I’m Drowning

Something is brewing deep inside my heart. The emotional stew of stress combining loss, fear, regrets and great sadness. The feeling of loneliness can be excruciating some days. It is amplified here in the house where I live. All of it.

I have always been different. As a young girl I was constantly told I was too sensitive, that I wore my heart on my sleeve, that I should toughen up and not let people hurt me. I’ve always questioned “ why is it me that’s wrong? Why isn’t it you who’s not compassionate enough?” Maybe it has been a little both?

There were very few friends along my path, soul friends I can count two. Two friends out of my 64 years of life that actually reciprocated equally in friendship. One who was my friend from early toddler stage committed suicide in her early 20’s. The second was a young woman I rented an apartment to. She lived upstairs for 4 years. We hit it off instantly and I believed we would be friends until death.

It wasn’t to be. She bought a house in the country with her boyfriend and broke all communication with me. We didn’t argue, there was no animosity. Moving day came, she was gone and that was the end. It was heartbreaking, devastating and I felt betrayed. I still do. For a few years I would send her a happy birthday email but she never responded.

My world has crashed and burned a few times since those days. I keep getting back up brushing myself off and try again. Five years ago I was forced out of the house I had been given to take care of and maintain. Because after years of research I found my fathers family in Italy and made my first ever international trip to meet them. Yup, I scraped enough money together to make the trip. The owner was angry that I had the “audacity” to accomplish a dream and told me to leave.

At a hair appointment with a friend I told her my predicament and without a breath she said “come live at my house.” I moved in here five years ago. I have a bedroom and use of the house. My rent is cheap and all of my belongings are in storage. Including ALL of my art supplies. I sure do miss those. Hand made books in mixed media were my salvation and escape.

A lot of people have come and gone here at the house. There has been turmoil between them and some nice times. But I don’t fit in. In many ways we are completely opposite. They like guns, hard liquor and metal rock. I like bird feeders, a glass of wine now and then, Springsteen and Americana music. Their taste in food is very different than mine, their idea of clean is polar opposite. Meat is cooked very well (think of shoe leather) done, rarely vegetables, salad is a bowl of lettuce nothing more and grease coats everything. Walls, pans etc. Baking pans are black and greasy. Often I will hand wash stuff BEFORE I use it, like the glass measuring cups. I have attempted more than once to degrease but to no avail. The cabinet doors are so embedded with grime the only thing that will save them is sanding them or replacing them.

They think I’m weird and quirky. I am dismissed daily either in conversation or gatherings or whenever they are together. The phrase “family” is used regularly but it doesn’t include me. During conversations I am always interrupted mid sentence rarely ever able to complete it. To these people I am insignificant and have no value.

Recently I have become the target for a couple of them. Christmas dinner I was screamed at by a visiting family member, pounding her hand on the table and telling me to shut up because I had to repeatedly tell her daughters dog to stop humping my leg. Two weeks ago I was yelled at during dinner because her boyfriend was lying about our governor’s mandate to wear masks in public and I spoke up to correct the information. Yesterday I was berated because I picked a piece of apple out of a bowl made for dinner.

I honestly don’t remember when I felt so unwanted, uncomfortable or so alone. At the moment there are absolutely no other options. There is no way I can afford to move and no place I can escape. I’m miserable and though I try to find a moment each day to feel joy, find a positive, something to feel good about the weight just continues. It’s heavy and sad and lonely.

I even question my very existence, my purpose. It’s not that I don’t feel that I have anything to offer, I do. I’m happy with who I am but I’m wondering if who I am just isn’t getting lost in a world of unlike souls. How long before the raft I built falls apart and I drown?

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I miss writing, Mom

It felt so good to write, to release my thoughts and emotions. To put it on a screen and in a sense release it. Writing brought all the jumbled up conversations I had with myself out and organized. There was a freedom then that I don’t feel anymore now. These past few years have been stifling and oppressive, filled with worry and a feeling of not knowing how to navigate through my life. Work is a great distraction for me, I can focus on whatever my role of the day is and not have a thought about where I am in my life.

I wanted to write about my mother who passed away two weeks ago. She died a very slow, painful and agonizing death at the age of 90. The past year especially was unkind and I really had to pull every bit of strength I could to make each visit special. She loved being outside and during the summer I’d get her in a wheelchair and walk her around the little park like areas of the nursing home. She had gone blind about three years ago so as I walked her around I’d describe what I saw and heard. Mom loved the feeling of sun on her face and the smell of fresh air. Once I picked a flower and handed it to her to hold. We put it in a little cup next to her bed so she could smell it. Those tiny moments were special to her.

She agonized terribly over the fact that she had two out of five daughters that refused to visit her. They have been holding anger against her for decades and try as she might to apologize for whatever they felt her wrongs were, they wouldn’t budge. One sister in particular only went once and she wouldn’t go alone, she had to have the other sister with her. That was months before mom died. In the two weeks or so before mom passed it was clear that she was progressively getting closer to her journey on earth ending, regular emails were sent updating everyone. Nothing from the one sister. Mom waited, and waited and waited for her, she never came.

It was excruciating to watch mom suffer both physically and especially mentally. She wanted forgiveness, she wanted the daughters she loved so much to be there, to say goodbye, to say how deeply sorry she was and how deeply she loved them. Two days before her death I had gone up to see mom and as always I bent down and kissed her cheek and said “hi mom, it’s Jacquie. I love you.” Mom spoke her last words to me then, “I love you”. On her last day my one sister and I were there for a few hours, she was unable to speak and slept so we decided to return the next day. Two hours later we got the call that mom had passed, holding the hand of her favorite nurse, Jessie. I was overwhelmed with the thoughts of “I should have stayed”, two hours that’s all it would’ve taken me to be there for her when she left this world. Maybe that’s what she wanted, to go alone, I’ll never know.

What I do know is that in the last few years of her life I did everything I could possibly do for her. I gave her the respect and dignity she deserved and I told her I loved her every time I saw her. There are no regrets for me. Not a single one.

I want to write about how much I miss her, how sad I am that she didn’t get what she so desperately wanted from my two sisters but even getting this much out has been a struggle.

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Slowly slipping away

Back in January the Doctor estimated my mother had about six months left on her earthly journey. We’re halfway through the sixth month. After she had the stroke late last summer her brain function has ever so slowly drifted off into bouts of delusions and disconnects. We put her on hospice care at that point.

In 2017 mom lost her eyesight and most of her hearing. The woman who loved music, reading and knitting was left with just sitting or laying in bed. Day in and day out my mother is now just an empty shell of a human body. Her greatest joy is to go outside in a wheelchair and feel the sun on her face. As luck would have it, we here in western NY have had a very chilly and rainy Spring. So the outside trips have been limited. Sometimes we take her downstairs to the cafe for hot coco and a slice of lemon cake. Just to get her out of her room. A change of pace and relief from the boredom.

There is no quality of life for my mother. She prays to God that he take her, she tells me she’s ready to go. I used to get upset when she’d say that but now I just tell her that when the time comes she can go. We will be okay, we’ll miss her but we will be fine.

I went to see her two days ago (work and distance keeps me from going more often). She had miraculously eaten most all of her lunch! The staff doesn’t feed her and if she has to struggle to get food in her mouth she won’t eat. That days lunch was quiche, perfect for her to handle and she likes quiche. Win win. Anyway she was telling me about some awful argument she had with a woman that morning. She said she had asked the woman about “Mr yellow and Mr purple” something about which was double and which was single. Mom said the woman was yelling at her to stand up and when mom refused they got into it. Now mind you, this is the delusion factor and not reality. She also told me that when she came down the stairs in the morning something of hers was missing. My mother can’t walk, say nothing about using stairs. My assumption is that this was all a dream but to her it was very real. Just like when she said that she had filed reports to the FBI that “they” weren’t given food and if they did get fed it was food taken from the trash bins.

My mother is not living any resemblance of a quality of life. I don’t know how the staff does it because I can barely make it through an hour with her. My mother was always kind and polite. The brain damage has changed her so drastically. It’s excruciating to watch her slowly slip away into a place that is so very dark. A place filled with arguments and evil. I wished out loud that she would dream of being out in the pastures or gardens tending cows or picking berries, happier delusions that might calm her soul.

I know her journey is almost over. I know she is leaving soon. What I don’t know is how her body continues to function. I believe God is still preparing a place for her but but waiting and watching from here is painful.

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Great Illusions and Sucker Punches

They sort of go hand in hand in life sometimes. Today I received a sucker punch that was so shocking it took me a few minutes to mentally process it. Yet once I realized what had transpired behind my back I couldn’t help but feel the pain of that punch.

It goes like this; Every Sunday my one sister (#4) and I go to visit our mother at the nursing home and today was no different. Last weekend her daughter graduated from college and will be home for part of the summer. I love my niece tremendously but #4 keeps her busy and away from me. Though when she was an infant I was with her constantly. Anyway, #4 said we’d have to cut our visit a little short because she had a lot of things to do today. Since she drives the 30 miles round trip I was fine with it. We had our visit and she dropped me off at my house.

I ran a couple errands and returned home again. When I sat down I opened my Facebook to a post from another sister (#2) saying what a wonderful time she was having with #4 and niece at a water front diner. The hurt was instant and deep. I was shocked and felt completely betrayed and blindsided. Sister #4 couldn’t just say that she was meeting sister #2 with her daughter? Like if it wasn’t a slimy move why not just tell me? Why hide it? But no, we spent almost an hour at moms and a 30 mile round trip in the car and not a single thing was said about an obvious previously arranged meeting for them to get together. AND I WAS EXCLUDED!

I will never forget nor will I ever trust again. Family or not, this has been sealed and delivered.

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Invisible Me

Lately I’ve been walking along a path that feels uncertain. On one side there are many people and on the other side is a cliff and it looks like it could be a painful experience if I missed just one step and fell. Yet all of the people on the other side are laughing and living but they don’t see me. They’re right there, just an arms length away. As I walk my path I might be noticed and summoned to help one of them, which of course I will but when the need or task is accomplished I am returned to my path. I walk alone and find things to marvel at. Maybe some brightly colored songbirds, or some Monarch eggs on the underside of a Milkweed that I will take and raise to become a beautiful butterfly. I notice things most of those on the people side take for granted. I hear them chuckle at my excitement for simple things.

As I stroll along my path alone daily I go to work and for the most part really enjoy putting my various skills into practice. I work with great people and enjoy the social aspect. When my shift is over I return to the place I call home. It really isn’t my home it’s just a place where I rent a room from a dear friend. Two days a week I visit my mother who’s in Hospice. She is dying a slow death from being old and suffering the remnants of brain injury due to a stroke. My mother lost her eyesight a couple years ago and her hearing has diminished greatly. The only joy she has in life is when I visit. She has made peace with death and is ready to finish her journey here on earth.

A long time ago I lost my house in foreclosure. The devastation of that loss still haunts me. It was a beautiful old place built in 1900. It is filled with oak trim, oak flooring, stained glass windows and it had a phenomenal front porch. My back yard was huge for a city lot and my dogs at the time loved the freedom to run and play. My fall from that cliff was in fact extremely painful and I have never recovered.

Here’s the thing about being invisible; you know you have to continue to move forward, put the past behind you but you are terrified to fall again. People don’t see you as ever being able to recover your place. So they just don’t look at you. No one seeks you out. You are forced daily to “show up” and join yet at the end of the day in essence you are walking a path you didn’t choose. And no one is walking with you. That is my life, the invisible me.

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The Last Mother’s Day

Gone are the days of dancing the Twist with my mom in the living room. My infant sister (the last of five girls) sleeping in the next room. Those early years of my childhood spent playing outside in the summer with my sisters and neighbor kids are still vivid in my mind. Mom always inside cleaning, cooking and doing general housewife duties for that era. They were good days and my parents were living the life they had dreamed about as a young married couple on the other side of WWII. The American dream.

A few years later and that dream life began to slowly crumble. Piece by piece it fell into a state of arguments and disarray. Nights of dancing and music were replaced with screaming at each other and violence. Mom had always worked a small part time job at night for a little extra money. She always made sure we had nice church clothes and holiday outfits. Her daughters were not going anywhere looking unkept. Appearances were everything and so was behavior. When we visited at someone’s home they need not have ever put fragile items away from our reach. Ever. We were taught manners and respect from day one.

My mother’s lessons included teaching us civically. Had things been different I believe my mom would have joined the Civil Rights Movement. She saw people as people, nothing more and nothing less. Mom had personal experience with discrimination when she became engaged to my father. When her grandmother found out that mom was going to marry an Italian Catholic and converted to Catholicism she was disowned by her grandmother who was devout Methodist. And anti Italian.

I’m just going to say that the breakup of my parents created many horrible circumstances. It was a very rough bunch of years for five sisters but in those years were more lessons. The greatest being how to survive. How to deal with a new life. How to move on after trauma and heartbreak. We each made huge mistakes with our lives but we managed to either correct them or deal with them.

Dad moved on, mom moved on and we moved on for the most part without them. About two years before dad died I made peace with him and we became very close. I actually lived with him for a while and it was wonderful. He’d make me a lunch that would pack nicely on my bicycle that I rode to work. My sisters kept their distance but loved him also.

Mom found a new man and settled down again. He was a poor replacement for our dad. I now had a sister in Seattle, a sister on a Naval Base in CA, and two younger sisters at home with mom and her new man. I would come and go because I was young and wanted to be free. I couldn’t be held down. Then one day I was put on a plane and sent to live with my sister in Seattle. More trauma. My sisters husband was a Vietnam Vet with severe substance abuse issues. After a few months we packed up the tiny little car we owned and headed back east. The party was over. Once they realized his dream of moving to Ireland was a dumb one they headed back to Seattle and left me behind. Again.

There were few conversations with my mother and lots of resentment. My sisters and I spent many years frustrated and angry with her. Decades. Once she and her now husband split it didn’t ever change how we felt about her. She had become helpless in her own mind, demanding and needy in ours. Whenever we would visit her there was always a long list “do this for me” waiting for us and very little conversation.

Slowly approaching her 80’s things with mom began to change. She would forget water running in her kitchen or bathtub. Little things like that. She started falling and would not tell us. She stopped taking showers and would only wash up at the sink. Eventually we moved her (against her will) into a senior housing complex. She lost her eyesight and most of her hearing during her time there. No longer able to read or knit or figure out how to play music on a machine she’d had for years. That lasted about two years at most and we had to take the next step to Assisted living. She could no longer care for herself or be trusted to take her medication correctly. Mom made it almost one year there and then had a stroke. That’s when things spiraled out of control. With one daughter still living in Seattle, one daughter with horrible resentment issues, one daughter who completely disconnected from her by choice that left two of us to work through the maze of getting her into Skilled Nursing.

I think I am very lucky to have come to terms with the past and am now able to return to the love for my mother. It was a process and not easy but I think all of those lessons learned from childhood played a huge role in learning to truly forgive. From my very core. I no longer resent her, no longer have anger towards her. I have chosen to remember all of the good and wonderful moments with my mom.

Mom is on Hospice care now. Her brain function is limited and bouts of dementia and delusions are her normal. She is a body void of life just waiting her turn to summoned to the heavens. Watching her go through this “final phase of her journey” on earth has been extremely difficult. At best. For the past year in my sleep I hear my mother call my name. Sometimes it’s unnerving and sometimes it’s comforting but regardless all signs are pointing to her leaving. Will it be a relief or will it be devastating? Or both?

Yesterday I went to her on what I am sure will be the Last Mother’s Day. May all that was good be all that’s remembered.

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Crazy Awesome 

This year I decided to spend three weeks in Italy with my family. My first week, as expected, passed way too quickly. Though we did gather to celebrate my fathers cousins birthday. Her 86th year.

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These are her children. Also present were her grandchildren and great grandchildren.

A highlight of the first week was a visit with my grandmothers niece, Vincenza. I say highlight because she is the last living elder on my grandmothers side.

When I was here last year she spoke of a tree that my grandma had planted on their property in the country. It was just before I was going back home and no time to go see it. So for the whole year I thought about this tree and wondered if I could make a trip to see it. The following day we picked up Vincenza and she lead us to her land of vineyards, apple trees, wild strawberries, pear trees etc. Sadly it is so overgrown now that her brother Angelo has passed. I’m sad to think what will become of this place that has belonged to the Montanarella family for well over 100 years, but grandmas tree stands. We estimated she planted it sometime around 1907.

It made my heart race to see this mighty tree. Knowing that as a young girl around the age of 10 years, put a seed in the ground, its roots took hold and here it is over 100 years later.

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