Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Prom and Graduation


If you know anything at all about my mom, you know she loves a good party.

Well, let me tell you friends... we partied it up each and every day while she was in the hospital!

On Friday, I told her of my plans. "Mom... I know you are doing everything you can to be here for every milestone moment... but I think it would be tons of fun if we could celebrate some things early! You need to mark your calendar right now for Sunday because we are going to have so much fun!"

She pulled out her phone and we both became painfully aware that the pain meds were taking their toll on her fine motor skills. She was struggling to open her calendar app as she marked her "agenda". I wanted to respect her ability to do it herself, but it was heart-wrenching to watch her fingers not move the way she wanted.

It took about 15 minutes, but she finally completed the task, our special day marked with digital ink. I knew in my heart she would live to see Sunday, for no one would dare miss the excitement we had in store.

We were going to celebrate Prom and Graduation all in one fell swoop.

I spent Sunday morning in her hospital room sipping on our strawberry smoothies as we chatted about this and that. She was feeling a little loopy from her pain meds again (I SWEAR I did not spike her drink!), so I let our conversation drift away as her eyes became heavy again.

Around noon, I left the hospital to head home and get my daughter ready to see her Grammy. We spent 30 minutes curling her hair and another 15 minutes creating a fancy "up-do". She put on her Prom dress for the first time since it had been altered the week before.



Her Prom night isn't until May 20, but I just knew in my heart my mom would be gone before then.

We arrived at the hospital and I felt like I was escorting Cinderella to the ball. My eighteen year old daughter walked through the halls, her head held high. You would never know that she is shy and reserved by watching her walk through the hospital that day. It really was magical to watch! People stopped in their tracks, admiring her, clearing the path for our steps. We stopped along the way and took a few photos before making our grand entrance into my mom's hospital room.



Oh, how I wish I had recorded my mom's expression when Katrina walked into the room. She was in the bed chatting with her childhood friend, Kathy, and her eyes just lit up at the sight of her granddaughter all dressed up for Prom.




My mom kept saying, "Wow" and "You are so beautiful!" as she admired my daughter's attire. "I knew you would have a purple dress!" (Purple has been Katrina's favorite color since she could draw with crayons.)

Katrina twirled for her, the chiffon overlay swirling gracefully around the silk layers underneath. Katrina even showed my mom her silver heels with the diamond rhinestones, knowing they both share a love for really cute shoes.


As more visitors arrived, Katrina and I slipped out of the room to get dressed for graduation. In perfect timing, Katrina had received her cap and gown at school when my mom first entered the hospital. Although we were still missing the NHS drape, the Beta cord and the Hanover Scholar purple tassel, we had enough to make it feel like a real graduation day.





I offered to play the graduation march on my phone, but we simply hummed the tune as Katrina walked in. Again, my mom's eyes shone brightly - proud, awed, speechless.

And with one final hug to say goodbye, my mom knew she hadn't missed a single milestone.


Check back soon for our next story as we celebrate my mom's final week on earth. Her funeral will be Saturday, May 13, 2017. If you would like to donate to "Dottie's Final Act of Kindness" campaign, please click here.



Monday, May 8, 2017

Rita RAK


Sunday morning we needed a little joy to start our day.

On the way to the hospital, I decided to swing by a Starbucks and grab my mom a strawberry smoothie. The day before was such a success that I wanted to keep the good times going! As I pulled into the side street, I noticed a gal sitting in a wheelchair with a "Please Help" sign. A quick glance from my side window showed that she was a double amputee.

Now, this is not the time and place to get into a theological debate about pandhandling in the city, but I will tell you this much - it's not my place to judge her for what she's doing. Quite the opposite. My heart instantly empathized with her inability to find work in a traditional job setting. I could only imagine the life challenges she faces daily without the freedom to walk, run, or climb. It nearly broke my heart.

Without hesitation I knew what I should do.

I went through the Starbucks drive thru and ordered three drinks instead of two. Then I parked my car, wrote a quick note, and walked back to the gal in the wheelchair to bless her with a drink in honor of my mom.





I introduced myself to her and asked for her name. "Rita" she said with a smile. I handed her the drink and told her a little about my mom. Rita shared that her mom had struggled with colon cancer, so she could relate to my mom's struggles. In our short conversation, we discovered that her mom lived in a neighboring part of Nevada where I used to live and I assured her that we would follow her advice of "Take pictures. Take lots and lots of pictures."

I asked her permission to take a selfie and she happily agreed. She thanked me profusely for the drink and I went back to my car.


When I got to the hospital, my mom was delighted that I did a random act of kindness for her. I sat beside her in the bed and together we make a toast to Rita as the nurse snapped our photo.


Sunday would prove to be a monumental day for my mom. It was full steam ahead with a multitude of visitors and milestone memories to be made.

Check back soon for our next story as we celebrate my mom's final week on earth. Her funeral will be Saturday, May 13, 2017. If you would like to donate to "Dottie's Final Act of Kindness" campaign, please click here.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Orange Sherbert Smoothies


By Friday afternoon we knew.

We knew the radiation wasn't going to help.

We knew we were running out of time.

We knew we had to treasure our moments now.

Acceptance of what we knew in our hearts was yet to come, but we definitely felt a sense of urgency with each passing day.

Friday night I had a very vivid dream. My mom and I were walking around my daughter's college campus and it was a festive event. There were hundreds of rooms and each was decorated in a different theme. My mom and I wandered around, enjoying the party atmosphere when I slowly drifted out of my slumber and opened my eyes to a new morning.

I knew. Right then I knew.

This would be the last weekend we would have my mom and I had literally dreamed of her final party on earth.

It was getting more and more difficult for my mom to swallow. She had no appetite and didn't want to eat. While this was frustrating for her and us, at some point we had to just let it go.

Friday night she had asked for an Orange Crush. This was the first food or drink she had requested since the Lobster Roll on Wednesday and I would have moved heaven and earth to get it for her. Before I could even grab my car keys, our favorite nurse, Jessica, suggested we mix ginger ale with orange sherbert to make our own drink using what we had available on the oncology floor.

It was amazing! She drank three cups!

On Saturday I brought a decorative wine glass from home and we made orange sherbert smoothies in her bed. She had to drink from a straw, and it took a long time for her to get it down, but she was happy and content with her "fancy drink."


Check back soon for more stories of my mom's last week here on earth. We have so many memories to share!




Our Stories Matter


Timing is a funny thing.
I woke this morning with an urge to write - oh, I have so many amazing stories to share about my mom from these past 2 weeks! As I reached for my phone, I saw a notification that a comment had been left on my old kindness blog. I was intrigued, so I took a peek.
After rereading my blog post from 3 years ago, and the comment a 14 year old girl left on it this morning, I was reminded once again:
Our. Stories. Matter.
Through our words, we have the power to unite, divide, empathize, rectify. God can do such amazing things if we simply listen and act on the whispers of our heart. Our stories are important for they are not only the living legacy of our experiences, but they have the potential to be a guiding force and inspiration for others as well.
If you'd like to read the blog, comment, and response, click here: http://bit.ly/BFFphone
A glimpse of my blog post

My mom would have loved this. She followed all my writing sites and often commented when she saw others sharing their thoughts about what I wrote. She also knew the power of words and learned first-hand how words hurt and words heal.

For my writing friends, let this story encourage you to keep writing through the pain, the heartache, the frustration, and the grief. Don't worry that your story isn't "good enough" - it's not about what the world thinks, for you are not writing for the world. Your story may only be for an audience of one and that one matters!

For the sweet girl who took the time to pour out her heart on my kindness blog, please know you are loved. We all make mistakes in life and it seems impossible to recover; however, you are brave. So brave. You took the time to write to me, to share YOUR story, to own up to your actions. That's pretty impressive for being only fourteen years old. Do the right thing and return your friend's phone and know that you have indeed learned your lesson.

One day your story will inspire someone else to do the right thing, too.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Sounds of Music and Lobster Rolls


It's been almost a week since my last blog post and I have so many stories to share. So many! God has been amazing throughout this journey with a multitude of joy moments woven through each and every day.

But friends, I have to tell you. This whole dying business is HARD.

I mean REALLY hard.

If you've ever had a loved one suffer from cancer, you know what I'm talking about. If you've ever experienced the loss of a loved one, you know what I'm talking about. If you've experienced both, you need a hug.

Lots of hugs.

Lots and lots and lots of hugs.

This morning was difficult. We made final decisions to place my mom in hospice care. Because her condition is so precarious now, requiring high flow oxygen, she is too fragile for transport home or to a hospice designated hospital. Through God's perfect grace, my mom's doctor gave permission for her to stay right where she is, in the same hospital - the same room! - so that she can finish out her days pain-free, surrounded by the nursing staff we have all grown to love. She even gave a thumbs up as we went around the room, each affirming our decision.

It was a big day.

As many of you know, I try to bring a little joy into my mom's world each day as her journey with Stage 4 small cell lung cancer winds its way to the end. We've been checking off milestone moments, so she won't miss a single thing; this weekend we celebrated my daughter's Prom and Graduation all in one fell swoop! (More on that in a future post.)

Today, my mom watched my daughter's chorus concert from the hospital bed as she viewed the videos from her cell phone. One of my favorite songs, "Danny Boy" is actually my alma mater's school song (so LDHS pals, you might remember this one!) She listened to each song, eyes closed, as the a Capella harmonies filled the room. (If you click here you can listen to the song as well - my daughter is sixth from the right on the bottom row with the long brown hair.)


All morning my mom played those songs, liturgical music reverberating against the walls of her room. We left her door open and played the songs at top volume and she rested comfortably in her hospital bed.

We've had something on the "agenda" each day and for most she would add the event to the digital calendar on her phone. As her condition worsened, those events were no longer added manually, but she never once forgot what we were supposed to do on each day.

Today's agenda was Lobster Rolls.

Let me explain. My mom was raised in Whitman, Massachusetts, just a stone's throw from Boston. For most of her childhood and teenage years, she lived here, a die-hard Yankee who embraced every aspect of being a Bostonian. One of the many things she missed when she moved to the South in 11th grade was enjoying a hearty Lobster Roll.

That Lobster Roll has been on her bucket list ever since the list was made. Incredibly, we have a restaurant in Richmond called The Continental Westhampton that actually serves this northern delight. The dish itself is a bit pricey, so it's a delicacy for sure and one that my mom hasn't had in years.

One week ago today, my mom met with her oncology team and with the support of her husband, Bob, she expressed her interest in going into a Hospice program. Immediately after that discussion, she got her Lobster Roll with Bob.  

I have been harassing her all week about when I would have my turn at the infamous Lobster Roll feast (after all, I'm a born and bred southerner who has never taken a bite of this sandwich!) I fussed at her for not taking any photos to mark the milestone occasion. Yesterday, she told me that today, May 3, would be our Lobster Roll day. She would add it to her agenda.

Four months ago, my sister-in-law Dee gave me money and a menu with a note saying that she wanted me to take my mom out to lunch at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. Unfortunately, my mom was never again well enough to make the trek across the outdoor winding paths to the restaurant. I've kept the money and note in my purse ever since waiting for the perfect moment to do something with my mom.

Today was that perfect moment.







My mom wasn't able to eat much of the sandwich, but I pulled off the lobster in tiny shreds and fed them to her, our roles of mother and child now reversed. Oh, how I wish you could have seen the look of contentment on her face! It was priceless!

For those of you who share my fascination with God winks (those coincidental moments where a number or image will remind you that you are loved by God), I have another one to share in this moment. In my younger years, I loved the numbers 143 for they spelled out "I Love You" with the exact number of letters in each word. My first-born arrived in this world at exactly 1:43 am - the most perfect God wink of all! Well, take a peek at that receipt with the lobster roll in the photo above. Notice the time on the receipt? Ahhhh... such perfect love!

Then I came home to find my daughter's ticket to Prom on the kitchen table:

That was worthy of chill bumps.

There was one more moment that struck us today. When we all agreed on hospice care and the doctor left the room, my mom stared back at me, her beautiful brown eyes wide in disbelief. "So I can make an agenda for tomorrow?" We smiled and nodded back, saying "Of course you can! Tomorrow's a new day!" She paused a moment, shook her head, then said something that struck us to the core:

"He said I would die on May 3."

We don't know for sure who "he" is - she can't recall exactly who said that to her, but I can tell you that NOBODY has said anything like that to her the entire time I've been there (and trust me, I've been there quite a bit lately.)

I'm writing this post at 1:11 am just to say, she made it to May 4.