My Soul Waits

It was August 2007 when my mother took me by the hand in her dining room and told me that the doctors had found a malignant tumor on the tail end of her pancreas. I didn’t realize that that moment marked the beginning of the end.

Denial is a powerful coping mechanism. My mother was a 20 year breast cancer survivor. She was a hero to me. In my mind there wasn’t a mountain that she couldn’t conquer. I walked out of her home that night knowing she was going to beat cancer again. My great-Aunt died of pancreatic cancer 12 years earlier, but I refused to believe the same thing could happen to my mother. I refused to Google pancreatic cancer to find out the specifics of her disease and chose to rely on my faith that she would make it out of this alive.

Oh yes, denial. It made me believe that the most important woman in my life could somehow beat Stage 4 Pancreatic cancer. Deep down inside I knew she couldn’t. That’s why my grief manifested in emotional eating. Before I knew it, I would down an entire box of Oreo Cakesters and not even taste one of them. I would put each cookie in my mouth and feel completely numb.

My mother started chemotherapy treatment very soon after that revelation in her dining room. Chemotherapy destroyed her body. It destroyed her quality of life. What could have been a short but sweet last 6 weeks or two months of life turned into 3 months of living Hell. For seven weeks my mother endured such torturous pain that she would not allow any visitors to her home. Not even her children. For seven weeks I sat in my own home, helpless, grieving, missing my mother, and eating my pain. This was a woman I spoke to every single day of my life and I was completely cut off from her. I had to mourn her passing twice.

My grief manifested into a 25 pound weight gain. I inhaled food without enjoying any of it. I wanted to act out. I wanted to self-destruct. I wanted to blow my body to pieces like I felt my brain and my heart were. It felt like every day was a fresh new batch of pain and isolation and the one person I usually confided my deepest hurt in was the one who was dying.

Seven weeks of chemo did nothing to save my mother’s life. She was given one rest week of chemo before she was supposed to start another round and ended up in the hospital. The cancer cells took the opportunity of that week’s reprieve to spread throughout her body. They shut down her intestines so she could no longer absorb nutrition. But once she was in the hospital, she could no longer deny her children her presence.

I was alone with my mother in her hospital room one night when she woke up from her Morphine-induced sleep. She was in incredible pain. I’ve never seen another human being in that much agony. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and begged me to find someone to kill her. She had a g-tube stuck down her nose because her bowels no longer worked. She had more poison being pumped into her chest in a last ditch effort to kill the cancer. There are no words to describe looking at the person who gave you life, suckled you at her breast, nurtured you through your childhood, walked you down the aisle at your wedding, and was by your side as you gave birth to you first two children, begging you for the relief of death and knowing you are powerless to stop it. Eventually the nurse came in and gave her more morphine and she was unconscious and, hopefully, out of pain for the moment.

I rode the elevator down the four flights of stairs from the cancer ward at the hospital. As I entered the lobby I passed an elderly couple holding hands walking together. The man was bent over and unsteady on his feet. They were a sweet couple and in normal circumstances I would have smiled at them and went on my way. In that moment I hated that couple with every fiber of my being. I questioned God right there in the lobby why they got to live to be elderly while my mother would never get that chance. I asked why my parents would never get to be like that little old couple and why my dad would soon be a widower way before his time. I asked why I had to live without a mother just when I was realizing I needed her more than ever.

I came home and turned the shower on the hottest temperature. My husband came into the bathroom and I started yelling at him about all the things my mother was going through. I yelled and yelled and screamed that it wasn’t fair while he held me. Eventually my screams turned into body-wracking sobs. I can’t remember if I ever even took a shower that night.

Sometime during my mother’s hospital stay I realized I hadn’t had a period in two months. I couldn’t even remember if I had taken my birth control pills every day. I bought a pregnancy test and one morning, before my husband left for work, I showed him the magic stick that told us we were going to be parents for the third time. I told my mother that same day that I was pregnant. I asked her if it was a boy we could give him her maiden name as a first name. She said she would be delighted. I was only five weeks pregnant. I found out the earliest that you can determine these things. I was not afraid of a miscarriage and telling people before I passed the first trimester. Somehow I knew God would not take my mother and my baby from me at the same time.

My mother wanted to die in the home she had spent the last 31 years in. The home she had raised her children in. The home where we became a family. Once she was home she stopped fighting and slipped into an open-eyed, unresponsive state. The day she died I laid in bed with her. I tried to watch the television but found that I couldn’t concentrate on anything that was said. I held my mother’s hand and pushed her morphine pump to give her more pain relief when her breathing got ragged. I didn’t know what to do, so I sang to her. I sang to her Val Jean’s dying solo from Les Miserable.

God on High

            Hear my Prayer

            Take me now

            To they care

            Where you are

            Let me be

            Take me now

            Take me there

            Bring me Home

            Bring me Home

           

I was numb when my father called me at home later that day to tell me that my mother had stopped breathing. There is nothing in this life that can prepare you for the moment you become a half-orphan. There isn’t a word that has been invented that describes the sound your heart makes as it shatters into pieces.

There is a piece of me that died the day my mother died. There are parts of me that will never be whole. There are places in my soul that cry out for my mother the way I did as a child who needed comfort. There is no other person who can replace or replicate the love a mother gives to her child. A motherless daughter is a woman who walks around with a gaping hole in her heart that will never heal completely. It might scar over but there will always be a wound. At least I was on one of the lucky ones. I had a mother that, while she breathed, bathed me in the light of her unconditional love.

Take my hand

I’ll lead you to Salvation

Take my love

For love is everlasting

And remember the truth that once was spoken

To Love another Person is to see the face of God.

 

I might see my mother again in the ethereal spaces of eternity. Our spirits might embrace and reignite the mother-daughter love we have for each other. Until that possible time, my soul quietly waits until it is mothered again. It waits for the hole to be repaired with a mother’s love. It waits to tell all the stories that have taken place in her absence. It waits.

 

This I do know for certain: I loved and was loved by a woman divinely chosen as my mother. Her fingerprints are impressed into my heart, my memory, my soul. I have seen the face of God.

Marisa, Mom, Victor May 05

Thank You, WordPress

I wanted to thank WordPress for featuring my post, FYI (if you’re a Teenage Boy)on their Freshly Pressed page. So far that post has received roughly 140,000 page views, which is unusual for these parts. Usually only my sister and a few close friends take the time to read what I write and I appreciate them. It wouldn’t have gotten that many views or “likes” without the help of WordPress and I sincerely thank them.

And I appreciate you. Yes, you. All the yous who have taken the time over the last 2 weeks to read my post. All the yous who have left a comment, whether I disagreed or not. Mostly, I’m overwhelmed by all the yous expressing how much you enjoyed my post.  I wish I had the time to personally thank everyone who left a positive comment. I read every single one I received before I published it.

I’d like to thank the Huffington Post for contacting me and asking to feature my post on their site. I couldn’t keep up with all the comments as they are currently at over 1,000. And personally, I care more about the people who took the time to come over here and leave a comment whether they read it on the HuffPo first or not. I’m also grateful that the people at the HuffPo think anything I have to say is worth putting on their website, since they gave me a blogger profile and have encouraged me to keep submitting articles to them.

I’m thankful for all the attention this little blog has received and I hope it open ups a further conversation about how we talk to our children. And I definitely hope it starts a conversation on slut-shaming and how it’s not cool to blame women/girls for the sexual thoughts and/or actions of men/boys. It’s something I feel passionately about.

On Wednesday, September 4th, I read Mrs. Hall’s original post as it was posted all over my Facebook wall by friends who had both positive and negative reactions. As I often do, when I see a blatantly sexist article such as the OP, I took the same piece and switched the genders around. I do this to point out that if it is ridiculous to say to one gender, it’s equally ridiculous to say to the other. This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. I wrote this up, giggled a little for my silliness (and the silliness of the OP), and posted it on Facebook for just a few like-minded friends to see. Again, I thought only my sister and a few close friends would read it. I did not anticipate it being passed all over Facebook. By the end of the day the page received 13,500 views and I was extremely overwhelmed. The next day it had been seen 85,000 times and HuffPo sent me an email saying they wanted it publish it the next day. Blown away.

I’ve really enjoyed the conversations I had with a few of you as we have gotten to flesh this topic out further. I’m especially proud of my follow-up piece, How I Really Feeland I will freely admit I spent a lot more thought and time and energy composing that than I ever did when I was just parodying the original FYI piece.

Consider this post a big thank you note to all of you. I wouldn’t be writing this if you all hadn’t taken the time to read.

(Edited to correct typos).

Throwback Thursday – Baby Mine

I just wanted to share with my new readers the most favorite essay I have ever written. I wrote this essay back in the summer of 2006 for an upper-division English class I was taking for my minor. It has become even more meaningful to me as a mother since we have added two more children to our family and since my mother has passed away in 2007.

Baby Mine

When I was a child we were the first family on our street to own a VCR. It was mostly because my Mom wanted to be able to record Luke and Laura’s infamous wedding. Soon afterwards, Disney released most of its cartoons onto VHS. I remember watching the movie Dumbo with the same sort of enjoyment any kid would have. To me it was just a story about an elephant who could fly. To my Mom, however, it was a story about what a mother would sacrifice for her child.

I remember how my Mom would always cry when the song “Baby Mine” would play while Dumbo’s mom stuck her trunk out of her cage and rocked Dumbo to sleep. I guess the song and the scene hit my Mom hard right in the mommy-heart.

Years later, I brought my first child home from the hospital. While I reveled in our quiet moments of nursing and rocking together, I longed to find a song to sing to her that would adequately explain the feelings of joy and love I had for her. I remembered the song “Baby Mine” and I quickly learned the lyrics. I noticed that my singing never failed to quiet her when she was crying and put her to sleep after she was done nursing.

When my son was born a few years later, I sang “Baby Mine” to him as well. When he was six-weeks-old he was hospitalized for RSV. Even though he was just a tiny baby, and was a month premature already, the only time he seemed happy was when I would rock him and sing “Baby Mine.” His little baby eyes would roll back in his head and he was soon peacefully asleep.

Whenever I have sung this song to my children, my voice always catches when I sing the last lines of the song: but you’re so precious to me, cute as can be, baby of mine. I have never been able to sing the line “but you’re so precious to me” without my eyes welling up with tears. It’s because they are so precious to me. It’s hard to sing that line while I look into their angelic faces without my love for them coming to the surface.

Now that my children are a little older, they sometimes request that I sing to them before they go to sleep. Whenever I ask my two-year-old son what song he wants me to sing, he always says “Baby Mine.” I have even caught him singing the first lines of the song to himself on occasion. Sometimes when I sing it to him and he’s over-tired, he will get mad and yell, “I’m not a baby.” He doesn’t understand that he’ll always be my baby.

I have sung this song to my children, probably over a million times. The last time I did, I looked over at my two sweet angel-babies lying in their beds. Their faces were so trusting and their eyes were filled with peace. It is at these moments that I know exactly why my mother cried when Dumbo’s mom rocked him to sleep in her trunk. Again, my voice catches as I sing the words, “you’re so precious” to me. I can’t help it, the song and my children are too close to my mommy-heart.

That Tuesday Morning

I wrote this in 2010. This being the 12th anniversary I thought I’d repost it  since I have some new readers.

 

That Tuesday Morning

Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

 

It has become my generation’s, “where were you when?”

 

Where was I? Sicker than I’ve ever been in my life. I had the worst kidney infection that week than I’ve ever had before or since. Monday I started feeling the pain in my kidneys, but knew I had to work for the next two days. I thought I could just take some Ibuprofen and deal. That night I passed out in the shower and my husband called my boss at home (she was a close friend) and told her what had happened. Being my boss she forbade me to work and ordered me to go to the doctor that morning.

 

Tuesday morning. I should have gone to the emergency room the night before, but I didn’t. We waited until the urgent care clinic opened at 9:00 a.m. We didn’t turn on the TV. We didn’t turn on the radio. Our daughter was 3 months old. We walked into the clinic and saw everyone, literally all the patients, nurses, doctors, receptionists, gathered around the TV. I was annoyed. I didn’t know what was going on. I wanted the receptionist back behind the desk so I could check in and see a doctor as quickly as possible and seek some pain relief.

 

I was in so much pain, what happened next is pretty much dreamlike. From watching TV my husband could pretty much figure out what was going on. I was in too much pain to ascertain anything of reality around me. Pain can be transcendent like that. The doctor diagnosed me with the worst kidney infection he’d ever seen. I had a high, high fever and they gave me Cipro (and antibiotic given to those who’ve been exposed to anthrax). I wasn’t allowed to nurse my daughter while taking it. They said I could pump my milk and discard it. I could barley sit upright…you expect me to pump for 10 days?

 

I remember waking up on my couch at home. The TV was on…the disaster being played over and over again on every channel. I had taken Tylenol to break my fever. I woke up covered in sweat and milk. The Lortab eased my pain but made me nauseated. I couldn’t even hold my baby. Once most of the pain was gone I began to understand what was happening. The reality of the situation hit me in an instant.

 

I was scared.

 

My best friend had just moved to New York City exactly a year before.

 

My heart was racing. My best friend. I befriended her when she was the new kid in 6th grade. She knew all my secrets. She knew all my faults and loved me anyway. She hated all my boyfriends. We spent hours giggling together until our sides ached. We endured high school together at different high schools. We experienced college together on opposite sides of the country. She’s been there for me through it all. She was my maid of honor at my wedding. She was my baby’s Godmother.

 

I wouldn’t allow my mind to embrace the possibility that she could be dead. I knew she lived in Queens and worked in Manhattan. Where in Manhattan? It’s so big. Please don’t let it be in the Financial district. I couldn’t imagine my best friend running for her life while the towers crashed around her. I saw the people jump from the buildings. It was the most awful thing I’ve ever witnessed. Please, don’t let that be her.

 

In the afternoon her mother called. The minute she said, “Marisa, this is Jessica’s mother. She’s okay,” I burst into tears. She told me that Jessica worked in Midtown, several miles away. Her cell service was sketchy. The first phone call she made was to her mother. She appointed her mother as the caller to every one she knew letting them know she was okay. At the time she was living in Queens.

 

She had no idea what would await her when she got home. Her roommate had a job interview at the Windows on the World restaurant that morning. It was at the top of one of the towers at the World Trade Center. She rode the N train all the way home to Queens thinking her roommate was dead, praying that she somehow got out alive. Her roommate was home when she got there. Her alarm hadn’t gone off and she missed the interview. A few weeks later her roommate was in downtown Manhattan where she saw a Jewish lady screaming, “It smells like Auschwitz!” She had to move to LA she was so traumatized. She should have died. A broken alarm clock saved her life.

 

That whole week was a fog of pain pills, antibiotics, sweating, and watching the disaster unfold every single day. All the channels were running the story. There was nothing else to watch. It seemed vulgar to even think about watching a romantic comedy to escape the non-stop disaster-athon on the Television.

 

Major Giuliani said that we all became New Yorkers that Tuesday. I know I did.

 

 

Monday, March 17, 2003

 

I am standing at the gate overlooking Ground Zero. It is bigger than I can ever imagine. There are signs on the gate detailing the disaster. I read the signs and tears stream down my face. I remember what that Tuesday morning was like. I take pictures. I want to remember how I feel. It feels profane to do so. Grief hangs in the air. It is heavy. It is quiet like a graveyard. All of a sudden I hear singing. I look over my shoulder. There is a group of high school aged girls standing in a circle with their arms around each other. They are singing, “Amazing Grace.” They sound like a choir of angels. My tears come quicker and faster. I grab my best friend’s hand. We smile at each other as we look at the wreckage. We know how close we were to losing each other. There is a big hole in the ground where people used to live and work. Three thousand people died on this spot. How scary were their last moments? I saw them jump out of the buildings on TV. It was better than burning alive. Over the last 18 months I have heard story after story of people’s loved ones dying, or heroic acts of bravery. It is so real in this moment. It feels like we will never recover. Later, we take the Staten Island Ferry past the Statue of Liberty. She is like a beacon of hope calling to me. We will survive. We always have.

 

Two days later we dropped bombs in Iraq.

 

 

Friday, July 2, 2010

 

Jessica and I just got off the Liberty Harbor cruise. It was a very romantic sojourn. Too bad our respective significant others couldn’t have shared it with us. We walk around Battery Park. There’s a piano just sitting there asking to be played. Literally, there’s a sign on the piano that says, “Please Play Me.” A couple stand at the piano. They turn around and ask us if either one of us can sight read Chopin. Jessica immediately outs me as the piano player. I try Chopin. He’s too hard. They have Bach. I can sight read Bach. I played “Ave Maria” at my mother’s funeral. Bach and I are peeps. Another couple comes and wants to show off their jazz playing abilities. We clap at their first song, but when it’s obvious they intend to put on a performance, we leave.

 

We walk out of Battery park. We walk along the edge of Manhattan. Jessica lives along the East River way uptown. She never comes this far downtown, she says. I take pictures of the cool buildings. We start walking toward the financial district. The architecture of the buildings takes my breath away. Everything is closed. People have gone home for the weekend. Not even a restaurant or a cafe is open. And I am hungry. Without even realizing it, we walk closer to Ground Zero.

 

I can feel it.

 

I can feel the panic.

 

I can feel the fear.

 

I can feel what the people who worked down here felt on that Tuesday morning. I imagine these almost vacant streets full of people running for their lives. Confused, scared, horrified. I feel it all. We round the corner and I see the church. The church that survived the imploding of the towers while all the other buildings surrounding the area were damaged. We can’t help it. We walk closer to Ground Zero.

 

There it is.

 

It’s massive still. Not much progress as been made since I was standing at this same spot 7 years earlier. We walk past the fire station and next to the World Trade Center museum. We round the corner and there is a memorial on the side of the fire station. A picture hangs there with all the faces of police officers and fire fighters who gave their lives that Tuesday morning. It is overwhelming. I tell Jessica it’s okay to cry. She’s not much of a crier. She’s working on it. We walk around the entire site before we find the entrance to the subway we want. The air is still thick with grief. But the grief is lighter. We will never forget but we are healing. I take Jessica’s hand. We’ve been here before.

 

Life has gone on, and we are healing.

 

 

Wonder Woman Risa

I won a drawing last week because I donated to a scholarship that helps single Mormon mothers go back to school. My prize was an artist’s rendition of me however I wanted it. Of course I chose Wonder Woman, the goddess of the Geekiverse.MarissaWonderWomanLG

Thank you to my friend Rune and her crazy awesome artistic talent.  She is the best in every way possible. We’ve had a many a late night convo about Mormon feminism and she is so smart and someone I respect so much. Love you, Rune!

MarissaWonderWomanLG-no-lasso

MarissaWonderWomanSQ

How I really feel…

As a child my mother worked very hard to teach me to be an independent person. She came from the era that women couldn’t rent an apartment, buy a house, hold a credit card or bank account in their name without a father or husband’s consent. She wanted her children to be able to take care of themselves once they left her home. My mother and father both had childhoods where they had to work hard and they both grew up with a good worth ethic. They never wanted to have children who were helpless.

It was because of this I learned that when it comes to my actions, my thoughts, my words…I am responsible for myself.

It’s because of this belief that I’m really tired of the lie that gets told in (mostly) religious cultures that says men are so base, vile, and corrupt that they cannot control themselves when it comes to their sexual passions. And because of this we women must cover ourselves up so as to not excite these men because they can’t help themselves. And if they do help themselves, it must be the woman’s fault, right? Wrong.

This idea isn’t new. The Victorians were so proper, a glimpse of an ankle was provocative. In some Muslim countries women are forced to be covered all over with burquas. Apparently in American religious contemporary society, a picture of a teenage girl not wearing a bra on Facebook is so shocking a mother has to write a shaming post about it telling these girls to keep away from her sons. The subtext being these sons are in no way capable of moderating their own reactions and mommy must do it for them.

Am I crazy to think that men are human beings and, therefore, capable of controlling themselves? Millions of men walk around this planet every day who are able to restrain their sexual passions and not act out on every sexual impulse that invades their brain. You’ll have to excuse me for not thinking that all men are just potential rapists waiting for the right trigger. The reason why I give men so much credit is because I know too many wonderful ones who are able to control themselves.

I think there comes a time in all of our lives when we realize that the only person we can control is ourselves. We can’t make people dress or act in the way we want them to. We can’t make them cater to our desires. We can’t make women cover up so as to not entice heterosexual men. Heterosexual men are going to be attracted to women that they are attracted to no matter what they wear. And, if I might add, how very self-centered of anyone to think that everyone else should cater to them.

I hope, with all sincerity that if a mother of teenage sons sees a girl on Facebook posting a “selfie” she finds provocative, she teaches her sons to control their own passions. Once they leave her home they are responsible for themselves. They need to be able to conduct themselves around women with propriety and respect. The way she does this is by teaching her sons that girls are human beings. Like Nate Pyle says, they need to be able to “see” women as human beings regardless of what they’re wearing.

The world doesn’t revolve around one single person (no matter how much Donald Trump wished it did) and we can’t expect people to be perfect and never make mistakes. I’m bothered by anyone who states that someone doesn’t get a second chance with them and then proclaims to be a Christian. I’m so grateful for the people who have given me a second chance. I  know that there are some people who will never give me a second chance, and that’s fine. That’s their loss. But I want everyone to know, you’ll always have a second chance with me. (Unless you continue to try to hurt me or someone I love. I do have boundaries).

“Jesus wasn’t about perfection. He was all about redemption. He said that he didn’t come to save the righteous, but the fallen. He gathered around him the prostitutes, tax collectors, and other ‘broken’ members of society and delighted in their company, not in the company of the self-righteous pharisees who stood on street corners exhibiting to the world how ‘perfectly’ they kept the letter of the law.” -Lorian Franklin Dunlop (someone I’m lucky to call a friend)

There might be people in this world who look at teenagers on social media and judge them as not worth their time based on a “selfie” they posted. They might decide that their sons or daughters shouldn’t be allowed to interact with these people any more. They might decide that these kids don’t ever deserve a second chance. They might feel superior to these kids because “they’re so perfect.” I’d like to remind them of my friend’s Lorian’s words and know that how you treat “the least of these” is a reflection of your character, not theirs.

That’s right, teenage girls who were shamed on the internet this week for daring to take a picture of yourself with pouty duck lips, what anyone has said or written about you is a reflection of their character, not yours.

And so I leave you with this, as my children go out into this world I want them to know that they are only in control of themselves. And if someone can’t get past the way their body looks enough to see the person behind the body, (their sparkling personalities, their wicked senses of humor, the kindness they show to others) and only seeks to make a sexual object out of them, that sin is not on their heads. There is no way that they dress or act that can cause someone else to sin. None. They are only the guardians of their own virtue, not anyone else’s.

Because Jesus.

sunset friends