3-16 Finding a way to show up March 16, 2015

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I woke up the morning following my last post with a feeling of dread after yet another near-sleepless night trying to get my mom’s pain under control. I felt stripped raw–so vulnerable–and I questioned my own sanity at putting something so honest up in the public sphere. Who does that?? But I shouldn’t have worried, because following my mother’s advice rarely works out poorly for me. The response I received was overwhelming, and you all gave me kindness and strength and love that could very well have come straight from her. Overall, it was clear that you all agree with CT (of course). I need to take better care of me.

Still feeling a bit frantic, I decided to go to the store and hopefully clear my head. Leaving the house these past few weeks has been a great source of anxiety for me–I worry about about running into people I know, about having 5 minute conversations about my situation, about things going wrong while I’m gone (the thought that she could die while I’m running around trying to find the right brand of vanilla almond milk is paralyzing). I sat in the car outside of Kroger on my phone, delaying the task while fighting back tears. Then I saw this:

Today has been rough. I’ve been missing my Aunt Linda so much. When I’m upset, I clean. Maniacally. I’ve been tearing apart my room all morning. I got to my closet and sat on the floor. I look to my left and there she is. Showing me she never left. The stone has two angels carved into it and I’ve always thought of them as my aunt Linda and Uncle Tom. On difficult days I carry it with me for strength. The last time I saw this stone was the day I took it to Sloan for my last scan results. I haven’t seen it since. But I wasn’t afraid I lost it. Because it always shows up when I need it. Like today. So for anyone out there thinking you lost someone that you love, you haven’t. They’re still with you. Call for them. They’ll find a way to show up.


I met Kathleen* almost five years ago at a concert in New York. She’s an all-around incredible human, and there have been a lot of times since then that I have drawn strength from her words, but this just knocked me out. I sat in the car sobbing, feeling all of the misery and panic inside me just rush out. Of course she’s still with me, of course. I just need to allow her to show me that.

Later that evening Alive Hospice sent over a R.N. to evaluate Cynthia and try to better ease her pain and agitation. I cannot say this enough: hospice workers have some of the most beautiful souls I have ever encountered in my life. After we talked about her symptoms, and the concerns I have been having for her comfort, Debbie looked at me and said exactly what I needed to hear–that I am not, and cannot do anything wrong in this situation. She spoke plainly about the reality of all of this, and answered questions I didn’t even know I had. While we talked, Cynthia slept between us, and she assured me that we could not say anything that she did not already know–that it is important to keep talking to her, because while it is difficult for her to communicate with us, that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t understand what is happening (in fact, there are many studies that show that at the end of life, even people who are completely unresponsive are actually aware of everything that happens around them). As always, Momma still calls the shots, and she would want complete transparency.

The next day felt like a breakthrough in my mindset. I tried to make deliberate choices to honor her wish–to take care of myself, and in doing so I felt like I was better able to take care of her. Sarah James came over and we went out for a bit together. We talked about how confusing this whole thing is, how at times we are overwhelmed by how quickly our circumstances have changed, and about how glad we are to have each other to lean on.

So when I was awakened early this morning by her erratic breathing I just…started to talk to her. It was easy to imagine her responses to my babbling. As her breath continued to be in turns fitful and even in her sleep, I pulled out my copy of Tennyson’s complete works (published in 1868, a Christmas gift from her last year) and started reading Ulysses. Halfway through the poem, she opened her eyes. When I reached the last section, she smiled. I have the last line of this poem tattooed on my body, in her handwriting. (All of my tattoos are in her handwriting, actually. It’s something we’ve secretly shared with each other for years.)

Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

I kept reading. I read i carry your heart with me by e. e. cummings. She looked in my eyes and moaned softly, and nodded. I read one of my recent posts, A Lifetime Contained. The lines You have many ordinary days behind you, Most of which were filled with sweat and work evoked a noise joined by an eye roll that I took to mean “Yes, Emily. Obviously.” She closed her eyes, face going soft when I spoke of the realization of her next big moment. I asked her after a while if she wanted to sleep some more, and she nodded. I turned out the lights and we fell back asleep. She’s been mostly asleep since then.

I had a conversation with my mother at 4 a.m this morning. I can’t wait until the next one.


*Kathleen Emmets is a lovely writer, and is not at all unfamiliar with fighting this vile, insidious disease. You can find more of her work HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.


19 Responses to “3-16 Finding a way to show up”

  1. Lynn Says:

    Emily, thank you for sharing these precious moments with us. You are all in our hearts and prayers. Sending lots of love to your family from Colorado.

    • emilyltripp Says:

      Thank you, Lynn. I think she would want for you all to know that we are still here, together, trying to make the best of these daily days.

  2. Alison Rogers Says:

    You are constant in our prayers.
    Alison and David

    • emilyltripp Says:

      Thank you so much, Rogers family. And let Lauren know that I’m rooting for her in NYC. If she ever needs a friendly face or help with weird New York questions, I’d love to help! Right before I moved, my mother shared this article written by Sarah Hepola (who I aspire to be) about her experience living in Manhattan. It was my bible for months. Hope it may offer her a bit of insight into that strange and wonderful place.

  3. Karen Smith Says:

    Thank you for sharing with us once again from your heart. Your Mom is so very proud of you all. What a magnificent gift you are giving her during these special days- and I have no doubt priceless gifts from her are hidden among this pain- to be treasured even more in the days to come. All of us reading these blogs celebrate your Mom’s life – and the wonderful, wonderful job she does of loving you, Sarah James, your Dad – and so,so many more people. Know our prayers are with you.

    • emilyltripp Says:

      Sarah James and I have talked a lot about the treasures in this house lately. Spending years sifting through all of these memories is something that will be a great work in my life.

  4. Raja O'Brien Says:

    Dear Sweet Emily…..please know that not a single day has gone by that I have not prayed for y’all! Do take care of yourself…you are a treasure!!! Every time I think of you I flashback to BA plays and makeup and it makes me smile….I hope this puts a smile on your face!!! All my Love to you!!!

    • emilyltripp Says:

      There’s proof all across my parent’s fridge (still!) of those days–witch-hazel and prosthetic ears and way too many lighting checks. What a hoot!

  5. Rob DeRossett Says:

    Emily, God bless you, your precious mom, father and sister. You are very courageous to share your deepest thoughts, the updates on your mother, and to take such care of her. It is evident that your mother gifted you with the ability to express your thoughts through a love for writing. I know you are making your mom proud by picking up her blog where she left off. My love and prayers for Cindy and all of you.

    • emilyltripp Says:

      I feel like she knew that this would eventually happen. I can only hope that I can honor her by making sure that those who also have loved her so well are able to be a part of this journey.

  6. Fran Kirkpatrick Says:

    A beautiful post. Glad you and your sister have each other to lean on. I know that pleases your mom. She has so often spoken of the two of you. Hang in there:-)

    • emilyltripp Says:

      I don’t know what I would do in all of this without my sister. I’m blessed beyond measure to have her to walk this crazy path with me.

  7. candanning Says:

    My dear Emily, u are so brave and such a wonderful daughter. I know u and your mom have a special bond. I love u so much and so glad you and Sara James have each other. It’s OK to reach out to each other. What the Hospice nurse told u about “u can do nothing wrong” is so right. This time with your mom and Dad is so special. Death just like life is to be lived and to be experienced with your family and not to be run from . I know it is so difficult but in years to come, u will look back on these days taking care of your mother as
    so precious.

    • emilyltripp Says:

      Yes, it is. It’s so, so painful, but also the most lovely, meaningful thing I have ever done in my life. Each moment is valuable.

  8. Rhoda Tripp Says:

    Cindy, James., Emily and SarahJames, just got your last email. You know how I love you and am still praying, of course. But have to tell you how much it has helped me today. The hospice nurses are God called, just keep having your wonderful conversations with your Mom. Thanks for y’all’s love for Cindy.. What’s not to love about her, we are blessed to call her ours. Love you much, Mamaw

  9. Cathy Longeway Says:

    I am bringing dinner tonight. I have had Cindy in my heart all day. Peace be with you.

    • emilyltripp Says:

      My sister and I absolutely devoured it! It was so delicious (especially the broccoli salad, yum!). Thank you so much, from our family.

  10. Joy Brandon Says:

    God be near to you and keep you.
    Continual prayers. Joy.

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