Friday, May 08, 2015

May 7th: It's Been Two Years Since...

It's May 7th, and all day long I kept thinking "Is it someone's birthday?", and, what is it I'm supposed to remember? And then, at approximately 9:30 tonight, I was aggravated at my husband, asking him to please sign Mother's Day cards for our sister-in-laws, and I was writing a note inside the first of several cards, and as I dated the card, I asked him "It's May 7th, right?" And when he said "Yes, it's the 7th..." I suddenly cried out, "Oh my God, this is the two-year anniversary of my Mom being diagnosed with cancer...it was on this date, two years ago, that she called me and said "Lisa, it's cancer. I have cancer." May 7th, 2013, at 7:15 in the morning. Why should I care about the date? Because it is a day that changed my mother's life, forever. And it changed the trajectory of my life, too. She survived an initial prognosis of a few months, and beat back cancer for over 12 months. When it bloomed again, with numerous brain tumors returning, she fought back with new rounds of radiation. And survived awhile longer, albeit with greatly reduced "quality of life". So perhaps I'm grateful for May 7th, 2013, because if the diagnosis had come later, we'd have less success, we'd have had far less time, together. But cancer took away our future together; it robbed my mother of her career as a medical records specialist, it removed her from the gym where she loved to work out, she could no longer run every morning--or any morning-- it damaged out her ability to offer counsel to her adoring (and adored!) granddaughter, her penchant for gardening at her younger daughter's home--the home she'd become a part of, for nearly 5 years (she moved to Lake Worth, Florida in August 2008),it ruined the laughter she could easily share with both her daughters, the easy way mom had of making everyone else feel like the most important person in the room.... and it ultimately destroyed her ability to walk and talk. Cancer morphed my beloved mother into a child, and me, her caregiver in the time she had with me (up here in Atlanta), into a mother, myself. I'd never truly thought deeply about this, other than to accept the inevitability of our roles shifting. The unavoidable pain, and loss. Hers. Then mine. Mother's Day is fast approaching, and this year will be an open wound. As I sit here typing this, I think of how often I've promised myself I will tell my mother's story (her many stories), someday. I think that time has come. I'll begin a new chapter in the book of my life, soon. I am creating a foundation, in her honor, and in her name. Stay tuned. And if you are fortunate enough to have your Mom here on earth with you, enjoy those moments, because they will one day, be gone, forever. And it's always far too soon. Peace, kids.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

After the Ashes, Fire...

It's been three months since our beloved Mom--Demetra Allender--died. I was substituting "transitioned" for "died", but the truth is, she died, passed-away, left this world. I thought the days immediately following, would be the hardest, but there was soooo much to do: paperwork and bills which Hansoo and I had to take care of, a very-brief "family-only" viewing, her eulogy and other pieces to write, her funeral to plan, etc., etc...and lots of travel to accomplish all that. My lovely sister--Tina--was an integral part of the funeral planning process. She made beautiful cards (she even included words from a poem I wrote, for Mom--on the Memorial Cards!) for everyone, arrived early at Sacred Heart Cathedral where Mom's funeral was held, and set out "Kisses from Heaven" (Mom's favorite was Hershey Kisses Milk Chocolate with Almonds) for everyone to enjoy. Tina and Breaz also selected the verses they read from the Bible, and Tina situated the beautiful floral arrangements we received, into a pleasing configuration. She and my sweet niece--her daughter Breaz--read at the funeral, just-after I read Mom's Eulogy. The graveside service was actually exhausting, because even though it was October 24th, a Saturday in Autumn, it was swelteringly hot and sticky. Once we were seated, I stood up to read two poems: the first was formerly-called "For Mom on Mother's Day, 2003", but I re-titled it "Mom, I Can See You". The second poem was from playwright Tennessee Williams, it's called "Heavenly Grass", which Mom heard me read at ol' Theya Helen Hartley's funeral, in Savannah, in August 2007. Our dear Daddy (he and Mom had been divorced over 30 years) had arranged for the cooling/shading-tent for us, chair set-ups, and paid many of the fees. Tina and Tom found a gorgeous Mother-of-Pearl Urn for Mom's Ashes to be placed in. I am mentioning some of the particulars, because I think this kind of "delegating" of duties made it far, far easier on each of us... And, because all of this was so coordinated, the funeral actually went as well as one could expect this sort of thing, to go.... I was definitely heartened to see so many folks who loved Mom, come out to "pay their respects". So, when were the hardest days? Well, um, that would be....Now. Immediately following Mom's funeral and Ashes-Interment, I knew I would address the many items I'd wanted to--but had absolutely NO time for, during the past two, nearly three years (Mom was only diagnosed in May, 2013, but, before Mom got ill, I had begun working as POA for Daddy, who was very, very sick with Stage 5 Kidney Disease; before that, there were numerous illnesses of a serious nature throughout my husband's family). On the short-list of my To-Do's: *Submit poetry for work-shops. *Submit poetry for publication. *Complete a New Voice-Over Demo, specifically for Animation/Gaming. I accomplished all three tasks--not within three months, but within...three weeks. I went to see my fabulous Talent Agent--Jana VanDyke, and she is patient with me, and yet is encouraging me, to ready myself to begin-again, auditioning for TV/Film. I am also completing writing my play which will eventually become a screenplay, "The Taste of Shapes", very soon. So, the next few weeks, I'll be writing until my arms ache, and my eyes bleed. I'll be checking in here with you, kids, and much more often than these past few months. Because as hard as this is, writing about this, it's much harder, when I don't write. Just ask Jessica Handler, author of "Braving the Fire: Writing through Grief and Loss", which is quickly becoming my guide for Living.... My personal message for all of you out there in Blog-o-sphere, in Facebook-land, in the Twitter-verse: When you are filled with Joy, write. When you are devastated, write more.... Peace, kids.

Update

I typed up a new post, yesterday...on the three-month Anniversary of our beloved Mom's death. But somehow, it didn't post...I had, however, taken a photo of the screen, since I have a couple of people in my life, who seldom do this thing called "reading". Rather than becoming hurt or upset when they miss a post which I believe would be meaningful for them, I decided to begin taking a snapshot of said posts(s), for future sharing with them.... More here, later today. Peace, kids.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Eulogy for Mom--Demetra Leonora Allender, May 28th, 1939-October 12th, 2014.

So it ends. The life of the person who birthed me into this world, the person whose life I fought to save, for the past 17 months, has left this world. I must write the Eulogy for Mom, for her funeral, very soon. I've already written background-info for the priest (she's having a Roman Catholic Funeral). I've listed who she is "survived-by", and written a brief bio for the funeral home which handled her cremation, because they are posting that info, as well as announcements of the arrangements, etc., on their website for us. And now? The Eulogy.... How do I begin to describe Mom? Well, she was gorgeous: a dark-haired, doe-eyed Greek beauty, with olive skin and defiant, curly black hair. Hair she often despised, as she found it "unmanageable". I'd say her hair was like Mom: untamed, and un-tame-able, Mom lived her life by her own rules. She exited childhood and leapt quickly into marriage, a marriage that although it didn't last forever, lasted a good long while, a marriage that even Mom would later say was "a good, strong marriage". A marriage that provided her with two daughters who adored her. Mom was not afraid of hard work, or getting sweaty, or dirty. Her love of the gym, running, jogging, bicycling, and gardening, all delightful for her. In a word, "Work-out" describes Mom, because in addition to the obvious act of working-out, Mom gave us all a mental-workout, as she was always up-to-date on world events, and politics. She loved all things CNN, and MSNBC. Lived for Anderson Cooper, and Chris Matthews. "Meet the Press", and "Face the Nation". Mom was active in campaigning, too. I asked my sister, Tina, if she could name one word to describe Mom, what word would she use, and she immediately said: "forgiving", and, 'sacrifice', because she made sure we always had everything we needed..." Tina's correct. Mom's forgiving heart meant we could come to her, even if we'd made a mistake--unafraid, knowing we would be unconditionally LOVED...and her total commitment to providing for others may well have been her biggest flaw, in that she often neglected her own needs, choosing to help her family, no matter the cost. And Mom welcomed us with her faith, always. For me, a person who for decades did not have a sense of God, her patience and example of selflessness deeply affected me. Eventually, I returned to the Church, and Mom, then-employed by The Jewish Center in Dunwoody, Georgia, as I discussed my flourishing curiosity about all things spiritual, remarked "You know, Lisa, if I weren't Catholic, I'd be Jewish...I love the rituals, the food, and you know, Jesus was Jewish..." Shortly after Mom was diagnosed, she said her faith was strong, but she wondered if it was 'strong enough". I saw her whip through day after day, week after week, month after month, of Radiation Therapy, and the bi-monthly Chemotherapy, and the attendant acupuncture to improve her balance, the physical therapy to help her walk a bit, the extra supplements she had to swallow, often painfully, and I saw a woman, undeterred, determined, and brave. We attended Mass together, in Newnan. We saw Mom get stellar results from her treatments that as her physicians stated, "only 1% of cancer patients receive." And when times got tougher, she was able to find joy even in the darkest of moments, by painting, or attending a drum-circle session, playing Bingo, or enjoying gelato. One day when Mom was especially tired, the Chaplain at CTCA, Newnan, came by and left a book for us, outside our door. Knowing Mom needed her rest, I brought the book, entitled "Jesus Calling" inside, setting it on a table out of her sight, as she was already falling asleep. When she asked "Who was that?" I answered simply, "Why, it was Chaplain Lawanda, she brought "Jesus Calling". "Well, tell him I'm not ready", was her curt reply. Such was Mom. Inclusive, loving, always-quick-witted, and always there for us. Sunday before last, Mom was ready, and I watched her fly away to a place of peace. We Love You, Mom.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Ho Chang "Big Henry" Kwon

On September 14th, hubby Hansoo and I received an early-morning call from the Rehabilitation Center in which both Mom--Demetra Allender, and Hansoo's Dad--Ho Chang Kwon, have been living. Mom has been there for over two months; "Appa Kwon" for only eight days. I remember fearing for both my husband, and for myself, and I admit to--with great shame-- feeling a prayer forming in my heart "Please don't let it be Mom." When I heard my husband say "Oh God, Oh God, Oh God." I knew that meant that my wonderful father-in-law, tiny Mr. Kwon, had passed away. "Appa K" was a funny, smart fellow with a quick smile, and an even quicker wit. Although he fought valiantly in the South Korean Army during the Korean War, it was the war of both prostate and bladder cancer, which took him. I was honored to have he and "Omma Kwon" come live with us, way back in September of 2010. I used to tread cautiously, because I knew there were generational, and cultural differences, and I knew that could (possibly) be a problem. I needn't have worried. "Appa K." treated me as if I were one of his own brood, and that means he held me accountable if he didn't like something, and he heaped generous praise on me if he loved something. What he hated: my "way" with our pampered doggies, "You're spoiling those dogs," he would say... What he loved: my cooking: soups, stews, and especially, my Greek Potatoes, and my Sour Cream Pound Cake... What I'll miss: His bright smile, inquisitive nature, political and spiritual discussions (we often disagreed, but he was always respectful), and his deep love for his family. My prayer is that "Omma K"--my sweet mother-in-law is able to find peace amongst all this grief. I'm so grateful to have had both of them, in my life. I plan on talking "Omma K" into taking a course with me, at Jo-Anne's or Michael's, as soon as she is able. Give the older adults in your life a hug today. And any older person you see today, give them a smile, and a kind word. Do it in honor of "Appa K". Peace, kids.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Still Grateful.

And so our Mom--Demetra Allender--has had another Mother's Day with me, and another (milestone!) Birthday--75 as of the 28th of May! We are overjoyed to have her here, with us. And yet....sorrow is growing, over what may never be, again... Mom, running, exercising to the point of sweat and joy. Mom, walking. Mom, standing. While we continue to have great hope, and while we see beauty in Mom's new attitude of steroid-fueled strength, and balance, and confidence, aided by a new hair color (soft brown), we are bereft. Bereft of what was, and all the while, still quite grateful, for what is.... Peace, kids.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Auspicious Anniversary: May 7th

It was one year ago, today. "It's cancer, Lisa. I have cancer.", said our Mom, somewhat breathless, and I heard her, but immediately went into what is known as "denial mode". "What? That's not possible, Mom. I think you should get a second opinion..." My voice, and my belief that this was a "mistake", trailed off, into oblivion. So, here we are. My sis--Tina and I, her husband Tom, my husband Hansoo, and Mom--Demetra's lovely grand-daughter, Breaz, all shell-shocked from this. Traumatized, made numb. I must add that our Daddy--John Robert Allender--is also devastated by this diagnosis. Daddy is well aware of doctors, hospitals, and illness, having survived several heart attacks before finally quitting smoking (after a (temporarily) "fatal" heart attack, on January 17th, 2004), and having been diagnosed with Stage 5 Kidney Disease, last year, just a few months before Mom's diagnosis. Daddy and Mom have been divorced since 1986, which means they have been divorced just about as long as they were married....and still. Neither ever re-married, though both had numerous opportunities, and very interested partners. So, today is the Anniversary of Mom's diagnosis of cancer. But just as a divorce does not mean the end of Love, neither does cancer mean the end of Health. Mom is, in all other ways, healthy and bright, and beautiful as ever. We head to the facility and staff that helped us to get where we are today--with our living, breathing, loving Mom-- Cancer Treatment Centers of America, tomorrow, for Laser Surgery to shrink the tumors in her brain which have just now re-surfaced, and begun to grow. We will be successful, but it's tiring to hop into "treatment" mode when she believed she had finished up all this, last August. But cancer comes back, tries again. But we--we try, harder. Peace, kids.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Carpe Diem! Actor's Express does 1955.

How many of us fantasize about "simpler times", or long for a chance to live in the (perceived-to-be-kinder) past? For a few decades now, Americans have been told by mental health professionals, pop psychologists like Dr. Phil, and especially by that former queen of TV--Oprah Winfrey-- that we can "re-invent ourselves". That there is much dignity in discovering WHO we can be, by slipping into an as-yet untried persona, by getting "outside[our]comfort zone". But what if we could re-invent ourselves by living in a place where time means another time, where living day-to-day means shedding our former selves, and all the hurt we've accrued as a result of our painful, in-the-moment, living? The premise for escaping to a place where one can re-invent oneself, is at the white-hot center of a remarkable new play, Maple and Vine, currently running at Actor's Express. A young urban couple who are dealing with a recent trauma, make the leap to living in the 1950's--not generic 1950's --but 1955, to be exact. It's 1955, everyday, always. An enterprising group affords them an opportunity where they can be fully present, by living in the past. Playwright Jordan Harrison has fashioned a stylish, stylized 1955, complete with gleaming, grinning, happy-homemakers and their steadfast, blue-collar husbands, coming home to their crab-puff-making ("...I know crab is exotic, but....everything is better with cream cheese...")wives. Director Kate Warner has truly seized the day (and time!) by casting a terrific ensemble that, at a recent Sunday matinee', had us laughing until it hurt. The fun thing about actually living in the past, is that both husband Ryu, (a poignant Michael Sung-Ho) and wife Katha, (an effervescent Kate Donadio) get to create a new history for themselves. It's not all fun-and-games, though, as 1955 reveals itself (how soon we forget!) to be less inclusive-- a place where secrets are held, and there is a code of denial, when secrets aren't secret, any longer. The repression is real, and palpable. Stunning interactions between Ryu, Katha, and Dean, (John Benzinger, with acting chops as a sharp as a fully-loaded .45), Roger/Omar (a tender Jeremy Harrison), Ellen/Jenna (a vulnerable, revelatory Tiffany Morgan) make this a "must-do" theatre event. Special notice must be made of the lighting (Mike Post), sound (Joseph P. Monaghan III--the music is captivating, effectively setting the tone for the play), and scene design (Isabel A. and Moriah Curley-Clay)that literally feels like a window into this 1955-world. Costume designer Sydney Roberts appears to have had great fun with this; the costumes (think early-"Mad Men") will make you want to play dress-up . I plan to see the show again, and think organizing a dress-like-1955-night would be genius.(Hint, hint, marketing department at Actor's Express). Maple and Vine runs for two more weeks at Actor's Express. Box Office: (404)607-7469, or order tickets online, www.actors-express.com. Please note this production contains brief nudity.