Welcome to Following the Whispers blog

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit. Hope you enjoy your stay. I blog here whenever I feel the need. This blog was created at the time my memoir came out, in February, 2009. Its motto was: creating a life of inner peace and self-acceptance from the depths of despair. Now, my focus is sharing this journey we call life.

“Only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth, and that is not speaking it.” Naomi Wolf

“We are called human beings, not human doings.” Wes Nisker, Buddhist teacher

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs…(And) if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” Theodore Roosevelt

Friday, February 26, 2010

Making a new commitment

In my session Wednesday with my writing coach, I shared that I have a new commitment. There are three key things I want to do each day: exercise, practice singing, and write. Mark David pointed out that I've just been through a huge, emotional event (the loss of my mother-in-law) and I am moving through an additional spiritual event with my new writing projects. He suggested I make a new commitment: Being good to myself. Ouch. I find it easy to be good to others--not so easy to be good to me.

When I told him how fully present I was for my MIL during her last days, Mark David said that was mom's lasting gift to me--showing me my own strength and compassion. Now I get to use that strength and compassion for me in my own life. I have modeled for myself what will most help me now in this next step of my journey--a time of my life that is mine alone.

The question is, can I surrender to my own process as I surrendered to MIL's? Can I put down the whips permanently and allow my humanness? Can I give myself a day of indulgence? Can it be okay with me to NOT write, or practice, or exercise?

Tune in as I take my baby steps in this latest commitment.

Blessings,
Karen

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Celebrating while grieving

Tomorrow we go to Plainview, Texas, where hubby grew up. There are a myriad of details each of the five siblings are handling from a distance to prepare for mom's memorial service. She, too, was born and raised in Plainview, and lived there her entire life, until we brought her to Albuquerque two years ago.

But yesterday was hubby and my 14th wedding anniversary. It is a miracle to me, given my history with relationships, that we've been together that long and that we are happy--individually and together. Usually, we go out to dinner at a somewhat fancy restaurant, come home, light the unity candle from our wedding ceremony, say a prayer together, and watch the video (or portions of it) from our wedding.

This time, we managed dinner, but the video was too painful. So many people who were there at the wedding are no longer with us (even some younger folks). Also, we just weren't in the mood to whoop it up. I realized there are many ways to celebrate--quiet is okay.

Blessings,
Karen

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Baby Steps

Monday was Day One of my commitment to write (and not just these blog posts). A definition of "writing " is in order. It doesn't necessarily mean new words on the page. Included in my idea of writing would be: research, review already written passages, quiet time to think, and reading stuff that might inspire or help with these projects.

I'm feeling rather fragile emotionally right now, so I am definitely taking baby steps. Don't want to put too much pressure on myself, because then I shut down. I am re-starting my appointments with a writing coach, Mark David Gerson, author of "Voice of the Muse." During our last session, which took place in December, I finally understood the connection between singing (why it's become so important to me) and writing. Singing, i.e. using my voice, is all about expression. Much of my healing work while writing my memoir was about being able to express myself. It seems I'm not done. Part of my spiritual journey is still about being silenced. How many times in how many lifetimes have I been silenced? Singing is letting my voice be heard in a way that isn't perfect, which is, in itself, perfect...because it's about expressing--without fear of judgment.

Now to transfer that to these new writing projects...

Blessings,
Karen

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Telling the Truth Tuesday - No more excuses

I say I'm a writer. I spent the last 10 years of my life writing and publishing a memoir. That's a long time and a lot of energy. For the last two years, I was caregiver to my mother-in-law. From 2001 to 2004, I was caregiver to my dad. Those two things alone gave me many excuses for not writing.

Or there was my weight. Obsessing about what I could and couldn't eat, how fat I was, making healthy choices about food--all of this took a lot of time and energy as well.

And then there are relationships--time with hubby, my son, hanging out with friends, family obligations--these things take time as well.

Well, now I'm about to turn 61. I'm thin (yup, been that way for a couple of years now)--no longer obsess about food. Relationships will not disappear, thank goodness. I simply need to prioritize my time. The caregiving needs are gone. No more parents to care for.

So I am out of excuses. If I don't write, something else is going on. I have every intention of prioritizing my days: exercise, write, practice singing. Those are my key to do's. The house gets cleaned by someone else. I do have to shop and cook, but my crock pot is my new best friend. Laundry can be done while I write--I just have to remember to shift a load from the washer to the dryer.

The emphasis of this blog will more than likely shift as I move into the energy of the new pieces. I will probably blog a bit about process. One of the books just might be a series of essays. Perhaps one or two will show up here first as a test run. We'll see how this all shakes out. It will be a journey, to be sure. Hope you'll come along.

Blessings,
Karen

Monday, February 22, 2010

Weekend update

Diane Wolfe, at http://circleoffriendsbooks.blogspot.com/
was kind enough to pass along this Sunshine award on Friday. I am to pass it along to five other bloggers who leave wonderful comments on a regular basis.I hereby pass it along to:
Tabitha Bird http://tabithabird.blogspot.com/
Mason Canyon http://masoncanyon.blogspot.com/
Joanne http://joannedemaio.blogspot.com/
Jane Sutton Kennedy http://janekennedysutton.blogspot.com/

If you've already received this, well, you deserve it again!

As far as my weekend update is concerned, it was a time to try to get our home and ourselves back to normal. I can once again see what's in my refrigerator (so many people brought food for us, we couldn't find anything in there). The hospital equipment is gone. Now there's a big empty room where the pool table is supposed to go. I'm hoping we can't find anyone to move it back in--I'd love love love that room to be a music/reading/whatever place. Hubby did agree to leave it as is, so for now,it's a practice and exercise room.

Saturday was spent going thru mom's things and taking everything to charity that we didn't want, as well as gathering the things the family needs to go thru. We had moved furniture around in our house to make a room for mom, so now everything is back in its place.
Sunday was the hardest day--usually spent with mom. I slept late, did a little computer work, then hubby and I went for a long walk. Lovely.

Blessings,
Karen  


Friday, February 19, 2010

What Now?

There is already a tremendous void in our lives where mom lived. I phoned her every morning at 9 am to check in on her. Sundays were momdays. During the week, there was usually a doctor appointment, or dentist, or test she needed. Or we just went for lunch. I used to test out songs on her that I was considering for the retirement home gigs. Who is going to provide that kind of feedback now?

Mom was my biggest fan. When I went back to school at 53 to complete a bachelor's degree, she cheered me on. Just as she did for all of her grandchildren, she came to my graduation and celebrated with me. When I published my book, she was front and center at my launch party. And she read the darn thing three times, unable to believe all the things I went through. She personified what I believe is unconditional love. That is irreplaceable.

Both of my parents are gone, and now both of hubby's are gone as well. We are the elders in our family.
As I move through the grieving process, which began a month ago with the diagnosis, I realize the emptiness will be filled with memories, and hopefully, for me, writing. My life will once again be mine. Not that it wasn't mine, but a great deal of time was accounted for that wasn't mine. And that was fine. But now, I can choose to use my time more wisely. Hope I am able to do that, once the dust settles after the funeral (which won't take place until 2/27).

Until next time,
Blessings,
Karen

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Gone

Monday night my mother-in-law slipped into a coma-like state--they can't call it a coma because they haven't measured brain activity--there was nothing else to do for her. We did not administer meds. We did not feed her. She wasn't drinking. It seemed as if she was in a deep, deep sleep.

A minister friend told me, when this all first began a month ago, that there was nothing I could do to make this journey comfortable for mom. She will move through it at her own pace and in her own way. What I could do was witness this sacred journey and shine my light for her.

By Wednesday morning it was clear the end was near. Both her daughter and youngest son left for home Wednesday morning. After a week of family, hubby and I were once again alone with mom.
I had a very strong feeling she'd been waiting for them to leave before she could go. Tuesday night, four of her five children were here, laughing, eating dinner, and telling "mom" stories. I'm sure she could hear us.
At 1 pm, I told the aide to go home--there was nothing left for her to do. I wanted to be alone with mom.
I sang her favorite song, "Amazing Grace" a few times, and Silent Night, which she adores. I held her hand and told her it was ok for her to go now. All her kids had been here and said what they needed to say. My hubby couldn't handle being in the room with her. It was hard. Her breathing had become very shallow and raspy. I sat, knowing her time was near.

At about 3:45 PM, her breathing changed. It became gentler. She took a deep sigh, then nothing for a few seconds. This lasted about 5 minutes. At that point the phone rang. Hubby was upstairs--he came down, saying it was the hospice chaplain. I told him mom was leaving us. He came to her bedside and the two of us laid our hands on her as she breathed her last breath. There was no death rattle, as we'd been told to expect. She simply sighed her last breath. It was incredibly peaceful and beautiful.

The chaplain appeared on our doorstep within 15 minutes and facilitated our dealing with the funeral home. By 6:30 pm, mom left here to begin her journey home to Plainview, Texas, where she was born and lived until 2 years ago, when she came here to Albuquerque. The family will gather there a week from Saturday for her funeral. It will be a celebration of a life well-lived and a woman well-loved.

Thank you all for the love and support that came through this blog in your comments. I will never forget it.

Blessings,
Karen

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The end is near

Yesterday, the hospice nurse told us she doesn't think mom will last beyond the end of this week. This is based on her pallor, her demeanor, her breathing, etc. I feel her slipping away more each day. Even when she is awake, she doesn't focus on us. She is somewhere else. I am sure that somewhere else is okay, though, because every once in awhile she gets a beautific smile on her face and whispers, "It's wonderful."
She no longer responds to music in the same way, but it seems to calm her down if she's restless.

She seems to be at peace and comfortable. I am certain she knows she is safe and loved. It is something I wish for all of us.

Blessings,
Karen

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Telling the Truth Tuesday - It's not about me

I had an aha moment yesterday. I was busy feeling sorry for myself because hubby's siblings left us off an email--till I found out that the original email was about something I already knew, so there was no need to send it to me. Then, when a reply was sent about a brother coming to visit mom here at our house (a message I didn't get because I wasn't on the original email) I was annoyed, because, after all, he'll be staying with us. I have to pick him up at the airport, etc. The annoyance passed very quickly, but still...

Other little things occurred which made me realize how often I interpret things as a slight to myself. My aha moment was that's it's not about me. Very little truly is. When mom wakes up groaning in pain and cold because she's thrown the covers off and tried to get out of bed, it's not about me losing sleep. It's about making her comfortable again. When hubby gets irritated with me (which, thankfully, doesn't happen very often, even though he has cause), it's not about be. It's something inside him that he hasn't expressed.
Sometimes I can't believe it's taken me 60 years to learn the lessons.

Blessings,
karen

Monday, February 15, 2010

weekend update

Friday was one of the hardest days of my life. When I went in to wake my mother-in-law to give her her medicine, she didn't recognize me. She had no memory of getting sick and kept wanting to get up to use the bathroom. This went on all day. Then, at night, for a few moments, recognition. I so understand Alzheimer's better now. You lose the person while they are still breathing.

Mom and hubby both love westerns, so I'll use a western phrase. The cavalary arrived. Hubby returned home Saturday morning and his sister arrived that afternoon. After dealing with this alone all week (except for the aides, of course), I was relieved beyond measure.

I understand that this is sacred work--being present for someone as they cross over. But let me tell you, sacred or not, it is damned hard. I imagine it is less difficult for those who work in this field, because there isn't the emotional attachment to the patient that family members have. But the aides have already grown attached to Mom--she's easy to attach to--such a sweet, sweet soul.

When I was a little girl, my father wouldn't let me have any pets because, in his opinion, you'd grow attached to them, then, when they died, you'd be in pain. With his background, I understand his philosophy. But by not getting attached emotionally, you never experience the joy of loving. Is it worth the pain of losing? You bet.

Blessings,
Karen

Saturday, February 13, 2010

No Comments

For some reason Blogger wouldn't allow comments on Friday's post. Have no clue why. Hope it gets fixed by Monday. Have a great weekend.
Karen

Friday, February 12, 2010

journalling

I realize this blog has become my journal during this time of family upheaval. That is not a good thing, because a journal has a very different intention for me than this blog. Thank you, Sharon, for asking the question. I do need to get some of this down in more detail, but it's the energy issue. It's taking everything I've got to do what needs to be done for my mother-in-law. Whatever is left over goes to taking care of me, i.e. eating right. I'm trying to exercise, but not succeeding very well. I am still singing. It's saving my sanity.
Tuesday night, my trio practiced. Mom heard us from her room and said she wanted to hear, so we moved the microphones to the doorway and gave her a private concert. Each of us nearly lost it at various points. While my friend Karen was singing "I'll Be Seeing You" I ran into the living room and cried. While Marti sang "At Last" Karen wiped tears away. When I sang "Que Sera Sera," mom sang along. During the fast numbers, she danced with her hands. When I play a Glenn Miller tape, she smiles beautifully and I can see her dancing in her mind, as she did all those years ago.

I do hope these blog posts will serve as reminders so I can capture more of this journey at a later date.
Blessings,
Karen

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What's it all about

Remember the song, "What's it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live?" was the next line. From one moment to the next, I haven't a clue what's happening or what it all means. Two weeks ago, the medical doctor in the inpatient hospice unit said we had a week at the outside with mom. This morning, one of the aides thought, because mom started coughing after swallowing some coffee, that meant she was beginning to have difficulty swallowing and we might have to stop giving her fluids.

Her stomach is bothering her today. That's new. I don't know what it means. The unknown is scary. The process of dying is unknown. I don't think it matters what experts say. Each of us will have our own journey and there will be different guideposts along the way, depending on who we are and what our lives have been about.

One thing I know for sure. If and when I get to the point where I'm in diapers, bedridden, can't feed myself, and can't find the words I'm trying to say, I'm done. Mom has kept her dignity through all of this. Her spirit is always there, unfailingly. She's a trooper. I'm still learning so much from her. This time together is a gift--not an easy gift, but a gift, nonetheless. Especially since she can no longer get her thoughts across clearly. It's getting harder and harder for me to understand her.

At one point she wondered why she deserves all this attention. It makes me think why memoir is so important. Each of us, whether we are famous celebrities or not, have our lives to lead and leave our footprints in many places during our lifetimes. Every one of us has instrinsic value because we exist. We can learn lessons from everyone's life stories, if they are willing to share the struggles with us. And the victories.

Blessings,
Karen

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Discernment

I had a long talk with the social worker from hospice on Monday. It was so helpful. What I learned is that we call grieve in different ways. Some feel guilty they are not doing enough. Others have regrets they may not have shared. Others cry at every little thing. This kind of thing can bring out the best and the worst in people. What we all need is to treat is other with as much love, kindness, and tenderness as humanly possible. That doesn't mean not sharing if something bugs us. But watch the tone of voice. Frame comments so that they are not criticisms, but questions. Ask if people need anything.

I wonder why it takes a crisis to make me learn to take better care of myself, to speak up when necessary, to know when to keep quiet and wait for a better moment. Or maybe it's not the crisis. Maybe I'm just maturing in ways I didn't dream possible. Whatever the reason, I am grateful I am learning the gift of discernment.

If I haven't already said so, I want to take a moment to thank you all for the wonderful, thoughtful, loving comments you have been leaving as I go through this difficult time. It means more to me than I can ever convey. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Blessings,
Karen

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Telling the Truth Tuesday - It's hard

Everyone is telling me how wonderful it is that we've taken hubby's mom into our home. That I'm compassionate and nurturing and good at this. Maybe that's true. I don't think about that. It just seemed like it was the only acceptable choice and now that we've made that decision, it's okay.

What's hard is the emotional aspect. While the aides are here, it's not so bad. But when I'm alone in the house, I find myself checking on her to see if she's still breathing. At night, I'm able to go to sleep, but the instant I open my eyes, I dread getting up and going into her room, afraid of what I might find. I found my own mom dead in her bed, quite unexpectedly. That image stayed with me for a long, long time.

It's hard not making assumptions about what the good days might mean, or the bad ones. It's hard knowing that one day, probably not that far away, the good and bad days will disappear, and so will mom.

It's hard dealing with other people and their issues, whether or not their intentions are well-meaning or not. People just don't stop and think about the impact of their words or how their tone of voice makes someone feel.

Fitting my life in between the caregiving is hard, as well. But I'm managing. It is what it is and it's hard. And I'm okay with that. Just thought you should know...

Blessings,
Karen

Monday, February 8, 2010

Weekend update

As bad as Thursday was, that is how wonderful Friday was. We woke mom at 6:30 to give her meds. She was perky, alert, and hungry. On Thursday, she didn't eat or drink anything. Friday, she had muffin and pudding, with coffee and 1/2 an Ensure for breakfast. In the morning, the hospice nurse came and spent an hour. The home health aide was here from 7:30 am to 1:30 pm. For lunch, mom had 1/2 a grilled cheese sandwich and ice cream. For dinner, some split pea soup, a few bites of fish and mashed potatoes. Earlier in the day she wanted to go for a walk. She's completely bedridden. She forgot.

We were visiting together and she said how nice it was that all these people were coming to see her and take care of her. I said, You deserve it, mom." She said she didn't. I asked why. She said she didn't do much. I begged to differ. I said," You raised five kids practically alone, were on the school board, started the Pink Ladies."

She lit up and said, "When I die, I want you to talk about that...the Pink Ladies." She couldn't remember the name of the doctor who helped get it started, so we called her best friend and they had a great conversation. It was Dr. Horn. She says she wants to talk some more about what she wants said about her.

Then Paul, the chaplain came by and she just chattered away for about a half hour. She teared up when we said a prayer together. Then he sang Amazing Grace and left.

Right after that, our friend came over with her daughters. The younger one is 10 and plays the guitar. She played 3 songs and we all sang. Oh, earlier in the morning, my trio practiced and mom really enjoyed that.
In the afternoon, I put on Glenn Miller and she danced with her hands from the bed. It doesn't get better than that.

I tell you, these emotional ups and downs from one day to the next just might kill me first!! (Only kidding).
Saturday, hubby and I got out for the morning, while the aide was here. It was the first time out of the house since we brought her home and I had fun running errands. Got me a new touch screen cell phone. God help me, now I have to learn to use it! Spent a couple of hours with a close friend Saturday evening, just yakking. Heavenly.

Mom's was looking forward all week to Superbowl. I'm not a football fan, so one of mom's sons and his wife came over to watch part of the game with her. Her superbowl party consisted of her favorite foods: meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and coconut cake. Even if she only took a bite of each.

Blessings,
Karen

Friday, February 5, 2010

good days and bad

On Wednesday, we were told mom was doing well enough to send her home. Yesterday, Thursday, she didn't feel well, didn't want to eat, and just slept. I waited for the doctor to see what he would recommend. He did, indeed, send her home. It's scary, but feels like the right thing to do. It was a grueling day. I arrived at hospice at 7:15 am. She came home by ambulance at 5 pm. The home health agency arrived at 6 pm. The hospice nurse came at 7 pm. The pharmacy delivered meds at 8 pm and the aide left at 9. I gave mom her night meds and was near collapse.

The doctor said everyone has good days and bad. But with a leukemia patient, the good days are better and the bad days are worse. When she's good, you can't help but question the diagnosis. When she's bad, you think she's going to leave her body any minute.

And all I can do is be with her and love her. I can't make this journey comfortable for her. It's her work to do. The hospice chaplain said something so wise. It is a lesson for all of us to do our work while we are healthy, so there is no unfinished business when we get the point when we are near death. I feel with my memoir writing, I am doing that work. And it continues as I follow my spiritual journey.

Does anyone else pay attention to resentments they may be carrying, unresolved anger, those kinds of things?
Most people don't talk about this stuff.

Blessings,
Karen

Thursday, February 4, 2010

HOme again

When mom arrived at the inpatient hospice unit, we were told we had a week with her, at the outside.
Well, guess they just don't know what a strong spirit mom has. Today, we were told she would probably be going home in a day or so.

She was living in an independent facility with assisted living services. Since she can no longer live alone, we decided to make a room for her at our house. We will have hospice and home health coming in every day to help me. It is the right thing to do.

It has been an emotional roller coaster to hear one minute that death is imminent and the next minute she's coming home. I'm learning to have no expectations and to make no assumptions about what anything means. Just live moment to moment and deal with what is front of us moment to moment.

Blessings,
Karen

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Living While Dying

When my father died, he'd had a massive heart attack and we knew it was within a matter of days that he would be gone. With my mother-in-law, it's not that simple. There are signs to look for when someone is close to death--their feet will get cold and that cold will move up the leg. When it gets to the knee, time is close. That hasn't happened yet. The doctors can't accurately tell us. So we make her as comfortable as possible while she is still living.

For us, we are planning for her death while she is still alive, which is bizarre, to say the least. But necessary. Because it would be much harder to make all the arrangements afterwards.

Living for us revolves around her, which she hates. But her daughter told her today that we're not leaving her, and that's that. She just has to accept that we're here where we want to be.

I guess in a strange sense, we're all living while we're dying, because we all will get there some day, and none of us knows when. So even more than ever, my idea of how I'm living is evolving. Getting clear about who is important, who I can let go of, what is important, what I can let go of, and what other work I need to do on myself to feel complete.

Blessings, my friends,
Karen

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Telling the Truth Tuesday - plugging in

When crisis hits, the normal world stops. Everything revolves around dealing with whatever the event is. I am amazed at how our souls operate. There are moments when you can forget what is actually happening and make phone calls, plan, notify...whatever needs to be done. Then, with no warning, you are reminded. I went to mom's apartment yesterday to help sort thru her things. I was fine until I walked into the bathroom and saw the shower curtain. Suddenly I was sobbing. I remembered buying it for her when we moved her to Albuquerque two years ago. There is no particular attachment to the shower curtain. It just triggered emotions.

Although it's been five years since my Dad passed, the same thing happens, although much less frequently. Grief is like that. It comes in waves. In the beginning, it is like a storm at sea--fast and furious. Then it subsides somewhat.

What I'm finding as we wait and watch and love her, is that I need to find ways to plug back in to my life any way I can. Friday I did an exercise video. Saturday I practiced singing and wrote a few blog posts. It felt so good.

Till next time,
Blessings,
Karen

Monday, February 1, 2010

Waiting

Waiting is the hardest. Mom rallied for a few days, but today (Saturday), she doesn't feel well and is sleeping most of the time. I am convinced this is the sweetest soul I have ever known. Mom till the end, she's more worried about what this is doing to her kids than what it is doing to her.

The doctor tells us we probably have a week at the outside. We are all at peace with her. There is no unfinished business. This is a woman who has had a good life, raised five incredible kids, and those kids have, in turn, raised wonderful children as well. This was an amazing family to marry into and I am so blessed to be part of this clan.

I will be bringing my computer to hospice daily and will try to begin visiting your blogs as I can. Thank you all for your continued support during this time.

Karen
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