Tag Archives: death

When Life is a Construction Zone

Life is in upheaval.

After several years of cringing at the slipshod workmanship, chipped paint, and overall ugliness of my pool area, I decided to bite the bullet and have it completely resurfaced.

What I didn’t anticipate? The constant throbbing noise of jackhammers, upending layers of old concrete, paint, even carpeting (!) that lived beneath the surface.

My lanai looks like a war zone.

The noise, the upheaval, the mess? A perfect metaphor for my life.

For those of you who may not know, 2021 has been a humdinger of a year.

More aptly put, a cluster#$%^ of loss both expected and unexpected, and the waves of grief that accompany the death of your dearest people.

You likely read about my experience losing mom back in March.

You KNOW your aging parents are eventually going to die, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I sobbed during Shasta’s morning walks, feeling lost. During mom’s final year, my life was wrapped up in taking care of her needs, trying to bring a smile to her face (despite the distance COVID mandated), and, at the very end, holding vigil at her side.

When she died, I felt unmoored; with no purpose. She had been my purpose.

Slowly, I found my footing, grateful for a loosening of pandemic restrictions and finding comfort in Mark’s companionship.

Plus, I had a new purpose! My godson David’s wedding!

As if in training for the Olympics, I shattered all previous weight loss records and lived to fit in “the dress” – a dream of a gown that made me feel a little like a celebrity. The promise of this happy occasion brightened my spirits and I looked forward to celebrating.

And boy, did we.

It felt like turning a corner to better days.

And then, the unexpected.

Just a few weeks after the wedding, Mark died.

He hadn’t been feeling great; chalked it up to indigestion, kept adjusting his diet, put off going to the doctor, and when I finally called the ambulance, it was too late.

His aorta burst.

Since August 24th, my life has been a blur of shock, sadness, anger, depression mixed in to small pockets of hope, gratitude, and peace.  But these final three are elusive.

Honestly, I felt stronger in the initial days and weeks following the shock.  Friends swooped in to sit Shiva with me. Cards and flowers and food deliveries kept me distracted. I jumped back into work after just a week, because what else would I do? Just sit around crying?

My purpose in writing these missiles is always to encourage, so I can imagine you all wondering when we’re going to get to the good part.

Me too.

When you’ve spent every night for the last few years holding hands with a dream of a man who lavished you with love and kindness; who fixed every problem that could be solved with power tools; who never failed to be your biggest cheerleader and was always on your side, you don’t just move on easily.

Yes, I am drawing on every spiritual tool in my toolbox.

And yes, I do believe that there is a future and a hope for me.

But there is no fast-forwarding past the heart-wrenching ache that is my constant companion.

I know that this, too, shall pass.

I also know I will never be quite the same, though I have to believe that, eventually, I will be better for this experience. 

A little less trite in my positivity.

A lot more empathetic.

And oh, how the sting of death puts so much bull#$% into perspective.

Mary Oliver’s poem, When Death Comes, says it so beautifully:

When death comes like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse to buy me, and snaps the purse shut; when death comes like the measle-pox;  
when death comes like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,  
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering: what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?  

And therefore I look upon everything as a brotherhood and a sisterhood, and I look upon time as no more than an idea, and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common as a field daisy, and as singular,  
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth, tending, as all music does, toward silence,  
and each body a lion of courage, and something precious to the earth.  

When it’s over, I want to say all my life I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.  
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real.  
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument.  

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
 

I wake up each morning determined to shake the cloud of sadness. 

If I must live without Mark, then I must LIVE

We’ll see what that ends up looking like. 

But for now, I mine each day seeking reasons for gratitude.

I know gratitude is the lifeline to pull me out of the darkness and back into the light.

As I look out my window and see the concrete dust and slabs of jackhammered rock. The brutal ugliness of construction.

I see in it, my life.

For my future lanai, how easy it is for me to imagine the done deal! The new surface, with a (finally) secure foundation.

And – through tears – I choose to believe that this deep work in my soul will lead to a similar, beautiful end.

If you feel inclined, Mark’s memorial service can be viewed here.

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Mom’s Hall Pass from Heaven

My dear mom, Edna “Bette” Costello, spent the last year dying.

What I’d envisioned as a warm and memory-making time together was stolen by COVID.

Despite straining to catch her breath from COPD and emphysema, up until January, she still had spunk.

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Spunk enough to be sarcastic. To weigh in on matters of politics and the love affairs of my friends. To complain about the food delivered to her door or the occasional caretakers who she felt lacked true caring. Or to drive by the Amish area of Sarasota on the way home from a doctor’s appointment, because she loved all things Amish.

2021 began with a hospital stay, which left her depleted. Then pneumonia struck, leading to a longer hospital stay and a brutal two weeks at a rehab facility where her downhill spiral gained momentum.

Worse, we weren’t allowed to visit except for one half-hour, once a week. And the visits had to be outside. Separated so far, we practically had to shout to be heard.

The second visit; the second week…she didn’t want to see me.

I tried not to take it personally. I knew she didn’t like being seen not as the perfectly coiffed and styled Bette we always knew.

February turned to March and my sister and I took drastic action because we couldn’t bear to be so separated from mom. We needed to see firsthand what kind of care she was – or wasn’t – receiving. We researched the best skilled nursing in Sarasota, and set up a new “home” at Bay Village; a place that allowed COVID-free visitors who adhered to stringent visitation rules.

All the hopes and dreams that a new residence would bring mom back to life were also quickly dashed. She could no longer do the simplest tasks herself. And that she couldn’t brought her – and us – to despair.

This fiercely independent woman was undone by her dependence.

But the point of this post is not to dwell on the end. The end and its memories brought me to a place of such darkness, I never thought I would emerge.

Believe me, there wasn’t an ounce of inspiration in all of 2021 to write to you or pick a new word of the week. I was consumed with trying to help mom and when she finally died, I was consumed with grief.

At her memorial service, I shared her beautiful life story and how, at the very end, I saw her say, “Oh…oh…oh!”

As if she recognized something long-gone and beautiful and finally wasn’t afraid to make her transition.

But that was no comfort for me. I saw the days where she cried, “No! No! No!”

And the agony of COPD-infused hallucinations.

I couldn’t shake the images from her last days. They haunted me.

People said I’d get “a sign” but none came.

I searched for cardinals…or feathers…or something.

Something to know not just that she was alright; but that she was alright with ME.

I think many children caretakers face the torment of, “Did I do enough?” “Did I make the best decisions?” Then there’s the guilt of being relieved that I no longer had to live in fear of a middle of the night call from a doctor.

I’d wait for dog walks or solitary car rides to cry, because I didn’t want Mark to be upset by just how bad I was. I’d call Shirlee every day because – of all people – she KNEW. And we’d cry together.

But she also knew I was especially tormented.

Because I was the daughter who would talk back.

Oh, mom loved that I would fight FOR her – and I was a fierce advocate when any matter needed correction. But I’d also fight WITH her, and those memories also haunted me.

I sank into a darkness unlike anything I have known in my adult life.

Then, exactly one month to the day of mom’s death, she came to me.

I believe God gave her a hall pass from heaven.

In the dream, I was doing my makeup and turned around and THERE SHE WAS.

Smiling – grinning, even. Shining. Radiant with love and joy.

Startled, I held her face and said, “Oh you are so beautiful!”

I felt complete, unconditional love and acceptance.

And that was the gift from mom’s hall pass.

No doubt, she was better than ever. Enjoying a long-overdue reunion with the love of her life, my dad, Sal. Visiting with her own mother, Edna, and cousin Mary. Free from the constraints of a broken body and free from all fears and worries.

I saw a glimpse of my mom in pure happiness, which is all my sister and I ever wanted for her.

So the new word of the week?

It doesn’t need to be pulled from a bag.

It is to LIVE.

LIVE!

While you have breathe and while you can love, LIVE this life.

It all passes too quickly.

I want to live again. To giggle again. To discover things that inspire me again.

I know mom wants that for me.

I believe God wants that for all of us.

Thank you for your patience as I took all of this year to find the light again. I see it, beckoning me to a new chapter.

But as a different person. Still me, but with a new understanding of life and death. A deeper sense of caring for the caregivers, the elderly, the infirmed.

A disenchantment with material things or superficial aspirations.

A deep desire for meaningful exchanges and true connection. To contribute and create in ways that feed my soul and spirit.

So I’m not too sure about future blog posts or words of the week.

But who knows?

Because you’ve all been so kind throughout the years as I’ve shared this sort of online diary with you, I felt that you deserved an explanation for my absence.

I wish you health and happiness and everything your heart desires.

With love,

Brenda

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Is Your Setback Actually a Setup?

My recent hair appointment resulted in a setback.

After three years spent growing out the bangs my ex-husband loved, I made the grave error of arriving at my appointment in a “do whatever you want” mood.

Alan wanted bangs.

Craving some immediate and measurable improvement in my appearance, I threw caution to the wind (despite a nagging no on the inside) and said, “Go for it!”

At the first snip, I knew they were too short.

I groaned internally. This was not my first bang rodeo.

Six-months of hair angst would ensue before I could return to my former bang-less glory.

The only comfort? Looking over my shoulder at previous bang travesties and knowing that, eventually, they always grow back.

Which is a great metaphor for any setback in life.

Think of something that pained you in the past. Do you now think of it differently?

Being laid off from QVC? Now I say THANK GOD I didn’t spend my career selling gold chains (though I am happy for those that do.)

The one that got away? I’ve seen his Facebook photos, and he didn’t age well.

Then, there are the more deeply stinging setbacks. Like the 17 years spent in a church that turned out to be a cult.

Sure, I could waste my energy bemoaning the “lost” years, but were they really lost?

The harshest, most painful setbacks in life (and there were plenty at that place) give us crystal clear clarity on what we don’t want and what we do want.

Never shall I allow my voice to be silenced in the face of injustice again. I will not allow others to assign my worth, nor will I be controlled by someone else’s “vision” for my life.

Just as the scriptures say, I had to lose my life to find it.

The experience set me back to set me up for who I am today.

The loss of my father at age ten still befuddles me. But that setback birthed in me a keen understanding that life is precious…and fleeting. That you should end conversations with a heartfelt “I love you” because you don’t know when or if you’ll get another chance to do so in this life.

A recent post talked about how time offers perspective unavailable when in the midst of turmoil. The 56 -year-old version of me now feels my father’s presence at key moments and I have an unshakable knowing that he is ever-present, offering emotional support.

A very present help in time of trouble.

The immortality of his beautiful soul offered small comfort to a little girl who just wanted a big hand to hold. Forty-six years later, I understand his transition to non-physical as a new way to know him.

Our word these past two weeks has been celebration.

My interpretation has been to embrace celebration as appreciation, yes, even for the setbacks in life.

They unfailingly become setups for good if we’ll choose to see them that way.

https://youtu.be/T8fWbw6yo48

Hoping you find sources of inspiration around every corner.

With love,

Brenda

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Therapeutic Writing on a Devastating Day

Every few months I treat myself to a little help collecting Shasta’s furballs and removing toothpaste splatters from the bathroom mirror.

It’s a splurge, but so helpful – and along the way, I met Ashley.

I don’t know her last name; she’s in my phone as “Ashley Cleaner” and I found her on Thumbtack.com when I moved to Florida. Her ratings were high, her prices were low and from the minute I met her, I liked her.

A twenty-something with the kind of natural beauty that doesn’t require makeup, she was here the day before we moved in to get us ready for the arrival of boxes and furniture.   Sweet and kind (and boy, did she get that stainless steel to shine!)

As the months went on and my house became more of a home, we’d chat about life – and mostly, she talked about her little girl. We trusted Ashley and felt comfortable giving her free reign of the house, knowing she was a good person and would do right by us.

She was scheduled to come on Friday morning at 8:30 AM.  When 9:00 came and went, I called. Her little girl was under the weather; she had tried to contact me…and asked if she could reschedule for the following week.

No problem! Hey, the important thing was being there for her little girl. We set a date for Monday (it is Monday as I write this) and went about our respective weekends.

When 8:30 became 9:30 today, I texted her, “Hey, are you coming?”

What I received back has left me numb yet brokenhearted; stunned and heartsick. Her mother texted me back: “Ashley was killed by a drunk driver this weekend…”

Her little girl was still under the weather, or she would likely have been in the car with her. The kids were home with dad while Ashley went out to the grocery store. And she never made it home.

A lovely life, snuffed out because someone felt invincible after some cocktails. A little girl, left to grow up without her Mommy…and a Dad, left to raise babies while dealing with his own devastating grief.

Life is precious. Life is precious. Life is precious.

Our tomorrows are not promised.

On Sunday after Duane and I went to our favorite diner, we stopped to pick up ink cartridges at Staples. The light turned green and, thankfully, Duane looked left before putting his foot on the gas. A car careened through the red light; had he not looked, it would surely have been the end of us.

My heart pounded out of my chest. Close calls are frightening…but the text I received today was even more jolting.

Hug your babies; kiss your husband; call your best friend; snuggle with your pet. Look both ways. Don’t drink and drive. Say “I love you.”

I resolve, yet again, not to sweat the small stuff.  I have breath, I have life , I have love to give and receive – THAT is what matters.

Thank you for listening; it has helped me to write this.

When I find out any more details, I will pass them along to you in the hope that there is some small way to help this grieving family.

Much love,

Brenda

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