Crying when I see an ambulance…

I’m driving south on Interstate 5 and an ambulance, with lights flashing, in the fast lane, is headed north on Interstate 5.

I watch it come closer and then start to cry. Fighting the tears. Biting my lip. Willing the tears to just.go.away.

Then I cry.

Ugly cry.

It happens the exact same way EVERY SINGLE TIME.

My mom’s been gone 8 years and I still have this gut-grief reaction to seeing an ambulance. It always startles me for a moment.  Then…. bear with me… it oddly comforts me.

Maybe it’s more accurate to say that I continue to get more comfortable with the fact that grief never leaves me.  And I finally understand that deep grief comes with deep love…

I’ll try to explain what I mean…


We live in a small(ish) valley. The major hospitals are North of us, in Portland. An ambulance driving north with lights on means someone from a smaller hospital in an outlying community in our valley is critically ill (not lifeflight-ill, but small-hospital-can’t-handle-the-complexity-ill) and headed for help.

My mom was in one of those ambulances in January about 8 years ago.

And it was the last time she was ever on Interstate 5.  It was a one-way ride. None of us ever entertained the thought that she would never see home again.

I remember when our Corvallis hospital made the decision to transfer her to Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) and there was a scurry to get her moved.

My mom had a MRSA infection in her blood. She needed infectious disease management for a really complicated health-profile. She was super sick and needed more help than our local hospital could give her.

They loaded her in an ambulance, paramedics reassuring us they would take the very best care of her, closed the doors and took off with lights flashing headed for OHSU about 90 minutes away.

I remember my dad driving behind the ambulance, upset because he couldn’t ride with her, trying to stay close to the ambulance. I was following in another car. I could see glimpses of the paramedic in the back with her and, true to his promise, you could see him holding her hand and talking with her the entire trip. Comforting her. I was driving and trying to fill in details via the phone with my sister, asking the neighbors to take care of the farm, calling to let work know I’d be out.  I was hoping my dad was paying better attention to the road/rules/drivers than I feared he was…

I followed that ambulance terrified for my mom, heartbroken for my dad and HOPEFUL we were headed to the help that would figure out how to save my mom.

It never occurred to me how the story would end. I was clinging blindly to hope.

OHSU was incredible. They tried everything, experimented with brand new drugs, never gave false-hope, FOUGHT as hard and smart as they could.

MRSA won.

My mom died 3-10-10.

Driving back down Interstate 5 that day was as traumatic as it had been going up behind that ambulance. This time my sister and I were driving away mom-less daughters, with a dad so grief stricken he was compliant and numb and totally lost.

Our world was totally, inexplicably, irrevocably changed.

Forever changed.

And I would begin to understand grief.

And over the next few years I would come to view grieving in a whole different light. Not shameful, with a time limit or mandatory sadness that would disappear.  I began to view grief as a permanent part of who I was, expanding my empathy and teaching me critical lessons about the honor of being able to lean-in and embrace someone else with a breaking/broken heart.

Where at first my grief was raw and dangerous and soul-deep hurt…  Like…  steal your breathe and literally throw you to your knees. Now, years later, grief is this ever-present reminder that while something good is gone and life is different; I can remember that it’s only because I had something so good, that this sadness actually has grown, for me, into an odd form of comfort and reassurance that I was blessed with a deep love.

Kind of like ‘Hello. Yes, grief, I see you; you’re kind of hard to miss. Yes, grief, of course I remember my mom is dead and gone.  I don’t forget. Not for a single moment, except sometimes when I first wake-up; but I always remember within seconds… I promise. But yeah, thank you for reminding me how special she was and how lucky I was to have had her in my life…’

‘Grief is just love with no place to go.’ 

Someone who has just lost someone — will not understand any of this. They’ll be bewildered and possibly offended. I sure as hell would NOT have understood that I would come to a place where I could accept that my mom was gone and not be a puddle of incoherent tears. But if you’re a few years out from a loss, you might accept that grief is actually a permanent part of who you are now and you can begin to embrace it as proof of love…

You might understand why I cry when I see an ambulance.

As I’m driving this weekend watching the ambulance approach on the other side of the interstate, I’m automatically scanning the other cars behind the ambulance wondering if there are loved ones frantically following the ambulance.

I send up a quick thought of healing and peace and prayers for the person, their family and most importantly for the ambulance crew trying to transport, comfort and save this person… I always wonder if this ambulance contains one of the lucky ones and they will get to drive their loved one back home.

And then I cry. I cry because my mom is dead. And I miss her every day. And I’m a better women for having had her, her abundant and persistent lessons in grace and love and kindness at the center of my life.  I cry because she shouldn’t have died so young.  I cry because she would be so proud of me and what I’m trying to do with my life and I want her to be here and be in the middle of it all and know my friends.

I cry.

I don’t rationalize or hold back or even get embarrassed when other drivers passing by notice the streaming tears.  I don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks about my grief.  Hell.  If they had known my mom — they’d be crying too. I sob and choke and cry my grief almost as rawly as the day she died…

Eventually the tears slow and dry.

Gratefulness emerges and fights for my attention.

I am flooded with reminders of how lucky I am to have been given someone I would miss so much. How lucky I am to have had this woman as my mom.  Of ALL the women in the world — I had her for 42 years.

And grief just kind of crawls back in the passenger seat, waiting for the next ambulance.

I keep driving.



Trigger point

…all kinds of great paths have opened up for me… 🙂

I often get asked what the trigger point was for my lifestyle overhaul.

I always stumble around for a good answer. I never quite know what to say because the truth is…  Well, it’s just messy.

I did reach a point (July 2010) where I knew I was DONE with the way I was living my life. I wanted to be on a new path. No matter what it took. I felt that shift physically.

My gut and heart were finally ready to follow my mind.

But there were life-long cascading events that led up to that actual moment in July 2010…

I was fat. Not fitting in chairs. Special clothes. Exceeding weight limits. Routinely being the largest person in a room.

Unhealthy. Fatty liver. Cholesterol levels that were sketchy. High blood pressure. A category I’ll politely label ‘female issues’.

Diabetic, Type 2.  Daily injections for blood glucose control. Finger sticks. Drugs to help with complications. Swinging highs/lows that made me oh-so-much-fun to be around.

I had grown used to all of this.

It was all manageable.

But there was a single, big event that changed my world…

My world stopped on 3/10/10 just after 9 in the morning when my mom died.

We had been fighting, all-out, to save her for months.

She died of MRSA.

MRSA is a drug resistant staph. A ‘super bug’.  For my mom, it was a massive, systemic staph infection that could not be controlled. As time went by, NONE of the drugs available in the US worked, not even the experimental drugs, combinations.

My mom had a seriously compromised immune system. She had Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) from when she was 32. Complications from RA, for her, were diabetes and kidney failure. She was in renal failure when MRSA grabbed hold. She was a desperately difficult case for OHSU (Oregon’s teaching hospital) to work on. We were told routinely how dire and complicated things were.

The infection and complications overwhelmed her body 6 days after her 66th birthday.

I grieved. Hard. For more than a year I was secluded, closed-off and wounded. Hell, I’m still grieving 5 years later.  My mom was one of my best friends. She shouldn’t have died. But her health was so complicated and compromised that her body couldn’t help her fight off the infection.

After she died I began to realize a few things…

I hurt my back 4 months before she died. Bulged 2 discs in my lower back.  I tripped and fell. The doctor told me the weight of my belly is likely what pulled my back apart, the fall shouldn’t have done it. I was drugged into oblivion for pain management. I was crippled to the point that I couldn’t bend over my moms ICU bed and kiss her cheek as she was dying…

I will never get over that. Not even going to try. Being fat had finally caught up with me.

This was the first time I ever remember feeling resentment, remorse, disgust, regret (not sure of the right word….) at having let myself get so fat and unhealthy.

And I saw some incredible things in our time at the hospital. I realized that a good long-term strategy for survival is to NOT NEED healthcare/hospitals. I was, at 42, a surgical candidate for a back injury related to my weight, taking 3 shots a day for type 2 diabetes, 6-7 other meds. I was dependent on lots of doctors to keep me healthy.

Do you see where this is all leading…??!

Eventually I did too.

It took about 16 months for me to piece it all together and decide that it time to act.

One other note…  (I said this was messy!)

Grieving changes you. Fundamentally. It scars you. It tears you to shreds.  You literally feel like your heart is bleeding. You are in a blinding mental fog. And oddly, it makes you stronger than you ever thought possible. All of the sudden you are fiercely protective of loved ones and friends; protecting others is the only emotional outlet for the shit storm that is your mind and heart. Grief makes you so weak and vulnerable you sit passively, even in public, with tears streaming down your face because you don’t even have the energy to properly cry…

If you’ve grieved — you know what I’m talking about. You have your own definitions and examples for what it does to your life, your mind and your heart.

Having said that…

I began to realize that my mom would be so, so disappointed in me if I kept living my life as the walking dead. What kind of tribute was that to my mom?!  She was INCREDIBLE and loved life and cherished people and enjoyed every moment she was given — until the very end.

I had to do that same… I had to live a FULL life.  Not a half life of adapting and getting by.

I began to understand that the biggest tribute I could possibly pay to my mom (and dad!) is to show people that I CHOOSE to live life, love people and enjoy each moment I am given.

Things had to change.

The best visual I have come up with is that things were piling up.

Instead of them piling up on top of me and being suffocated by them – like I had always done in the past, this time; I stood on them.

They piled up.  And I just kept blindly and stubbornly scrambling and climbing over them and standing on them.

I didn’t want to be suffocated.  Or squished.  Or buried. Anymore.

I wanted to LIVE.

But… WHY this time?  I had learned to live life as a fat woman.  I was managing my diabetes. I was getting by just fine.

Was my trigger point all really tied to my mom’s death? Was it the little things piling up? Was it just that I finally found a spark of bravery and determination that I had never felt/found/noticed before…

I really don’t know.

I think it was more likely a perfect storm and I was finally ready.

Perhaps too simple an answer to satisfy folks who are looking to be motivated for their own life change… But I really do think it was the right things at the right time and I had just enough guts to make a run for it – and quickly found the right people and tools and encouragement.

It’s still a daily fight to stay in control of food. I keep an eagle eye on my weight and work hard to keep it stable. I still hit snooze sometimes before getting my butt out of bed to go run. 🙂  I won’t lie to you. I understand that I will have daily battles the rest of my life to keep the good habits in the forefront.

Game on.

My mom was proud of me. She made sure I KNEW that every single day of my life. And I know she would be just as proud of me now.

I am a very lucky girl to be so well loved.

I also know that if she was still alive she would be begging my dad to create a wheelchair with all-terrain wheels and a seat belt so I could push her into the hills on trail runs and she would be my running partner…  🙂

Mom. Fishing Diamond Lake. She is pointing the biggest fish to let everyone know that’s the one she caught… 🙂