Saturday, November 12, 2005

Irony of ironies

I tell you that 2005 single strangest year I can remember. I think that every day has been something of an anomoly. What I am sure of one day is never what I can count on the next.

If you have read any of my previous postings, you know I was adopted by my paternal grandparents, both of whom are gone now. My granddad passed in 1995, and my grandmother, who I called Mom, died last New Year's Eve. I've been facing a slew of emotions this last year, making funeral arrangements, being Mom's executor, getting her affairs in order, buying her house, sorting through memories. After Mom's passing I felt like I could say, "It is finished." where that chapter of my life was concerned. I could stand at my grandparents' graves and know, beyond any shadow of any doubt, that I did right by them. There was a need for someone to stand by them, and I bridged that gap. There were times when I was overtired, there were times when my husband and kids came last, and most certainly, I came last. I gained weight from running through too many drive throughs for too many meals at ten oclock at night too many times to count. I gave up on being organized and efficient at home, and I simply decided to spend as long as it took coping day by day. I had boxes of family photos that went unpacked from a move three year prior. I remember sitting on the floor pulling up tile in our fixer-upper that we bought in 2001 when I got the call that I needed to get Mom to the hospital right away. I think I gave up trying that day and decided just to hang up my goals on a hanger in the back of the closet until I did what I needed to do for Mom.

In 2003, my husband's grandmother died unexpectedly in her sleep, and if that taught me anything, it was love, love, love and do so verbally, and then when you grieve someone it won't be so laced with guilt that you can't cope. Grandma M passed away a month after her 80th birthday in the fall of 2003. She was our cross- the- street neighbor, the reason we bought the fixer upper in the first place, the person who got the kids on and off the bus, our advisor and friend. In the summer we could count on looking out our window and seeing her sitting on the porch, laughing at the kids' antics. Every morning she cooked breakfast for the kids, and every day she fixed some kind of potato. She bought potatoes by the 50 pound bag...or was it 100? All I know is I don't remember ever seeing anyone use a bag of potatoes that big. Every day I said, "What did you have for breakfast this morning, kids?" Every day they said, "Bacon eggs and potatoes," or "toast and jelly and potatoes,"potatoes and french toast," or "potato casserole." I don't know how the potato industry has survived her passing. ;) But that was a huge adjustment, losing her. I couldn't imagine that she wasn't the first person I'd see every day after work. And we adjusted, eventually, to life without Grandma. Our reality became a new reality.

Same with losing Mom.

Well, life dictates that I adjust again.

I've mentioned my birth mother, Arlene. I haven't gone in to details about our relationship, but for awhile, this my blog, will be my sounding board.

I met Arlene when I was 18 years old. She and my dad got married in the late 60s and stayed married for five years, long enough to produce my older brother, E, and myself. She left my dad when I was 4 months old, and not long afterward, married again. She and her second husband stayed married for something like 11 years, and they had three kids, two boys and a girl.

I've heard varying accounts of how she and dad's marriage failed, and who did what, but what it boils down to it neither one of them could find it in themselves to raise E and I. Dad married two more times. His third wife was a keeper, apparently. They've been married 20+ years and she is a saint, an angel and a doll. Dad adopted her daughter, they had a son together when I was about 12, and now they are raising her great neice. Arlene remarried a third time, got divorced, and then just had a series of boyfriends over the years.

Anyway, I met Arlene when I was 18 and not ready to deal with her. I was waitressing and she came in to my job and thrust herself upon me. I resented it, and I avoided her as much as possible. At our initial meeting, she went on and on about how much she loved me and thought about me all the time. I kept thinking, "How can you love someone that you don't even know?" I remember watching reunion shows on t.v. where birth parents and their children were reunited and thinking, "That is so unrealistic." They would grab ahold of each other and hug and kiss and just cry and sob and bubble over with joy....but I never felt that way reuniting with my birth mother. I never felt like I was missing anything inside myself that she completed. It was just like meeting someone vaguely familiar.

It wasn't until my daughter was about 4 or 5 that I allowed Arlene to have an active role in my life. Over the years I realized that she had serious mental issues from being raised in an orphanage, and was an on again off again recovering alcoholic. I decided to try to give her a chance, but keep her at arm's length, because the drinking changed her into someone I couldn't relate to. I mainly decided to give her a chance so that I could get to know my half brothers and sister from her second marriage. It was going to be a lot easier to do that if I let her come along for the ride.

I can't remember how it transpired, but at one point she began attending E's church and for a long period of time, we were all going to bible studies together at his house. My half brother and half sister were attending also. I remember one day my regular church had a Mother/Daughter banquet at a fancy restaurant, and I thought it would be nice to take Arlene. Jess, Arlene and I had a great time.

Arlene ending up winning the door prize out of approx. 100 moms in attendance. She was thrilled. Later that weekend, she came over for dinner. My husband cooked, and she helped me plant a roll out flower garden, which turned out to be a roll out weed garden. That was a good time that we all enjoyed, and my neighbors enjoyed the weeds in their yards for years to come.

Eventually, Arlene's twin, Marlene, got in on the bible studies, and for a couple of years we were all in harmony. I became very close to Aunt Marlene. We had some super fun days just hanging out in Aunt Marlene's back yard drinking diet tea and yacking for hours. She is a tell it like it is type of person and she just cracks me up whenever we're together.

In 1999, Arlene was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. I remember I took off work to take her to some of her chemo treatments. We all did a lot of praying. She laughed through a lot of it, stayed upbeat, and within a several months, she was in remission. She lost her long, beautiful black hair, and I have pictures of her at a "Light the Night Walk" event to benefit the Luekemia/Lymphoma Society that we did right after her treatments ended. When her hair grew back, it was wavy with a lot more gray, but thicker than ever. She was so proud to have her hair back.

It wasn't long after the chemo that she began drinking again. In fact, I suspected that she was drinking during her last treatment. I had an intervention of sorts with her. I told her what I suspected and that I could not have a relationship with her if she started drinking again. I told her that it was too hard and she lied too much for me to cope with that behavior. She denied that she was drinking again and I didn't hear from her much.

Every time I talked to her she had some excuse about having the flu or a cold and she couldn't see me. She always said, "Leave my birthday gift over at Aunt Marlene's house and I'll get them later. I have the flu or I have bronchitis or I have this or that or the other." Or the lamest excuse which was, "I can't see you because I took Dayquil and I'm sleepy and slurring and in no shape to visit." Isn't that the non drowsy formula? Anyway, this happened two birthdays in a row. One year she claimed she sent me money for my birthday, but mysteriously, it never arrived. One year she gave one of the kids birthday money ...$10 I think, and the next day called to ask to borrow $20. It got to be exhausting.

Needless to say, this type of behavior made me pull away, and the last time I saw her in person was November of 2003. I had taken the kids up to her apartment to see her. She smelled of alcohol then. What struck me as odd was that her apartment was pristine. No dust, no dirt, no clutter. We had a pretty good visit, talked about her grandkids, looked through pictures, took some pictures, then I left.

After that we talked on the phone weekly, but I decided not to take the kids back to see her until she got treatment for her alcohol dependency. Over the next two years, I sent her Christmas cards and birthday cards and pictures of the kids, which I think she was proud of as much as she could be. Once the kids saw her in a local shopping center parking lot. It was 8:30 in the a.m., and she was staggering drunk, wandering around the parking lot, waiting for her ride to pick her up. My youngest called over to her, and she staggered over. She made some comments about Jess gaining weight and some other nonsense, and wandered off. Jess was mad about it for weeks, as preteens don't need those type of comments to lower their self esteem. Life has a way of lowering young girls' self esteem by way of awkward development and peer presssure.

So, that's how it went for the next two years. She would call me at work sometimes 4-5 times a day, just to repeat what she had said the last time she phoned. Often she'd call to tell me one thing, and then call back minutes later and contradict herself. She might go for several days that way, and then she'd stop calling for several weeks. I might get one or two sober phone calls, and when those calls came, we had wonderful chats. She was indeed a very nice lady when she was sober, but those times came fewer and farther between.

Something changed with her last October. The phone calls started becoming more frequent, and she became increasingly confused in her speech. One day she called over ten times. I started to get concerned about how my employer would view these calls and I wondered how long I could maintain my own sanity if she continued in that pattern.

I wrote her a note and asked her to please limit her phone calls to one a day if at all possible. I am not sure if she ever got that note. She continued to call several times in a row, even if I said I was with a customer or on another line. She started ranting about people who lived in her apartment complex, about Aunt Marlene, and she was making all kinds of inflammatory accusations about everyone in the family. I told her on several occasions that I would not engage in gossip with her. I told her the best thing to do, if she had issues with Aunt Marlene, was to call her and talk to her sister to sister.

Finally, one day I called Aunt Marlene and asked her if she had been noticing a change in Arlene's behavior. She said indeed she had, and that Arlene was calling her roughly every 15 minutes to the point where she was checking the caller I.D. and not picking up most of the time. She said that Arlene had told her that I had threatened to kill her because she had made comments about Jess' weight.

I think something snapped in me when I heard those words. I was angry beyond words. How dare she! "I cannot put up with another minute of this insanity!" I raged. I sat down and wrote her a scathing letter. I was determined that I had taken enough. I told her that until she got help for her drinking, I didn't want any more phone calls or contact from her. I was not going to have her defaming my character, and I told her that if I had to, I would file phone harrassment charges against her.

"She didn't even raise me, I've given her chance after chance to get her act together and be a part of my life and my kids' lives, and this is the repayment I get. I can't be a part of this insanity anymore!" I sent the letter out by certified mail. I wanted proof that she got it.

Weeks went by, and I didn't get anymore phone calls. I didn't get a receipt back, either, for the certified letter. Then early in the first week of November, she called. I was still seething. I asked her, "Did you get my letter?" She said, "Letter? What letter?" I said, "I wrote you a letter. I don't want you to call me anymore. Not a work, not at home. Don't call me anymore."

She said, "But I just called to tell you that I love you." Before I could reply, she hung up. I decided to let the matter ride, and see what happened when she got the letter.

On Wednesday, November 9th, I got a phone call at work from Aunt Marlene. This automatically alarmed me, as Aunt Marlene very rarely ever calls me at work. She explained that she just found out that Arlene had checked herself into a local nursing home. Apparently, Arlene had gone to the hospital on Friday, November 4th, annebriated and unable to walk. The hospital staff admitted her to the mental health floor in an effort for her to dry out over the weekend. The weekend came and went and she still couldn't use her legs. They weren't sure why this was, so they recommended physical therapy.

At this point, Arlene decided that she was afraid to go home and be alone in her apartment, so she agreed to rehab at the nursing home. None of us were called, and we didn't know she was in the facility until Wednesday.

Somehow an aide on that floor knew Aunt Marlene and she gave her a call. Aunt Marlene said told me was going out to see Arlene, and we talked about what I should do. Aunt Marlene basically recommended that I take time to think it over, not to rush in to any decision. She said that the nursing home was planning on keeping Arlene there for at least 30 days to get her legs strengthened. I think Arlene was assuming that this would be a way to help her dry out, too. So we closed the conversation with the agreement that I would pray about what I should do and just give it a few days of thought.

Meanwhile, my husband saw his sister and it turned out that she was going to be Arlene's nurse for most of her stay. Years prior, Arlene and my sister-in-law, K, worked together at a nursing home. They had an amiable relationship, and both were glad to see one another. K told us that Arlene was asking for me constantly, so in order to pacify her, K had told her that I had mentioned that I was coming to see her as soon as time permitted. K felt this would give Arlene some comfort and enable her to rest better.

I was restless all Wednesday night. I was teary eyed and couldn't sleep. Robert kept asking me what was wrong, as I am normally a pretty laid back person. I kept saying, "I can't put my finger on it. I just feel....lonely." He gave me lots of support and encouragement, as well as hugs. Robert is not a hugger, but he amended that for me that night, and I appreciated it. He kept assuring me that I shouldn't feel badly about anything, nor did I have any reason to feel badly. He kept saying that we both knew it was for the best that Arlene was in the nursing home, because there she was safe from herself. I finally drifted off into a fitful sleep.

Thursday came, and I got up and worked out to my 3 Mile Fat Burning Walk Away the Pounds dvd. I felt great after the workout, and very relaxed. The rest of the morning went smoothly. At lunchtime, Robert came up to work and sat with me and we again talked about what I should do. I told him that the way I felt was this, "God doesn't say, 'I'm done with you' to any of us, and I am not better than God. I don't know how and when I'll go, but I will go." Robert then assured me that either way I had his support. He then left for work and I went on doing my daily tasks.

It wasn't fifteen minutes after he left that my cel phone rang. This, too, was unusual, because I mainly use my cel phone to call Robert or the kids and folks just don't call me that often using my cel number. I picked up the phone and the caller identified themself as Robert's brother, F's, (who is stationed in New York) former girlfriend. I was thinking to myself, "Why would T be calling me?" We would speak to one another in the grocery store and we were friendly with one another, but not that friendly. She said, "I had to call F in New York to get your number, but I finally got it. But I am so sorry I have to call you and tell you this, but I didn't know who else to call. We just found your mom. She's dead."

I sat there, shocked and dumbfounded. I think I sputtered something like, "How? What? When?" T explained that the staff did physical therapy with Arlene, and when they walked out of the room Arlene seemed fine. They walked back in and she was dead. They didn't know the cause of death, but they needed someone to come down and sign papers to have her body taken in for an autopsy. She was 58 years old. No one expected her to drop dead.

I was so shaken I told T that I would get a hold of someone and get back to her. I told her I wasn't sure of the legality of me making this decision, as by law she wasn't my mother due to the adoption. I quickly made some calls and within a few minutes I had gotten ahold of my half brother, T, the oldest of her second family, and he went down to make the arrangements.

Since then life has been a flurry of phone calls again, but this time I am not in charge of any of the arrangements. The autopsy came back that the cause of death was a blood clot moved in her lung. Her lungs were a mess from years of smoking. Unrelated to the clot, they found that the reason for the lack of feeling in her leg was from poor circulation, attributed to inactivity.

What T and Marlene decided to do was have her cremated and scatter her ashes at a local Native American burial ground. Arlene's mother was Arapaho, raised on a reservation and Arlene was very proud of her Native American heritage. We all felt this was a beautiful thought and certainly what she would have wanted. They arranged to have a memorial service this coming Saturday at the church where E is a pastor. I've been helping them gather photos for a power point presentation they're going to do, which sounds lovely to me. Turns out, I am the last one to have taken pictures of her, and that was back in 2003.

I'm coping better today than yesterday and better yesterday than the day before. It's just that life keeps changing so much lately I can barely keep up. There's a cartoon that I love that I used for one of our company personnel newsletters years ago that sums up exactly how I feel about my life right now. The cartoonist is a genious in my opinion, and I want to try to post this cartoon here if I can remember how I go about doing that. Sometimes when I cry too hard for too long I have to laugh for awhile to cleanse my wounds.

What's so ironic, even more so than losing my adopted AND birth mothers within 11 months of one another is my statement about what I wanted to do in 2005. I think at this point I'd like to revise that statement. What I want for the next six weeks of the year is just to not to lose anyone else and to be able to keep my sanity in tact. That will be quite enough in and of itself.

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