Friday, June 19, 2015

A Velvet Bonnet for Agnes

My bonnet-pattern testing phase is still going, although often interrupted by other things. I was blazing away on this project when mom died, so I've only just gotten back to finishing it.  One of my friends from the ORS (she now leads in the WRS group) asked that I make her a bonnet/hat with a triangular top. She asked me this eons ago when I made another one that ended up being super small. She sent me all the supplies for covering and decorating, and it idled on top of my bedroom closet for months.

But finally, when I made the capote bonnet, I decided since I had everything else out, I would go ahead and design this bonnet for her.

The basic frame, assembled. I started with a paper mock up, then a
poster-board model. I used that to cut the buckram.
I wired both ends of the pipe and the outer edge of the brim.
I then shaped the wire into a triangle. Carefully.

I cut the top cap accordingly. Don't mind the small photo-bomber.

It's a little big on the head, which is a good thing. The last one barely fit
her, so that was a problem. LOL.

I put bias tape on the edge of the brim and the top of the hat to avoid
any unsightly wire eventually wearing through.

I hand sewed everything, but for this part, I did cheat and used
rubber cement to affix it there. Sue me.

I then added mulling. I whip stitched most of it in place. I lined the
outer bonnet. 
Then it was just a matter of covering and decorating it.  Agnes sent me some velvet, some moire ribbon that was really wide, some pale slate blue ribbon, an assortment of feathers, and some embroidered thistles.  I tried to use everything in a tasteful way.

I made the feathers into a separate bundle with a ribbon base that can be pinned to the hat, or removed as desired. There is a lovely black ostrich feather, and several small peacock feathers. 

I made some cockades wherein I added little pouffes made from the embroidered thistle.

The most time-consuming bit was the line on the inside of the brim. It is a line of the same ribbon, which frayed. I then stitched a little silver border along both sides to neaten it up. The silver is also repeated in the ruched ribbon chevron on the front of the bonnet.

If I hadn't run out of the blue riboon, I might have taken the ruching
all the way 'round the back between the two cockades too.

You can see, the feathers can be removed.

It's difficult to see, but the inner brim is ruched. I lined the inside of the
hat with the wide moire ribbon, which is black.

All in all, I think it's a lovely bonnet. I kept it simpler, because it is the kind of bonnet you want to add stuff to. I hope Agnes likes it. She waited long enough for it. Sorry Agnes. :)  I think this pattern is a win. I might do several top-shape options on it, as well as a variety of brim-styles.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Project 365 - 141 to 160

The year rolls on at what seems to be an impossible speed. These photos begin the morning my mother died. They conclude in a period of calm; slipping back into normality.

141/365 - This was taken the morning of my mother's passing. It was after
we had breakfast. This tulip was just gorgeous, following the curve of
the barrel.

142/365 - Alex, exhausted, falls asleep on Auntie Neenee.

143/365 - Sunday, my mom's memorial.
Alex and his auntie again.

144/365 - Taking mom's things away.

145/365 - Aunt Rosa, my mom's sister made ribs
on Monday. We had a nice dinner.

146/365 - Taking my sister to the airport.
We took an obligatory PDX selfie, since
soon, that hideous rug will be gone.

147/365 - My mom's apartment -- emtpy.
The desolation of it is so jarring.
One minute you're here, the next, the
rooms are empty.

148/365 - Alex passed out with Simon

149/365 - my beautiful son.

150/365 - Peonies at the Sandy farmer's

151/365 - One of the wriggly residents of Johanesen Cottage

152/365- Bunnyface. One of my
receiving blanket critters.

153/365 - Glass texture

154/365 - Open sign

155/365 - scrubby cat

156/365 - Alex discovers the baby carriages at
Trader Joe's

157/365 - A tiny sugary universe

158/365 - Tabletop

159/365 - My specs

160/365 - Skirted Tetra, giving me the stink-eye

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Whole Truth

Whenever I was around people who were close to my mom (there were many; she spent a great deal of her energy making sure people liked her; it was her main function in life), I have for most of my life, felt the need to defend myself to people who’ve never met me. It was either that, or I was compelled to apologize on her behalf. It’s who I became because of mom.  She was beloved by many. Even people she treated like shit; including me in some cases.

My mom gained their esteem and friendship by painting herself to be someone she never was. You see, my mom may have been one of the One Thousand Points of Light, and she might have advocated for the needy. She even got in trouble doing some work for the Massachusetts DHS, when she brought a baby home because the mother was neglecting it and she couldn’t get anyone to respond. It wasn’t unusual, as kids, to come home from school to find some random person living in our home; some young person she found panhandling for money by the metro in Brussels to fund their continued journey. She brought home Irish kids, Scottish kids, Americans, Brits… she brought them home like strays, and fed them, and cared for them, and sent them along with money so they weren’t lost in this world, or alone.  On the outside she was fucking amazing.

My mom also spent a lot of time telling people terrible things about us. Whomever was ‘bad ranger’ at the time, she would rip to shreds. So when we met her friends, whichever target child she’d maligned would be received with a sneer of disdain and disapproval from complete strangers.  This happened a great deal to me in these last years. All her little biddies, they glare at me because I am in their estimation, based on my mother’s words, the antichrist.  Yet this antichrist still marched in as much as she could to pay attention to the old lady, and spend time with her—and more importantly, to allow her to spend time with Alex.

One of the former employees of the care facility told me that I was her favourite. That she spoke well of me all the time, and not of my other sisters. But several of her senior friends had different opinions. So it’s impossible to tell. It’s impossible to know exactly what she said and to whom. It really doesn’t matter, but it is a mark of her character that has always irked me. All those people that showed up at her memorial adored her. They all had such nice things to say about her. Of course they did. She was who she wanted them to think she was.

But I’ve talked about the flip side. The stuff people don’t know about. And as I process the loss of my mother, I am brought back to those things; which, because of their negative aspects, arrive in my memory with clarity and vividness few memories share.  I had convinced myself at the very beginning of this period that I would let it all go with her. That it would fade away now that the source is gone. As if by clipping away the trunk of the invasive plant, its suckers would wither and die. But the truth is the truth. And I have to accept that my mother was not a good person. And I carry a great deal of guilt for feeling that, because of all the good she has done, and the moments she was good to us.

The last time I took my mother to visit my little brother John, this was just before my anxiety issues kicked in and I could still just drive wherever I pleased without having a nervous breakdown; my mother entered the residential home where my brother is cared for. He, as always, was slumped in a sofa chair, his thumb and index finger pressed firmly in his eye sockets, sleeping.  His hair, kept short and manageable, his clothes stretched across his round belly, his five o’clock shadow and thick eyebrows so reminiscent of my father. She went to him, and kissed his face, and he dropped his hand and looked at her. With a grunt of acknowledgement, he waved his hand and put his fingers back over his eyes. She’d spend about ten minutes telling the caretakers what sacrifices she made for him, and then turn to me and say: Okay, let’s go.  Then in the car, she would apply all the strategies for me to take her shopping somewhere on the way back.

John is a product of extreme neglect coupled with diligent care. As a child, my parents enrolled him in an intern program with the Belgian school system; where he stayed for two weeks, with a home visit every other weekend, and a parental visit on the others.  He attended a stellar school, with amazing teachers who were trained beautifully to work with severely developmentally disabled children and young adults. When he was there, he had structure, he was happy and he could communicate.

My mom never learned sign language. She never had us learn it. Nobody in my family did. Yet we have a brother who is deaf. He was absent more than he was home. Which was a good thing, because when he was home, my mother was in no way equipped to  provide proper care for him. She could barely manage her non-disabled children as it was.

When John got home, he was promptly locked in his tiny bedroom to spend the entire weekend in the dark, with only brief breaks for food and hygiene.  He was so frustrated sometimes, he broke things. Even windows. His room had been a nursery, so it had a window inside that was viewable from the corridor upstairs, and then an outside window. He smashed both of them. And they were both boarded up like a shanty house. He smeared his feces on the walls. He would scream in frustration and fling himself against the door.  As kids, we all had to listen to it, and feel the depth of misery for it, but were powerless to do anything about it. To this day, none of us can talk about it without a profound painful sense of guilt and anger. At ourselves and at mom. We were kids, we know it wasn’t our fault, but it doesn’t help to appease that pain.

My dad was noticeably silent on the matter. I don’t know exactly what he felt about this. But there were some pretty hellacious fights over him, many that came to blows. My father resented my mother insisting on having him, when she was presented the choice and told that the child was abnormal. She wanted her son. It was paramount to her, even if it meant she would neglect him for his entire life. When it came to the parental visits to my brother’s school on the odd weekends, my mother never went. It was my father who went and spent the day with him.

When my mother took up with her lover Omar, who would turn out to be my molester, there was one good thing that came from that, and that was Omar’s unease about this situation. Even a child molester couldn’t deal with it. So when my dad was working, or away, he was often there, and he would take John out of his room, feed him, play with him, and pay attention to him. Part of the reason why I accepted Omar to be how he was with me was because I loved him for the care he gave my brother. In a childhood where trusting adults was a dangerous game, there was this one little shimmering good thing next to so many terrible things.

When my mom decided out of the blue that she wanted to return to the US, a several years after Omar killed himself, she got my father to agree, and within a month of this decision, which was not imparted to anyone, even me until the day before the flight (not kidding) we were moving back to the states after 20 years. She left John behind. She also abandoned our saddle club with horses still in the stalls.  She abandoned a lot of things.

It took several weeks to even get her to acknowledge that something had to be done about John. She flew back to Brussels and disappeared for several more weeks. When I called the school, they said they hadn’t even heard from her.  Hunting her down was a task and half. I had to go through a friend of a friend of a friend, cross-Atlantic call after call. When I tracked her down, she was sofa surfing at a friend’s house, partying in Brussels and hadn’t even gone to see John. I talked to her briefly, and she finally said she was going to come home with John.

I was worried the moment we arrived in the US, because I was not familiar with the social services nor with what sort of options could be had for a young adult like John. I discussed it with my dad, who was ambivalent and unhelpful. And when mom got there, I started researching places, and her response was “I DON’T WANT HIM IN AN INSTITUTION!”  All I could foresee was a repeat of those weekends of John locked away in a room.  It was a worry that came to fruition in many ways.

While in New England, John rarely if never left the house. They took him to a doctor to have him medicated, and my brother spent his days both furiously bashing down the house or sleeping. His care became my responsibility on the most part. I lived in that house until I was 27—my entire life crammed into  a small bedroom with a locked door while my mom went around being one of a Thousand Points of Light, and spent her evenings carousing with a bunch of crusty old men at a membership club bar.  When my dad retired, he took over the medication and bathing of John, and I did the housework.  When I decided to move out and get my own life, there was a meltdown in the family that went as far afield as my eldest brother, from whom I had not heard for over a decade—he was sure to call and chastise me for ‘leaving daddy with everything’.

But leave I did. It wasn’t a total split, until I moved to Oregon. I still went there. I still cleaned the kitchen and did laundry or it would just pile up on the floor in mounds. I still cooked holiday meals. I still went there and put up a Christmas tree for John, because if I didn’t nobody would.

I often feel my leaving New Hampshire is what caused the final spiral of my mother and father’s home life.  Perhaps, I even took part in my father giving up entirely on everything. At least that’s my theory. Because the light in his eyes was so faded the last time I spoke to him face to face and he was lucid. There are members of my family who still think I was selfish to leave—spoken while they nestled in the lushness of their full and meaningful lives, jobs and families.

John’s care went downhill, naturally. My battle to get him cared for by the state was lost. My mom’s idea of feeding him a good meal was to microwave him a burrito or bring him Burger King. The laundry in the laundry room was knee high when my husband went to clean out the house. The place was disgusting. I cannot even begin to describe how disgusting, but if you watch Hoarders, the really dirty episodes, you’d have the right idea.

When she arrived with Dad, and dad died so soon afterwards, I watched John’s appearance worsen. His nails were like talons, his beard was like a homeless person; he stunk, she never bathed him. She would drug him with old, out-dated medications so he would sleep most of the day, and she would leave him alone there so she could go shopping. Her house quickly became a disgusting shambles. Her health failed.

She ended up in the hospital, and she would be there for some time. It was the opportunity I needed, so I swooped in with the county and got John into care. And from that point on, for the first time in many years, I was able to go a day without worrying about John.  I visited him to find him shaven and clean, he’s in a day program, he’s got a routine, he eats well, he’s in clean clothes, his nails are trimmed, he’s going to a doctor, he saw a dentist for the first time in his life, he is by all standards as good as he can be.  Some things are too late. Diabetes, the blindness, his failing body. But he is okay.

My mother loved to cry about how I didn’t take her down to see him. I did; many times. But it was never a good visit. It was tedium for her. I’d drive twenty five miles one way so she could say after four minutes of telling the caregivers how amazing she was for John, “Okay, let’s go.” I got tired of it. It was just a way to get me to take her to Marshalls or Ross or Payless. For her to add to her newly growing hoard, and to abuse me miserably with accusations and nastiness. 

Finally, last year, she was in a particularly rankled mood, sour as vinegar the moment I arrived. I said: “Hey, let’s go see John. “


“You know, your son…?” I replied, irritated. She sighed wearily and rolled her eyes.

“All he does is sit. And I don’t have money for shopping. Your sister never sends me money…” and she went on to talk shit about my sister.  At that point, I decided I was done with taking her to see John. If she had the desire to do it, she could talk to the facility people and arrange a ride herself.

John is only one of the difficult things I have to hold on to because of her. Her predilection to abandon things, and leave me with the detritus was another—and then her subsequent blaming of me for the failure. She did it several times before I was even 20. 

If I hadn’t managed her books and payroll at her ‘successful’ temp business which was recognized by senators and the like, she would owe Massachusetts so much money, it boggles the mind to try and even imagine how much.  When I left for Oregon and quit that job, she closed the business down a few months later, owing about $70,000 in taxes.

She liked the beginnings of things. She left the aftermath to me. I accepted it, why? I don’t know. For the vain hope that she would realize I was there for her and show me a little respect? Who the hell knows?

I have so much unresolved anger towards her. How tempted I was to just tell her all those things when she was half-paralyzed, but still there. I could have. But instead, I am going to try to kiss it all up to the universe as they say. Write it down, and put the truth out there, so I can know that at least someone knows she wasn’t by any means the saint she painted herself to be. That all those ‘sacrifices (sah-kree-faysus as she pronounced it)’ she claims to have made, were not by any means selfless. Everything came with a price. Psychological interest, as I used to call it.

Did I love my mom? Absolutely. Did she love me? I suppose in whatever capacity she was capable of, yes, I think she did. She even may have loved John.  But mom wasn’t really able to love the way normal people love. She did not love herself, and that is the root of it. Her utter dissatisfaction with her own being is what spurred her forward every day.

It's hard, but I try to understand her.  Her self-reproach, the way any criticism of her would invoke wrath and a lifelong grudge. The way she would write people off, good people, and give value to the biggest losers on the planet.  She was who she was.  She was good, she was bad, she was an asshole, and a glorious woman.

Once, back in NH, a little bit before I moved to Oregon, I was met my mom at a shopping center in Salem to pick her up and drive her somewhere. She pulled up next to me and parked, locked up her car and was getting into my car, when I noticed a couple of teenage girls standing by a car with their doors and trunk open. They were pulling out empty bags of junk food, cups, garbage and all sorts of other debris and brazenly tossing it onto the parking lot.

“Oh my god! What little assholes!” I exclaimed.  My mom’s small eyes locked onto them, her lips tightened into a straight, hard line, and she wordlessly slid out of the car and slammed the door.

I watched her blaze across the parking lot like a bull, and I could not hear, but I could see her just losing it on these teenagers. She stood there, all 5 foot 2” of her, arms flailing, hands slashing, and the girls cowering back with each spittle-laden expletive that came out of her mouth.

The girls, to my astonishment, started collecting their trash. They gathered it up and threw it back into the car. Mom stood by like this angry bastion until every last piece was back in the vehicle. She then remained until they got back into their car and drove away. As they passed us on the main road, they flipped her the bird, which she responded to by blowing them a kiss. I swear I saw their heads exploding. Well, maybe not, but still, it was possible.  She got back into the car, put on her seatbelt and looked at me expectantly.

“Well? What are you doing staring at me? Let’s go already!” she snapped.  I did exactly as she asked, and put the car in reverse. My relationship with mom was like that. It was a roller coaster ride of gloriously brilliant moments followed by belly-flopping pits of negativity.

At least she wasn't boring.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Seeking order again

A family death has a way of throwing your life into chaos, while also freezing things into a sort of suspended animation. Your life becomes filled with what amount to tedious tasks, while your normal life, your home, and everything else is put on hold; left as it is, so you can deal with the things that come alongside a death.

My mom's passing was, by most standards, an easy one.  She did linger a bit, but not too long. We had a memorial for her last Sunday at her Assisted Living facility; and there were hordes of people there. She had her stroke on Sunday, she was actually present for Sunday night and Monday. She had to be medicated for pain as the brain bleed increased pressure in her skull, and so she was pretty much non-present from Tuesday, when my sister arrived, to Thursday, when she passed away.

Hello Auntie. This is kid. Where is you at?

My sister has regrets, not being able to speak to her while she was still responsive. I had lots of things to say to my mom, some things that would have been hurtful and painful, but the fact of the matter is, she was dying, and it isn't about me. And I would not have felt good sending her off to her eternal rest with negativity weighing her down.

I'm not sure how I feel, honestly. I spent the week going in and out of emotional spikes and lows. I found that sorting through her stuff was particularly difficult, because one can see how the sum of a person can be represented so well by what they leave behind. The culmination of her hopes and her in some cases, her delusions.

We found many RMLS real estate listings scattered in with her papers. We found a pile of fabric 18 inches tall, bought for all the projects she never got to. There was one piece of fabric she'd cut into some kind of mumu.

Cycling down at Aunt Rosa's house on Monday.
My sister and I spent more time laughing about things. We'd fall into brief spates of tears, but they never lasted very long.  My last cry was on Sunday at the memorial. With all those people there, it was hard not to become overwhelmed. Seeing Irene cry because my mom was her best friend. Hearing people speak with amusement at her volatile spirit. And hearing how she touched so many people in a positive way. Hell, even the lady she abused most horribly stood up and spoke so beautifully about how my mother challenged and stretched her, and how no matter how harsh she was with her, that she could not help but respect her.

My aunt, with whom I have not spoken in years, came as well. And it was an opportunity to heal that rift that was purposefully widened by my mother's manipulative games of speaking negatively about one while visiting the other.  We had dinner with them on Monday and had a cleansing discussion about mom. And my aunt made an observation that sort of stuck with me.

"I thought a great deal about how your mother was such an innovator. How much she gave back; how much she loved. Her lifetime was dedicated to doing for others and being creative and social.  And then I thought about why she was the way she was when it came to family and her children, and it made me think that my sister may have had a touch of madness."

Aunt Rosa, encouraging the little ones
in maximum brattiness.
If you look at the description of a person with Borderline Personality Disorder, my mom is textbook. We had some family friends in Brussels who both practiced Psychology/Psychiatry and I remember her telling my father once that my mom showed he classic symptoms of this way back in 1988 or so. I was reading a thing about Mommy Dearest when I stumbled across the term again. I sent it to my sisters. My sister Anna is also convinced this is the case.

My mom was always an ass. A sociable, lovable ass. When she became full on bitter and intolerable is when she first had her mini-strokes back in 2004 or so.  She was almost impossible to deal with from that moment on if you were family, or one of her chosen targets. For some at the memorial, they knew only good things about her and for many, they knew both her dark and miserable side and her creative and brilliant side.

A part of me will miss my mom. Like I said in my note to her in the last post, I will miss the good moments, few and far between as they were. I'll miss her creativity. And the moments when she was relaxed and laughing.  But I do not miss being treated badly, I do not miss being spoken to with cruelty while I was going out of my way for someone who clearly did not deserve my attention.

Alex, all dressed up for the memorial.
The one thing that stood out at the memorial is how my sister's, my aunt's and my little talks sort of melded together beautifully in spite of being written separately.  I will post them down here so you can understand better who my mom was in life, before her strokes; and why so many people love and respected her. She was a community builder, an entrepreneur. She loved the beginnings of things. I mostly dealt with the trail of unfinished and abandoned things she left behind. But let's not focus on that. Let's focus on who she was.  We'll start with my sister's speech:

June first would have been my mom’s 77th birthday. Some say too young to die, but she lived a hugely full life. Myrta, Marty, Mom, Mama; she was known by a couple of names, but by so many roles in her lifetime. My mom touched so many people.
You may just know her as the cantankerous grey-haired lady at Avamere, but she was so much more.She worked at the US Embassy in Belgium; hobnobbed with diplomats and was constantly recognized for her community building.

She founded and ran a very successful minority employment agency in one of Massachusetts’ toughest towns and was recognized by Ted Kennedy and John Kerry for her outstanding work. She was a 120 pound maverick that fought hard and fierce for the underdog.
She wasn’t always the most nurturing mother, but she taught us to be smart, how to laugh infectiously, to take on new challenges without fear and most of all, how to be empathetic and compassionate to animals and humans alike.
As her eldest child, we butted heads, laughed until we cried but always had a strong connection. I wish her peace, and know she will always be with me. I love you Mom.

Then there's my letter to mom. It's an expansion of my original one.

When I was in the sixth grade, during a presentation during school, a student passed me a note. I replied with a note that said: Stop writing notes.  As I slid it back towards her, I felt five fingers dig into my arm. I was yanked out of my chair, and the vice principal proceeded to scold me, and tell me some pretty nasty things. 
Every day, I waited for mom to pick me up. She was a bit late that day. I was so upset by the event with the vice principal; I was huddled by the guard-shack, away from the school, where nobody would see me. Mom pulled up in her huge oldsmobile. It was a land yacht.  She pulled up and I climbed into the car. I was cowed and sullen. She started driving down the road. Then she noticed how quiet I was, and how I was holding my hand on my upper arm. 
“What’s wrong?” she asked me. I did not reply. Her hand snaked up in a flash and she pulled my hand away and her eyes popped wide and turned hot white with fire when she saw the five clear bruises on my arm. The Oldsmobile came to a screeching stop, and she asked me between clenched teeth what had happened. 
I told her in a tremulous voice, unable to look at her burning eyes.  
I’m not sure what the turning radius is on an early 80s Oldsmobile sedan, but I think my mom might have broken some laws of physics that day.  That car wheeled around and the motor roared, and it it was lurching to a stop in front of the school in what seemed to be no time flat. 
Without a word, leaving the car running, she stormed out of the car.  I followed to the lobby.
I wasn’t allowed in the administrative office, but I could hear the screaming from outside. I could also make out some pretty explicit language. 
The next day, the Vice Principal of the school personally apologized to me, and from that day forward, never made eye contact with me again. 
My mom could be a pain in the ass, but my mom could also be glorious. 
No matter what our relationships were over the years, my mom was always ready to lock horns on our behalf at any time. No matter where we are in our lives, when we needed help, she was there. That was my mom. 
She wasn’t just strong willed. She got what she wanted. She fought like a gladiator for what she believed in. She faced off with people twice her size and just as fierce and came out on top more times than I can count. That tiny little woman was a warrior. She was endlessly creative, endlessly filled with ideas and energy. She was an unstoppable force. 
Living here [at the assisted living facility] was a double-edged sword for mom. She both loved her friends, but hated giving up so much of her freedom. She never did too well with limitations. But she had a time here filled with friends and love. She established relationships, and captured the heart of people in spite of her fiery nature. If you could earn her respect, her friendship was a privilege. And she would fight for you to the ends of the earth. She lost some friends and it broke her heart. 
I would like to imagine that mom is somewhere where she is without restrictions. She’s having beer and tomato juice with Lynn, and having a good laugh with Betty. She’s with her annoying dog Jack. I like to imagine that wherever mom is, that she is happy and at peace.  I hope she is fighting less and loving more. And I hope she knows how beloved she was. 
And finally, the words my aunt Rosa wrote:

On occasion of a celebration of life for my dear sister Myrta: Good Afternoon; thank yo for sharing our last conversation with Myrta. 

Thomas Aquinas said: "The things we love tell us what we are." Because Myrta loved so many things and so many people, I'll try to define her. 

Mostly above and all, she loved her family. She adored her children. She adored Alex. 

She loved horses.
She loved dogs.
She loved nature: the mountains, the rivers, the trees and the flowers. Oh how proud she was of her beautiful, traffic stopping garden that she put up every year. 

She loved to cook. No occasion was complete without famous arroz con pollo, or her roasts. Family friends, neighbours, co-workers and students, they all looked forward to savouring her food and her bakery. 

She loved sewing; from her beautiful dresses for her girls to their Halloween costumes, and don't forget her beautiful curtains, bed covers and anything to match them. She loved creating. Her artistry with flower arranging was coveted. Table centerpieces and details for parties and weddings were inspired. How much sh enjoyed working on those project! she could write elegantly, from complex and successful grant proposals to gracious thank you notes.  

She loved the underdog. She would put herself all the way out for the downtrodden. She actively and relentlessly would advocate for her Latino community in court, in jails, with local, state and federal governments. She would not quit until their rights were allowed and respected. She believed in empowerment. For all that, then president George H. W. Bush awarded her one of the 'Thousand Points of Light' awards.   

I could co on and on talking about what Myrta loved: 

She loved good times.She loved good friends.She loved good whiskeyShe loved good conversation.She loved a good argument.She loved to win.She loved to tell you what to do and how to do it. She loved to do things her own way.She loved to buck the system and convention. 

So I was able to write a list of what my sister Myrta loved, but I am loving this chance to love her back again and recognize her for all that she loved. We have learned to love all that life offers and to love  her for all she was. 

Thank you for being yourself.
Rosa Elena Maldonado.
That wasn't the sum of what was said about Mom. But it describes her pretty well. I'm still trying to figure out what I feel right now.  I'm focusing on taking care of Alex and trying to get my house back in order.  Over a week of coming and going without any housekeeping has made it almost too much of a mess to tackle. I'm doing it. Bit by bit. Attacking the job in pieces, just like I'm facing what my feelings are over the whole thing.

As we goodwill and sell her belongings, it's becoming clear how easily we come and go in this world. All of a sudden you're gone, and you leave behind a shuffle for people to manage. It boils down to that. A shuffle of material things and a shuffle of memories we have to put in order so we can move on.

Time to finish cleaning this house.  I feel like I'll never finish. LOL.

See you on the other side mom.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The end of an era - Days 121-140 of project 365 conclude in sadness.

My mother died this morning. Early. At 12:39 am. Sunday night, my mother had a massive stroke.

The center scan shows one layer depicting the size of the bleed. It was huge.
I got the call at about 9:30 PM, we were settling into bed and we had to rush to the hospital. She was unresponsive, and had vomited over herself.  A vein burst and filled the right ventricle. That slice that is shown shows only the upper layers. It was massive. The doctors said it was rare to see a bleed this large. The pressure had paralyzed half of her body. Her eyes would not open. She could still clutch my hand and respond that first night and next day, but that did not last.  By Tuesday, she was only able to communicate the pain in her head from the pressure. They then sedated her, and per her wishes, they transitioned her to comfort care where she languished until this morning. I'm glad it wasn't like Daddy, who lingered for a long time.

So now she's gone. My sister Anna flew out immediately and has been here through most of it. We've been leaning on each other. Neither of us really expected it to be as hard as it is. But as a friend told me recently; "Losing her means you will never have a chance to have that warm mother/daughter connection you crave." It is an insightful thing to say. She is right.

All these past twenty days, I've taken photos for the project 365 thing I'm doing here. And it was so jarring how the twenty days concluded with such stark and stirring photos. So I'm going to share them all here today. Along with a note I wrote my mother this morning after I found out she had passed away.





125/365 - Alex is Skyping with his aunties


127/365 - my first new dress in a long time

128/365 - the Coos Bay Manour B&B - Topsails & Tea 2015

129/365 - Wisteria

130/365 - My favourite picture of all so far.


132/365 - someone stole mom's toe socks


134/365 - Nootka roses blooming

135/365 Hat shapes

136/365 Bath time


138/365 - Monday Morning.

139/365 - Tuesday - My child clutches my sister's and husband's hand

140/365 - Wednesday - Anna tends to mom
Dear Mom,

Things were prickly between us. No doubt.  But your leaving us brings back the good things. I guess that’s the positive aspect of death; you remember all the wonderful memories you have with that person; and the negative that you dwell on while people are living seem to fade into the background.

I think about the day that the Vice Principal of Brussels American School bruised my arm, and how infuriated you were, and how you stamped into the school and ripped that woman a new asshole.  I am thinking about the glorious moments when you stood beside me when I needed you to, and how you were always there for me, even when we were locking horns; even if the intent was not always selfless.

Mom. You were my mom. That never changes; and you are gone. And with you are the vain hopes of you ever becoming the mom I needed you to be. Gone is the chance to understand that demon inside you that made you sometimes resent us. Gone are the moments of laughter and gone are the moments of conflict. 

I hope, in whatever way it is, that you finally find peace with yourself, and with that demon that tormented you for your entire life. I hope that you know that in spite it all, that I… we all love you and that all is forgiven.  We let you leave us with open hearts. Be at peace and know that you were loved and you were not alone in death.  We were there. All of us in one way or another.  And most importantly, Alex was there with his ‘joyful noises’ as you called them, filling the hollow and sterile room of the hospital with his laughter and his beauty. I know you loved him above all else. He was there with you too.

Mom. I love you. Even though sometimes I despised you. I think there was a fine line between the two, and that the resentment was fueled by how much I wanted to love you. I will miss you. I’ll miss those moments where your face glowed with laughter, and you were the glimpses of the mom we all hoped you could be. 

Be at peace.



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