Tuesday, December 25, 2012

"The Reason for the Season"

Showering those you love with acceptance       
Holding tenderness within your heart       
Surrounding yourself with kindred spirits       
Collecting diversity to honor and cherish       
Fostering creativity, individuality       
Nurturing peace, grace, dignity       
Protecting humanity       

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Saturday, December 15, 2012

"Too Many Tears"

  I scheduled an appointment to take Mom's ashes out to Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery for yesterday morning. David and I left for the twenty minute drive with extra time built into our trip out of my old military upbringing habits. However, a fine mist slicked the roads and highways. Traffic slowed on I35, the brake lights haloed  in a festivity I didn't feel. We missed our turn to get to Harry Wurzbach  Road, but the little delay didn't worry me as we swung by the old bowling alley of my childhood. We had time to spare, or so I thought. Then construction slowed us to a crawl as a cop conducted a silent orchestration of traffic. Finally, we turned into the parking lot of the Administration building.
Clutching Mom's urn tightly in my grasp, I cautiously mounted the steps. Mom's greatest fear centered on the possibility of a military SNAFU that would prevent her ashes from sitting with Dad's. With visions of tripping, dropping, and damaging her urn in my head, I took special care even though I knew we'd arrive within seconds of our appointment time. The sign on the front door simply stated: NEW OFFICE ONE MILE EAST. David and I quickly returned to the car, knowing we'd be "fashionably late" for our meeting. I chewed my bottom lip in silent frustration because I hate being late.
The cemetery at Ft. Same Houston stretches endlessly. We followed the curved lane until it deposited us right in front of the new building. I gave the receptionist my name and Mom's, and she instructed us to take a seat while she let someone know we'd arrived.
And I sat, for the second time in my life, holding the ashes of my parent. I knuckled away the tears, soft as the mist outside, that cooled my temple and cheek. The mist turned to a sprinkle, and I fished a wad of toilet paper out of my coat pocket, wishing I'd thought to bring one of Mom's handkerchiefs. A young man greeted us, offering a warm handshake and his condolences. He handed me a form to fill out while he took my paperwork back to make copies.
When Dad died, we struggled to find an inscription for his marker and settled on something like "Loved by All." With Mom's death, the cemetery would redo the marker. Right after Mom died, I suggested to my siblings that Mom's love of Willie Nelson songs could provide us with a more suitable quotation for the marker, but my fogged brain couldn't generate a single chorus. My sister, without hesitation, sang the snippet "Always on my mind." We knew instantly that this perfect phrase applied to both of our parents. As I surrendered Mom's ashes to the official, he asked if I wanted to go with him to witness the placement. This one last thing, though, I couldn't do.
David and I made intentional plans to run a few errands once we left the cemetery. Keeping busy keeps me focused. We dashed over to the county tax office to get new plates for our seven year old hybrid. We maneuvered through traffic to hit The Forum and Target where we purchased new windshield wipers for the car. We hustled home with the goal of decorating our Christmas tree. Keeping busy, busy, busy.
David, out of habit, checked his email as soon as he entered our bedroom. And he read about the tragedy in Connecticut. He turned on the news. We spent hours watching each update of this heartbreak. The day that started with tears continued with tears until I took the opportunity to leave the house with a friend. We sat at Starbuck's sipping their peppermint concoction and never once discussed the loss of lives. When I returned home, the news drew me until I started crying again. Finally, I switched the channel to White Christmas. 
Throughout Mom's illness, I cried tears of frustration, anger, and grief. As Huntington's Disease stripped Mom of so many abilities, tears gave me release. They cleansed me. As I sat with Mom during those last three weeks, I cried frequently. I knew she didn't suffer, and I rationalized that at eighty-two, she'd lived a wonderfully loving life, but the tears still came. Tears have sprung up at unexpected moments as I've sorted through Mom's belongings, made runs to Goodwill, and repainted her bedroom. Even though I prepared myself for Mom's death,  grief will cover me during these long winter nights.
But those families from the school shooting? How will they survive this wrenching loss? Children. Children. 
And so yesterday became a day of too many tears.     

Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Friday, December 14, 2012

"Our Children Kill Each Other"

tears well in our eyes   
indignation puffs us full   
of righteousness   
at children carrying weapons   
we cry in dismay   
at cold-hearted killers   
living desperate lives in disparate lands   
far from our safe homes   
children as soldiers with an arsenal of death   
not ours   
not our responsibility   

tears well in our eyes   
as we cling to the Second Amendment   
our right to arm our children   
with hatred   
camouflaged in mistrust      
we cultivate our subtext of fear   
creating cold-hearted killers   
within our own homes   
children as soldiers with an arsenal of death   
yet not ours   
nor our responsibility   

tears well in our eyes   
disbelief sucker punches us again   
as our children kill each other   
questions, finger pointing,  and the blame game resumes   
but nothing changes   
while the new order of horror   
nurtures cold-hearted killers   
within our own homes   
children as soldiers with an arsenal of death   
our responsibility     

Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Monday, December 3, 2012

"For the Camera"

The old photos reveal nothing   
         show no hint of the abuses   
                     that darken your future   
         Gape-tooth smiles, youthful   
                     mugging for the camera   
                                 don’t predict   

         The childish arms that hugged   
                     friend and family   
                     hang skeletal   
                                 by your sides   
         While your sunken eyes   
                     and forced and frozen smiles   
                                                         for the camera    

         Pretending your world glows   
         Making believe he’ll finally   
                                             notice you   
                                             love you   
                                                         fit you into his small and selfish life   

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Sunday, December 2, 2012

"Weddings and Funerals"

Best friends      
sharing whispered secrets late into the night     
laughing at inside jokes     
crying at sentimental Hallmark card commercials     
Best friends     
writing voluminous letters across the years      
freezing moments with photographs     
offering comfort and strength     
Best friends     
visiting at weddings and funerals     
revealing superficial news     
concealing heartbreak and disappointments      
Best friends     
reconnecting despite differences     
creating new laughter      
rediscovering commonalities     

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Friday, November 30, 2012

"The Middle Child"

Middle child   
between curly hair with doe brown eyes   
and an only son   
one five years ahead, the other five behind   
imitating the elder while   
lingering in childhood with the younger   
envying her poised elegance and   
longing for his sweet innocence   

Middle child   
between worldliness and naiveté   
flanked by her play for independence   
and his everlasting childhood   
expecting more from myself   
learning by her mistakes   
benefiting when parents learn   
it’s something kids just do   

Middle child   
between reserved solitude   
and gentle attachment   
becoming reliable and resilient   
out of necessity and then habit   
passing white glove inspections   
knitting and purling the blanket of family   
needing its comforting warmth   

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Thursday, November 29, 2012

"The Cottage"

Cottage on Inisheer, one of the Aran Islands, Ireland September 2010   

Whitewashed walls tinged rose by sunrise’s blush   
sashes—a splash of sky   
new thatch mixes with dew’s perfume   
while flowers and ferns embroider the path of home       
Door opens with smiles and cheer       
Peat banked in the hearth       
black pot nestles in amber embers simmering Guinness stew         
Lace daintily drips from the table        
—tatted by Grams’ steady hands       
Oatcakes totter on a platter       
sheep’s cheese, churned butter, honey, cream       
and tea brewed black—a midnight sky swirling with galaxies        
From the loft flows the fiddle’s enchantment        
a boy’s toe tapping, keeping the beat        
drowning out the past’s lament        
tears of yesteryear hidden in another song        
Cottage at Bunratty Castle
Share a pint   
Share a verse   
Share our life     
Welcome home!   
Welcome home.   

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Cottage at Bunratty Castle

During our entire trip through
 Ireland, a place I'd never visited before, I felt as though I was returning home.

Cottage on Inisheer

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"The Last Dance"

  On November 4th, I found myself sitting outside the door of my mother's hospital door, weeping. The nurse huddled next to me, looping her arm around me in sympathy as I cried. I couldn't get my mother to eat, or drink, or take medication. Whenever anyone placed something in her mouth, she pushed it out with her tongue, or let it sit with a slack jaw until it spilled from her lips in a nasty pool of drool. My mother's sudden inability to swallow anything caught me unprepared. The week before, she ate her pancakes swimming in syrup, drank her hot chocolate Boost laced with Carnation Instant Breakfast. She devoured a bowl of homemade split pea soup loaded with onion and bacon, and asked for her favorite, spaghetti. Within a period of a few days, Mom's tongue insisted on doing the opposite of what she needed in order to survive. Anything placed in her mouth got uncontrollably shoved right back out.  
When I called to have the home health care nurse check Mom because her fluid intake dropped so much within a twelve hour period, the nurse suggested that Mom may have had a urinary track infection. She'd had other patients exhibit confusion and passivity along with the swallowing problem. We began enticing Mom with cranberry juice, made certain she drank more water, and watched her carefully. By the next day, Mom only drank twelve ounces instead of her usual thirty-two. She barely ate any food and asked often to go "home." When she needed to use the restroom around 11 o'clock that evening, I noticed her hands felt cold, her legs looked shrunken. We immediately tried to get her to sip some water, but she pushed her tongue against the straw instead of drawing the tube into her mouth. Finally, we tried using a syringe to place fluid into her mouth. She let it pool loosely until it trickled from the corner of her lips. Alarms rang. We decided not to wait for nurse's visit scheduled for first thing the next morning. Instead, we warmed Mom in her favorite blue robe and rushed her to the ER once again.
  Hospital time matches nothing in the outside world. Every minute passes with excruciating slowness. In the four hours that it took for the nurses and doctor to run tests and process everything for Mom, she'd shrunk into a withered prune. The skin on her hands creased into ridges. The pads of her fingertips changed from smooth to wrinkled surfaces. Her hands lost all heat, and when I held one I thought, "She's turning to ice." Mom's legs kicked about in anxiety as her chorea surfaced with the stress of the situation. I watched the skin on her shins pull tight over her bones while her calves puckered. Whatever fluid her body contained pooled toward her center, leaving her extremities cold as death. Eventually, an IV relieved Mom's dehydration. By 2 PM, her hands and feet thawed to room temperature. Her sunken cheeks still looked skeletal, but some color splashed across her face. By the second IV and round of antibiotics, Mom could eat a few spoons of the pureed pork chops and mashed potatoes the dietitian provided for Mom's lunch. Medication still resulted in a battle, though. The nurses left it up to me to administer the pills because Mom wouldn't or couldn't cooperate with them. This troubled all of us, and so the nurses contacted the on duty doctor and requested Mom have a swallowing evaluation performed as soon as possible. Within the hour, the specialist wheeled Mom down to XRAY for the test. The specialist explained to me that one of two possibilities appeared to be happening with Mom. In the first scenario, Mom's slightly elevated white blood cell count could indicate a urinary track infection in it's early stages. She proposed that Mom's HD made her susceptible to more confusion and physical symptoms like the swallowing problem. If that was the case, once Mom rehydrated and responded to the antibiotic treatment, she should return to her baseline swallowing--pills with foods like pudding, pureed meats and veggies, pasta cut in small pieces. I clung to her hopeful suggestion because I knew all too well the second option the specialist would offer to me. Mom's HD had shifted into a new level. Her frequent tendency to do the opposite from what she wanted (like pulling back when she wanted to move foreword, or not being able to move at all when she's trying to shift out of her wheelchair) could now be affecting her ability to take something into her mouth, maneuver her tongue to pushing the food back into the throat and then swallowing. She said Mom either couldn't or wouldn't move her food in any direction but forward and out of her mouth. The woman asked if we'd discussed tube feeding as an option with Mom. I assured her that we had, and that Mom had made it clear to everyone that intubation was not an option for her.
  We have lived with the dance of Huntington's Disease for ten years, the slow and inevitable death that carved away aspects of my mother's physical abilities along with her personality. Most days, her spirit stayed strong, but clouds of vacant thoughts sometimes blurred her eyes, and for short periods of time, Mom vanished. During the end of October, she disappeared for longer and longer periods. In her place were empty green eyes that disengaged by looking into the corners of the family room. When the hospital suggested we set up hospice, I knew that our lives would change once again. 
  In the weeks that followed, Mom rallied several times. A couple of mornings, early on, she ate an entire pancake or scrambled eggs. When she couldn't manage to suck through a straw, we spirited water, colas and Boost into her mouth using a syringe. A week after Mom's hospitalization, she began spending her entire day in her bed. We moved a television into the room and a comfortable rocking chair for me to use. Days strung together with hours viewing Mom's favorite television shows. I'd search Netflix every evening to line up possible movies for the following day. The little amounts of food Mom ate during those first days dropped off rapidly. Each day she ate half of what she'd eaten the previous meal. She never regained her ability to draw from a straw, and so one of us tempted her with fluids a syringe-full at a time. The hospice nurses explained that we fed Mom more for our own emotional needs, and that eventually her body would let us know that she wouldn't take any more food. The last thing I fed my mother was a bowl of ice cream--the food of her nightly ritual for most of her adult life. One afternoon she ate about half a bowl, but by that evening she refused to swallow any. Nothing enticed her to eat after that point, and I feared she would aspirate something if I pushed too hard. Eventually, Mom followed the same pattern with fluids. Weakness swathed her, and I became uncertain that she'd make it to my brother's promised Thanksgiving visit, but Mom rallied the moment he walked into her room. She smiled and held his hand, pushing her energy forward as he sat and talked to her. When he left the next day, she slept for hours, waking up only for minute amounts of water.
          The nurses assured us repeatedly that Mom felt no pain. They explained that the brain shuts down pain receptors as the body starves. I know, without a doubt, that this was true as Mom slowly melted away. I reached out to close friends and family members during those last days, I relied heavily upon the hospice nurses, social worker, and aid who energized me with their genuine compassion for our family. I found myself longing to sit down to write and somehow find control over everything.
  Yesterday, I put Sleepless in Seattle on the television, pulled my red fleece blanket up to my chin, and stroked Mom's brow as she slept for a second day in the row. Her breathing, slow and steady in slumber all day long, changed into a rapid pant. I called David into the room when it didn't stop and had him sit with Mom while I called the nurse. She suggested I start the morphine and said she'd be right over. An hour later, Mom's rapid breathing took on a little gurgle. When the nurse arrived, she administered a second drug and another dose of morphine. She examined Mom, told me to call family to get them here, and went over instructions for the rest of the evening. By the time she left, Mom's breathing rate had nearly returned to normal, but that only lasted a matter of minutes.
  And so we began the last dance with my mother.

  In Mom's dreams, she always walked. I like to think she's walking now, hiking up one of the crooked paths behind the cabin. I imagine her twirling in circles, a graceful dance unmarred by Huntington's.

Edna Abrams, November 2011

Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Monday, November 26, 2012

"is it real?"

is it real?   
the glowing smile in every photograph   
the arms thrown casually around your husband   
frame after frame   
the friendliness you casually offer to everyone   
the show of happiness you radiate in public   

is it real?   
the vanilla personality that never offends   
the perfect hair, make-up, and outfit   
the gym toned body that defies gravity   
the soccer Mom carpool     

is it real?   
the eyes that don’t shed tears of grief   
the temper that won’t explode   
the heart that can’t break   
the cool reflective surface that never ripples in a breeze   

is it real?   
the excuses for his infidelities   
the acceptance of abuse   
the tolerance for his cruel and belittling words   
the immaculate life with no imperfections   
is it real? 

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman