Friday, June 27, 2003


Wisdom begins in wonder
- Socrates
March 2002
Part Four

The next morning we meet our brother and sister over at our mother's studio apartment and start boxing up and removing her things. We break her bed down and lean the pieces against a wall. My sister suggests we stay in Mom's apartment the rest of our time here in San Diego. At first I am not sure I want to because it is a little unsettling to be in her apartment now that she is gone. But after thinking about it I agree to it. It will be cheaper than another motel room.

On Monday my sister and I drive to the mortuary, arriving before our younger sister and our brother and his wife. We are taken into a meeting room and asked to fill out a form that will be used as a funeral notice in the local paper. I'm never sure when something is going to make me cry and I am surprised when I start crying after filling out the form. By the time we finish it my brother and other sister have arrived . My sister, who was not there when our mother died, wants to see her body and we are told that this can be arranged. I ask my sister if she really wants to do this (we are not sure how Mom looks now) and she says yes.

We are lead downstairs and into a large room and then to a hallway. When I turn the corner into the hallway I am shocked to discover it is not a hallway but a smaller room where my mother's body lies. I quickly turn around and step back into the other room. The image of my mother lying there is burned into my brain. How did my mother look? Did she still look like our mother? Yes, I was shocked only because I did not expect to see her.

My sisters have just entered the larger room and are walking toward me. I tell them Mom is just around the corner and that she looks fine. Do they want to go in and see her? Yes they do. We step into the room and walk over to her body. As I look at her this time, I realize I am seeing my mother as she really looked for the first time in many years. The medications the doctors gave her made her face and body puffy. In death the fluids have drained away and she is more beautiful than I remember. I forgot how thin her nose is. How pronounced her cheekbones are. How long her eyelashes are. I touch her forehead and stroke her hair one more time, say goodbye, and leave. Both my youngest sister and my brother follow me out and we leave our other sister along with our mother.

After a while, our sister joins us, she is crying but feels better after spending time with our mother and saying her goodbyes. We stand around in the parking lot not sure what to do next. My brother and his wife have some things to do so they say goodbye and leave us. My sisters and I decide to go to the beach. We head for a funky area of San Diego called Ocean Beach and wander through the shops. At some point our wanderings turn into a search for containers for our mother's ashes. We spend the afternoon searching for the right container for each of us. I pick a Bencharong ceramic bowl. My sister finds a delicate old glass perfume bottle with a beautiful stopper, it looks like it could contain a Genie. My youngest sister picks a small daintily painted porcelain snuffbox. When we get back to our brother's home we find out he has also bought a container for our mother's ashes too, a small brass urn.

The next day I wake up early in a panic. I sit up in bed, half awake, thinking, "Mom's not dead. She's just sleeping. We've got to go get her out of the mortuary before they cremate her!" Then I am fully awake and I know that this is wishful thinking, my mother is dead, nothing I do can change that. Feeling hopeless, I lie back down and fall back to sleep.

The following in day my brother drives my youngest sister and I to the airport for our flight home. Our other sister is heading up to LA so we say goodbye at our brother's house and my brother tell my sister to follow him to the freeway, there she can continue on to LA. When we reach the freeway my youngest sister's cell phone rings, it is our sister telling us she has decided to follow us to the airport and then head for LA. When we get to the airport my brother parks in front of the terminal and we all get out. My sister, who has been following us, parks behind him and gets out too. She looks like a lost and lonely little girl trying not to cry, the little girl I talked to on the phone after she learned our mother had died.

When we were young I always tried to protect my sisters. Right now I feel torn, I don't want to leave her here to make that drive up to LA by herself. I want to protect her from the pain of our mother's death but I know I cannot, no matter how hard I try. She is not a little girl anymore but a strong woman who can take care of herself. I give her a hug, tell her I love her, and let her go.

My mother's death has made me understand how fragile families are and how quickly they can fracture. Our family, in a way, was three families. First, there was the family that consisted of our parents and us, their children. Then there was a second family that was just our mother and us, her children. Hidden in the center of these two families was a third family. The first family ended when our father left us for good when I was thirteen years old. The second family ends with our mother's death revealing the third family; my brother, my sisters, and me. This family has always been my center. This family is the one that makes me feel I'm not alone in the world. This is a good feeling.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003


If you are lucky and don't know it, it's like not being lucky at all. So keep your luck alive, recognize it.
- Cynthia Korzekwa

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

March 2002
Part Three

As our mother dies, my other sister is somewhere over the United States flying nonstop to Los Angeles from London. Her plane is scheduled to land around five o'clock. She is going to rent a car and drive down to San Diego. We decide to drive to LA and try to reach her before she starts the drive down to us. We do not thinks she should be alone when she learns Mom is gone. It is Friday afternoon and the San Diego Freeway is packed with cars headed in the same direction as we are. There is an accident somewhere up ahead and right now the expressway is like a parking lot after a music concert, jammed with cars trying to leave at the same time. We are not going to make to the airport before our sister's aircraft lands. Our only hope is that she calls us before she picks up her rental car.

We are about half way to LA when our youngest sister's cell phone rings. It is our other sister, she has already picked up her car and is on her way to San Diego. My sister who is in the car with me is trying not to tell our other sister that Mom has died but, finally, there is no way around it. She tells her Mom died at eleven o'clock this morning. She listens for a bit and then says, "No, I promised we would try to keep Mom alive until you got here. That wasn't possible." Pause. "I know." Pause. "I know." After talking to her for a couple of more minutes my youngest sister hands the phone to me.

Our sister is very angry that she was not there when our mother died. "She promised. She promised you would keep Mom alive until I got there. She promised," my sister tells me, sounding like a heart broken eight year old child. I tell her no, she promised we would try to keep Mom alive but that wasn't possible. We had to let her go. I ask her if she wants us to meet her somewhere and she says she doesn't know and wants to hang up and call back in a few minutes. I say fine and hang up.

My brother has exited the freeway and pulled into a gas station while these conversations are going on so we wait there for our sister's call. After 20 minutes she calls back and tells me she will continue on to San Diego by herself. My youngest sister and I have been staying at our brother's apartment but it is very crowded with all of us staying there so I've decided to get a motel room for the night. I ask my sister if she would like to join me. I know she is very angry at our sister right now and may need a little time to calm down. She says yes and I tell her as soon as I find a motel I like we will call her back.

Driving back to San Diego, finding a motel, checking in, and taking a shower seems to take no time at all. My sister is knocking on the door when I step out of the bathroom. When I open the door and see her there I feel confused. How can she be her already? I just got here myself. I've noticed that since I got back from Spain my sense of time is not consistent, it seems to shrink and stretch like a rubber band. Is this part of the Camino fog I have been in since I got back?

After my sister settles in I tell her about our mother's death from the moment I first stepped into her ICU room. She is sitting very close and is watching my face intently. It is like she is trying to absorb every word I am saying deep inside her. I am uncomfortable. I feel guilty because I was there when our mother died and she was not. I feel guilty because I decided to do what my mother wanted and not try to keep her body alive until my sister got there. I love my sister and I love my mother. What has happened isn't fair.

When I was ten years old, during one of my parent's fights, my mother decided to leave my father. As she was throwing clothes into a suitcase she asked me who I wanted to stay with, her or my father. I was in agony. How? How could I pick one over the other? If I chose going with her, then I didn't love my father. If I chose to stay with my father, then I didn't love my mother. I'm feeling the same way now, like I was asked to choose who I loved the most, my mother or my sister. I know this is not true. I know that I had to respect my mother's wishes, but at the same time I feel as if I betrayed my sister. I don't tell her that I feel this way because I am afraid she thinks the same thing. I can't face that right now.

As I tell my sister about our mother's death I think I am being very calm and collected but at one point she reaches out and puts her hand on my left leg and asks, "What is this?" Until she touched me I had not realized my leg had been vibrating like a flag pole rope in a high wind. "I don't know," I answer, and as I say the words my leg stops twitching. Finally all I have left to tell is that Mom's body is in the hospital morgue and will be moved to the mortuary on Monday. Her body will be cremated some time next week. Then, both of us emotionally and physically exhausted, we crawl into our beds and fall asleep.

Saturday, June 21, 2003


To announce that there must be no criticism of the President or that we are to stand by the President right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.
- Theodore Roosevelt

Friday, June 20, 2003


The trouble with winning the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat
- Lily Tomlin

Thursday, June 19, 2003


Our truest life is when we are in our dreams awake
-Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

I Am Not

too patient
too aggressive
a member of any religious organization
a devil worshiper
too old
too young
a bigot
a high school graduate
a college drop out
in the best physical shape I could be
a member of any political party
an admirer of George Bush
comfortable in a group of people
shy all the time
as centered as I would like to be
sure what the heck I am doing with my life
a person who will ever say, "Oh, I don't have time to read."
an only child
lonely when I am alone
afraid of what people think as much as I did when I was young
afraid of the dark
afraid of most insects
afraid to pick up a live tick
a good house keeper
a over enthusiastic cat person
a fashion person
a good chess player
a skier anymore
a runner anymore
a person who makes list
unaware of the people who read my blog
unaware that I have been drained by writing about my mother's death
unaware that this is why I am doing this exercise instead of writing more about my Camino experience

The Camino begins when the Camino ends
- unknown

Tuesday, June 17, 2003


Do what you do well and there will always be a path.
- Kelly James's grandmother

Thursday, June 12, 2003

March 2002
Part Two

Three days later, before I can absorb what LL has told me, I return home after dining out to find a frantic message on my answering machine from my sister in Denver. She called our mother's doctor to discuss some things about our mother's treatment and he told her Mom was in a coma after being rushed to the emergency room at the hospital. By the time I get a hold of my sister again our mother has been moved to the intensive care unit and put on a ventilator. This we know is a death sentence. The ventilator is very hard on healthy lungs, what is it doing to her damaged lungs? My sister has talked to our brother and he said Mom is now conscious. He asked her if she wanted to be on a ventilator. She nodded yes. He asked her if she wanted to be on the ventilator after a week. She shook her head no.

I wait until midnight to call my sister in the Netherlands so as not to wake her in the middle of the night when she cannot do anything. She will go to her travel agent's office as soon as it opens and book a flight to California. My youngest sister and I now have to decide how to get to San Diego. We are not sure how much time we have; do we drive again or fly? We will fly; I will get the flight tickets tomorrow. A day and a half after finding out our mother is in intensive care my sister and I are in the sky and heading to San Diego.

Our sister, on her way from the Netherlands, has reached London when my youngest sister and I land in San Diego. My brother has come from the hospital to pick us up and on the drive back to the hospital my youngest sister's cell phone rings. It is our sister calling from London. She just talked to the doctor at the hospital; Mom is in a coma again. We cannot believe it, my brother was with her 30 minutes before and told her he was going to the airport to pick up "the girls." Mom nodded in understanding. Now, she is in a coma? She was doing reasonably well after they put her on the ventilator, just a little frightened by what was happening to her, but well considering what had happened. We thought we had more time.

Only two people are allowed in the ICU at one time and my brother takes me in first. My mother's bed is surrounded my medical equipment. She has a ventilator, heart monitor, a brain wave monitor, various IV's, and a dialysis machine. There is also a machine that controls the amount of medication she is receiving and a machine that sends heated air into the special mattress she is laying on. This is attached to the end of the bed. I inch my way around all this until I am standing beside her. I reach out and put my hand on her arm and burst into tears. I lay my head on her belly and sob, "Oh, Mom."

The instant I touched her I knew she was no longer here. She is not dead but the "her" part of her is gone. Gone somewhere deep inside her brain and I don't think she can come back. After a bit I stop crying and my brother and I leave so our sister can come in. When I see my sister-in-law outside the ICU I blurt out, "She not there anymore." My sister-in-law gets a panicked look on her face and I realize she thinks my mother has died and her body moved somewhere else. I say, "No, no, she's not there anymore." Her face registers understanding and she reaches out and pulls me into a hug.

I wait in the hall with my sister-in-law until my brother and our youngest sister come out. My sister is handling this better than I am. She had her emotional breakdown when she made the phone call to the doctor the other night. Our brother is handling our mother dying the best because he had a better understanding of how badly our mother was doing. My sister and I are now both in the same place, understanding Mom is dying but shell-shocked at the same time.

This is surreal in a way my walk wasn't. Everything that happened on the walk I accepted as if it was normal while it was happening. Dreams are like that, it's not until you wake up the next morning and think about them that you see that what seemed normal to you in your dream was actually strange. But this, my mother dying, makes me feel like I am in the middle of a dream about a car accident. I've stepped on the brakes but the car keeps sliding toward a tree. I want the slide to stop. I'm saying, "Wait, wait, don't let this happen." But, just as there is nothing I can do to keep the car from hitting the tree, there is nothing I do can stop my mother from dying and this frightens me.

I though I understood about death. I always felt sorry for other people when they lost someone close to them. I thought I knew what they were feeling but I see now I had no clue about what they were really going through. I know people die every day but this is my Mom. I know mothers die every day but this is my mother. This is the only person who can truthfully say she has known me all my life. This is the only person that I can truthfully say I have known all my life. This is my Mom. When she dies where do I belong? When she dies who am I? When she dies my life changes and can never be the same again. I am no longer someone's daughter.

After a restless night, my brother, sister, and I, drive back to the hospital. We are walking from the parking lot to the front door of the hospital when my brother's cell phone starts ringing. It is the ICU telling my brother that our mother has crashed again and we should get back to the hospital as quickly as possible. He says we are at the front doors of the hospital and on our way up. When we reach the ICU we all walk in and straight to our mother's room. I know things are going badly because no one tries to stop us. Her doctor is there and he tells us Mom almost died last night and then again just a few minutes ago. Keeping her here was getting harder and harder. The next time they would have to use "heroic measures"- doctor talk for opening her chest to get her heart started. We should think about what needs to be done next.

My mother always told me she did not want to be kept alive by machines and that if we let the doctors take heroic measures to keep her alive, she would haunt us after she died. I tell my brother and sister I think we should let her go. My brother agrees but our yougest sister had promised our other sister that we would try to keep Mom alive until she got to San Diego. I say Mom is trying to leave us and we keep letting the doctors pull her back. We should let her go, she never wanted to die while hooked up to machines. My sister still wants to try to wait until our other sister gets here. I tell her if it is down to doing what our sister wants and what Mom wants, I have to do what Mom wants; which is not to let her die on the machines. My sister finally agrees to let her go.

We ask that all the equipment that can be removed from the room be removed. While they do this we wait in the hall. After they are finished we return to the room and find Mom hooked up to only the ventilator and the heart monitor. The room seems twice as large with all the other equipment out of it. The nurse removes the ventilator and then leaves the room. My sister walks over to the right side of our mother and takes her hand. I walk over to the left side of her and take her other hand. My brother stands next to me and puts his hand on her leg. We are surprised to see how strong she is breathing off the ventilator. We talk to her and tell her it is OK to leave. We tell her we love her. We thank her for being our mother. We watch her breathing as it slowly gets shallower and shallower. We listen as the silence in between her breaths get longer and longer. We alternate between watching our mother and watching the heart monitor as the sharp spikes recording her heartbeats get weaker and weaker and slower and slower on their march across the monitor's screen.

Then something amazing happens as her heartbeat slows even more and her breathing stops. I feel her presence floating above and behind my left shoulder between my brother and me. It is the same sensation I have when someone behind me invades my personal space by standing to close. At first I think someone is standing behind me and I turn to look at them, wondering what they are doing there. Then I realize it is my mother's spirit and , without thinking, I glance up at the ceiling over her bed. Goodby, Mom. I then turn back to my mother and then look over at the monitor. Her heartbeat has dropped to only two or three weak blips on the screen at a time. Then there is only one and after that nothing, just a straight line. I relax and feel my brother and sister do the same thing. It is over. Then, in the middle of the screen, one unexpected spike and a very strong, " BEEP". We laugh and I say, "Very funny, Mom."

The nurse has been watching another monitor outside the room and he rushes in when he hears us laugh. We explain what happened and he explains that this last strong blip happens sometime but we know it was our mother say, "Gotch ya!" The nurse turns off the monitor and says quietly that we have made the right decision. He has a 96 year old man at the other end of the unit who is in the same condition our mother was in but his wife cannot let him go. That poor woman. We go out in the hall and thank all the nurses who helped take care of our mother. I look at my mother's body lying there in her room and feel guilty about leaving her. I think I am deserting her but at the same time I know that she is no longer in her body, so how can I be deserting her?

I am surprised by how I am feeling. I feel sad but also very peaceful. I thought I would be afraid to watch my mother die but it has turned out to be the most spiritual experience I have every gone through. Thank you, Mom. Thank you for the honor of being with you at the end.

Friday, June 06, 2003

March 2002

My mother is now in a nursing home. She was transferred there from the hospital after another lung infection. I talk to her in the emergency room and she tells me they are sending her to the nursing home because she needs around the clock care until they get her back problem fixed. I ask her how she and my brother are doing. She says that when she first got to the emergency room she fell asleep and then woke up to find my brother holding her hand in one of his hands. He was patting it gently with his other hand while quietly saying, "Mama, Mama."

I get a lump in my throat. My brother has been so angry with our mother that he had been calling her by her first name as a way of distancing himself from her. I tell her it sounds like they are getting along better. She agrees and says it is because his attitude has changed. I smile because my brother had told me that she was the one whose attitude had changed. I am relieved to hear they are closer.

I finally send the film from my walk out to get developed and have picked up the prints. When I look at them I am surprised by how looking at each one puts me right back on the Camino I can remember where and when each picture was taken. Seeing them also has me asking myself, "Isn't this where......?" Although there is still a lot I do not remember, these pictures help bring back some memories. Maybe my trip is not totally gone.

On the weekend before St. Patrick's Day I drive into Denver and go to the Psychic Fair with my sister. There I sign up for another reading with her spiritual counselor. After I sit down LL looks at me for about ten seconds and then carefully asks me how I am doing. I stare back at her for another ten seconds before answering and then blurt out, "I walked the Camino."

She is impressed by this and asks how it was. I'm not sure how to answer and I fumble around before saying it was a dream. She smiles and says this dream feeling is called "Brigadoon" and that doing the walk was a dream for me, a spiritual dream. She says that I am no longer the same person I was before I made the walk and then asks me how I would like to integrate this spiritual dream into my Post-Camino life. I say I don't know; I only know that I want to stop feeling like I have been ripped in two. She says that in some way the walk had exploded me into spirituality and I am trying to fit myself into my old life and that this I can no longer do. She says that by going to Spain I had stepped out of my life and into another world and this had changed me.

She then asks if I took any pictures during my walk and I say yes. Did I bring them? Yes. As she goes through them I tell her stories about them. When we get to the picture of the Virgin Mary I tell her how the statute was struck by lightning. She looks at me and says she was struck by lightning once. My life is full of coincidences. Why should another one surprise me? We look at the rest of the pictures and then she goes back to the picture of the Virgin Mary. She examines it and then asks if I touched the statute. I am stunned. I forgot until this moment. I did touch it. I answer, "Yes! How did you know?"
She looks at me with a twinkle in her eye and say, "I'm psychic."
I laugh, "Oh yea, I forgot."

She looks at the picture one more time and then puts it down and look at me. She starts talking again. She says that, for me, the walk was easier that I thought it was going to be. Not physically but emotionally. She says that I am to watch birds and to watch the eagles. That the old me did the first half of the walk and the new me did the second half. That my aura shows that I went through a near death experience during the second half of the walk. The suffering of my body and my feet caused part of my brain to check out at that point because it was the only way I could do the last partof the walk. That I should write about the trip from the time I left home until I returned. That I am more empathic than I realize. Someone who is empathic can pick up other people's feelings. That I went into this experience naive and wide open psychically and, without realizing it, when I touched the statue I was hit by spiritual lightning. Then later when I touched the Tree of Jesse it wasn't just me touching the marble but me touching thousands and thousands of other people. And when I touched those people I also touched on their illness. That I could also become ill myself. That she was going to help show me how to heal my aura. That I went to "the highest of the highest of the high." That I touched "the highest of the highest of the high." That she has a vision of me standing by the statute, touching it and then having the spiritual lightning hit me. That this is what caused me to have my "near life experience." She then smiles and says that was a Freudian slip, she meant to say near death experience. That I am going to be given and known by another name. The last thing LL tells me is how to do the ritual that will help heal my aura.

I listen to every word with a growing sense of wonder. By the end I feel the same way I did as a child seeing my first lighted Christmas tree. What she says comforts me and frightens me at the same time. Later, when I leave the fair, I feel overwhelmed. My perceptions about myself and where I belong in the world have been shattered. What am I suppose to do now?

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

February 2002

On Valentine's Day two of my sisters and I are speeding across the desert of eastern Utah laughing uproariously. I am laughing so hard my stomach and face muscles hurt. We are playing a game called, "Do You Want To______ Or ______, With Mom?" In this game we each take turns filling in the blanks in the question. My youngest sister asks, "Do you want to ride all the way to New York in the back of a pick-up truck during a snow storm or ride in the cab for 20 minutes, with Mom?" We roar with laughter. I gaze at the stark scenery around us and ask, "Do you want to live in a shack out here in the middle of nowhere without electricity, heat, or water, or live in a mansion, with Mom?" More raucous laughter. We are driving from Denver to San Diego non-stop because of our mother and we are angry at her because of it. We are also afraid she is going to die before we get there.

Our mother has been chronically ill for the last ten years with emphysema and heart disease. About a year ago we tried to persuade her to move from the small town she lived in, up the Hudson River from New York City, to San Diego. My sister was leaving New York which meant no one would be close enough to help her if anything went wrong. At the same time she found out the house she had been renting was being sold and this helped her to decide to go. Our brother lives in San Diego and he agreed to help take care of her when she got there. Plus we were sure that the climate in San Diego would be better for her. Her health at the time was not very good. She was in a wheelchair because she could not walk more than a few steps at a time, she was on oxygen 24 hours a day, she was using a nebulizer four times a day, and she was having problems with allergies that would literally take her breath away.

So, Mom agreed to move and did better physically after she got there. After six months she was walking unassisted, up to two blocks at a time while pushing her wheelchair, which she used as a cart to carry her oxygen bottle. She no longer had to use a nebulizer, and her doctor had told her to try breathing without oxygen when she was sitting for a couple of hours a day.

The problem was that although Mom was doing better physically, by this time she and my brother's relationship had deteriorated to the point that neither one could talk to the other without it ending up in a fight. When my mother first got to San Diego she stayed with my brother and his wife. lt was to be for about a week or two until the brand new assisted living housing apartments that my mother was going to live in were finished. After two months the apartments were still not finished and my brother and mother were speaking to each other as little as possible.

My brother did not understand how sick our mother was when she first came out and did not handle the pressure of having a mother who ended up in the hospital every week or two for breathing problems very well. My mother did not help by reacting to any attempt to help her as it was an intrusion. She has never been able to ask for help because, for her, asking for help was being weak and my mother could never appear weak. Accepting help now would be admitting that she needed help, and needing help meant she was weak. The pressure was relieved a little when they found another assisted living complex for Mom to live in, but by then their relationship was damaged so much that neither on of them would take the small steps that could help to heal it.

Now our mother's health is failing again. The steroids she takes to help her breath are also damaging her body. At the beginning the steroids did more good than harm but now that ratio is reversing. A couple of weeks ago she had a vertebra in her lower back collapse and instead of calling my brother to take her to the doctor she tried to take care of it over the phone. Then she had to go into the hospital because of an infection in one of her lungs and she waited until it was almost to late to call for help. When she got back home she refused help from my brother and my sister-in-law. My brother snapped and called us (his sisters) and said we better come out and do something about Mom because he was through with her. He also said he was afraid she was dying.

So, my sister flew into Denver from the Netherlands, I drove in from Kansas, and she, I, and our younger sister climbed into my car and started driving to California. We are driving because we cannot all afford to fly and we are doing it in one day because of time limits. My youngest sister has to be back to work by Tuesday of next week.

The drive isn't too bad. We each take a two hour shift driving and then we rotate from driver's seat to front passenger seat to backseat and then back to driver's seat. While we travel we talk. At first we talk about Mom and all the sins of omission she made raising us. During this discussion my youngest sister says something that stuns the other two of us. She tells us Mom used to hug her and cuddle her all the time when she was little. We cannot believe it, she hardly ever hugged us and she never cuddled with us when we were little.

We think about this piece of information. Maybe by the time our sister was born our mother no longer felt overwhelmed by being a mother. She had her first three children spaced a year and a half apart. She spent almost five years with at least one child in diapers. Her fourth child came when the one before was three years old. Then she had a breathing space of five years before her next baby was born. So, at one point she had five children under the age of eleven. Two years after her fifth child she was pregnant with her last baby, who was stillborn in her sixth month of pregnancy. After that she no longer could have children. Maybe that was why she hugged and cuddled our youngest sister. Maybe losing her last baby and not being able to have another made my sister all that more special.

We settle into our drive, rotating every two hours. Once, when I am in the passenger's seat and starting at the road before us, I see what seems to be a man sitting by the side of the road. He is so far ahead that I can barely make him out. He looks like he is sitting with his knees drawn up under his chin and his head resting on his knees. As we speed closer, the shape that I mistook for a man changes and I see that I am looking at is some kind of large bird. Then we are close enough that I can tell it is a Golden Eagle. He is on the ground about five feet away from the road and just sits there watching us approach. As we pass him I turn my head and watch him as he turns his head to watch us rush by. I cannot believe what I've seen and ask my sister who is driving, "Did you see that?"
"That Golden Eagle sitting by the side of the road."
"You didn't see him?"
I cannot believe she did not see him.

We reach San Diego around two o'clock the next morning and check into a motel. After a few hours of sleep we drive to my mother's building and take the elevator up to her floor and knock on her apartment door. When we get inside I am shocked by her condition. She is lying in bed on her side and looks so much older compared to the last time I saw her. She also looks like a child laying there and I have this crazy thought that she is shrinking and that pretty soon she will just disappear. The apartment is a mess, with stuff piled everywhere and dust covering all surfaces. Any anger I have disappears and I quickly walk into the bathroom so she will not see me cry. I am crying because my mother is so very ill and I am crying because, even now, my mother has not let other people help her.

We spend the next two days cleaning our mother's apartment, getting her to eat, doing her laundry, trying to lift her spirits, and just being nice to her. One day my youngest sister and I take our mother to her doctor's appointment and while we are gone our other sister uses that time to change and wash her bedding and to move the bed and clean around it. She also washes the window next to he bed so our mother can see out. Our brother meets us at the doctor's office and our mother agrees to let the doctor answer any questions my brother has about her illness. We feel this will help him to handle this better and relive some of the pressure he has put on himself.

After the doctor's appointment I take my mother out for lunch. On thing that is hard for her is being cooped up in her apartment, not being able to get out of bed. We go to Red Lobster and my mother is so hunger we order a bowl of soup for her as we wait in the bar for a table. Ten minutes after we are shown to our table my mother tells me she is in pain, cannot do this anymore, and wants to go home. When I get her home her bed is ready for her and my sister and I help her change into her bed clothes and put her to bed.

We feel we have accomplished a lot. We have cleaned her apartment , got her to eat, so she is feeling better, lifted her spirits, and done all her laundry. My younger sister has also talked to our brother about his part in this mess and lets him know he is not alone. She tells him that anytime Mom gets to him to call one of us and not to yell at Mom. He agrees to do this.

The only thing left to do is to talk to Mom about what is happening between her and our brother. My youngest sister decides to do this part so, I and my other sister go out into the hall while she talks to our mother. After a while she come out and says she thinks Mom has seen the light. She started out by asking Mom why she did not call our brother when her vertebra cracked. Mom answered that "hell would freeze over before she was going to call him."
My sister answered, "Guess what, Mom? For you it almost did."

Then she went through each one of Mom's complaints about our brother, one by one, and came up with a solution for each one of them. Most of the problems came from lack of communication or miscommunication on her and my brother's part. She also tells Mom that she has to let people help her and to be nicer to the people who were trying to help her. Mom agrees to everything.

On Sunday we leave and head back to Denver. This time we will stop overnight half way home. Again we talk about Mom while we drive. We know that she will not be with us much longer. The doctor told us any infection she gets from now on could kill her. We all think she has three to six months to live. What are we going to do without her?

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

The Rest Of November 2001 Through January 2002

These are days of pain. I cannot believe how much agony I am in. Physically my body is in poor shape. My feet are trashed so badly that I can only wear sandals and not shoes. I now walk with in an old people's gait and bent over, still trying to counterbalance the weight of the backpack I no longer carry. My sister says that when I move around I look exactly like that old man character Tim Conway played on The Carol Burnett Show. By the end of January the toenails on both my baby toes fall off. People who see me are shocked by the amount of weight I have lost. I figure I've lost around 12-15 pounds (about the weight of my pack) and since I normally weigh about 127 pounds, this is a lot for me.

Mentally I feel like I have been ripped in two. My body is here but my mind is still on the Camino. Sometimes when I walk to the post office to pick up the mail I find I have been walking the Camino the whole distance. How to explain this. What I see in my mind is more real than where I am right now. It is like watching a movie on a big screen, after a while you forget the theater, the seat you are sitting in, and the people around you.

I do not want to talk about my walk and am actually angry when people ask about it. At first it is because I think people are trying to do the walk vicariously through me. With my Post-Camino Shuffle people who do not know I did the walk will ask what happened to me; why am I walking like I hurt? I say I am walking this way because I spent a month walking across Spain. Some people's eyes light up as they ask me what it was like. I politely reply, "Fine", while my eyes are saying, "I f***ing dare you to ask me more". Other people, when they find out I walked across Spain, are silent for a couple of seconds and I see the unasked question, "Why?" in their eyes before they ask what it was like. I politely reply, "Fine", while my eyes are saying, "I f****ing dare you to ask me more".

Later it is because I am losing the walk. It always had a dream quality to it and now all that is left are dream fragments. My memories of the walk are fading like a favorite blouse thrown in the wash too many times. When I read the notes I wrote on the walk I don't know what some of them are about. All I remember are some of the people and the rhythm of walking each day. Funny, this should be very upsetting but it is not. Not remembering takes the pressure off having to talk to people about it. Since this is something I cannot do anyway, having no memory of the walk is a blessing.

Monday, June 02, 2003

November 1st- 5th, 2001

I spend the first three days of November resting at my sister's house and on the fourth day my brother-in-law drives me to the airport in Brussels for my flight home. His seven year old daughter comes with us, and about two hours into the trip we start eating the sandwiches my sister made for us. This is when I find out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are considered very strange by the children of Holland. My sister made PB&J and plain jelly sandwiches and when I pass one sandwich back to my niece I do not look to see what kind of sandwich it is. When she bites into it she makes a sound of disgust and begins explaining to her father that she got a PB&J sandwich. I find a jelly sandwich and trade sandwiches with her. When she hands me her sandwich I take a big bite out of it and say, "Hummm, hummm, hummm," while chewing. She laughs so I offered her another bite but she pushes it away while laughing even more. Who knew a peanut butter and jelly sandwich could be considered exotic?

The flight home is psychologically excruciating. Time seems to have slowed down and seconds are like hours. The walk was shorter than this flight. When I reach Denver I walk to the baggage claim area where my husband is waiting for me. As with my sister, I don't "see" him until he says hello and again I feel nothing and stare at him as if he is a stranger. Even when I hug him I feel nothing. We are staying at my youngest sister's house for the night and the drive there helps me get over this disconnected feeling I have. It is good to be almost home.

The next day we make the three-hour drive to our house and those three hours are worse than the airplane trip. It seems as if the drive will never end. My body aches. My mind aches. I feel trapped in the car. The closer we get to home the more agony I am in. The last mile is almost unbearable. Then we reach the turn-off into town and the pain recedes and I feel calmer. As we pull up to our house I feel a great sense of relief. Finally, this trip is really over. I remember what B said about spending six weeks on the couch after she walked the Appalachian Trail. I think I will do the same thing.