Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Perpetually Broken Heart

Don't let the title deceive you - I am a very lucky woman with a very beautiful family and life filled with laughter and good memories. (Watch our video at the bottom!)

But yes, I have, and forever will have, a perpetually broken heart. Let me explain.

I have been reading all evening that Brittany Maynard, an advocate for Death With Dignity, has passed away. And I've realized yet again that growing up brings along with it a very large path shaded in gray where the answers in life are not so clear.

When we're growing up, we are taught that choices are black and white; all or nothing; right or wrong. We are taught to take the theories and lessons taught to us and keep to them, not questioning the reasoning behind it. Then we grow up and see that nothing in life is truly black or white, but instead an eternal shade of gray.

I don't know Brittany. I can't say that I even know how she felt, because I myself have never (thankfully) had brain cancer. But my mother did, and I was one of her main caretakers during her illness.

My mother was beautiful, inside and out. I loved her smile, loved her laugh. Within months, this monster in her brain had stolen those from her. From all of us. So many people have rushed to judge Brittany, saying her decision was cowardly and wrong. Even those of us so close to brain cancer have no right to judge her because we have not walked that path. I can say that I don't think she was cowardly at all. Mom had stage IV inoperable glioblastoma brain cancer, and it ravaged her pretty quickly.

May 2004, right before diagnosis

July 2004

December 2004, on my birthday

February 2005

Every brain cancer is different. It will affect each person differently, and no two stories will be exactly alike. She is absolutely right though, that with her exact diagnosis, the end did not look anything but bleak and terrifying for her. You can see from the pictures of my mom, everything changed for her. Physically and emotionally, she was slowly robbed of dignity a piece at a time.

I never knew what the end would hold for my mom. She and my dad tried to shield us from that truth, although I could have easily researched it. I chose not to. Partly because I didn't believe she would die, and partly because looking it up would make it seem real. I wasn't prepared for either. Prepared or not, my mother's last months were devastating to say the least.

We were surrounded by family and friends non-stop; that is the silver lining on the eternal rainstorm that is brain cancer. As each day passed and more obstacles presented themselves - inability to walk, loss of 99% of her speech, unable to use her right side, bedridden, seizures (the list goes on and on) - a new kind of awful presented itself. I don't know that she would have chosen what Brittany did, because my mom is the type to fight tooth and nail until the last breath, but I do know that if she had been shown a reel of her final days, she would have been beyond mortified at what we had to do to care for her. 

I know my mom, and I know that she would have absolutely hated being in that position and having us there to be an active part. She would not have wanted that. I know that faced with the same outlook and knowing what I know after having been there at her side, I wouldn't want those same memories for my children or my husband. And yet not being in that position, I don't know what choices I would make in regards to my care. No one does until the situation is their reality. Brittany's family will miss her more than any words can explain, just as they would if she died after a few more weeks or months. But their last memories with her are beautiful; time spent as a family and checking items off her bucket list. I wish those were the last memories I had with my mom.

I wish that I could describe it to those who are judging Brittany. I wish I could relay to them the reality of those last months, weeks and days. What caring for someone with this diagnosis is like, to even offer a glimpse of what it must be like for the person with cancer if this is what caregivers experience. I want to tell them what my last memories with my mom are like, and how I would pray that my husband and children NEVER have to experience what we did. I won't, because even detailing it would strip my mom of the little dignity she had left at the end and I cannot do that to her. Telling the world those details would remove the beauty of her fight, the good moments that we had with her. I won't do that to her. I never have, and never will. So trust me when I say that Brittany knew what was ahead for her and it was not pretty. It was so ugly that even almost ten years after mom died, I won't say out loud what daily caretaking involved out of respect.

My heart goes out to the Maynard family. Sitting here tonight, my eyes are filled with tears and I know that no choice is an easy choice when dealing with cancer. May she rest in peace.

I hope my mom was there to greet her, and that the family knows so many people are thinking of them now. I'm really missing my mom tonight, just as I do whenever the holidays roll around. And without her here, yes, I have a perpetually broken heart.

This was the video done on our experience when we did the 5K a few years ago.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

#TBT - Letter to the younger me

I found this letter I wrote to my younger self for a writing assignment about 5 years ago. I think it's still pretty accurate and I wanted to share it. I haven't written much at all lately (work, kids, their activities, all that grown-up stuff) so I'm being lazy and reposting. Happy Thursday, everyone!

Hello Allie, Circa 2000

I spent a great deal of time around the time my mother died in 2005 looking back on the person that I was back five, 10, 15 years ago. When you’re facing someone’s mortality – I think even when it’s not yours – you start to question and ponder all of the decisions you made. In my case, it was because I wanted to change my life into something greater, something that my mother would be proud of. That's how it started at least. I eventually found I wanted to just be proud of myself.

When more than one thousand people attended her wake and funeral, I began to wonder who would even show up to mine. I’d spent a great deal of time the previous 10 years pushing those who cared about me away by suggesting through my actions that the world did, in fact, revolve around me. From being a nightmare to my parents; to a boyfriend I loved and said goodbye to ultimately because he got into the college I didn’t (pretty shallow, huh?); to partying til dawn with everyone I wanted to be friends with (this was always fun for my parents and the friends), my life was a revolving door of poor choices for a few years.

Not all poor choices – I maintained my 3.4 GPA and was president of the television studio, on the school paper editorial staff, and had a weekly radio show. I had three jobs and went to school full time. On the outside, at least academically, I was thriving. It was the inside of me that needed work; the soul part of me. I could make a hundred excuses: some close friends had died when I was younger and I feared losing people; I was trying to be popular; I leaned towards the dramatic because I'm a drama queen. The funny thing is that while these were really what I felt at the time, none of these were truly excuses – they were just attempts at justifying the person I’d let myself become. A person I didn't like.  All it did was serve to make myself more miserable. 

I hid it well, because I wanted everyone else to think life was perfect. I smiled, received magna cum laude honors at college, went out, laughed and told jokes, had tons of pictures to prove how happy I wanted everyone to think I was. In fact, I was the exact opposite, because I was being who I thought everyone else wanted me to be, and not who I truly wanted to be myself. It wasn’t until after college that I began to relax and just be me; and when my mom got sick, I couldn’t be anyone else. There was no energy left after caring for her and working to be anyone but tired, sad, desperate me. And despite the pain of what we were going through, I found great relief in being able to just be me for the first time in so very long. My mom was my heart and soul, the only person that I could talk to about anything and who really knew me inside and out – and still loved me despite it. When she died, I lost my heart and soul. While sad, it gave me the opportunity to make a fresh start; to start from scratch and try and become the person I knew I could – and wanted – to be. And in the same token, build back a new heart and soul.

So what would I tell the me of 10 years ago?

Make mistakes, and be okay with making mistakes – they are how you learn. It’s going to happen. You’re going to fail a test or be late to work or disappoint people – that’s just the way life is. You cannot please everyone all of the time – and that includes yourself. Just don't make it a habit. A lot of people have a lot of expectations, but the most important ones are the expectations you have for yourself. Just do the very best that you can do at this point in time, and have that be good enough.

Stick to the goals you want in life, and don’t settle for anything less. Don’t let anyone make you feel that what you want to do is anything less than exceptional.

Don’t take a job if it’s not your dream job - or a step on the way to your dream job. Money is just…money. It’s not life. Life is the people you love and surround yourself with. You’ve been rich and you’ve been poor, and you’ve been pretty happy at either time, so you’ll make do. Happiness isn’t dependent on the amount of money you have, but in the time you spend with friends and family smiling. 

Travel. Before you know it you’ll have a family and kids and a need to save for retirement, and there won’t be time to do all the things you had wanted to do. 

There is not always something better waiting around the corner, so just get rid of that mentality early on. Most times, the best things in life are sitting there right in front of you while you’re too busy looking off in the distance for the next high. If you find yourself constantly chasing those highs, eventually, you begin to feel numb to the things that come along that are, in actuality, really great. So look – really look – at what you have, and appreciate it, and admire it, and respect it. 

That applies especially to people. Ten years down the road, you’re going to write a letter to and old friend asking for his forgiveness for how poorly you treated him, thinking you don’t even deserve the time of day in this regards (and that would be a pretty accurate assumption). He’ll respond with how you have played an important role in his life, and that you were and are a great person. Take a moment now and be grateful for having had people like that in your life, who have such kind words for you, and treat them a little better in the here and now. You have friends down the road – Patty, Jackie, Carrie, Nancy – who have seen you at your worst and still love you for your best. Love these people for who they are every day. You won’t stay close to everyone you wish you would, but you’ll find that down the road you’re all living the lives you’re supposed to live, even if it’s not the way you'd wished all those years ago that it would turn out. Life happens as it does for a reason, and while you can’t have some people in your life forever, that doesn’t mean they don’t remain a part of your heart for your whole lifetime. Respect all of your friends while traveling your individual roads, and learn from all of their amazing attributes.

Be content in knowing that life happens the way it does for a reason, and you will always end up exactly where you are supposed to be. When things happen, deal and move on - there's not much else you can do that isn't a waste of time. It's true that when one door closes, another opens. It's simply how life works, and if you go with the flow, you'll do just fine. While there are times you didn't want to be at rock bottom, if you weren't, you wouldn't have an appreciation for all the good things. And you wouldn't have the strength you have for dealing with things. Be grateful for that.

Forgive yourself sooner. You forgive others – so do the same for you. Don’t carry the guilt or anger around day after day, year after year. Life is a series of mistakes and joys. Learn from them both, and make the most of every day. It’s a waste of time to wallow in things you can’t resolve, or to worry about resolving the things you could if you’d just speak up.

For all the bad things you’ve done, you’ve also done things you should be proud of. Remember that and carry it with you. Don’t be ashamed to be proud of the good things. Don’t brag about it, but hold them close to your heart.

Don’t be afraid to live for yourself and not everyone else. Find what makes you happy and go with that. Do not let others dictate what type of life you should lead, and how you should lead it. 

There’s a lot I’ve learned over the last ten years – and I know that at 30, I still don’t have my life figured out. I have a tremendous amount of respect for lifelong friends (and am lucky to have a few), for those who overcome obstacles in their lives, and for people who fall in love so young and are still together today. I’m lucky for the friends who have stuck by me while I’ve grown; and I can only know I’m lucky I didn’t marry someone at 19, because I think that we do the most growing in our adult lives from the time we’re 18 until were 30. We change so much, learn so much, build our lives so much. While you may not be proud of everything from your life ten years down the road, know that you wouldn’t change a thing (well, mostly. You definitely would have handled personal relationships better, including avoiding a few). They’ve built you into who you are today. If you hadn’t made those mistakes, you would have made others. It’s not about looking back and wishing you could change things, because wishing doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s about taking the time every moment of your life to make sure that the decision you are making is good for you at that time. But every choice, every decision, and every repercussion makes you into the person you are down the road. We’ve all got baggage and histories; but that’s just what it is – history. Every day is a new day and a new chance – and that’s what you build on.

Oh, one more thing – don’t get that shamrock tattoo for your 19th birthday. You’ll get more down the road that are beautiful and meaningful and you enjoy having. Trust me!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Constant Smile...

Tuesday night, both of my kiddos got grounded. They were fighting over having to help the other one turn on nightlights. My son came and said his sister was being rude and selfish and pushed him. I called her downstairs and asked her what happened, and if she pushed her brother.

She said she hadn't. Now, I can tell when the kids are lying, especially when my little girl is trying to cover up something she did. She was not lying. She was genuinely hurt that her brother had said she'd pushed him. He maintained his story, and I said since I couldn't see and since they continued to fight - and one of them was lying to me - they were both grounded from their much-loved half hour of television the next night as well as dessert. (I'm so mean, I know!)

They went to bed with tears in their eyes. I went up a few minutes later to tuck them in. I assured them both that I loved them very much and that I knew they could do better tomorrow. Then they went to sleep and after my favorite television show, so did I.

I woke up yesterday morning to two happy kids, although I was questioning my ability to read them the night before. Just as I was debating whether my daughter had been the one lying, my son came up to me.

"Mom, it was me who lied last night. I'm really sorry. She didn't push me. She bumped me but I was so mad at her and just wanted her to get in trouble."


I asked him what he thought he could do better next time, and he apologized to his sister. I asked him to explain to her what she might do so that in the future, they didn't fight about the same thing. He asked her, politely, to say "please" and "thank you" when he helped her - after saying he would always help her because he loved her.

I interrupt this post for a moment of mommy pride! I thought that would be the highlight of my day. Nope.

Came home last night after work and I have a terrible cold - right before our biggest work event of the year this Saturday! All I wanted to do was lie down on the couch, so after dinner, homework, and getting the kids situated with coloring/playdoh/etc. (and by this time my son was not feeling well), I took the opportunity to relax.

"Mommy, why are you laying down?" my little girl asked.

"Because I don't feel well, sweetie. I have a headache."

She disappeared for a few minutes, which isn't unusual. She had taken her toy shopping cart which usually means she is going to raid the cupboards and ask me to play grocery store (which is a totally fun game. Except when I have to pay her in real money, and she pays me in money she drew on cut up pieces of paper. Smart kid.)

She comes back in with the cart and wheels it over to me. 

"I brought you some snacks. Some healthy ones. Here's a yogurt and string cheese. And a spoon. And  mommy, when I'm sick I like cookies so I brought you Oreos and milk."

She had a big cup of milk and the entire package of Oreos tucked in there with the yogurt and cheese, all on top of a decorative napkin.

These are just a small example of the many moments of motherhood when all the memories of sleepless nights, constant running around, dirty diapers, and sibling fights dissipate and I remember all over again how blessed I am to have these two sweet kiddos. There are times when I get done listening to them argue with each other and wonder, "What in the hell am I doing wrong?" Then days like yesterday happen and remind me that none of us gets everything right all the time - we all make mistakes and we all get frustrated. Even kids. Especially kids. And yet underneath it all is this beautiful, sweet little person I get to love.

Oh, and in case you were wondering... we ate the cookies first. :)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What Brain Cancer Looks Like

This is my mother. This is the face of brain cancer.

Beautiful, isn't she? 60 years old and secretary of a school she loved dearly with all her heart. 

With the ALS challenge, I've been watching a lot of videos. A lot of heartbreaking videos about what the disease does to people; does to families (and I encourage you to donate whatever you can at - they have done a phenomenal job raising awarness and funds). 

My mom didn't have ALS - she had brain cancer. So before this post gets confusing, let me explain: watching these past few weeks what people go through with ALS made me think about the injustice that so many awful diseases present the world with today. Robbing good people of the opportunity to live long, healthy lives. And thus, reminded me of my mom's journey. I want to share with you the face of brain cancer, and how it changes over time. The picture above is what my mom looked like right before her brain cancer diagnosis in 2004.

This is her three months after.


Still smiling even when the rest of us couldn't. Lying in a hospital bed in our living room. Diagnosed in mid-April 2004; told on July 3, 2004 that she had days, maybe a couple weeks, left to live.

I remember when the next photo was taken; right after Mom had been given those three days or so to live. I was sitting there and every second that ticked by, all I could think was "That's one less second with her now." Brain cancer isn't the only disease, sadly, where families go through moments - or months - like this; wondering what tomorrow will be like or how much time is left.

The cancer robbed her of her hair; the steroids added on weight. Her physical appearance changed so much. What didn't change was that infectious smile. Even in the hardest moments, she smiled and pushed on and crushed any of the survival numbers the doctors uttered. Three days turned to three weeks turned to three months turned to 13 months. Friends and family visited and she began sitting up again, battling back.

She was surrounded by love. All of us were surrounded by love. The pictures below show how she changed over the months. Her skin became fragile from the medications and she bruised so easily. Her hair grew back in tufts - curly tufts. She lost use of her right side. She stopped saying more than a word or so at a time, and most of the time, it didn't make sense. 

But she pushed on, and that's why I share these pictures. I don't want the year she fought to be hidden. I don't want her bravery and her gusto to be forgotten. I don't want to erase the days where family and friends reminded us how good people can be and how loved someone can feel. She didn't fight for herself; she fought for all of us. And hopefully, someday, someone will find a cure and the timeline photos of brain cancer warriors will all look like their "before" photos.

I even took a picture towards the end where mom was smiling - the last time she smiled at us. (I'm not posting that though; I want that photo to stay something special.) She was beginning to really sleep more and had stopped talking, and this particular day she started smiling again. I wanted to capture that smile once more because I wanted to remember that even in the worst of times, mom was a fighter.

Love and miss you, Mom. Sending a hug to all the warriors and caregivers of all diseases, and those who are missing their loved ones.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Favorite scenes of parenting...

Each night as I walk around and sneak in the kids' rooms for one last kiss goodnight and to drop off toys that littered the floor moments before, I try and take a peek at what they did in their rooms in that half hour before bed.

What I find are usually some of my favorite sights (well, minus when there is food or juice snuck in there). I love to see how their minds work and what they've created with the oodles of toys they are lucky to have.

So instead of being angry at the messes next time, I challenge you to take a look around and see not the dolls littering the floor, but the creativity that brought them to life earlier that day, or what is most important to them in the vast array of toys. I promise you, the smile will be worth it.

I love that she tucks barbie in with whatever she can find to make a blanket - in this case, a leg warmer. She loves playing "mom" and taking care of all her dolls.

This doll was actually my mom's. I adore how she puts all the jewelry on and really dresses them up! 

This is how I know which Lego's are his favorite - they earn a space on an out-of-reach shelf.

And of course, he washes and rearranges his trophies often. 

He collected these vinylmations on our trip to Disney. He adores them.

He learned this from me. Dart stick to televisions. And it makes a fun game to try and launch them at people on the screen... 

An army of Skylanders, arranged in order from smallest to biggest. 

Impromptu summer math equations, done on a sticky note stuck to the headboard. The kid loves school. He's soooo my child.

It's a party of Squinkies and Playmobil and Little Pet Shop randomness! 

And, the one thing my daughter cannot live without - paper and crayons. This is a picture she's making for her first day of school, for her new teacher.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

One Perfect Little Personality

I’d been in labor for thirteen hours already, the steady drip of Pitocin pushing my body to its limits. Induced at 6 p.m., I’d arrived at the hospital 42 weeks pregnant only to find that early labor had already started.

That sums up the personality of the daughter who would arrive just moments later. For 42 weeks I carried her, the last two filled with pleas for labor to begin so I could be done with pregnancy and move on to mommy-dom with my second born. Scheduling the induction was heaven for me; arriving to the hospital to find I had been in labor and not known it set the pace for a little girl who would continue doing what she wanted, when she wanted – and not when people told her to.

The doctor sat in the back of that birthing room filling out his paperwork as nurses darted around preparing. The contractions were awful (it is so true that you forget the pain until you go through it again), and knowing now from my first-born how labor felt, I recognized the urge to push.

“I feel like I need to push,” I said, my sleepy husband at my side and the doctor still calmly filling out papers in the corner of the room.

“Go ahead,” he said, looking up in his clean, blue scrubs. “Nothing will happen for a while.”

I hated his words because I was sure they were true. My previous labor had gone on forever. Three and a half hours of pushing alone to bring my baby boy into the world. I had resigned myself early to the notion that I would be going through the same process again, but the doctor’s reassurance made the already angry, sleep-deprived and sore pregnant woman slightly more hostile – and determined.

I buckled down and gave the strongest push I could with my husband holding one hand and a nurse the other.

“The head is crowing,” someone called, and the doctor jolted up from his busy work and darted towards the bed.

“Stop pushing!” he said as nurses tried to dress him for childbirth. They got the gown on him while they fumbled with the gloves. Two fingers in one space and none in another, he had to try again to get them on and get ready, all while continuing to tell me to not push.

Telling a pregnant, miserable, in labor woman to “not push” did not go over well.

“What do you mean don’t push?” I yelled back. (Yes, yelled.)

“Don’t push yet,” he replied, still getting ready.

“I can’t stop,” I screamed. “No way I’m going to stop! Nurses deliver babies all the time! Somebody better get a catcher’s mitt and get down there because this baby is coming!”

Half ready, the doctor managed to catch her on her way out with my third – and final – push. They immediately placed her on my chest and I relished in the sight of the dark, curly haired peanut crying out about her sudden eviction. I took in every centimeter of this daughter I’d dreamed about having since I was a little girl.

Her feet were huge just like mine, and she had my dad’s beak lips (they come to a little point in the middle and look like a beak from the side). The rest of her was all daddy. She had long fingers – much longer than I’d seen on other babies – and her long, monkey toes the same. Her dark curls rivaled daddy’s hair, and the fur covering her ears and back, well, let’s just say that wasn’t from me!

I kept thinking of the phrase my mom had uttered so many times while I was growing up, before she passed away three years before my daughter was born. “I hope you have a daughter someday who is just like you!”
How sweet, you say, right? That’s not how she intended it. She said it each time I mouthed off or threw a fit or refused to clean my room. (I heard it a lot.) She always smiled as she said it, though, but I knew what she meant.

It wasn’t long before I came to see that mom’s wish had come true. Now, I love my little girl with all of my heart. She is sweet, beautiful, funny, snuggly, and smarter than I give her credit for. Then there’s her stubbornness, sneakiness, whininess that drives me crazy – and which I still love. She is the daughter my mom wished me to have, and the master copy at that! She has a strong head on her shoulders and while her obstinacy drives me absolutely bonkers at times, I also admire it because I hope that she will be a leader instead of a follower in life.

Like the day she was born, she proves time and again that she will accomplish what she wants to – like when she comes into the world – when she’s good and ready.

She first walked at eight and a half months. Well, that’s not completely honest. She took her first steps at eight months and was full-out walking by eight and a half months. I didn’t want her to walk that early. I wanted her to stay a baby for a little while longer, since she would be our last. No such luck – she wanted to be on the go!

When she was about two, she wasn’t saying words at all. She’d said some in the past but became suddenly silent and we worried that something might be wrong. I called the doctors, talked about specialists, set up the appointments… and a few days before, she began to talk. A few single words followed quickly by words put together, because she was ready to and not because we wanted her to.

And now she never stops talking. Ever.  (Just ask her teachers. And her daycare provider. And her grandparents. And anyone passing by on the street.)

Potty training was an adventure. Her brother learned right after he turned three but everyone kept telling me that girls learn earlier and I should start trying. Oh, how she and I battled for the first six months after she turned two! It was a constant struggle with no success. She knew when she had to go and would stand there and make a smiling face like, yeah, I know what I’m doing and you can’t stop me. I gave up around two and a half years old, figuring I’d just wait it out.

A few weeks later, at a friend’s party, she looked at me and said, “Mommy, I need to go potty. I’m going to use the big potty.”

And she did. She never had a potty accident, even at night, from that first potty success on, because she had decided it was time.

She’s five now and will start kindergarten next week and I’m worried about her numbers and letters and reading. Her brother loved learning, loved reading, loved writing. She loves coloring as long as she doesn’t have to learn anything while doing it. (Isn’t it amazing how two kids can be so completely different?)

Recently, she started asking us how to spell things because she is not quite ready to sound things out, but she memorizes the words we spell out for her. I watched her write I watched her write “I love Mom” the other day on a piece of paper and reminded myself, silently of course, that she will accomplish everything she wants to accomplish in life when she’s ready, and not a second before. Including reading and writing.

And that’s what I love most about her. Keep doing what you’re doing, baby girl, and I will try my hardest to remember that you will when the time is right, because I always know you can.

Your #1 Fan

Friday, August 15, 2014

Football=No. Because Mom Says So.

For a laugh -- my son keeps asking to play football. I like football (in particular, the New Orleans Saints). I even have fun playing in the backyard. But the mama in me fears my little guy who is on the tiny side going out to play "real" football (not the flag kind, he insists) and getting smushed! I keep saying no, and he keeps coming back. Last night when he asked, I said no because football is dangerous. Then, he replied "Not any more than eating your cooking." Touché kid, touché. Here is tonight's reasoning as to why he should get to play football:


Related Posts with Thumbnails