Janice Alexander

Looking Back: One Year Later

February 7, 2011 at 8:00 am , by

It’s been a long time since my last update, so I thought I’d let you know how I’ve been doing. (Here’s my original story about caring for my mother, who died of ovarian cancer, and my follow-up blog post.) My mom is especially on my mind today because it’s been exactly a year since she passed away. I can’t believe it’s already been a whole year—the 21 months we spent battling her cancer seemed like an eternity, and now it’s already been a whole year without her?! How can that be?! But life goes on.

Since I last checked in, my sister and I sold my mom’s house in Ohio and moved our family heirlooms and must-have mementos into a storage facility. Saying goodbye to the house was incredibly hard—it almost felt like saying goodbye to my mom all over again. I had to keep reminding myself (through wracking, snuffly, red-faced sobs—lovely) that it’s just a house. Just a house. The memories are what matter. But our last days in my mom’s house were literally the three days over the Christmas holiday (our first without her). It was a double-whammy of emotional sucker punches and—all said and done—a holiday I’m not in a hurry to remember.

But selling the house also brought some closure. I can’t tell you how nice it is not to be a long-distance homeowner, with all of the crazy coordination and stress (and bills!) that entails. (For a house you’re not living in! Oy.) It’s funny though, looking back over the year: Aside from the traumatic Christmas, I’ve been doing pretty good. Do I think about my mom all the time and cry occasionally? Of course. Do I still have moments of piercing sadness where my visceral, childlike reaction is simply “I want my mom.” Heck yes. But I keep feeling this strange sense that I shouldn’t be doing as good as I am. Most days I feel pretty good, emotionally. And some twisted part of my brain thinks that’s weird. Like I’m waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under me, waiting for some dramatic mega-breakdown that never came (and—fingers crossed—hopefully never will). I keep thinking, “I can’t possibly get off this easy, can I? Am I stuffing things down only to have them surface in some spectacularly destructive way 10 years from now?” Read more

Now What: Life After My Mom’s Death

September 22, 2010 at 10:00 am , by

amanda-momI ended our November story of my mom, Janice Alexander’s, fight with (and death from) ovarian cancer with her memorial service. But of course that’s not the end of the journey for my sister and me, or the end of her legacy. If you’ll let me share a little more (and Lord knows I’ve already taken up a lot of your time and, I suspect, tissues if you made it through all 4,375 words with me), I’ll tell you what it’s been like in the eight months since my mom passed away.

Those 21 months of stress and worry and exhaustion and pain—it’s funny how that sometimes feels like the easy part now. I feel fundamentally changed by my experience of being my mom’s caregiver. I can’t put my finger on what’s different, exactly. I imagine this must be (a very small version of) what a soldier feels when she returns home from battle. I’m still myself, of course. I miss my mom constantly, but I’ve gotten to the point where most of the time I can go about my day in good spirits, and feel that I’m living the life she’d want me to live. But in a strange way I feel simultaneously stronger from my experiences, and more brittle.

I went to a grief counselor for a few months after mom’s death (through Cancer Care, a wonderful organization). She said something that stuck with me. “It’s always going to be sad, but hopefully time will make it less painful.” So deceptively simple, but true. It’s okay to be sad. Forever. It’s just plain sad. But it’s going to be (and already is) less raw, less sharp. I’ll always carry this with me, but time will help dull the edges.

And then there’s the practical stuff. It turns out that managing my mom’s Ohio estate from New York is nearly as challenging as managing her care was. She did an amazing job of getting her affairs in order for us, but there were still a ton of decisions that had to be made and tasks to be done. My sister, Audrey, and I have made almost as many trips back to Ohio for the estate as we did while we were taking care of her. There was, I’m not ashamed to admit, a feeling of relief after the ordeal of her illness was over. Of feeling like, “This is a really crappy time, but maybe I’ll at least get a break.” Not so much. Mom lived alone and since neither of us want to move back to Ohio, Audrey and I had to deal with all of the usual legal and accounting stuff, plus her house and a lifetime’s worth of possessions. Because we’re out of town and the house is empty, every little task is about 10 times harder than it should be, and requires a ridiculous amount of coordination.

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