Saturday, February 16, 2008

A vignette on moving, and life, and guilt, and moisturizer

I held the green bottle in my hand and thought that maybe now, maybe this time I could throw it away. I stood in my bathroom holding a tube of moisturizer I've owned since 2002 and while I was contemplating keeping it versus throwing it away, tears started down my cheeks. Apparently I am still not ready to let it go.

I packed it. Again.

It was my choice to move 3,000 miles away from my family, from my mom, when she got sick. I am mostly sure it was the right decision, but I will harbor pangs of guilt about it for the rest of my life.

Seven months after I moved to San Francisco, my mom was transferred to the hospice. So I packed up myself, I left San Francisco, and went to New Hampshire to be with her and my dad and my sisters. I figured I would be gone a couple weeks, maybe a month. Hospice isn't long-term care.

How do you pack for a trip like that? I don't know. I don't know what I packed, other than the bottle. I don't know what I wore. I made a mix CD that included Julie London and Sammy Davis Jr. and we listened to that sometimes. I had a laptop and sometimes I did editing work. Healy and I would stay up late in the room, drinking wine like water and doing jigsaw puzzles. My mom was awake a lot of the time, but rarely coherent.

Every second we spent there was the worst second of my life.

And so a month did pass, and her condition didn't change at all. She hadn't improved, certainly, but she hadn't gotten worse.

I have never spoken of it with my family, but I think having me there changed her resolve. Don't misunderstand -- my mother fought all along, showing a tremendous, inhuman strength. But having me "back" changed something. Maybe it was that we were all together, and she didn't want to leave the party early.

No, she was absolutely refusing to go. And eventually I had to give her permission. I had to give myself a break, and I had to let her know it was okay. At least, that's what I told myself.

Tell myself. When I'm trying to give myself permission for doing the most awful thing I have ever done and ever will do.

Because I left.

I said goodbye to her and left the room and I didn't know if I would ever see her again. I thought maybe I would fly back to San Francisco, and my sisters would call me when she'd taken a turn for the worse and I would fly back and say my real goodbye then.

But I waved as I walked out of her room, and she waved back, and that is the last time I saw her.

I left. And three days later, late at night after my father had gone home and my sisters had fallen asleep, she died.


It is the most ridiculous thing ever, my moisturizer. I bought that "soothing" lotion for the trip to New Hampshire to visit my mother for the last time. I remember putting it on in the mornings, because even though it was muggy, that kind of constant air conditioning is very hard on skin. It was also nice to re-apply it mid-day, following a morning of gut-wrenching heartbreak and the physical strain of not crying. Hours of trying to appear brave and in good spirits is really quite exhausting.

The thing is, unlike clothes or trinkets, the moisturizer was utilitarian, and its very purpose was life-affirming. I was -- am -- living and breathing and flesh and blood and taking care of my skin. Five years later, I am still my mother's daughter and somehow, having that soulless green tube connects my living-now life with my then-life, when she was still alive. I can't otherwise explain this connection or attachment because it makes no sense.

But I will move to a new apartment, and place the moisturizer on my shelf again, and it will sit there unassumingly among all the other tubes and bottles filled with products I use to take care of the body she gave to me.

36 comments:

  1. I love this one. Thank you for sharing this.

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  2. that moved me

    you made me cry for you


    really!

    i feel for you

    k?

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  3. I once kept a lipstick print on a mirror for months to remind me of a friend. If there had been any way to take that when I moved, I would have.

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  4. I keep a blanket that was on my grandma's couch in a plastic tub so that it still smells like her house. I understand why you want to keep your tube of lotion.

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  5. Well, yeah, you made me cry.

    I did it too. I left my sister the day before she died. She had her husband and son there and I had made reservations and I couldn't stay. I didn't know how long it would be. I walked out of the room without really saying goodbye because I couldn't say it to her. I think my last words to her were "This is so stupid," or "This sucks." Not exactly a hallmark moment. But that's life. She knew I loved her more than anything, still do.

    Keep the lotion as long as you need it. Emotional stuff doesn't always have to make sense.

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  6. Losing a parent is one of the hardest things we go through. Keeping that moisterizer doesn't have to make sense to anyone--it means something to you and that's all that matters.

    Beautiful post.

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  7. Oh, my. This is a lump-in-the-throat kind of read. Hugs from an IIF.

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  8. add another to the list of readers brought to tears by this post. and my dogs are sorta freaking out, not knowing what to do.

    i miss my mudder desperately. and completely understand why you keep the lotion, moves and all. although i was actually with mom when she finally passed, there are still so many guilty feelings for thoughts and words unspoken. i can only imagine how you must feel at having left.

    my heart goes out to you, kristy.

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  9. I still have Mom's whole bag of makeup. Her perfume sits in the cabinet, almost full. The night shirt she was wearing when she passed, in a freezer size baggie in the bottom drawer. I'm afraid to open it, still.....I know her scent will bring me to tears.

    Moisturizer, 5 years later, or not.....it's what you link to her, and what you hold onto. I totally get it.

    Angel

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  10. Beautiful post.

    - Kirin

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  11. K-
    Thank you for sharing. Like many others have said, this post brought me to tears. Beautifully written, as always.

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  12. It really makes perfect sense. Thank you for sharing.
    Dianna

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  13. The one the only thing I know about grief, is that it doesn't always (or even often) make sense. It simply is what it is at that moment, and it is always demanding.
    Pick you way through it the way only you can... and know that it will be just fine to have a 50 year old bottle of moisurized some day 'just because' it reminds you of your mom.
    my best to you.

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  14. i have a bottle of bath and body works spray-juniper berries- that was my aunt's. she used to spritz it on when she was in the hospital and then when she came home and was on hospice. it was the only scent she could bear with all the chemo and radiation and nausea she was dealing with.
    i still have it.
    there is the minute-est amount left in it. much as i love the scent, i won't use it. and its moved with me since 1999. i miss her daily. she was my second mom. and i know how deeply that scent is connecting me to her life still.
    *hug*

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  15. My mom always used to buy me pjs or a bathrobe for Christmas. She died 13 years ago, and was unable to shop the Christmas before she died. I still have the last bathrobe she bought me in 1993. It is ratty, it has holes in it. It has been replaced at least three times by my husdband, my mother-in-law and even by me. But the new ones just don't have it - the mom part so they don't get used. I still put the old one on - not every day but on those days when I need it.

    You keep the green bottle.

    Thanks for a wonderful post.

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  16. Thanks for this. I'm going to go visit my mom in Florida now.

    Just know that you did what was right, and your mom understands.

    My youngest sister died while working in Africa in 2001. Two months before that, my mom and my other younger sister went to visit her, but I declined. I had a busy media job and a long distance relationship, and I just figured I'd see her later. Of course, that never happened.

    I know she understands. Even so, I have kept a box that has in it the purse she had with her when she died. AND (this is the big one)...

    Her CAR. A white Saturn coupe, which is in storage in San Francisco where I live now, and which I brought with me from Washington, DC. I don't even drive anymore and the tags are expired, but I can't bear to sell it.

    If I find the right person (a friend or a friend's little sister maybe?) I'll be able to let it go. But advertising it to give to a stranger just seems wrong.

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  17. When my grandmother was in the hospital last September, I went home to get out for awhile, thinking she was stable. She was making me crazy. I couldn't calm her down, no matter what I said or did. Our once-close relationship had been tough for several years. I knew my mom would be there soon, and I felt like I was just agitating her. How the hell did I know what dying looked like? I'd never seen it before, not this way.

    I went home. I started vacuuming for some kind of insane release. They called 45 minutes later, and by the time I got to the hospital, five minutes away, she was unconscious and died a minute later. I don't know if she ever knew I was there. My mom was driving up I-95 and didn't make it, so it was only me. I sat with her until my mom got there.

    I know that I'll always wonder, and be sorry, even though I've been told several times over how I should feel about it. I took the Snickers bar from her room in the intermediate care unit. It was the only thing left when I walked by after leaving the intensive care. I keep it in the freezer. She really dug candy.

    It's the weirdest thing that's ever happened to me and the most emotionally devastating, hands down. I think the symbols and the talismans help us keep some kind of center, I really do.

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  18. I completely understand. I don't think Pete will begrudge you this piece of "clutter" (because it isn't clutter at all, of course).

    Hugs

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  19. I have a stash of "mom" items that I can't bring myself to toss. They seem to keep her alive in my head and in my life..somehow.

    It's been almost 5 years for me and who knows how long they travel with me...and who cares.

    Whatever keeps mom with me is worth it.


    I enjoyed your post.
    B

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  20. You left your mom when she was in hospice? And you think you are an example of a "loving daughter?"

    My mother had brain cancer and I never left her side even when she went into hospice. I moved from the Bay Area to Ohio after 25 years to be with her and take care of her.

    Your post sickens me. You ran out on the last days of your mother's life, and you think a lotion bottle makes it good and erases your guilt? Shame on you. Just another self-centered person thinking of herself.

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  21. Jesus fucking christ, anonymous. Way to be a judgmental fuckwad!

    Would it make you feel better if you read the post where her mother told her to go??

    I don't think your mother would be proud of you for this comment. No wonder you went anonymous to post it.

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  22. You were there for her, and you showed her that you loved her. Unfortunately, nothing those of us who are compassionate or rational says will make you feel better.

    Please don't let the one butthead comment make you feel worse.

    (Seriously. I want to rub their nose in that comment and beat them with a rolled up newspaper. I wouldn't do that to my dog, but this one seems dumber than she ever was.)

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  23. Like so many commenters before me, this post moved me to tears. Absolutely beautiful, Kristy.

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  24. Anonymous-
    Your mother knows you loved her, even though there were days you were tired and didn't want to be in Ohio and resented her a little for hanging on so long. We can't help having those moments, they wear us out, and grief is so hard, whether it starts after she's gone or it starts while we are still by her side every minute. It doesn't make you a bad daughter, and you do not have to try to prove you were a good one by spitting bile on someone else's grief that was a little different than yours. She loves you still, and forgives you for those thoughts that still make you feel so so guilty for just having them.
    Hey, look at that! It is easy to guess what someone else's loss is like, and judge them for it. But it is also easy to guess wrong. Be careful with that.

    Kristy-
    Thank you for sharing this with us. And for sharing anonymous's comment, too. I looooooooove stories about breaking up with a boy in a chat room (really really), but I have no fear anyone will stop you from making them. Please don't let people who hurt your soul stop you from writing this kind of post, too.

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  25. Kristy -

    I'm a somewhat new reader to your blog and a first time commenter. usually, I'm one of those "lurker-loo's"

    I felt compelled to write this time, not because I know what it's like to lose a parent (I am so fortunate to have both my parents still with me), but because I have kept things from my mother for years because they remind me of her and I know that "someday" she won't be here.

    How's that for messed up? I have a tiny tiny jar of honey that we bought together (she bought one too) when she was visiting me in boston back in 2001. when i picked up and moved cross country, sold everything I owned, that jar of honey made the cut, and it still sits prominently in my cupboard, and every morning when I open it to grab the sugar for my coffee, I see it and think of her.

    I don't think you're silly for keeping your lotion bottle, nor do I think you are a bad person for leaving your mother in hospice. Death and grief are very personal and how we choose to deal with them are also personal. What is right for another person, may not be right for another, and when the time comes I have no idea how I will handle the situation at all.

    But I understand the guilt you are carrying with you along with that lotion bottle. I think you should keep the bottle and ditch the guilt. Don't pack that extra baggage because for that one memory you regret of your mother, I bet you have a million more that can put a smile on your face and remind you that yes, you were a good daughter, and that yes, she knows it to be true. Still to this day.

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  26. A beautiful story, Kristy.

    Anonymous is apparently harboring their own guilt that they feel the need to share.

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  27. My best friend died just under two years ago. There are two things I will never forgive myself for, even though intellectually I know I probably should.

    When she first went into the hospital, it was in another city - not far, though difficult for someone without a car. I talked to her parents every other day, asking how she was and when I could see her. They told me that only family was allowed in the ICU, and she wasn't in any condition to have visitors. I believed them and just sent notes and cards daily. I later found out that some of her other friends had been visiting her, just going in without asking, and no one had stopped them. I couldn't explain to her why I was the only one that hadn't visited her. That still kills me.

    Then they transferred her to a hospital near me, and I was allowed to see her. I went there almost every day, including the day she died. She had been okay the night before, but when I got there in the morning, it was quite obvious that she was dying, that there were only hours left. How long it would be - ten minutes or all day, wasn't clear. I sat with her for an hour or so, but got up for just a minute to call my boyfriend, whom I had made plans to meet for lunch when I thought it was just going to be another morning of visiting. I was only gone for three or four minutes, just long enough to say that she was dying and I would be at the hospital all day - and when I came back, she was gone. Even though I don't even know if she was aware of anyone, I wish I could have been there with her. I think about that morning every single day.

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  28. I read your blog every day but rarely comment because I always think that I don't have anything of true value to say but I just needed to point this out:
    Anonymous: You had a unique opportunity to reach out to someone else who lost their motheri n a similair way and instead of saying some comforting words or just keeping your mouth shut, you put a thought in someone's head that will NEVER go away. I say SHAME ON YOU

    I'm a nurse and have worked in hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices for years and one thing that I've seen is that sometimes, the person waits until their family members leave, fall asleep, or go out for a second to pass. Maybe your mom thought that it would be best if you weren't there and she waited. Don't blame yourself. She had your whole lifetime of memories of you to know your love for her. Not the three days you weren't there. Remember that.

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  29. Tracy - Thank you for that comment and for sharing from a healthcare professional's perspective. A very good friend (and spiritual advisor) of mine basically told me afterwards when I was in the acute guilt/grief stage that I had no idea why what had happened had happened, and that there was something greater than me going on here. She said as well that maybe it was something my grandmother had to do alone, and there were very wonderful people around her the whole day at the hospital, including one nurse aide who provided her with such compassionate care, not loaded with all the baggage of our almost-40-year relationship. I will be forever grateful for her.

    We view things through our own lens and most of the time it can lead us to treat ourselves very, very badly in the aftermath. It's been a really hard lesson in acceptance for me and realizing that I did the best I could at the time. It's so important to be able to share these experiences without judgment and that is what has helped me not to go totally crazy in the last several months.

    My thanks to you Kristy, again, for sharing your story. It's been helpful to have a place to read and talk about these experiences.

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  30. I'm sorry that someone jumped on here and said horrible things about you.
    I feel sad that you weren't there when your mom passed but I'm sure that she went knowing she was surrounded by the love of her family in her last days. As hard as it probably was to be there and watch her, it was the most beautiful gift you could have given her.
    I totally understand how you feel about the lotion. Keep it for as long as you need to if it feels good for you. Everyone grieves differently but for all of us one thing is the same: it's a painful process.

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  31. Wehn my dad was in his very final hours, the hospice nurses suggested we tell him it was OK to go. My sister wouldn't do it. My mother wouldn't do it. I didn't want to do it but I didn't want to see him suffer anymore, either. That night I wispered in his ear: "Daddy. I love you. It's OK for you to go now. We are all in good hands and you can feel safe leaving us behind."

    The next morning he passed peacefully in his sleep.

    You let your Mom know it was ok for her to go by your leaving. It was not cruel. It was kind. You are not a terrible daughter.

    Anonymous is just angry she didn't have the balls to do what you did.

    Great post. Thanks. (and thanks for making me cry at work. love that!)

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  32. My dear, you so did the right thing. You "get" it. You understood. You were brave enough to do, with love and kindness and empathy, what needed to be done, even while knowing that those who don't get it would criticize you in order to maintain their own notion that their job is to force their parents (and others) to remain in order to assuage their guilt over all the unresolved issues.

    You have nothing to feel guilty over. Now, please, forgive yourself. You had a nice farewell visit. And your mother freed herself of any remaining issues when she waved goodbye.

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  33. those who are lucky enough to have children -- and wise enough to grow old gracefully -- learn that when you have a child, your entire relationship with them is a process of letting go.

    kiki, your momma loved you so much, she was able to understand how important it was to let you go: with your first steps, your first day of kindergarten, your first time without a babysitter, then out on dates, into a marriage, out of it, and eventually, out to the west coast.

    we are all separate and together simultaneously with those we love the most. physical presence notwithstanding.

    maybe that's why the physical presence of a talisman like a bottle of lotion can mean so damn much.

    love you.

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