Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Proud to Be an American

I'll blame it on my mom, after all, everything is always the mom's fault. It started with red, white and blue pancakes on the 4th of July and an off key rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at the baseball games. She raised me to be proud of my country, one founded on the principles of freedom and the blood of many American boys who were willing to give up their lives for MY freedom. I was taught to salute when the flag went by and to sing the songs from the musical 1776 whenever the opportunity presented itself. I made phone calls on behalf of local politicians and handed fliers out at parades on behalf of those who exhorted the same values as my conservative parents. I didn't have a vote but I could certainly use my wit and enthusiasm to encourage those that did.

It was only fitting that as a Junior I was selected to be a Congressional Scholar for the summer in Washington D.C. Despite the fact that my parents did their best to ingrain upon my egotistical brain the concept of sacrifice, I had no idea the lengths they went to in order to secure my safe passage to the conference. It wasn't until a few weeks ago when I was thinking of the antique wicker table set my parents had painstakingly restored that I realized they had sold it in order to pay for my tickets. It physically hurt to think that I had no doubt just expected them to come up with the money without thinking of the sacrifices they made on a daily basis for my adventures and my “big plans”. Like so many Americans I felt entitled.

Supervision was strict, after all, juniors and seniors weren't to be unchaperoned. I shared my dorm on the D.C. Campus with several other girls from around the country and made friendships that I was sure would last until we were each appointed into different cabinets in the government. We took a field trip to the Washington Monument where we wandered with our groups trying to absorb the beauty of the moment when I heard a familiar sound across the reflecting pools. I have no explanation other than I was drawn to it. Like the Pied Piper it called my name urging me to leave the safety of my group and to find its origin. Even from a distance I could tell that it was Lee Greenwood and I knew beyond doubt that it was destiny that I was there and I wasn't about to let the fact that I didn't have a concert ticket prevent me from being there. I flashed my smile and flirted my way into the front row right as the prelude to God Bless the USA rang across the field. Tears filled my eyes as the words to the song engulfed the night and Lee himself looked down at me singing out of tune with the backup singers. My enjoyment was cut short by the sounds of my supervisor yelling at the security guard for letting me in there as he tried to jump the barricade to retrieve me. I simply smiled and finished the song before I made my way back to my group and the lecture that I would receive. It was a defining moment for me. I was an American and despite the challenges facing our nation I would always proudly wave the flag and get teary eyed when the song was played.

I didn't realize that years later I'd be standing saluting my son as he joined the military and prepared to make his own mark on the world. I was so proud to know that if nothing else I had taught him the words to the song, the meaning behind it, and perhaps blessed him with a little bit of the spunk his mother had to break the rules when needed and to stand tall.

September 11

The phone rang, startling me back to reality as I licked the peanut butter from the knife I had just used to make lunches for the kids. I could barely hear my mom on the other end of phone over Kaitlyn's latest rendition of “Who Let the Dogs Out”. Her siblings were running around the house anxious for another average day at school. “Summer, we're being attacked!” Not sure I heard her right I said “wait, who, what, where?”, all those years of journalism classes really paid off as I remembered to ask at least 3 of the 5 W's. “We are....America. Turn on the news.”

I ran to the television set and watched in horror as the play by play unfolded before my eyes. I sank into the covers on my bed, pulling the comforter up over my lap and I clung to it as if somehow it would shield me from the harsh reality that was facing our country. My kids clamored to my side anxiously wondering why we weren't getting ready to make the daily trek to the school. I gathered them close and held them and wondered what would be next.

“All circuits are busy, please try your call again later”. Of course everyone was trying to contact their loved ones and I wasn't surprised, after all this was life changing. It was the first time as a mom that I had to face the reality that nothing was within my control. No matter how much I tried to protect my children there was that element of evil in the world that could not be controlled. I didn't know anyone that was in immediate danger, but I wept. I wept for the lose of lives and for the freedom that we had taken for granted. I cried for the rescue workers who were fighting a perilous fight. I cried for the families who had nonchalantly waved goodbye as they left for work that morning. I wept for the memories that were forever marred with sorrow and for the memories that would never be made.

I had grown up hearing the same question over and over in history classes, “where were you when Kennedy was shot?” It was the question we were continually told to ask our parents in an attempt to make the historical event more of a reality in our innocent lives. I knew that my children would grow up asking the question that was so eloquently asked in the song by Allen Jackson, “where were you when the world stopped turning?”

Peace be with the families, both the survivors and those that were lost. Peace be with all of us as we Remember and never forget.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Another Daring Adventure

I decided that we needed a little adventure so I convinced Bailey, Kaitlyn and Jacob to go for a "short drive" up the hill.  I told them we'd only be about 30 minutes.  We found a beautiful canyon not too far from home and since just about everyone I know raves about its beauty we decided to head up the hill.  At the first turn off I should have realized there was something wrong....I was the only non four wheel drive around and the concrete quickly turned into tiny pebbles and dirt that pelted my window when my speed reached 5 miles an hour.  We found a spot to pull over by a lovely little stream when out of nowhere popped up a half naked man obviously involved in some kind of extra curricular activity out in the open.  I was able to distract the kids with what looked like a tree full of termites while we figured out how to get our van out of the mud puddle. 
Disappointed in the lack of play time at the first stop we made our way further up the "hill".  We found a lovely spot to stop, water trickled down the rocks into the most beautiful little stream.  There were fallen trees and beautiful green foliage that carpeted the ground. Without much thought we climbed the path.  Bailey and Kaitlyn took their shoes off and wandered through the little stream and Jacob used his carabener he takes everywhere to hook himself to the trees and swing.  As we made our way back to our car I heard the most dreaded phrase ....."Mom, RUN!"  Anyone that knows me understands that there is only one reason that I run and if I'm running you should probably follow because something scary is most definitely chasing me.  Jacob, having known this for 8 years promptly screamed and ran right along side me.  Kaitlyn stood motionless, only her eyes darting to the water knowing full well that there would be a serpent just waiting to strike.  Since danger is her middle name she had to stay.  Bailey, the animal wrangler stood barefoot  placing herself between the snake and her terrified mom.  She calmly repeated her plea for me to go quickly which truly wasn't needed since I had already climbed to the top of the car and was screaming for my daughters to join me and my obedient son. The girls slowly made their way down the trail giggling at the scene they'd just witnessed when all of a sudden a blood curdling scream broke through the levity and the entire forest held its breathe.  Bailey was frantically dancing and yelling while her sister laughed hysterically and I tried to decide if this was something she could handle on her own or if I'd have to put my "mom" hat back on and get over my fear. ...turns out it was a spider...a tiny little defenseless spider whose life was cut short by the repetitive slapping of a teenage girl.  There was no doubt in our minds that our adventure needed to come to an end so we made our way back to the road in the only direction we could go....UP.  

It was about this time that I realized that this hill we've been climbing was truly a mountain, a mountain meant only for billy goats and mountain lions and for people in cars that had a death wish or serious issues with adrenaline addiction.  The car measures about 5 feet across, the road about 5 feet and 2 inches and each time that we got to turn which I'm pretty sure would have measured at 90 degrees we met with a truck...not a little truck but a giant van eating vehicle prepared to shove us off into the trees that would ultimately have resulted in an unpleasant landing. I was near tears, I don't like heights, I don't like mountainous roads and I most certainly don't like the idea of navigating them when 90 % of the people driving down the road were holding a Bud Light in their hands.  Frantically, I ordered the kids to pray and to try to get cell phone service so that we could at least call the boys at home and tell them that we love them and to look for us at the bottom of the canyon.  The reception was spotty at best and through the tears I'm pretty sure my husband understood that he'd be cleaning the cat box on his own for the rest of his life.  It is amazing the thoughts that cross your mind while you're facing your  demise....did I remember to put the laundry in the dryer, did the clothes on the floor of the closet get picked up so that if someone has to come and clean it out they won't be horrified (no, the didn't), would Zachary remember to mow the lawn once a week and would my husband be able to survive without someone there to sniff the leftovers for him. 
In the end our prayers were answered.  We made it to the very top of what must be the highest point of all of Utah and I sat there shaking, knuckles white on the steering wheel.  Kaitlyn says from the backseat "wow, it sure is beautiful up here I"m going to go look". Jacob looks to the West and says "wow, sure are a lot of bullet holes in that sign.  You know if there is a rock slide we're all going to die" and Bailey, trying hard to contain her laughter searched for help.  She approached two daring souls who were standing a top a barricade taking in the scenery to ask them which would be the least steep way to get back down the hill.  There was laughter, a few looks in my direction and she made her way back to the car with the comment "we're screwed".  I pulled out the phone in an attempt to find the National Guard phone number that I undoubtedly have saved for such emergencies and debated the best spot for the helicopter to land to retrieve us from the top of the mountain.  At last, a kind man, trying his best to choke back his laughter, approached us and explained that while the fastest way for us to go home was down the way we had just come, the least scary way was down the other side of the mountain into Tooele.  Tooele....I've been there, it wasn't scary, it was FLAT...I could do that.  He told me that it was a lovely road that would gently wind down the hill and I'd be home in two hours flat.  With prayers of Thanksgiving we made our way to Tooele.  We stopped along the way so that I could relieve myself, its amazing what a bumpy road and a little panic attack can do to the bladder.  I was terrified to get out of the car but upon stopping the kids raced to the outdoors in search of bugs and the deer that had just run passed us.  Bailey stayed back a bit, looked around for a suitable place for me to christen and then stood just feet away swallowing the fit of laughter as her poor pathetic mother tried desperately not to scream just thinking about what venom was just waiting for me to drop my pants.  We took a few pictures of the scenery, laughed when we realized the spot I had chosen to take care of business was only about 100 yards from a group of campers and continued down the hill.  Out of nowhere appeared the most beautiful herd of cows that were kind enough not to ram my van as we stopped to watch nature at its best. 
At this point the phones were pretty much dead, there was no GPS in the car and not only was the car running close to empty but so were our stomachs.  We found a little Mom and Pop grocery store at the bottom of the mountain and ran to the Deli to make our selections.  Bailey saw fit to retell our adventure to the people behind the counter who chuckled and gave us a complimentary dinner, no doubt in an effort to make up for the inappropriate laughing.  Either that or they found Bailey attractive, I don't care which one since the end result was some pretty yummy friend chicken and potato wedges.  It was so nice to be in civilization again and having gotten my barrings I said the the kids "lets stop at the Salt Lake".  The kids were thrilled to have a bathroom available and Jacob wanted desperately to see the water.  As I stood outside the bathrooms, pleased to have navigated my way through the afternoon with only a few outbursts, I heard the blood curdling scream once again.  This time it wasn't just Bailey but Kaitlyn as well.  Before I could respond Jacob came running from the bathroom still buttoning his pants and people from all around started to run toward the bathroom.  The screaming continued as I ran to save my daughters from what could only have been an attacker.  I had my toe shoes on and I was faster than ever. Arms waving, feet dancing my girls appeared around the corner yelling "SPIDERS".  I stopped dead in my tracks and turned to walk as far away from the scene as I could while the rest of the spectators rolled their eyes and went back to their business.  After a quick trip to the bug infested lake we decided that nothing sounded better than hot showers and the comfort of our own home. “Mom, where were we?” Jacob asked. “Tooele” I answered. “Are we back in Utah yet?” Was his sweet reply. Blasting "Call Me Maybe" we found solace in the rhythmic sound of our tires on the good old I-15 that lead home to Herriman and the rest of our family who simply smiled and said "did you have a good trip?"

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Thursday, April 19, 2012


 I wrote this story years ago when my mom first passed away.  I have never been able to bring myself to edit it. My dad sent me his autobiography this week and it reminded me of how important it is that I document this story.  

It’s amazing how one little word formed of two harmless syllables can turn you life upside down.  It was a day just like any other in Southern California. The weatherman could have prerecorded his forecast for all the changes that take place in this coastal town.  75 degrees and sunny.  The parks were filled with smiling mothers pushing their toddlers in swings, secretly wondering if bedtime would ever come.  Overly anxious fathers lined the bleachers of the ball field, eager to live their boyhood fantasies through their children.  Dogs barked, content to be able to hear the sound of their own voice over the distant traffic.  To the casual observer it was as close to Utopia as one could find.  But at the outskirts of this town lay a stone building a place where dreams are born and destinies realized a place where futures were determined -- Pleasant Valley Hospital.

 I sat in the waiting room doing just that -- waiting.  I knew the instant the doors opened my life could completely change.  My mother, Kass, lay on a table through those doors.  Doctors, whose years of medical training taught them nothing of tact, worked methodically to see into the abdomen of my mom.  For some time now, they’d done batteries of tests, each meant to rule out one condition or another.  Each test came back inconclusive.  Because of the quick onset of my mother’s symptoms we never fully understood the possible cause of her intense pain.  We spent months on a roller coaster ride, each up swing us to a doctor who would ultimately lead us to the next low. Our need to discover once and for all the cause of this vibrant woman’s deterioration. 

The last time my mom and I had been in a hospital together had been to welcome the youngest of my children into the world.  The smile on her face was no less stunning than the first two times we welcomed a child together.  Kass lived her life for her grandchildren.  Having wanted twelve children but having been blessed instead with two of Heavens finest, she soaked in every opportunity to wrap her gentle hands around one of mine.  To her the very smell of her children was a testament to the fact that God lived.    It was for this reason she hesitated before being wheeled into the O.R.  She feared she’d miss the baseball game her seven year old grandson was to play. What she didn’t realize was that across town that same little boy was explaining his reason for missing the game,  “Baseball’s just not fun without Grandma,” he’d said.  Grandma hadn’t missed a game yet.  “Team Miller” as we referred to ourselves wore matching tee-shirts with our star’s picture emblazoned across the front.  Together she and I would pace behind the other parents, coaching from the sidelines screaming excitedly as our seven year old wonder would make a spectacular play.

The page of the intercom jolted me back to reality.  I watched anxiously for the door to swing open.  The expected hour surgery had turned into two and I found myself silently praying -- pleading -- with my Father in Heaven.  I found comfort in praying and relying on his strength to get me through the hours of uncertainty.

The specialist, tall, lean and a specimen of health emerged from the sterile room, his brown furrowed with anticipation as he made his way across the room toward me.  He sat across from me, obviously trying to maintain his professional distance.  Hands held steady by years of surgeries reached into the manila envelope that held the clues to our future. 

This, “ he said, “ is your mom’s pancreas.  The green mucus colored masses- those are cancerous growths.”  When we opened her we found that everything - her liver, her spleen, her pancreas- they’re all covered in cancer and there is nothing we can do.”  My mind was racing, question blurring together:  how could this woman who could outrun my two year old be sick?  How could me vegetable eating mom have cancer?  What do you mean there is nothing you can do -- “what kind of doctor are you?  You went through twelve years of schooling only to stand before me and say there is nothing you can do?” I screamed silently.   I was amazed at the anger that engulfed me.  This was not the answer I was waiting for - it wasn’t an answer at all it was an unjust verdict rendered and a life sentence passed before its time.  The doctor left, his job was done he had no need to stay because as he said, there was nothing he could do.

I stumbled toward an exit, my heart pounding so fiercely I feared it might burst through my blouse without notice.

I sat at the nearest curb oblivious to the cars making their way to the parking lot.  Many carried balloons to celebrate the new lives being ushered in on the third floor.  They seemed ignorant of the fact that just one floor below lives were being lost.  Somehow I regained my composure and focused on what to do next.  I had a job to do.  My mom, the once proud matriarch, was in a way passing the torch to me and I was soon to take over.  My first task would be to tell her husband, my daddy the news.  I called him on the cell phone - he had been picking our European relatives at the airport because mom would not hear of them taking a shuttle.  I couldn’t not bear to tell him the news while he was driving so I simply said, “She’s out of surgery.  I’ll fill you in when you get here.”

 I walked into the recovery room where my mom laid coved in tubes.  Her speech slurred by medications was unsettling as she repeated over and over, “Summer, Summer, do I have cancer, is it cancer?”  Fearing her reaction while on meds I simply stated, “there were no complications mom, you went through the surgery well, we’ll talk tomorrow.”  I was chocking on my own tears.  “I love you mom,”  Those three simple words uttered several times a day at the end of a phone call suddenly held such profound meaning and I trembled fearing I would never again hear those cherished words from my mom.

I walked back to the curb, the curb that would become my thinking spot of the next few days and waited, I waited to do the unbearable- to break my fathers heart.  “Heavenly Father” I pleaded, “Please let there be a mistake.  I am too young to lose my mother.  I’m done being raised yet. “   But sadly, I had to face the fact that roles were reversing and all too quickly.

I do think it was one of the only times I saw tears in my fathers eyes.  His pain so real it scared me.  What would he do now?   He had been left somewhat disabled by a massive cerebral hemorrhage years previous.  I feared this might be too much for him and I feared I would lose him too.  I dried my tears with the back of my hand and went to my mom’s home to make what seemed like an endless amount of phone calls. 

Some people are born with a gift; they have the ability to touch every soul they come in contact with. Mom was such a person.  Such devastation has seldom been felt through phone lines. I dialed the numbers in the hopes that sharing my sorrow with the endless list of people would be cathartic.  Somehow making friends and family feel the pain made mine more manageable.  I felt the pressure of being the one who had to make my moms last days comfortable.   The idea of mom spending the next several weeks in a hospital was unbearable- there was no question that I was bringing her home.   If my mom was going to die she was going to do it with dignity, surrounded by those she loved and most importantly, by those who loved her.

Wanting to make her as comfortable as possible I went in search of the perfect quilt.  Mom wouldn’t want to be off in the back off the house but would want to be where she could watch her five grandchildren climb the apricot tree in the back yard.    She would want to watch her tomato plants blossom. She would want to greet her guests as if nothing had changed. 

Morning came but for me there had been no night.  I tossed and turned for hours hoping a change in position would somehow keep me from drowning in my own tears.  I hadn’t cried so much since I was seven and had awoke in the middle of the night screaming because in my sleep I had seen my mother die.  For some strange reason the mortician had announced they had been unable to bury my mother whole but would instead have to remove her feet and hands and place them in separate boxes.  I had run screaming from his office searching through endless boxes hoping to find my mom and reassemble her.  The morning of that terrifying dream we learned of my grandfathers passing.  For weeks I cried myself to sleep- my young spirit unable to comprehend that his death had not been a result of my dream.  I remembered going to grandpa’s funeral.  His wife had been in hysterics and I was scared to be in the same room as my grandfather.  I had been trembling, sitting toward the back of the church and I begged my father to let me see him one more time.  Part of me didn’t believe he was gone.  He had been this strong wall of support in my life and it seemed impossible that this wall could crumble.  I walked timidly toward the casket, my small hand clutching my fathers.  I was terrified of what I might see. The only experience I had with death was with the dead deer I had seen hanging headless in a neighbor’s garage after a successful hunt.  I had walked in on the men who had been cleaning it and stood frozen with terror as I watched the very life drip from its veins and puddle on the cement floor.  For me I feared I would find my grandpa strung out in a box, covered in his own fluids.  But instead when I finally made my way to the coffin I discovered this wax like figure that at first glance resembled grandpa but I knew it couldn’t be him.  Grandpa wasn’t cold and stiff like this figure; Grandpa was warm and soft with a joyful Irish laugh and eyes that twinkled when I walked in the room.  Everyone said that it was him that his spirit had separated from his body and returned to Heaven.  I watched as they buried him and I shook inside at the thought of his body being buried so deep in the ground.  What if his spirit wanted back, what if he realized it was a mistake to leave me and he came back, how would he dig down so far without his body?  I imagined Grandpa crying for me, calling me to stop them but there was nothing I could do. I stood there a helpless seven year old unable to save my grandpa, unable to help him, unable to bring him back.  And now twenty years later here I was, in a way the same innocent seven year old kid who now couldn’t save her own mother. 

 I made my way to my shower.  The steam from the water hid my tears.  The beads of water seemed to pound down on my skin relentlessly.  I felt as though I had been bruised down to the very spirit and I wondered how I would ever face the day.

I dressed quickly and left the kids with my husband who knew from my mental state that it would be his responsibility to care for the kids.  I left hurriedly not wanting to look into the faces of the children whose spirits I had crushed the night before.   Tears filled my eyes as I remembered gathering the kids together in the bedroom as I tried gently to explain what was happening.  There was no gentle way to rip someone’s heart out.  There was not way to cushion the blow from a 90 mile and hour fastball being thrown directly at the chest.

We had sat together on the bed crying.  They asked questions, I stumbled to find answers.  I didn’t want to give them too much information, I didn’t want them knowing just how sick grandma might get.    In the end I did the only thing I could do.  I prayed.  The strength form those three strong spirits seemed to penetrate the heartache and enabled me to mutter a simple heart felt prayer for strength.

It was this strength I searched for now as I drove to the hospital to see mom.   The night before, the doctor had said he’d tell my mom in the morning of her condition and I didn’t want her to be alone.  I hurried to the floor and rushed to her room.  The antiseptic smell was nauseating and I secretly ached as I looked around at people who were recovering and going home to resume a normal life.   Anger rushed over me as I walked past an individual who smelled of smoke and who spoke in the characteristic gravely voice of a person who had too long been sucking on the cancer stick.  Here they were though, happily going about their day while my mom who had never so much as thought of taking a smoke, laid doors away gasping for air.    With a pang of guilt pounding its way to my soul I thought bitterly to myself, “It should have been them.” 

I stopped outside her door; I needed to collect myself before going in.  As I took a deep breath and prepared to go in a body in white rushed past me.  It was her nurse, actually it was the medical student who had been assigned to my mom.  His eyes were wet and he was bent over resting his hands on his knees as he tried to collect himself.  He looked at me and said softly, “she’s a hard case to lose.”
“Has the doctor been here yet?”
“No” he said. 
Of course not, it would have interfered with his tee time I thought bitterly.  “You didn’t tell her did you?”  I demanded.
“We haven’t told her, the doctor is supposed to.”
I thought of how I would feel if I were in her shoes, who would I want to tell me?   I decided then it was my duty to break the news.
“Hi mom, how are you feeling?”  I asked as I brushed her blond hair off of her forehead.  Her stomach was swollen she looked as though she belonged on the maternity floor with her middle distended so.
“Summer, is that you?  Sweetheart, how are you?”  Just like my mom, lying in a bed in excruciating pain and her only concern was if I was okay.
“I’m fine mom.”  I searched for words and for the first time in my life I found myself speechless.  “Has the doctor been in yet?” I asked.  I knew the answer but was stalling in hopes of a miracle.
“No,” she said, but I want to hear it from you.”

For weeks prior to her surgery she had been saying half joking that if she lived through the operation she would buy new pants.  In that same lighthearted manner she said, “Do I get new pants?”

I smiled as silent tears streamed down my cheeks. I held her small, elegant hands as I spoke, “Oh mommy, I don’t want to tell you.”

In the same voice and manner she had used years previous in an attempted to convince my brother and I to confess to shattering her thimble collection she said, “I need to her it from you.”

I took a deep breath.  I felt that if I didn’t get everything out in one breath I would not have the courage to take another breath.  With amazement I watched her face, there was no shock, no dismay, just a calm countenance that somehow penetrated the fear in mine and brought peace.

“Summer,” she spoke quietly, “It’s okay.  I’ve had a good life- the best- I had you.”  I buried my head in her shoulder and said again what was becoming a familiar refrain, “I’m not done being raised yet.”

 Over the next couple of days I spent hours by her bedside.  I made all the necessary arrangements. The insurance company, in an attempt to cut corners decided to stop offering hospice as a benefit.  Instead they offered an extended care center saying she’d receive the necessary meds while saving the family the trouble of caring for her.  “Trouble,” why did people always refer to caring for a sick loved one as trouble?  Did these people not realize that for me the greatest honor I could have would be to give something back to the woman who would spend hours sewing Peter Rabbit buttons on an outfit for her prissy five year old?  I fought for hours trying to cut through the beurocratic red tape that seemed to be holding the medical community together. 

 “She will get the care she needs at home, “I explained exasperated. “Each time I come to her room I find her either drenched in sweat or shivering. Her pillows always need to be adjusted and her mouth is dry.  If this is the kind of care she is to get here there is no question where she should be - she needs to be with me - I know her needs- I know her,” my lips quivered as I spoke more quietly those sacred words, “I love her.”  The insurance company consented but first I was required to sign a DNR.  Because she had signed papers prior to surgery giving me power of attorney it was my job to sign these papers.  I was being asked to sign a paper stating that there were to be no heroic measures taken to prolong her life.  Of course I wanted them to take heroic measures; I wasn’t ready to lose my mom.  I wanted them to open her up, cut the bulging masses of disease from her and fix her.  I wanted them to go back in time to the onset of her symptoms and find the cancer in time to save her. I wanted them to erase away the years in which I wasn’t appreciative of my mom.  What I wanted was impossible I knew but the heart is a muscle that can not be controlled so I wanted it anyway.   I needed time.  I had to sort this out in my head.  I needed to see if I could sign the paper without feeling as thought somehow I was an accomplice in her death. 

I went back to my curb- my place of peace.  Funny how place so close to a busy road with the noise of people passing by could be the place I went for peace.  In a way the commotion was a distraction.  I could not fall apart here.  I needed to look strong to those strangers who passed- so I’d hold it in.  I thought back to a time years previous, I was nine or ten and a member of the city swim team.  I was a tall, skinny, uncoordinated pre pubescent who for some reason knew just how to move in the water.  Somehow the arms that could not find an inconspicuous place on land knew exactly what to do in the water.  Each swim meet I would work myself up.  I’d become so anxious that at times I would vomit.  No one knew this of course, no one but my parents.  To the rest of the swimming community I was a rock.  A gifted, graceful swimmer who thought nothing of diving into iced over water to win a gold medal. My parents were my comfort spot.  I could let go for them and they could see my inadequacies for they loved me regardless.  With my mom I could be myself, there was no need to “put on heirs” I could be me.  Now here I sat on the curb about to make a decision that could dramatically affect all of my loved ones and the only one I could talk to about my fears was the one person I must hide them from.  Tears fell to the cement below and I hurried to my car.  I could no let this hurt show; I was the strong one, the capable one. 

It was nine hours later in Denmark that it was in California so for most of our conversations at least one of us was groggy.  I knew however that despite the time this was decision my brother and I would have to share. He was finishing up his finals at the University and mom refused to let him come home until he had finished. 

“Shad, if I sign this and her heart stops you won’t to be able to see her again.  Will you be okay with that?” If it had been me 3000 miles away I would know the answer, there would be too many things to say, too many loose ends to tie before she could go.  In the end we agreed, while it might not be okay, it would be unfair to prolong her suffering just so we could have more time.  With great trepidation I went forth to sign what I viewed to be her death warrant. 

Visiting hours seemed to mean nothing in room 208.  People from all over the country called and visited almost continually.  And while I know how much everyone’s support meant to my mom, it was all but impossible for me to be the cheerful hostess I felt I was supposed to be.  I’d manage a smile and even a heart felt hug but would ache for a time that I could let go.  I needed to fall apart and somehow it was never “appropriate.”  The time I had with my mom seemed so short and so important and here these people wanted to share that with me, I should have been grateful for them, but I resented them for taking time from me.  On a weekday when she seemed coherent I dared to ask questions that I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear answers to. 
“Mom, are you worried about dying?”
“No, I am sad to be leaving you though and I’m afraid of the pain in the end,” she said. 
“We’ll do everything we can to keep the pain to a minimum mom; I hate to see you hurt.”  There was a pause in the conversation, it was almost if we suddenly realized the seriousness of the conversation we were having and were afraid to go on.  

Have you thought about what kind of service you’d like to have?”  I asked timidly. 

Mom had always said that when her time came she would want simply to be put in a pine box and would not want a funeral.  This seemed so unfair to those whose hearts she’d touched through her years of working in various communities however. 

“Not really”, she replied. 
“Is there a particular song you’d like?”  She looked at the ceiling, her mind seemed to be going a mile a minute and yet I wasn’t sure she understood what I was asking.  “What is your favorite song mom?” 
She smiled as she silently hummed the tune in her head. “Fly Me to the Moon,” she said wistfully.  Not having inherited any of my father’s musical ability I tried my best to sing a few lines. I sang quietly hoping not to set off any alarms in the room.  I couldn’t help but smile as we sang together, neither of us on key, neither of us caring.  It reminded me of the when I was eight.  I had just started piano lessons and I would practice diligently each day.  Mom would stand behind me brushing my long blond curls.  I was never sure if she did this because she loved to hear my music or if she simply wanted to take advantage of me sitting still long enough to comb my hair.  In later years mom loved to hear me play, she’d sit in her fuzzy orange chair and listen for as l long as I’d sit still.  This chair, though she insisted was fashionable in its day was to me somewhat of an eyesore.  This chair was her most loved in the house because her feet could actually touch the floor in it.  This was a rare thing for mom, for her tiny legs were always being propped up by dad’s briefcase or a pile of books to keep her feet from going numb.

The day the ambulance brought her home was filled with anticipation.  She would need around the clock care and despite the fact that her daughter in law and her husband were there, I knew that ultimately it was me who was responsible for her care.  It was not because the others were not willing because they were very eager to help but I was her daughter and I felt it was my responsibility.  How could I turn her care over to someone else when over the years she had been the one to nurse me back to health?  It had been her touch that wiped away the tears; her fingers that massaged away my stress; her words who had calmed the storm of emotion that would overcome me as an adolescent and now it was my turn to face this force storm head on.  For years my mom had been telling me that in her patriarchal blessing it stated that her kids would take care of her in her golden years.  I had always thought of her being 88 years’ old baking cookies while living in my home caring for my kids as how that would happen. I never pictured I like this.

Somehow I found it in me to be cheerful as the paramedics lifted my mom on to her new bed.  I excitedly showed her the magic buttons designed to bring her comfort. I conversed with her as it were just another day and I smiled as mom settled in and we found our new routine. 

Mom had come here with a feeding tube threaded into her abdomen. We were to feed her through this tube every couple of hours.  It was painful for her at first and we joked about the different foods she was pretending I was feeding her. Mom seemed to be doing well and at times I felt as though she were simply recovering from a routine operation and not as though she was preparing to die.  We set our alarm for every two hours at night so we could administer to her needs but no one slept - not really.   For me the night brought nightmares in which I kept seeing my mom die.  I would wake with a start and run to her side fearing that her breath had stopped.  It was on one such night that we awoke to the sound of vomiting.  Mom vomited violently for hours.  Her tube appeared to be clogged and we tried everything to clear it.  We tried squirting Coke through the tube. It was supposed to be able to eat through a blockage. I was horrifying at the same drink we would drink for refreshment would become like acid from a battery slowly eating away the buildup.  Nothing worked, the vomiting was only worsening and it came time to make another decision that could dramatically speed up the process of her dying.  We stopped her feedings and I shook with the realization that it was only a matter of days that she’d still be with me now that she was no longer getting nourishment. 

My brother Shad was still in Denmark and was unable to come for a week. It seemed at that point a cruel thing to hope for her to make it that long.  Hours of vomiting turned into days and exhaustion was evident on everyone’s face.  It seemed that the minute we cleaned her up and go her settled she would let lose again.  We had a tube inserted into her nose, down her throat and to her stomach that was supposed to help ease the discomfort. The fear of having this tube inserted made many of the audience that had gathered turn away but I couldn’t.  I needed to be there.  She needed me in the way a child needs her mom.   I watched in horror as her bodily function of digestion was turned over to a machine.

She improved dramatically at that point and she made an effort to teach me the many things I had always been too busy to learn.  She showed me which pie crust recipe she used, and retold stories from her youth in hopes that her memory would live on. She insisted on walking to the bathroom on her own and occasionally she would dance a jig to the imaginary music playing in her head.  She “introduced” me to the proper cleaning techniques and taught me to differentiate between a weed and a flower.  Her “solar battery” as she referred to it was in need of being recharged and she ached to sit in the sun.  She amazed us all as she pulled herself from her wheelchair to pull the single weed that had managed to find its way to her lawn. 

How she loved the sun.  As a child I would look at her callused hands, chapped and cracked from hours of gardening and would wonder why she would work in the garden when it obviously resulted in pain.  Watching her struggle to make her way to the weed I realized that it was her way of creating something wonderful, it was her masterpiece.  She loved her roses; especially the yellow or blue ones that she thought were works of art. One of her sisters was an artist, the other a musician and she; well she was her own breed of talent.  She had the ability to take a seed which held the promise of new growth and turn it into a beautiful plant that not only produced food that nourished the body of those she loved, but nourished her soul as well.  Why had I never appreciated the talent it took to garden?  Why had I not appreciated her love of the soil?  I felt guilty for at times I judged those callused hands and hesitated to hold them -- not realizing they were a badge of honor  Not realizing how painful it would be hold them once they became soft and smooth from lack of use. 

My mom was a master in the kitchen.  People thought her rolling pin should be bronzed.  Because she was so skilled in the kitchen I was content to sit back and watch never bothering to learn the art of pie making.  I guess I took it for granted that she would always be there to satisfy my cravings.    This realization hit hard and I found myself anxiously trying to mix the pie crust to the right consistency so as to create the tender flakes that supported the creamy fillings.  On the rare occasion I slept I would dream of pies.  I would find myself at a holiday dinner surrounded by family and I would bring forth a pie taken only moments before from a box.  My family would stare back at me in shock and horror -- severely disappointed with my lack of culinary skills.  It was this need to be able to pass on my moms traditions that sent me to the kitchen making crust after crust, presenting each one to my mom for her critique and I knew in my heart she would not die until I could make the perfect pie. 

Mom would watch her grand children, her pride and joy play and suddenly sit up with a start.  Fears normally tempered with reason were brought to the forefront.  She would call my son, whose nickname was Crash from the living room to lecture him on the dangers of couches. Zachary would stand politely at her bedside, nodding in agreement but his eyes would look at me confused and bewildered.  He was wondering just how a couch was to come to life and attack him.  His eyes seemed to be saying. “What is wrong with Grandma?” 

Each of the kids reacted differently to her condition.  Zach, the oldest, was the most emotional one.  Each time he looked at her his eyes would fill with tears and his chin would quiver showing just how close he was to emotional overload.  You could always tell when the dam he had built as about to burst.  Bailey, who was six, was unsure of everything happening around her.  She was drawn to her grandma; she would spend as much time with her as she could and often just laid her head down on the bed next to her and watched her sleep. Kaitlyn, only two, who thought the world revolved around grandma, didn't seem to react at all to the tubes and cords that surrounded her favorite playmate.  Kaitlyn would scamper across the room and climb the bars of the bed and find her favorite spot snuggled in next to grandma.  She'd talk nonstop about everything she saw and didn't seem to mind that her conversational companion was often drifting in and out of consciousness.  To ease the solemn mood that often filled the room a friend of mine brought a tiny little Himalayan kitten for us to play with.   Mom fell instantly in love with the tiny white fur ball and would stroke the kitten even in her sleep.  The tiny little kitty, too small to even be away from its own mother would purr and we'd watch as mom and the cat breathed in rhythm, one with another.  It soon became a permanent fixture in the family.
A week after mom's diagnosis Shad was able to join us.  It had been hard on him being unable to be with us.  Whenever we found mom to be unusually lucid we would phone Shad and often woke him from a deep sleep so he could talk to her for what could be the last time.  I would sit by the phone with tears in my eyes as she told him how proud she was of him and how much she loved him.  I hurt for him and knew how much he would love to hug her one more time.  At her tallest mom was only 5 foot and a quarter inch.  Shad was a tall 6 foot 4 and when she'd stand on her tippy toes she’d reach his chest.  I remembered vividly the day we took shad to the MTC for his mission.  We have a picture of her hugging him, tears streaming down her beautiful face as she said goodbye to her baby.  It was reversed this time as he hugged her and tears came to his eyes as he prepared to say goodbye to his mom.  

We took shifts with caring for mom.  I slept at her house most nights, wanting to be there if she needed me.  At first there were trips to the bathroom and showers that needed to be handled but after her feeding tube had been removed they became much less frequent.  I would wash her hair and comb it for her and a friend of mine made her a small robe for her to wear over her pajamas.  We did endless laundry as we tried to keep her comfortable.   

The kids would play in the backyard, Zach climbing to the top of the apricot tree and trying to jump without grandma noticing.  I would sit next to her bed and play hostess to the people who came to visit.
The time finally came that I had to tell them that the visits were too much.  I felt as though I was breaking the hearts of these people who from their reaction loved my mom with the same intensity that I did.  She made work fun.  She made people laugh with her funny remarks and her characteristic mixed metaphors. At one important business meeting she looked down to realize that she had worn two different shoes, not just different colors, but different styles completely.  It struck her funny and she laughed with her famous belly laugh.  It was delightfully consistent.  She would start to chuckle quietly, and then she’d stretch her mouth into the shape of an “o” than she’d purse her lips tightly in an effort to control herself.  Next, her eyes would start to water, the blue pools sparkling with the radiance of pure happiness.  She’d finally have to give into her gut and she’d let out a gigantic sound that would shock those around her.  She’d grab her sides and tears would spill down her cheeks.  Through out her burst of laughter she would try again to compose herself, always unsuccessfully.  When the last bit of energy had been expended she would finally find herself at rest.  I don’t remember a day that she didn’t find at least one reason to spend 15 minutes in laughter.  It was infectious.  No one that witnessed her amazing, and often ill timed laugh fests could help but join in as well.  Never happy with my own sound, I would never be caught laughing out loud, unless my mom started first, and then there was no holding back.  I remember vividly the many lunches that we’d share with her mother and sister.  They had the same laugh and when the three of them would get going the restraunt would never be the same.
She had a sneeze that could make the Queen’s guards break formation.  It was a tiny little squeak that can only be made when squeezing a mouse and quickly releasing resulting in a high pitched, delicate  “haaa choo”.  The final note of the musical score she produced can not be duplicated by man.

She was notorious for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.  She was not unlike the iconic Lucille Ball, a comedic genius.   She worked at a bank for several years and after dealing with an extremely belligerent customer she simply spoke into the microphone of the drive thru, “I’m sorry you’re so annoying”.  Returning from a trip into the city once she found herself stopped for what seemed to be an extraordinarily long time behind a group of cars that never seemed to turn right when the light changed.  After 15 minutes or so she realized she had pulled in behind parked cars.
She once paid for a cart full of groceries and failed to take them to her car, making me return to the store to get them.  At that same store she once got caught in the turnstile when her bag became stuck on the wheel and had to be untangled by store employees.  Later that same year she turned the corner too quickly and knocked out an entire display of wine.  She said that she was just doing her job to help people keep the commandments. 
She was everyone’s second mom.  Not a child in town was ever unloved; they knew that Kass would be there for them.  Growing up my friends would come to my house to discuss things with my mom.  I was often jealous of her ability to make friends with everyone.  She had a way of making everyone see the good in themselves.  It was for this reason that the crowds never seemed to thin around her bed.
There were times that as my mom started to drift in and out of consciousness that she would stare at the corners of the room.  She would laugh softly to herself and occasional raise a hand in that, “I can’t believe it” motion that I knew so well.  Occasionally a word would be recognizable as she lingered in what could only be that fine line between life and death.  When she would “come to” she would tell me about her visit with her grandmother who had passed years before.  She would tell me things that she had no way of knowing, unless of course her grandmother was telling her stories while she waited to die.  At one point I called my aunt to ask her about some of the stories my mom would recount.  She cried as she said, “there is no other explanation.  Kass could not have known that”.  She told me to make sure that my Aunt Joann, her sister in law whom she loved dearly, that her daughter who died as an infant, was okay and that she loved her mom”.  Any questions that I had about life after death were firmly erased as I witnessed the special visits from loved ones that only my mom could see and hear.  There was peacefulness around her, an aura if you will, of divinity. 
Her breathing became labored, her heart rate soared, and the hospice staff would prepare us for what would be her final moments.  Each day they would say, “She won’t make it through today” and they’d make sure I had the number of the person I was to call when her last breath had been taken.  This routine continued for days as we watched her always slight frame become brittle from lack of food and water.  It is said that man can go only three days without food and water, but they don’t include super human mother’s who love for their children out way all science and logic, into the equation.  It was May and she refused to die on my birthday, and she had refused to die on mother’s day and knowing my mother, she had told Heavenly Father that she would be there just as soon as she was sure my father would not wander the streets in shorts with holes in them.
I told the nurses that my mother would pass away on Memorial Day.  She was Miss America personified.  She was the most patriotic woman I had ever met and if at all possible she would die on a day that the flag would be flying.  Everyone told me that it as impossible, that she would never be able to hang on until the end of May but they didn’t know my mother the way I did.  She was single handedly able to make anything happen.  She had more power packed into her 5 foot frame than an entire football team. And if she wanted to, she would make it happen.
 As that day drew closer I began to have horrible thoughts.  I would watch her lying in her bed, her legs bent with atrophy and would think, “just go mom, just go”.  It made me sob to think those thoughts but the idea that her spirit was entangled in this flesh that was binding her to this Earth was eating me alive.  I prayed for Heavenly Father to take her, to end her suffering, knowing that this process was too bitter to take for much longer. 
I told my Relief Society president that my mom would always have a Memorial Day picnic and that I was sure that was what she was waiting for.  Shortly before noon she arrived on our steps with a basket with traditional Memorial Day fare.  As I took it from her I felt energy in the room that I had not previously sensed.  It was as if my mom had suddenly realized that we would eventually be okay without her.  Okay is a relative term.  Ok compared to the thousands of people who suffer in ways that we can’t imagine, yes, but not truly okay.
My husband had Zach and Kaitlyn but Bailey refused to leave grandma. She and her two cousins played quietly in the back room while I sat next to my mom in eerie silence.  There was a sudden gasp, her breathing became rattly and more labored, her pulse was soaring and I could see her heart pounding.  I reached for her hand.  I called for Bailey who came to her bedside and placed her hand upon her precious grandma.  My brother and father joined us as well.  We called for the hospice nurse and watched as her breathing slowed and eventually stopped.  They told us that often after someone dies it appears as though they are still gasping for air.  We watched for minutes as this process continued, wanting it to be over and fearing that it was.  I like to think that I knew the minute her spirit exited her body.  There was warmth around me, a blanket of love that only a mother could provide.  I feared letting go, I feared what would happen next and I sobbed the sob of a broken hearted child.  My mother had died, and the flag was indeed flying.
I held her hand as the coroner came. The nurse had called time of death and waited with us while they came to take my mom to the next stage of this ordeal.  The hurse that pulled to the front of the house was out of a movie. Two men in ties approached the door and politely told us what they needed to do.  They told me it would be best not to watch but I couldn’t turn away.  I wanted to be with my mother for every moment.  They placed a bag on the gurney and with skill and precision they proceed to wrap my mother with plastic.  The seven year old girl in me screamed inside, “don’t, she can’t breath, you can’t do this to her, she’ll come back, don’t, she’ll come back” but my silent pleas met with nothing but the sound of a metal zipper closing the bag that contained the shell of my mother.  Her spirit was gone, I was alone.  The room was full, but I was alone.
Bailey, who had been told to wait in the bedroom, came with the special figurines that she had given grandma weeks ago and gave one to her cousins and one to her grandpa.  She wanted them to have something to hold onto that represented her love.
I made phone calls.  I sobbed through most, and shook through others.  I looked at my sister in law and said “I can do this, I’m going to make it” though I knew that the reality of it was that I would never be the same again.
Dad and I had already made arrangements for her burial.  She would be buried near her home in Cedar City, Utah.  She would be driven to LAX from the local funeral home and then flown to St George where they would prepare her body. 
I walked into Metcalf Mortuary and felt instantly more comfortable than I had at the funeral home in California.  That one had been covered in symbols from different religions in an effort to bring peace to those who mourned.  But Metcalf was different.  It was like my church building.  No crosses that represented death, but paintings of a resurrected Christ,   ones that brought hope and an eternal perspective to this trying time. 
I insisted that they made my mother’s body look like her.  I had brought her own make up and a photo of how she wore her hair.  I didn’t want to look at her and see a made up mannequin but longed for the simplistic beauty that she had been.  I stood for a long time in front of her open casket, blue with a silk lining with the Salt Lake Temple embroidered on the lining and a simple rose.  The make up artists made her look amazingly like my mother before she had become sick.  I watched for a long time, convincing my brother that he had to see her.  She had become so disfigured during her illness that I didn’t want that to be the last picture of my mom that he carried in his head.   She was beautiful.  The Spirit of my Heavenly Father poured himself upon me and I held on to the knowledge that families are eternal.  I had a new found desire to live my life righteously so that I would be reunited with this glorious woman once more. 
We had a simple grave side service, one with friends, family and colleagues that came to say good-bye.  Her dear friend Ed, had written eloquently about her life and passing on the front page of the local paper and the turn out to support our family was strong.  I spoke, shaking the entire time, my notes trembling with such force that through my tear stained eyes I couldn’t see them.  I thanked her for the many things that she had given me and for the amazing legacy she left for her children. Shad spoke about how she was a woman ahead of her time.  He said that while she dreamed of staying home and living her life behind a white picket fence, but that the world would have been drastically worse off had she not been out there each day touching the lives of those she worked with.  My dad spoke of the joy had received from marrying his best friend. 
As the ceremony came to a close my children walked towards me with rocks in their hands.  They had seen people put flowers on top of the coffin and they wanted to express their love too.  They were afraid that because flowers died it wasn’t a good enough gesture.  They said that “rocks are forever, like grandma’s love” and asked the gentleman in charge of the burial to open the coffin so they could give grandma something eternal.  With that touching tribute complete they lowered my mother’s body into the ground and with it a piece of my heart.
Not a day goes by that I don’t see a butterfly and wonder if my mom sent it as a message.  When I hear a laugh that is filled with such pleasure I’m sure it can’t be contained, I think of my mom.  When my youngest child, born after grandma had died looks at me I see her in his eyes.  His sweet demeanor, his tender heart, all indicative of the idea that she had picked him to come to our family.  I miss her smile; I miss the smell of her rolls at Sunday dinner, or her loud cheer at a sporting event.  I miss her calls in the middle of the day just to see if I’m okay.   I miss the proud display of artwork that adorned her office.  I miss the sound of music as she baked cookies with the care and precision of an artist.  I miss the smell of fresh cut vegetables, and her shoes perfectly lined up in her closet.  I miss the smell of laundry that only she knew how to achieve.  I miss the ironed shoe laces and the bubble marks on the sidewalk in front of her house.  Perhaps what I miss most of all is the unconditional love that seems to only belong to a mother.  The knowledge that one person out there believes in you, regardless of the rest of the world.  I miss the support, the compassion and the shoulder to cry on when life just seems to tough. 
I see her in each child, I feel her in the summer breeze and I smell her cooking in the fresh baked pies I make to stay close to her.
We blessed my youngest child on a day that was made for my mother.  The sky was blue, the breeze was warm and the sun was just right for recharging solar batteries.  We stood in front of our front porch for pictures when my daughter looked down to see among the tiny white ground flowers a big, beautiful, completely out of place, yellow flower.  We all paused to look and take in another sign of my mothers continued presence in our lives.