What this Picture Told Me

20171225_040929-1

As my long Christmas day finally wound down last night, I lay on the couch in exhaustion, full of doubt as usual.  I questioned everything from the effort I put into making the holiday special to my mothering in general.

There were some bright moments this Christmas, sure- the candlelight service at church, looking at elaborate lighting displays, the birthday cake for Jesus that my 3-year-old helped decorate- but overall, I feel like I failed to capture the joy of the season and teach it to my daughter.

I have three excuses for this lack of enthusiasm: The first is that I’m pregnant and not traveling, the second is that my girl is young and oh, so stubborn, and the third is that I miss my Mom- and the way things used to be- more than I can put into words.

Unsure of what I wanted to do with myself during my free time, I began scrolling through the pictures on my phone.  So many of them have stories to tell. The phrase “a picture can say a thousand words” became a cliché for a reason… the one above is no exception.

Notice the clock in the far right corner- it says that I stayed up until 4:10 am on Christmas Eve to make my daughter a silly Humpty Dumpty toy, because she sings the song constantly and I couldn’t find one for purchase that wasn’t creepy.

The friendly expression I painted on Humpty Dumpty’s face tells what I deeply wish for my child- that most of what she encounters will be friendly, happy and peaceful.  I will make that her reality for as long as I can be there to protect her.

The hand-made toy shows that I paid attention to my mother and grandmother as they fearlessly tackled do-it-yourself projects that were based on the imaginations of little ones; if they could think it, they could make it. Those special women, though long gone, often make their presence known in my life through little details like these.

The duct tape and pool noodles on the stand holding the tv hint that I care more about my daughter’s safety than I do about having a perfect house. I had no fancy rubber shelf edges that day, so I used what I had and haven’t gotten around to changing them because it’s not high enough on the priority list.

The Baby Einstein DVDs suggest that I put my daughter’s likes and needs before my own, as the only ones that we regularly watch are her kiddie shows.

The homemade gift and the unfinished wood on the railing behind it implies that we have hit hard times, that we struggle for what we have… but if someone asked me I’d say that God always provides a way and gives us what we truly need.

That photo in general says another thing, too, something vitally important for me to remember, especially on days when I feel like I missed the mark on all of my goals.

It says that I tried.

My love runs deep. My intentions are good. I was there, and I tried.

 

Advertisements

Searching for Joy Without My Mother

A blog I wrote for the Motherless Daughters Ministry:

http://www.motherlessdaughtersministry.com/support/blog/searching-joy-without-mother/#respondSeeking Joy pic edited use this

My Last Thoughts Before Daring to Love Again

I recently stumbled upon something I wrote to myself almost seven years ago, right before my husband and I were to be married.

After going through a devastating divorce that took me by complete surprise, I was fearful that the past would repeat itself- but I knew that I had to choose to love again. I couldn’t let fear win.

So, I wrote down all the things that had helped me survive my first major heartbreak, took a deep breath and plunged into my second marriage before 30. I’m so glad I did.

I remember the worry behind every word, but can smile now that some of those dark imaginings are behind me.  I am happy to report that I have not yet had to resort to my “plan B” for happiness, my husband and I are still close and we now have one beautiful daughter and another on the way.

Here is the advice I gave myself years ago before I made the plunge…

 

Dear Future Amanda,

First of all, you’re probably being too hard on yourself.  I have never known you to want anything but good things for everyone you’ve come across, so just try to learn from that current mistake you are beating yourself up for and let it go.

I want you to believe in love, as much as you can believe in anything in this world.  Don’t be afraid of it because of the past- that involved two different people, especially you.  You are completely different now than you were then- smarter, happier and more insightful.

Remember, though, that if things don’t go according to plan, you have learned to be happy on your own and you can do it again.  Think about how happy you were when you performed a song you wrote in front of strangers.  Think about how you felt when you took your writing classes.  Think about how much fun it was to get together with an old friend and do something completely crazy and immature. Remember how much your family loves you, try to go to the place that feels the most like home and you’ll be okay.

Find someone who is hurting worse than you are (or maybe even fighting the same battles) and make them smile, show them you care.  No matter how bad you feel, there is always someone out there, closer than you think, whose heart is breaking too.  You’ve been there, so you might be exactly what they need in their life right now.  In fact, your whole life (or theirs) could have been leading up to this moment.

Don’t forget about all of the simple things that have made you happy: walking the dogs in the park, feeding the birds, playing guitar with the locusts humming along, finding meaning in a song, making new friends, finding the good in something you thought you’d hate…It’s like Alisa said, “Even though you can’t see it now, there is a lot of beauty out there.”

I hope you’ll never need these words of encouragement.  But if you do, just remember that you’ve been through a lot of hard things already, through days where you felt you would never smile again… remember? You thought it was impossible when your friend predicted that “things will keep getting better-one of these days, when someone asks you how you are, you’ll smile and say, ‘Great!'”  But he was right, they did get better, and you smiled a lot sooner than you thought you would.  Brighter, maybe, since they were for you for a change.

In the likelihood that you don’t need heartbreak advice or your “Plan B”, love like there’s no tomorrow.  Every day you have with someone who loves you is a gift, and their affection is not owed to you, it’s always a precious blessing.  Celebrate the little things as well as the big things, create occasions to look forward to, try things you’ve never tried together, and never take your relationship for granted.

But most of all, be gentle with yourself.  You don’t have to be anything more than what you are right now, you don’t have to do anything but genuinely care and genuinely love.  You have value, you deserve good things and it’s up to you to go out and get them.

Love,
younger Amanda

 

Another Letter to Heaven

The parts of you I never knew haunt my thoughts like a wasted sunny day, one I finally get dressed to enjoy as the thunder clouds roll in and gray the sky.

There is no more left of you to discover, nothing is able to be learned… so I make peace with old stories, ones I’ve heard countless times. If I’m lucky, new angles of insight form an obscure piece I can place in your puzzle- but always only a patch of grass or a wisp of cloud on the outskirts of your form- one I should have already connected had I looked more closely.

Life isn’t simple, and what lacked in us was a result of events only we two can understand- and only loosely, in hindsight… but that fact is overshadowed by the scream in my brain that I could have done better.

I should have done better.

I should have realized the depth of your love before it was gone. I should have known it would be the greatest I’d be given this side of heaven. The framework was there, I just hadn’t lived enough.

You just didn’t live long enough.

You didn’t get to meet the Amanda that operates with a mother’s heart and perspective.

You are gone. I will never view your facets that didn’t face forward. I will never truly know Mary. All that remains of you are nostalgic pangs of childhood everydays and Christmases. The loneliness is only dulled by the knowledge that someone’s world DID center around us at one time. Your mannerisms, your voice, your phone calls, the way you thought- those have grown dim.

My children will never know.
We can’t go home again.

I cling to the hope that you sympathize and see, perhaps in vain- for none of us know the method that winds the clock in the heavens. My words could just as easily fade on the wind as reach your ears.

If you CAN hear, rest easy in the fact that my daughter has shone a light on your character by what she awakens in me. I feel the weight of the legacy of all mothers; I draw nearer to you as I rock her to sleep or calm her fears.

It’s not enough. It never will be.
But it’s something.

I have witnessed my mother’s love; for that I am grateful. I will pass on my mother’s love; of that I am able.

Before You Roll Your Eyes (A Letter for You, Daughter, as You Grow Up)

20160725_132457Oh, my girl. If only you could know someday how many times I stare at the video monitor after you’re down for the night.  Your Dad constantly hears me mutter things like, “Is she breathing? Can she reach her puppy buddy? Is that a bug, or just a shadow?!”

That monitor is a permanent accessory for me in the evenings. I use it to protect you from anything and everything and to catch a glimpse of my little blessing when I miss you. I love to smile at the silly positions you’re sleeping in and marvel at how long your hair is getting as it falls around your shoulders. Even when I’m ready to sleep, the monitor is right by my bed and will be referred to multiple times before the morning.

I’m awake now at 4 am because I just heard you whimper and figured you had a dirty diaper. I was right. I got you feeling all warm and comfy again and now I can’t sleep, because I’m debating whether I should go back in and move the clean baby wipe that the monitor showed me I left at the edge of your crib.

Common sense  tells me it’ll be fine, that it’s silly to risk waking you for a tiny thing like that, especially since you are moving past the phase of putting everything in your mouth and you’ve already decided that wipes don’t taste good. But… what if it gets in your face? What if you lay on it, and it creates a huge wet spot that makes you uncomfortable?

Never mind that you are strong, fiesty and way past the risk of SIDS, or that the wipe is probably all dried out by now. These are the worries that seem legitimate at 4 am for a mother, when her greatest source of joy is laying in the next room. *Sigh* Excuse me while I go get that darn wipe. (It was dry and nowhere near you.)

Someday, the things I’ll want to protect you from will be darker and less defined, and checking on you won’t be as simple as going into the next room. You need to understand- I’ve gotten on my hands and knees to scour the floor of the areas you play to be sure everything is safe, but you still managed to find a piece of packing tape, tried to eat it and almost choked. I keep everything potentially dangerous completely out of your reach, yet you still wound up with a sharp piece of metal (the center from a hair tie, a type I don’t even buy) and tried to put it in your mouth. I can imagine this list of near escapes will grow with time.  So you’ll have to forgive me if I’m hesitant to let you go to a friend’s house where any kind of unknown danger could be lurking. 

It scares me that I won’t have a monitor screen to stare at for your field trips, or for the interaction with your friends, and I know you’re not going to want me to put a go-pro camera (or whatever the current technology is) on you for your first date. So when I make sure you have a snack, an umbrella, a book to read… when I ask if the girls are being nice to you and want to know what you did when you hung out… when I want to get to know any young man before he takes you somewhere and beg you to text me at some point during your date, please be patient with me. 

I’ve been there. I’ve rolled my eyes at my Mom when she worried about me going to an unfamiliar place, or told me for the 700th time not to do drugs. I often answered her hopeful questions about my day with only a short “fine.” I was sure she worried way too much, and that I could take care of myself.

But I didn’t realize the realities of the world yet.  I didn’t understand how big her love was, that a mother’s children are her everything. I couldn’t, because I didn’t know what women have to go through just to earn that often-taken-for-granted-title of “mom.”

It’s epic, almost of superhero proportions, the metamorphosis we endure to have and care for a child. These long nights of tending to your every need will always stay with me. These dark circles under my eyes are a badge of honor. I’ve evolved from a scared young woman in the hospital, secretly wondering how I could possibly keep such a tiny human safe, wondering if I even had what it took to be a Mom, to a woman who has learned firsthand what the cliche “mama bear” means.

I would walk through fire for you, literally. (I’ve already prepared a detailed fire escape plan complete with a rope ladder and sledge hammer, but if all else would fail in that scenario, I WOULD just walk through that fire to get you.)

So please, baby girl. Be patient with me as I slowly shift from taking care of your every need to helping you learn to be independent in every way.  Maybe cancel out some of those eye rolls with an occasional hug and an, “I’ll be careful, Mom.” Remember- you are my joy, and the center around which most of my priorities have shifted. You are my life’s great work.

Let me worry. Let me check up on you. Tell me about your day. Let me love you. Don’t do drugs. And please, call me when you get where you’re going.

My Life’s Mean Girls- and What Would Have Changed Everything

“Who were you before the world told you who to be?” -Danielle LaPorte

I used to be the little girl in the (low-quality…sorry) picture above: 9 years old, a little heavier than some, but confident enough in herself to laugh, to be silly and even to enter a small town Princess contest. I’ve been a few people since I was that girl, but I’ve mostly been a young woman that would cringe at the thought of putting myself “out there” at all, and hide in shame at the memory that I, even as a child, ever had the ridiculous notion to be in a contest that had anything to do with beauty. I took dance lessons for years prior to being “changed by the world” but afterward couldn’t even close the curtains and dance to music alone without feeling ridiculous. I am still learning to put that self-loathing attitude behind me, to look at myself with fresh eyes… but it was a long road that brought me there and it’s hard to find my way back.

The term “bullying” is thrown around much more now than it used to be. When I was a kid I thought it meant getting physically hurt or pushed around, now it’s expanded to cover hurt feelings and even disappointment. I’ll admit that sometimes when I hear the word, my first thought is “Toughen up, people!” – but the fact that I experienced it (along with many other kids in some form) doesn’t mean it has to be the norm. When I really think about the impact “bullying” had on my life and on my personality, I definitely see the need for teaching children a greater sense of compassion.

I think the turning point in my childhood was when a few good friends moved away. I had friends after that, sure, but it wasn’t the same. I thought that if I could: be trusted with a secret, spend hours at someone’s house and even be referred to as someone’s best friend, that meant I could count on them. But these were fair-weather friends- they included me if it was convenient but made me the joke or left me out altogether if it wasn’t. It took me a while to learn that, and it was a hard lesson. All I wanted was someone to listen and be on my side-or at least be that guaranteed person to sit on the bus with. But my middle school friends typically did things like this:

  • Sat with the “cool” girl on the bus for the super long trip out of state instead of with me as promised.  She gave me a half-guilty smile/half haughty laugh as she sat somewhere else, then gave me the same smile as she sat beside me the next day. It happened a lot. I got used to it.
  • Not only betrayed my trust and told the guy I liked that I had a crush on him, but laughed in my face when she relayed his message that no, he didn’t like me because I was “a scurve.”
  • Laughed hysterically at the stories I told of my big crush, when I made the mistake of telling why I thought he might like me too.
  • Wrote a stupid poem called “Mandy Candy” about how I loved to eat and then read it to everyone.
  • Nicknamed a dance I had learned in dance class my “chicken dance.” I was having fun at the school dance and when that song happened to play, I showed them the dance I had learned. I was reminded about it in every way, including my yearbook, until I moved. I never had the courage to dance at another school dance again.
  • Berated me for every little thing in marching band, and instead of helping me learn the steps or whatever else I was doing wrong (still don’t know what it was) made me feel like such an idiot that I started faking nausea during practice so that I could quit. (My mom had paid $1000 she didn’t have for that saxophone, that was the only way I was getting out of it.)
  • Got to the locker room before me to embarrass me in some way, such as putting my jeans on and showing everyone how they were so big on her they could fall down. I soon made a habit of going to the nurse during gym.
  • Taught me to expect different levels of rejection, so that I began to dread any sort of group project or instance where I had to pick a partner. I remember one science class where everyone had partnered up in the class but me and I was too embarrassed to be the only one who did a presentation alone. [Happy memory of my Mom here- I actually told her about this which was uncommon, and she recommended I do a different, funny presentation-pretend I had an invisible partner and act shocked when they didn’t do the things I asked them to do. What a fun idea!] That may have worked for someone with a more outgoing personality, but I couldn’t do that, saw no other options and took an F on the project.

I could go on. Some of those might seem more awful to me than they would to others, maybe I even sound a bit melodramatic. I’m sure many kids endure similar experiences, many have endured worse. But… those were my FRIENDS. They knew me well enough to know I was not appreciating the joke. The main idea I’m trying to convey here is that during the formative years of middle school, at almost every turn where I looked for comfort from a friend, or put myself out there in any way, I felt that I wasn’t wanted… that it wasn’t acceptable for me to do common things that normal kids did. That kind of feeling slowly chipped away at me until I literally stopped trying. I didn’t dance. I didn’t tell jokes. I didn’t ever ask any guy out or think it was possible for one to like me. I even regulated my voice and facial expressions to remain somewhat neutral, to try to avoid giving anyone anything to make fun of. In essence, I had no personality. I was “nice,” but I didn’t know who I was because I was too scared to be me anymore. I sort of followed people around and hoped I could just sit quietly on the sidelines.

That was mostly my middle school experience. High school got a bit better. I became closer to a few people before I moved and a bit more at ease, but I still carried that old feeling and it crept up on me often. In my new school, I hid in the bathroom during many of the lunches to avoid asking people I barely knew if I could join them. On graduation day, I didn’t even feel comfortable talking to anyone in my class, because my one close friend in our grade didn’t graduate with us. While everyone else was celebrating and chatting excitedly, I wandered around and wished we could just leave. Still, it was nice to get a new start in a new school and I got to reinvent myself a bit.  It was just hard to convince myself of it.

I ponder this now to hopefully help my daughter someday, and to give advice to other parents with children facing bullying. Although I do wish I had been fortunate enough to have more loyal friends, I think a lot of the fault was mine.

First, I took myself way too seriously. What would have happened if I was able to laugh at myself? Certain humiliations such as the school dance may have been nipped in the bud had I laughed every time it was mentioned. Instead, people knew they could get a reaction from me and drug it out as long as they could get it. People can’t embarrass you if you don’t get embarrassed.  They can’t make you mad if you don’t get mad.  Two instances really stick out in my mind that were so embarrasssing, I am relieved they didn’t happen to me. One girl had a bathroom emergency (#2) on the bus and and everyone knew it-we had to make a sudden stop. Another came to school smelling horribly of skunk because her house was sprayed by one that morning. I would have been mortified- but those girls didn’t seem phased, even if they were. They were both outgoing and knew how to laugh at themselves… I don’t know if they had to laugh again after those events or if the other kids already had respect for them because they knew their personalities were not easily shaken, but both girls received pity instead of ridicule. Definitely a lesson to be learned there.

Another fault of mine- I didn’t lean on my family. Why? I never told my Mom the reason I wanted to quit band or went to the nurse so much, or why I was so unhappy in school. She may not have been able to change things for me, but she could have supported me. I found her diary after she died and read multiple entries where she longed for a friend. She had been there… And my sister! She was this sweet, funny kid, who used to want nothing more than to be my friend. Why didn’t I embrace that? We could have been the best of friends all throughout school, and both of us would have felt much less alone. That’s actually one of my deepest regrets now… *sigh*… I pray my daughter will feel comfortable telling me her heartaches and will have great relationships with her immediate family, but she will know the struggles I had, and that I care.

The last thing that would have helped me- I should have fixed what I could and then focused on my strengths. Things like losing weight (and even getting a better complexion in the 90s) were easier said than done, but I could have tried harder. Again, if I would have mentioned something to my Mom, she might have found a way to help me. And I had some good things going for me. I could sing. [Side note here- the girl who was most mean to me made me feel dumb for trying out for show choir, asking why I thought I would ever make it.  I got in and she didn’t.  That’s the only memory of her that makes me smile… Can I say that?  And now I feel bad…] I got good grades. I had cousins who liked spending time with me…

There’s an episode of Gilmore Girls that really resonated with me on that subject. Rory started a new school and knew no one, had nobody to sit with at lunch. She wasn’t concerned in the least- she just got her book out and read happily at the empty table. She knew she had friends and family that loved her and wasn’t concerned with fitting in somewhere else. There’s a lot of strength in that. Yes, we want our kids to have good friends and get great social interaction in school- but if they are secure in who they are, they don’t have to mind as much if they’re on the fringe of things.

As an adult, I’ve gotten some closure by speaking to some of the people behind my bad memories, who assured me there was nothing “wrong” with me. They didn’t intend to hurt me like that. Those early years are hard for everyone- for some it’s either tease or be teased. And I wasn’t innocent by any means, I know for a fact there were several times I could have been a better friend. But we can’t go back and fix things, we can only share our stories for the next generation and try to let go of the misconceptions of ourselves- past and present, angelic and loserish. I’m trying. I might not ever open the curtains when I dance in the living room, but I’ve finally decided that the girl in the picture above was fun, sweet and pretty darn cute.

What to do if you know your parent is dying

“It’s always sudden.”

That’s a quote from a show my Mom and I used to watch. The point the character was making was that no matter if someone you love passes without warning or if you have years to prepare, it is always sudden.

When I finally came to terms with the fact that my Mom had stage-4 Cholangiocarcinoma, I thought I understood that I would have to live most of my life without her. But I’m telling you… the most empathetic person in the world will not understand this pain until they go through it themselves.

If you do not have a decent relationship with your parent, I’m sorry.   Perhaps there are ways to make amends- there is no time like the present. If that is not possible, this won’t help you. But if you have a Mom or Dad that did their best raising you, lets you know you are loved and tries to help you with whatever time, talents or resources they possess, this is for you.

Here are some things that helped me cope with my Mom’s death-and also some things I wish I would have known. I urge you to read this even if it is hard, and sad- even if your parents are healthy as can be. This is the kind of information that you don’t want to acquire too late.

1. SPEND TIME WITH YOUR PARENT. This may seem like a no-brainer, but life gets hectic and hard when you are trying to maintain a reasonable amount of normalcy while your parent is dying. The emotions can bring you to your knees and make you want to run as hard as you possibly can all at once. It’s human nature to want to run from pain, but sometimes you have to be strong. If you are close, go over as often as you can. Talk about anything and everything, or just sit with them. Remember everything. You may feel like you need a break because it is too hard and too sad, and that’s ok. But try to remember that you will never get this time back again. If you live far away, make as many trips to visit as you can.

I kept thinking that I needed to save my personal days for my Mom’s funeral and for grieving… but I wish I would have taken days off to just spend time with her. I honestly wish I would have taken a leave of absence from work, but I never knew the right time to do it because we didn’t ever really know how much time she had left-until she drastically changed in the last few days.

2. HOLD THEIR HAND. Think you can’t? You’re wrong. Just because you didn’t have that kind of relationship in the past doesn’t mean you can’t start now. I could never bring myself to do this, although I loved my mother dearly. I won’t go into all my reasons why I didn’t, but I will say that I would give anything to sit across from my Mom today, take her hand, and tell her how grateful I am that she loved me so well.

3. Stop trying to cheer them up all the time. Dying sucks, plain and simple. It’s hard and scary, even for the most optimistic or faithful of people. It’s great to make them laugh occasionally or do something fun to take their mind off of their circumstances, but your parent doesn’t need you to be their constant sunshine or their tireless cheerleader. Often they need to simply hear, “I’m sorry. I hate that this is so hard for you.” Sympathy is sometimes the best thing you can give.

4. This is the only life your parent will ever have, their only chance (unless you believe in reincarnation.) Since that is the case, if they have faith, being secure in that faith is of utmost importance. Ultimately this is up to your parent… but if they want help, be there. My Mom needed constant reassurance from Bible verses about many aspects of death and dying, especially that Jesus would keep her safe from evil after she passed, and how wonderful Heaven would be.

5. Make sure they know who you are. Do you write? Have them read some of your work. Do you woodwork? Bring them a sample, or show them pictures. Think of all the things that make you “you,” and be sure your parent is aware of them. Then do the same for them.

6. Do a little research. Join forums or groups with people who have had similar diseases, listen to the survivors if there are any and learn from experts in the field. There is likely nothing new that you will learn to help your parent, but at least you will know that you tried.

7. Ask for advice for imagined future events in your life that your parent may miss. Write it down. If you can, start a special notebook for them to write in with questions you come up with ranging from their favorite song to their thoughts on God. Find out all the little details that you might want to know someday- their first love, how they met your other parent, what their childhood was like, etc. You will cherish their handwritten words someday. If they are too exhausted to write it, record it or get it on video.

8. If you are not a parent or have not already discussed this, thank them for all the countless hours they spent rocking, bouncing, bathing, feeding you, etc. Babies are such a miracle, and so much work! If you have a baby of your own someday you will be overwhelmed with the pride, exhaustion, fear, joy and love this baby brings out in you; You will be amazed at how much you must have been loved and saddened if you don’t get to discuss it.

Like many others, I often took my Mom’s love for me for granted. I had an eye-opening experience after having my daughter. See, my Mom lost her first baby 3 days after he was born due to Anencephaly. I can’t imagine the pain of carrying a baby full term, going through labor and then losing him. My first baby was taken to the NICU immediately after birth, and although she was only there a week, it was heartbreaking for me, probably the hardest week of my life. When I got to take her home I was so relieved, so grateful, so enthralled with the little beauty in my arms. I immediately realized after coming home that I was the first baby my Mom got to take home after her terrible loss. I mourned the fact that I never got to discuss that with her, or that it never occurred to me how much she must have loved me because of it.

9. Make a print of their hand in cement. Someday when you really miss them, placing your hand where theirs was will comfort you. (This one was a little awkward honestly, Mom even made fun of me a bit for being so sentimental.  I am very glad I have it though.)

10. Make an “I Miss You” jar. One of the worst things for me after my Mom died was realizing that I would never get to learn anything new about her. If your parent is well enough, give them lots of tiny pieces of paper to write down memories, facts about them you might not know, etc. After they pass, resist the urge to read them all at once- save them for days when you feel blue or really want to feel connected to your parent.

11. Take a video of a normal family evening– maybe a dinner or a game of Pictionary. Don’t force it, but try to have a good time and laugh. This will be incredibly valuable to you.

12. Make sure you have a really good, RECENT photo of the two of you. Don’t take any excuses about them not looking good-whether their hair is falling out, they are jaundiced, etc. My Mom was constantly worried about her chemo hair and edema. I realized after she passed that the last good photo I had with just me and her was from TEN YEARS ago.

13. Ask your parent to leave you both a “cheer up” and “happy birthday” voicemail, then save it on a flash drive if possible so you will always have it. Those are two occasions that you will really wish you could hear your parent’s voice. This task can be impossible If one or both of you is extremely emotional, so maybe just keep an ear out for a regular voicemail they leave you that is worth saving.

14. Find out if your parent has a dream that is somewhat attainable. See if there is a charity that will help (there are Make a Wish-type organizations for adults, too.) Also- there’s a Go Fund Me for everything these days- why not this? You wouldn’t even have to mention it to your parent unless you were able to raise enough money, and if you don’t raise enough you can always do something else nice for them, or give the money to a charity benefitting others with this disease.

15. Have a “Life Celebration” party. Invite only the people who were the closest to your parent, then present your parent with gifts and/or speeches to let them know how much of an impact they’ve had on all your lives. This party doesn’t have to be sad or an acknowledgment of death- it can be hoping or praying for a miracle if you wish- the important part is that your parent feels honored. We gave my mom a framed certificate thanking her for fighting cancer so hard for us, and we each presented her a rose with a little thank you card/personalized note attached. My Mom said it was the best day of her life, that she had never felt so special.  I am so glad we were able to do it.

16. Keep excellent communication with your parent’s caretaker (if you are not that person.) Call often for updates, especially if your parent is no longer able to speak on the phone themselves. Health situations can change so quickly. If you are the caretaker, be sure to keep your parents’ friends and family updated on their health status.

My mother didn’t really feel like talking on the phone the last several weeks of her life, which was abnormal for her, but she was still herself when I saw her in person. Since I had a cold, I was asked to keep my distance because she didn’t need any further complications. The next thing I knew, I received a phone call that she was dying. When I arrived to see her, my Mom was no longer herself and would never be again.

17. Along those same lines, say what you want to say now.  Don’t wait for your parent’s death bed- you may miss it.  I would recommend becoming familiar with the medical signs that suggest your parent is reaching the end of their journey, but don’t wait for that time to bare your heart.  Many people are caught off guard because terminal illness-especially cancer- can be a series of constant ups and downs- “I’m cured” and “I’m dying” repeating for years. The end can sneak up so suddenly, you may become aware of it too late.

18. Be patient with your parent. Many diseases affect the brain, even indirectly, and can cause your parent to speak harshly, to think you don’t do enough for them or visit enough. They may even forget who you are, or think you are another relative. Do your best to remind them that you care in these times, and try not to take it personally. I bought a calendar for my Mom to use so that she could document anything and everything she wanted, and had her write down the times we visited so that she wouldn’t forget.

My Mother actually developed a condition once where she had too much ammonia on her brain and it caused her to temporarily forget things, even the fact that she had cancer. None of us realized it. She came home from the hospital in an extremely good mood, thinking that she was healthy. When someone mentioned her cancer, she couldn’t believe it, and had to learn she was dying all over again. It was heartbreaking.

19. When it nears the end, make their room as pleasant and peaceful as possible. Hang pretty pictures, surround them with flowers, play soft music, etc. My Mom really seemed to enjoy old tapes of her family playing music together, it brought her back to her childhood. She also really enjoyed listening to the Bible on audio from her ipod. I wish I would have thought to purchase or borrow the Bible on cd to play on a stereo for her when she became unresponsive and stopped using her ipod. Talk to your parent as if they can still hear you. Maybe they can.

20. Be gentle with yourself. This is one of the hardest things you will ever go through in your life. There is no such thing as being a perfect son or daughter. Nobody does everything right. There is always something more you could have done, so you have to make peace with that in the end. You loved your parent. They loved you. That’s all that you need to know.

21. Let this experience change you, but don’t let it define you. Learn the lessons you need to learn, extend a hand to others enduring the same hardships someday, and don’t let yourself become bitter. You may feel like a victim and hate the unfairness of it all, but everyone goes through loss at some point. Make sure not to ever belittle anyone else’s loss. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t struggle with this.  It is not necessary to compare your grief to someone else’s and is unfair to do so. My world seemed to halt when Mom died and then a year later, my heart broke when my sweet little dog died too. I loved them both and grieved for both. Not in the exact same ways of course, but they each held a very special place in my life.

Also, do not guilt yourself into a dark corner. Grieving can be a lifelong process… my sister, a nurse, has told me about 80 year old patients that still cry for their mothers. But after you’ve given yourself a little time, rejoin the world. Allow those who are joyful around you to be joyful. Joy is fragile and fleeting and should be cherished where it can be found… Your parent wanted joy for you while they were alive and that does not change when they pass- don’t close the door on it because your parent cannot pass through with you.

[Have you gone through something similar? Leave a comment with your advice below.]