What the hell…..


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April 30 I lost my mom. Chatted via text message (as we did every single day)at 8:00 in the morning……nothing much – just a quick conversation about the fact that she should see some sunshine (as opposed to many past days of rain), she responded that she was definitely going to get outside and enjoy it.

Sometime before noon I received a call from my nephew (her grandson whom she has raised since he was two years old) – he had called an ambulance, she was in the local hospital – chest pain.

I ‘shut down’ the minute I heard this – my mom is bulletproof. A healthy, happy, fit, going concern – seventy three going on sixty.  Anxiety attack – I thought. She’s been burning the candle at both ends – trying to wind up her bookkeeping business…..sorting, downsizing, packing, moving stuff to storage in preparation for listing her townhouse and moving on to her ‘retirement’ on the Sunshine Coast.  It does not cross my mind for a second that this might be serious.

My nephew and I messaged back and forth – she needs more help sorting and packing – I say – I’ll see if I can get a few days off, come down and give her a hand. My nephew tells me he’s helping as much as he can – when he’s not at work. We are both worried – I tell him to keep me in the loop – my big concern at the moment is her level of stress – and how can I alleviate some of it. She is going to be fine.

My next phone call – he tells me they’ve done a CAT scan – she has a bulge in an artery close to her heart and it’s very serious – she is being transferred to a large hospital where there is a surgeon waiting for her. Her friend (and his ‘second’ grandma is there) and he is following the ambulance.

He signs the paperwork for her to have the surgery as she is unable to do so herself – we message back and forth as he tells me she is going into surgery, I tell him I will be there the following day – I have messaged my daughter and she is already on her way from Edmonton to pick me up in Prince George (nine hours away), we will get some sleep and head out in the morning – another nine hour drive – but we will go straight to the hospital.

I carry on doing the dishes, chatting with Bruce, anxious – but relieved she is in surgery – confident that she will be fine, I will see her tomorrow……

My phone rings again. It is my nephew. He is crying so hard I can’t understand him at all. But I didn’t need to. The bulge in moms artery let go while they were prepping her for surgery. There is – no fixing – a dissected artery when it lets go.

I manage to calm him down enough to get him to pass the phone to her friend – who is also crying, but coherent enough to understand me when I tell her ‘do not let Eli out of your sight. Not for one minute’. It matters nothing he is twenty one years old – the only parent he’s known – was his grandmother. I tell her friend I am on my way.

I hang up. I do my very best to not come unhinged – but fail miserably – it is several minutes as I try to process that I no longer have my mom – I am a mess – I cannot stop shaking – I cannot catch my breath. When I finally manage to get my shit together – I message my daughter to ‘pull over’ and call me, I rather frantically try to get hold of moms sister – but can’t seem to get through…..I start pitching random things in a duffle bag to travel with, Bruce phones my boss and tells him what happened and that I’ll be gone at least a week. I get hold of my son who is working on the island – ‘anything you need mom’. Auto pilot kicks in. 

I feel like I’ve stepped in front of an oncoming train. At fifty four, I’m not supposed to be the oldest in my immediate family. I’m not supposed to be fatherless, brotherless, and now motherless. I am not remotely prepared for this – an entire and large part of my future has been wiped out in the blink of an eye.

What. The. Hell.

The following morning, sorely lacking in sleep – my daughter and I head to the coast. She has managed to get hold of my aunt and she too is on her way.

I am numb. I don’t feel capable of driving. We pretend we’re fine, we stop for lots of coffees, junk to eat in the car, we talk about everything and nothing. My head is spinning with ‘things to do’ lists – I am worried about how to cancel the offer on the place she made where she was going to move. I don’t know if she’s forwarded a deposit, or signed off on the subjects. My daughter is practical – and smart and is now the glue that is holding me together. 

‘At the risk of being crass mom – they can’t sell a house to a dead person’

Good point. I worry about her bills, what about her credit cards?

‘Not to be crass mom – it’s not like we’re worried about her credit rating. ‘

Good point. And around we go for hours until we get there.

Auto pilot. We walk in the door, exchange hugs with my aunt, my nephew who is pretending with forced cheerfulness to be fine but is next to manic with his chatter and his obvious inability to sit for more than a few seconds.

Auto pilot.

My daughter is an absolute rock. We know there is no Will – so there are dozens of phone calls to make – chief among them – a lawyer – mortgage broker, listing agent for the property she offered on, friend and listing agent who was waiting in the wings for mom to be ready to list. Then there are the friends. The clients she did books for. I search her cell phone for any and all contacts that may need to be contacted. My aunt had the incredible foresight to bring her laptop and printer – she gets busy making lists of people, email addresses, phone numbers. My daughter makes every single call that needs to be made – I cannot -make myself do it.

I knew mom was sorting and packing and moving stuff to storage – but looking around – I couldn’t comprehend the sheer amount of stuff that still filled her three story townhouse. I set my aunt to dealing with moms room – I headed straight for her office – she did many clients books at home – I start hunting for year end stuff that needs to be given back, personal stuff I need for the lawyer…..paperwork. I know she has storage – I don’t know where, or what unit, or the gate code. I ‘think’ I know where she banks – but I’m not sure. With no will – I will not be allowed access to any pertinent information until the court grants me probate. I don’t know if her bills show up in the mail or she gets them email version. Turns out both. Auto pilot – I am good at shutting everything off in my head and doing what needs to be done – I know if I stop and think I will be useless.

We start packing. Boxes and boxes of ‘things’. Grandmas China. Crystal. Cabinets full of stuff. I load box after box of paperwork into the car – I need to file her taxes. We create piles of donations. I start obsessing about random things – what in the hell am I going to do with the dozens of large plants she had growing up on her rooftop deck. Wonder what to do with all her treasures – I spend my time and thoughts de-personalizing her things because I can’t imagine how else to do this. This sweater is just a sweater. This vase is just a vase. I wonder how full her storage is…

I am told I cannot access her storage until I have ‘paperwork’ stating I am the executor. I find the storage contract and the gate code and the three of us head over there and waltz in like we belong there – and open the door to find a ten by twelve room about half full of neatly packed and labeled boxes. Thank god room for more.

We meet the mortgage broker for lunch – a stellar man who in fifteen minutes emailed me any and all information I might need – something a bank would not have done without ‘paperwork’. I ramble endlessly through lunch – not comfortable in a social situation on a good day – let alone in this circumstance. It was ramble on or stare at my plate. I wanted to make the effort – her mortgage broker was also her good friend.

We meet with the lawyer – a woman who in half an hour of scribbling on a yellow legal pad and copying paperwork – had me more than confident she could and would kick ass with her stilettos should the need arise.

Auto pilot to the funeral home.

I never understand, how one is supppsed to make decisions at a time like this. My daughter and I are shown to a boardroom sized well appointed room and seated at an expensive round table for the ‘presentation’. I call it the ‘sales pitch’. I feel immediately claustrophobic. I feel like I can’t breathe.

‘Are you wanting to have a viewing?’

‘No’.

‘Is there something special you would like her dressed in for the cremation?’

Are you kidding me? ‘No’.

And on it goes, the lady remotely clicking the mouse and scrolling along the presentation on the big wall screen.  I start attacking the bowl of mints – maybe if I eat the mints I will be able to breathe.

‘We have several choices for vessels for a cremation’ nice lady scrolls through photos of actual caskets worth more than I make in a month, half caskets, plain pine caskets…..

I point to the one at the end. ‘The chipboard’

‘Excuse me?’

‘The chipboard. OSB. Whatever you call it’.

My daughter rescues me. ‘She would like to select the one in the last picture at the end’.

It seems to take almost forever – I want the hell out of there – but on cue, near what I thought would be the end, a woman named Sheila strolls in and takes the empty chair. She is there to discuss the burial and services offered at their cemetary. I find myself looking at Sheila – there is something different about her that I’m too weary to put my finger on. I explain that we will be putting mom – next to her son – in the cemetary in Penticton.

Sheila promptly removes herself from the room. At some point, I have signed enough paperwork to sink a battleship – and I am let out of funeral home class. I wonder what percentage of the many dollars forked over go to nice sales lady’s commission. I have no idea if I made all the right decisions – but I let it go – the decisions have been made.

We head back to the car. ‘There seemed something odd about Sheila’ I say to my daughter.

‘I do believe,’ she deadpans ‘Sheila used to be a Stan perhaps’.

‘Ah’ is all I can think to say. As I’ve already fallen through the rabbit hole – why shouldn’t Sheila turn out to be Stan?

We stopped at the post office to make arrangements to forward her mail to my house. The mail lady behind the counter burst into tears – ‘what do you mean she’s gone??!! That’s impossible – she was just in here last Friday – she gave me hockey stuff for my grandson- I’ve been here twenty years! She’s been coming here for as long as I’ve worked here!!!’

Auto pilot – I don’t recall what I said to her – but it was apparently enough to have her pull it together and complete the paperwork.

I finally catch my nephew on the evening of day three – he has calmed down some, he is able to sit still. He wants to talk about ‘the day’. He takes me through it from the beginning – tells me that on the phone to 911 he answered question after question after question until he lost his cool –

What is this – a fucking survey?! Get somebody here – there’s something wrong with my nan!!!’ At which point he flung open the front door and held the phone out: ‘911! Somebody take this!’ A lady from a unit further down the complex – happened to be outside – took the phone and dealt with the call as he hung onto mom.

They got somebody there – fire department first responders, and ambulance.

When he is done telling me the entire story – I can see – at no time did anybody drop the ball. There were no delays in the diagnosis, no delays in the transfer on the ambulance. No delays at either hospital. I have been told – that it’s remarkable she made it to the hospital at all – apparently fifty percent of the people who have a dissected artery – die before an ambulance arrives.

This does not make me feel any better – nearly every day since – I feel absolutely tormented by how truly frightened she must have been.

I decide to go pick up a ‘thank you’ card for the lady down the way who helped with the call – she has stopped by and spoken with my aunt. It seems the right thing to do for whatever reason. I walk over to a drug store and am brought up short. The entire twenty foot section of cards has been rotated out for Mothers Day cards. I want to sit down on the floor and cry and never get up. Auto pilot. I dig and dig and rifle through the cards until I come across a section of ‘message-less’ cards and find something not tasteless. I can write my own message.

In five days, we manage to pack almost the entire place and move all the boxes to the garage/basement. We manage to get most of the bookkeeping stuff to most of the clients. We managed some cleaning, we managed to remember to eat. We managed to drink a years worth of coffee. We manage to find odd moments of grim humor:

‘Look’ I say, standing at a box of first aid type stuff I hauled downstairs to the kitchen. ‘It’s one of those wrist style blood pressure checker things’. I wrap it around my wrist and hit the button and wait for the result – the numbers look as though I’m about to suffer a cardiac event of my own. ‘This can’t be working’. I state, taking it off. My daughter tries it – professes it to be ‘inaccurate’, my aunt tries it and thinks it’s ‘close’ …..I take my daughters side – she’s a paramedic – therefore in my head – she knows ‘all of the things’ – and can certainly declare a bp checker to be a dud.

We all decide we’re just fine and with some ceremony – pitch the thing in the trash. Just fine 😬. Of course we are not.

We finally leave the place as tidy as we can for the time being and I leave my nephew in charge – he ‘sort of’ still lives there anyway – mom liked for him to come and go and be nearby – she liked to cook for someone other than herself, he didn’t like the idea of abandoning his nan on a full time basis.

I make it home – unload the car – walk back into work Monday morning. My boss immediately takes me aside.

‘Do you need more time?’

Only the rest of my life. ‘No. I need to work. I need the routine’.

I spend the next two weeks digging through paperwork, doing moms taxes, trying to decipher the books on her laptop as I am still getting requests for paperwork I have not found, working working working. I discover that if I just keep moving – I won’t have time to think. I go through her cell phone and start moving important emails over to mine, moving pictures to mine – I start dumping irrelevant contacts – until one day I have a near anxiety attack as I suddenly feel like I am erasing her life. Deleting who she was – like she was never here.  I stop.

I make the drive down again – my daughter flies down, my aunt drives – we are there to clean. And pack more. And organize more. At some point I will have permission to list the place – it needs to be decluttered, clean. My son arrives with his truck and starts hauling more boxes to storage, and incredibly – manages to haul every single plant off her roof top deck – down three flight of stairs – to his truck and off to her friends place where on a five acre parcel, she has room. My daughter in law and granddaughter make the trip – we clean, scrub, paint, shampoo carpets. I wire in a new light switch to replace a broken one, fix a closet door….I scrub the roof deck free of the common coastal algae and note that the finish is gone in some areas. It looks like crap. I tell my son to load any furniture he wants – he helpfully removes some of the larger items I think are just too big – things that I certainly have no room for. This time we leave the place spotless – and my nephew still in charge – with instructions to keep the place clean. 

He gets a new job that comes with a place to live – some distance away. He makes arrangements to move at the end of the month – another two weeks away. This is a good step for him – though he is worried about leaving moms place empty. I arrange for her realtor to grab a key and keep an eye on things. I find myself awake at night worrying about the stupid roof deck – it’s some 14 feet by 40 – a feature of that particular townhouse complex. I decide to make the drive one more time and paint the deck – and help my nephew sort and pack and donate……

I get there to find he is like a deer caught in the headlights. He can’t decide what to take, what to give away, what to donate, what to keep in storage at a friends place. He is missing mom something fierce – he is trying to ‘adult’ as he says – but he is ever so glad I am there. His efforts to sort and pack and sort some more – have made the place look as if it hadn’t been straightened out in a year. I take a deep breath, I get him on the right track – I go buy three gallons of obscenely expensive vinyl decking paint – and get to work – and encourage him to stay the course and get it done. I need for him to be settled in his new place before I leave for home. I manage two coats of paint, a sunburn and some heat stroke – live on yogurt for three days while I try and ‘hustle’ my nephew into moving like he has a plan. Which he does – but his plans (quite like my moms) operate on a much different clock than mine. I mention this to him after waiting two hours for him to drop off a drum set, pick up a buddy and drop off some donations. I am tired. Tired of running up and down three flights of stairs, tired of the whole project. I am trying very hard not to be bitchy.

‘Eli. I know you have a plan here – but at the rate you’re accomplishing it – you won’t get it done today. I’m leaving again tomorrow’.

‘I know – I’m sorry. Nan and I call it ‘living on ocean time’.

I try a smile. ‘Sooo….you only move when the tide does?’

He tries a smile. ‘Something like that’.

My nephew does not own a vehicle – living at the coast – with the cost of insurance, the prohibitive cost of parking – if you can find any, means most kids his age are fine with transit, the sky train, bike, skateboard – whatever. If he needed a vehicle on occasion – he simply borrowed moms. Now he has made arrangements to borrow a truck for moving and at last, all but one load is where it needs to be before he has to return the truck. It’s pushing eight o’clock – I have been vacuuming behind him, double triple checking everything – jogging those stairs like I mean it –

‘Mom why the hell did you buy a place with three complete bloody flights of stairs?’

‘Places with no stairs are for old people’  she would state.

My nephew returns the truck and a buddy picks him up to grab the last load. I am alone by nine.

I was – relieved, to see him off to a new job, a new place to live. I was sad for the circumstances. This particular job was in the works before mom died – but still……he too – is on auto pilot.

I loaded my car, piled my stuff by the front door and fell onto the couch exhausted. I could have been asleep in seconds – but I lay there instead – eyes burning from fatigue, a view from where I lay of the living room, the dining room, the kitchen…..just looking. Looking at the retro table and chairs she bought at a furniture store close out for a song, laying on a couch that went from ‘don’t sit on that!’ to cheerios under the cushions as she raised her grandson- to somewhere to sleep when I came to visit. I found it incredibly sad that she wasn’t a part of ‘getting the place ready’ – that she couldn’t see how nice it looked. That she wasn’t there. Every time my eyes started to close I’d force them open again – unwilling to give it up for some much needed sleep. Trying to memorize the details.

I feel – so very broken. 

Life moves on. The farm is still farming, there’s a new calf, there’s milk coming in the door, butter and cheese being made. The fencing is getting done, the garden is producing, I’m canning beets, freezing beans. Last years calf is in the freezer, as are the meat birds. The pigs go in next weekend. I wait for word from the lawyer that the probate has gone through the court. I pay to keep moms hydro on, her car payment made until I can sell it…..I go to work and try to focus. Try not to make mistakes. Pretend I’m just fine thank you very much.

I try to tell myself I will get through this – but I’ve little faith I will anytime soon.

Going through boxes of moms stuff I brought home from her office – I find a zippered binder. I open it – to find every blog post I’ve ever written – printed out on thick quality grey paper with a matte finish. All of them. 

It goes without saying – this post will not be printed out. I don’t know If I want to blog any more…..

What. The. Hell.

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About valbjerke

Farmer, Transmission Rebuilder, Self Sufficiency Nut. Like the old school way of doing things. "Fast is fine - accuracy is final" (quote by some way back famous gun-slinger - likely just before he got shot dead)
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19 Responses to What the hell…..

  1. avwalters says:

    My condolences. Thank god for the busy work of death, the looking-after-others, until we, too, can process. And no, a lifetime is not enough. We keep them in our hearts, tell stories, and recognize glimpses of how the best of them comes out in us. Ultimately, it is enough, because it has to be. Yes, you’re a bit of a mess, and that’s okay. What kind of person would you be, if you weren’t.

    After my dad passed, I found a binder with the full, unedited first versions of both of my novels. He was saving them for me, for when I became famous. I guess those rough drafts were supposed to keep me humble.

    Carry on, as best you can, for yourself, and for others.

  2. mountaingmom says:

    Please keep blogging, it is therapeutic. Losing a parent is physically and emotionally stressful and you need release. So sorry for yours and Eli’s loss, keep looking forward.

  3. Selka says:

    Wow. Thank you for sharing that whole story. I felt like I shouldn’t have laughed out loud in places, but your daughter is too much!! I see her played by Jennifer Lawrence in the movie version.
    That’s a heartrending loss and big hugs to you and Eli and your daughter. It seems you are all managing perfectly well and appropriately and with love for her, each other and yourselves.
    I think you should print this post. She would have LOVED it, and it will complete the volume. Then zip up that binder and store it somewhere deep to rediscover years or decades from now, and whatever you blog from here is a whole new thing – carry on, don’t, go in a whole new direction…it’s up to you.

  4. My mom died young — she was 61 — she had an operation and they told her she had 6 weeks and that’s exactly how long she lived. The worst 6 weeks of my life. I grieved for months. Could barely put one foot in front of another. And finally my then-husband came up to find me in the garden. It was my mourning space, my tears could flow, my anger could be shouted out. He yelled at me. He said, you have children counting on you; you have to get it together and let her go. As heartless as it seemed to me at the time — I was angry at him for days — it was the “slap in the face” i needed.
    All this to say — we all grieve in different ways for different lengths of time. But you know what? You never get over losing someone you love. I don’t think we are supposed to get over it. We just move on and keep them close in our hearts and minds. And I agree — you should print out this last blog post and keep it all together. Thanks for writing this. Many blessings to you…

  5. Marilyn says:

    I am so glad you wrote this. Thank you. I laughed too…… and I finally cried….. for the first time. Thank you, Val. Sometimes when things are so close and personal I need someone else to tell the story so I can detach myself from the personal nature of it and let the emotions through. I can cry for other people’s trauma much more easily than my own. And, you are super awesome at looking at things in a way that helps us all see the irony, humour, and absurdity in situations that are not the least bit funny. It helps put things in perspective so they can be dealt with. We will all make it through. Day by day. Sending lots of love. ❀ ❀

    • valbjerke says:

      Thanks Marilyn – no way could I have got through any of that without you and your ‘zen’ 😊

      • Marilyn says:

        This perhaps is not the time to tell you this, but that ‘zen’ appearance is sometimes because the emotional side of Marilyn has disappeared. It is in the closet with headphones on listening to the sound of birds singing and waves lapping at the shore. What is left behind of her just smiles and carries on! πŸ˜€ If it calms people, then I am okay with it. I’ll handle the emotions later. πŸ™‚

  6. DM says:

    I am so glad you wrote this one Val. I can just hear your mom saying “a place with no stairs are for old people”! That is such a great glimpse into who she was. Grieving is SUCH a personal, individual process..and it can not be measured in days, or weeks or even months… Heck I have been triggered 15 years after the fact, for me it is more like a wave.. I am not good with words when I am with someone who is grieving….we just got back from the funeral home 5 minutes ago..I shook a few hands, gave a few hugs but pretty much kept my mouth shut…sending you a virtual hug from the hinterlands of Iowa. dm

  7. Jennifer says:

    My deepest sympathy and condolences Val. “The pen is mightier than the sword”. Slay the demons of the mind…pen to paper my friend! Intelligence is to be shared…
    with much love,
    Jennifer

  8. freethnkr1965 says:

    So sorry to read of your mother’s passing.

  9. Pat says:

    I don’t know the ten steps to grieving (or whatever that number is supposed to be) but I believe, accepting how you feel enough to write about it, to the world no less, is probably the biggest and best step toward healing. You won’t forget because she was your mother and because of the special and deep relationship you two shared (which I have been so blessed to witness.) Will it always hurt, yes. But eventually, in however long that will be, the severity of that pain will lessen. As to blogging, follow your heart. It will tell you what it needs. Keeping you, Eli, Lish and Jimmy in my thoughts. And I will always be here to listen, Best Bud. Always.

  10. Bill says:

    Oh Val. I am so sorry for your loss. I admire how you handled things, and no doubt your mom would too.

    I got that call one night when I was a young lawyer. It was my brother telling me that my father had a heart attack and was at the hospital. The call that came soon afterwards–you know what that one was. My father was 49 years old. Like you, I was the one expected to handle all the “stuff.” I sorta felt cheated out of my time to grieve.

    The pain will ease over time. The love and good memories will remain.

    Wishing blessings and peace on you and your family.
    Bill

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