Mom · Moving forward

White feather

I’ve been struggling trying to find a way to stay in my house after my divorce but have hit roadblock after roadblock until finally crying uncle and deciding the heck with it, I’m just gonna sell it, split the proceeds and be done with it all. Since that decision, I have been looking for a rental, preferably in the park I currently live, but I also like the 55+ park next to this one called Bulow Plantation. 

This afternoon I went and looked at a darling 960 square foot furnished bungalow on a canal with a cozy shaded lanai that I will rent for at least six months, possibly longer. The owner is a travel nurse (similar to my daughter) and may extend her job into next June. It is quiet and peaceful and just what I think I need at this point in my life. Now to the interesting part:

The address is 65 Whitefeather. Just for fun, I thought I’d look up the spiritual meaning of “White Feather.”

“Many Christians believe the appearance of a white feather has an angelic connection. Some believe their guardian angel is communicating with them and offering a message of love, comfort, hope, and peace. There can also be a strong feeling of angelic energy associated with the presentation of a white feather, especially when it has no logical reason to be where the person finds it.”

And this:

“Finding a white feather could mean any of the following:

  • Angels are near: The first meaning is simply that angels are nearby. This could be someone they know who passed on or a patron saint.
  • Watching over you: The most common meaning is that a loved one is watching over you. If you’ve recently lost someone close to you, this is a source of comfort.
  • Peace: White feathers are also a symbol of peace, even if you’re not a religious person.
  • Everything is okay: Lastly, a white feather is a reminder to stay faithful. Everything is going to be okay with time.” 

Yes, Mom, I’m finally listening.  đź’“

Family · Lucky Eleven · Mom

“*Supermarket Flowers”

Rita Marie O’Connor
12-31-1926 to 3-7-2022

Last year I thought my mother was dying. We’d put her on hospice in June of 2021 and watched her decline over a few weeks. And then she rallied. She didn’t come back a hundred percent, but she did come back. She had lots of visitors between June and year’s end, and we celebrated her 95th birthday along with the rest of the world on New Year’s Eve. A month later we discovered a water leak had caused lots of damage and excessive mold in the house, and with that, my siblings decided it was time to bring mom back to Michigan. Within a very short time, we met my brother and his wife at the airport, and mom left us to go to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to a very nice apartment in an assisted living facility where, at 95, she would live by herself for the first time in her life. Even with lots of family members nearby, it did not go well.

Confused, disoriented, looking for her family, she only seemed herself when one of us was with her. She had her walker on hand, but left alone, she would always push it to one side and then hold onto furniture as she made her way around her little place. She couldn’t remember what the SOS bracelet on her wrist was for. Day to day she could not seem to remember why she was there, saying she felt like she was just dropped off and left. Her forgetfulness grew even worse, and though she had visitors every single day, until they came, she was lost. My sister had cameras in place to check on her, but it was heartbreaking to see and hear her confusion at night, knowing there was little to be done but call in and ask someone to please check on her.

And finally she fell. Twice. The first was just a scraped knee. She was shook up but quickly forgot about it. A day later, in the early hours of the morning, either her bad leg gave out or she had a slight stroke. They found her on the floor in the hallway near the bathroom, her left shoulder dislocated. At the hospital, under sedation, they tried to put the shoulder back in, but due to a fractured humerus and her extremely fragile bones, all they could do was strap her in a brace and send her ‘home.’ That day, Monday, February 28th, was the beginning of the end.

I was already scheduled to fly up to see her the following weekend. But after my sister called on Wednesday and asked if I could come sooner, I got on a plane the next day to offer her some much needed relief. Mom was confined to her hospital bed. It took nearly 24 hours, but with Kindred Hospice’s help, we found the right medicinal cocktail to ease the pain and anxiety her ordeal had caused. She had difficulty forming words with enough breath to speak them. She’d stopped eating and drinking.

It was a fast decline from there. All my Michigan siblings came to see her along with many nieces and nephews. She would ask what was happening, and we tried to be honest with her. I slept on the couch in her living room not wanting to be too far away from her. On Friday she kept trying to get out of bed, pulling herself up, saying the word, ‘pee.’ I told her she was not able to get up, she had hurt her shoulder, but she was insistent. When she tried to move further, the pain in her left shoulder would stop her. I talked with my nurse friend back home who suggested she needed a foley catheter. I immediately called hospice, and within an hour a nurse came out to give her relief. She filled the bag, poor thing, but her agitation finally stopped. Friday evening I was sitting next to her bed, my head resting on my arm on the half rail combing her hair with my fingers the way she did when I was a child. She turned to look at me and said in her garbled speech, “I love you so, so much.” I said, “I love you more.” She smiled and said, “We could be sisters!” I laughed and told her, “That works for me!” Then she smiled and made a low, breathy, “Huh-huh” laugh. Saturday and Sunday there were lots of visitors, but mom was rarely alert enough to do more than squeeze a hand. Nurses and aides asked if she had said her goodbyes to everyone. We assured them that we had told mom repeatedly that we were all going to be okay and that she can go be with dad. “But has she heard from them all?” She had not.

So Sunday evening I contacted each of the three siblings in Florida and told them we would be calling them and putting the phone to mom’s ear so she could hear them. And this woman, this mother of 11 who had not moved for close to 36 hours, turned her head at the sound of her child’s voice and listened as each one said their separate goodbyes.

Everyone went home, and I eventually went and laid on the couch. I fell into a deep sleep only to awaken suddenly about 12:35 a.m. I quickly got up and went into mom’s room finding her in the same position, but not breathing. I sat down, put my fingers on either side of her throat and felt a faint pulse. I attempted to sing to her the same song she sang for dad before he died, “Goodnight sweetheart; well, it’s time to go…” In less than 10 minutes, her heart – her big, beautiful, loving heart – stopped beating, and she died at 12:45 a.m. I sat there with her, combing her hair back, so grateful for being woken to be with her at the end, smiling through my tears thinking about the glorious reunions happening in heaven.

How did I get so lucky, out of 11 kids, to be the one to be there when this sweet, wonderful woman left this earth?

*In the words of Ed Sheeran’s “Supermarket Flowers ©,”

“Hallelujah! 

You were an angel in the shape of my mom. 

You got to see the person I have become. 

Spread your wings, and I know that when

God took you back, 

He said, ‘Hallelujah, you’re home.

Family · Lucky Eleven · Mom

The other side of hospice

My mother may be dying. Five words that, when said to myself, feel like they don’t mean anything; at least not anything real.

My 94-year-old mother has been living here with us in Florida since last Thanksgiving. She had previously lived with my brother in Michigan for the past 14 years, minus the winter months with me, since my dad’s passing. But circumstances brought her to us for longer than the typical winter months, and now she is in her bedroom, in a hospital bed, and for all I know, she is dying.

Did I mention I work for hospice? I know about people dying. I’ve talked to them or their caregivers and I’ve offered words of reassurance. But what did I know? My dad was on hospice in the hospital where he died, but only for a few days, and it seems far removed from this. This is different.

Mom is now on our hospice. She has an angel of a nurse and a wonderful aide. She has all the accoutrements of a hospital room, but she’s home, with us. And instead of hearing the reassuring words I’d uttered to others, I have tunnel vision. I feel inept. Like I’m not doing enough, but I don’t know what enough is.

She surprises us. She’ll be totally wiped out and barely able to get up enough strength to use the bedside commode. She’ll be in bed all night and all day eating and drinking little to nothing. And then suddenly I’ll see her dressed, coming out of the bedroom smiling, saying, ‘Hi, Honey!’ She has raised 11 children, worked tirelessly in and outside the home, traveled near and far. She is part of that generation that feels she’s not supposed to stop.

I’ve been trying to keep my 10 siblings updated as much as possible. The challenge seems to be, though, that my dire narration is often followed by a ‘never mind’ report making me feel foolish, like I’m jumping the gun or something.

She says this is dumb. “This is so dumb.” “I just wanna feel better.” “If I’m gonna kick the bucket, I wish I’d just kick the bucket.” I have no response to that. Part of me wants her to join her beloved Charlie, whom she has had to live without for 14 years. Of course, the selfish part of me wants her to rally once again, to go to breakfast with us, to drive to the ocean and watch the surf. And it could happen.

Being on this side of hospice is eye-opening and humbling. I can do this part, caring for her, making her comfortable, accepting the thanks from my brothers and sisters for something I’d have fought them for. This part is easy.

I’m not sure about the next part. She’s the last of them. She deserves to go peacefully to her husband and loved ones gone before. My mind knows this absolutely. I want it for her, too.

But my heart…

I hope I’m as strong as I need to be.

Family · Florida Fun · Mom

A salute to flying.

I was 19, working at a securities firm, and wondering what to do with my life. I felt no driving force urging me towards a particular career. I worked every day and spent less and less time with my dead-end boyfriend. I still lived at home with eight of my ten siblings. My best friend had moved on with my older brother, and I felt driftless.

Driving around in what was then rural southeast Michigan, I would sometimes come across a sign saying, ‘Airplane rides, $5.” (Yes, it was a long time ago.) Whenever I did, I’d stop and go flying just for the fun of it. It was typically a small four-seater, and the pilot, always a guy, would offer to let me ‘fly’ it. One evening I was talking about it at the dinner table while my aunt and uncle were visiting. My uncle mentioned there was a flight school in Traverse City and said there was only ONE girl in the program. ‘You should look into it,’ he said. Never in a million years did I dare to dream that particular dream.

But look into it, I did. I went and toured the school and discovered they offered a two-year flight program that would earn me an Associate of Science degree in aviation. I applied for FAFSA, saved as much as I could, and the following August I moved myself into the dorms at NMC (Northwestern Michigan College) with the unbelievable anticipation of learning to fly!

It took me three years rather than two, but I eventually earned my commercial/instrument ratings through the FAA. Being one of only two girls in the program, it’s no surprise I eventually married a fellow pilot. A seaplane crash the summer before the wedding caused me to become ground shy and put an end to any hopes of my own flying career. But it turned out for the best as we ended up following my then-husband’s very successful career as a 747 captain.

I wouldn’t trade those college memories for anything in the world. I barely remember any of my academic classes I so thoroughly enjoyed flight school. Every aspect of flying both by myself and with others was always a thrill. Circling over the family home watching everyone run outside waving towels and racing to the car to come to the airport and pick me up; flying ‘formation’ with fellow students over to Sugarloaf’s grass strip or sneaking my boyfriend up to Mackinac Island; learning aerobatics, getting checked out in a taildragger, soaring with a friend and even flying into Oshkosh for their annual airshow; these memories are all tucked away to be pulled out frequently and enjoyed.

I do miss it. I was young. I was invulnerable. I knew no fear when it came to flying. I trusted my fellow pilots, my little airplane, and myself.

Mom’s cousin Rene, long-deceased, had been a pilot, himself, and she talked of him often as she shared his daredevil flying stories. Not long ago I surprised my then 89-year-old mom with a ride in an open-cockpit Waco bi-plane over St. Augustine, Florida. Mom has always been up for anything, and I knew she’d love it. Mike, our pilot in the back seat, was pretty pumped about taking his oldest passenger flying, extending the usual 20-minute flight to 45 minutes. I’ll never forget Mom’s face mirroring my own cheek-to-cheek grin as we took off feeling the wind and the power of that Waco. Over the oldest city, circling this way and that, out over the Atlantic we flew, entirely thrilled. Turning towards the shore, I leaned over to my mom and said, ‘Let’s tip our hats to Rene!’ And with a smile on our faces and sheer joy in our hearts, we saluted the sky.

Family · Mom · Randomness

My Family. My Clan.

When I say my Family, I mean my growing-up family, my parents and my 10 siblings. Maybe there needs to be a name for that since, when I speak of ‘my family,’ people typically think I’m speaking of my own kids. But it could also mean the whole Clan which would include upwards of 85 people. 

At the beginning of January 2017, my siblings, spouses and I gathered at Reed Ranch in northern Michigan with our mother to celebrate her 90th birthday and spend time together over a long weekend. We rented two lodges within walking distance of each other, and we were lucky enough to spend some wonderful quality time together. For me it was memorable because, living in Florida, I don’t get to see them as much as I used to. I was able to spend quiet time with my older brother Chuck as we drove together to our destination. I realized how much I miss him; he’s a great guy. I had a blast with my sisters Kathleen and Molly playing cards and laughing. I enjoyed watching Pat ice fishing on Lake David. I got a kick out of Kevin’s cold-weather gear with his long coat and Russian-style hat. I was entertained by Brian’s witty responses to discussions held around the fire. It’s always special seeing Terry because he always reminds me of Dad. Sean and his quiet demeanor always surprises with his humor, and Mike’s sweetness and off-beat funny side adds so much to the mix. Danny didn’t make it, unfortunately, and missed out on making memories with mom and the rest of us. And mom was in rare form, thoroughly enjoying having her kids around her, rising mid- to late-morning to  that first cup of coffee (“The nectar of the gods!), coming out with her cane to dance to ‘All About That Bass,” playing the piano while we sang along, being thrilled with the amazing birthday memories made into books and posters. Meals were made and shared, stories were told, and laughter abounded.

It was wonderful going back to the Katy Lee lodge and sitting around the beautiful fireplace that brought back so many childhood memories, sipping that late-night toddy along with Chucky, Kevin, Brian and Laurie, Sean and Cathy. There’s an indescribable sense of belonging in a clan like ours that I’m not sure everyone has in smaller families. Oftentimes new members tend to shy away or get nervous about attempting to penetrate this crowd, but repeatedly we’re told how accepted they felt by everyone. Maybe that’s because there was always room for one more with mom and dad, and so there was never a question of not accepting.

I have to remember to cherish those times and tuck then away for the future. Right now, we’re all pretty happy and healthy. Now at 92, Mom is no doubt silently wishing she could join her Charlie, but we’re all still glad she’s here and in good form. I added up her grandchildren and great-grandchildren: 63, with one on the way. 63 extended offspring! She and Dad could never have known what they were creating all those years ago. Yes, there were certainly challenges coming from such a large clan, and that’s only from my perspective as the third born. I can’t even imagine the challenges my parents faced! But I consider myself one of the Lucky 11, three girls and eight boys, with spouses, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

My family. My Clan. Those words conjure up quite the memories.

Drew · Family · Family & Friends · Mom · Randomness

Best EVER!

You know how people like to make “BEST” lists, such as BEST VIEW FROM A SHOWER (has to be Kevin’s former home in the foothills of the Rockies), or BEST OPENING LINE IN A BOOK. Or how about BEST SUPERHEROES WHO DON’T HAVE SUPERPOWERS (probably not at the top of YOUR lists). And even though it only lasted five days, including travel, my new “BEST” list will now include “BEST VACATION EVER!” . I spent time at what I call the Enchanted House – Kevin and Savanna’s place – deep in the woods at Shanty Creek Resort (BEST SETTING FOR A HOME). I knitted with my ImagKnit knitters, visited with my good friends Sarah and Lynzie, and then finally I was surrounded by loads of family – I think we counted 65! I was able to spend quality time with all my kids, spouses, and grandkids. My mom held my granddaughter while I enjoyed watching my other grandkids swimming in the lake. We played games, ate great food, listened to stories, sang around the campfire.

But the absolute highlight of my trip was playing Euchre with Drew, Meg, and Kevin. I wish it could have gone on for hours, listening to them banter back and forth, falling into those same roles as oldest, youngest, and only girl. And even though I knew it might be years before it would happen again, it was just wonderful…the whole day, the whole trip. It was THE BEST!