Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas...A Letter to Mom

Dear Mom,

This our first holiday season without one another. Even when we didn't live in the same city, we still called one another and talked for hours. So much has changed since you were here last Christmas. Jodie is having a baby, I'm producing a couple of short films, and we put a real tree up for Christmas this year. Benny is doing his usual stuff; laying on the couch and climbing into our bed in the morning.

This morning when the house finally stirred, I was reminded how much I missed you waking up and groaning your way into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. I swear you made a noise with every step. It's funny the things you miss when someone is gone. Sometimes I try to imagine that you're still sitting in your room watching the craft channel.

I miss you more than I ever thought possible. Some days it's an ache. Other days it's a wave of emotions. Today for example, I had to take a few moments here and there. I tried not to wallow in the fact that you're not here. I know you wouldn't have wanted it that way. I'm really trying to move forward and make you proud. I'm working on my second book and I'm producing two short films. One is about you and your creativity as a single mom.

I have learned so much from this past year. It's been tough. One thing I know for sure, I would still move you here in spite of what I know now. I'm so grateful that we got to have Christmas together the last few years. I'm lucky that I was able to have you be a part of my every day life. I'll be o.k. Thank you for being in my life the way you have.

We all miss you and we love you. Merry Christmas where ever you are,



Sunday, September 18, 2016

Jones Beach

The sun was just beginning to rise on the east coast horizon. Like a shy child it peeked out from behind the clouds. Soft amber glow reflected on the water as it gently crashed upon the shoreline. Fisherman were doing their best to get the first catch of the day as chubby birds stalked the beach for any sign of leftover food from the previous day's beachcombers. The wind blew from all directions to clear the air and keep it fresh and cool. In this moment there was peace.

I had never experienced so many emotions come together as they had this weekend and this morning. My heart twisted in and out of itself. We were here fulfilling our mother's last request. We all knew that she wanted to be a part of the beach. She wanted to be free. It felt so odd to already be here in this place, carrying out her last request. About a month before she died we talked about her wish to be taken to Jones Beach.

"Are you sure that's what you want?" I asked her.

"Yes, I want my ashes scattered there," she answered.

We were sitting in her bedroom next to one another on her bed. The soft glow of the television lit her face up. I could see the certainty in her eyes when she answered me. She was so tired and her body hurt for many years. This was the last discussion we would have and I think we both understood that.

"It may take us a few months because we all need to get there," I said. "Is that O.K.?"

She nodded her head and told me that was fine. She just wanted to go home.

For reasons I won't get into, only three of us made it to the beach. My baby sister, Jodie, had a hard time letting go. We all understood and carried her with us in spirit. Even though she wasn't physically there, her heart was with us and at the end of the day, we were a complete family.  In total, there were ten of us on that beach; siblings, spouses, and grandchildren all gathered between the fisherman and the birds. The last time we were here together was so long ago that I only remember it in snapshots. My brother was three, I was just over a year old, and Mom was pregnant with my sisters. We had come full circle.

My husband, Cliff, found biodegradable urns and carried out the task of making sure that we each had a piece of Mom to carry to the ocean. The Lord's prayer was said in unison and with love. My sister Jannie and I held hands and walked together into the water with Mom and flowers in hand. The waves crashed up to our waists drenching everything. The water embraced us with a fluid hug. When the next wave came, we gave Mom to the water. Then my brother, Mitch, followed. The flowers and Mom washed back one more time as if to say, "I love you." Then the ocean swept back in and took her forever. We all stood in the water for a few more moments saying goodbye and sending up prayers.

During all of this, one of the most beautiful people that I know was there silently observing and capturing the moment for us all. Film maker and photographer, Natasha Straley joined our family and encapsulated this moment with her camera. I am and will be forever grateful that she was able to come to Jones Beach and be there with us and for us on this journey. It was another reminder of how blessed we are as family.

I can't say that something magical happened for me today but when it was all said and done, a sense of peace came over us all. The heavy burden that I have felt for the last several moths was lifted. I will still grieve for my mother every day. That's just the nature of grief. It has to run its course. For the last three years she was integrated into my life in much of the same way that she was when I was a child. I'm truly grateful for that time. Bringing her home was a privilege and it will be something that I carry with me. It's something we'll all carry with us. I love my family with every fiber of my being and I'm thankful that we could be together. Maybe that's where the magic is.

Rest In Peace Mom. We love you.

JoAnn Debra Almquist
September 14, 1949 - January 23, 2016

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Happy Birthday, Mom!

It's been a hard day without you here. I've tried to do my best to get through the day with more joy than sorrow. I can't lie, it's been hard. I would have loved to take the day off and spend it with you. I keep thinking about the time we took you to Bucca Di Beppo. Man we had quite a crowd there. We had so much for and dessert was crazy. I'll never forget the look on your face when they brought it out in that giant martini glass full of ice cream. It was topped with mounds of whipped cream and cherries. The best part was the giant spoon that they gave you to eat it with. You were totally overwhelmed. 

Last year wasn't as full of ceremony but we still managed to go to dinner and spend time with you. I had hoped to have you here this year. I'm not going to tell you that I was planning anything major because you left us right after the new year but I know that I would have made big deal. You loved being the center of attention and it was fun to watch you be the center of attention. This would have been karaoke time!

I just wanted to wish you a Happy Birthday wherever you are. This weekend we'll be taking you back home and back to your roots. I know you'll be happy there. It's going to be one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life but you raised me to be a strong woman. I hope to feel you smiling down on us when we wish you a fare thee well. We're going to be all together like you asked. I love you.
                                                                                    Your daughter,
P.S. I'll make sure to eat some cake:)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Moving Forward

So far this year has been quite a journey. It's a journey I hoped I wouldn't have to take so soon. My whole family has been on the roller coaster of life trying to hang on the best we can. When I started this blog it was for the purpose of talking about my life and promoting my work. While I do talk about my life, it's become a way to heal.  Maybe by opening myself up and sharing what I'm going through, someone else will get a little healing too.

Next month is going to be a wonderful and tough month all at the same time. Next month we travel as a family to Jones Beach, NY to let mom go and set her free. Next month is also the month she was born. I'm doing my best not to anticipate how I think I'll feel on her birthday. During the time that she lived with us, we made a big deal about her birthday every year. We'll see how I feel when that day rolls around. There are a lot of firsts that I have to experience in this year of grief. They say the first year is the hardest because of all the firsts; the first holiday season with out your loved one, the first birthday with out them, the first time you have a glass of wine without them. There are a myriad of firsts. It's the ones you don't expect that knock you down. So I'm trying to just live in the moment.

I've been working on my second book and that has been therapeutic. I'm busying myself with projects that I enjoy and know she would be proud of. Even with my mom gone, I still want to make her proud. I've been trying to remain positive about a lot things in my life as well. She always believed in me. She was like that with all of us kids. Sometimes she was a little misguided with her advice and her opinions on how she thought we should navigate life but it came from a place of love. It's funny how hind sight is 20/20.

I miss my mom everyday. It's going on the 7th month in my life without her and it hasn't gotten easier. Someone once told me that you just get used to the empty feeling. I don't think I'm getting used to it, I'm just accepting it. I know that it will get better. One day, when I think of her, I'll smile more than I'll cry. Today, I'm just taking it one day at a time and hoping that things I do in my life honor her and make her proud. I also hope that I make myself proud. It's important to live life the way she taught me but I also have to live life. I'm not so wrapped up in my grief that I have lost sight of that fact. I'm doing that one day at a time.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Then There Were Four

The familiar hum of the airplane whirs and buzzes around me in spite of the music in my headphones. I’m plugged into my music trying my best to pretend I’m on a large bus or train. I’ve always had a fear of flying but I’ll save that story for another entry. That’s not why I’m writing today. Last night Cliff and I missed our connecting flight to Buffalo, New York. It’s the week of our anniversary and we’re going to see my friend Sue.

Anyway, because of air traffic and mechanical issues, we missed the connecting flight and had to stay the night in Atlanta. There was a lot of time to kill. Like most people, we pulled out our phones and perused good old social media. A few things came up on my feed. There was the usual political ranting, right and left wing, and no holds barred. Advertisements and vacation pictures were in between the madness. Then my brother Mitch scrolled into view. He posted two pictures that still have my heart reeling this morning. For those of you that have flown with me, you know that I’m the chic in Bridesmaids looking for the colonial woman churning butter on the wing. But this morning she’s not there. I’m calm and burdened all at the same time.

My brother and I have a special bond. We always have. Through out child hood we have had experiences that are not for blog posting. What I will tell you is that they were experiences that changed us as people and in my mind they have tied us together more than the average sibling. So when I saw his feed, I was broken hearted. I couldn’t reach out to him to give a hug and I couldn’t call because it was late. Maybe I should have.

There on my phone was a picture of our mother whizzing through the breeze on her scooter. The last few years she needed one because walking long distances became difficult for her. On her hand was what my husband would loving call her “Linus”; her vapor thing that she traded smoking in for. There was a look of joy, peace, and mischief. I remember the day that picture was taken. We were heading to the pool in our apartment complex and my friend Melissa caught her in action. She was up to something and you could see it in her face. Another friend, Lisse, always used to joke that Mom was up to no good. I love that picture. It’s the visual depiction of Mom’s spirit. The caption read, “This is what she’s doing now.”

The other picture that appeared on my screen was a picture of my brother holding her hand while she lay taking her last breaths in the hospital. The caption read, “I miss Mom.” Her manicure was perfect. She loved the way Kevin at the nail salon I would take her to made a French manicure look perfect. I saved both pictures even though I’m sure I have them. My brother and Mom had a difficult relationship and that was the last time he had to spend with her. I miss her so much that it makes my whole body hurt but I had her with me the last three years. In that moment as I looked at that picture  I realized how much I love my siblings. I wanted to take my brother’s pain and sadness and keep it for myself so that he didn’t have to endure it any longer. But I can’t.

As a middle child, I have always found myself trying to fix the problems in my family. In some way or another, I wanted to take care of my brother and my sisters. I still do. I’m not a mother and I never have been but when I see them hurt, I wonder if this is what it’s like. I often heard my Mom say that when we were in pain she was too. Seeing that picture made me feel pain and guilt. I can’t fix this. I can’t mend them.

Then I thought about my sisters. Mom raised four strong willed children. My siblings are very intelligent, creative, and pains in my ass. I mean that with all the love I have in my heart. Through life and through this journey of losing our mother, I have come to realize that even when I’m angry with them or we’re having a good time, I want to take care of them. I want to hold them until they feel how much I love them. Right now I’m not getting along with one of my sisters and in spite of that, I still want to wrap her in love.  Over the years it has been rocky with all of us collectively. Whenever I see other families that get along, I miss mine more and more. There were times that we played together and laughed for hours. I miss those moments.
As we surrounded my mother one last time, I knew this was the last time we would all be together as a family. For so long it was just Mom and the four of us against the world. She wasn’t a perfect mother. No one is. But she loved us with everything she had in her. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for her raising us alone. How many nights did she go to bed worried or scared? I never asked her. But now some nights I go to bed worried and scared for them. It’s a weird and I’m aware of that. The worry and fear is really just a reality check. Growing up I always believed that I could make them better. If I loved them enough, I could heal them. As I bump around at 30,000 feet, all I can think of is them.

Our glue is gone. I always believed it was me but it wasn’t. Mom was the tie between us even when half of us weren’t talking to her. She was loud. She was funny. She was a pain in the ass and she was all ours. As I look at those pictures I realize that we all had our own special connection to her. Now that she’s gone, we’re all lost in some way. We’re trying to find our new normal and it’s been tough. Each day seems like a rite of passage now.

I can’t make it better but what my siblings don’t know is that right now as I sit on this flight, they have taken care of me. I’m consumed with love and worry for them. I was able to type this blog through most of the flight. I feel them in my heart in this moment. I can’t take their pain away but I can love them right here and now regardless of disagreements that we may have at one time or another. I love with more than my heart and soul. I love them with my whole being.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Moving forward...The journey is not easy

Missing Mom has not been easy. It feels wrong. I feel guilty and then I feel sad. Then, I feel a rush of sadness again and then I cry. I thought at this point in my grief I thought that I would stop crying every day. That hasn't happened. My car is my favorite place to cry. Someone told me that when their mother passed away, they cried every day for a year. I don't want that to be me but I am learning that most of the time, it's not my choice. It sneaks up on you. It hits you in the stomach, upside the head, and then straight to the heart. I feel crazy and my body hurts. Another bonus of grieving I have been experiencing.

I'm not letting it stop me. Some days I just want it to consume me. I want to lay in bed and sob, then sleep, then cry some more. But the fighter in me, the voice that wants to make Mom proud, won't let me. So I get up early and I go to my workout class. Then I get ready for work. The day is ahead of me. I set weekly goals in my Passion Planner. Sometimes my goals are simple: meditate. Sometimes they're more complicated: Write, work on your book. But I'm trying. It's not easy. Everything reminds me of her. I mean EVERYTHING. I still gauge the quality of a restaurant by whether or not she could use the stairs to get into that building. In the time she lived with us, I unintentionally programmed myself to check out all of the handicapped parking. My husband and I attended a wedding this past weekend and I remembered our wedding and Mom. If I close my eyes and pause, I can hear her singing and playing the guitar. She's everywhere. It's comforting and heartbreaking. 

It's funny the things I think about at night. I wonder if she's watching me. I can't be certain because I'm in the phase of not being sure what to think about all of that. I wonder if I told her I loved her more if that would bring her back. Of course it won't but the 5 year old inside of me misses her Mommy very much and wants to know anyway. I lost my sounding board. Parts of me are still the same but there is this new person who doesn't have Mom anymore. There is a new element of me and I'm trying to learn who that is. Grief can often shake a belief system, especially when it was already in question. 

I'm embracing this journey of moving forward and trudging through the slog that is grief. What choice do I have? My bed is comfortable and my tears are cleansing but I do have some life ahead of me. I promise I'm doing everything I can not to get mired down by grief. There are opportunities in my future and if I don't take them, she'll haunt me  ( if she is a ghost ). I wish I could say that it has gotten easier. It's not easier. Reality has fully set in and I can either wallow in it or do my best to live with the hole in my heart. I have dear friends who have made this journey. Most have said that the journey continues, you just learn to navigate it. I will miss her until the day comes that someone will miss me too. I love you Mom. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mother's Day...Sigh

For the last three Mother's Day celebrations, my husband Cliff snuck out of the house and bought flowers and a card for his mother-in-law. Then he'd trek over to the grocery store and buy groceries with the intention of making a lovely meal for Mom. We hung out with Mom and spent time. She loved her flowers and enjoyed the meal made by Cliff. "My favorite son-in-law!" she'd say. This Mother's Day has been quite different. 

Cliff made his usual trek to the grocery store to get groceries for a lovely meal but two things are missing; flowers for Mom and Mom. This is the first Mother's Day that I'm not celebrating with Mom. At least not in person. I feel the loss more heavily than I anticipated. We're still doing dinner in her honor. My sister, Jodie, is here to celebrate as well and I'm so grateful.  We'll have a great meal and then we'll all sign a card that we'll burn. We're still making this most of this day. 

At first the Mother's Day advertisements didn't bother me at all. I'm sure in some ways I intentionally ignored them. I pretended I didn't care. Then I went card shopping with Cliff. We still had to send his mom a card. So there I was standing in the card aisle at CVS watching him and other customers pick out cards. Out of nowhere it hit. Bam! Mom is gone and I can't pick out a card. I started sobbing and I freaked out half the customers in the store. It's not like I fell apart in the middle of the sales floor. I wasn't screaming or yelping. I simply sobbed. I felt more empty and alone even though I was surrounded by people. That's the thing about grief. It isolates you without meaning to. It just happens. You're the only person in the room in a fog. I looked at Cliff and I noticed he wasn't picking cards out anymore. He held one out to me and with held back tears said, "This one's for your Mom. We'll burn it and have a glass of wine." I smiled through the tears. Mom and I used to share a glass of wine some evenings. 

I miss Mom. My sister and I talked about that a lot this weekend. It's good to be spending time with her. It's been hard grieving without family. Cliff has been such a rock through all of this but sometimes it's comforting to grieve with a sibling. So today instead of being sad and angry that Mom isn't here, we're celebrating the woman she was and the fact that she was our Mom. Happy Mother's Day, Mom wherever you are. We love you.

Monday, April 11, 2016

No longer a daughter...

The last words my Mom said to were, "Can't breathe.." over the phone. Her voice still rings in my ears since that day. I was working on my first client of the day when she messaged me that she needed help. In those few seconds, I knew this was it. We had called 911 and been subjugated to time in the ICU twice before. I was worried and stressed both times but I knew it was different this time. I foolishly told her to call 911 and let her know I was on my way. I called Cliff and told him to get home and I called my sister to let her know she needed to get here. Then I called 911 from my car because I had that feeling. I made a mistake. I should have called first. My mind was already in driving mode. I was desperate to treat this like the routine it had become. I should have listened to the feeling and called right away. It was a difference of 5-7 minutes.

I arrived at my house to an ambulance and a fire truck. Cliff greeted me in the driveway. "It's not good," he said. "She's not breathing and her heart is stopped." Panic set in and I couldn't breathe. I couldn't see anything but tears. I can vaguely remember the sequence of events. They all sort of go together. There was text messaging to people in my acting class letting them know I wasn't going to be there. There was a hurried phone call to my sister. At some point I made my way into the house. There in my living room floor surrounded by police and paramedics was my mother. They were doing compressions and injecting something that I can't recall. She was blue and lifeless as they made every effort to literally pounded her heart and life back into rhythm. At one point they asked me to leave the room. They had to and I can't blame them. In that moment, the fear was so great that everything went blank within my mind and my being. I was outside of myself watching Mom die.

 I couldn't hear well. I couldn't see well and yet I was more aware than ever. I had often imagined what this moment might be like and I still wasn't prepared. You never are.

We followed the ambulance to the hospital and sat in the emergency room forever. Minutes pass very slowly when facing one's fear. Cliff made all the phone calls to family. I sat holding my mother's lifeless hand in the emergency room. Machines breathed for her as the doctor explained what she thinks may have happened. The only thing I understood was that her heart had stopped and they finally got it beating. I think that was what the paramedic was explaining to me as well in the waiting room. That whole day was a fog.

Through out the next few days, we knew Mom wasn't going to wake up. My brother arrived and after lots of tears and family strife, we all pulled together to let her go. Prayers were said. We let her know how much we loved her. And then she was gone. It was quiet and it was heart wrenching. To say that we were heavy hearted is an understatement. I don't know if you can describe truly what that moment feels like. Mom was always our mom. She had taken care of us. There were times when it was just the four of us and her against the world. Now it's just the four of us.

For the next few weeks, I was in a fog. I'm still in that fog. The hardest adjustment is that she isn't here. She lived with me and Cliff for the last few years. She was a part of the every day routine in our house. Every morning before I left for work, I let Benny ( the family fur baby ) into her room. At night we had chats about anything and nothing. She drove me crazy on a daily basis and yet I loved having her here. It's weird isn't it? I'd get so frustrated with her and then we'd share a glass of wine. I miss all of it every day.

It took me several weeks to be able to come into the house by myself after work. I was afraid to go in for lots of reasons. For one, she always greeted me when I came in, no matter how late. And two, every time I tried to walk in, I was paralyzed by the fear of seeing her in the floor with the paramedics. We ended up rearranging the living room and getting new furniture. It helps but there are still days that I don't get out of my car right away. I also don't spend time in the living room unless Cliff is home. I try not to look at her bedroom door either.

I know that she'll always be my Mom but I deal with the reality that she no longer exists in this world. I know she's in my heart and I have all of my memories with her. I hear that all the time. It's a great sentiment but it doesn't fill the hole that I carry, the hole we all carry when we lose a loved one.  I literally have a hole in my heart that will be empty for the rest of my days. It will get better with time but time just hasn't passed enough yet. Some days I still feel her. Someone asked me if I felt like an orphan. I don't think so. I grew up with a parent that I knew and loved well. I feel like I'm not her daughter anymore and that makes me feel lost.

The week following her passing I had a dream about her. I have only shared this with a few people but now I'm sharing it with all of you. In my dream she woke up. She was still in the hospital bed and there was a beautiful soft light all around her. Her eyes were full of  color and light. Her hair was perfect and she smiled at through her lashes. I told her, "Mommy you scared us." She smiled again and I felt warmth. Then I woke up. I've had dreams about her since but thats the only one where we really had any connection.

I'm doing my best to move on and live life. That's what she wanted. In fact, one of her requests was not to have a funeral. She wanted a big party that celebrated her life and we did just that. I will grieve and I will continue to cry a lot. But I am determined to live the life I dreamed of and the life that she dreamed for me. But's one day at a time. I love you Mom.
This is one of my favorite pictures with the four of us and Mom. We got those outfits from Santa.

Our first selfie together. She had just had her first food truck experience. 

Mom and Benny

Im not sure how old she is in this photo. Possibly her twenties.