Posted in Artifacts/My Bonnie, Lanscape of Loss, My Bonnie

A Letter from a Physician to his Sister-in-Law

(Note: One of the most precious gifts from my mother’s passing was this letter written to me by my brother-in-law, who was also my mother’s bedside doctor–and who has since become my sister’s “ex.”

The letter came on the heels of a long-distance phone conversation that I had with my sister Robin about “alternative modalities” where I questioned whether we even believed that my mother’s survival was a possibility.

I share this here because it is such a beautiful testimony of the healing that takes place in the lives of those touched by loss and love.)

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a letter from Dr. Kenneth Cramer

February, 18, 2001

Dear Kelly,

Thought I would take a minute to share some things with you, from my heart.  After Robin spoke with you the other day, she asked me several questions about “Why didn’t we…” for your mother this past summer. These questions made me ponder the whole situation, and I have some regrets, but my predominant memories are those of love, dedication, sacrifice, redemption, healing, and the list goes on.  Let me explain a little:

  • love, dedication, sacrifice–as evidenced by everyone who put their lives on hold to love, care for, cherish and serve your mother during her final days
  • redemption–of a man who abused your mom during their marriage, and thus was estranged from the Salasin girls, until he stepped up to the plate and stayed by your mom’s side–when she needed him and wanted him! The smile on her face, the efforts she would make to see Dan, when he returned home after being gone for awhile. These images are etched in my mind in a powerful way.
  • healing–as your mom’s siblings realized that their silly indifferences with one another were nothing when put into proper perspective

Kelly, let me add to the list because some things were not as obvious, or as visible, but were no less powerful or effective in the midst of this crisis.  You see, such a loving demonstration of commitment could not be mustered up instantaneously, nor sustained, without a strong foundation and a strong support system.

Even though much of your support was from afar, it was still so necessary for your younger sisters and brother.  They looked to you for strength and stability.

And more importantly, it was you who helped establish a firm foundation amongst your siblings as your parents divorced; new families were created; and crisis after crisis occurred.

Believe me Kelly, I know… I’ve been a witness to it all since December 1982, and your impact on your family has been undeniable!

As I look back at the final weeks with your mother, I see you mother’s heart, which was once emptied/robbed, as one overflowing with love, which was given to her abundantly over the summer of 2000.

She died not along, not unloved, not broken, not bitter, not with unfinished business.  I doubt it to be coincidence that your mom passed away, only after seeing you and baby Aidan, face to face.

Kel, I did want to let you know how touched I am by the notes you have written regarding my caring for your mother during her dying days…as a son-in-law first, and doctor far second.  It was a privilege for me!

It’s amazing how close your mother was to my heart, because I was not aware of this prior to the summer.  We certainly didn’t have long, heart felt conversations, nor obvious emotional/affectionate experiences, but her acceptance and love for me through the years (undeserved at times) was truly a blessing.

When she died, my grief was multifaceted:

  • I grieved my loss, and I grieved that my wife lost a mother–a mother that she never had a chance to fully enjoy, and a mom whom she would never get to restore a health relationship with.
  • I grieved the loss that you girls and little and big Dan had to suffer.
  • I grieved that your one remaining parent was so unaware or unwilling or ??? to be the dad he was and is called to be.
  • And I grieved certain aspects of your mom’s life… some of the disappointments, heartaches and tribulations that she unfortunately endured.  This is why I still have tears in my eyes when I hear Stevie Nicks sing the Landslide song.  This song speaks to me as I hear of a women afraid of changes, who built her life around your dad.  Yet time made her bolder, her children got older, and she got older too.  With this boldness, she said “Enough is enough,” and the life of your family was forever changed. The subsequent pain and consequences for your mom elicits this grief in my heart.

In the end, medicine had nothing to offer. Prayers for healing (be it His will) and for comfort and peace were plentiful.  Holistic therapies were abundant! Up to 30+ capsules a day of herbs/vitamins/supplements, fresh veggies, juice, smoothies etc.

Most important however, was the full-fledged love and commitment that your mom received.  This by far was the most therapeutic.

I now see your mom’s illness as not one to be healed but rather one to heal. It did that in so many ways! And it continues to do so!

I am thankful that Robin has you, thankful for your openness; thankful for your love and concern for us; and thankful for how you challenge me to be more open also.

Love,

“Your Brother”

Kenny 🙂

 

 

Posted in Lanscape of Loss, My Bonnie

My Stupid Mother

I always forget that the fact that my mother is dead might upset me on Mothers Day.  At first, I have this guilty pleasure that I don’t have any responsibilities. (No cards to buy, no flowers to send, no calls to make.) Then I remember I have a stepmom and a mother-in-law, and the weight begins to shape, particularly as I consider myself as a mother too–How do I want to celebrate?  What if no one else does?  Should I plan something?  Should I give tips?  Hints?  Should I let it go?

I get pissed off when I click on a Facebook article, entitled, The Best Mothers Day Gift is a Mother, after I discover that it’s written by someone like me–without a mother–who makes everyone else feel bad because they don’t appreciate their own moms who are still around.

So with stinging tears, I decide to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction, and encourage people to bash their mothers if it makes them feel better.

So even though my mother is dead and this is terribly taboo, I’ll jump first…

~

My mother was stupid.

She was also the kind of person that people came to with their problems. Her unique perspective softened any angst, opening hearts and minds to new possibilities.

Wise counsel was Bonnie’s gift of spirit–besides being a prolific child-bearer–9 children over twenty years.

How then could she be so stupid when it came to living her own life?

Bonnie found herself pregnant after a summer fling with a lifeguard. She painfully gave up her first-born to adoption, only to find herself pregnant again in less than a year–with me–followed by marriage to a really intense guy who was still in college, with years of schooling ahead of him.

She continued to have children while he made his way through his undergraduate degree (child #3), medical school (#4), his internship, and his residency (#5.) We survived on cases of hospital Similac. My mother chose something stronger.

I was in the fifth grade when the fighting began, and a year later, my father introduced me to something new, the term: Alcoholic. Another year and another move, and my mother rebounded–giving up the bottle for two more babies (#6 & 7.)

Her drinking slowly resurfaced around the time I went off to college. One of my high school buddies stayed behind and my mom and he fell in love and made another baby (#8.)

My parents divorced. My mother gave birth to her last child (#9) while her twenty-something husband began cheating on her. Her drinking spun out of control.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire. My mother was the poster child.

Year after year, she watched as our lifestyles diminished, while our surgeon father’s exponentially expanded. “I should have just stayed with your father so that you girls would have what you deserve,” she’d say. (She never cared too much for things herself.)

I never accepted her apologies–doing so would mean opening up to all that was hurt and angry and sad inside of me; and I was afraid that she was too fragile for that.

When her drinking became a threat to the safety of the children, our family was torn apart.  The newest siblings (with their own father) stayed behind while the rest of my siblings went to live with my dad and his fiance. Sending your own children off to live with a man you can’t stand who is about to marry a 27-year-old who didn’t want to mother his cheating ex-wife’s 6 daughters was the height of my mother’s stupidity.

Macke/detail visipix.com

Later she died of cancer, at a very young age. 57. That was stupid too. Now there were all these wounded children who were orphaned.  Many of them claimed that I raised them. There are no words to explain how that  grieves me.

Bonnie has been dead for 8 years now, so I tell her to her face, with tears streaming down mine:

You were stupid, Mom! What were you thinking!”

She sits beside my writing desk as my muse.

Whenever she’d complain about all the demands on her, a handful of children closing in around her tiny frame, I’d say, “Why did you have all these children!”

But actually, she rarely complained. She just trudged along, offering wise counsel to anyone who needed it and making the most of the life she created–faults and all.

Ten years before she died, she gave up the bottle for AA, and so she spent the last years of her life, mostly alone, as she had always been, but sober, and profoundly present, and helping others in the program.

Despite the ravages of life around me, it was my her steady heart and soft spirit that sustained me, and sustains me still, through my own mistakes and stupidity.

She is and will always be, one of my greatest loves, stupidity and all.

Happy Mothers Day again, Mom.  You always said that once I had children of my own, it was “my” Mothers Day, but I can’t stop celebrating the gift of you!

(Kelly Salasin, 2008)

Posted in Markers

Courage

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength,

while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

Lao Tzu

Kelly Salasin

I’ve been thinking a lot about courage lately, noticing where it thrives  in my life (and where it doesn’t.)  There’s a moment around my mother’s death that I’ve yet to embrace, and it has become more and more commanding of my attention.
Look at me,” it whispers.  “Time to let go.” But I’ve been too afraid.

I’ve never really thought of myself as a courageous person.  I’ve never jumped out of a plane or skied the trees.  I’d never be able to run a marathon and I never wanted to do any of these bold  things.
To my credit, I did backpack through Europe and even ventured a bit into Northern Ireland during the peak of the fighting there.  That was kind of brave– or stupid.   I gave birth to my last child at home, and walked to the ambulance rather than be carried out on the stretcher when my first delivery ended up at the hospital.  I even wanted to watch my own c-section, but that might make me more strange than courageous.

I could call myself bold. I speak up a lot.  I say things others don’t say.  I share things others would never share, and I put myself out there in a way that makes even me uncomfortable sometimes.   Like I’m doing right now.  Like I did the morning my mother died.

Do you know that kind of courage that bubbles up inside you, but isn’t of you?   That’s the kind I most demonstrate, I think.  After my grandfather died, I was able to stand up at his funeral and share all the things I loved about him– without falling apart until I slumped into my seat.

When my beloved great-grandmother Mildred lay dying in a hospital bed, I was able to reach under the covers and massage her beautiful ninety-year old legs, saving my sobs for the floor of ICU’s bathroom.

This kind of courage doesn’t climb mountains, but is born of loving.   I didn’t cry when my mother took her last breaths, I sang.  I wanted to welcome her into the light; I wanted her to have wings.

And I remained there with her when the undertaker arrived to remover her body and everyone fled into the kitchen and out the backdoor, and the last lingerers were chased away by hospice workers who said, “You don’t want to see this.

Who would?
Who would want to stay and see their beloved folded up like a cardboard box and put into a bag.  Who?

And yet I could not leave her.  She was my mother– still– and I had not been here with her in the months when she struggled to stay alive.  I had only come now, at the very end, after the baby was born. With him at my side, with God’s pure grace shining through his bluest eyes, I could do anything that was asked.  Even this.

I sat in the space that had been her dining room- where she had drank her morning, and afternoon, and evening coffees- black, no sugar;  read the paper, did the crossword;  listened to the scanner, checked her email;  caught the game, the weather, the latest deals on QVC.  I sat  in this place where each one of us had sat across from her– at the table- all of our lives.
Only now the place where the table stood was filled with air mattresses and I wasn’t talking to my mom, I was watching… as her old highschool classmate- turned funeral director- lifted her rigid body from the hospital bed.
Ben had visited my mom in the hospital when she was first diagnosed with stage-four cancer, just a three months ago.  “Not the kind of visitor I want to see right now,” my mother remarked wryly once he had left the room.
He seems like a nice guy, why not, Mom?” I asked, surprised at her uncharacteristic coolness.
He’s the undertaker, Kel,” she replied flatly.

How did he do it, I wonder?  How did Ben pick up “good-natured Bonnie” from his senior yearbook and zip her into a bag?

But he did.  That was his job.

And I did too.  I stayed there and attended my mother’s body.   When I couldn’t bear to look anymore,  I watched through my grandmother’s gilded mirror that Mom had frost pink and purple, as they worked to lift her from the bed where her workout equipment had stood just a season ago.  I waited and watched even though no one, no one, should see something like this.

I followed them out the front door as they carried my mother to the back of the undertaker’s wagon.  She’d always been the one in the front seat– driving one of the eight of us to school, to practice, to birthday parties or dances.

I stood there frozen on her porch- where she had smoked her cigarettes, and watched the cars go by, sitting on the furniture she picked up at the wicker store, next to the tomatoes she had planted that spring.   She never got to pick a one.

Suddenly I was drained of all the courage that had sustained me. It slipped from my shoulders and onto the floor.   I stood alone sobbing, my hands covering my face and gripping at my hair.

All my life, I’ve had to be more together than I wanted to be, and this moment was like none other.   I lacked the courage to reach out, to be held.  I lacked the ability to be noticed as needing.
I wish I could say that I’m ready to change, but I’m really not.  I take baby steps and those are hard enough.   That’s all the courage I have.

Today, I took out the folded check my mother had given me in the weeks before she died.   I had come to visit for the weekend, just after the baby was born, and when it came time to leave, she asked me to wait, whispering for someone to get her the checkbook.

And though by this time, she could hardly sit or lift water to her lips, she managed to covertly scribble our names and hers on a check to hand to me as we kissed goodbye– a gift to celebrate her grandson’s birth.

I could never bring myself to cash it, even to buy him something to remember her by.  I kept it folded in a bag of runes that were hers, and everyone once and awhile, took it out and looked at it to marvel at her determination and devotion, and at how her perfect Catholic school girl writing had gone bad.

It’s been almost five years since that time, and today I’m going to give that beautiful testimony of her love back to the bank (or to the compost pile since it’s too late for cashing).  I’m going to spend that love on something for our garden as we celebrate our first summer in our new house.  It will be something that makes me smile, remembering her.

Something that celebrates my tremendous courage in letting her go, one more time.