Sunday, August 12, 2018

Forty

Forty is an octagonal number, and the atomic number of zirconium.

It is a unique number (in the negative) at which the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales correspond.

There were 40 days and 40 nights of rain in the Biblical flood.

Johnny Cash recorded "Forty Shades of Green," about, of course, Ireland.

Forty winks is a short nap.

Forty weeks is the average term of human gestation.

There are 40 spaces in the traditional Monopoly game board.

And forty is the first birthday in my life that I celebrate without Mom. So my celebration this year is quiet, not because I feel I ought to for Mom's sake (she'd hate that), or because I feel it's inappropriate to celebrate so soon after her death (she'd hate that even more). Rather, it's because I haven't had the energy to plan anything big and fabulous. I've been channeling what energy I do have into planning for the new school year, and helping Dad sort through Mom's things, and taking care of my most immediate needs for rest, and, yes, some solitude. School starts this week, and with it, the busy days.

So today, I am forty. Forty years old, forty years young, or just meet me right here, at forty. I work at an amazing school doing something I love, I own a home, and I am surrounded by family and friends who love and support me (including, of course, Da Boyz).

Life rolls forward.


Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Hole

This last month without Mom has been a series of ups and downs. I'm learning a lot about grief and how absolutely strange it is.

I guess the best way to describe it is that it's like having a hole in me. A gaping hole that once was filled--with love, friendship, a mother-daughter bond. The hole was carved out when Mom died, and that part of me is missing now. It won't come back.

Having a hole carved out like that is shocking, and painful. It took my breath away and left me desperately trying to refill it...only to find that you can't refill that hole. It's there now. Like a broken vase, you can glue it back together, but it will never be the same as it was before.

I will never be the same.

That's not to say that I won't be alright. I will be--I am--alright. I'm even finding laughter and joy and beauty, even while that hole aches. The edges are still raw, taking their time to heal. This isn't a wound that just goes away. The edges will scab over, and new skin will grow over it. But the hole will remain. You can't replace a Mom, your biggest cheerleader, your life-long best friend.

So I'm learning to live with the new me. The me with a hole. Never entirely the same as I was before Mom died. It's not that I'm more sad, or angrier, or more serious. I'm just...different. I'm missing a piece. It takes some getting used to.

So I take it one day, one step at a time. The pain lessens, the shock dissipates.

The hole, however, is permanent.









Monday, July 16, 2018

A Tough Little Broad

Two days before she died, I watched two nurses wheel my mom into the Emergency Room. She was severely dehydrated and her blood pressure had plummeted.

In the ER, she was hooked up to a couple of fluid bags and started perking up very quickly. When the bustling activity around her had subsided, I walked over to her bedside and took her hand.

"You're a tough little broad," Mom told me, smiling and gently squeezing my hand. I just laughed through my sobs, and answered, "I'm trying..."

Am I?

I suppose so. I've traveled, I've survived some hurts and some trials. But nothing prepared me for how much I miss my mom. How strange it is that she is simply no longer living. How every once in a while a wave of grief will wash over me, taking my breath away.

On Saturday, we had her celebration of life. I sang "In My Life" by the Beatles, accompanying myself on the ukulele. People have been telling me how brave it was to get up there and sing, but I didn't feel brave, I just felt like the best way I could honor my mom was in song. After all, she was the one who dragged me to those earliest piano lessons.

Brave. Tough.

Honestly, I'm just a woman whose inner child is hurting right now.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Pennies From Heaven

There are some who believe that finding small coins, especially pennies, on the ground is a message from someone who has passed.

My own religious and spiritual beliefs are a muddled mix of hope and "I don't know." But Mom always believed that when she found a penny, it might just be a message from her own mother. "Penny from heaven!" she'd exclaim, picking it up.

I pick up change when I find it--even pennies. Is that strange? Who cares? Anyway, I pick them up. I stick them in my little coin sorter and save up all that loose change in paper rolls to put in my savings account. Trust me, it adds up.

A few days after Mom's death, I returned home to my condo after another busy day helping Dad, and decided to walk to a nearby gas station for some M&Ms. It was hot out, and I was in a hurry to return to my air conditioning, a soothing shower, and the quiet of my home. I walked along in my customary way--booking it.

Then I saw it: on the ground, a penny, heads up. Images of Mom filled my head and I could hear her in my mind, saying, "A penny from heaven!"

The tears came fast and hard as I bent down to pick that penny up off the ground. Was it a message from Mom? A sign that she's okay?

I don't know.

Nonetheless, that penny is tucked in a little box where I keep her rings when I'm not wearing them.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Cooper Loops

On Wednesday night, Dad and I made the long drive home from the hospital in my car. We talked the whole way, sometimes sniffling and crying, and sometimes laughing. Dad pointed out how lucky we are to have so many wonderful memories.

Somehow, Cooper Loops came up.

A Cooper Loop is a very basic, very silly maneuver. It started when I was a child in Folsom. Our cul-de-sac, and our home's placement on it, were perfect for driving a loop around, and then sort of swinging into our long driveway. Dad started it, making the rest of us laugh hysterically.

Over the years, Aaron grew more embarrassed by it, but Mom, Dad, and I thought it hysterical.

We left that house in 1998, and Cooper Loops became quite rare.

But on Wednesday, as I pulled into Dad's cul-de-sac, I said, "I'm going to do something..."

"A Cooper Loop?"

"Yeah."

This particular cul-de-sac doesn't give quite so perfect loops as that long-ago one in Folsom did...but we managed.

And we smiled.

...

Yesterday, I spent much of the day at Mom and Dad's (it's still hers, too, you know) and had my car parked on the street. As I left, Dad said, "Do a Cooper Loop!!"

So I did, kissing my fingers mid-loop and raising my hand to the sky. I laughed as I passed Dad on the driveway, giving me a thumbs-up sign.

I laughed, and I cried a little, and then my tears dried up and I drove home.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Mama

Susan Mae (Bean) Cooper
July 4, 1946-June 27, 2018
Picture: Mother's Day 2018

I lost my beautiful mama last night.

For a year, we had such hope that we would beat her cancer enough--we knew it wasn't curable, that "remission" was not the goal. But we believed, we hoped, that we would beat it enough into submission that Mom could live an enjoyable life.

For a while, it worked. Then it didn't.

The last several weeks have been a roller coaster of worry and emotion. Mom went into the hospital on June 1st with severe jaundice. Over the next three weeks she would be prodded and poked in several procedures, given a bile drain, and given a feeding tube. She suffered the indignities that come with needing a nurse's help to use the restroom.

She fought so hard...and it weakened her so much.

She came home a week ago today. We all thought, Finally! She'll have a real chance to be comfortable, to get strong again. We're going to fix her up and get her on immunotherapy. Show this stupid cancer that Team Cooper is tough!

Friends, she tried.

She did her physical therapy exercises in her chair. She had no appetite, but gamely tried to eat and drink. Dad changed her feeding tube, cleaned her bile drain. Helped her stay clean.

On Monday, we had to get her to an appointment with her oncologist, who is based in Sacramento. When we got there, Mom was feeling rough, and she declined quickly. The blood pressure reading in the oncologist's office was 40-something over 30-something. She was clearly dehydrated.

The doctor sent her to the nearby chemo infusion center for hydration, but when they saw her blood pressure, they told us, "We can't take her, she needs the ER." So they helped us wheel her down to the ER and she was immediately taken in.

As they started pumping two bags of fluids into her, Mom started to perk up. I caught her watching me--sitting in a chair nearby, crying--and I mouthed, "I love you" to her. She mouthed it back, from behind a surgical mask, and her eyes crinkled up with her smile. That night, she was admitted to the hospital.

On Tuesday, we met the hospital doctor, Dr. J., and for the first time in a month, we had a medical professional lay it all out on the table for all of us.

"Thing is, you're dying," he told Mom, holding her hand and looking her directly in the eye. "I mean, all of us in here are, but you are doing it faster than I am." Mom nodded and smiled at him. She knew. Dad suspected. I had been mostly in denial, but coming around to the truth.

He gave her all of her options. We could continue with aggressive palliative care, and try to get her strong enough to go on immunotherapy. Or we could focus on comfort. Mom opted to continue with semi-aggressive care, but held the comfort option as a close alternative. Dr. J. smiled at her and said, "You get to decide. If I say I want a procedure, and you don't want it...I don't do it."

Yesterday (Wednesday), Dad and I set out to see Mom. Because she was in Sacramento, Dad had been coming by to pick me up when we would go there. As we drove, his phone rang, and he answered. It was Dr. J.  Mom had worsened a tiny bit the evening before. "She wants to have a meeting--is Megan with you? Oh, good--so have Antony page me when you get here." (Antony being her morning shift nurse, and the sweetest, kindest man.)

Dad asked me, "Are you ready for this?"

I replied, "I could never be ready for this. But I can do it."

Dad sighed. "Yeah."

Mom had decided to stop trying to get better. She knew, in her heart, that her time was limited, and she wanted to be at home, and as comfortable as possible. There were tears, of course. But we all agreed that her quality of life had diminished drastically in the last month, and we only wanted peace for her.

I held her hand. She told us what to do with her most precious things. We talked to an RN connected to the hospice program and got the ball rolling to bring her home today (Thursday).

When we left, at about noon, Mom was tired. Dad gave her a kiss, looked her in the eye, and said, "I love you." She said, "I love you, too" with a beautiful smile.

I stepped in and gave her a kiss. "I love you to the moon and back." She smiled at me, and said, "I love you to the moon..."

...

I had dinner at Sarah's house. Sarah fed me homemade lasagna and wine, and we talked about my mom, alternating between laughter and tears. A little before 9:00, my phone rang. It was an unfamiliar number, but I answered.

It was Mom's night nurse. "I think you need to get down here with your Dad," he told me. "Your Mom is starting to fail."

Sarah was already handing me my keys and ushering me out the door as I called Dad to tell him. Then I raced to his house, and we made the seemingly endless drive to Sacramento.

...

She was gone when we arrived...having passed just a few minutes before we came in. As her nurse (I believe his name is Gerard; forgive me for having lost it in the grief of the night), turned off the various machines, Dad and I touched her--without gloves for the first time in days--and cried. We told her we love her so very much. And then Dad looked at me and said, "She did this on her terms. She's at peace."

And she was friends. She was so peaceful.

I held her hand, and I brushed my hands over her hair. I found her favorite red hat, the one I bought her when her hair started thinning, next to her hand. She wore it often in the hospital to keep warm.

We stayed for about an hour. Her nurse closed the door after telling us we could stay as long as we needed. An orderly came in with a tray of cookies and coffee. In the next hour, three more nurses quietly, respectfully came in. One was a family liaison, who hugged us and told us in a beautiful Jamaican accent how sorry she was for our loss. Another came to take some of the various medical accouterments off of Mom, like a blood pressure cuff. And finally, the head RN came to make the pronouncement. She gently checked for a heartbeat, and gently checked Mom's eyes. Every single person who came in that room showed utmost respect and care for my mom, and for Dad and I.

...

I took her hat home, but what we forgot were her two rings. One was her own, one was Dad's original wedding band, which she had been wearing. The hospital called Dad, and agreed to mail them to him.

But this morning, Dad called me. "You'll never guess who knocked on the door a few minutes ago..."

Turns out Antony, that morning shift nurse, was at the door. He held out a bag with Mom's rings in it.

"This is above and beyond," Dad said to him, with tears in his eyes.

Antony smiled. "It's part of the job."

No. No, it isn't. That young man drove all the way from Sacramento to Lincoln (about forty minutes) to personally deliver Mom's rings to Dad. It is above and beyond, and you can't tell me differently.

Dr. J. called Dad to check in. He wasn't on shift last night, but saw in his notes this morning that she had passed, and took time to call. You could say that's all part of the job, too, but Mom was one of but many patients on his list. He took the time to get an immediate call to my Dad.

...

We talked all the way home, Dad and I. There were tears and sniffles, but also some smiles and laughter. We are blessed, you see, with so many years of wonderful memories. From the big moments and fun vacations right down to the everyday little moments that made us laugh, or smile.

So many memories.

We also have the peace in our hearts that comes with knowing that Mom got to meet death on her own terms. Of course she wanted more time, but when she realized the cancer was not going to allow that, she accepted it with grace and friends, the fact she had that choice means the world to me.

And forever, I will carry with me that my last words to her were words of love, with smiles, and affection. I hope my voice, and Dad's voice, were echoing in her head at the very end.

She will be with me forever.


Monday, June 18, 2018

The Hummingbird

This morning, I went for a walk.

I try to do as much walking and running on my summer vacation as I can, this morning being no exception. I was in a hurry, however. I needed to be back in time to shower before the four-hour window for a delivery opened up, and the secondary purpose of my walk was to stop at a nearby grocery store for a couple of small items.

Walking and running both help my anxiety (as does Lexapro, let's be real here). The endorphins get pumping and it's harder for me to feel anxious...but these days, I'm in a constant state of anxiety or near-anxiety.

My mom has cancer. That's been well-documented. We are fighting--she is fighting--and we have hope, always. But the fact remains, she is ill. She's been in the hospital for almost three weeks as they sort out some of this, some of that, to get her ready for immunotherapy. It is stressful for her, it is stressful for Dad, it is stressful for me.

We want her home.

So my walk this morning was a mix of feeling good, but also worrying--can she come home today or tomorrow as we have been hoping? Will they finally let her be home where she is happiest and most comfortable?

As I walked, and thought about Mom, a motion came into my vision--a tiny bird. A hummingbird. But this one, smaller than most I see at my feeder.

A baby hummingbird, perhaps just out of the nest for the first time, darting uncertainly through the air above the street. It dashed to and fro, in short bursts, then hovered and looked around. It landed on a branch of a nearby tree as I stopped in my tracks and stared at it. It was so tiny, so new. I watched it for a few minutes, a huge smile on my face.

Turns out, many Native Americans see hummingbirds as "healers and bringers of love, good luck and joy." When Henrietta nested in Mom's yard, we were told this was a sign of good luck.

Maybe...and maybe it's all just nonsense.

But something about that tiny hummingbird this morning brought me a moment of great joy. A reminder, perhaps, that my family can face down whatever is coming to us with dignity, with grace, and with great love.

We still have our Fightin' Pants on. They're not going anywhere.