Double Rainbow, Double the Hope

                                                           Photo by Rich Reid

Double Rainbow

Yesterday at the hospital my mother and I received news we didn’t expect, a medical diagnosis no one wants to hear.  After the doctor left the room, I went to the hospital’s atrium and began to talk silently to my deceased father and sister, something I don’t normally do.  I asked them to please help me cope with this and to watch over my mom.  Then I went back into her room to sit by her side.

My husband and I left the hospital around 7 p.m. so my mother could get some rest.  It was a cloudy, rainy evening, but the sun was still shining in places.  As we drove up the interstate, my husband said, “It’s a perfect night for a rainbow.”  Suddenly there it was, the brightest rainbow I had ever seen, almost like neon lights shining through the blue-gray sky.   Alongside the bright rainbow was a lighter, softer one. The double rainbow began at ground level and arched to an opposite end.  Sometimes rainbows are more subtle, hardly discernible, and often only one end can be seen, the other end mysteriously disappearing.  These two rainbows slowed traffic as drivers braked in wonder at the beauty.

In my mind, the brightest of the two rainbows was a message from my sister.  She always was strong and attention-getting.  My dad was the quieter of the two, strong in his own way, but in the background.  The rainbows reminded me of the flowers that once bloomed on my peace lily plant.  I may have written about them already, but they too seemed to me to be signs from my dad and sister that all would be right in the end.  The plant was a gift from the school where I taught, given to me when my father died.  There were several white flowers on it then, but after they died, I struggled to keep the plant alive and it didn’t bloom again for years.  The day of my sister’s surgery a flower suddenly appeared on the plant where no flower had been the day before.  After that flower died off, the plant seemed to be dormant again.  My husband separated the plant in two, creating two vibrant plants with no blooms.  The day of my sister’s funeral the plants bloomed again, a white flower appearing on each.  The next bloom came the day of my mother’s 85th birthday celebratory party, a major family gathering that my sister and my father may have attended in their own way.

Some people would think I’m a little crazy, believing messages come to me through a plant or a rainbow.  I don’t care.  I need to believe in them.  I need comfort from my father and my sister, and I need to know they will watch over my mother from this day on to the very end.

Just Lulu and Me!

Kraftin' Kimmie Springtime Lulu

Just Lulu and Me!

I spent the day today with Lulu.  Lulu and I were swinging, feeding the birds, and watering our flowers.  In case you don’t know about Lulu, I’ll explain that Lulu is a little girl on a stamp set from Kraftin’ Kimmie.  One of my favorite hobbies is creating rubber-stamped greeting cards for breast cancer patients.  When I saw Lulu, I knew she and I would become great friends.

When I was young, one of my art class projects involved enlarging a favorite cartoon character.  My favorite was Little Lulu.  When Friday night came around and my father brought home his paycheck, my sister and I were allowed to go to the newsstand and get a new comic book.  I always chose Little Lulu.  I loved her.  She was a child who knew how to have fun.  I remember that she seemed to spend a lot of time at the beach with her friends.  I wanted to be like her.  She had wonderful ringlets that framed her cute face and pretty blue eyes.  So I got my graph paper and I drew her on the paper, coloring her exactly the way she was in the comics.  I was so proud of this project that I saved it on the bottom shelf of my bedroom cabinet for years.

When I returned home one summer from college, I couldn’t find Little Lulu.  My mother had gone on a cleaning binge, figuring that anything left over from my school days was probably now just junk and out she went.  I never really forgave my mother for throwing out the one art project I did successfully, but today it’s hard for me to hold any kind of a grudge against my mother.

My mother’s first mini-stroke happened last August on her birthday.  Two others followed in February, strokes that affected her right eye, a black curtain descending in frightening speed across her eye before disappearing shortly after.  Then Easter weekend a fourth TIA occurred followed by a major fall with a head injury.  There had been warning signs of this impending stroke all weekend, but we were visiting my daughter in New Jersey and my mother didn’t want to spoil the trip.  Unmentioned was the strange feeling in her left hand and the two dizzy spells.  I did notice her confusion and the way she kept losing things and dropping and spilling food.  I just didn’t put it all together.  After the fall, we took her to Urgent Care and then the Emergency Room, but the CAT scan seemed to be fine and we took her home.  After she got into her apartment at home, things went terribly wrong.  Another dizzy spell was followed by more confusion.  She was unable to figure out how to use the phone, and when I went up to her apartment to help her, she tried to use a pen to make a call.  She could not keep her balance and was not making sense, so we drove her up to the emergency room and she was admitted.

Three days later she returned home and home care visits were set up.  She now has a visiting nurse, a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, and a speech therapist.  She is slowly getting back some ability to do things we take for granted.  She can dress herself, bathe, use a phone and the TV remote control (although not always correctly), and prepare food.  She walks with a walker and is generally still very confused.  I now spend part of every day at her apartment, and I make frequent phone calls to check on her.  She has good neighbors and a Life Alert bracelet.  Still I can’t sleep at night, and I wake up waiting for a phone call at any time informing me she has had a major stroke.  This is the woman who had been active and busy up until last August.  This is the woman who took care of my sister and me during our battles against breast cancer, a battle my sister finally lost.   This is the woman who always tries to help out her neighbors as they struggle with failing health.  It is hard to see what she has lost since last August.

So when Kraftin’ Kimmie stamps came out with Lulu, I was taken back to my childhood.  I was the child drawing Little Lulu’s ringlets on graph paper or sitting on my bed with the latest Little Lulu comics.  My sister would be listening to music in her room, my father would be painting, my mother would be cooking or sewing, and we would be a happy family together on a Sunday afternoon.

This Sunday afternoon I spent again with Lulu, not my Little Lulu, but Lulu just the same, Springtime Lulu playing and happy like all children should be.  And suddenly as I stamped Lulu’s image on card stock, I was not thinking about the possibility of losing my mother.  I was just coloring in Lulu’s pigtails as she sat on her swing, or fed the birds at her birdhouse, or carried a watering can to sprinkle some love on her flowers, and I was happy if even for a moment.

Easter Weekend Trip a Challenge

Easter weekend did not follow the plans I made for it.  Life is like that.  My husband, eighty-nine-year-old mother, and I drove five hours to southern New Jersey to visit my daughter for the weekend.  We made plans to shop and have Easter brunch before we returned home on Sunday.  My mother had an appointment with a cardiologist on Monday so she could be cleared for cataract surgery.

On Saturday while shopping my mother apparently had another TIA but she decided not to tell us about her symptoms.  She had an odd sensation in her left hand and arm.  After lunch she tripped going into my daughter’s condo and hit her head hard on the closet door.  We waited about half an hour and then decided to take her to Urgent Care.  Unfortunately, by the time they got around to seeing her, the CAT scan machine was no longer available and she was sent home to be watched for a few hours.  Within the next two hours, we decided to go to the ER.  The swelling and bruising were much worse and she seemed confused.  We were in the ER for five hours.  The CAT scan was inconclusive, so once again she was sent home.  We went to brunch the next day and drove home, but after she got home, the confusion increased.  She couldn’t use a phone or keep her balance, so we took her to the hospital where she has been for the last few days.

She will have home care, but we are reaching the point where she may need assisted living.  She falls apart at the very mention of those words.  The active mother I knew is gone, replaced by fear and confusion.

This was the week I was going to do a final edit of my book and send it to the self-publisher.  This was the week I was going to make cards for the patients at the cancer center.  But nothing is more important to me today than my mother.  I have lost all my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and father and sister.  She is all I have of my original family.  I am happy to have my own children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, but my mother has been the anchor in my life, and I can see that disappearing.  I know many other baby boomers have faced this moment in their own lives.  It’s comforting to me to know that.

A Cruel April 1

“For there is no friend like a sister in calm or stormy weather.”  —Christina Rossetti

A Cruel April 1

I never liked April Fool’s Day.  I suppose it’s because I am a very serious person, probably too serious many who know me would say.  Still, I don’t like seeing a person made a fool of unless they really enjoy it, and who does?

In 2005 on April 1, my sister died of breast cancer after a fight that began in 1999.  I spent the last ten days of her life in the hospital room with her, and I am still haunted by those final days.  April 1 no longer signifies April Fool’s Day to me.  It is the day I lost the only sibling I had.

My sister’s breast cancer recurrence was found in October 2003, the same month I was also diagnosed with breast cancer.  We fought the disease together, supporting each other all the way until the end.

I sometimes read about sisters who don’t get along, sisters who don’t keep in touch, sisters who don’t even like each other.  I can’t imagine it.  We didn’t always get along, but she was my big sister, the one I looked to every day for strength and guidance.  I thought she was the strong one, the loving and giving one, the one who knew how to face a challenge and win out over it.  Instead, she died and I lived.

The cruelty of her death on April Fool’s Day is also ironic.  It was a day I already disliked, but now when the day arrives, it hits my heart like a catapulting rock.  Throughout my sister’s illness, there was a place within me that hurt every day, a fear that kept growing and growing as I watched her health deteriorate while her optimism, sense of humor, and courage grew.  She hid her fears from all of us.  After her death, that spot in my heart was filled with grief, a grief I still have not gotten beyond.  I struggle every day with survivor guilt.  I lived and she did not, and there are times when I believe the wrong sister died.

I won’t be playing any jokes on anyone today or on any April Fool’s Day in the future.  I know many people, especially children, love this day.  It’s such fun for them to pull a prank on someone and be able to justify it by saying, “April Fool’s!”  I don’t begrudge them their fun.  But today I will buy some flowers, and my mother and I will take them to the cemetery as we always do.  We will put them in a green plastic cone at the side of the headstone marking her grave, and I will walk away as always wishing I had her still by my side to guide me, to make me laugh, to keep my focus on the good things in life instead of the bad.  I want her to call me like she did every day.  I want to giggle with her like we always did since we were little.  I want to shop with her and find bargains, a special talent she had.  I want to be with her the way we once were before breast cancer.  I don’t want to go every year on April 1 to the cemetery in order to be near her.  I want to hear her laugh, see her smile, and watch her hold her grandchildren.  I don’t know where she is, and I am left with this emptiness that nothing seems to fill.