Tuesday, November 24, 2015

In Loving Memory...

It's been three years since my father-in-law passed away. He left quietly on the morning before Thanksgiving. We had all been taking care of him around the clock for three weeks. Cliff and I drove in every weekend to relieve his mother and his aunt. Hospice came in and helped but I didn't realize that they weren't there all the time. This wasn't my first experience with death and losing a loved one, but it was the first time for me to see "the light fade". I know this is going to sound crazy, but that holiday season and that time are something that I cherish.

I met my father-in-law when I was twenty. I had been dating Cliff for a few months and I was nervous about meeting these people. I already knew that they were different from anyone I had ever met. They were country folks and I was a city girl. I had talked on the phone with Johnnie ( later he was Dad to me ) only once. He seemed funny and he liked to talk...a lot. He told me that when Cliff was a little boy, Cliff screamed with terror before he got a spanking. In fact, that was how he got out them. I almost didn't understand him through his laughter as he recounted the story to me. I was already struggling to make out what he said. He had a crazy Cajun/East Texas accent combo that made it hard for me to understand him. I don't remember much about the first time I met him, only that he was funny and I laughed a lot.

On our wedding day, he wore his first tux ever in his life. He smiled and strutted with pride, He looked good! During our first kiss, he told Cliff to, "Give her the tongue boy!" Dad was always saying something off the wall. That's who he was and he didn't apologize for it. He just let it all out. He had already been through so much in life that he probably thought, "What the hell?" He was the recipient of heart surgeries and back surgeries. Over the years that Cliff and I were married, I witnessed many episodes of hospital stays and moments that we thought were his last. That stubborn old goat pulled through every time but it was clear that he was on borrowed time. We all knew it but he understood it. Looking back, I suspect he knew when he was in the last year of his life. I wish he would have clued us in but death is funny that way. It's quiet and sneaky. Death can lurk for months and whisper, "I'm here," while we are all busy living life.

I had an amazing relationship with Dad. He had become another parent to me. Whenever he and my mother-in-law stayed with us, he and I would sit up late at night chatting away. In the morning, he made sure we had coffee. Whenever we went to visit them, he was usually my first hug. It as customary for me to climb into his lap like a little kid and hug his neck. When we took road trips, he was my co-pilot. My dad is far away from me so to have another loving dad close by was a blessing.

The weeks leading up to his death, I read over the literature that the hospice care people left behind. I wanted to make sure that I understood what was happening for my family and for myself. That literature gave me the strength to keep it together. Dad knew he was leaving and I wanted him to see that we would be OK, that I would be OK. It may seem unusual for a daughter-in-law to cling so closely to a family she married into but you have to understand, I was 20 years old when this man came  into my life. I had been married to his son for fifteen years at that point. Dad watched me and his son become thriving adults together.

Now don't get me wrong, like every family we had our issues. It wasn't all sweet memories with roses and butterflies. If I was reading a book, he got frustrated with me. He didn't understand why I would want to do that instead of spending talking to him. He used to give me lots of shit because Cliff and I had not had children. It made me angry that he continued to abuse his body with cigarettes and bad eating habits. But that's family. That's what happens and I had to accept him for better or for worse too.  At the end of the day, he was my buddy. He was my other dad.  He is still part of my heart.

The morning he took his last breath, we were all exhausted. Another thing I learned about death is that while it's on its way, the soul it's coming to get doesn't keep regular hours. They are up and down often and they need pain medicine. They need support to go to the bathroom. The body shuts down and everyone has to be there to help it. Some nights, I just held his hand while he slept or hallucinated. Believe it or not, there was laughter and love through the whole process but it was exhausting. I'm not a nurse and now I appreciate what they do.

He drew his last breath around 8:00 AM. My mother-in-law, Cliff and I were quietly talking and joking to try and lighten our spirits. There were no lights on. The sun barely cracked through the curtains giving just enough light in the living room.  The living room was the only space big enough for the hospital bed that Dad slept in. My sweet niece, Jessica,  was in the shower. I have to give a shout out to her. She was 20 years old at that time and she had been there every weekend taking shifts to help care for her Grandpa. She showed more maturity and love than I ever could have at that age and I am so proud of her. I can't imagine what that experience was like for her and she did an amazing job stepping in.

Dad breathed in and out one last time. We all looked. It was like we didn't know what to do. Cliff got up first and went to Dad's side.

"Dad?" he said quietly. Then Mom got up and went to his side. I sat in the chair just to the side of him and watched, holding my breath. Cliff felt Dad's chest first and then lay his head down to listen.

"He's gone," Cliff breathed.

"I love you, baby," Mom whispered.

Just like that, death had carried him away. There were no tremors. Trumpets didn't sound. It was just quiet. There is nothing more silent than when a soul has left and the light has gone out. Of course in those moments after, the scene from a dark comedy played itself out. Dad had requested that his false teeth be put back in after he died. He wanted to be buried with his teeth.

"I'll do it," Mom said.

Cliff helped open Dad's mouth and mom started to insert them. Cue the comedy...

"You're putting them in sideways!" Cliff exclaimed.

"No they go in this way!" Mom informed.

"Are you sure?" Cliff asked.

"I'm sure" she answered. She should know, she had her own set as well.

This moment was Dad. Dad loved to laugh and I'm sure he was somewhere laughing at us. Only this crazy family would be debating over how false teeth were supposed to go in. Dad was a funny guy so why wouldn't he have a last laugh at our expense? There was still sadness but at least the tension had broken. That's how this family works. In spite of sadness, they all get through it. When they were planning for the funeral, my husband asked about a used casket so they could get a better deal. I know this all sounds morbid, but the one thing I have learned from my in-laws is that you really can laugh through your tears.

Yesterday when I was driving into work, it hit me that it was the anniversary of his death. How could I forget? He left this world at a time of year when we're all supposed to be thankful for what we have. I cried so hard I couldn't breathe. I would have pulled over but  I was on the freeway. That's the funny thing about grief. You don't get to decide when you're going to do it. Sometimes, it just happens. I allowed myself to cry and let it all out. After that, I went on with the rest of my day and celebrated life in honor of Dad.

I miss the old fart. I miss him terribly. He was the father I didn't know I needed. He was loud, funny, annoying, and goofy. I will always remember his laugh and I will miss hugging his neck. My advice; hug your loved ones. Love them with every fiber of your being. We're not promised tomorrow and today is we all have. Happy Thanksgiving!

I love you Dad Frazee.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Wow! I can't believe we are halfway through November. The holiday season is upon us and I find myself in a funky way. In the last few months I have tried and worked my tail off trying to grow as an actor. I have also spent time growing my business and promoting my book. I have been busy. I had hoped that one of these posts would find me bragging about another acting job booked or that I had become a best selling author. However, I'm still successful even if I feel like I'm not.

The acting thing is something I will never figure out. I am trying and I study my craft hard. This month I am doing a character study on the late Ann Miller, a famous tap dancer who made her way into Hollywood during it's Golden Era. As part of my study I have been watching hours of footage. I have also been taking tap lessons from Kate Evetts, owner and instructor at Lonestar Dance Studio in Pflugerville . Tomorrow I will present Ann to the class. So even though I am not booking and I haven't auditioned in a while, I'm enjoying the work and all that comes with being an actor. I still get sad about not being on set more but that is life.

My book is selling well but I learned that Amazon is blocking some of my good reviews. That's annoying. I had a reader reach out to me with her review because Amazon wouldn't  post it. Oh Amazon! You are the devil we know. Of course I am still pleased that I published a book and that I will have another one on the way.

In the midst of busy salon life, the owners of the salon I work at parted ways. One moved on and one kept the place going and I am so grateful. The last thing I wanted to do was change locations during the holidays with my crazy schedule. Without going into details, the split has been emotional. Things have been said and feelings have been hurt. The only thing I can say is that I am grateful for my salon family. Change is good even when we can't see it. My biggest take away is that if I allow myself, I can be spiteful and angry. These last few weeks taught me that I need to breathe and let go. I also need to respect the people around me no matter what. This too shall pass.

Mom and I are making progress. Every day I try to make sure that I am talking to her and having good conversation. I once had a friend tell me that she wished she could have one more conversation with her mother after she passed. I'm trying to do that now, you know, fill each day with love and a chat with Mom.

This season I am going to be grateful. I am blessed and I am lucky. Life is so much out of our control. The only thing I can control is myself and what I choose to watch on Netflix. Plus I can hug Cliff. These past months have taught me that I am susceptible to wallowing in self pity. I need to let that go and take life one day at a time. Yesterday is over and tomorrow does not exist. I only have today.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Good Daughter?

"You are such a good daughter," I heard from a client the other day. In conversation it came up that my mother lives with my husband and me. Most people don't know that about me. Mom's been living with us for the last three years. I could go through the laundry list of why she is here with us but the only thing that really matters is that she needed me. In American culture we don't like to deal with family, especially parents. And rightly so. Family can be a pain in the ass. Family can be toxic. They can take advantage of you. They're the one group that you can love and hate at the same time. Sometimes you just hate them.

When I first realized that I needed to have Mom here, I was barraged with a multitude of opinions. Most of them were negative. "I can't believe you'd want your mom to live with you!" or "Just get her an apartment nearby!" However, there were also words of encouragement. "You're doing the right thing," they would say. I'm not sure what the "right" thing really is. I don't have a disposable income so getting an apartment was not an option. All I understood was that she needed me. Cliff and I braced ourselves and moved to a bigger space to accommodate her. 

Having a bigger space was just the beginning. We secured a storage for all of her stuff, and I mean ALL of her stuff. My mom is a Baby Boomer and they like to keep their stuff. They think it's super valuable ( I looked on Ebay at several items. Let's be real Baby Boomers, you all saved your stuff so it's not worth much now ). My heart strings pulled at me. Many folks gave me advice. They said, "Just give her a room and whatever she can fit in there is what she keeps!" The logic in me agreed with that advice. The heart side of me felt the sadness and loss of a life that once was. In that storage unit was 64 years of a life that had been lived. There were boxes of memories and totes full of years gone by. 

In an argument about her stuff one evening she said, "That's my life in there! That's me. It's all I have." My heart sank and my throat knotted up. Yes it's just stuff. It's junk really. But to her, it was all she had left of an independent life. Now she had moved to Texas to depend on her daughter. She was living with her kid. I'm sure  most parents don't want to live with their children. 

So the adjustments continued. I had to learn to deal with this person in my house. In the years we had lived apart, I had become a grown up. With acting, daily salon life, writing, and trying to be a wife, my schedule had no time for the old lady my mom had become. We would have to adjust everything. Privacy became a word that sounded like a magical kingdom in a land far away. Our "married" time became limited. It was like having a kid, only bigger and more cantankerous. Poor Cliff gets resentful some times.  But he handles it well and with grace. 

Six months after she moved in, something happened that made me grateful to have her here. There were no words of wisdom and Hallmark moments. Three weeks before Christmas, I was showering on a late Monday morning. It was one of the days I had off and had the luxury of taking my time. I was going to meet a friend for coffee and enjoy my day. Cliff had just left for work and I was basking in the glow of a hot shower. I was running conditioner through my hair when I heard heavy breathing outside of my shower curtain. I pulled the drape back and looked into the face of my mother. She looked pale and slightly green. Her eyes were wide and she had a slight grin. In her hand she held her vapor device. 

"Yes? What do you need?" I asked her. 
"I'm supposed to go blah ble blah," she replied. 

I asked her again and she repeated the same phrase over and over. Then she said she needed to lie down. I noticed her legs were a mess as she left the bathroom. 

"Mom! Have you been outside?" She didn't answer me. She kept on muttering and collapsed on my bed. I jumped out of the shower and threw my bath robe on. With out giving all of the gory details, I realized that she had lost control of her bowels and she had no idea where she was. She wouldn't even let me touch her. I called Cliff and told him to come back and then made the first 911 call in my life. 

"I need an ambulance," I said with calm confidence. "My mother collapsed and she's still breathing."
Before I could tell the operator what was happening, she went into a series of questions that had nothing to do with the situation at hand. I got desperate and started to panic. Then the operator said, "Mam, I need you to be quiet and listen to me."

Full panic mode set it in. This bitch as asking me questions and I needed an ambulance. I cried and started a series of swear words that is probably still hanging in that apartment today. About that time the paramedics arrived and Cliff showed up too. 

As soon as the paramedics carted her out, I ripped my robe off and got dressed as the last paramedic realized he had been flashed heading out of the door. I braided my goopy hair ( Remember I hadn't rinsed my hair ). I cancelled my coffee date and called family while following the ambulance to the hospital. In that moment the small child within realized that my mommy was mortal. She could die. I cried the whole day. I will spare you the details of her hospital stay. All you need to know is that she was septic and had to stay in ICU for a week.

So you would think that this incident would make me more patient. It did for like 10 minutes. Once she got out and things went back to normal, she got on my nerves again. Some days are a huge effort to be nice. I have seen more doctors and specialists on her behalf. They talk to both of us as they diagnose and treat every medical situation that she has. In my hectic life, I have become a care taker at 39. There are many days that I resent her. I get angry because she won't eat healthy. When she texts or calls me to pick a prescription up, I get pissed off. I shouldn't but I do. There are many days when my patience wears thin. 

Then the guilt sets in. This is my mother and she won't be here forever. I will regret every harsh word and every moment that I didn't spend with her. I marinate on those thoughts and then I get a phone call that we need butter and coffee. That woman drinks way more coffee than any one human being should. She could go get it herself but why leave the house? Who cares that I spent the day working? I'm again. See? It's a vicious cycle and now I feel guilty again.

My reprieves are nights away from home with Cliff every so often, my acting class, and the fantasy that Rob Thomas and I will sing a duet one day.  ( One day it will happen, I've seen the man in concert 5 times! ) It's the little things that get me through.

I love my mom and I wouldn't change the decision I made to have her here with me. And Cliff is a saint. I don't want to be told I'm a good daughter. I'm not. I'm just trying to pay my bills and get through life like everyone else. I'm taking care of my family. I'm not a good daughter. I'm just me.