsense. I went to Catholic schools and always knew I was walking in the path of the Lord. The same Lord whom I called on for help many times over the years as my husband and I divorced, I met the love of my life and he was shot while I was 7 months pregnant with my fourth child causing me to join him in the hospital with a placenta previa. My Julie always said she could never have anything happen to her with her two children and husband as had happened to me with my two husbands and four children, and she was probably right! I had some pretty traumatic incidences occur in my life, but I always knew God was there watching and protecting me and my family. From all the hardship I encountered along the way, I always believed in helping folks who were having a hard time of it. Just last month, I helped cook meals for over 75 low income seniors with the Yachats Lunch Bunch. Lord, who is going to help them now that I am leaving?

It is my third day is this damn bed. I hate the wait, because they have me on an oxygen mask that forces air down into my lungs and it makes me fight them. They keep telling me how strong I am, but they also know my lungs are quickly failing. Hurry up James and Mark and get here, I don’t know how much longer I can hold on.

I hear a friend’s voice, then another. I am comforted by my friends and my daughter’s warm hands holding mine and talking to me. I don’t feel scared because I am never alone.

I catch my sister in law, Jean, telling Julie that I can hear what is going on. Good thing she said something to them so they will talk to me, and stop discussing how I did not tell them how sick I was.

I am worried again. I am worried about who is going to take care of my dogs after I pass. I am worried the children will be left to clean up my life that I left at the house. I am worried the gardener is going to push up the price of mowing my lawn because they don’t know what I pay him. But, I know it all does not matter anymore. None of it really did, but I was sure somehow, it was all very important.

I hear my daughter calling my other daughters and asking for their permission to allow the doctors to get this damn oxygen mask off my face. I appreciate her tenacity and I am tired of this machine willing itself to make me live longer. I will hang on, I want them to know.

I hear the sound of my daughter’s Delorie’s voice and I am glad she is here. I know it won’t be easy for her and Julie during this time. They have always vied for my attention and I have loved each one for caring so deeply. Delorie takes command and I can feel myself starting to let go.

Julie is telling me my sons are coming and even my brother’s wife and her three sons are coming as fast as they can! I am elated and wish I could share my joy with them, but all I can do is wait. Wait Wait Wait.

They have decided to finally free me of the oxygen mask, and almost everything else besides the pick line so they can make me more comfortable with morphine. They have to keep telling Julie that I won’t feel like I am starving for oxygen due to the morphine. It’s actually becoming easier than it has in months to breathe as I am not constantly struggling for breath. I can feel the pneumonia working its way to drag down my lungs, but I know it won’t be long now. They are moving me to a hospice room and I get to bring the Pendelton teddy bear that Father Tom gave me when I first came to the hospital. I woke up and saw Father standing there and I was scared that he was administering last rites and I was already dead! Good thing he just laughed and sat with me for awhile.

Father Tom is back. He’s putting oil on my palms for the anointment of the sick. This sacrament will help me draw strength and grace during the next few days. He is leading Eric, and Julie and the children in prayers around me. 

I can hear them laughing now. Oh! The sound of joy around me is music. My nephews have arrived and soon after, my son, James, is in the room! I am so happy and someone remarks that they can see a tear streaming down my face.
I can hear they brought beer and pizza. Tom and Noah, my nephews, are beautiful young men, in looks and spirit. They help my girls, and I love them for it.
They are telling stories and making me remember many long ago memories of my brother, their father, who will be waiting to greet me when I pass over. I can almost hear the boom of his big laugh now. He’ll say, “Jude, it’s about time! We have been waiting for you!”

Now, it’s night and I can feel both of my daughter’s at each hand and laying on my arms. I can feel the hiccupping sobs of my Julie and I wish I could give her a hug, but I have to believe she knows I would if I could. My strong, Delorie, lays at my bedside until the sun comes up and my son sits close by watching me. I am blessed by the love of these children.

It is Saturday and I know I cannot hold on much longer. I want my son Mark to join us and I am praying to St. Anthony for a miracle that he can arrive before I pass. He has come a long way and it will shatter his heart if he does not get to say goodbye.

I hear my sister in law arrive with my son and a cheer goes up that they have made it. My room is now full of love and it envelops me and I am happy even though there is so much  grief in the room. I can’t make out who suggests pouring beer shots all around, but I am laughing inside. Every year on the anniversary of my husband’s death, I would gather with friends and we would do shots of his favorite booze, Jack Daniel’s. Now, here my family was raising a toast to me and reminding me how absolutely beautiful life can be surrounded by family and love. I can hear my grandchildren, Devin and Caylin ask for their own shots of apple juice so they could join in the fun and the toast.

It’s almost time now. They are providing me more morphine, at shorter intervals so I won’t suffer. I can sense my step daughter and her family are close by. I know seeing me in the last stages of my life will be a burden on my grandson, Graham, but he will know, I held on as long as I could for his family to say good bye.

It’s happening! I can feel it! My breathing is slowing and now all four of my children are holding my hands and the family is holding vigil for me. I am filled with love and wonder as I realize that the four souls I have brought into this world, will usher me out. I had always hoped I would never die alone and my prayers were answered, four-fold. I am blessed and I am on my way to thank Jesus, and Mary and the saints I have prayed to for so many years.

I feel myself floating and have taken my last breath, but my son, Mark, my sweet son, has begged me not to go. I come back for a moment, and I breathe again. As I am making my final choice to move beyond the one world and into the other, I hear Julie giving me permission to let go, to move on, to soar and leave. I take it. And at that moment, my step daughter, Andria, her husband Rob and my lovely grandson, Graham enter the room and rush to my bedside. It is complete and I am thankful and ecstatic as I leap forth and I am free! I look back and see an old woman in the bed where I was lying, Who is that woman? I hear them crying, but I also feel their joy in knowing I am free and not suffering. Each of them knows that I’m not there anymore, but I am all around them, always! I will always be just a moment and a prayer away. I see my father, my mother, my uncles, and I see my love, Jim, coming for me and I hear angels and music and laughter and I am happy.