My Moms

This week many of us in the U.S. and other parts of the world are focused on the tragic shooting in a Colorado theater, and rightly so. These victims deserve our attention and respect, their families need our prayers and support.

Nobody heard the cries or felt loss when a woman in Ohio took her last breath. Nobody knows that this woman became a sister to my mother, whose own marriage left her alone with a child most of her life. Nobody knows that this woman treated me as one of her own. She propped up my mother, showed me how a woman could survive, alone with five children after divorcing a cheating husband and led by example by working in a man’s world in the 1960’s to pay for a home and a steady life for her kids.

The world doesn’t know, or care that she was there for every birthday, holiday, marriage and birth. While we were not bonded by blood, we were family. She was by my side the day I closed my mothers eyes after she took her last breath. I called her my other mom, and if you knew my real mom you would know what an honor that was.

Nancy raised her kids, paid off her house, saw her kids through school, divorce, parenthood and health issues, she was never one to turn her back on anyone, and if you were in trouble, you couldn’t find a better ally. She buried her parents way to early, her brother and two grandsons, standing tall as she tried to be a rock for the rest of us.

Never one to date, she folded when an old flame came calling. We were so happy to see her grow this relationship. She was finally doing something for herself and her last few years were filled with travel and love.
She took her last breath yesterday, seated at the table with the family she loved. She didn’t want heroic measures, or to live attached to a tube or machine and her wishes were honored.

This will not make the national news, but it has impacted hundreds of people who’s lives she touched.

RIP Momma Nancy. You are loved.

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Families, Mom’s and Death.

I have avoided thinking about my demise for years. I know I am going to die someday, I just didn’t want to actually face it.

I did learn a lesson when my mother, diagnosed with stage four cancer, got busy taking care of business instead of floundering in self-pity. She sorted drawers, and after offering it all to me, sold her 5,000 plus volume library and her collection of eastern artifacts. I battled conflicting emotions’  as she asked me to box books, deliver statues or deposit payments in the bank. All of these items were what made “her… her.” I didn’t want to be a part of wiping her out, removing all the things that built her home! My poor dad hovered in the background, afraid to make a move while trying to support her needs.

One day I took a chair and locked eyes with my mom.

“I don’t like this!” I said forcefully. “This feels like you are giving up and I am helping you do it!”

Tears filled her eyes, a sight I had only seen twice in my life as she struggled for words. Moments later, her face composed she told me to sit still and shut up! I did as I was told, lol. I was mesmerized as she began to speak…

“As you know, my childhood stunk, I survived  abusive step-mothers, thyroid and weight issues and more. Then I met your father and my life changed. The only sorrow I had then was the news that I would never carry a child to term if I got pregnant. You proved them wrong, you were my miracle baby. Your father and I vowed to keep you away from the cruelty of our families and we vowed to protect you, and I won’t stop now. I can’t leave knowing you will have to wade through a ton of possessions and paperwork, I want it all taken care of now.” she said intently.

I tried to end the conversation because I was REALLY uncomfortable but she wouldn’t back down. Grabbing my fidgeting hand she forced me to sit still, locking me in her steely gaze.

“You need to know that you are my rock. My relationship with your father has been touch and go but no matter what, you have been here. When I am upset, you listen. When I am mad, you listen. When I am sad or need support, you are there. Every time I reach my hand out for comfort, you are there to take it.”

I lost it here…mom sat back and let me have my fit, just for a short time before taking charge.

“If I am going to die, I have to know that you and your father will be ok. I don’t want you weeping over boxes as you gather my books and Orientals. I want you to spend time with me now and move on later. I need to know that my passing will not strain your body due to your disease. I want to know that your limited energy will be available to take care of your father, he can’t even write a check and he has no idea of how to pay the electric bill or cook dinner. All I ask is that you don’t let them put me in the hospital. I want to be here, in my home when my time comes.”

It took almost twelve months for me to sell all the books, meet with her lawyer, get my name put on the checking account, savings account, savings bonds and house title, but she was bound this would be taken care of before she left. She trusted me to look out for my father.

The morning I got the fateful call from my dad I was not prepared. He said that he had fallen asleep for about two hours and when he woke my mom was unresponsive and gasping. I flew to the house, a mere mile away to find an ambulance backing into the drive. My dad had called paramedics, the one thing my mother asked me to “not” let happen.

They bundled her into the squad and drove her to the local hospital where we were mired down with reams of paperwork and well-meaning nurses. I was angry, all of this red-tape  cut into the time I could be holding and talking to mom. My dad, convinced that someone could save her held fast to his decision to call for help, but I heard the doctors say that she was in for “palliative care” all they could do was drug her up and keep her comfortable until she passed.

I played along for a bit, out of respect for my father, but I ended up snapping. Mom’s last wish, her ONLY wish was that if she was to die, she wanted to do it in her own home! Thankfully, a few doctors and nurses helped me convince my dad that she would not survive more than twenty-four hours.

I was torn between comforting my dad and fulfilling mom’s wishes. I climbed onto the gurney, spooning her onto her side as I know laying on her back was painful. When she finally moved, it was to place a hand to my face as she uttered one word, “home.”

She never let go of my face or hand as she kept repeating “home, home, home.”

Torn between making sure mom’s wishes were fulfilled and doing what my dad needed was heart-wrenching, but I had to side with my mom. I asked the staff if there was a quick way I could get mom home and back on her couch, but they passed me from person to person. I finally got pissed and told the staff to call somebody, ANYBODY that could transfer mom to the house before I picked her up and walked all the way! Waiting for an answer I climbed onto the gurney, embracing her from behind as laying flat hurt her back, letting her know I would get her home if I had to throw her over my shoulder and carry her. She squeezed my hand and relaxed.

The ambulance staff showed up thirty minutes later and respectfully wrapped and loaded her into the squad. Once home, lounging on the couch she had slept on for years, her face relaxed and she smiled. It was here that my father and I spent our last twenty-four hours with the most important woman in our life. We held her hands, we rubbed her feet, administered pain medication and told her all about family events. My son, daughter-in-law, their son, my granddaughter, husband, aunt and my mom’s best friend were all present when she took her last breath. My father yelled for me to do something, but once I gazed into her eyes, I knew she was gone. I felt for a pulse and watched her chest, praying that it would take a breath, but it was obvious she was gone. Leaning in for a kiss, I moved my hand over her face, closing her eyes so she could rest.

She NEVER let the cancer rule her, she ruled up to the last twenty-four hours. She dictated where she would sit, she watched Susan Boyle videos online and sat in her usual chair with pride. A mere twenty-four hour period took control, but she stayed on her feet, ruling until the end!

In the days after her death, I realized what a final gift she had given me. Knowing she wouldn’t be here to help me through this loss, she did all she could to take care of the clutter and legalities. A wise woman my mom.

I decided I need to think about the legalities and give the same gift to my kids. I don’t want to face it, hell, I don’t want to go! But I will, so I need to draw up papers and leave my family with a legacy like the one my mom left. I don’t want them bogged down in a sea of possessions and paperwork. It is morbid and not pleasant to talk about, but you are giving your family a great gift by purging belongings and tending to paperwork long before you check out.

Give it some thought. Who would raise your kids you if die in an accident? What will it cost for your family to retain legal custody of your home? How can you word a will to keep it out of probate? Who get the Christmas ornaments, the furniture, the home and everything else?

This was a long ramble and a doubt that many of you are still reading, but for those who are, please know that my mom filed papers to name me as co-owner on all of her savings bonds, checking and savings account. She had my name put on the deed to the house and gave me her most treasured mementos with hand written notes listing the history of each item.

Thanks to the notes, I know that odd, faded teddy bear pin was the first gift my father bought her with his meager wage. I know that the pearls were given to her by a life-long friend so she could wear them at her wedding. I have a box full of history and memories that would have meant little to me if she had left without telling me about each one.

Morning of the Hawk

It was a typical Friday morning. My hubby, (who works third shift) was sound asleep, the kids were at school, the animals were fed and I was alone with the quiet. Not ready to tackle chores or a new painting I wandered through my wooded lot, stopping when I noticed something out-of-place on the roof of my garage.

I say garage, but it is actually the end of a barn whose roof if only a few feet over my head. I stopped dead in my tracks when I noticed a pair of intense eyes staring down at me. Hovering over the edge of my roof was a Broad Wing Hawk about sixteen inches tall. I froze in place, returning the hawks gaze as I took in its beauty. I talked to it like an idiot, expecting it to understand that I appreciated its beauty and that it was welcome to use my wooded lot and buildings at any time.

After staring for what felt like a frozen moment in time, I said goodbye and moved toward the back of my lot as the hawk swiveled its head, watching me from behind its lethal looking beak. Noticing a ray of sun warming the chairs surrounding the site of our campfires I scurried over and closed my eyes, reveling in the heat and healing vibes of my yard.

Minutes later a sound yanked me out of my revelry. It was like a loud rustling and flapping rolled into one. A metallic clank followed as the loose hairs around my forehead fluttered in an unexpected breeze. Springing to attention I was shocked to find that the hawk had landed on the back of the wrought iron chair next to mine, a mere twenty-four inches away.

Afraid to move for fear of scaring it off I let my eyes absorb the experience. I marveled at the size of its talons gripping the chair back. I checked out the feather pants adorning the top of its legs and the graceful curve of its body, wings and tail. I noticed it’s aroma. While not overtly offensive, it was not one I would want in my house.

I peered over the bent, wicked looking beak, into a pair of bright yellow eyes that were scanning my face. We sat like that for a good five minutes. From time to time the hawk would pace back and forth on its perch, or it would extend its neck feathers and shake its head, but it never let its gaze stray from me for more than a second.

A high-pitched screech above our heads drew the hawks attention. After emitting a few answering shrieks it took to the air to join what I assume was its mate. Just like that it was over. This was a short encounter, but one I will treasure forever.

It turns out that this pair of hawks is nesting at the edge of the Cuyahoga river across the road from my home. I often see this hawk and it’s mate glide over-head in search of dinner but there hasn’t been another “meeting.”

For that brief period of time, I felt like the luckiest person on earth.

C2012 Jane Kohler

Nancy the Great!

Nancy, such a common name for such an uncommon woman. I have my disease to thank for placing Nancy in my life. Alone, in pain and looking for help I turned to an online support group. It was here I met my long time friend “C.” “C” and I got to know each other after he threatened to boot me off the group for joking around with a few folks, something against the rules. (Not so much against the rules, but i was doing it in the wrong way)

Long story short, he and I became friends. When he founded the FMS Community I jumped on his train to help however I could. I became a moderator on the support group and began to work with both “C” and Nancy. Egad, was that really eighteen years ago?

No slacker herself, Nancy, a former financial whiz from Boston, stricken with her own chronic pain founded a 501(3) non-profit org. called the “CSSA.” She was president, treasurer, researcher and public relations. She and a small group of others collected donations, networked with medical professionals and published  a newsletter mailed to subscribers, all while dealing with her own health and family issues and…keeping up with her job as moderator for the Fibom-L online support list. She is also a talented photographer with work in quite a few collections, I am lucky enough to have one of her framed works.

I watched with cautious eyes when I realized she was caring on a “flirtation” with my pal “C.” Not out of jealousy as I am in a long-term, stable relationship, but out of concern, not wanting my friend to be hurt by a conniving woman! Worry quickly morphed from respect for a strong woman to love for a dear friend. Her and “C” met in person and never parted again. They not only joined in marriage, they blended the two organizations and we became one happy family, with Nancy handling the financial reins and legalities of maintaining a 501(3) non-profit standing.

Fast forward to 2012, my strong, intelligent, compassionate friend who wielded her computer and cell phones like weapons as she cut a swath through research, misconceptions, myths and lack of support for very real, very painful conditions, can’t even turn on her own computer.

Diagnosed with Stage 3 dementia at a young age she can’t remember how to use her computer or dial a phone. Her short-term memory is sketchy and her health is failing.

I am angry, PISSED that the universe has handed her one more blow. It’s as if taking away her health and striking her down with chronic pain wasn’t enough. The fates that be weren’t happy until they took her mind too!

I am grieving for “C.” He was a thriving musician, disc jockey and printer before chronic pain and other conditions took control of his life. He is a caring, open-minded, generous and intelligent man who had lived alone for far too long before he found Nancy. Now he struggles with her comfort and his own feelings of loss and anger.

IT’S NOT FAIR DAMMIT AND IT PISSES ME OFF!

Those who can approach their doctor and mention the term Fibromyalgia without getting laughed out of the office as the doctor tells you it is all in your head can thank Nancy. In our day nobody believed our pain was real. We were fed anti-depressants and told to lose weight and exercise more. Hell, I was 120lbs soaking wet with a highly physical job, and they STILL told me to lose weight and exercise, and maybe see a shrink.

Nancy fought day and night, shelling out thousands of personal dollars to find answers. She offered support and information to those floundering in a sea of medical professionals that thought of us as a joke. She met and worked with researchers on the cutting edge of progress. She formed friendships with medical professionals and authors who suffered from chronic, unexplained pain and fatigue who wanted to find answers. She worked with Devin Starlanyl and others, keeping up with research and funneling that knowledge to us via CSSA.

This is a personal blow for me, but I want every person who can now talk to their doctor about FM, CMP, IBS, Sjogrens and other conditions without feeling like a mental case to give credit, and thanks to this hard-working, generous, genius of a woman.

It is time to let her rest and be taken care of, but dammit, if I have anything to say about it she will be thought of as a champion, a loyal friend and dominant force in the fight against an uneducated system that refused to look for answers until public outcry backed them into a corner. Nancy stood at the front of that mob, using her phone and computers like an electronic megaphone.

I thank you and I love you Nancy. My world is better because you are in it.

c2012 Jane Kohler

The unlikely, perfect gift.

Have you ever thought about passing on a treasured relic to a friend or new addition to your family, only to hesitate, feeling they will find the gift lame and devoid of imagination. Or worse yet, that you don’t care, or know enough about them to find a perfect gift? I mean, what kind of smuck gives someone a used item?

I used to feel this way. My kid doesn’t want the watch I have treasured since the death of their grandparent, right? You would never give an old, used item to a new son or daughter-in-law, they may see you in a bad light. That was how I felt before I was given the best, old, used gift I could have received.

It was 1986. I had been in a relationship with a man I met at work for three years. As a divorced woman with two children I feared his family viewed me a someone looking for a meal ticket, despite the fact that I held down a job in hospital management. A meal ticket can mean more than money, it can mean medical insurance, better homes, cars, food and free babysitting. I truly loved this man, wanting nothing more than time together. I loved his parents also, they were the most down to earth, kindest people I had met in a long time. However I never had a handle on their feelings for me.

That changed Christmas day, 1986. I must explain that I collect Santa Claus’s, all types, all sizes. Our blended family was gathered at our house. We ate, talked, laughed and played with the children. After dinner we retired to the living room to exchange gifts. My future mother-in-law pointed to a gift under the tree she wanted me to open. I tried to whisk it off the floor but hesitated when it proved to be much too heavy to lift with one hand. Once the package was wrestled into place I swallowed as I tore open the paper. I felt my jaw fall south when I realized the box contained a cast iron, Santa cake mold I had seen displayed in my future mom-in-laws home. She told me that it had been her mothers, and then hers and she wanted me to have it in the home I was building for her son and her grandchildren. Double whammy! She not only thought enough of me to hand down this mold, she called my kids, from a previous marriage, her “grand kids!” That simple, used gift gave me more than an object, it gave me love and acceptance.

Years later, I received an odd gift from my own mother, it was a large, brass key, one I recognized as being the sole key to the door of the farmhouse I grew up in. A new lock had been added to the door but that large key still turned the ancient tumblers nestled in the door. She told me she wanted to make sure I “always” felt that I was able to return home, no matter what, I also had a copy of the key to open the new lock. It wasn’t a new Ipod, or piece of expensive clothing, but I cherished it more than any other gift that year.

Fast forward to 2011. My son has been in a long-term relationship with a woman we adore. They have two children together but are unable to marry as they would lose medical insurance for the children. It took a long time for his gal to warm up to us, at times I wondered if we could find ways to bond. As time ticked by I learned more about her likes and dislikes. I love her parenting style, she oozes loves for her children and does whatever necessary for their well-being. She looks out for, and worries over my son.

Recently, long after the tree has been taken down, the tinsel tossed and gift wrap cleaned up, she sent her oldest son in the house with a bag, whispering to him to give it to me. It is piece of statuary in the shape of a snowman that sports the logo of my football team. I was touched, it wasn’t an expensive gift, at this time of year it may have been in a discount bin, but it mattered. She tied in my love of the holidays and my favorite team. She had gotten to know me in her own way, even though she didn’t vocalize it. This simple snowman gave me, once again, the gift of acceptance. The fact that she thought enough about me to not only choose this item, but decorate it in tissue and put it in a fancy bag filled me with love. I see great things ahead for me and my daughter-in-law.

So don’t hesitate to give a loved one a treasured bowl, vase, book or anything else that is important to you. It will make them feel valued, trusted and accepted. Gifts you can’t buy in a store, but ones that will build a strong family.