amanda_lodden: (Default)
Funeral. Lots of family. Kids are growing up too fast; the toddler that drew pictures while I talked to Anita is now almost six, and freaking adorable (so is her older sister).

Five, count 'em, FIVE separate "warnings" from my family that my father would be attending. By the last few, it had crossed into ridiculous and I was laughing at it. I wonder if he got as many warnings about me being there? (I understand their concern, and it was sweet, but really... it's okay.) I established what to call him-- the title "Dad" belongs to my father-in-law, and I didn't want to address him by his first name without checking with him that he's alright with it (he is, but he prefers "Len" over his full name). Interestingly, for all the time I'd spent worrying about how to handle the name thing, once he said it was okay to call him "Len" I became more comfortable with thinking of him as "Dad". Perhaps someday we might get there.

This was my first military funeral. Even knowing that there would be a 21-gun salute, I still nearly jumped out of my skin when the first 7 rounds were fired. The precision and formality was fascinating; while others were moved by the honor guard playing Taps, I found the most tear-jerking part to be the soldier who presented my aunt with the folded flag, who dropped to one knee and recited a formal speech, and then once he finished with the ceremonial bit he grasped her hand and offered his own personal condolences; the dichotomy between the two tones was what hit me hardest.
amanda_lodden: (Default)
Funeral. Lots of family. Kids are growing up too fast; the toddler that drew pictures while I talked to Anita is now almost six, and freaking adorable (so is her older sister).

Five, count 'em, FIVE separate "warnings" from my family that my father would be attending. By the last few, it had crossed into ridiculous and I was laughing at it. I wonder if he got as many warnings about me being there? (I understand their concern, and it was sweet, but really... it's okay.) I established what to call him-- the title "Dad" belongs to my father-in-law, and I didn't want to address him by his first name without checking with him that he's alright with it (he is, but he prefers "Len" over his full name). Interestingly, for all the time I'd spent worrying about how to handle the name thing, once he said it was okay to call him "Len" I became more comfortable with thinking of him as "Dad". Perhaps someday we might get there.

This was my first military funeral. Even knowing that there would be a 21-gun salute, I still nearly jumped out of my skin when the first 7 rounds were fired. The precision and formality was fascinating; while others were moved by the honor guard playing Taps, I found the most tear-jerking part to be the soldier who presented my aunt with the folded flag, who dropped to one knee and recited a formal speech, and then once he finished with the ceremonial bit he grasped her hand and offered his own personal condolences; the dichotomy between the two tones was what hit me hardest.
amanda_lodden: (Default)
My mom is in the hospital in ICU right now. She passed out from high blood sugar, had a stroke and a mild heart attack (or possibly had a stroke and passed out, and her sugar skyrocketed from not eating.. the exact order is somewhat unclear). She is doing much better now, though she still has quite a lot to go as far as stroke recovery. Still, she's alive, awake, and alert. These are all good things.

This post is not about her. This post is about the things that go on when a loved one is in the hospital.

As background, my family situation is a little weird. I didn't meet my father until I was in my thirties and I've never met his other children, but I'm close with his siblings and their children and grandchildren. My maternal grandparents married when their kids were teenagers, so that the man I called "Grandpa" shared no DNA with me at all, and I grew up calling his grandchildren "cousins" with the same connotation as the "cousins" on my father's side that do share blood with me. To me, this is perfectly normal, because it's always been that way. As I got older and started having to explain it to other people, I adopted the slogan that "family is not what's in your blood, it's what's in your heart."

When I talked to my cousin to tell her (and by extension the rest of her side of the family) about my mom, she said that she and her family felt really bad for me because I'm an only child and all alone.

Only child? Yes. Stubbornly independent? Yes, probably more than is good for me. Alone? Goodness, no. I have all you folks.

In the last week, I've had no less than a dozen people tell me that if I need anything, anything at all, to call them. For several of them, I know that I could call them for help even if what I wanted wasn't exactly legal, or fell into an ethical gray-area. People who see me often have been tending to mother me a little, asking about whether I've eaten or slept, making sure that I'm still taking care of myself as well. I get hugs whenever I want them, from whoever I want them from. Although I have not asked him out of respect for his own preferences, I'm pretty sure I could get a hug from Kevin, who hates to be touched, if I needed one. And that's not including the support and help from John, who is, as always, fantastic.

And I'm pretty sure that in response to this post, I'll get a couple more comments or emails saying that if I need anything, just ask.

And that's got me thinking about the nature of family, especially given my existing mantra of "family is not what's in your blood, it's what's in your heart." All the well-wishers are people I would also go to great lengths to help. Based on what's in our hearts, I have been blessed with an incredibly large family. So what if I don't share genetic material with all of them?

None of this is meant to demean the people who do share genetic material with me. My list of people I feel I could call at three in the morning and say "I need a favor" includes quite a few people who are related to me. They are among the folks who have offered help, and they didn't have to-- I already knew I could ask them for anything I need. They too are my family, not because they are related but because they are people I would choose as family even if they weren't related.

Thanks to everyone who has given support, everyone who has offered support, and everyone who would have offered support sooner if they'd known sooner (for which I apologize; it's been hard to keep everyone in the loop, and the thing I hate most is having to repeat the same updates over and over and over. Especially on the early days when the updates weren't very positive.)
amanda_lodden: (Default)
My mom is in the hospital in ICU right now. She passed out from high blood sugar, had a stroke and a mild heart attack (or possibly had a stroke and passed out, and her sugar skyrocketed from not eating.. the exact order is somewhat unclear). She is doing much better now, though she still has quite a lot to go as far as stroke recovery. Still, she's alive, awake, and alert. These are all good things.

This post is not about her. This post is about the things that go on when a loved one is in the hospital.

As background, my family situation is a little weird. I didn't meet my father until I was in my thirties and I've never met his other children, but I'm close with his siblings and their children and grandchildren. My maternal grandparents married when their kids were teenagers, so that the man I called "Grandpa" shared no DNA with me at all, and I grew up calling his grandchildren "cousins" with the same connotation as the "cousins" on my father's side that do share blood with me. To me, this is perfectly normal, because it's always been that way. As I got older and started having to explain it to other people, I adopted the slogan that "family is not what's in your blood, it's what's in your heart."

When I talked to my cousin to tell her (and by extension the rest of her side of the family) about my mom, she said that she and her family felt really bad for me because I'm an only child and all alone.

Only child? Yes. Stubbornly independent? Yes, probably more than is good for me. Alone? Goodness, no. I have all you folks.

In the last week, I've had no less than a dozen people tell me that if I need anything, anything at all, to call them. For several of them, I know that I could call them for help even if what I wanted wasn't exactly legal, or fell into an ethical gray-area. People who see me often have been tending to mother me a little, asking about whether I've eaten or slept, making sure that I'm still taking care of myself as well. I get hugs whenever I want them, from whoever I want them from. Although I have not asked him out of respect for his own preferences, I'm pretty sure I could get a hug from Kevin, who hates to be touched, if I needed one. And that's not including the support and help from John, who is, as always, fantastic.

And I'm pretty sure that in response to this post, I'll get a couple more comments or emails saying that if I need anything, just ask.

And that's got me thinking about the nature of family, especially given my existing mantra of "family is not what's in your blood, it's what's in your heart." All the well-wishers are people I would also go to great lengths to help. Based on what's in our hearts, I have been blessed with an incredibly large family. So what if I don't share genetic material with all of them?

None of this is meant to demean the people who do share genetic material with me. My list of people I feel I could call at three in the morning and say "I need a favor" includes quite a few people who are related to me. They are among the folks who have offered help, and they didn't have to-- I already knew I could ask them for anything I need. They too are my family, not because they are related but because they are people I would choose as family even if they weren't related.

Thanks to everyone who has given support, everyone who has offered support, and everyone who would have offered support sooner if they'd known sooner (for which I apologize; it's been hard to keep everyone in the loop, and the thing I hate most is having to repeat the same updates over and over and over. Especially on the early days when the updates weren't very positive.)
amanda_lodden: (Default)
During breakfast with my mother this weekend, the conversation turned to my early childhood.

Mind you, at Julianna's baby shower this woman told the story of my birth. Most babies turn correctly, and some don't turn at all. As is typical of my later life, I got about halfway through the task and then got distracted or something, so that I tried to come out sideways. I got an arm and a shoulder out before getting stuck, and then proceeded to kick. Hard. For hours, because right around the time the doctor decided that maybe a C-section would be a good idea, there was a big motorcycle accident and all the operating rooms were suddenly taken. Mom described some of the ickier bits in detail, which I'm sure made Julianna feel oh-so-happy about the prospect of giving birth.

So being able to tell my husband just how horrible I was as a baby pretty much made my Mom's day. She didn't pull any punches, starting with her time in the hospital recovering from birth. She told us how she could hear the nurses bringing out the babies in the little wheeled cribs, and while a lot of the babies were crying or whimpering, there was one who was just screaming its little head off. And then they brought it into her room. Of course it was me, it wouldn't be much of a story if it wasn't me.

In my very first baby picture, taken in the hospital, I have my eyes shut, my mouth wide open (screaming), and my hand raised and balled into a fist as though I'm trying to punch out the photographer. (I still feel the same way about having my picture taken today.) Mom said that if they'd showed her the picture first, she never would have gotten it, but they don't show new mothers the proofs first-- it's just "Do you want to buy the first picture ever of your daughter?"

The stories are pretty much the same thing over and over until I learned to walk, so let's fast-forward. My grandparents watched me while my parents worked, and my parents kept a bag of stuff to go with me (diapers, favorite toys, whatever). I used to like to take everything out of the bag and scatter it. One parent would put it all back in and yell at me, and then I'd wait until they were distracted and do it all again. Babies love repetition. :-)

It was not possible to take a bath alone with me around. I always brought "friends" to take a bath with you. Usually it was my toys, although I was not particularly discriminating about which toys went for a swim, and it was just as likely to be the nice water-absorbing stuffed animal or Raggedy Ann doll as it was to be something plastic and easily dried. One afternoon Grandma and I shelled a bunch of fresh-picked peas, putting the peas into a bucket. Grandma was hot and sweaty afterward so she decided to go take a bath. A few minutes later, the entire bucket of peas joined her.

And while I hope that most folks get a laugh out the stories, at least, I post them more for the benefit of those who are trying to cope with their own little hellions. (Hi Julianna!) Hang in there, some of us difficult children turn out okay in the end. For what it's worth, I had settled down and was relatively well-behaved by the time I was 6 or so. My second-grade teacher even thought I was a "good kid". (And by the time I was no longer a "good kid" anymore I had learned to hide it well enough that my mother remains blissfully ignorant to this day.)

Family

Jan. 7th, 2006 12:49 am
amanda_lodden: (Default)
I met my father tonight. It was not a surprise, but some aspects of it were unexpected.

For those who have not kept their "Amanda's family" scorecard updated, my parents divorced when I was a baby. It was not an amicable divorce. I obviously don't recall any of the details first-hand, but I'm told that the phrase "World War 3" has been used to describe it. Since there was no nuclear fallout, I assume there's some hyperbole involved there, but you get the idea. However, my mother had developed a good friendship with one of her sisters-in-law (my father's brother's wife-- still following along?), and she stayed in touch with that aunt and uncle. I can't recall ever not knowing Aunt Lois and Uncle Gene and their kids. As time went on and cousins got married (and other family events), I met other people in my family too. Up until tonight, the only immediate relatives I had not met on my father's side were my father, his wife, and their children.

My own feeling has always been that I didn't object to running into him, but that it wasn't enough of an obsession to actively seek him out. Part of that may have stemmed from watching my mother's interactions with her own father-- she had a similar situation in which her parents divorced when she was young. My grandmother was dead-set against my mother ever meeting her father, so Mom took off one day not too long after getting her driver's license and showed up on his doorstep. He was taken off-guard. Well, wouldn't you be too? Mom says they get along okay, but the times that I've seen them together, he seems uncomfortable and generally wishing she'd go home already; she seems like a child begging for affection. All in all, not something I particularly want to emulate.

Tonight was Aunt Lois and Uncle Gene's 50th wedding anniversary party. The planning for it has been in the works for some time; I was first told about it at a wedding last June. My mother and I were invited, and so was my father and stepmother. And because Aunt Lois and Uncle Gene are considerate people, they made sure that everyone knew the others were invited. Whether or not to attend was left to our own discretion; I chose to go, and so did my father.

To me, this implies certain things-- in particular, that neither of us found the idea of meeting to be abhorrent. Because we both chose to attend with the knowledge that the other would be there, we could both be fairly secure in the knowledge that we would not be completely rejected by the other.

Apparently, that's a line of thinking that much of my family did not share. I understand that their worries came out of a genuine concern for me and my feelings, but good grief! At Christmas, one cousin sought me out to tell me that my father was going to be attending, and that we'd be seated with her for support and protection. Protection? What, did someone forget to tell me that I'm descended from an axe murderer? The worst that could happen would be that I'd get my feelings hurt. Which is, of course, what they were trying to protect me from. Okay, that's sweet and all, but I'm a big girl and I can handle a few hurt feelings. Moreover, I am firmly convinced that I am worth knowing, and anyone who disagrees is missing out. (Call it self-confidence or overblown ego, your choice. To-may-to, to-mah-to.) Plus, the chances of things going really badly were pretty slim because WE BOTH CHOSE TO BE THERE. I really can't stress that enough-- this wasn't a chance meeting in which we were taken by surprise. We had some idea what we were walking in to.

Before dinner, a couple different people asked me if I was okay with the whole concept, and were genuinely surprised when I said that I intended to go over and introduce myself to my father after dinner. (I considered doing it prior to dinner, but I wanted to make sure that he had an "out" if he needed it, and it's very difficult to make a gracious exit away from your own dinner plate. Plus, I didn't realize he had arrived until just before dinner started.) In some ways, I find their surprise a little insulting-- to knowingly be in the same room with him and NOT introduce myself would have been a slap in the face, a deliberate snub. I admit I am sometimes a tad on the bitchy side, but I would never even consider that level of rudeness.

My mother also chose to attend knowing that my father would be there; I thought that was a sign that she was finally letting it go, and I was rather proud of her. It has, after all, been 30 years-- to continue to hold onto a hatred for that long is silly. Why let it eat up that much of your life? She's also told me that she'd be completely fine with me meeting my father, especially after the resistance she encountered from her own mother.

First lesson learned: my mother lied to me. She was not completely fine. She was not even remotely fine. The entire time I was near my father (defined as "not near her"), she was a nervous wreck-- John said he felt like a babysitter, since he got stuck sitting with her for a lot of it. She also wants a blow-by-blow of all of the conversations I had with my father and my stepmother. She's not getting it. First, none of it is particularly earth-shattering; we went through the usual first-meeting type questions ("Married? Children? Job?"-- and I am ashamed to say that I did not hold up my end of the conversation by asking the same questions. I already know that he and Carol just celebrated their 30th anniversary, they have two children together and she has two from a previous marriage, and that he's contracted to the state of Ohio. The last bit was relayed by his sister, my Aunt Joyce, early in the evening while she was pointing out who he was. But it's entirely possible that he also already knew most of my answers; if Aunt Joyce is willing to relay information about him to me, presumably she is also willing to relay information about me to him. Thus, I really should have asked anyway, just to keep the conversation going.) Once we got past the initial questions, things got a bit more awkward; I didn't want to get up and walk away (rude in the best of situations, but worse when it could be taken as a rejection), but I also didn't want to push too hard if he wasn't comfortable. We ended up talking to other people at the table and occasionally joining in to each others conversation, which worked out. Second, while our conversation was technically public and could have been overheard by anyone, it's really not any of her business. To recount it all to her would feel like an invasion of his privacy. Third, my mother is not a nice person, and even less so where my father is concerned, and I do not want to have to listen to her take jabs at every single comment.

I was asked by no less than 14 people the exact same question: "How did it go?" Only two actually felt the need to define "it" by asking if I'd met my father yet; for everyone else there was only one possible It. I literally spent more time talking to other people about talking to my father than I spent actually talking to my father. And again, I understand that it came from concern-- they all care and wanted to make sure that I was okay, and to lend moral support if I wasn't. But I think I might have screamed if one more person asked me. And for the record: it went fine. Pieces of it were awkward, certainly, but that's to be expected when you're meeting someone that society says you ought to already know, especially when you're doing it in a fishbowl-- surrounded by people who desperately want to know what's going on while still wanting to keep their distance lest things explode. He seemed like a decent guy, Carol was quite friendly, and there were no casualties (unless you count Mom's sanity, but that was on its deathbed already). Before we left, I gave him my address, phone number, email address, and a hug.

And I'm tremendously embarrassed, because I wrote my address, phone and email on the wrong placecard. See, as favors for the party, everyone got a small gold frame, which had the placecards in them. Another cousin and I had exchanged contact information, and the placecards were a good size for it (and the only available paper), so when I wanted to write down my contact information for my father, I went to grab my placecard to write it on. While I was off talking, our frames had been stuck in my purse. I grabbed the first frame, and saw that it was John's placecard. So I grabbed the second one, assumed it was my own, and disassembled it WITHOUT LOOKING at it. I did not actually look at the front of the placecard until I was handing it to my father, which is when I realized it had my mother's name on the front, not mine. (I do not know where my own placecard ended up; there were only two frames in my purse, I swear.) He took it well, but I still feel like a fool.

Today

Jan. 26th, 1999 07:42 pm
amanda_lodden: (Default)
[Originally posted to a mailing list of friends; posted here in an attempt to keep my writing in one place. 10/31/05]

This morning, my grandmother passed away.

She went quietly, with very little pain. The exact cause of death is
unknown, but is likely to be complications from her Alzheimer's
combined with natural causes.

I discovered her this morning when I brought breakfast in to them.

If I had to boil my advice on how to deal with the death of a loved
one down to a single sentence, it would probably be "Don't be the one
to find the body."

Grandpa is coping, but is having trouble coming to terms with her
death. His memory isn't allowing him to grieve much. He's already
asked me once this evening where Grandma was, and I had to explain
that she died this morning and that the funeral home had come and
picked up her body. When he is able to remember, though, he's filled
with questions about what we did to deserve this. I'm not sure which
is harder, losing my grandmother or watching him lose his wife (again,
as his first wife died of cancer).

This death has brought with it a lot of firsts for me:

Obviously, I've never been the one to find the body before. In fact,
I've never even seen a dead body that wasn't cleaned up and in a
casket-- ie, outside of the funeral.

I've never dealt with a death in a home-- prior generations have died
in hospitals. I didn't realize that after the EMS people and the
police came out, there would be a period of time in which her body was
left in the house-- the sheriff's office releases the body to a
funeral home, who comes and picks it up. Since we chose a funeral
home in Rochester, and they were already out getting someone else,
Grandma stayed in the house nearly an hour after everyone else had
left.

I didn't realize that the funeral home people drove minivans--
somehow, I don't find it comforting that I could easily put a dead
body in the back of my car.


Tomorrow morning I am supposed to have decided what Grandma will wear
for eternity. I had a hard enough time deciding what she would wear
for a single day. I know that it's something that has to be done if
you're going to have a funeral-- the housecoat she was wearing is
hardly appropriate. When my great-grandmother died, she left a letter
stating which dress to use, which jewelry to use, and which lipstick to
use. Up until today I didn't realize just how thoughtful that letter
was. (Perhaps I shall have to write one for myself, just in case. I
hope that styles change a couple dozen times before it has to be used,
but I don't want to put John through any more than he has to go
through).

Tomorrow afternoon starts the phone calls. My mother has already
offered to call most of the family and a half-dozen of the friends she
and Grandma shared, leaving me with one aunt and a myriad of people I
don't know very well. Today, John called only my mother and my uncle.
(I tried, but I just couldn't bring myself to say that Grandma was
gone. I had a hard enough time when I called John and 911 this
morning-- the closest I could come was "I think she might be dead"
even though she was cold to the touch and her fingernails were blue).
I suppose I could/should have called more people today, but it seems
so pointless to call and say "She's dead, I'll call again when we know
what the arrangements are."

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