Monday, November 10, 2014

Fall (Almost Winter)

Good morning,

It's 5:41 am on Monday and I just woke up from a night of very deep sleep. The slumber was so deep in fact that I'm struggling to spell and type a bit, and my face is covered in tears so I can't see.

I don't cry like this all the time now. But, today is your birthday. I sleep with my phone, you know. On Facebook, I saw the beginnings of a day full of wishes to you and it broke me. I read back through the last few months, the random notes, the photos from me. Yes, I tag you in photos because I just do. Does it seem weird?

Ginger drew you a rainbow yesterday for a piece of birthday art. We also made a pumpkin pie, but only the pumpkin part was from scratch. She wanted to bake that instead of a cake. Don't worry, I bought lemon scones, too.

I don't sleep often like I did last night. But, if I can be active enough, perhaps I'll go without waking for enough hours to keep me going during the day.

Lately, I've been traveling and incredibly busy with weekday and weekend activities, and my sleep has suffered. I dreamt last night that I caught a cold from the sick woman on my flight back from Washington D.C. last Thursday. In my dream, I was more ill than last October, when I couldn't come see you for eight weeks because of pneumonia. In fact, my nose isn't dripping and I feel okay. I ran five miles yesterday faster than I have in weeks. My legs don't even hurt.

I probably don't sleep because you didn't sleep, and we clearly have a genetic issue on our hands. Or, perhaps it's because most of my recent days have been spent avoiding grief. I'm not dealing with it or maybe I am, but it's unclear. I spent the summer avoiding everything and everyone and went to the pool and read a lot. I stayed near my girl every second I could. I wanted and still want more time with her. We talk about you constantly. All of her new teachers know who you are even though they've never met you.

This fall has been warm and nice. I came out a bit more. I've been more social. We have garden snakes again, one in the garage. I planted about a hundred purple flowers for you early in the summer and they're still blooming. My yard probably looks like a chintzy grief garden. I wasn't sure how to plant and keep things alive. Like you, I don't read directions. I have really failed in the cooking department. But recently, a sign of hope! I subscribed to Blue Apron and while it's nice to see the portioned chicken and explicit instructions and I don't have to drive to Safeway, it's just okay. It's not enough food, basically. I need lemon scones, too.

I like to think you are with me everywhere. I miss you with something I cannot describe. It's an adverb, an adjective, a verb, a noun... it's so hard to say and think.

This morning I cried and now my tears are dried and I flew out of my bed to write this post. I haven't felt like writing much of anything in months, so you've triggered that once again. All that said, I'm writing a book for you, about you. The book -- it will take me a long time to finish, if I ever do -- is your story and I've been writing it for more than five years. Today is just another page or chapter. The story is now about your effect versus your illness. Recognize I said "effect" and not "affect," grammar queen.

Happy birthday, momma.


Sunday, July 20, 2014


The other day I was at a strategic planning meeting for 2015. It was offsite, meaning "not in the office", and we went into a room as a group and discussed our work for four hours. We came out, ate shrimp and drove off in our cars for the evening. We'd talked about some of the most critical work in health care.

As I drove home, ready for the weekend, I managed to carve out my space to think of her. I arrived home. We couldn't decide what to do for dinner. I walked into my bedroom and took a few moments to read my Twitter feed. I was struck by grief at that time, and it continued with me all evening. I even dreamed of my mom, and she stayed with me through yesterday and then I dreamed of her again just prior to waking up a half hour ago. I met it even though I didn't know it would be there waiting for me, in my bedroom, likely where I'd left it after dressing and exiting earlier that morning for the day.

That's how it is now.

This idea of carving out space inside of me is something I've been feeling since late May. My family went on a trip to New Mexico. We went back to a place that we'd spent much time together, somewhere I was likely conceived, and it was good. It was reinforcing that the grief can be met. I know now that it will never go away. It's not just a thing that eventually stops. That's what is difficult and also significant to me, as its power is how I will push through, how I will never stop remembering her final moments and how I will never take for granted her authority and goodness.

I don't think about cancer. I don't think about the medical part of it. That piece -- I want to push away right now. I draw on it when I consider how monstrous of a challenge it was, and that we -- really, just she -- met it and said you will not beat me. There was a discussion about "ideal patient outcomes" at a meeting the other day, and there is a nuance and satisfaction to small victories that seem nothing but are everything. You don't know this until you live it. It's a blood test or a procedure and the results. But it's also getting on the right elevator to take the test and finding a good parking spot and the day's temperature being just right so you can sit outside for lunch in between all the shit.

I carve out and I meet. I let myself cry. I meet the grief and I take it and I continue walking down the hall. Some days I just pitch it out the window. Other days, I leave it for later. I let myself wish so desperately that I could talk to her. I have let go of anger, but I'm indifferent to talking about it. I am carving out my space to be alone with it. I want to read and run and swim and do it easily without feeling tired or frayed. My daughter stops and will get teary-eyed at random moments. I will ask her what's wrong. Her response every single time is: "I miss grandma".

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The hallway

Spring is officially here in Denver. I write that knowing we have a bit of snow headed our way tonight. Suddenly, the worries of winter have morphed into trimming grass and figuring out how I can get a garden started.

How can it only have been a month ago that we told mom farewell? I have no regrets about the week+ we spent in Kansas after her death. Everyone came together and I carry that daily. We entered grief's hallway. It's still dark for me, and I can't find the light switch. I stumble around. Sometimes I just go to sleep on the floor with no blanket. I imagine there is a long oriental rug running the floor, and the hallway is light at times, streaming through tall windows. Mostly it is dim. It's not claustrophobic, but my chest feels pressed and I am brought back to the day mom died and I envision holding her hand while she lay in bed.

I've tried every way fathomable to talk to her. I'm at that stage... having terrifically awful moments of realization that I simply cannot speak to her. I never dreamed of the angst I'd feel at those moments. I don't really address them, but take a deep breath and tuck it away for another time. Denial. I think that's the stage.

I've rarely been alone since mom died. That time only comes when I am out running on the street and if I'm on an airplane traveling solo. I run several times a week. I've flown alone once in the last month. When I run, I cry. Tears stream down my face and now that it's warmer, they dry and my face feels tight when I arrive home. On planes, I sleep. I wait to talk with her in my dreams. Sometimes, I do. Those are the very best days.

Habit hasn't abated. I still pick up my phone and almost hit her name on the call list. Every morning until about a week ago, I still did that. I take photos of my daughter and am tempted to text them. Who can I share them with now? I find people. I reach out at random times to folks, and have publicly shared my grief a few times outside my comfort zone. I don't know how it makes me feel about my own privacy. I just do it because I feel better afterward. I really don't care about the overshare because I want each to be meaningful and very authentic, and they are so far.

I guess the lesson is that she will forever be my mother, and I will forever need her and that will never go away. I turned 37 last month, a day before we buried her. I'm an adult with an adult life (although still regularly immature). Even when she was very ill, I still needed her and she helped me. I look back and almost treasure my last thread of texts from her, the last one arriving an afternoon before she died. She was wheezing and experiencing anxiety -- two issues that never emerged until the very end. She wanted to know how a presentation had gone for me at work. She was to visit her doctor again that afternoon. That was our daily way. Every day... life centered on illness, wellness and waiting on doctor visits or call-backs state of mind.

I spent the weekend with dad. Ginger and I took him to Washington D.C. with us to visit the White House for the annual Easter egg roll. We played tourists and enjoyed being plucked out of our regular lives. I was pleased to see he's looking fit. He's sad. It's got to be the hardest for him. His new puppy, Bo, arrived and takes some time. He believes they are already good, good friends.

We were evacuated from our hotel one evening for a bit, an inconvenience but no big deal. We walked through the heightened madness of being in a touristy city. I love D.C. because it's a tempered version of NYC. It's right at my post-NYC, current-Denver need for speed. Besides a tiny bit of bristling on my part, trying to manage a 4-year old, we both soaked in the weekend with an openness I haven't felt in so long. He was cool and calm, and that was great to see. There is no doubt my dad's hallway is dark, but he knows how to navigate anything. His survival is certain.

Today my hallway is dim, but I've figured out that even in a dim landscape, it's easier to see signs, messages and I'm more open to overwhelming feelings if my eyes can focus. In the dark, I struggle to find her but I am less afraid and more bold than ever.

Monday, March 24, 2014


On Saturday afternoon I went to talk with mom. She is buried in an area that overlooks fields for farming and some small valleys that southwest Kansas permit. It was nice and peaceful.

There will never really be a way to thank everyone for their support the past week. It was the strangest of my life, but I spent it with people I haven't seen in a long while and missing my mom was a little easier because of that.

Thank you notes have been sent and food packaged up. My dad is going back to work. Ginger had her Kansas birthday party. Mom had her tailgate party. The funeral was unspeakably everything we wanted. Many have asked me about a reading and a song we shared at the service, and I wanted to do the same for all of you that may have missed this special time when we celebrated mom.

My brother and I spent the Sunday afternoon after mom died in his car listening to song after song, hunting and confirming the perfect one. We'd already inadvertently picked it out weeks earlier, as we sat in the front living room while my mother slept and recovered from a recent hospital visit. We drew from it that day, not knowing we'd want it so soon. But we had to be sure there wasn't something better.

There wasn't.

We chose "Rivers and Roads" by a band from Seattle called The Head and the Heart because it tells a story about being forever in transit, always missing a person you love, traveling as far as you must to be by their side. It echoed the way our family operates, not just during my mother's illness but within our entire life frames. My mother was a good mother because she was brave enough to let us be who we are, and that meant a long-distance relationship that must have been hard for her. My daughter sang along to the tune while it played in the church.

At 7 am the morning of mom's funeral I received an email from my friend and poet Shafer Hall. He and I were fast friends in NYC and he shared many good times with my mom. I was so touched to receive his epistolary poem for her that I sat in the last church pew and wept for a long while, barely able to read my phone as I read his words. I hunted Thayne down and handed him the phone. After reading the poem, he insisted that it be read aloud during the service. I agreed. So he did. Here it is for you:

Dear Wildcat,

We are thinking of you today,
And of the soul you bring
To our wide and sprawling team. 
You make us a confident team,

A happy team, and thanks to you, 
We are more of a team; more
even than a team. Here is
your laughter, here your comfort, 
but mostly you give us
our place to BE: our team 
Is family, our team is friends,
And with you, we can see this game
through each and every end.

-- Shafer Hall, March 20, 2014

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Join us

Here are details about mom's funeral arrangements and how you can honor her:

Funeral service for Paulette Fort will be held at 10 AM on Thursday, March 20, 2014 at the First United Methodist Church in Ulysses, Kansas with Reverend Janet Hernandez and Reverend Sam Bynum officiating. Interment will follow at the Ulysses Cemetery in Ulysses, Kansas. 

Friends may call from 10 AM until 8:00 PM on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 at Garnand Funeral Home in Ulysses, Kansas. There are two hotels if you will be traveling overnight: Corporate East Hotel or Single Tree Inn

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be given to the DuGood Events in care of Garnand Funeral Home, 405 W. Grant Ave, Ulysses, KS 67880. Checks can be addressed to PO Box 921, Ulysses KS 67880. DuGood is a 501c(3) organization with a mission to provide assistance for Grant County residents who have chronic medical illnesses that threaten life while promoting physical fitness through running, biking and other events.  

Thank you to all of our amazing network of volunteers, CareZone partners, staff at Bob Wilson Memorial Hospital and countless others who have done more than we could ever ask for my mom. 


Five years ago, on March 19, 2009, I walked up an incline in Aspen, Colorado, with a phone to my ear. I listened, shaking, as my mother told me her doctor found a "blockage." I was irritated. We all knew what a "blockage" meant. It meant "cancer". And cancer means you are done.

It was sunny and warm, a typical spring break-like Colorado day and some of my dearest friends in the whole world had flown in from New York City to ski in the best powder around. My heart beat so fast as I listened to her describe more details about this thing, and I knew what the call meant. It was a foe looking for a fight.

Since then, my father, brother, husband, sister-in-law and many family and friends have gone to extraordinary lengths in this one cancer fight among too many. Five years went by.

In the center was my mom, lying in scanners, sitting in cars and flying on planes, waiting in rooms while health care professionals talked, getting blood drawn, waiting three months to three months, arguing with insurance companies and welcoming each opportunity to visit with someone who came by her house to sit in the front room because she was "Paulette" -- the best mom that everyone wanted as their mom -- stepping forward and never really taking on her gloves.

Nobody fights illness unless they want to live, and being a fighter is a descriptor not fit for all of us. Fighter. Think of what it means to fit that definition: you're on the front lines; you're hearing the reality of a frightening situation; you're aware of danger lurking; you're full of adrenaline waiting to win the game, willing a victory; you persevere, can't give up; you're unable to settle and restlessness befits your constant need and desire to win. It's got to be tiresome. It's got to be an ever-present quest for sleep, for the ability to close your eyes.

Mom left us this morning at 12:40 a.m. We were so fortunate to be with her, holding her hands. She drew her last breath very peacefully and my only hope is that she is finally, truly resting for the first time in so long. Everyone always says their loved ones fought until the end. My momma really fought, she fought so hard and walked away from us when she was damn ready. Even in her pain, she raised an eyebrow, smirked and once opened her eyes and shed tears when my sister-in-law told her goodbye. She felt and heard our tears (for me) and our laughter. We had some laughter, too.

We will have details about arrangements tomorrow. For now, thank you for being part of our life.

- Greg, Taryn, Matt, Thayne, Jennie and Ginger

Saturday, March 8, 2014

These days

Mom is hanging in. I got to spend several days last week with her, and it was like gold.

Every day is different. She runs fevers most recently, and we're unsure if she's battling (and recovering) from viruses or something else. Her hair is a short buzz of grey; it's quite appealing if you ask me. Hours spin around naps, eating and drinking her G2 for hydration.Who ever put so much weight (no pun intended) into appetite? I do.

Lots of people from the past and pockets of life are emerging and coming by to tell mom who she is for them. She loves that (in short doses). Visitors walk in day and night. Volunteers drop off food. We discuss what to make for lunch and dinner. We discuss grocery lists. We talk so much about food, it's no wonder our lives revolve around it. We feed the squirrels in the backyard. We plan a quick drive for an ice cream cone. We let her wander back to bed and try to walk and talk quietly around the house so she can drowse. We lock ourselves in the basement around the giant round table and do 3-year old art. We read the paper and I am sent out to get the sweet deals at the grocery store or somewhere else. We do puzzle after puzzle. We stay in pajamas all day. We sit near her bed or perch on the sofas and talk and watch.

Hospice continues to visit during the week and we have a treasure in our family and friends, who have constructed a 24-hour schedule so mom is never alone.

She kept us late on Sunday and wouldn't let Ginger and I return home in a snowstorm. We opted to drive home Monday morning. It left us with a bit of time to descend downstairs and watch the Oscars, commenting on fashion and who still looks great in Hollywood. We debated Jared Leto's long hair and I reminded both my parents how I devoured his most famous short-lived TV show as a high schooler (um, and as an adult). She didn't approve.

We talked about New York, a place we have great, robust memories of -- a place she navigated better than I, a long-time resident, and where mom walked freely and understood and valued its beauty. She's still feisty, my mom, unabashedly sharing her thoughts and dismissing most of the hullabaloo we let entertainment and our lives be. It was nice.