Being Mortal

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The trend for my reading this year seems to be this: heavy.

Recently, I checked out Being Mortal from the library. It’s been on my TBR for awhile, it was checked in, I was looking for something non-fiction and I’ve heard it compared to When Breath Becomes Air, which is one of my favs… so, it seemed like a no-brainer.

I didn’t expect light reading, but I didn’t know that this book would ROCK me.

First of all, it is NOT like When Breath Becomes Air. I mean, I guess it is in the sense that they’re both written by doctors and address death, but they’re totally different books. If you go in expecting WBBA, you’ll be disappointed.

Instead of being a firsthand account of someone dying, Being Mortal addresses death from a somewhat removed standpoint. It discusses how we handle and treat terminal or aging patients. It examines the pros and cons of assisted living and nursing homes. It gives personal accounts of dying patients, including the author’s own father. And, it does everything in a factual, logical way.

Being Mortal is a confrontation on mortality.

It says: here is your body. It will die. Here’s what you need to be ready for. Here’s how to give yourself the best possible life and the best possible death.

The thing that really broke me about this book is the timing…

My mom’s been sick for over a year now. At times, I have more hope than others that she’ll get better. Since her first doctor’s visit, I’ve wished and hoped and prayed that this is all temporary… some trial she’ll endure for a bit and then be released from. Even now, I **still** want that more than anything.

However, while reading this book, she was readmitted to the hospital for another biopsy, which, as per the trend, became more complicated and distressing than expected.

Before reading Being Mortal, I saw my mom’s health journey as a linear path to more and more medical treatments, medicine and interventions until… well, until she was healed. This surgery was just another important step towards normal.

It was a hard thing to accept, but this booked helped me see that my expectations might not be realistic.

I now feel more willing to have the hard conversations and face the realities as they come. Sure, I wish things were better. I wish something would “cure” her. But, now I see that the next medical step may not be the best choice. There will always be one more thing we can do, one more medication, one more test. But, what if that’s not what she wants? What if she decides to be done?

More than anything, I want my mom to be happy. I want her to be comfortable. I want her to feel at peace with her choices. I want her normal to be my normal. I want to respect her and honor her and do whatever I can to make her life easier.

And, when my day comes… because it will… I want the same thing – peace, comfort, love and security. I want to be with my family. I want to be in my home. I want to be surrounded by the people and things I love. I want to leave this world better than I found it and be remembered for the good that I did.

It feels morbid to discuss… morbid to even think about… but, literally – we’re all dying. All of us. And, how we die matters. I think this book helped me accept that more than any other experience in my life.

I’m grateful for reading just the right books at just the right times, even when they’re really, really heartbreakingly difficult.

Mothers & Fathers

Without meaning to, I read a book about mothers and a book about fathers back to back.

The latter I finished as I was sitting at our kitchen table at lunchtime, eating my grocery store sushi, absolutely engrossed in the last few paragraphs of this amazing story. The ending was so good – yet, so heart wrenching – that I felt compelled to read a passage aloud to my poor husband, who wasn’t in the least offended that I was absorbed in a book during his brief lunch break.

“There are things in this world that no human being should be able to endure. We should die of heartbreak, but we do not. Instead, we are forced to survive, to bear witness.” – Noah Hawley, The Good Father

Gaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh! Doesn’t that just KILL you? So true, so succinct, so poignant.

Needless to say, I enjoyed The Good Father. It’s awful and made me feel ill at times, but it’s amazing.

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It started off like a Dateline episode for me. There’s this catastrophic event and a team of people, led by a zealous father, are trying to put it together. Well, I’ll just tell you since it’s on the book jacket… The father is trying to prove that his son is innocent of murdering a United States Senator campaigning for President. So, very Dateline-mystery-ish plot.

But, beyond the mystery, there was just this really beautiful tale about relationships and choices and regret and how humans can be awful and wonderful, whole and broken all at once.

I didn’t want it to end the way it ended. At times, it felt like a slow motion car crash… I could see it coming, but boy, I refused to accept it right up until impact. But, even so, I got it. I understood why it needed to be that way.

Just before reading this story, I read The Mothers by Brit Bennett.

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This one has similar themes, actually. There’s a catastrophic event (two, actually) that impacts everyone in unexpected, devastating ways. This one is also about relationships, choices, consequences and the sometimes moral duality of human nature.

I should have loved it… yet, it wasn’t for me.

I don’t know what it was. I read it till the end. I admired the writing. I understood the characters. I didn’t judge their choices. It’s just that… I didn’t really love anyone enough to get emotionally invested. I wanted to! I really, really wanted to! But, it just didn’t happen. I closed that book feeling like I’d read something important, but knowing it probably wouldn’t stick with me long term.

On the other hand, the “mothers,” which are the church mothers that act as a sort of Greek Chorus throughout the novel… I LOVED them! Honestly, I could’ve had more of them and less of the main characters!

It always fascinates me, what one person loves and another person hates. It always makes me curious when I surprise myself by loving something I thought I’d hate or hating something I thought I’d love. People are curious, aren’t they?

To wrap it up: one book – meh, one book – ammmaazzinngg. Both worth reading.

So My Mom’s a Reader Now

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Most of my earliest childhood memories involve books.

I can remember my dad reading to me (especially this book) in our worn out recliner every night.

I remember my sisters reading to me in bed.

I remember my mom buying me books and singing to me and doing all the wonderful things moms do… But, honestly, not a lot of reading from her.

My mom’s always been more of a creator than a consumer.

Sure, she’ll read her scriptures. She’ll flip through a Woman’s World magazine that she picked up in the grocery store aisle, scanning for recipes or diet tips (my mom LOVES a diet tip!). Oh, and there was that one time she got hooked on a church book series about pioneers and read all nine books faster than anything we’d ever seen.

But, overall, she likes to do things and make things.

On a quiet evening, we’d most likely find her painting or doing needlework or sewing or cooking… never just sitting around and watching TV or reading.

I’ve just always grown up with this belief that my mom is not a reader. (And, I’ve always secretly envied mother/daughter duos who swap books and stories.)

Well, that’s all suddenly changed.

Last year, my mom was diagnosed with an unspecified lung disease. Basically, the arteries in her lungs collect clots that restrict air flow and drastically reduce her oxygen levels. She’s on medication and stays on a constant flow of oxygen. We’re all praying she’ll completely recover and get back to her old self. But, in the meantime, her lifestyle has drastically changed.

Around the time that my mom got sick, my mother-in-law, who is a reader, began funneling books through me to my mom in a show of goodwill.

I dutifully passed them on, but I was fairly certain they’d be returned unread. No way was my mom reading all those books! And, now that she was sick, she’d be even more stir crazy. Sitting and reading would be torturous for her!

Well, the first stack of books came back. Not only had they been read, but my mom wanted to talk about them.

Then the next stack came back.

And then the next.

And, so it’s gone for the past several months.

My mom is a book addict. I am her dealer. My mother-in-law is her supplier.

It’s really the strangest thing.

She was over at my house last weekend and we were talking about books (because, at this point, we’ve read some in common) and I just had this weird sensation come over me that I was actually having quite the fulfilling, bookish conversation with my mom!

I can’t tell you how much I love this.

But, let me try…

I.love.this.

I also love this lady who is my mother. She reminds me all the time that life is meant to be lived and that you’re never too old or too sick or too anything to reinvent yourself.

Today Will Be Different

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I like Maria Semple.

Like, I really, really, really like Maria Semple.

Here’s the reason why.

I feel like Maria Semple gets it. And, then she says it. Yet, she says it in a way that’s fresh, but not too fussy (see Elizabeth Strout… but toooooooootaallllyyyy different content).

I felt that when I read Where’d You Go, Bernadette last year. 

Yes, it was a funny sorta book. But, beneath the funny was this absolutely human story about what it’s like to be a fairly good, but utterly complex, flawed woman.

Today Will Be Different explored similar themes but with a whole new cast of characters.

You have a creative, complicated narrator (Eleanor), who is trying to cope (not altogether successfully) with her past, while trying to figure out (not altogether successfully) what to do with her future. She holds these incredibly honest internal conversations with herself – one part of her urging, pleading, plodding towards something better, the other part acting purely out of emotion and instinct.

You also have an odd child, who remains lovable in his quirkiness. And, might also be gay. Or transgender. Or just original. (But, it’s not really important either way.)

You have a husband that plays a subtle role, but is beloved and well-meaning, nonetheless. And, holy plot twist, Batman! <—- Not really a spoiler alert.

And, then you just go through one crazy day with Eleanor, plus some flashbacks, plus a short graphic memoir-esque set of illustrations (not kidding, but it’s cool).

It’s funny, yes. But, it’s also suspenseful in a careful sort of way. You never quite know what’s coming because life is messy and it sometimes happens like that.

Though the course of her life and… frankly… the events of her day are – at times – unrealistic, they’re also somehow completely honest and heartbreaking, without actually meaning to be. (See: The kid that cracks a joke about something terrible in his life, oblivious to the audience’s uncomfortable pause of pity.)

I don’t know why. I don’t know how. But, this whole recipe… it works! For me, it TOTALLY works!

I don’t know if Maria Semple is for everyone. Maybe she’s not meant to be. Maybe none of us are meant to be.

Either way, can we just celebrate how awesome it is that there are publishers willing to put something this original out there and writers brave enough to create it?

** Slow clap for Maria Semple **

Versions of Us

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So, I read this book a few weeks ago and I still can’t stop thinking about it.

It explores three different versions of how two characters – Eva and Jim – interact in each other’s lives,  based on the small choices of a seemingly inconsequential meeting.

In version one, they meet, fall in love and get married. Life ensues.

In version two, they meet, fall in love, but Eva soon finds that she is pregnant (out of wedlock! scandalous!) from her previous relationship. She breaks it off with Jim and marries baby daddy. They both live with unrequited love.

In version three, their initial meeting is completely forgettable. She marries her boyfriend (see version two), he partners with someone else and life ensues. But… they periodically bump into each other as time goes by and feel a strange connection.

Initially, the book was a bit complicated to read. I kept having to refer back to what version I was on. It felt a little messy to me, always skipping around. But, eventually, I stopped trying to meticulously track everything and just read each chapter as it was. After a few paragraphs, it became obvious which version I was on and what was happening in that particular timeline.

The writing was solid, the characters were flawed, but lovely and the sheer bounty of life – in each version – was enthralling. At the end of each story, I sobbed… so, like, for a good three chapters… ceaseless sobbing. Then I had to immediately review the book and read all the other reviews and commentary on it.

What I loved about this book is that it “scratched” that what-if question I toy with all the time. I, myself, have often marveled at how interconnected life can be — how one small decision can change the course of everything forever. It’s easy to fall down the “what if this was different” rabbit hole.

I especially love how it ended – all three times. What I took away from it is that some people are just destined to be part of your story and that, ultimately, everything turns out okay in the end. Not perfect, but okay.

Read this if you’re not afraid of complicated story lines and buckets of tear-shedding.

And the Gross Continues

So, a few months ago, my husband and I saw a few moths flying around our house. We thought hmmm one of the kids left the back door open again and some moths got in. 

Some time later, we noticed even more moths. Again we thought, We need to stay on those kids about leaving the back door open!

Finally, we saw enough moths and…evidence of other life cycles (ew!!) that we thought, Okay, this is a different sorta problem.

So, we cleaned our kitchen, threw out some expired food, sprayed some bug killer around the house, wiped everything down and called it done.

It was better, but it certainly wasn’t done.

Occasionally, we’d still see a stray moth here and there. And, then – wham – they were everywhere again and we were right back where we started.

My husband would go on these murderous killing sprees, stalking them through the house and killing them one by one. We thought that would do it.

It didn’t.

We tried some traps.

That didn’t work.

Nothing seemed to really be doing it!

Finally, I had a meltdown about it and called the exterminator. By my description, he confirmed over the phone that we didn’t have a “moths getting into the house” problem but something called an Indian Meal Moth problem. And, on the spectrum of pest problems, this one, in particular, is a doozy, ranking just below rodents and roaches. (gag!!)

Indian Meal Moths usually come into your house via food, particularly pet food (guilty, we have a lot of that!). They multiply quickly and thrive in the temperature-controlled environment of your home. They live on your pantry items and they can get into anything and everything. Even brand new bags of food can become infested!  They prefer to take up residence in your kitchen, but they can go anywhere and, most importantly, they can breed anywhere.

Gross. Gross. Double gross.

Yesterday, I spent the entire day pulling everything out of my cabinets, throwing food away, wiping down surfaces, washing dishes, killing moths (and others of their life cycle *cringe!*) and basically gagging and freaking out.

I don’t do bugs.

I especially don’t do bugs in our family’s food!

The exterminator came today. We were moving furniture, emptying more cabinets and basically tearing the place up. He’s given me strict instructions on how to proceed and assured me it will take weeks – WEEKS! – to entirely eradicate them.

I am mortified.

All of this was going on right under my nose. I didn’t have a clue what real problems were lurking behind “just a few moths flying around.”

I’ve had time to think as I’ve scrubbed and cried over my kitchen.

These moths are kinda like a lot of problems in my life. I ignore them, they get worse. I minimize them, they get worse. I “sorta” address them, but not completely, and they get worse.

Sometimes, you have to peel back what’s going on in your life, peek beneath the surface and soak that sucker in bug poison, respectively.

I have thrown so much out this week. Yes, almost all our food, which hurt because… that’s money! But, also, just a lot of crap. We’ve accumulated so much crap! I didn’t even know we had all this crap!

Well, no more!

After these moths are gone, I’m going to begin closely examining everything in our lives, not just physical things, like overstuffed cabinets of crap, but also the deeper things, like anxiety, and my self-image, and my job and my future and my relationships. I want the clutter out. I want what’s corrupted out.

It’s a hard lesson to learn. And, I’m not yet happy about it. But, I think I will be. Someday.

Things That Make Me Heave

There’s never a boring moment around here.

Yesterday, our senior Golden Retriever was extra whiny. She seemed to want water. My husband gave her a full bowl. Not knowing he’d already supplied her, I gave her another full bowl. A few hours later, my littlest gave her another full bowl and shut her in the laundry room, which is her little space in our hectic house.

Immediately after lunch, I heard her whining in the laundry room and thought she might need to go out. Um, no. She’d puked allllllllll ooooooovvvvveeeer.

No puke is good puke. Dog puke is particularly bad. There’s no way to direct it to a toilet or a bowl. And, our pup is basically a canine vacuum, snuffling up whatever she can kind find on the floor. (Might be why she’s sick??) Needless to say, objects identified or unidentified in dog vomit aren’t very pleasant.

While I was attending to our sick dog and cleaning up copious amounts of hellacious fluids, my littlest went to the bathroom. I think she must’ve had a little problem, which she tried to clean up herself, making it a HUGE problem… of the poop variety.

I had just walked out of the laundry room, anxious to jump in the shower, when I heard her wee voice yelling, “Mooooooommmmmmyyy” from her bathroom.

Dry heave city. Let me tell you.

KJ came home from lunch to find the washer and dryer going, another mountain of disgustingly dirty clothes waiting their turn by the washer and me lying prostrate and nauseous on the couch.

It took me two hours of recovery time and several White Barn candles before I felt semi-normal again.

That was yesterday.

Today’s challenge is to get H. and A. through two separate dentist appointments without tranquilizers. Already, it is HIGH drama over here.

PS – if they can’t have sedation, can I get some?