I bought my first home February 28, 2020, a condo in a building built in 1912. I moved my possessions two weeks later on St. Patrick’s Day. I left for Peoria, IL four days later on March 21, to help my mother at the end of her life. She died on Mother’s Day and we buried her a week later. I returned to my home in Minneapolis, May 23.
Although I have owned my condo for five months, it does not feel like home yet. In my mind, my home is still a one-bedroom apartment in an old house off an ally behind a hair salon about five blocks from here. It was my refuge after my loft apartment burned with my belongings in May 2013. I lived there alone and rebuilt my life.
I trained for and rode RAGBRAI twice while living there. I traveled domestic extensively for work and pleasure and even internationally once to Turkey. I published a posthumous memoir by my friend Todd about leukemia, the disease that finally took my mother. I started this blog, wrote the material for the book I’m publishing this fall, and started attending poetry open mics around the Twin Cities. That’s where I met Loren, my partner who I live with now.
My last two moves were in the midst of major crisis and upheaval.
Loren Niemi has been an innovative professional storyteller performing, directing, collecting, coaching, and teaching stories for over 40 years.
August 1, 2020 marks the release of his latest book: Point of View and the Emotional Arc of Stories: A handbook for writers and storytellers (written with Nancy Donoval).
The New Book of Plots: Constructing Engaging Narratives for Oral and Written Storytelling, completes the set of his instructional books on the craft of storytelling, both written and oral.
Inviting the Wolf In: Thinking About Difficult Stories (written with Elizabeth Ellis), is the theory behind these two companion books.
And his genuinely disturbing ghost story collection What Haunts Us is the winner of the 2020 Midwest Book Award in the ‘Fantasy / Sci-fi / Horror / Paranormal’ fiction category. It is an example of the application of the three other books.
If you know me only from my blog or have met me in passing at poetry readings, it may come as a surprise that I have a wicked sense of humor. Afterall, it is a natural antidote for pain and anger. I have decided to give up trying to be a serious literary author and play to my strengths. But more on that later.
Though I write poetry, short stories, and have several unfinished novels, by default I am a blogger. But not a very good one. Oh, the content is good but I lack focus and marketing and followers and blagh blagh blagh. My website isn’t optimized. Isn’t that what they tell us we are supposed to do? FYI: I’m not selling anything so lighten up. This is my own very public, private writing space, with some online lurkers that I know and some that I don’t.
It is Fall 2018 and I sit alone at a table in the back of what was then the Underground Music Café in St Paul, MN, attending one of the last meetings of Chris Title’s long running open mic series ‘Barbaric Yawp’. Across the room sitting alone at another table is Loren Niemi, who I do not know but had met at another reading series Summer 2018. I ask how he is. He tells me he is about to have a collection of ghost stories published. I congratulate him. We get on with our lives.
It is Winter 2019 and I stop attending open mics. I am glad to have met other writers in those communities but realize the open mics are taking time away from my actual writing and provide just enough encouragement to have me fool myself into thinking I am accomplishing something. But I stay in touch with my new community via social media and my blog. I see the news that Loren’s book, “What Haunts Us”is published on February 1, 2019 by Moonfire Publishing. He has a book launch and a reading but I miss it. Continue reading →
At least, it would have been. She died on Mother’s Day. She was 79 years, 10 months, and 23 days old. Leukemia took her or rather the malfunction of the body that leukemia causes. Near the end, I took an armpit temperature of 103 degrees because she was unconscious and her jaw was clenched. You can add 1-2 degrees to that for her actual temperature. Children’s cherry liquid Tylenol was no match for it. Systemic infection probably ended her life.
And it was a fast, peaceful death in her own bed, with her family. We were able to have a COVID-19 social distance visitation at the funeral home. There were so many beautiful flowers and quite a few people came to pay their respects. Her funeral was a private, gravesite service, followed by a family luncheon afterward. We even had a cake and candles for my nephew whose 35th birthday was the same day as the visitation.
My mother turns to me as we sit in the transfusion center, IV pumping platelets into her vein, to say “This will probably be the last time.” That was Friday May 1st.
On Monday May 4th, I check on her at 4am and she insists she needs a shower. I foolishly and half asleep agree to help her. She seems lucid. I have not yet learned to expect high fever and recognize delirium first thing in the morning. It is a disaster in which I am able to help her into the shower, begin to wash her, then have her tell me to turn it off and insist she is not in the shower. “I’m pretty sure you’re in the shower, mom.” Moving her out and putting her back in bed is a struggle and she almost falls to the floor. She can’t walk. Her knees give out and she is slippery. I put her in bed, give her meds, and tell her I will return.
At 7am, the fever is gone and I feed her. When my sister Maureen arrives to help me dress her and take her to the appointment, mom says, “I don’t think I can do it.” But I am determined. Whatever it takes, come hell or high water, we will get her to the cancer care center for her labs.
My mother is in end stages of Acute Leukemia. Infections are the leading cause of death for AML patients, followed by hemorrhaging. If you have a fever, you can’t get a blood test. If you can’t get a blood test, you can’t get a transfusion. If you can’t get a transfusion, you can not survive.
And here we are.
Mom’s fever has hovered between 101-102 since Saturday. No Tylenol or time can break it. Monday morning, she was too weak to get into the car to go to the cancer care clinic. She is complaining about pain, the result of an infection in her ear and gums. This is a persistent issue that her lack of white blood cells can not fight off. We call for antibiotics, but the medical profession has tunnel vision… the fever might be a virus… might be COVID-19… Continue reading →
My friend’s mother died on Monday, April 20, 2020, from COVID-19.
It is the first death from this disease in my social circle. But it will not be the last.
I spend my mornings helping my mother who is in late stage acute leukemia. Three days a week, she has blood tests to check if she requires a transfusion and two days a week she does. I am not allowed to accompany her into the cancer clinic or the infusion center because of the risk of transferring COVID-19.
As I wait in the car, I see people in various stages of cancer treatment come and go. Even the ones in wheelchairs are dropped in the roundabout and carted into the facility by masked and gloved staff. They range in age from their 40’s to 80’s. Some have hair, others don’t. Some can walk without help, others like my mom need a cane. Leukemia is the most common form of cancer in children 0-14 years of age, but they are at the children’s hospital. Continue reading →
A friend once said, “They call it the meantime for a reason…”
She was not referring to mean as meaning equivalency or purpose, but rather mean as in vicious and foul. And yes, enduring the decline in my mother’s health has been unpleasant. The knowing the end is coming but not knowing when or how is difficult. Yet, wishing for its end means only one thing.
As a daily practice, at the start of my workday, I take a sticky note and write ‘ODAT’ across the top, ‘TMI’ down the left. No, not ‘Too Much Information’… ‘Three Most Important’ (TMI) and ‘One Day At a Time’ (ODAT).
One Day at a Time, is a platitude but it’s worth attention. ‘The Now’ is all there is. Dogs have this figured out. The past only exists in memory and the future doesn’t exist at all- the unchangeable past and unknowable future. And so, what to do with this right now? Allow anger at past injustice eat me alive and ruin today? Or fear of the future, the what-ifs of anticipated trouble?
Sometimes, they are almost impossible to escape. But the good or bad news is, healing happens in its time, not our time. We must accept what is true today. Continue reading →