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In her shoes

To know mummy is to know that a few years back, she had an impressive shoe collection of mostly high heels and pumps. My sister and I were talking recently about how my stepfather used to take mummy often to Chernyn’s Shoe Store in Chicago to buy her shoes.  The day before I left Chicago last month, I halfheartedly went through mummy’s closet. I really didn’t feel like looking. It felt oddly intrusive.  My sisters told me to see if there was anything I wanted, and if so, to take it because they would eventually be sending mummy’s things to her sisters and other family in New York.

I didn’t see much. I was curious about what happened to the shoe collection because what I saw was mostly modest, orthopedic type flats. Mummy was 78 years old, so I know she stopped wearing heels a while ago. There were so many nice clothes  hanging in her closet, some with the tags still on. I saw a few items I gave her when she was in Austin visiting in September 2016 and when she returned in November 2016 for my breast cancer surgeries. The only piece of clothing I decided to take was a lounge dress I bought for her while in Jamaica last year. After mulling over a unique pair of lilac shoes, I decided to take them too.

As of Tuesday, August 8th, it has been one month since she passed away. It still feels surreal…more like surreal-ality as I indicated in my previous post. I had a rough week, but Tuesday was particularly difficult. I discussed with my husband the night before that the next day would be one month, but I forgot about it the next morning. However, my subconscious didn’t forget. I was sad at work and really struggled emotionally. My tolerance and patience were very low that day.  I made my husband worry because I started crying when he asked me how my day was going. I attributed it to something going on at work. It wasn’t until I spoke to my oldest sister that evening that I realized what it was because she was struggling too.

I had worn mummy’s shoes for the first time on the one month anniversary of her death. I didn’t plan it, but it was comforting knowing that she was so close. I wondered how I would react if someone complimented me on my shoes and I would tell them they were mummy’s.  Had someone said something, I might have remembered what day it was, but no one said anything about my shoes and it was like any other day.

Mummy and I didn’t see eye to eye during my teenage and early adult years…in fact, for most of my life. We had very different upbringings. I’m not sure that I could ever survive what she’s been through or walk in her shoes. I was literally in her shoes for the first time on Tuesday, August 8th, and you know what, the shoes felt comfortable. They were worn in just right. They were stretched slightly enough to be firm and provide support, yet allow me to slip them off when needed (as I tend to do in my office). The shoes fit me perfectly. They are pretty, unique and interesting just like mummy and myself. I love them.

By the way, my sister told me about 2 weeks after I left Chicago that a bunch of shoes were under mummy’s bed. So that’s where she kept her collection. It never occurred to me to look under the bed. Oh well…

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Surreal-ality

It’s been over a week since we buried mummy and I’ve been facing a new reality – surreal-ality.  Yes, this a word I made up as an attempt to describe this realm I’m in. It seems surreal that she’s gone, and yet, it’s the reality I must face. Nothing in life prepares you for the death of a parent, although intellectually and spiritually (for some), we know all humans will die.  A high school classmate very thoughtfully wrote on my facebook page, in sum, that she is still with me, but in different form. His words were touching.

From the outside, it looks like I’ve gone on with my life, and in many ways, I have. I went back to work on Tuesday, have been cooking, exercising, tending to my plants, shopping, doing housework, reading articles, and so on.  What has been difficult is not hearing her voice, but I can still hear her voice in my head. You see, for the past 5 years, I’ve called mummy almost daily, particularly during the work week. I decided to do that a few years ago because I was aware that I didn’t know how much longer she would live. Part of that has to do with mummy prepping us for her death for about 15 years now. She became ill a few months after retiring. She’s been telling us since then we need to prepare.

My purpose in calling her was two-fold – distract me from my work day and bring a little joy to mummy’s life. In the process, I’ve gotten to know her as a person and I haven’t held back in letting her get to know me as an adult child. It was difficult at times to switch roles and be the encourager many times, but I did it.  My brother told me twice after the funeral that he knew I was her favorite. He said he heard her talk about things with me he never heard her talk about previously.  I don’t know how to take what he said, but I am certainly thankful I made this effort. I miss her voice. Even when she was irritable due to the medications or pain, or when she was complaining, or when we were arguing, I miss her voice.

The Saturday before I returned to Austin, I was at my oldest sister’s house, in the backyard, reviewing the paperwork from the funeral home and signing the 100+ “thank you” cards.  There were 4 small boxes in a bag. Curiously, we opened our boxes together and gasped with tears when we realized what the gift was – an embedded photo of mummy in a light up key chain.  It was such a special moment that we shared together. My sister asked me not to tell my other siblings because she wanted to be there in person to see their faces.

When we returned to Austin, I was reviewing the many photos I took in Chicago. I came across a photo where I was trying to capture the breath-taking key chain in the light, and in the background, I noticed my kids playing with each other.  They rarely play with each other, let alone outside, but my sister had a toss game that she set outside for them. It was a gorgeous day.  They might have played for all of 10 minutes, but it was so touching to see in the picture because I hadn’t noticed it when we were there.

Caleb & Elise 2017

Caleb and Elise, Chicago, July 15, 2017

As my brother said, mummy is in all of us. This picture gives me comfort because I know that she is with me, with all of us, and that she left a beautiful legacy. We’re going to be okay.

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Goodbye, So So, my Haitian queen

Yesterday, I received the dreaded call that no one ever wants.  My sister was on the other end of the line. She sounded calm, and for a moment, I was relieved. However, her next few words pierced me to the core, “Mummy, passed away this morning”.  It took me a few seconds to process. I heard her voice quiver. We exchanged a few more words of which I can’t remember and she reassured me of something.  I told her I’d call her back. I walked to the group of ladies from my Zumba class who were talking. I  tapped on Mary’s shoulder and muttered the words, “I just found out that my mom passed away”.  I cried hard and loud as they embraced me for what felt like forever and I’ve been sobbing intermittently every since.

Albeit painful, I made peace on Friday that mummy might not make it through the night based on my sister’s report from the doctor.  They were transitioning mummy to hospice care. This is painful to write and I stopped a few times due to the uncontrollable tears. My husband told me that I should stop and that it’s too soon, but I must because writing for me is therapeutic. When I woke up Saturday morning without hearing new updates, I decided to go about my normal routine of  going to Zumba class and then the grocery store. I’m so thankful that I was in the company of my Zumba-loving prayer warriors because they consoled and prayed for me.

Words can’t truly express the sorrow I am feeling right now. However, despite the sorrow, I am overwhelmingly thankful Solange (SoSo) Nicholas was my mother. I’m thankful that I saw her beautiful smile in person last month. I’m thankful that I hugged and kissed her.  I’m thankful that my sisters and brother made sure mummy was not alone while she was in the hospital for almost 2 weeks. I’m thankful that my sisters made efforts to shield me from what they were experiencing while watching mummy suffer. I’m thankful my sister put her phone to mummy’s ear so mummy could hear me tell her that I loved her.  She told me that mummy’s eyes got bigger indicating she heard me.  I’m thankful that mummy is no longer in pain and that she can finally rest in peace. I’m thankful that mummy gave us her best. I’m thankful that she saw me beat breast cancer and came to Texas to be with me for my surgeries. I’m thankful that she always thought of us first. She even made and paid for her funeral and burial arrangements, so we wouldn’t have to worry. I’m thankful that I had a loving mother because not everyone has a loving mother.

SoSo, you did a valient job raising your 4 children…only if you knew it while you were alive. However, maybe you did because I spotted the look of contentment on your face when all of your children were together last month. You were always so humble and generous.  You came to Texas to visit your baby, the youngest (me), any time you could. You’ve been here, by far, more than anyone else.  You’ve been there for me, by far, more than anyone else. I can only aspire to be like you. BRAVO, my Haitian queen!

I have no more words…for now.

 

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Family is everything

This has been a difficult week…so much so, that it feels like months since I wrote the blog post “Happy Place” a few weeks ago. I lost my happy place this week. My mom, my mummy, had a heart attack on Monday & went into kidney failure shortly after. The prognosis was grave. She was on a ventilater. The doctors inserted a balloon pump to help her heart. The doctors placed her on continuous dialysis. Then, she got a contagious infection. My sister asked me my thoughts on resuscitation. She and my other sister said mummy told them on different occassions she didn’t want it. Having completed my 1st social work internship in a nursing home a few years ago, I knew resuscitation could cause more harm than good for the people that are aging. I couldn’t hold back the tears on several occasions as I told some of my staff and coworkers what was going on.

Day 7 in critical condition and she’s doing better. No more heart pump. No more ventilator as of today. She’s still on continuous dialysis in the Intensive Care Unit  (ICU), but she’s headed in the right direction. Her primary oncologist said her body’s reaction to the chemotherapy for multiple myoma indicates she can’t do chemotherapy. We’re all ok with that.

To think that I almost lost my mom this week is heart wrenching and I’m all the way in Texas. My two sisters and brother are the ones who’ve been there: taking turns spending the night, talking to the doctors, talking to mummy, conforting her, and notifying her friends. Don’t get me wrong, I have called the hospital myself and requested constant updates from my siblings. 

I even bit the bullet and called my uncle despite the somewhat strained relationship. One of my sisters was opposed, but acknowledged that it was the right thing to do. He and my mom go way back…way back to Haiti. This has to be a 55-60 year old relationship. They’re ex-brother/sister-in-laws for I don’t know how long. I find the dynamics strange at times, but who am I? Mummy would have wanted him to know, so I called. I’m glad I did too because he’s been to see her twice. He told my cousins and they’ve visited. In fact, members from mummy’s key tribe have taken the time to visit and pray for her. I’ve also asked my friends to pray for her.

The stress at work was almost unbearable coupled with what was happening with mummy. I lost myself this week. I really did. I barely used any self-care tools. I exercised a little, barely ate, barely slept, and was in a constant state of anxiety. I did pray. 

It’s Sunday night and I’m just now starting to feel better. When my sister told me via text that they were taking out the ventilater, my response was, “I can finally breathe again.” This evening, I completed about 30 minutes of Zumba and 15 minutes of stretching. I am actually breathing again.

The siblings: Gina, Patrick, Mylene & me. Chicago, June 2017

Tragedy has a way of bringing families together, and with each experience, good or bad, we’ve gotten closer. Words can’t express how glad I am for making the trip to Chicago at the end of May/early June because I almost canceled my trip for a JOB. You read that right. As mummy gets older, I don’t know when our last time seeing each other will be. Therefore, I went to Chicago with my children and had a wonderful time. Having experienced breast cancer first hand, I’m keenly aware that tomorrow is not promised. 

Work is the wheel that keeps turning whether you are there or not. Work is work. Family is everything.

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Happy place

I’m enjoying a soothing, warm drink at one of my favorite places in the world right now…my front porch. It’s a modest porch…more like a covered stoop, but good enough for me to fit 2 comfortable chairs, a variety of plants/herbs, and a couple of citronella candles. It’s a party for my senses sitting out here as I get a slight chill from the light breeze, inhale the soothing candle aroma, catch its flickering light in my peripheral vision, and listen to the bugs, cars and other sounds in the distance.

I’m in my happy place. I’ve always loved summer nights and I’ve accomplished much today. Earlier, I took a nap, cooked a few meals/snacks for the week, exercised, jotted down my Monday to do list, and now I’m writing a blog post, which I didn’t think I’d get to do. A lot has happened in the last few weeks and I’m grateful for the experiences. Even the Bishop at my church has spent the past few weeks on the message of being responsible for your own happiness.

I have to write a post about my trip to Chicago to visit my famy last week, but that will have to wait for another time. It was FABULOUS and just what I needed. I look forward to writing about my experience in my new position at work. I’m having growing pains, but nothing I can’t handle. The most beneficial thing is that I was set up with a mentor. He was on my interview panel, we’ve had one phone consultation, and we plan to meet tomorrow. I’m excited about all that I will learn. I also want to write about a post I read from a journalist who is a fellow cancer survivor. She shared what she’s learned from other renowned doctor’s about how cancers develop. I’ve been thinking about it a lot as for me it emphasized how important it is to reduce stress. The key seems to be having a strong immune system because a weak one can invite trouble. It reaffirmed in mind that daily prayer, eating well, cooking, exercising, sleeping, doing the things that make me happy, saying no to some things, saying yes to others, etc. is necessary for my survival. Self-care is not selfish, it’s life saving. 

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Oh sweet May is coming to an end

I’ve always loved May mostly because it’s my birthday month. I love that it signals spring (or summer in Texas). Growing up in Chicago, I’ve experienced a cold day or two (or more) in May, so you’re really not in the clear in terms of warm weather until maybe June. Since I’ve become a mom, I get to add Mother’s Day to the festivities. Then there’s Cinco de Mayo, which I didn’t start celebrating until I moved to Texas. Mexican food has always been my favorite. We end the month remembering those who’ve lost their lives in the armed forced on Memorial Day. For me, the whole month of May is about celebration, inspiration, creativity, reflection and gratitude. This May has been especially sweet to me.

Last May, my husband experienced a serious health challenge and ended up having brain surgery on my birthday. This May, I get to prepare to see my family and friends in Chicago. I almost canceled this trip because with my new position, I was concerned about coverage for my unit, but some other managers agreed to cover for me. Plus there really isn’t any other time. I got a sweet deal on the tickets and my kids may be involved in various summer activities. We’re moving forward with the plan as scheduled.

My kids and I are leaving on 5/31 while my husband stays with the kittens. My son was on the verge of staying home too if he hadn’t arranged to take his finals early. I can hardly wait and neither can the kids. I’m so looking forward to getting fueled up with love. Not that I don’t get it here, but you know what I mean. It’s just my husband and I in Texas with our kids while mostly everyone we know and love is in Chicago. I’m also looking forward to the food, sites, and smells that I miss. I don’t have any plans of moving back because I hate the winter (so does my husband), but I don’t mind visiting when it’s technically supposed to be warm (weather channel shows 60’s & 70’s this week). Hey…it’s not December. I made a vow in 2009 that I would never return in December because it was so cold.

This visit is especially sweet because having dealt with breast cancer, I realize how fragile life is. Today, I picked out my outfits for the suitcase and have been encouraging my kids to do the same. Sometimes I surprise myself with how quickly and efficiently I pack now when that hasn’t always been the case.  I’ve been traveling for work for at least 3 years now, so I’ve become a pro.

Oh sweet May, you’ve been so good to me. I can’t wait to see what June brings besides the heat.

 

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Happy Birthday to me

Today, I turn 44 years old. I was talking to my 78 year old mom on the phone yesterday, reminding her of my birthday and she exclaimed repeatedly, “My BABY is turning 44!” Yup, mummy, its true…your baby turns 44 and I feel great. I love the confidence, wisdom, discernment, patience, focus, and unapologetic self-assuredness that comes with being in your 40’s. These attributes helped me nail the best job interview of my life on Monday, 5/15/17, resulting in a promotion. I’ve been floating all week. 

Sure, I see more defined frown lines on my forehead and bags under my eyes. I was just telling my hubby this week I can see I look older. I recently noticed some small lines on both sides of my mouth when I smile. After Zumba class last week, I actually questioned if I was getting too old for all the jumping because I was unusually sore the next day after giving it my all and “leaving it on the dance floor”. I later concluded that I probably should have gone to bed early instead of attending Zumba class because I was exercising on an almost empty tank after a long day. I toned down my intensity in subsequent classes. I do get the occasional aches and pains. However, I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been and even have muscle definition in my arms. I wouldn’t trade my emotional, spiritual, and mental growth to be back in my twenties where I was depressed, unhappy, insecure, and didn’t appreciate my size 8/10 shape. I admit those old insecurities still come, but I know how to manage them.

Office birthday party favors 5-19-17

This time last year, I didn’t celebrate my birthday because my husband had brain surgery…on my birthday. We visited the emergency room twice in May 2016 and had to cancel our trip to Florida. My very first post to my blog was about that whole experience which you can read about here. My hubby is doing much better. Little did we know that 4 months later, I would be diagnosed with breast cancer. At the Caribbean themed birthday party my coworkers coordinated for myself and another coworker yesterday, someone commented, “You guys have been through an ordeal!” My response was that we did get some mileage out of our health insurance plan and you better believe we met our deductible! We got a good laugh out of that. The point is life happens. You deal with it, make adjustments, and keep moving forward. I’m thankful to be alive and thriving with the ones I love. 

Today, will be a low key day with my family. I plan to get some rest because I’ve worked late all week as a result of getting acclimated to my new job which includes managing staff. Long work days will become a new normal, but I am not deviating from my self-care strategies. Exercise, eating well, reading, sleeping, writing, catching up with friends…these are all things that rejuvenate me. 

We may hit a movie and dinner later, but for the most part, I want to be around the house. I’m content because I have everything I need and am grateful to be alive. I can’t wait to see what this next year of growth has in store for me.