Blogs Are Stupid

Doesn't anyone believe in Dear Diary anymore? What happened to the joy of putting actual pen to paper? And why does every ordinary Jane and John think they can write well enough to burden the world with their scribblings? It’s a mystery that badly needs solving. My first entry contains my thoughts about blogging and will set your expectations. The rest will probably be stream of consciousness garbage, much like you’ll find on any other blog. Perhaps we will both come away enlightened.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Notebook

I was okay until I saw the notebook.

My sisters and I recently travelled to a tiny, picturesque little town in Northern Wisconsin to visit my Auntie Carol. Maybe you remember her...I've written about her before.

Throughout our lives, she was really more like a grandmother to us, just as she had been more like a mother to my mother. She was 17 years old when her only sister entered the world and she was tickled to death. She lavished my mother with love and attention. They formed a bond that was was uncommonly strong, even for sisters. There are more photos of the two of them than there are of  my mother with either my grandmother or grandfather. They were inseperable, even when my Aunt had children of her own.

She was absolutely devastated when my mother died. She never expected to have to say goodbye to her baby sister and it was almost more than she could bear. My own grief over my mother's death was compounded by watching her mourn. It broke my heart to see her grieve so deeply. And I could do absolutely nothing to heal the pain of losing someone who had been like another self for 65 years.

"And do you know..." she said, in her still girlish Auntie voice, a voice that will stay with me long after time has blurred the lines of her face and stolen the smell of her, " all those years, we never had a fight."

She cried then, which unnerved us all. The women of my family don't cry. We are strong, indomitable women. We perservere. But this is just too much. For all of us.

Aside from the pain of losing my mother, was the shock of realizing that she was now the only one left who knew all the family lore. She never expected to have it left in her care. She had expected my mother to take on the role of historian and archivist; to pass on the stories and the scandals and the secrets, as well as all the vital statisitics. Being the eldest daughter, she had always been the keeper of those things. But she had expected to pass the torch and know that the story of our family would survive her in my mother's capable hands.

With my mother gone, she has become terribly afraid that it will all be lost when she dies. There is so much to tell, so much we girls don't know and were never told, because it just wasn't time. But suddenly it is time, and time that is running out, though we all try not to think about that.

When last we parted, she asked me when I thought I could come back. There were things she needed to tell me, places she wanted to take me, snapshots of the past that she needed to pass on. I promised her I would come back as soon as I could, knowing in my heart that it might well be too late. I hugged her extra tight that time, a beat longer than was strictly conventional for us. I fervently hoped I would see her again.

And I did.

This past week I travelled home again, to care for my sister's children while her daughter had surgery, to finish the business of dividing up my mother's life, and to be a witness to all the things Auntie had so carefully chronicled and preserved over the years. It's a responsibility she has not taken lightly. Every photo has a name and a date. Every newspaper clipping and every momento has a notation. Before my mother's death, it was a responsibility that she was proud to call hers alone. But she feels compelled to share it now.

And so, my sisters and I found ourselves in her van, travelling the snowy roads of rural Wisconsin, revisiting the past; people and places. I knew it was going to be an emotional day. Auntie wanted to show us where my Mother was born, where she lived as a child, where she went to school. She wanted to show us where our Grandparents were buried. Before that day, I couldn't have told you the name of the cemetary or even what road it was on. Our mother never took us there because... "They aren't there. That's not my Mom and Dad. I'd rather remember them alive and well than imagine them dead and decaying." Clearly, some of my issues with death are inherited.

But I was doing okay and so were my sisters. In fact, I'd say we were all enjoying the day. It seemed more like a celebration of Mom's life than anything else. We laughed at  Auntie's stories, we shared our fondest childhood memories, we learned things we had never known and remembered things long forgotten. I felt oddly happy and at peace.

Until I saw the notebook.

I guess it had been there all day, but since I was seated directly behind my Aunt, I hadn't noticed it. At the cemetary, we got out of the van to visit my Grandparents' graves. The ground was slushy and muddy and for me in my foolish urban footwear, somewhat treacherous. But we picked our way over the mess to gaze at the humble stone with their names engraved upon it. I felt both strangely detached and incredibly affected.

I never knew my grandmother. She died when I was just a few months old. How can you mourn someone you've never known? But I have, every day of my life. At that moment, however, my mourning felt strangely empty. I couldn't recall a sound or a smell or a feeling to put with the sadness. No lilting voice calling me to supper, no face powder tickling my nose, no starchy apron against my cheek. I felt the gaiety of the day leave me and I think, my sisters felt it as well. We were silent as we made our way back to the van idling at the road.

Auntie had remained in the van; it was bitterly cold and the wind was fierce. It was when we returned that I saw it, spread open on her lap, her familiar spidery handwriting covering the pages, and neat little tick marks running down the left hand margin.

She had made notes.

There was so much I suppose, so much to remember and so much already forgotten. She didn't trust herself to recall everything, and I think it was that more than anything that made it so poignant. It was an acknowledgement of her growing frailty. It was a mundane but salient reminder of fact that one day soon, she too would be gone. And it was a testament to the heart rending importance with which she viewed her task.

Underway once again, I turned my face to the window and cried silently as the snow covered evergreens whizzed by.

The rest of the day was fun filled and light hearted; lunch at a Chinese buffet and then coffee at her modest little apartment, where Uncie Norm waited to hear all about our sojourn. But I couldn't get that notebook out of my mind.

That night I dreamt of it. Three items had been added to the bottom of the list.

~Say Goodbye to Connie's Girls
~Tell Connie Girls are okay

I hate to think of her being gone. I think the finality of my Mother's death will finally sink in then, because nobody will be left to tell her stories. She'll be really and truly gone. But as much as it hurts me to think of my life without either of them in it, I'm happy they'll be together once again. Sissy and Con; the sisters, the best friends.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Soapbox #1, Now with 50% More Bitching

The other day on Facebook, I broke my own rule about keeping it light and fun and frivolous. Ironic, isn't it, after the FaceBible post I made only a few weeks ago?

Honestly, I didn't mean to do it. If I hadn't been in such a harried and hopeless state, I never would have posted something so inflammatory, nor the subsequent responses to the replies it generated.

What was this heinous thing I posted, you may ask? Some of you know, but for those who don't, I posted my frustration over the fact that we will be without insurance for the next six weeks. Some of you also don't know that Husband lost his job twice in less than a year. This has made our insurance situation pretty tenuous and very high maintenance. Up to this point, we have managed to stay insured. Now however, there is just nothing we can do.

After we reached the maximum period for Cobra coverage, we obtained really crappy and really expensive healthcare with the staffing company through which Husband had recently acquired his new position. We were able to to do this because his new employer requires a 90 day contract period for all new employees, which is negotiated through the staffing company. Once that term expired and Husband was hired as a permanent employee, that option was no longer available to us. Unfortunately, we will not be eligible for the new insurance until after the first full month of employment. Since the permanent hire took place in the middle of a month, this means a period of six weeks without benefits.

No problem, we thought. We'll simply purchase private insurance for that short period of time. It would cost us, but it would be worth the peace of mind, since a serious illness or injury could be potentially ruinous to our long term finances without it. Unfortunately, every carrier we applied to turned us down because of my stroke history. To insure just the boys for a 6 week period was ridiculously and prohibitively expensive. And since Husband is now gainfully employed, we do not qualifty for any sort of assitance.

So if something happens in the next six weeks, we're on our own. This is a scary thing to face when you  have experienced a life threatening medical event and when you have adolescent children who do all manner of foolish things in the name of bravado and machismo.

As I said, I posted this on my FB page. And though I should have known better and not been shocked by the responses, I didn't and I was.

I don't have any right to healthcare it seems, nor do my children. It's a privilege that only people who aren't loafers and deadbeats should have. This despite the fact that both my husband and I have worked hard for many years to be productive members of society, to live within our means, and to plan for the future, so we wouldn't have to one day be a burden on anybody, much less society. Of course, it was a much more complicated discussion, but that was the gist of it: other people pay for theirs, why should you get some for free?

I won't hurt, I really try not to take stuff like that personally, but at the moment, I'm sorely lacking in objectivity. Yet another reason I should have kept my mouth, fingers...shut. But...I wasn't asking for free. I was asking for access at a reasonable cost. Right now I can't even pay for it because nobody will make their product available to us. It's beyond frustrating.

I don't understand this dog eat dog mentality. This whole...every man for himself thing. People want to enjoy the freedoms and privileges that living in a civilized society affords them, but they do not want to accept any of the responsibilities. Indeed, it seems that the very idea of social responsibility is both foreign and abhorent to many of my peers and it also seems that anybody who finds themselves in a position of needing assistance is a mooch, a ne'er do well, a bum or a lazy booze swilling bastard.

Funny...I never considered myself any of those things.

I wanted to write about it. But then I realized...I already had, several times, albeit from a slightly rosier perspective. We had only suffered one job loss at that time. Still the point was a salient one, and I decided I couldn't say it any better now than I did then (Ever feel that some of your finest material has already been written?).

So I'm recycling it. Because it still holds true. It's still a grave issue facing our country. And it still makes me angry and sad that some folks think it's perfectly okay that others are going without  medicine and treatment in a country that is one of the wealthiest in the world. We put people in jail for not getting their pets medical treatment. How is it any less criminal for people?? It baffles me, truly. As does the lack of compassion and social conscience.

Soapbox #1

I've been saying it for years...

We DESPERATELY, DESPERATELY need a system of universal health care in this country. I've been saying it because I lived it when Husband was consulting and I'm living it now that Husband has lost his job. When Husband was an independant contractor, we were responsible for our own healthcare needs. The cost to insure our family of four was in excess of $900 each month.

Just let that figure sink in a for a few minutes.

Nine. Hundred. Dollars.

Since we had small children and only one income, we quickly came to the realization that we really had no choice but for him to stop consulting and take a salaried position with good benefits. That was ten years ago. For ten years we have watched our premiums and copays rise, while the number of covered services and providers became smaller and smaller. Still, I felt fortunate that we had insurance at all.

When the news of his termination came, there was some pretty serious panic in those first grim hours. But we've crunched the numbers, done the math, and gone over the budget with a fine toothed comb.
It's going to be very, very tight, but we can sustain for a while, assuming no disasters strike. The kids will not go hungry, the mortgage will not go unpaid, we will not have to cook our meals on a hot plate by candlelight.

So my focus has shifted from feeding my kids, to insuring them.

Well what about COBRA?

That's what you're thinking right? COBRA is the answer, that's what it's there for!

Well guess what...the RIGHT to insurance doesn't do a damned bit of good if we can't pay the premiums. Would you like to take a wild guess as to the dollar amount of our COBRA premiums?

One THOUSAND. Sixty Seven. Dollars.

With no money coming in, we are supposed to magically produce $1,067.00 each month to insure our children. That's an impossible number. BUT...if we don't pay it? One debilitating illness, one serious injury, one little disaster could absolutely devastate us. Ruin us. Bankrupt us and leave us fighting the rest of our lives to regain our financial footing and restore our credit. We have planned well, laid a little aside, carefully tended our modest nest egg. But it could all disappear in a puff of smoke if one of us gets sick.

Addendum: One of us did. Shortly after this was written I suffered three mini-strokes. One MRI alone cost $5,000; I needed three, plus a myriad of other tests and procedures, as welll as monthly visits to the neurologist to monitor my condition. Not long after that, I had an accident resulting in a serious injury to my eye. The bill for the eye specialist alone, whom I saw for all of 5 minutes, was over $12,000. If we hadn't had the COBRA coverage, we would now be saddled with over $50,000 in medical bills.

It has happened and is happening to people all over America. People are losing their homes and filing bankruptcy because of unexpected and insurmountable medical expenses.

It's a very complicated problem with many causes.

First; the cost of procedures and medications have risen beyond what most people can afford to pay out of pocket if they need to. Second; lifetime caps on insurance are met relatively quickly when a calamitous and prolonged illness such as cancer strikes. Third; affording insurance as an individual is almost impossible, unless one has a substantial amount of disposable income, in which case, they probably can do without it anyway. Fourth; insurance companies, not doctors, are in control of what procedures are considered "necessary" and therefore, a covered service.

There's a lot more to it than that, of course. As I said, it's an extremely complicated problem that is going to take some time to fix.

What I know is this: If we had a system of Universal health care in place in this country, I would not be facing this problem right now, and neither would the countless other Americans in the same boat. Now, the ARRA is helping us a little bit. That brings our premium down to around $400. (We were not eligible for ARRA assistance on the second job loss) But assuming that someone is completely without resources, even that amount is completely out of reach.

The maximum payout for unemployment benefits is $330/week BEFORE taxes, which is laughable, really. That's $1320 a month. That happens to be almost the exact dollar amount of our mortgage payment, and we live in a very modest home. So let's assume we have no other resources. How exactly are we supposed to pay for water, electricity, groceries, car payment (we have only one, most people have two), car insurance, gas, orthodontist...and still pay out $400 a month for health insurance? It just doesn't add up.

As I said, we do have some resources, but regardless it's going to be a challenge to pay our bills on our limited and finite means. For us, that means I will have to streamline our food budget and cut out some small luxuries; a relatively simple matter, all things considered.

Perhaps I will have to buy store brand orange juice instead of Tropicana, or the 10 for $10 Ravioli instead of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Maybe we will have to stop renting movies for a month or two. Maybe unlimited texting will have to be limited. Maybe I will have to start going to the library more often, insteading of patronizing Barnes & Noble and indulging in a four dollar coffee while I browse. The lawn service is already gone as is pest control (That one really hurts. Have you seen the size of cockroaches in Georgia?).

But for some people, it could very well be a choice between one necessity and another. For some people, it really is a matter of either/or. Either buy food...or take a sick child to the doctor. Realistically, it could come down to that for us if this goes on long enough.

People, we are the wealthiest developed nation in the Western Hemisphere. This is not an issue our populace should be facing. Nor should sick people be denied the latest and most effective treatments because they are too costly. Did you know that some cancer drugs cost in excess of $1,000 PER DOSE? That's what happens when you combine Capitalism and health care. That's what happens when we let the insurance companies and the drug companies take control and use our misfortunes to line their pockets.

Some of you might argue that letting the government take control is just trading one set of problems for another.

That may be true. But at least, with a universal system of health care in place, everyone will have access to basic medical care and medications that they need. Mothers won't have to debate about taking a feverish child to the doctor, or sacrifice their own health for that of their family.

We Americans like to point fingers when crisis looms. Politicians did it. Big Business did it. Greedy doctors did it.

But the real truth is much uglier.

Americans have done this to themselves with their sense of entitlement. We have resisted a government subsidized health care plan because we want only the best, we want to choose it for ourselves, we want it right now, and we want it regardless of cost. We don't want to share our sparkling, tastefully decorated clinics with the poor unwashed masses. We want to think ourselves worthy of more and better options.

And now, the cost of that proletariat thinking is becoming very clear. We are paying for our short sightedness with shrinking benefits, higher premiums, and perfunctory care from health care practitioners who are working under almost intolerable conditions and who are taking their orders from actuaries and administrators.

Soon, only the very wealthy will be able to afford any health care at all. And then we'll be back to the way things were at the dawn of the Industrial Age, when disease spread rampantly and even minor illnesses resulted in death. Mortality rates will skyrocket and the number of babies who make it past their first birthday will plummet.

Does that sound melodramatic? Well, perhaps it is. But not terribly so. Things are deteriorating quickly in this country. Those of you ensconced in comfortable jobs with good benefits are too blind to see it; purposely, perhaps. It's not fun to think about. But it's there. And it's getting worse every day. It's time to make some sacrifices. It's time to think about the many, rather than the few.

Establishing a system of universal Healthcare does not mean we are allowing Socialism to gain a foothold in our country. It just means we are creating a system of checks and balances, prohibiting abuses and maintaining a standard of care that is available to everybody, regardless of economic status.

For the life of me, I can't understand why people oppose this ideal.

Actually, I do. One word: privilege. We have grown complacent and myopic in an era of wealth and privilege. But that era is at an end, and this problem is going to grow into a plague that infects us all.

You could be next. Your family could be next. You think it won't and I hope it's not, but the reality is that it can happen to anybody these days. My husband had a degree, 25 years of experience, a spotless employment history, numerous awards and accolades and ten years of tenure at the company. Still, he was let go when the bottom line was at issue. Is it going to take a crisis like that to open your eyes?

I really hope not. It's a really crappy place to be, because I know it could be and can be, much, much worse. Living with that fear is incredibly wearing, and I've only been doing it for a week. I can't imagine doing it my whole life. Nobody should have to live with that hanging over their head every day; especially when there is a solution.

Support healthcare reform. Stop opposing universal health care. Vote. We have a voice and we can change things for everyone.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Apropos Of Nothing; An Encounter With My Son

We brush against one another in the hallway and  he mumbles "'Scuse me Mom."

That seems to be the extent of our relationship these days. I always thought we'd talk; real talking like we once did, when he used to crawl into bed with me and tell me his secrets. Now his secrets are his own and his life outside our home is a mystery to me.

I really thought that wouldn't happen with my boys. I guess every Mom does. But I really tried to be the kind of Mom they would talk to. I guess every Mom does. I really thought that we wouldn't become strangers. I guess every Mom does. I have become every Mom, wondering why my baby insists on barricading himself in his room and prefers the company of his friends to mine. When did I become so dull? When did I become so stupid and clueless and just wrong about everything?

I always thought I was reasonably sharp and somewhat intelligent. I read. I listen to cool music. I don't wear Mom jeans. I'm not completely lame. Am I? I am. Because I'm his Mom. The very word conjures uncoolness and oppression. I have to be his parent. So I can't be his friend. It's the way things have always been and I guess I can't expect to change that singlehandedly.

As he passes me, I feel the warmth of his body. I smell his sleep stale breath and his man aroma. I used to smell him on purpose, but I don't do that anymore. I realize I am staring at his breastbone. He realizes it too.

He looks down at me in a way that makes me feel like the child.

"Mom...when did you get so short?" sweet baby son. The question is, when did you get so impossibly big? Yesterday you were elephant walking across the playground. Yesterday there was nothing you wanted more than me. Yesterday I could pick you up and hold you close and keep you safe. And you let me.

And what does tomorrow bring? Whatever it is, I'm not ready. Because I'm still trying to reconcile that you're old enough to ride the bus by yourself and tie your own shoes.

I wonder if, when I'm 80, and you're 54, I'll still be marvelling that you've graduated from college, married, and become a father yourself.

Time is a vexing thing when you have children. It creeps and flies at once. But we don't get to choose which moments to hold onto, and which to fast forward through. And we don't get to remember them all no matter how we try.

I don't answer him, I just smile. Then I stand on tiptoe and kiss his cheek, which, I find, is now coated with a fine layer of fuzz.

He looks at me puzzled. I'm a loving Mom, but not a demonstrative one. He rubs his cheek and grins, for once heedless of exposing all the metal in his mouth.

"I need to make fun of your stature more often, shorty." he says.

So it seems I've been successful in one respect. I have been resoundingly successful in schooling my son in the fine art of sarcasm.

May it serve him well.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

"To Sleep; Perchance To Dream...

....ay, there's the rub."  ~Wm. Shakespeare

When I awaken, I don't remember having dreamt. Which means that for the first time in months, I haven't been awakened by the cold fingers of dread scraping down my spine, or the tickle or tears pooling in my ears. But then I stumble to the bathroom, where my reflection reveals eyes that are hugely swollen above and darkly bruised below. And then I know that I haven't escaped the dream. I've simply learned to cry in my sleep.

I don't know what it means, this dream. I feel like there is some kind of message there, since it plagues me so often. Sometimes small details are different, but it is essentially the same every time. Is it my heart or my psyche that is trying so desperately to make a point? And why? I've acknowledged all the horrors to myself, even if I've not spoken the words aloud. So what is lurking in my subconscious that can't be examined directly?

Sometimes, I welcome the dream. It's the only way for me to be with her now. In the beginning I am unaware and I feel only happiness. Ecstasy, really. Euphoria. I am so goddamned glad to see her. It occurs to me that the feeling is too big and I wonder about it, but only fleetingly. The script is already written and I can't realize before I'm supposed to.

We talk. We eat. The sun is shining, the water is gently lapping at the rocks circling the patio where we sit under a red and white striped umbrella, watching ducks, giggling with exaggerated horror at the wealth of calories we are consuming with such reckless disregard for points.

It's so perfect. So perfect.

I study her face, revisiting all the familiar landmarks; eyes green as grass, straight teeth that I always envied, full lips that I don't have to because they are repeated on my own face. It's older, this face, but still the one that I have always known. Still her. I snap my eyes open and shut several times in rapid succession, like the shutter on a camera, hoping to capture the image before me and file it away forever. I don't know why I am doing such a silly thing. But I know it's important. Very, very important.

One by one, small details begin to change. The sun is eclipsed by clouds and it grows suddenly colder.  The charming quack, quack, quacking of the ducks turns to loud braying. It's intrusive and somehow malevolent. The rich food turns to sawdust in my mouth. Raindrops fall; not pattering gently, but drumming loudly on the canvas under which we sit.

And then I realize that the canula is missing from her nostrils. There is no hose snaking up from beneath her chair, where her oxygen tank is discreetly tucked away. There is an ominous sucking noise that sends a lightning bolt of fear deep into my guts, even though I don't immediately understand that it's coming from her.

And then she falls forward, slumping in a hideously boneless way, striking the table with her face, knocking her stylish new glasses askew. The strange part of this...the awareness that somehow reaches through the dream; that odd knowing not knowing... is that I never actually saw her wearing the new glasses. I am sad about that. Because I know that she is dead. I know it even as I shake her and call her name. I scream for help, but nobody hears me, not even the people who are dining at the table right next to ours. Everyone carries on as if everything is normal; as if I am not standing in the rain screaming. How can they eat and laugh with a dead woman next to them?

I see the bluish tinge creeping up her neck onto her face. I see it spreading under her nails. Even on her scalp, where her hair is parted, I see the death stain. It horrifies me. I snatch my hand away from her shoulder, but not before the cold of her skin has chilled me to the bone. My hand hovers over her, wanting to touch her, stroke her brow, but afraid. My terror of death is not diminished, even when it claims a body I know almost as well as my own.

Suddenly, ambulance people are at my elbow, telling me they must take her away. Who called them? How did they know where we were? How did they get here so quickly? My mind is whirling with questions and confusion, but then I remember that there's an important step being overlooked. I must beg them to save her life. And so I do, even though I know she's gone. It's part of the script after all, and I cannot deviate from it.

We can't save her, they say. Look at her. She's already beginning to decompose. We have to take her, they say. But I don't want them to. I'm afraid of what will happen to her. I know the indignities that a dead body is subjected to. She would be mortified. Let me take her, I implore. I'll put her someplace safe, I promise. I'll put her someplace beautiful, where death won't touch anybody else. But they refuse me. We have to take her they say again. They are gentle, but I get angry with them anyway. They take her away while I scream obscenities at them. One of them hunches his shoulders against the onslaught of my words and then I feel badly. I turn away heartbroken and ashamed.

And then she speaks. My heart nearly lurches out of my chest at the sound of her voice. She tells them to stop fussing over her for heaven's sake. She is perfectly fine and she doesn't need to go to the hospital. Can't they see that? They tell her that yes, they can see that she's fine, but it's policy to transport any formerly dead persons. She argues that she wasn't dead, but eventually she agrees to go. BUT...she insists, she will walk to the ambulance. She can still walk, as they can plainly see.

It isn't until then that I have the courage to turn and look at her. All I can see is her back as she makes her way to the ambulance. I need to see her face and I call to her, but she doesn't hear me. But I don't worry because I will see her at the hospital and then we will laugh about those poor stupid ambulance people actually thinking she was dead. And me too. Har Har. See how I'm laughing?

I follow the ambulance to the hospital. As I'm driving, I note that my hands are still ice cold, as if the feel of her dead flesh has not left them. I wonder why that would be. I think I will  need to touch her again now that she's alive, to steal back some of her warmth. I marvel over what a strange thing that is. I wonder if it is because all our lives, without really being aware of it, we are stalked by death.

Suddenly I am in a hospital room before a white curtain. I know she is behind it and I am desperate to see her. I don't remember parking the car, or walking instide. I toss the curtain aside with a wide sweep of my arm and start forward, intending to seize her and gather her to me. We are not normally huggers, but I need to touch her and hold her just now. But I my forward momentum is halted by the sight that greets my eyes. On the gurney lies, not my mother...but a small decorative urn, inlaid with decorative tiles. I recognize that urn. It is the same one that sits on my bedside table, next to a picture of her. I know what that means and I sink to my knees, sobbing.

A hear someone enter the room and voice behind me says he is so sorry. It's one of the ambulance people. But HOW?? I ask. I SAW her. She was walking, she was talking. She was FINE! The voice is kind, but firm. No, she wasn't fine, she really was dead. You saw her, didn't you? She just didn't realize it. Sometimes they don't. That's why we had to bring her in. You can take her with you now. I ask him how I can be sure it's really her. See for yourself he says. And then he leaves me. I open the urn and pour the contents into my hands. There is ash and chips of bone. An earring. A lipstick, which makes no sense. I finger the bone chips, rubbing them between my fingers, trying to understand that this is all that's left of her. How can someone so hugely alive and vibrant be reduced to a small pile of colorless ash?

I know I have to call people, do official things, make arrangements. But all I can do is sit sobbing while ash and bone trickle through my fingers.

Usually I wake up then. Sometimes before. But I never get the privilege of waking up before she falls dead into her plate. To  have her with me for a few fleeting moments, I have to suffer that over and over and over. It's not every night, but often enough that I dread going to sleep. Until recently, I've told nobody about the dream, not even my husband. It just seems like talking about it will somehow make it even more awful. But recently my sister shared with me that she is dreaming too. We still have so many questions you see. We still have anger. We still want to place blame. We are the kind of people who need things to make sense, and this never will. The dreams, they have some purpose, but neither of us know what it is. I wonder if the dreams will stop when I truly accept that she is gone. I haven't yet, as unbelievable as that seems. It just doesn't seem possible and I'm not sure if or when it ever will. Maybe I'll be having the dream until I slip away myself.

Well...if that's the case, at least we can be together, if only for a few fleeting moments. It's really all I have. Maybe....maybe the dream is a gift then. Maybe it's meant to help rather than torment. Maybe I've been looking at it all wrong.

I wish I could ask her what she thinks it means. Maybe I'll give it a try, next time she visits me.

They say you can do anything in your dreams. But if that's so....shouldn't I be able to save her?

I think that might be what this is all about. I wasn't there to save her. I should have been.

Maybe the dream stops when I forgive myself.

(It took me five days to write this. And it's been sitting here finished for another five. I didn't know if I wanted to put it out there, but we writers have this strange compulsion to bare ourselves to our audience. I don't know why. I wish I did. It's not entertaining, and I'm sorry for that. But it really, really helped me to write it all down. That last part never occurred to me until I was writing it. I think there are probably typos galore and a multitude of clumsy sentences and awkward grammar. But I don't dare go back and edit, or I will lose my nerve to post it. So you see...writing is my tool. Thanks for bearing with me while I use it to work through this. I know I've subjected you to a lot of doom and gloom since my mother died. But maybe some of it's been helpful to someone else out there who has lost. I sincerely hope so.)