Sunday, June 28, 2009

I Have a Dog

(( Sigh. )) I have a dog. I did not plan to have a dog. I did not want a dog, but there it is: I have a dog.
I have fallen off the no-pet wagon. My name is Erin and I am a bad owner.
The two dogs I had as a kid thrived only because of my dog-loving mom. Later, as a mom myself, I tried my hand at dog ownership several times,stupidly thinking that the responsibility would be good for my daughters, but, oh no, I am not my mom. When the girls neglected to feed or bathe or brush or clean up messes, I hollered, "It's not my dog!" The dogs never stayed for long.
The best thing that a non-dog person can do for the canine world is admit failure and forever resist the temptation of puppies being given away on the side of the road.
For years, I stayed clean. No dogs.
Then we rescued Bianca for Maura. From November to May, they were best friends. Maura took good care of Bianca (way better dog owner at 22 than at 8), even when suffering the effects of chemo, and Bianca responded by loving Maura with pure doggy love.
Maura willed Bianca to me. Uh-oh.
When Maura died, Bianca mourned. She didn't eat much. She moped.
After a few weeks she chose me. At first it was subtle. I'd notice that she would be lying at my feet, or she might hover at the door of my room. Now she follows me from room to room. As soon as she hears me, she runs to greet me, then flops over on her back, waiting for a belly rub. It doesn't matter if she saw me five minutes ago, it's the same routine. But she's bad. No amount of The Dog Whisperer has changed her. She frolics in the weeds and returns covered in green stickers that I have to pull out one by one. She chases cats and squirrels and big dogs and little dogs. She rolls around in poop-scented mud. She eats poop and then licks me. She is gross.
But I like her better than I've liked any dog before. I care for her and care about her. She reminds me of Maura. Darn. Now what am I going to do?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Danielle's birthday and Maura's birthday. Back to back. They would have had the same birthday had I gone with my gut feeling way back when.
Twenty-three years ago, on Danielle's birthday, I woke up with a jolt at 3 a.m. and thought, "Something is wrong." My ninth month of pregnancy with my third child, and this premonition was the first and only one of its kind for me. I had never had any of those airy-fairy feelings or sense of communication with my unborn children that you hear about in baby magazines. I talked to my babies, but they never talked back. So, I disregarded the jolt and went back to sleep.
Later that morning, I couldn't shake the feeling of wrongness, but we were celebrating Danielle's birthday, and it was Sunday, and I wasn't experiencing any weird symptoms, and I had an appointment with the doctor the next morning anyway.
Fast forward twenty-four hours. Dr. Leff said everything looked, felt, and sounded great...but since I had this feeeeeling, she would send me over to the hospital for a fetal monitor test.
Guess who failed the test. Big time. Her heart rate looked more like a sonar map of ocean valleys instead of an ekg strip. My body was no longer a safe place for her, so Maura was born. Turned out she had the cord wrapped around her neck three times. Mother Nature would push her head down, choking off the blood supply, and she would bounce back up. Maura had a strong will to live from the very beginning.

This year, Danielle's birthday celebration was muted, but went off without a hitch. Family, friends, a funny movie, and dinner out. It was a good day. She is a sweet, beautiful, talented daughter, and she deserves happiness. Next year, her birthday will be easier.
Maura's birthday. Rocky.
It wasn't a wallowing day. It was a furious day. Fury and tears. I cleaned like a madwoman, attacking the floor with my broom and mop, scrubbing the sink as if it were stained with blood. Joel spoke. I lashed out. He retreated. Smart man.
I finally, finally, sorted through some miscellaneous bags that we brought home from the hospital. Some clothes, some toiletries, an unread book, deck of cards, Maura's Dynamo shirt, hand-signed by six players who visited her a couple days before she came home to hospice care (eat your heart out, Jerusha). I wonder if they know that she has died.
In the evening, I managed to pull it together for company. Friends came over for game night to celebrate Maura's birthday. Food and fun and friends and a little competition. All good. I like how every game night we bring out ten games and always end up playing Catch Phrase.
And the day ended with conversation and the four of us together, not quite willing to go to bed, even though we were falling asleep on the couch. All good.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day

We started the day with our traditional breakfast in bed for the honoree. Lydia and I were feeling particularly Brazilian (one of us by birth and the other by marriage) last night, so we bought lots of fruit, including papaya, mango, carambola, and blueberries. Okay, so blueberries aren't Brazilian, but so what? We made an avocado milkshake, verrrrry strong coffee, and served him hot bread with butter and queso fresco, which is the closest we could find to queijo minas. We also served him orange juice with champagne, which also may not be Brazilian, but, again, so what?
Lydia took Joel to an early movie, a guy movie. And we relaxed for an afternoon of soccer channel hopping between the Italy/Brazil game and the USA/Egypt game. Miraculously, USA made it to the next round, with a lot of help from Brazil. USA and Brazil both won their games 3-0. I hope it wasn't Father's Day in Egypt or Italy. After picking up Danielle from the airport, we saw another movie, but poor Joel was so tired, he fell asleep in the theatre.
We didn't talk about Maura today, but we thought about her a lot. I know we all did.
Today is the first of three special days in a row that will be hard for the whole family. Sunday, Father's Day; Monday, Danielle's birthday; and Tuesday, Maura's birthday. We miss her, but we managed to celebrate today, and we will celebrate tomorrow and Tuesday as well. It will be difficult, but, oh, well.
Joel is the best father in the world. He has loved his girls for thirty years. This past year he selflessly let me stay home with Maura while he continued to work, even though he would rather have been at Maura's side, too. I got the better end of that deal. He read to Maura almost every night. He cried and prayed for his daughter daily. And when she was close to dying, he held her in his arms, unable to hold back the tears. He is strong for the rest of us, and reminds us that she is in no more pain, that we will one day be reunited, and that she is happier now than we can ever imagine.

Friday, June 19, 2009

That Mom

Today marks one month that Maura died.

Kathy sent me a beautiful post, written about a year ago by another grieving mother.

In some ways it explains what I feel, but better. I identify with being "that Mom." I am the mom that no one wants to be, that gives every other mom pause, that reminds them of what they know but occasionally forget to cherish.
In other important ways, her story is different.
I do not feel the bitterness that she feels. I am not bitter at all--something I attribute to a faith in God deeper than I knew I possessed.
I also think that having a year to absorb the reality of Maura's situation made death less shocking than it was for the mom in this post and others whose children are taken suddenly and/or violently.
And I had 22, almost 23 years. She had but two.
Michael Gartner, former head of NBC news, retells the story of a phone call from Tim Russert, shortly after Gartner's 17-year-old son died.

Christopher was one of my sons, and he idolized Tim. Christopher died in 1994, at age 17, from an initial attack of juvenile diabetes. I had left NBC by then, but within hours of Christopher's death the phone rang at home in Des Moines. It was Russert.

I was in tears, and he seemed to be, too. He expressed his deep sorrow, and then he said:"Look, if God had come to you 17 years ago and said, 'I'll make you a bargain. I'll give you a beautiful, wonderful, happy and healthy kid for 17 years, and then I'll take him away, you would have made that deal in a second."

He was right, of course, that was the deal. I just didn't know it.


I've loved that story of Tim Russert for years, never thinking I would apply it to my own experience. But that's how I feel. I am thankful for the 22 years, wishing I had more. I just didn't know that was the deal.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Come get your dishes. You brought meals after Maura died, but I don't know who you are, and I don't know how to get your dishes back to you. A piece of clear tape dangles from the bottom of one green glass bowl, so I figure that at least one of you intended to use your dish again. Unfortunately, the name on the tape has washed out.
Thank you all for the food. You were so very kind to think of our practical needs at a time when we couldn't, and I am very grateful.
Many people came and went in our home before and after Maura's death, and we all needed to eat.
I can't remember. Really, I can't recall one specific meal for the whole month of May, except for the hams. It's all pretty much a blur, so please forgive me. I try to recall specific events from the last couple of weeks in the hospital, from the few days of hospice care, from the memorial service, and from the days before and after the service, and I find myself looking at a tapestry with glaring moth-eaten holes and incomplete stories. It doesn't upset me. It's just weird.
We are all grieving and healing in our own way.
One of Maura's friends is having nightmares. I wish I knew how to help her. The internet has given me an armful of suggestions, all of which I hope to pass on to her soon.
Even though the following link refers specifically to holidays, I found the suggestions helpful for everyday healing.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Today I received a beautiful card from a friend with a photo of sunflowers. The card reminded me of Maura. I had a sunflower charm and an M charm placed on the same link of Maura's charm bracelet, which I inherited, and then did the same for her sisters' bracelets. I told myself that I would now be able to take off the rubber bracelets that I've been wearing--the yellow LIVESTRONG bracelet given to Maura by a cancer survivor, and the teal-colored LIVE TEAL bracelet that her friends had made for her. But Kitty said I should find someone to pass them on to, someone who might need a little more strength to get through another cancer day.
I found out today that the young (20's) son of a colleague has just been diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma. I think I'll pass my bracelets on to him and to his mom. Even though teal is supposed to be the color for ovarian cancer and yellow is supposed to be for sarcoma, I don't think it matters. Nobody's going to think he has ovarian cancer.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Nicole is bringing salmon and vegetables. Jessica brings me fresh veggie trays. Judy calls me for bike rides. Joni signed me up for pilates. This is comfort in 2009. This is friendship in 2009. Everyone making sure that I treat myself kindly so that I can recover in both body and spirit. Hello. Doesn't anyone make cheesecakes anymore?
Or ham?
Actually, I did get three or four real hams right after Maura died. Joni wrote in her blog that it is the ham that gets you in the door. The ham is how one can wordlessly express love to those who are grieving because words are oh so inadequate. The ham gently pushes me, the griever, to have human contact and relate in some way to the outside world.
Pilates, bike rides, salmon, and veggies are the new hams.
They are the hams for those of us with high cholesterol, high blood sugar and high blood pressure. Actually, I like to refer to them as Hi, Cholesterol; Hi, Blood Sugar; and Hi, Blood Pressure to indicate the friendly way in which I have welcomed them into my life in the last year or two.

Hey, I cracked a joke. I think that's progress.

Monday, June 8, 2009


I can't help but mark time in relationship to Maura. One week since she died, two weeks, and tomorrow it will be three.
Or the firsts: First week without having to go even once to MD Anderson. First trip to the market without Maura, first meal I fix without Maura, first trip to the mall, first bike ride in the park.
My visiting sister and brother made sure that I had one contact with the outside world per day and that I ate healthy food.
A first: Today marked the first day without anyone at home besides Danielle (Joel went to work). We still had a couple of visitors, but no one sleeping here to make sure that we get up, get dressed, and eat. So today, maybe as a sort of rebellion, I stayed in bed until very late, didn't change clothes, and ate nothing but fruit roll-ups. I watched videos of Maura. I cried. And I wallowed. There has to be wallowing. I have covered myself in the thick mire of sorrow and just spent time in that mud hole letting myself feel the weight of my loss. And it hurts so good.
Today marked another first: the first day we did not receive a condolence card in the mail. For three weeks I've secretly looked forward to the mail, immediately throwing down bills and catalogs, and grasping at the telltale envelopes containing so many kind words. Even the mailman expressed his condolences. He said he could tell by all the cards coming in that we had had a death in the family. The stack of opened cards and letters on the desk has grown tall. I can't remember who sent them or what they said, but I remember that the handwritten signatures or handwritten words provided a measure of comfort. Note to self: Always, always, always send a note of sympathy. It may not be remembered later on, but for that one moment, I can provide comfort to someone who is grieving.
So, now that the cards have stopped, what do I do? Is that my signal to pick myself up by my bootstraps and get on with life? If it is, I'm not listening--not yet. I don't even know what bootstraps are.
I need a few more wallowings. Maybe at a subsequent wallowing I can re-read the sympathy cards.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Maura's Story on Channel 13-- click here

Click on the title of this blog entry to get to the Channel 13 story and video.
I don't know why I am having trouble embedding this video, too. But the ABC Channel 13 story about Maura was very well done. Reporter Christi Myers put together video clips of Maura performing the role of Mabel in Pirates of Penzance just one week before discovering that she had a tumor, interview clips with her doctor, her sisters, and mom and dad, a piece of the graduation, and footage of Maura while she was in the hospital, just days before her death. Best of all, sarcoma was mentioned by name and Dr. B. was shown talking about the difficulty of getting funds for research to find a cure. He spoke very kindly of Maura. I was glad they put that part in there as well.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Maura's Memorial Service

Here are links to Maura's memorial service. It's long--so long that the tape ran out and Carlos had to put another one in. My thanks to Carlos for putting this on his server so Maura's friends and relatives that could not be here have an opportunity to see it, and for having the foresight to record the service. Definitely, it is not the same as having been there--that day, that hour has no equal.

the first link is 1 hr, the second approx. 20 min.