Never Say Never

It’s finally here, the one-year anniversary of my mother’s last breath – her ‘expiration date.’ I haven’t written anything since May. Well, not here anyway.

This year will go down in the history books as one of the worst – I can’t even begin to list all the shit that’s happening in the world, especially in the US. The pandemic death toll won’t stop ticking, it’s well over a million worldwide. And our family suffered another great loss; my mum’s younger sister passed away in July. She had been in and out of hospital, but her death was unexpected. I was crushed by this news. I would’ve seen her one last time if Mum’s burial service hadn’t been cancelled. I didn’t know my aunt that well – I don’t know any of my British family well, but we all share the blood of George and Olive, and that’s enough for me.

Getting through holiday season last year was hard, Mother’s Day was brutal, but not hearing from my mother on my birthday was excruciating. No matter the age or where I lived, I would always get a card before my birthday (never late) and a call that morning. Cue the waterworks when the card didn’t come and the phone didn’t ring. A flood of “I wish I had…” went through my mind – I wish I had kept her last voicemail, no matter how mundane. I wish I had recorded her saying ‘happy birthday’ or ‘I love you, honey.’ I wish I had ignored her objections and shot videos, maybe even interviewed her about her childhood. I wish I had sat with her more often, read to her, watched stupid TV shows with her. But I didn’t. It’s not that I didn’t think of recording her over the years, I tried. I wanted to document her life’s story and her decline into dementia. But she only allowed me to take her photo when she was in a good mood and had particularly good hair. And, no matter how foggy her mind, she was always aware of my phone and came to regard it as a camera. I set up a granny-cam in her bedroom, but seldom made videos. It seemed too invasive; I felt guilty recording without her knowledge or consent.

Like Christmas and Mother’s Day, I wanted to get out of town on my birthday: just drive for a few hours, destination unknown. But when the day came, a few people called, texted or left messages on Facebook. My best friend brought me breakfast, and my niece came over with her husband and daughter to give me a card, a gift, and some much-needed hugs. I was glad I had stayed home after all. I ran to the market and bought myself a few single slices of cake. Due to the pandemic, there was a long line outside because they were restricting the flow into the store. Everyone was wearing masks and standing six feet apart, which made the line six times longer and six times slower. I came home and ate my birthday cake alone. I recalled my birthday two years earlier when we ate cake with bright blue frosting. Both of us had blue lips and teeth, it was hysterical. We had such a good laugh and I took her picture. She laughed even harder when I showed her the photo. But this year, that memory made me sob.

On Mother’s Day 2011, I wrote: Many of my friends have lost their mothers and don’t understand our estrangement; they would give anything to have one more day with their mothers. Think of me what you will, you don’t know my trauma or drama. People often ask, “Can’t you just forgive and forget?”

Four years after writing that, I uprooted my entire life and moved back to California. What the actual fuck?! Had I forgiven her? No. Had I forgotten? No. My persistent depression (diagnosed Dysthymia and OCD) and lingering thoughts of suicide are a constant reminder of my family-related trauma. But the guilt of not helping her finally outweighed the anxiety of having her back in my life… in person.

My life in Colorado had already bottomed out. I had been at my job for nineteen years and had every intention of staying there forever. Then the owners partnered with foreign investors who came in and flipped everything upside down. The foundation we had forged together for two decades was stripped away, meaningless to the new partners. My duties were delegated to others to lighten my load, so I was told. I no longer felt indispensable nor valued. I knew too much, had a hand in every department, and accepted change too slowly. It was time to go.

Around the same time, my girlfriend and I separated amicably, yet it didn’t feel like a break-up in the true sense. She was Australian and had been living undocumented with me for three years. There were no fights or fuck-offs but there was silence and anguish. I went to work unhappy and came home worse, sometimes furious and venting. She wanted to go home, and I didn’t blame her one bit. I was left holding my heart in a death-grip. I was unsettled, moving three times in three years. Also, during this time – both of my elderly cats passed away and I turned fifty years old.

I had never felt so abandoned, unwanted, and unloved; and I no longer had the option of throwing myself into my work, because I wanted to quit. This quote often comes to mind, “If misery loves company, why am I alone?” It was on a plaque hanging in my childhood home(s). Why in the world did we have a picture of a sad hobo-like clown holding a cocktail with that quote – in the bathroom?

Thoughts of suicide began strolling from the back of my mind toward the front. It was around that time I spoke with my mom about her health, multiple falls, memory loss, and obvious need of care. I had nothing to keep me in Denver – I had come to hate my job, my coworkers, the owners. I was still heartbroken, had only a few close friends, and a new cat who took great joy in biting me. I began plotting my move from one miserable situation to another. How much worse could it be? If you’ve been reading this blog for a few years; then you know the answer to that.

** Full Stop ** I’ve been working on this post for a few days and wrote about 5,000 words. I read it, edited, reread it, shared it with a friend… and finally decided to save it for another time.

So, let me wrap this up by saying – I never intended to come back to California once I left. I never wanted to move in with my mother. I definitely never wanted to be her full-time caregiver, especially if she was bedridden, wearing a diaper. I never believed I would genuinely love her. I never expected my heart to shatter when she died last year. And, lastly, I never thought I’d miss her presence as much as I do. To quote Charles Dickens and Justin Bieber, “Never say never.”

What I wouldn’t give to eat blue cake (or fish & chips) with my mother again.

Photos — Mum loved receiving flowers 🌹🌻🌷

Me and My OCD

Everyone jokes about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) these days. Anyone who is anal-retentive, hyper-organized, or likes things “just so” jokes about their OCD. I recently shared a funny meme on Facebook about it. I laughed when I read it and watched others ‘haha’ and share it. But, as the day wore on, it began bothering me.

Let me tell you about OCD: It’s a mental health disorder and it’s no joke. If you organize your stuff and alphabetize your DVDs – you’re tidy and like structure. If you miss an appointment because you’re immobilized by an uncontrolled obsession and can’t focus on anything but your compulsion – you might have OCD. I have missed work and lost jobs due to OCD. I’ve lost relationships due to debilitating OCD. I have lost huge chunks of time, entire days, due to OCD.

I repeat, it’s a mental health disorder. I was diagnosed in the late 1990s by a psychotherapist who prescribed Luvox (fluvoxamine) and talk therapy for about eight years. This description, from the linked page, nails it: “Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings. Compulsions are behaviors an individual engages in to attempt to get rid of the obsessions and/or decrease his or her distress.” (source)

My obsessions and compulsions evolved as a need for control and distraction during the abusive years of my childhood. I began sorting, counting, aligning, measuring, and listing everything in my life at a young age, possibly ten years old – around the same time I first attempted suicide. Therapy helped me reach the root of my illness, identified my triggers, and taught me to balance my brain. I’m no longer medicated or in therapy; controlling my reaction to triggers is wholly on me now – and it’s damn hard.

So, what does this have to do with my mother? The keyword is in the previous paragraph: childhood. My stepfather’s abusive discipline and my mother’s indifference to it, brought about chronic depression, suicidal tendencies, and OCD.

I don’t want to say much more, as I might trigger myself and I’m in no condition to deal with my compulsions right now. I just felt the need to say something about it and hopefully educate some folks.

Motherless Day

Writing monthly is not intentional, but it seems to keep happening. Then again, I didn’t intend to write on the 17th but here I am, again. I chose today because it’s a week since Mother’s Day, I didn’t know the actual date when I began writing.

I handled Mother’s Day pretty well, I think. A few friends, and my niece, checked on me; which was heartwarming. It’s never been a particularly meaningful day to me; I wasn’t very close to my mother in the past, not during my childhood, and especially not during my teens. When I lived in Colorado, I made sure to send her a card every year – choosing one was excruciating. They don’t write cards for dysfunctional, distant families. They say things like, “You taught me so much… You were always there for me… You’re my best friend…” Ugh. After reading just about every mushy lie-filled card, I’d settle on something stupid and/or funny. And I’d call to say, “Happy Mother’s Day” and to tell her I loved her, because that’s what you’re supposed to do, right? The card and the call meant nothing to me, but I knew they meant something to her – so I did it. (Except for the few years that I didn’t.) Not until I came to live with her did it begin to mean something to me. Maybe it was the awareness of her mortality: knowing that she only had a few more Mother’s Days left, only a few more birthdays and Christmases. Time was running out to understand and appreciate her… and to actually love her.

Due to self-isolation and social distancing, I didn’t see anyone on Mother’s Day – maybe I wouldn’t have anyway, but I didn’t want to stay home. I needed drive-therapy, so I drove about an hour and a half to the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. The state park was closed as I knew it would be, but there were dozens of cars parked along the narrow roadway where people were taking photos. I took a few as well, as proof I had been there. I’m not sure who I was going to prove this to or why I felt the need to. Maybe one day I’ll look back at the poppy photos and remember it was my first Mother’s Day without her. There was nowhere to have lunch unless I wanted to eat fast food in the car, so I just drove home. I took a different route home, making a loop. All in all, it was a good day, a peaceful relaxing drive, and I didn’t think very much about Mom.

A few days later, I was taking some photos of my cat in the former TV Room, when I noticed a couple of marks on the wall: two perfectly straight, horizontal, parallel lines about six inches up from the floor. I was surprised to see them, since I had touched up all the paint back in November. My brain began deducing – a big wooden entertainment center had been on that wall at the time I painted. And prior to that, my mom’s recliner had been there. The two marks were from her walker: the red paint of the frame and the black wheel cap. She couldn’t leave the TV Room without scraping the walker along the wall. The second I realized this, my mind sparked her moving image, like a video – slightly hunched over, clumsily pushing her walker toward the doorway, shuffling her feet behind it, giving the cat a ride on the seat. After an estate sale, giving stuff away, throwing things out, donating, shredding, and stowing – there was still evidence of her life in this house. I was already bent over looking at the lines, so dropping to my knees was not a long or hard fall. I was gutted. I sobbed for quite a while, then had to figure out how to get up from the floor in a room with no furniture.

Speaking of furniture, I recently dismantled my mother’s octagonal dining table, no doubt from the ‘90s. It had been outside on the front porch since November, through rain and snow. It was no longer worth donating or selling. Since the sunshine has shifted to the front of the house and it’s getting warmer, I decided to move my patio furniture from the carport to the porch. I brought some of the indoor plants outdoors to get more sun along with a few decorations, as pictured.

Last August, I took a five-day respite in Palm Springs and, of course, I couldn’t come home empty-handed. I looked at many touristy kitschy gifts, fabulous books, colorful shirts, and PS stickers, but nothing spoke to me as a memento that I might want to keep for any length of time. I wanted something more than a souvenir. I finally spotted a set of poorly painted, kind of distressed, crudely crafted flamingos. I thought they looked like cheap plastic or hard to use salt & pepper shakers and I wondered why they were in this rather chic, artsy consignment shop. Then I picked one up. They’re cast iron! At barely four inches tall, they each weigh more than a pound. There was something about their hardness and weight in my palm, the cool metal against my skin, and the rough texture of the iron – a tactile jackpot! They were made of gold in my eyes.

I wasn’t there for a car show, a tour, a museum, or a mid-century modern event. I was there to breathe, to recharge, to formulate a plan for my future. Twenty or thirty years from now, I’ll pick up these flamingos and remember the first moment I held them, and I’ll remember why I was in Palm Springs, and I’ll remember my mother.


Six Months

It’s been six months already – half a year! How is that possible? So much has happened, not to me, of course, nothing much ever happens to me. But the world beyond my front porch has gotten crazy. We are in the midst of a global pandemic. Hundreds of thousands will die from the Covid-19 virus before it’s over, if it it’s ever really over and doesn’t come back to kick us again. Keeping my mother clean and comfortable was hard enough, keeping her virus-free would have been a nightmare. I doubt she would have been stressed by it at all, it depends on her level of lucidity. If this had happened last year, yes, she would’ve known. In fact, last April she had pneumonia and became bedridden for the final six months of her life. She remained pretty lucid until August; going through a pandemic while she was declining would’ve killed us both.


I’m glad she’s gone. There, I said it. Somewhat guilt-free too. That’s not to say I don’t miss her: I still cry when I think of feeding her like an infant or rubbing face cream into her cheeks. I didn’t shoot many videos of her, but when I hear her voice it’s quite a gut-bunch. I’m going through a few thousand photos (at least) and finding never-before-seen photos and slides. I wish I had discovered them a few years ago, so I could ask her about them: the when, where, and why. (Like the one posted here.) There are photos everywhere, tucked into books, in random envelopes, inside greeting cards and magazines. When I was a kid, I used to snoop a lot. She had shoe boxes under her bed and in the closet. We were supposed to think they had shoes in them, but I knew better. They were filled with notes, receipts, photos, keepsakes, birthday cards, matchbooks, unused Disneyland tickets (usually A and B rides), things like that. She also had a 1950s Samsonite cosmetic case at the back of the closet that was locked – until I found the key while snooping through her nightstand. That’s where she kept the “important papers” as she called them. It was overstuffed with documents: birth certificates, passports, her green card, our report cards, immunization records, car titles, the divorce decree from my father and the marriage certificate to my stepfather. When I got older, she told me about the case, even showed me its contents. (I acted surprised.) “If there’s ever a fire or emergency, you come in here and get this case!” Would she leave me behind to retrieve the case in the flames? Maybe she meant if an emergency happened while she was at work. I never really thought about that, but it was my job to save them. That’s probably why I own a fireproof safe; I’d rather save my cat, my laptop, and external hard drives.

This is a special year for birthdays in our family. My great-nephew is now sixteen; he got his driver’s license and a hand-me-down car. His sister, my great-niece, turned thirteen. She’s all teenager, the complete package. Their mother, my eldest niece, will be forty this year. These are all milestone ages: sixteen, thirteen, forty. I can’t help but become sentimental and wish my mother was here to celebrate. I created photo albums for their birthdays and made sure to include every existing photo of them with their great-grandmother, some are originals with her writing on the back. I don’t want them to ever forget her. They didn’t know her very well or spend a lot of time with her outside of birthdays and holidays, but she loved them and spoke of them often. Every time a photo appeared on Facebook or Instagram, I made sure to show her. I still have the urge to run to her room with new photos. In the last few weeks that my mother could speak, she had an entire conversation with her great-granddaughter in a hallucination. I could hear her talking during the night, so I listened in with the granny-cam. Clear as a bell, she said my great-niece’s name then, “Come here and give grandma a hug. I love you, honey.” I hope her granddaughters and great-grandchildren know they were loved and remembered right to the end of her life.

So, back to the Coronavirus, aka Covid-19, we’re supposed to stay home as much as possible. What does self-isolation mean to me? I joked about it being “business as usual.” I’m unemployed and seldom leave the house or see anyone, much less talk to anyone – so what’s the big deal? The difference is choice – free will. I realize now that I went to the movies at least once a week or whenever the mood struck me, as well as going out for a meal with a friend or two. The luxury of running to the store for one or two items is gone. I make a list and hold out until I actually ‘need’ to go, not just ‘want’ to go. I often say that I’m a seldom-lonely-loner, but damn, this is different. I’m sure if I was cooped up with someone we might eventually get on each other’s nerves, but I’d like to find that out for myself. I have a tenant I seldom see and when I do, we only briefly chit-chat. I must seem starved for conversation, probably desperate; she escapes to her room pretty quickly.

Along with loneliness, my binge-eating is out of control. I had lost weight last year and continued to eat healthier in the new year. I even bought smaller clothes for the first time since moving here nearly five years ago. I found an amazing shirt to wear to my mother’s service in England. It was exactly what I’d been looking for, but it was a brand that never ever fits me right. I tried it on and it fit perfectly, so I created an entire outfit around that shirt. That was two months ago. I will not be wearing it again anytime soon, least of all to England, because that trip was cancelled due to the virus. When I returned from Yosemite in February, I started looking for a local Overeaters Anonymous group to have a sounding board for my issues. A few meetings came and went, but I didn’t go. Then, when there were rumors that we might have to stay home, I doubled up on some items and got some other things I wouldn’t normally buy.  I’m thinking of locking them up – out of sight, out of mind. I recently told a friend that I remember running a bicycle lock through the handles of my cupboards to keep me from mindless grazing. I didn’t want to waste the food by throwing it out (which I often do) but I didn’t want easy access to it either. It had to be a mindful decision to get the key and unlock the chain. That was in my early twenties, when I actually looked fit, strong and healthy.

Canceling my trip to England was painful, tears were shed. I feel like I’ve let everyone down, including my mother. Yeah, yeah – global pandemic! I know, I know. But I need to keep my promise to her, sooner rather than later. I need closure. I need to move on with my life. I’ve been holding off getting a ‘real job’ because who would hire me then allow me to go to England for three weeks? And I have a road trip, which includes a conference, scheduled for July. That’s looking like a long shot at the moment; I have until mid-May to get a refund on the conference and it won’t be a full refund regardless. 2020 was supposed to be a breather; the peace after the chaos. I earned the right to rest and recover, to travel and connect with family and friends. I was going to come back to real-life in August and put the house on the market. Now that most businesses are closed, the economy has tanked, millions are unemployed and may end up homeless – who will be in the market to buy a mobile home in the desert? It was recently valued right where I want it, but I fear it will soon drop like a rock.

So, to recap: I’m fucking depressed.









Just when I think I’m getting my act together; a wave of brutal honesty sweeps over me and I admit to myself that I’m kind of a hot mess. From my weight, to my diet, to my mood-swings, to my… oh, those are all the same thing. They are. I can go from drinking smoothies and eating vegan on Monday, to having mac & cheese for breakfast and twenty chicken nuggets for lunch on Tuesday. Then I try again on Wednesday: smoothie, veggies, fruit, quinoa – yum. “Cool, I’ve lost a few pounds.” Then I go to the store and I’m dangerously close to Wendy’s or Popeye’s. “Crap, I’ve gained a few pounds.”

I was relieved when the battery in my scale died. Maybe it was a sign that I wasn’t supposed to weigh myself or worry about a number assigned to my existence, other than my age. “Eat heathy, stay healthy,” was my new mantra… my short-lived mantra. Everything I do to get my life back on track is temporary. A step forward, a step back – which is better than two steps back, I guess. But one step forward and one step back means I’m standing still, pivoting, spinning.

Getting in the car and driving, literally moving away from my shit, is the only thing that helps. Escapism. Avoidance. I took a five-day respite in Palm Springs when my mother turned the last corner. After she expired, I drove all over, all the time: shopping, driving, eating, driving, seeing movies, driving. Just before Christmas, I went away to a magical home in the Washington woods. On Christmas day I drove to the beach – from one vacant lonely place to another, then ended the day gorging at an Asian buffet. When an old friend recently offered me another chance to get away, I jumped at the chance to leave town again.

It began with a four-hour drive to a cat sanctuary. Most people hate the drive through the desert, not me. There is something about driving on a straight road through a barren landscape that soothes my soul, like meditation. In 1989, I drove this same route headed south where I stayed with friends for a few weeks while I looked for an apartment. This time, I headed north to spend a few days with one of those same friends, thirty-one years later. Each highway had changed quite a bit in three decades, yet there was something familiar and comforting while driving past Joshua Trees, perfectly spaced telephone poles, and slow-moving trucks. The brilliant blue sky took up two-thirds of the windshield with nothing obscuring it. Hundreds of wind turbines, vast areas of solar panels, plus the occasional cell phone tower, were new to me. The landscape turned from desert to farmland quite abruptly. Before I knew it, the narrow highway was wedged between rows of fruit and nut trees. Some were heavy with citrus, while others were covered with white or pink pompoms. Insects pelted the frontend and windshield. It reminded me of a time I took this route on a motorcycle – without wearing a helmet – bugs hit my face like BBs.

If you know me personally, you know how much I love cats. My first kitten was born on this day, February 29th in 1972. I guess there were no babies born on that day, because our small-town newspaper announced the birth of the “Leap Year Litter.” It has long been on my bucket list to visit The Cat House on the Kings: a 12-acre cat rescue and adoption center. Cats that aren’t adopted can live their entire lives at the free-roam sanctuary. I spent just over an hour wandering around petting hundreds of cats. I can’t even adequately describe how I felt; I wanted to cry… a lot. I was happy beyond measure, possibly the happiest I’ve been since moving to California. At the same time, I was miserable. There’s something about unshared joy that isn’t joyous at all – it’s tragic. It’s like seeing something amazing and saying, “Wow! Look at that,” then you realize you’re alone. No one will ever see what you see or feel what you feel. I sat on a bench looking over the King River while five or six cats rubbed against my legs, two competed for my lap and hands, and dozens wandered around the bench. Could I volunteer and live with hundreds of cats for the rest of my life? Could I just stay there? Would anyone notice if I slept on that bench overnight or forever?

I pulled myself together, and off the bench, then continued on my journey north. My friends live near Yosemite National Park; I had another hour to drive and a million orchards to pass. The landscape started rolling with hills, vineyards and wineries, cattle and new smells. I arrived at their house just before sunset. What is it about these magical houses in the woods? Who knew I had so many new age, spiritual, Bohemian friends? Walking into their home was like ‘coming home.’ I sat down and exhaled, instantly comfortable and comforted.

LONG PAUSE: I was going to finish this last night. I was going to write about visiting Yosemite, Bass Lake, Bandit Town and Old Town Clovis. I was going to lament about the devastation of drought, wildfires, and Pine Beetles. But… but the friend I stayed with in Washington just lost her mother. Boom! Out of the blue, she’s gone. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve discussed our mothers over the years and what it meant to me to have someone who gets it and gets me.

So, I’m stopping here. My grief is renewed.

10:17:19 13:23

Shortly after my mother expired, the hospice agency mailed me an invitation to a free grief counseling group. I didn’t respond; it was too soon, too raw. I didn’t want the grief of others and the advice of a counselor to affect (infect) my process. I was going through thousands of photos, trying to imagine her as a woman, a wife, a friend, a drinker, a smoker – someone other than my mother. I learned more about her as her caregiver than I had in the previous fifty-plus years as her daughter. Three months later, I’m still learning about her.

We’re all complex, multi-faceted humans. I don’t think we view our parents this way. I’m a child of divorce and have very few memories of my father. I didn’t know him at all. Until 2015, I didn’t fully know, much less understand, my mother. I could hear her voice in my head; I knew exactly how she’d react and what she’d say in just about any circumstance. But I didn’t really know her as a person, just her persona. When I ask people to share a memory, I’m not surprised that their memories are image related: her perfect hair, fashionable clothes, dripping with jewelry, etc. Four years ago, I would have had the same description with no sense of the real woman. Caring for a sick and dying person will show you many sides of their personality, probably all of them. The depth of our shared vulnerability led us to discover each other. She finally saw me as an adult, not just her child. And I saw her stripped down, literally and figuratively, to the person who had hidden behind make-up, clothes, and jewelry. Once she was gone, I had research to do, photos to find, notes to read. I didn’t want a controlled group to change or block my path.

Hospice contacted me again a month or so later. Was I ready yet? I picked up my phone and contemplated calling. Before I could hit the green call-button I noticed the last call I made to them was on October 17th.


It took 25 seconds to tell them my mother was dead. I don’t know what word I actually used; it may not have been “dead.” Based on the time stamp, I had the order of events wrong. I called them first, then my niece, then I removed her cannula and hearing aid. That’s not how I remember it.

Last week I received an invitation to the next counseling session, which begins next week. This time I’m ready. I stared at my phone for a while, knowing that if I made the call to accept the invitation, the October call would be replaced. Why was this so hard to do? What would I be erasing? What would I be losing? I contemplated using someone else’s phone, then shook my head at my own insanity. I took a screenshot. Done.

20/20 Vision

We’re twenty-six days into the new year, and fourteen weeks since my mother expired. Fourteen weeks doesn’t sound like a very long time. Does three months and nine days sound longer? It doesn’t matter. The weirdness of grief is still fresh. I say ‘weirdness’ because some of the things I do regarding my mother still surprise me. I shake my head and say, “Weird.”

My tenant is all moved in, but I seldom see her. She works twelve-hour shifts; she’s out of the house by 6:15 AM and returns around 8:00 PM. I had no delusions of making a new friend or sitting around drinking tea with her, but I did hope my mother’s room would be more lived in. She has an adorable Chihuahua mix rescue that my mom would have loved. The bedroom door is closed 24/7, I haven’t been in the room in weeks. It has helped – I no longer have the urge to go down the hall and check on her. I don’t listen for her at night. I’ve stopped preparing her coffee in the morning. I seldom think of her dietary needs, likes and dislikes when grocery shopping or cooking. However, that’s not to say I don’t think of her all the time, because I do, constantly.

Christmas was especially weird. I bought a ‘Mother’ Christmas card, wrote in it, then read it aloud to her ashes. I never thought I would be ‘that’ person – the person who talks to ashes. About forty cards came in from our friends and family members (not local family, only from England). I read all of them to her. She would’ve been very happy with that number; she obsessively counted them. I remember sitting at the dining room table and she’d stare at all the cards taped to the front door. She loved giving and receiving cards, I think she passed that tradition on to me. In this age of social media and texting, it’s nice to know someone took the time and made the effort to think of you and write a personal note.

I woke up early Christmas morning, posted some festive greetings on Facebook, sent a few texts, and completely lost my composure. While my mother was alive, my brother would come over early with cards and gifts, before the festivities at his own house. I hadn’t heard from him and I didn’t think he’d come this year, but a tiny voice in my head said, “He might.” I took a shower and put on my Star Wars Christmas sweater just in case. But he didn’t come or call or anything, and I had no desire to call him or anyone else, I don’t think I could’ve spoken. I didn’t want to sit in this house alone yet didn’t want to be with anyone either.

**Edit: I was invited to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day festivities with my nieces. I chose not to go.

I spontaneously jumped in the car and drove to Venice Beach, about ninety miles away. The freeways were empty, a rare sight in Southern California. Surprisingly, every damn thing was closed. I never think of Venice Beach, or Los Angeles in general, as being closed for business – ever!


My plan was to walk along the beach, take photos, and find a restaurant for breakfast or brunch. After a very long walk to nowhere, I went back to the car and looked online for an open restaurant. I lost patience because I was starving and getting hangry. Ninety miles later I was back in my hometown and found an open Asian buffet. Emotionally, I was slipping between incredulous chuckling and misty-eyed crying. I loved the food, the wait staff was excellent, and the price was lower than usual. There wasn’t one Christmas decoration, no carols playing, no telltale sign of the holiday – the Holy day. It could’ve been any other afternoon. I’m not a Christian, but the season and traditions are engrained from an early age – it’s Christmas! It should feel like Christmas, look like Christmas. But it didn’t. I sat there eating coconut shrimp, orange chicken and chow mien, and lots of it. I wanted to vomit.

I came home and posted my photos of Venice Beach, then waited for comments: “How nice that you got away!” – “So glad you had a fun day at the beach!” – “What a great idea!”  Yeah, I rolled with it; not confessing my misery, but not lying about the nice, fun, or great time I had. My niece sent me photos of the family smiling and opening presents, I know what I missed out on, but the trade-off in emptiness wasn’t worth it.

My great-nephew will be sixteen next month. I remember telling Mom last year that her great-grandson got his driving permit. I showed her a photo of him at the DMV. Her eyes went huge, she couldn’t believe he was so grown up. Then something amazing happened; she looked closely at the photo and said, “He got his braces off.” I believe this was late August, shortly after our five-day respite. She was seldom lucid in August, yet she remembered he had had braces and noticed they were gone. I was dumbfounded and giddy – those moments were so rare and getting rarer. Now he’s almost as tall as his father, getting his license next month, and went to homecoming last night – his very first date. And once again, my initial reaction to the homecoming photos was to run to her bedroom to show her. Every time I tamp down those split-second thoughts it fucking hurts.

Besides having a tenant, I’ve made another change in my life – I traded in the Toyota Yaris (formerly my mother’s) for a Nissan Cube. I always resented selling my previous Cube, but the Yaris wasn’t paid off and was close to upside-down; there wouldn’t have been any profit in selling it. If I wanted to pay my rent and bills, I had to sell my Cube. It broke my heart and my spirit – the first in a long line of spirit busters. I tried to be logical about it: the Yaris was newer and had nearly half the mileage of the Cube. I wasn’t happy but had no intention of selling it. A couple of trips out of town (including Venice Beach) convinced me I would never be able to take a road trip. It’s too small and I’m too big – it’s as simple as that. I started looking at used Cubes and bought one within a week. It was impulsive, I know.


Speaking of road trips… I have been trying to go to an annual conference for four years. I considered going when they held it in Chicago, especially since I had friends to visit as well, but my mom was hospitalized. It was in Las Vegas the following year, so close! I was determined to go. I booked a hotel room and was days from going, only to find out that there was no one available to take care of Mom. When I say I was her ‘sole’ caregiver, this was proof. No one else ever took care of her. No one. Last year the conference was in Pittsburgh, so that was out of the question. Then they announced the 2020 conference would be in Albuquerque – within driving distance! If Mom was still in hospice care I’d take a five-day respite for the conference. Needless to say, I have all the time in the world now: five, ten, twenty days. And… if I’m going to Albuquerque, I may as well head to Denver, then to a see a friend in Nebraska, and a few friends in Chicago, and so on, and so on. By the time I plotted out a perfect course, it spanned from California to Maryland. I’m sure it sounds insane, I’m not so sure it isn’t.

And, in other news, I’ve booked my flight to England to take Mum’s cremains home. I decided to wait until May in hopes of decent weather. (Yeah, don’t laugh.) I contacted my family to see what timeframe would work best for the majority of them. The latter part of May and early June looked most promising, so I booked it. I found out that I can’t just scatter my mother’s ashes on her parents’ grave, that was a bit presumptuous on my part. (And very American of me to assume I can do whatever I want in a foreign country.) The graveyard is on the church grounds, so the vicar will take part in a short service. It’s yet to be determined if her ashes will be scattered or buried in a small hole. My cousins are working on renting a hall and hiring a caterer for a family gathering after the service. While there, I’ll bounce around the countryside at the gracious hospitality of relatives who barely know me. I’ll only need a hotel a few nights while I’m playing tourist.

It’s pretty obvious that I don’t have a job yet. I’ve got a few online gigs that give me a small income. Having a tenant covers the rent and utilities, for the most part. The gas and electric bills have shot up because my mom qualified for discounts that I was unable to renew. I do have money though, not much, but enough. I’m going to sell this house eventually; I don’t know when. I have to have a game plan before I do that. If I can make a steady online income, I may keep traveling. Even though I grew up here and have family here, I don’t feel rooted or settled or welcome. I don’t feel anything now that my only reason for being here is gone.




R&R – Reset & Recharge

Exactly two months after Mom’s expiration date, I found a tenant to rent her bedroom. I didn’t realize it was the 17th until she asked me the date while signing the lease agreement. She’s not moving in until mid-January, so I still have some time alone.

I recently returned from ten days in Washington state, thanks to the generosity and compassion of a great friend, whom I’ve known since 1974. She and her husband offered me a cozy room in their amazing home to get some much-needed recuperation and resetting. I received both, along with getting to know her family and two dogs.

Their love-filled home was decorated for Christmas, but not in a way that I’ve ever seen before. There were no blinking lights, no elves on shelves, or cheap red and green décor made in China. It was filled with statues of Father Christmas – the old-time bearded figure wearing flowing hooded robes, carrying a staff, even riding a donkey. They were in every corner, on cabinets, and unexpected places throughout the downstairs. They were lit with tiny lights, softly diffused by other non-traditional decorations. The tree in the reading room was magical. I sat and stared at it one morning; I went in there to read but was too distracted and enchanted by it.



D3B3346A-9E2D-4AF2-95F4-27B9B6CC2820This home sits on five acres of a mystical forest, complete with duck ponds, bird and squirrel feeding stations, vegetable and herb gardens, vines and flowers. There are walking trails throughout the property, where the dogs run wild. It’s amazing that five acres of forest can feel like five thousand; I turned around and the house was gone. The trees were so tall that they blocked the sun, it was noticeably colder than in the backyard. My sense of direction faltered – this is how people get lost in the woods, no doubt. The trails are not empty though. My friends, and their guests, have left dozens of discoverable items over the years: statues of angels, Buddhas, owls, small toys, and carvings are among the ferns, moss, mushrooms, and fallen trees. I doubt I found half of them. Before I left, I placed my own little trinket for future scavengers.


My first thought was to buy a small statue or ceramic Christmas ornament of Hello Kitty, because she’s my go-to for fun, cute objects. I had no luck finding one in the few days I had to search, so I began looking for a small flamingo, something people have begun associating with me. Flamingo sightings in December are rare, especially getting the right size for placing it inconspicuously among the bramble. I decided that this enchanted patch of forest could use a hedgehog – one of my mother’s favorite creatures. She had a small collection of hedgehog knick-knacks that I set aside at the Estate Sale and decided to keep. I often showed her hedgehog videos online. So, instead of leaving a piece of myself behind, I left a bit o’ mum. It was perfect.

If there’s a cold bug to be caught on a plane, it will find and infect me. No matter the amount of preventative medicine and vitamins, I always get sick when traveling by air. Maybe that’s what I needed – to sit very still, drink hot cocoa, and enjoy the menagerie of critters just beyond the window. I was given a coloring book and I caught up on some reading. My friend and I watched Netflix, ate popcorn, and drank homemade margaritas. We even consumed pot brownies. The experience of thrifting at Goodwill while high will not soon be forgotten nor matched.

Did she know I needed this? I didn’t know, that’s for sure. I mean, I could’ve colored, read, watched TV, and ate THC edibles at home – alone. No, not really. It wouldn’t have been the same as being cared for and loved unconditionally. I wouldn’t say that my house is haunted, but all of the recent memories of my mother living and dying here are just below the surface – way too fresh. Getting a thousand miles away was exactly what I needed. Everything else I experienced was a delightful bonus.





I thought –

It snowed on Thanksgiving. It’s not that unusual to get snow in the Mojave Desert especially in the “high” desert, which only means we’re at a higher elevation than the low desert. We’re also considered a valley due to the nearby mountain ranges. The day after a snowfall, we all turn our eyes to the mountains; it’s a glorious backdrop to the sagebrush, tumbleweeds, and Joshua Trees.


The day began with rain and sleet pelting the carport and window awnings, it was maddening. I yelled, “It’s raining!” Then realized I was only telling my cat, who just ignored me. Local friends were posting photos of snow and I was getting jealous. I kept getting up to check, even though the racket was telltale enough. Then the silence came, and the TV had to be turned down. I glanced at the one window I can see from my chair in the TV room. “It’s snowing!” Again, the cat ignored me.

I opened the front door and stepped outside. I should call Mom to see if it’s snowing at her house, I thought, while standing on the porch of her former home. What a mind-fuck. There were thoughts like this all day. I went to my niece’s for Thanksgiving; she and her husband are vegan. I remember explaining veganism to my mother. She never really understood the concept. I made about a gallon of gravy with about a pound of mushrooms and remembered that she didn’t like raw mushrooms on salad or pizza, yet she loved sautéed garlic mushrooms with spaghetti. I’d like to think that she would’ve enjoyed my gravy.


Mom’s China hutch is now in my niece’s dining room. That’s weird. I was tempted to pull open a drawer, hoping to find it full of 2019 prescription receipts for the “tax man” (even though it’s a woman). I wish she could’ve eaten at my niece’s beautiful new dining table.

This was the first family-centric holiday since her passing. I was silently joking with myself about the things I was grateful for this year – I’m grateful I won’t have to deal with her wheelchair in the snow or on the icy driveway. I’m grateful I don’t have to prepare her plate and cut up her food. I’m grateful I won’t have to take her to the bathroom. I’m grateful she isn’t nagging me about… everything. I’m grateful I can stay after dessert and play a board game with the family.

I said my good-byes, then cried all the way home. Bullshit, I wasn’t grateful for any of those things.

Today is December 1st – on this day three years ago, my mother had out-of-town guests who stopped by to have lunch with us. I know this because Facebook Memories showed me the photo I posted. There’s my mother, standing rather straight, unaided by a cane or walker. (I’m sure one or the other was nearby.) I find myself examining photos closely and dissecting everything – I wasn’t living with her then. There’s already a poinsettia? Are those Thanksgiving cards or Christmas cards in the background? She looks quite healthy and strong. Look at that huge smile, she’s so happy to see her friend. Her hair looks recently set. She’s wearing lots of bling, along with her fall-alert necklace. – At the time I took the photo, I remember being bothered that her friend was backlit by the window, and that’s about all I noticed.


I’ve always liked the Facebook Memories feature, especially since I joined in 2007. Their databank holds twelve years of my life’s highs and lows, opinions, photos, and memories. If you close your account, everything remains. I know this because I closed my other (birth name) account and when I brought it back online it was as if I hadn’t left – every comment and photo was still there. The vast depth of Facebook’s data is sometimes terrifying, and I probably shouldn’t love it as much as I do.

Then there’s this blog, which I may not have written if it weren’t for Facebook. I had another personal blog when I began a weight-loss journey; it was as short-lived as my weight loss. Sharing our daily struggles and conversations on my timeline led me to create a personal blog; my friends seemed somewhat interested and generally amused. I also have a WordPress version for my non-Facebook friends and family members. I send them the link when I update it. I think I have two followers on WordPress and they seldom comment. I’ve noticed over the years that my FB followers don’t comment as much as they used to. (That’s not a passive-aggressive plea, honest.) I understand, really, how many times can someone post, “Sorry, hang in there. You’re doing great. *hugs*” And I’ve pretty much stopped replying to comments because how many times can I reply, “Thanks for your support.” It’s a bit monotonous. I’m happy to know a handful of people are reading it and a few of them have been helped by following our journey.

Is this still “A Daughter’s Diary into Dementia” or should I add “… and Death” to the subtitle? I don’t know, I really don’t. Every day I fight thoughts and actions formed from muscle memory. You don’t realize how regimented your life is until it stops. Done. My life went from structured to chaotic in one day, in one passing moment. From the time I wake up, it’s painfully obvious that I have no job, no direction, no schedule, no purpose, no mother.

I’m trying to focus on 2020. The master bedroom is ready to rent out. I’ve updated my resumé to include “Caregiver: May 2015 – October 2019.” I’m ready to go back to work, and definitely ready to make some money to resurrect my comatose credit score. Ha – I just realized I used ‘focus’ and ‘2020’ in the same sentence. I hope to have 20/20 vision when looking to the future.

Precious Moments

A month has passed since Mom ‘expired.’ For the rest of my life, the number 17 (and the 17th) will remind me of my mother’s expiration date. It’s a prime number. I’ve always had a thing for prime numbers; probably because my birthdate is a double prime: 7-11. Mom told me her delivery date had been the 13th, another prime. I don’t think she understood my explanation of prime numbers, which led me to wonder about her education. She never helped me with homework, and she never asked me about it. But she paid the bills and balanced the checkbook without a calculator and was a cashier back when the register didn’t tell you how much change to give back to the customer. She was always good at math. Prime, composite, natural, cardinal, and ordinal numbers meant nothing to her, nor should they.

We had very little in common culturally. Mom didn’t read books, listen to music, watch documentaries or crime shows. She liked a lot of TV shows that I refused to watch with her, like soap operas, game shows, reality TV, and entertainment (gossip) shows. The only ones we religiously watched together (besides Downton Abbey) were The Voice and American Idol. She was impressed that I usually knew the songs and liked it when I sang along.

I became a little (extremely) obsessed with Maddie Poppe on American Idol. I showed Mom how to vote for Maddie on my phone, she was thrilled to do it. We celebrated her victory and didn’t miss any of her post-win appearances. Mom always recognized when it was Maddie playing in the car. Prior to that, she could only identify Adele and Kelly Clarkson. And it was super cute when she did, “That’s Adele, isn’t it? I knew it. I love Adele!” Like mother, like daughter.

When I was putting together the slideshow, I really wanted to set it to meaningful music. My digital music library has about 15,000 songs – I came up with three, maybe four, that seemed appropriate. I tried to use a Maddie Poppe song, but none of them worked, only one came close. I finally gave up trying to figure it out, it was frustrating and exhausting. I chose a generic jingle-type song that looped for forty minutes. The slideshow has been highly praised, so I’ve stopped fretting about its low production quality.

—> Detour, 17 hours later…

I went on (and on, for a thousand words) describing the entire Mumorial from beginning to end, flaws and all. The more I reread it and edited it, the more it bothered and bored me. I decided to save it for another day, or never. Instead, I had brunch with a friend today and while we were talking, I realized I wanted to share something else.

So, going back to (my obsession) Maddie Poppe – she released a couple of Christmas songs last year that Mom really enjoyed. I played them at least once a day throughout the season. When Maddie’s album dropped in May, Mom was bedridden but still quite lucid. I played it for her, and she said, “She’s a big star now. I’m so glad I voted for her.” The fact that she remembered voting was a surprisingly precious memory that I had forgotten. I might have cried.

Then today, during brunch, I recalled that moment again. I’ve been reminded of many others since her passing –


• We woke up in the middle of the night to watch Prince Harry’s wedding. We had scones and tea, which she drank from her “Kiss Me I’m English” mug. I fashioned a fascinator from a huge gift bow.


• She called her brother Ernie on his birthday and swung her leg over the arm of the chair. It was so out-of-character that I snuck a photo.


• The first time Elly got on Mom’s lap, she was equal parts excited and terrified.


• When she ‘fancied a pint’ at Red Robin.


• I made English Sunday dinner for her, complete with Yorkshire Pudding. She was bedridden at the time and I beat myself up for not making it earlier when she could sit at the table and feed herself.


• I was messing around with Snapchat on Halloween and put a black cat on her head.


• We ate Tres Leches cake on my birthday and the insanely blue frosting turned our tongues and lips blue, even her teeth were blue. She thought it was hilarious and let me take a photo.


• Elly used to hang out on Mom’s walker waiting for a ride.


According to Facebook Memories, I posted this on November 17, 2017, “For those of you who don’t follow my personal blog, Sundown in the Desert, I have thrown in the towel on a few personal battles and I’m moving in with my mother. I think, in the long run, it will benefit both of us. Thank you for your support.”

Mutually beneficial precious moments ~