Merry Christmas Eve, Everyone. The sun has just set and outside is a crisply invigorating 16 degrees. There's just enough snow on the ground to make it feel Christmas-y and if there was any more, it would be ideal for some candle-light cross-country skiing. But inside, we are warm and cozy and there is an electric candle glowing in each front window (yes the photo is of an LED candle with a realistic flickering flame). The tree lights are also reflected in the window, so it's time for a little year-end reflection of my own.
January started off with a farewell-to-the-temps party, given by my co-workers at Minneapolis Public Housing, where I'd worked for almost 3 years. There was no money in the budget to permanently hire any of the temps, so we were given our notices just before the end of 2011. I was sad to leave the friends I'd made there, but excited to move on to my next assignment with Accountemps.
In February, I started with Greentree in downtown St Paul. Other than a few days more than 10 years ago, I'd never worked in "the other downtown", so it was a bit of an adventure. I learned a couple different bus routes and got a lot of reading done in my 2.5-hour round trip commute, eventually finishing all the books in Dana Stabenow's "Kate Shugak" series. Lunch was an opportunity to learn the skyway system or sample the different food truck wares when warm weather started. From my 10th floor cubicle, I could even look down on Rice Park and read the names on the trucks to decide what I might eat on days I didn't bring a lunch. I also tracked the progress of the newest light rail construction: my skyway walks took me over the most eastern few blocks. Although it isn't scheduled to open until 2014, the progress they made last summer was impressive.
March in Minnesota was the warmest on record, with leaves budding and grass greening a full month earlier than usual. Craig and I took a Sunday drive to Stillwater and, walking up and down the streets of the historic downtown, it felt like summer. In April, I also walked to meet the family at the Edina Grill for Easter brunch. I started, but didn't finish a "bike every day" challenge. Craig did much better: 30 rides in 30 days!
Mother's Day in May was a good excuse for a day trip to New Ulm to treat Mom to dinner at the Kaiserhoff restaurant and take a tour of the Schell Brewery grounds and gift shop (the actual brewery wasn't open for tours that day). Before the month was over, Mom learned she had breast cancer, but the prognosis was excellent: a lumpectomy in June and 6 weeks of radiation would most likely wipe it out. I continued to make cards for online challenges, including this encouragement card to Mom.
Summer was really heating up and I was feeling blessed to have central air for the first time. But we were still able to have a 4th of July picnic on Mom's deck. And I met my friends from MPHA for dinner at Stella's Fish Cafe and drinks on the rooftop of the Uptown Cafeteria. Our Robinson Family picnic in August was actually cooler than a few other years. We took Mom to the Bayside Grille on lake Minnetonka for her 84th birthday, and the weather, the food and the family time were perfect!
In August, when Mom's radiation treatments were done, a scan showed a "spot" on her liver, which led to another biopsy and another diagnosis, this one not so promising: stage 4 bile duct cancer. The doctors gave her "4-12 months to live"! I don't have to tell anyone who has been through a loved-one's terminal cancer how unreal those words sound. Mom wasn't sick, she was still walking almost daily at the Mall of America, driving me to get groceries, going to church, and keeping up with all of her other activities. She quickly made the decision to undergo chemotherapy. And she didn't discuss her diagnosis with many people outside of the family. I think she thought she'd beat it and didn't want a lot of sympathy.
Nephew Garrett (Craig's son) came for a visit with his girlfriend at the end of September and announced their engagement! Garrett's mom decided to throw them a wedding in December so that Mom and the other two grandmothers would have a chance to attend. I offered to make the invitations and just happened to have a boxed set of everything we would need; all I had to do was format and print them. During Mom's 2-week break after her 3rd chemo treatment was over, she started to experience fatigue and shortness of breath. She decided she'd had enough chemo.
The first few weeks of October were a blur of activity. We decided to contact a hospice center because Mom didn't seem to be getting her energy back as we had hoped. They stressed that they would take care of her medical needs, but she would require family and friends to check in on her on a daily basis if she wanted to remain in her home. So, we set up a schedule of visits. I was there on Saturday, the 13th, and she thought she'd be able to go for a walk at Southdale, but once there, she was too out of breath to walk more than a few yards before resting. When we got back to her house, oxygen was delivered and we were shown how to use it. Although I had to go home and didn't get a chance to see her use the oxygen, I heard through the family that it really helped her energy and mental state and she seemed like her old self all the next week.
Saturday, October 20th, Aunt Caroline gave me a ride to Mom's for my visit. I used my own key when she didn't answer the doorbell and we both went in the house. We found Mom lying on the bed and she had passed away. The oxygen generator was turned on, but the tube was on the floor beside her bed. She had had only 2 months since her diagnosis, and to say we were unprepared for that outcome at that time is an understatement.
And now the last two months have been a blur: a funeral and Thanksgiving and my birthday and a wedding (Garrett and Rebecca, December 1st) and Christmas, all without Mom. But I remind myself almost daily of how grateful I am to have had her for almost 59 years (my lifetime) and how blessed she was to live 84 years with very few health problems and family and friends who loved her and will always remember her.
Only by taking some time off from work was I able to finish even a few things on my Christmas list: I made and sent cards after three missed years, I decorated the tree with my favorite ornaments, displayed my tin collection on the mantel, bought and wrapped a few gifts and made sure I had some food for my quiet evening at home. Tomorrow I will be with family. And wherever you may be, I wish you the warmth and comfort of loved ones, memories to treasure always and the greatest joy this Christmas!