Not Quite Ready to Finish the Long Goodbye

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I have a stack of unopened sympathy cards sitting on my kitchen counter. They’ve been there for almost a month now. Some have arrived in my mailbox and found their way onto the pile, and my mother has delivered a few more.

I can’t bring myself to open a single one of them.

Grieving isn’t new for me, and it’s been a long, long road – this journey of saying goodbye to my father. Ronald Reagan called his Alzheimers the “long goodbye”, and he was right. Since the day my mom called to tell me the news six years ago, it’s been an incredibly difficult, painful but often beautiful experience.

20130517-192504.jpgI remember the first time I met my parents for breakfast – something that had become a weekly tradition – and my dad couldn’t say my name. He knew me and enjoyed our conversation, but he just couldn’t form words the way he used to. He was restless, so we left the table and found a seat on the bench in the front of the restaurant while waiting for my mom to finish up. We sat there holding hands, much like we had when I was a little girl. No words needed, just love flowing between us. It was a sad but lovely day, because I understood that even if my father couldn’t say my name, he could still love me.

I recall the family dinner where the noise and chaos got the best of my father. He sat on the couch, rocking back and forth, a few stray tears wending their way down his cheeks. My mom squatted in front of him, put her forehead against him, and spoke softly while she stroked his head until his distress was gone. It made me cry, but it was also the manifestation of true love. I gained a deep respect for my mother that day, because I witnessed her vows of “for better or worse” lived out with tenderness and kindness. I understood that while Alzheimers might changed the dynamics of relationships, it couldn’t change the foundation of relationships.

IMG_3479And then there were the field trips that Dad and I took while my mom ran errands or went to appointments. When something we did sparked a memory, he got excited and – using sweeping gestures, pointing, and single telegraphed words – struggled to share that memory with me. I loved those times together, because they gave me back a tiny piece of my father who was leaving just a little bit more every day.

And I remember my last real visit with my dad. I’d flown in late the night before from a business trip to New York City, and I hurried to my parents’ home before a busy day of meetings began. I sat and just held his hand as he lay in the hospital bed that had been moved into the guest room. I told him how much I loved having him as a father, and that as a child I completely took him for granted. I told him that I thought it was the best compliment anyone could pay their father, because it meant that he was my rock, that I never worried if he’d come home. It never occurred to me that it was possible for fathers not to be consistent and reliable. I never doubted that there would be food on the table or clothes or vacations. And when I messed up, he forgave me and helped me solve my problems. Tears flowed freely for both of us as I talked, and he mouthed a simple thank you to me. It broke my heart that I was losing my father, but I felt so very blessed to have the privilege of telling him what he meant to me.

And so a month after his funeral, the sympathy cards sit unopened. Maybe some day I’ll have the fortitude to read them, but not today.

Today I’m just not quite ready for the long goodbye to be completely over.

You can find this essay on Huffington Post, where Lisa blogs about life, being a mother, wife, friend and woman in tech, and the world of open data and civic tech.

Why We Need to Show Up for the Hard Stuff

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The text came when I’d already crawled in bed after an exhausting day of meetings.

I almost didn’t read it.

I almost left it until morning.

Lisa, I’m here at Mom and Dad’s.
I think you should come.
He likely won’t make it through the night.

I laid there in the dark for a moment, almost upset that I’d read it. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to be there for this – the end. I didn’t want to see my dad like that. I didn’t want to do any of this.

On the long drive down to my folks’ place, a wash of fear swept over me. What if this – how my dad was now – what if this was how I remembered him? I didn’t want that memory to be the one that came to mind when someone mentioned my dad years from now. I wanted to remember him as the self-reliant, confident, kind man that he was before Alzheimer’s. I didn’t want to recall their guest room with the hospital bed, the wheelchair, him in his hospital gown. I didn’t want to watch my father slip away from me, leaving me without a dad to lean on for the rest of my life.

I think we’re often like that with things in life that fill a need for us. We don’t want them to change, and if they do, we don’t want to witness it. I think it’s why we work so hard to “fix” the people in our lives who’ve changed into something other than our ideal of who they could or should be. I think it’s why we avoid the mirror as we get older; it’s easier to believe we are still as we once were. As long as we don’t really look, really acknowledge it, we can continue as we see ourselves in our own mind’s eye in whatever ideal form we want to believe is still true.

We spent the night sitting vigil at my father’s bedside, telling stories of some of our favorite memories of him. We laughed, we talked, we cried. But we did it together as a family. And when Dad’s breathing would stop for what seemed like forever, we’d grow silent and listen, wondering if this was the moment we’d have to say goodbye. We held his hand, kissed his cheek and told him we loved him. It was one of the hardest nights I’ve been through, but it was also one I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.

There is a purity that comes into our experience when we are willing to see it for all that it is, to face the hard parts as well as the good. And when we avoid the difficult part of our relationships, the harder, uglier side of life, we may get to keep a prettier picture in our head, but we lose out on experiencing the full beauty of the journey. I learned that night that there is beauty and poignancy that will never be exposed through the easy moments in life; we only discover those when we show up and face the hard parts with courage – even when we don’t want to.

As I drove back home the next morning, I felt peace. Not because I was losing my father but because I’d been there for him, I’d shown up for the hard stuff, and I would carry with me the complete memory of him – all of it. I’d remember him as a young man heading out to work while I stayed home with mom. I’d recall him teaching me to drive and giving me advice about boys when I was a teen. I’d have my memories of him talking to my daughter as she followed him around his yard. And I’d hold close the memory of our family gathered around him, making sure he wasn’t alone in this last step of life. The whole of that memory is far better, far more precious, than any single memory would ever be.

You can find this essay on HuffingtonPost as well.

My father holding me, 1966.

My father holding me, 1966.

I Have Become “That Mom”

"Mom Making Breakfast" by Thomas Abeyta at age 4.

“Mom Making Breakfast” by Thomas Abeyta at age 4.

I have become that mom.

I’m the one who shows up over three hours late for school registration and endures the rolling eyes of parent volunteers who can’t imagine anything more important than standing in long lines to fill out identical information on eleven different forms – the same information, by the way, from the packet I sent back to school only a week late last year.

I used to be on the other side of the table, the one who watched the moms who showed up at school in their business suits, fresh lipstick and high heels. I used to sigh quietly, judging them just a bit for their choices, for not putting their kids first, for picking their career over family. I used to feel pretty smug about it, too, because I saw myself as making all the right choices.

Sure, I talked the right talk and said polite things in public. I’d say things like, “Oh, I admire working moms, because they have it so much harder than me. I don’t know how they get it all done. I could never do that.” Or sometimes when I was talking to a working mom, I’d tell her, “You know, it’s all about choices. As long as yours fit your values and your lifestyle, that’s all that matters.” But inside I had my own opinion about the kinds of values that a working mom must have to make the choices she did.

On the inside, I was judging. I was weighing her choices in the balance and believing that mine were far superior. I was so involved with my kids that I often lobbied for new PTA committees that I could run. I was the teacher’s right hand man. I was “in” with the school administration, and it felt really good.

And to be honest, I loved my life the way it was. It worked for me, and it was a privilege to get to stay home. I wouldn’t trade any other choice for the time I got to do that, because it made me happy and, thus, made my kids happy.

When my husband and I sat down five years ago and talked about the changes that would come if I did, indeed, launch my own company, APPCityLife, we talked about what it would mean for our home life. We made the choice together that it was worth it and that I should pursue this passion.

Let me just say I had absolutely no idea what I was in for. I knew I’d be busy and that my time wouldn’t be completely my own anymore. I knew that there would be events at school that I’d have to miss and that sometimes my youngest would have to let himself into an empty house. I figured that there would be a trip here and there that would mean that the older kids would have to step up and help out with things around the house and with watching their younger sibling. But I had absolutely no idea the extent of the demands that would be placed on me or how little of my time would actually be my own. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know what was coming, because I might have missed out on one of the most challenging, exciting and rewarding experiences of my life.

And so now I’ve come full circle to being that mom – the one I used to judge. Now I miss some of my kid’s school events because of a meeting with a client. Supper is late almost every night, and it isn’t the gourmet version we enjoyed when I stayed home. Actually, far more often than I ever thought possible, supper is a carton of leftovers eaten cold at 9 PM when I finally make it home. I’ve had twenty-four hours on the ground between business trips in separate countries, and the bottom of the laundry basket hasn’t been spotted in months. The fold and delivery service I used to provide to my family has become more of a that-basket-of-laundry-is-clean-so-dig-around-and-find-what-you-need service. And I’ve even had to tag team a pediatrician appointment with my husband so we could get our sick kid to the doctor and still make our meetings. I’m sure that one raised eyebrows, but I was too busy rushing out of the examining room to get to city hall on time to even notice or care what anyone else thought.

So the next time you look at someone and judge her as being that mom – whichever side of the table you find yourself on – just remember that life might just give you the opportunity to walk in her shoes, and you may find you like it.

If you relate, you might want to join our I am That Mom Group on Facebook

This blog was also published on Huffington Post.

Why Every Public School Needs a Mobile App

Lisa Abeyta:

From our corporate blog: my own experience that led me to conclude that every public school should have a mobile app to have a direct line of communication to the parents and community they serve.

Originally posted on What's APPening®:

I was cleaning up in the kitchen when I heard a text message alert from my phone. Within seconds, another came through. I opened my son’s first, who never texted me during his classes at the nearby high school. It simply said, “I love you, Mom.” My daughter, who attended the same school, had sent a text with the very same message. While I like a message of gratitude and love as much as the next mom, when both of my children texted me moments apart when they should be busy in class, I knew something was wrong. Within minutes, I heard a helicopter hovering overhead. I tried in vain to reach the school; the switchboard automatically routed my call to their voicemail system. I tried to reach my children on their phones, but there was no reply.

It wasn’t until our local news station reported a SWAT situation and school…

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Pioneering Women in Venture Capital: Kathryn Gould

Lisa Abeyta:

“Make unconventional choices that fit YOUR OWN aspirations.”

Originally posted on Steve Blank:

I met Kathryn Gould longer ago than either of us want to admit. Kathryn has been the founding VP of Marketing of Oracle, a successful recruiter, a world class Venture Capitalist, a co-founder of a Venture Capital firm, a great board member, one of my mentors and most importantly a wonderful friend. During her career she made a big point of not telling you: she was one of the first women Venture Capitalist’s in Silicon Valley (along with M.J. Elmore and Ann Winblad) – “I’m just a VC.”  Or one of the first women co-founders of a VC firm – “I co-founded a great firm.” She was twice as smart and just as tough as the guys. She has been a mentor and role model not just for a generation of women VC’s and CEO’s but for all VC’s and CEO’s – and I’m honored to have been one…

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Going Home

My father holding my daughter, 1991

My father holding my daughter, 1991

 

 

(Click here to read on Huffington Post)

Tonight, my mother and my brother moved the bed out of her guest room.

Tomorrow morning, a truck will deliver a hospital bed to take its place.

And sometime after that, an ambulance with my father in tow will make the trek from the hospital to my mother’s and father’s home.

Only a week ago, he was sitting on a bench in the warm afternoon sun surrounded by loved ones, relatives, and friends, greeting and shaking hands with anyone who wanted to see him.

Six days ago, he was sitting on his own couch with his beloved dogs, Molly and Cassie, by his side.

Five days ago, he was sitting at the kitchen table with my mother eating dinner before walking around his house, checking and touching this and then that as he moved from room to room.

Three days ago, he was shopping with my mother, helping her push the shopping cart. But his hand kept dropping from the handle. He couldn’t hold the grip with his right hand.

The ambulance arrived and whisked him to the hospital. It appeared to be a mild stroke, and the staff decided to keep him overnight just to watch.

Two days ago, my dad didn’t get to go home as planned. He had a rough night and started having a bit of trouble swallowing. The doctors had some serious, painful talks with my mother. They used words like “new baseline for his alzheimers” and “might not get better”.

One day ago, Dad didn’t get to go home as planned. He had enough trouble swallowing that he didn’t eat, and he didn’t get out of bed. The doctors had even more serious conversations with my mom. They said things like “can’t go home without round-the-clock care”.

Today, my father didn’t get to go home as planned. He failed yet another swallow test. The doctors had more bad news. They used words like “hospice” and “quality of life”. But then, with my mother’s gentle cajoling and patient care, my dad ate some mashed potatoes and pudding. His first food in days.

Tomorrow, my dad is going home. He won’t walk through the door, and he won’t sit on the couch with his beloved Molly and Cassie. But he will be home. Around those he loves and those who love him. My mom says, “We’re just going to go home and live our life.” Sure, it will be with hospital beds, and nurses and social workers. But it will be home.

Tomorrow, my dad is going home.

Melting Down in the Frozen Foods Aisle

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There was a tension in her tone that made me look up from the frozen food section, my quest for finding the no sugar added grape juice concentrate completely forgotten.

At the other end of the aisle was a young mother, her back to me. She raised her arms to her head, holding it for a moment and then pressed her hands to her eyes, her back straight and shoulders tensed. A young boy was busy pulling a box of cereal from the stroller in front her.

“Just stop!” she said, the tenor of her voice filled with anger. But more than that, there was panic and desperation, too.

I’d been there before and knew she was close to her breaking point.

I hurried away from my cart until I was beside her and gently asked her if she was ok.

She looked at me, her eyes full of tears. “No, no I’m not,” she said. “I just can’t think. He keeps pulling things, and asking things, and I forgot my list and can’t remember what I need to get. And I have to remember. I have to.”

The little boy was now standing in front of me, holding up a plastic tow truck which, despite the cardboard packaging, was emitting loud honking noises. I squatted in front of him, still looking up at the young woman beside me.

“I’ve been there. It’s hard,” I said. “How about I talk to your son here for a minute while you gather your thoughts?”

“Thank you,” she said. “I need that.”

She roughly brushed her eyes with the back of her hand, and I noticed her hand was shaking.

She stood there quietly for several minutes while I conversed with her young son. He showed me every button on the truck, how the lights flashed, and how he wanted to take the truck home if Mommy would let him. He told me he was three and that he needed a truck that had a hook on the back like this one. He was a ball of energy and talked nonstop for the few moments I visited with him.

Finally bored with the truck, he set it down and hurried to the stroller packed with several items of food and tugged at the box of cereal still lodged underneath several cans of vegetables. He said wanted to show me the new cereal they were going to buy.

His mom, now calm, thanked me for helping her. She told her story to me as we took up most of the space in the frozen vegetables section of the grocery store. Her husband had dropped her off with her son so that she could use a $50 voucher a local food pantry had given her little family. She’d forgotten the list at home – the list where she’d calculated exactly what they could buy with that voucher. And as the panic rose over not knowing what to get, she felt herself buckling under the weight of the responsibility – and the feeling that she’d failed. The nonstop talking and questions of her happy three-year-old were just too much for her.

And with the gift of space in those few moments, she’d collected her thoughts and remembered the missing items on her list.

As I walked back down the aisle to my abandoned cart, I heard her conversing gently with her son.

My heart went out to that young mother. I’d been in her shoes – that overwhelmed place of too many things crashing down at once and then lashing out at a child in that moment. And I’ve felt the shame of being that mom. I felt a deep respect for her, because in that moment when a stranger reached out, she accepted the help. That is not easy.

It was a good reminder that sometimes all we need is a kind word, a moment of generosity, to help ease the burden of living and avoid melting down in the frozen food aisle.