Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Two Months to 40 (A stream of consciousness)

This was 1?

I'm having a HARD time accepting that I'm approaching 40. And by approaching I mean I'm on a bullet train and they have already announced this gigantic mid-life benchmark is the next stop. I still think I'm in my late 20's or early 30's. I swear College was just 10 years ago. 

The truth is I have not been taking good care of myself. I probably drink a tad too much wine. I don't exercise. At all. I'm ashamed of it but I can't figure out when. I used to do a lot of night work, like 8:30pm-10:30pm and I'm the one on kid bus duty at 6:52am so I couldn't swing a 5am workout, I tried those and I was exhausted by 9pm. Lunch was out of the question because I worked straight through it for the overtime or used that for errands/kid appointments/etc. And don't even ask me how many diet cokes I drink a day. 

Looking back on the past decade of my 30's I see the two greatest gifts of my life; Ford and Amelie. They have brought me more joy (and have aged me more) than I could have ever imagined. 
This was 31

I have made it a point lately to slow down and just sit with them. Listen to Amelie's made up language, hold Ford's hand coming back from the bus stop. Children, and me admittedly, really just want your time and attention and love.

This was 34

Looking back I also see my Mom's journey with Alzheimer's. I know I shouldn't but if you asked me to describe my 30's in one word it would be sh*tshow. I was raising kids and working and helping with Mom whenever I could. I might have been two hours away but I think Dad and I talked almost every single morning about BB. Her status, things she did, what we thought we should do next, lots of tears. It was an impossible decade. It was an incredible decade. But I will admit it has left me exhausted. BB's Alzheimer's spanned the entire 10 years. Her diagnosis was in 2011 (but could have been earlier) and her death in 2018.... with me just now slowly climbing out of this hell hole of grief. Last summer I spoke for an Alzheimer's event and one of the keynote speakers said something that has resonated with me ever since. Alzheimer's changed the trajectory of his family's life. Forever. All future holidays and birthdays and memories were permanently changed and altered from the disease and what it did to them. 

This was 3

The other reason I'm thinking so much about my birthday is that birthdays were a big deal growing up. Unless a huge snow canceled my party (which happened multiple times) we always always celebrated. St. Patty day themes, Mom hiding Easter eggs for all the kids, a super fancy dinner at Joe's Crab Shack with a Matchbox 20 concert. Even into my 20's my parents would send flowers to wherever I was working. My Mom's love language (besides telling everyone she loved them) was giving gifts. I think the most spoiled I ever was, was the birthday after we got married. My Mom and Dad got me my first Barbour jacket (which come to think of it needs to be re-waxed) and Juliska goodies and fancy napkins and literally showed up with balloons and flowers. It never mattered the actual gift, it was her presentation of the day. 

This was 30 

My 30th was a favorite, when asked what I wanted to do I told my parents I just wanted a good old fashioned Boylan house party with Dad's red beans. And party we did..

This was 28

I worked in an office back then and me and the "guys" (the 10 guys in the QA lab at the software company I worked for) always went out for me and Willie's bday....complete with cake and basketball brackets. Don't laugh but if you don't have an office environment your birthday is forgotten. And you might be like seriously Katharine? We will drop off a Publix cake...but it was just the camaraderie. Don't lie, you like facebook birthdays. I do too.

 Our first lunch at Roosters was with my best friend Elie and her soon to be husband and happened to be on my birthday. Some years I would just pamper myself, pedicures, blow-outs, and lunch at Dean and Deluca (RIP). Last year I bolted to Florida as it was also Mom's one year anniversary. 

This was 35

This was 37

This year I think I'm just having a girls weekend in Asheville. And maybe one before with College friends. And maybe another in May. Or I might just bolt to some quiet beach house stocked with wine and books. 

This was 27 (And a bachelorette party)

But I'm not excited about it. It's 40. I'm scared of genetics. My grandparents didn't live past 65. My mother died at 69. I cannot see in dim light. Anyone else? I hate driving at night. I have some weird thing called meibomian gland dysfunction. I have receding gums, and from the Wells pic below I must have a receding hairline. Seriously why is my hair still falling out? I thought for sure we would be in our forever house by now (Like one with a garage and a play room and HARDWOOD FLOORS). I thought I would know what I wanted to do when I grew up by now. 

Today marks 10 years at my current job (I'm writing this waiting for a meeting to start) and sometimes I feel like I'm treading water career-wise. I'm insanely grateful that I can work form home and balance kid duties and work duties but approaching 40 has me wondering if I could have done more? Have I settled for mediocrity?  I definitely thought I would have Leontine Linens (or Matouk or Biscuit bedding) by now and would have fixed what my children did to my abs. (They straight massacred them) I still don't even know what wrinkle cream works with acne prone skin and NEVER figured out how to do beach waves. Seriously, why can 14 year olds do this and I cannot.

Is this a pity party? I don't care if anyone thinks so. (Repeat that to myself b/c I do care but I'm a project)  I'm sure someone else out there feels like this and this will resonate with them. If there is one thing I am working on its to stop caring so much what people think of me. This is HARD HARD work for a people pleasing insecure anxiety ridden Enneagram 2. But I am the happiest when I am being 100% Katharine. And if I'm being the best mother and wife and friend I can be all while remaining my silly enthusiastic self, I think that is a win.

This was 28

I daydream about what Mom would have planned for this year. It has been so long since she had her own thoughts I honestly have no idea. In 2015 I invited a group of girls up to Asheville and I went up a day early to hang birthday banners. I remember being on my tippie toes with push pins in my teeth decorating the mantle and my Mom asking, what is that for? She didn't know. And I think ever since then I have made it my responsibility to take charge of that day. 

Pedis and Blowouts with BB in 2014

So to all you 1980's babies, tell me what you are doing for self care. How you are celebrating? And if you want to watch two kids and two dogs so we can run away to an island just text me.
This was 26

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Unrelenting Tide

In 2011 a tidal shift took hold of our BB. A disease became an ebbing tide, slowly taking my mother piece by piece out to sea. A sea that became so angry and violent there was no chance of rescue. There would be periods of slack tides, and even a glimpse of the water rising and toying with our hopes that she had returned. But each day it carried her farther and farther away with its relentless pull. This disease decimated her motor skills, erasing any memory of how to cut a rug to Van Morrison with my father. She could no longer drive to get her caramel macchiato, much less hold a caramel macchiato in her hand. Little bits and pieces of the intricacies that made her who she was slipped under the dark waters never to be seen again. All in seven years.

This is what Alzheimer's does. It takes. It steals. There is no resistance. There are no life preservers. No Coast Guard. While it feels like an ebbing tide to outsiders, it is a rip tide to the hearts of loved ones. The family survives only with the expertise of the Alzheimer's Association, Memory Care, Hospice, support from friends and family, and from those that have lost their own to this unforgiving sea.

Grief ironically enough is also its own tide. You pray for the slack tide so that you can resume your life but it is rare, grief is ever present and always moving. It can be slow enough to allow you to miss your triggers, or it can be a tidal wave of emotions over seeing a grandmother with her family at swim lessons. A grandmother filming her grandson. She looked to be older than BB and could still use a phone. I sometimes get perplexed when I see people older than my mother doing things like driving, feeding themselves, shopping, using technology. Simple every day tasks my mother couldn't do in her mid 60's.

All I have remaining are stories told to me through her belongings. Her rosary found in the back of her dresser drawer, lip gloss tubes, expired licenses, seventy eight pairs of mismatched earrings, her favorite boat shoes, that perfect yellow top from Talbot's, blank greeting cards, matchbooks and letters.

And my own memories of her. For now. What if Alzheimer's takes those from me? What if Amelie and Ford have to watch my deterioration the way I experienced BB's? What if Amelie has to help me use the bathroom, bathe me, dress me, put me in a nursing home, listen to me scream obscenities at her for a four hour car ride. These are real fears. I haven't been able to start fundraising this year because I haven't been able to write. Is it because I don't have any more stories about my beautiful mother or is it something else? Is my mind slipping?

There is STILL no cure for this disease. No prevention. No miracle drug. Only emails and articles about a trial with mice somewhere that might have shown something.

Please consider donating to our Krewe BB in this year's Charlotte's Walk to End Alzheimer's. We HAVE to end this disease. We have to give hope to MILLIONS, yes Millions, of adult children that have been through the hell of watching a parent die from Alzheimer's.

Katharine's Walk Page HERE

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Hints of Spring and Reminders of Hospice

This past year has been a blur. But this stretch from Christmas to my Mom's anniversary has been cold, dark, very damp and well....just sad. It's a stretch with no major holidays except Mardi Gras and if you aren't in New Orleans you are just reminded you aren't....well....in New Orleans.

These days the stretch of our Hospice care is replaying in my mind every single day. Was this the day I went up there? Was this the day she smiled? Which day did we begin to stop feeding her? Should I have gone up there more? Daffodils are blooming just as they were at the Elizabeth House we moved her to. An abnormally warm sunny day reminds me of the when we all sat outside her patio and snuck in a much needed bloody mary. Unannounced flurries take me back to the morning of her funeral when it snowed in Asheville.

I think because my birthday is literally five days before her death; the anticipatory countdown for March 14th is now also aligned with her anticipatory decline ending on March 19th. March in the past was for visits from mom and dad. She made birthdays a big deal. Not with lavish gifts and facebook posts but with party planning, thoughtful little touches, hugs and attention. They would come to town bearing too many gifts, flowers, candles, red beans from the freezer, and we would do our annual boozy lunch at Roosters to watch the ACC Tournament. Mom would help me decide on how to spruce up a few rooms, Dad would fix this and that, hang these and those, and they would leave my house a little more beautiful than when they had arrived.

If you think I'm being dramatic it really is just part of my personality. My Kangaroo Court punishment back in the 90's (a camp thing) was that everything reminded me of something else. This is preschool soup! I smell rain coming in 30 minutes! Definitely the same hairspray as Mom's AquaNet! 

Everywhere I look signs of spring remind me of Mom. I hear the birds outside singing and the Rufous Towhee says "Drink your Teaaaa". My mama taught me that. My parents used to fix cocktails and have me walk around their garden with them quizzing me on all the flowers beginning to bloom. Crocus were always first and usually met their demise from a late snowfall. Then the daffodills, tulips, dogwood, iris, I could go on and on. So many nights we would run outside with sheets and heavy rocks to save our plants from a Dogwood Winter. Now I have her iris in my garden. I have a gigantic Sweet Olive that when it blooms smells exactly like walks in the Garden District I took with my parents during our few visits back to their hometown. 

I'm an empath, and a pisces, and someone so in love with routines and traditions and memories. I should busy my mind and throw myself into exercising or reading or organizing but the weight of what we went through just a year ago is heavy and I am tired. I miss her. I feel like the John Pavlovitz article in that everyone has moved on and I have not. You don't get over a death, you just learn to live with the pain. 


I miss my Mother. Even the bed-stricken, mumbling, agitated, docile, almost unrecognizable version she became. I miss holding her hand, brushing her hair out of her face, and the tiny flash of recognition I could see in her eyes when I would come into her room. Nobody loves you like your mother. Not because they can't, but because they didn't carry you in their womb for almost ten months. Because they didn't have your heart beating inside their body. Because that love is once in a lifetime and unique to her.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Our Parents are Dying

I have wanted to write this post so many times and I stopped because I was afraid of what people would think of the title. Which is ridiculous because what I write is mostly for me, and also for the people that are going through the same heartbreak.

I remember when my first friend got married. And then the 2nd, and then 3rd, 4th, 5th...etc. Wedding season was the absolute best. Sure we complained about the costs but we were invited to open bar dance parties for entire weekends. It was pure bliss. 

Then the babies came. I loved baby showers mainly because I had no idea about gear, clothing...etc. Then came baby sprinkles (2nd showers) and now come 40th birthday parties.

But for some of us amidst all the celebratory milestones of our 30's, comes the worst phase of them all. 

Our parents are dying

Maybe not for some of you, but for some of us we are knee deep in it. I entered this phase in 2011 when Mom's diagnosis was official and still haven't quite left. I don't think you ever graduate this stage until you become orphans. 

In 2016 my Aunt died from sudden cardiac arrest. She was the Aunt I saw the most, and the one I inherited so many traits from. She was a Rockbrook girl, an OCD planner, a Queen of Oberon, and a damn good time. 

Dad and his indescribable sister Aunt Kathleen Cowart

In 2017 my dear friend lost her father. And then my crazy Nashville cousins lost their father. In 2018 I lost my mother. And in 2018 two other friends lost their mothers to Alzheimer's. Before the end of 2018 two other friends lost their fathers. 

Over the past seven days a friend has lost his father, another friend has lost his father, and this weekend my friend lost her father to Alzheimer's. 

I didn't imagine it would be like this. I still think I'm in my early 30's. (Spoiler Alert: I'm not.) Grandparents are supposed to be trekking to Disney with us. They should be telling inappropriate jokes to our children, micromanaging our holiday menus, and lecturing us on thank you notes. I still haven't been duck hunting or fly fishing with my Dad and am worried we are running out of time. (Dad is fine, I think Mom's death has me on high alert)

My Grandparents Kay and Bob Boylan with their dear friends Big T and Betty Ann Myer

My parents were both orphans by the time they were 35. All my grandparents died young and while I was only 3 at the time I never understood the importance of grandparents in kids lives, much less in their own children's lives. How did my parents deal with losing all of their parents so young?  They picked up and moved from their beloved New Orleans to Arden, NC and I'm sure the change of scenery must have helped. I don't remember ever seeing Mom upset but I was also so young. I remember growing up hearing stories of the infamous Bob Boylan. I remember Mom sometimes getting teary eyed saying she wished her parents could have known me. My brother is 13 years older than me so he got to at least know this older generation a little more than I did.

My Mother with her mother, Dorothy Duffy Brown

But since I never had grandparents I didn't know what I was missing. Mom, how did you cope with the death of your mother? What were those early years in Asheville like? Were you jealous of your friends who had two healthy parents? Did it strengthen your relationship with your children? I feel like my mother's death has made me be more intentional with my time and love with my kids. Amelie's bedtime routine takes forever but sometimes I tell my brain to shut up and just lay there and play with her hair until she falls asleep.

I don't like this phase. But it is one we will all inevitably go through, I just never thought it would be now. I figured they would all live to at least 80? Mom never saw 70.

I want you to know that if you have a friend in this phase that reaching out, maybe even monthly, or weekly, is the best thing you can do. It is lonely and sad and isolating. I have a separate post I will write about the best things you can do when a friend has lost a parent, but if you have a friend going through the early stages here are a few things you can do.

Send a card. 
Send a text/DM/facebook message.
Drop off something to their house.
Ask with interest how their parent is doing. 

It hurts more than I thought and I get a new message from a friend what feels like once a week now with Hospice questions. I want those friends to know that I will answer any question with love and am here for anything you need.

Lastly, cherish your parents. Think about your own parenting and look back at all the amazing things they did for you. What I hear from other grandparents is they just want time, pictures and love from their kids/grandkids. Make sure you are sending it to them!!!