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Friday, November 18, 2011

For My Mom at Thanksgiving

Warning:  This post is just me talking, mostly.  And it's long.  Sorry, no pretty pictures today.

The little lady in the center
of the picture, below, is my mother.  
Our two daughters and my sister's four girls surround their Muttie.

I don't remember exactly what year this was -- 2004, 2005?  
We had not yet moved to That Old House; this is in the living room of our last home.
That's my brother-in-law Scott's ear in the lower right corner . . . it was Thanksgiving Day.

Maybe someone else in the family can pinpoint the year.
I think it was the Fall that Aine was born, as I remember Mama holding a baby girl in her arms.
Now ask me if I can remember what year our great-niece Aine was born.

Whatever the year, it was the last time Mom joined us for Thanksgiving.
The Alzheimer's was already taking a terrible toll on her cognitive and other abilities;
it was a triumph of her will and my father's stubbornness that they got to this last gathering.

The next time they crossed the rivers to New Jersey from Long Island, it was to assisted living.

Alzheimer's took Mom's life in January 2010.
As all too many of you know, losing somebody this way is a long, slow, heartbreaking ordeal.
One of the heartaches is realizing that your grief, afterward, is all mixed up with relief.
That feels so wrong. 

In the year that followed, I was absorbed with our Dad; at 90, he was getting more frail, and there were repeated hospital admissions for one thing or another.  When he passed away, 13 months after Mom, my grief was keener, more immediate, and I missed him terribly.

And it bothered me that I missed Dad more than I had missed Mom.
I thought it was because Dad had been there with us, was still enjoying life, loving parties, making cell phone calls, watching his big screen TV, flirting with pretty girls . . . he was still Dad, and still very much a presence in our lives.

But my feelings for Mom are more complicated.
I began grieving for her in 2002, when I first suspected that something was seriously wrong.

As Alzheimer's destroyed more and more of her brain, it took her further away from us,
and really -- isn't that what grieving is?  Mourning the loss of someone's presence?

By the time she left this Earth, most of her had already gone.  And so had much of my grief.

So that brings me to this year, and Thanksgiving.

And in my holiday planning, my TBDBT List making, my menus and timelines and guest lists and more . . . 
I am missing my Mom.  More.  More keenly.

I guess I've entered a new phase of grief.  I'm grieving for all we lost in those last 8 or so years, all those phone calls that never happened, all those laughs that weren't shared, all those memories that weren't made.

I am ridiculously angry that my mother suffered so terribly in the grip of this monstrous disease; what good is anger if there's no one you can be angry with?  Stuff happens, and Mom drew the short straw on this one.

In an odd way, it feels good to be feeling so bad.
I'm grieving the old Mom, the whole Mom, the Mom before Alzheimer's began dismantling her brain.

So, Mama, I'm doing a little more crying these days.
Like, now.

How lucky we were, you and I, the two Catherines, to be so close,
laugh so well together, argue so well sometimes, too.

Hello, Mrs. Tip Top Lady Bread . . . wish you were here.  -- Cass
Mom's Recipe Box, jammed with memories.
I like seeing her quirky handwriting.


  1. Oh, Cass. I feel your pain. I just wrote about my Nana celebrating her 89th bday. Only she doesn't remember her family all came to be with her for that special day..
    Wishing you days of happy memories and knowing your parents are together.
    xo, misha

  2. I feel your pain, Cass. Just baking this afternoon, I was recalling all the holidays with my mom in the kitchen. She lived in the kitchen it seemed. It's been 10 years since we lost her to cancer and then we lost my Dad last Christmas. As kids, they gave so much to us, especially at the holidays. Maybe that's why we think of them so much this time of awe do and give and do some more.

    On another note, I made those brownie cookies you had in a recent post. Needless to say they were gone within a few hours! Delish!


  3. Cass-I so understand. I lost my mother to Alzheimers many years ago. She was her 60's and it was a horrible disease that robbed her of every vestige of the real person. I feel for you- sometimes when I least expect it I will feel a hollow, aching spot that my parents used to fill.

    BTW-I missed my Dad more too. Maybe because we are always "Daddy's little girl"? A beautiful post here- xo Diana

  4. Cass -- I'm crying! A big hug for you dear friend. It was a beautiful post -- but do remember, you have your memories and the good ones will become stronger as the bad ones (those last few years) become dimmer.


  5. I've never even met you, but I'm crying because your story is one we can all relate to. I've felt that same pain and grief. It's a part of life, but something we'd all just as soon skip. Remember the good times you had with them and may you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, counting your blessings.

  6. This post has moved me to comment; I have been reading your blog for quite a few months (and really enjoy it, btw!) as I read your words about your mom and dad, my eyes filled with tears for your grief, your losses and then for my own. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and know that I for one, and I think for most daughters, understand the process of mourning that you have talked about. Hugs and blessings to you.

  7. Cass,
    your blog today has touched my heart. I cried with you as I read your thoughts. My dad will be gone 15 years in December and I still miss him horribly. A part of me is missing and the loss is felt more keenly during these holidays. But his pain is over and in the arms of our Sweet Jesus!
    I'm blessed to still have my mom; she's what keeps me grounded but she's in her 80's and not in the greatest of health, so I'm taking advantage of her time here to enjoy and appreciate her.
    I'll be praying for you during these days that your heart will be comforted.

  8. Oh, dear Cass! My heart is with you and all who are missing loved ones, especially this time of year. I lost my sweet Dad 8 years agoe and my dear big sister 4 years ago. It didn't feel right that the sun still shined and the seasons turned without my farmer father to be there to enjoy them as he did. Time heals, trite but true. Hold tight to your memories. Drink them in and cry if you need to! Your blog always makes me smile!

    God bless you!

  9. What a post, Cass. You've put so well what many of us struggle with but we can't find the words. My mum is slowly changing. The softening around the edges is sometimes alarming, always surprising. She's not the same Mum - not worried by the same things, not so interested in the same things, not remembering so very many things. Little by little I'm getting used to different person.
    Sending hugs....

  10. What a perfect tribute to your mother and also a beautifully written post. I miss my mom too. It is amazing to say I am a lot like my mother, all the good and the bad. I am sure my children have their good and bad memories of me. Hopefully I am making more good memories so they can say how much they miss me when my time on earth is done. Sweet post...

  11. What a touching post! I am sitting here, eyes filled with beautifully written and I hope you find comfort in your mom'
    has dementia and it is So tough... she mixes in moments of really sharp/ with it memories and observations with out- of- it ramblings. It is hard, I think especially when your folks were vibrant engaged people, full of life. Or in my Mom's case full of spit and vinegar!! JK Thanks
    for sharing such a personal story. I hope you have a WONDERFUL THANKSGIVING ...HUGS Alison

  12. I am trying sooo hard to not cry as I too am missing my Mom.
    This time of year is a tough one for those of us missing family members but I try hard to think of the good memeories to pull me through.


  13. My mother didn't have Alzheimer's. She had tuberculosis and it robbed her health as well. She was only given a year but persevered and lived seven more years. In and out of the hospital with her health and strength slowly draining. She was only 55 at the time of her death. I grieved but was also thankful. She didn't have to suffer any more. I have mixed emotions as well and there are days, for no reason at all, that I miss her terribly. Even after 24 years.
    In a way, I totally understand what you are feeling. You have every right to cry and grieve. But remember the good times. Wouldn't your mother want it that way? I pray that thinking of her will bring a smile to your face. A great big hug ~ Velma

  14. Cass,

    I am sitting here alone in the living room crying. I moved my sweet mother (also Catherine) in with us. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer's five years ago. What makes it worse is that she is a nurse and spent much of her career caring for Alzheimer's patients so she knows (at least for now) the progression of this horrible disease. Some days are spent with a scared little child who follows me like a shadow and other days with a mean spirited woman who wants to go home. My favorite days are spent with the mother I knew -- they are few and far between. I grieve everyday my mother takes another step in her slow journey home.

    Your Friend,

  15. Cass,
    I feel the same way. The relief overpowers the grief for a while. It has been 10 years for me and I am grieving now more than ever - for my mom, my dad and my husband who died within 18 months of each other. Today I will make my mom's creamed onions for Thanksgiving. They will go in the freezer. Thursday morning I will make her relish tray for the table. Celery stuffed with Roka cheese and sprinkled with paprika, watermelon pickle, and pimento stuffed olives.

    You and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Time does have a tendency remember the best.


  16. Lost my mom to Alz. last October. This year is definitely harder for me. I wasn't sure why, but when I read "grief mixed with relief", I realized that's probably the reason. My mom lived with us for 3 years and it was REALLY tough the last 8 months. There were days that I just wanted her to let go and I felt so guilty about that after she was gone. It's an incredibly UGLY disease and I wish there was something we could all do about it... So many of us share the same pain. Reality sucks.

  17. Dear Cass, thank you for writing this post..the feelings are so clear here. I was just talking about missing my mama and grandmother this morning. some years are harder than Grandmother was like my mama to me and she slowly faded away like this.. I feel with you in your grief....would hug you if I could reach a cyber hug will have to do...I really understand this one...

  18. Your feelings are perfectly normal and understandable. My mother died nine and a half years ago, but I had already grieved her loss over the ten years she was losing it. I didn't shed a tear at the funeral because I just didn't have any left. I have shed plenty since then, especially at holidays, because those were my best times with her. The pain will become less acute, but the sense of loss will always be with you. It is just something you learn to accept. I had a difficult relationship with my mother, and it is main reason I wrote a book about her -- trying to sort it all out.

    You are fortunate to have such a large extended family because that will help you.

  19. Thank you for this post! My mom has been gone ten years this month and I still miss her so, she had cancer and demintia. I understand your feeling of relief, I think it's a feeling of not having them suffer anymore, I remember feeling that relief that she just wasn't hurting anymore. I lost my best friend, shopping buddy and so much more that day.


  20. I too am feeling your grief, Cass. My mom is 81 and in the downward spirals of dementia. Although she still has her good days and her not so good days, the bad days are creeping in now. I'm already missing my dynamo mommy.

    My husband lost his mom when he was 20 years old... she had just turned 50 - 30 years ago. He says I should consider myself lucky to have had these years and I know he's right, but it doesn't make the journey any less painful.

    My mother and I have always had a complicated relationship, so I'm glad the memories of your mama are ones you can dig out through your grief and remember with joy.


  21. Cass, I'm sending a hug your way. I know what you went through (in my case, it was my father) and it is so incredibly hard with so many varying emotions; grief and relief. It's been ten years since my father's passing and nary a day goes by I don't think of him. The holidays are especially tender times.

  22. Your mother's handwriting looks so much like MY mother's! Having her recipes, in her own hand, is so precious.

  23. Cass, this is a lovely tribute to your wonderful mom! I know how you feel about Alzheimer's or any similar disease. My grandmother was not herself anymore by the time she actually died of Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease. We had mourned her and gotten through the grief long before she finally died, which was a blessing after all of it. But I still to this day, 28 years later, remember all the fun times we shared. And I still can't depart with pieces of her furniture, which I still use! She lives on through me.


  24. I appreciate your heartfelt post more than you can know! My 83 yr. old mom is suffering from Alzheimer's Disease--my sister and I have always had a difficult relationship with her. She has never been an easy personality to deal with, but if there is any "gift" with Alzheimer's, she is much more mellow and kinder--no vestiges of the prickly personality--but even in a way that makes me sad too. Dad died from a heart attack 20 yrs. ago at age 69. My sister and I have grieved him terribly. I do not carry a sad face around, but I still think of him often and wish I could talk to him. I feel a tinge of guilt to say this, but even with his human imperfections, he was easier to love.
    This Thanksgiving I will remember my mom and grandmother making the unbelievably amazing savory cornbread dressing, as I saute the onions and celery in butter in the old iron skillet. I'll remember my dad sitting in his easy chair, watching the parade and football, holding his coffee cup out for one of "his girls" to fill it up. I miss them both, but the memories will be sweet! Have a blessed Thanksgiving!


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