res·i·due/ˈrezəˌd(y)o͞o/ : n a small amount of something that remains after the main part has gone or been taken or used.
My siblings, cousins and aunt have flown home to their respective homes across the country. Devin has gone back to college after spending his spring break with us. Mom’s death certificate has been ordered. The thank you notes have been written and sent. Her bank account closed and dispersed. Sunday, we showered the flower petals left from the many gorgeous bouquets we received, over the creek side where Mom’s ashes were scattered the weekend before. Her furniture and clothes were donated. All that remains to do is to return some vases I borrowed and to decide what to do with the six 11 x 14 photos of Mom that are sitting in my tiny office.
“How are you?” Friends, relatives and even total strangers keep asking me that since Mom died. It reminds me of a meditation exercise I did years ago where you partner with someone who asks you repeatedly for four long minutes, “What are you grateful for?” The first 20 answers are things that easily come to mind: your kids, family; dog, favorite places, yummy foods, sunshine, etc. But it gets more difficult the more times you are asked. You have to really contemplate what makes your heart sing.
So, how am I? After saying “I’m fine,” “I’m OK,” “depleted,” “numb,” and “exhausted,” about twenty times, I’m left wondering what am I really feeling? I guess, something between grief and relief.
I don’t feel grief about Mom’s death as much as the collective grief of the fifteen years she spent losing her mind one piece at a time. Her celebration of life last week brought her back to my mind so vividly as the loving, adventurous, whole person that she was for the first 70 years instead of the person who she had become over the last decade and a half. I realized that I had been saying little goodbyes along the way when she was no longer able to drive; to read; play Scrabble; hike or even walk; when she no longer recognized neighbors and friends, our dog and then her own son and daughters; when she lost her ability to say simple words and finally to eat and drink and swallow.
Her death was a relief, a final release from the body that could no longer support the larger-than-life person she had been. I recognized also that both my sister, Liz, and I had switched from calling her “Mom” our whole lives to “Mama” in the last couple of years maybe because of her diminished state; almost as if calling her by the diminutive form would protect what remained of our precious Mom. Interestingly, now that she’s gone, she is whole again in my mind and back to being just “Mom.”
After driving there so often, I keep accidentally taking the exit towards the facility where she lived for the past year. I wonder about Kristin, one of Mom’s caregivers who was planning her own wedding for August. She said she would send me an invitation to her wedding because we created such a bond over the past year talking about her dress and catering and location, all in an attempt to keep my visits light and fun and “normal.” I think about some of the other residents who I particularly enjoyed seeing while visiting Mom, like Cathy and Carol, and the funny things they would say that would make us all laugh. Mostly, I have a giant grapefruit lodged in the back of my throat when I think about the long road we took together, Mom and I.
Yesterday while waiting at the bank to close out Mom’s accounts, I overheard a bank employee chatting with a man who likely had Alzheimer’s and his daughter who was trying to take care of things for her father. I felt sad for them knowing how difficult this path can be and I simultaneously felt a huge sense of relief that my job as caregiver is over. What’s left is to remember the Mom that inspired me; championed me, encouraged me, laughed with me and cried with me. The mom that taught me to be adventurous, resilient, open and loving.
I’m grateful for yoga and meditation and the role they have played in my self-care over the years. I’m grateful for my friends and business partners, Suzy and Karen, who showed up with my favorite Thai eggplant and tofu already knowing what I’d want before I even asked for it. I’m grateful for family and friends who celebrated Mom’s life with us and reminded me of the amazing person she was before and even after her diagnosis. I’m grateful for Rocky who has been infinitely patient both with my Mom when she lived with us and with me in the past couple of weeks as I find my way back to a new normal. I’m also grateful for Wilma who I thought was going to be my Mom’s “therapy” dog but really was more therapy for me this past year. Oh, and I’m grateful for dark chocolate…that always works wonders.
So if you ask me “How are you? ” I’d have to say “Somewhere between grief and relief but filled with gratitude!”