Wednesday, January 30, 2008
In many ways, I was at an age and maturity during this time to begin enjoying a more adult relationship with my mother, and Michael helped me forge that path. Through his eyes, I saw the successful business woman, I began to appreciate and relate to her sense of humor, emulate how she held herself. Through his eyes, I discovered an amazing woman and I began to explore and enjoy a relationship with her on this level.
Over the years, Michael and I have stayed in touch, exchanging emails, getting together on occasion for lunch. He'd always ask about Mom. He'd remind me of a story or a conversation they'd had and he'd shake his head, let out a fond chuckle and say, Your Mom is quite a woman, such an amazing woman. Mom was always delighted when I would tell her that he asked about her and spoke so fondly of her.
Over the last couple years, he'd check in with me, ask how she was, and offer his support.
I had not called Michael about Mom. It might sound odd but I was afraid to hurt him as I knew how hard he would take the news and I did not want to put him through it. So I was putting it off. Of course, he reads the newspaper, so he found out on his own.
Yesterday Michael sent me this email. Although personal, I am sharing it here because his words and his care are so tremendously comforting and I want to share with you his thoughts of my Mom and my family, and lastly, me. Because in my last post, I wrote that I am them. And he has reached out and told me as much. It's like a steady hand, but one on the heart.
My heart literally sank when I read in the paper this morning that your Mom passed on Sunday. Her picture just flooded me with memories and moments I had the privilege to experience in the years I knew her. She was in a class by herself and one very fine woman.
It would be incredibly hard to define a life like hers and all she did and accomplished. I suppose I will remember her for her razor sharp wit, her intellect, the ways she carried herself in every moment, her devotion to family and so much more. Oh how that woman made me laugh.
But to you Alison, you became all the best things about both your parents and what an extraordinary woman you are. You have been a muscular champion of your family covering all the weak points or moments where your parents and family could not and you have moved through all of this with the heart and passion of your father and the intelligence, power, and class of your mother. I can only imagine how proud your parents must have been in the woman and daughter you became. You are one of a kind and the person every parent dreams their daughter or son will become.
I will see you Thursday and I love you with all my heart. I hope in your losses, that God will place in your heart all the moments and the lifetime of all your memories you had with your Mom and Dad and that His touch will bring you smiles, laughs, tears, and peace.
Three of the finest people I have ever known. And one remains. That makes you special beyond words.
The ringing, ringing, ringing of my phone in the kitchen jolted my mind and forced me awake again. You have to deal with this day, I told myself, You have to meet your brother, there are still people you have to call, you have to go to the church, you have to make decisions and plans.
The large, hungry chocolate Lab beside me, tongue licking, tail wagging, tells me in definite speak that I must get out of bed and face the day. There were doors to be opened, dog chow to be poured. I reach over and rub her ever-available belly. It's lazy and goofy and I love our mornings but just as I embrace this one, just as I fall into our routine, I snap.
Mom, oh Mom. So much of my life, of my days, for years have been spent in consideration of and caring for her. She struggled for so long. What do I do with that time now? How do I hold the days before the unraveling? Who am I without her? I feel like an orphan, homeless, detached, lost. I've been saying for two days now that I'm relieved she is no longer in pain. And I am. But the face of the woman in the mirror does not speak relief. The face is blank, sad.
I move through my day. We make the decisions. There are memories shared, tears dropped. There are moments of laughter, moments of long glances out the window. I kneel in the chapel, pour prayer from my heart. I buy the dress. I fall asleep on the couch.
I awake in the middle of the night, just now, and look at my finger. I look at the three rings my father had placed on her hand so many years ago. I know exactly who I am. I am their daughter. They live on ever and ever in me. I am, in a word, them.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Born in 1925 in Staten Island, New York, Elizabeth (Betty) lived a long and exciting life, actively involved in sports, the arts and travel. In high school and in her college years, she excelled in Field Hockey, Basketball and Tennis. She graduated from Vassar College with a degree in Economics, and never let her children forget that while they took four and five years to earn their degrees, it only took her three.
When she married Edward Groth, Jr., he took her from her beloved New York City to the city of Houston where he correctly envisioned a successful future in the oil and gas business on the Gulf Coast. She agreed to go on the condition that they return to New York at least once a year, a trip that would include dinner at Sardi's, and at least one Broadway Show, and a trip they made annually until his death.
As he formed Groth Corporation, she worked by his side, her initial desk being a door placed atop two sawhorses. There was no money for a chair at that time. Through the years, as they grew the business, Edward often referred to Betty as the greatest business asset he could have married.
Following her mother's footsteps, Betty moved on from Groth Corporation and chose a career in Residential Realty. She worked for over 20 years with John Daugherty Realtors, many of those years as one of Houston's top Realtors.
Betty pursued her love of the Arts through a lifetime membership in the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, and she pursued volunteer work through her membership of the Junior League of Houston, Inc. She also played tennis at least twice a week at the Houston Racquet Club.
Betty had a unique intellectual wit and strength. She was a true individual who could hold her own in any situation, never hesitated to give her opinion and rarely lost a debate. She loved Classical and Big Band Music. And she enjoyed her weekly Wednesday night Prime Rib dinners at the Houston Racquet Club with Edward, relishing the first notes of New York, New York, the piano player would play when she entered the room.
At a time when many her age would choose to retire, she and Edward instead chose to adopt two of their Grandchildren, giving them a stable home and opportunity. More than one eyebrow was raised when she would nonchalantly say she had five children, the oldest in his late 40s and the youngest six years old. Such was the heart and sense of humor of Betty Groth.
She is preceded in death by her husband of 54 years, Edward Groth, Jr., her mother, Dorothy VanDeventer, and father, "Pappy." She is survived by her brothers Phil VanDeventer and Carl Oxholm; by her son Carl and his wife Kathy, her daughter Marianne, her daughter Alison, her daughter Catherine, her son Edward, and her Granddaughter, Alexandra.
The family would like to thank the many caregivers who aided her in the last year and days of Betty's life, in particular, Eniola, Shirley, and Dorothy from Innovative Nursing, and Veronica from Odyssey Hospice. Their skill, kindness and compassion will forever be appreciated.
A Memorial Service will be conducted at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, 717 Sage Road, in the old church, at two o'clock in the afternoon on Thursday the 31st of January 2008 with the Rev. Dr. John K. Graham officiating. Immediately following the service there will be a Reception in the Founders Hall.
In lieu of flowers the family suggests a donation to DePelchin Children's Center, Museum of Fine Arts, or a charity of individual choice.
Published in the Houston Chronicle on 1/29/2008.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Then someone at my side says: There, she is gone!
Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says: There, she is gone! there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: Here she comes!
And that is dying.
Friday, January 25, 2008
Last night, James and I moved the love seat in her room flush against her bed and we lowered her bed so that effectively I could sleep beside her.
For most of the night, we slept holding hands.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
My father kept the plate on his nightstand, beside the alarm clock and the books.
In September, I packed it for mom when we moved her into the assisted living center.
Yesterday I packed it again when we moved her to the Skilled Nursing Floor and arranged for Hospice care there. I put it near the empty vase.
Last night, I made a note, Get Mom flowers. I like to keep the vase on her dresser filled with fresh flowers.
Later last night, my brother called. Mom's Oxygen Saturation Level was dangerously low and she was being taken to the hospital
This morning I sat beside her. She is fragile, tiny, and unresponsive. She has tubes and wires connected between her and machines with tell-tale beeps and whirs giving us information on her body.
About an hour ago, my brother called to tell me that the Doctors have discovered some other issues, and that they advise us to let nature take its course.
I'm sitting here right now at the office, having come here to clear up some work so that I can take some time off, and what I'm thinking about is that plate and their smiling faces. And I picture my father wanting to put his arm around her again, and I picture her wanting to be there inside the safe and familiar comfort of his arms. They could smile again.
Monday, January 21, 2008
On Saturday, I attended an all-day course in photography. You might be thinking, wait a minute, she already knows about photography. And you're right, I do. But as cameras have become more sophisticated over the years, I got lazy and relied more and more on the in-camera settings, and as on-line editing sites became more sophisticated, I began to rely on them to change the auto-shot picture to what I had wanted in the first place. I can get the same look I'm after, but it doesn't feel pure -- forgive the uppity term but it's the truth -- to rely on automatic and then post photo editing. I like the results, to be sure, but there is no feeling of satisfaction because there's no skill involved. Take the four pictures of the trees I posted before this post. I like those shots, I do, but my only involvement was how I framed them in the viewfinder. The camera did the work, and then I played with a few editing tools, and there you have it.
What's missing from those shots though is me. And what's missing from me is that feeling of being there, and the feeling of being content with the results of something that I created.
I wanted to get back to basics, to take my finger off the automatic settings that are so easy to rely on and start to use my eye again, to consider light and dark again, to meter again, to set up the shot that I wanted and nail it. To do that, I had to take a refresher course.
On Saturday, that's what I did. And what fun it was! The course dusted off the knowledge I'd discarded from college photography courses, primarily the necessary math of balancing f-stops and shutter speeds. It also re-ignited my passion for composition, my eye for light, my feel for balance. It reminded me that I love looking through the lens. I love the light and the shapes. It reminded me of who I am, and who I am is someone who looks at the world with a camera in mind.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
I walk with a co-worker/friend through the hall. We round the corner. And there he is. I'd called him earlier on his cell phone, needing to meet with him to, well, for him to do me a favor. I wasn't aware that he was going to stop by the office before his appointment, after which we'd planned to meet. It shouldn't matter and doesn't matter that he was there, only I didn't expect to see him. Only that while walking, I turned around when I saw him and was walking backwards and the surprised me that has no pride or even any filter, the part of me that gets so excited when I see him, said, You're here!
He said nothing as he watched me walk right into the closed door. The door I couldn't see because I was walking backwards and looking at him. Crash.
My friend laughed. His assistant laughed (another innocent bystander/witness to my crime against myself). I fumbled, mumbled, grabbed the back of my head (where it hit the door) and said nothing while looking at him with all sorts of surprise on my face I'm sure. The expression on his face could only be called perplexed (to be polite, to myself).
Behind my back, my other hand rapidly fumbled for the door knob, turned it, and spilled out and away from view. While the door slowly closed on its hinges, I leaned against the corridor wall, hand over my face. My friend (still laughing) said, Girl, you never act like this.
True. Except that apparently I do. Sometimes.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
I still look for him. I still listen for him.
I no longer see him, but he answers me. And I hear him.
Time can bring you down
Time can bend your knee
Time can break your heart
Have you begging please
Eric Clapton, Tears in Heaven
Friday, January 11, 2008
- Eric Clapton, The Complete Collection -- This is a 2-disc collection of 36 songs, from his days in Cream, Blind Faith, and Derek and the Dominoes, as well as on his own. Thirty-six songs! All Eric Clapton, all in a row. Nice.
- David Gray, Greatest Hits -- He is not as well known in the states as he is in the UK but over there, he's had many hits and I'm guessing that's why he can compile his newest release as such.
- Sting, All This Time -- It's Sting, so needs no explanation except to say that I struggled this morning over which to put in the first CD slot, Clapton or Sting, but respectfully went with the more seasoned of the two. (As if anyone was around to care that I gave Clapton that respect. Sometimes my world exists in my head, you know?)
- Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Raising Sand -- I thought this to be too odd a pairing and right up there with Johnny Cash singing a Nine Inch Nails song, or Neil Young hooking up with Pearl Jam, and I stubbornly (ignorantly?) dug my heels in and refused to give it a listen. But these two are icons in their own musical genres, so I allowed my curiosity to wrestle my stubbornness into submission. And I listened. And then I gave gratitude to my curiosity for winning that wrestling match.
On my passenger seat:
- Wonderful Tonight - George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Me, by Pattie Boyd. I had to buy this book during lunch today because I have about 30 pages left in Eric Clapton's eponymous autobiography and I'm not ready to be finished. I love reading biographies, and I especially love reading musician biographies. Did you know that it's Eric Clapton playing the guitar in George Harrison's song, While my Guitar Gently Weeps? I think that's a cool piece of information to have in my bank of trivial things I know about music knowledge bank.
All of this is to tell you that if you ever get the inkling that I am mildy obsessed with music and musicians, you can be secure in your inklings.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
I reach for the lamp, feel with one hand along the cord and with the other I fumble with the wall switch. Flip, click, light.
She hears me. Her eyes struggle to adjust and I watch her swim through the change, search for me. I put my face close to hers, so close I smell her breath. Metallic, like oysters.
I smell her leaving. I see her searching.
Right here Mom. I'm right here. Can you see me?
No words from her mouth but her eyes circle and dip, rise and drift, and then find focus on me.
I kiss her forehead.
Then I bring out the fruit. I feed her strawberries and blueberries and raspberries. She opens her mouth wide and desperate. I put the fruit in her mouth and she grabs it, chews with a purpose. Not taste or pleasure, it seems, but purpose. A frail bird, she is.
There is much more I could write here, but really there's nothing more to say but this: In my life today, I am hand feeding the baby bird that is my Mom. In her life, she is being fed. And loved.
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Standing in the office corridor with you, this is where my thoughts are. I start to mumble. My head feels light, my cheeks begin to redden. I'm sorry, what were you saying?
I had hoped this would pass with the year 2007.
Monday, January 07, 2008
On my kitchen counter sits a big wooden bowl literally overflowing with otherwise homeless things. When I moved in seven years ago, I set the bowl on the counter because I wasn't sure where to put it permanently. It became the catch-all for anything in my hands that I didn't know exactly what to do with. It's not the junk drawer, mind you, that is the drawer beneath the bowl. I'm a firm believer in kitchen junk drawers. In fact, there are two in my kitchen, one for me and one for Cheyenne. I believe in equal opportunity junk drawer ownership.
But a junk bowl? I don't know how it happened. But boy is it ever happening. The bowl is literally dripping with stuff: pens, business cards, cracker jack surprises from the bottom of the box, photos people send me in Christmas cards, cell phone chargers to phones I no longer own, a tape measurer, thermometer, five thousand pieces of paper with phone numbers or notes or bound in the form of a manual for something or another, and quite likely there's a village of tiny weebles living happily beneath all that stuff. The bowl has taken on a life of its own and is threatening to take over the entire counter.
The task of cleaning out this bowl makes regular appearances on my weekly "to do" lists, but I just can't bring myself to start the project. Where will I put all that stuff? It might mean that I have to make the decision to throw something away, and I can't bear to do that. How can I throw that charger from two cell phones ago away? How can I throw away the user manual to a camera I no longer own? What about that expired $10.00 off coupon at my favorite shoe store? It would mean putting the tape measurer in the tool box, and taking the bracelet with the broken clasp upstairs to the box of other jewelry in need of repair. It would mean deciding what to do with that turquoise ankle bracelet I bought last summer and immediately took off when I realized that maybe a turquoise ankle bracelet wasn't something I could carry off for more than a day at the beach. It would mean putting away the wrapping tape and extra gift cards, and finding a home for all the pens I've accumulated.
I don't know when procrastination became my middle name but "Clean junk bowl" once again holds the top spot on my "to do" list for the week, right above the also regularly appearing "Clean out garage." Maybe, just maybe, it won't be on next week's list.
Sunday, January 06, 2008
I found him where I went looking for him -- in a garage, dark and moist. He was meowing with hunger. When I opened the door to the dank space, smelling sour and dirty, he jumped from the old musty couch and circled the food bowl. He devoured the food as I poured. Petting his back, I glanced across the filthy concrete floor at the trash, at the empty cans of food, upended or upside down, discarded. This cat had been living in a garbage can in the form of a dirty garage.
I was there to take him to the vet, get him neutered, get his shots. And then I was going to try to get him adopted. Although he was not my responsibility, he had been left behind and I was aware of it. That knowledge made me responsible. I felt that someone should take care of him. That someone was me.
While he was devouring the food, I noticed something that didn't look good. In fact, it looked very bad. I don't know how else to say it but to tell you exactly what it was: his insides were coming out of his rear end. I was mortified and afraid. He needed to go to the emergency vet, and he needed to go right this minute, or as soon as he'd eaten to his fill.
Grabbing a towel from atop the dryer by the door, I wrapped it around him, patted his head and told him he would be okay. I hoped I was telling the truth. Honestly, he seemed relieved to be in my arms. He took the drive with surprising calm, peaking from the towel at me and out the window, looking around the car.
When we walked into the emergency room, the receptionist cooed over him, and then asked what was wrong. I dropped part of the towel and showed her. Oh, was all she could say. And then she picked up the phone and said, I need a technician to the front.
It's called a Prolapsed Rectum, and let me tell you there is nothing, nothing at all, that is okay with that. It was heartbreaking to see in this sweet and neglected cat, who was purring in my arms, even though part of his internal organs were hanging from his rear end.
They took the cat away and a couple hours passed. A man brought his aged and graying dog in to be euthanized. He walked out with his friend's leash in his hands, in tears. I glanced up at him and told him I was so sorry for his loss. A couple brought in a puppy with a torn and bloody ear, the loser of a fight over a bone. A young girl came in with her limp but alert poodle in her arms. He had been hit by a car. She too had tears in her eyes.
Animal emergency clinics are a grueling place to spend a Saturday afternoon.
In the examining room, the veterinarian entered to discuss the cat's problems. Prolapsed Rectum, which we had already learned from the technician, but also possibly caused by Feline AIDS or Feline Leukemia. The cat had had no shots in his life so the cause could be many things, the least of which would be parasites. She then explained about the after care following the necessary surgery: He would need round-the-clock care, medications administered, and a host of other things. He would not be adoptable due to his problems, now being what is called a special needs cat. Depending on what they discovered over the next several hours, they wanted me to know that he might not survive.
The estimate for treatment, she said, would be in the area of $1,200.00.
I was gutted. I explained about my 85-pound Cheyenne who doesn't take kindly to cats, about my job and about how providing the kind of care this cat needed was beyond my ability. I felt selfish and confused, my mind scrambled and lurched, but I could not find a way to stretch and fit my abilities around this cat's needs. I had named him Malo earlier in the day, after Raul Malo of the Mavericks. Now, it seemed, I'd saddled him with the name Bad. The only solution, the only kindness I could come up with, that I could give this sick animal, was to have him put down, to show him that mercy. I was angry and sad and resentful to be put in this position by those who had left him, but I couldn't walk away from the responsibility I had taken on, and I would not let this animal suffer any more.
The staff was consoling and understanding of my decision but they mistakenly thought it was financially based. In a swirl of conversation, the doctor said she would reduce the estimate, the receptionist said, I'd take him but I'm paying off some vet bills. I looked at them and said, It's not the money, that's not the issue, it's the care I can't provide. Then I mumbled on and on about my dog, about not having the time in my day to sufficiently tend to the cat's needs, about my plan to get him the care he needed and then get him adopted, but, wiping my nose on my sleeve, I whined, Now he won't even be adoptable. The receptionist interrupted my rambling, said, You'll pay for the treatment? I shook my head yes. Then she said that she would adopt him. Then it was her turn to go on and on. She told me a story about the white cat she had when she was a little girl, how it had scratched her mother and her mother gave it away to the SPCA, how she'd always wanted another white cat.
Malo's luck seemed to be changing.
My head-shaking and tears stopped. The knot in my stomach began to untie itself. She told me she needed to verify with the head of the clinic that the adoption would be acceptable, and to see what the new estimate was, and then left the room.
I stood in the examining room wondering if that had really just happened or if I'd imagined it.
The price came down considerably. I signed some adoption papers, gave my credit card, and there were smiles all around. Malo's name would soon be changed to Lucian and he would receive all the care he needed. They brought him to me and I patted his head, told him he was a very lucky guy. Then I told the receptionist she was an angel, and said goodbye.
This morning, I called to check on him. He does not have AIDS or Leukemia. He came through his surgery like a champ and had also been neutered and given medicine for the parasites, which apparently were the reason for the most obvious problem. I was told that although still a bit woozy from the drugs, he was doing great, purring, and playing with the towel in his cage. The receptionist told me that our baby was going to stay there for 72 hours and have the round-the-clock care that he needed. And then she could take him to his new home where he would live with her, her husband, her daughter and her other cat. Her relief at his surgery success and her excitement to finally have a white cat to call her own poured through the phone.
This is not a fairy tale, but it is sprinkled with some magic. In the end, a group of strangers came together and became the people who did not fail him. In the end, it's really just the beginning for that cat.
Thursday, January 03, 2008
Tuesday, January 01, 2008
Hey, it's New Year's Day. Day one of a new year. There's a day out there, a bright new morning.
I'm excited about this year. I can't put my finger on it but I believe it's going to be a good year. I'm taking its hand and we're going to dance together. I made resolutions this year, something I don't normally do and haven't done for years and years. But on the 1,100-mile drive to Durango and on the 1,100-mile drive back to Houston, I had plenty of time to pull all my drifting thoughts and ideas and form them into a cohesive lot. And then I wrote them down, in the form of resolutions. Part to-do list and part reminder, it's all attainable. Sure, it'll take a little work, a bit of focus and a dash of discipline, but it's reasonable and reachable. And that has me excited. For me.
Guess what? I am happy. Not grinny, silly happy, but happy as in content. I feel good. I like the decisions I've been making lately, and I like the direction those decisions are leading me. I like now, and I accept the road that got me here. I like that I have shoulders broad enough and determination strong enough to hold on when the ride is rough, and a mind smart enough and a heart open enough to recognize and cherish the smooth times. I like knowing my way towards what I want for myself and my life in the new year. I can see the map, can see my way there, and that clarity is precious to me, very precious.
Happy New Year to you. And you. And you and you and you.