Sunday, December 28, 2014

Has It Really Been A Great Year?

Facebook has an app that’s been making some folks crazy.   Even NPR is talking about it.

 Last night I was reading through some of the comments from folks who did not have such a great year.  Some of the comments were heartbreaking: some lost loved ones, some had life-threatening diagnoses, some got divorced, some lost jobs—for some it really wasn’t a year that they wanted to review.

Then there were the others:  some lost loved ones, some had life-threatening diagnoses, some got divorced, some lost jobs—for these Facebookers, the year wasn’t that great but it reflected what really happened, they accepted the year as it was and chose to move on to a, hopefully, better year.

I was discussing this with my daughter, Rashida, this morning—during our daily “cawfee talks” that I love so much.  She chose not to generate her year in review for obvious reasons.  I chose to generate mine with modifications.  I did not say, “It’s been a great year”.  For me, it’s been a challenge but I accept the year as it was—I have no choice.  I haven’t hidden from it on Facebook throughout this year, so, I’m not going to hide from it in reflection.  Actually looking at 2014 in review makes me happy that I even got through it—gives me hope for tomorrow—and makes me know, really know, that we are stronger than we think we are and that there is strength in prayer, love and community.
Earlier in the year when I questioned whether we should even love others if they would just be torn away from us, I thought about it and a quote came to me from Alfred Lord Tennyson.  "Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."  What are we after all, if we can't experience love?  It helps us appreciate everything else in the world.

My prayer for you friends and family is that if you did not have a great 2014, that 2015 will be better.   If you had a great 2014, that 2015 will be at least as good--maybe even better and if not, that you find the strength to get through it.

Love, Light & Peace

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas Reflections

The wide-eyed wonder time of the year is upon us.  People are out bustling around, coming out of stores with shopping bags hanging from their arms.  Walking around with steaming cups of hot chocolate or coffee wrapped in mittened hands. Smiles abound, Christmas tree stands everywhere, Christmas music playing everywhere, even from my laptop.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and I can feel the spirit of the season—even embrace it.  As we get closer to December 25th, memories are flooding into my mind of Christmases past. 

I remember as a little girl money was very tight—some years worse than others.  I remember several Christmas eves my mother would send my brother up to get a free Christmas tree that the vendors no longer knew what to do with.  What a great time we had decorating those Christmas tree stragglers—some years we’d have a Charlie Brown tree, sometimes something better—whatever was left.  I remember my mother coming home some years with a brown paper bag filled with smokey chestnuts purchased from the corner vendor.  So I really understand the song Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.  I remember being so excited that I wasn’t able to sleep.  The remedy, a little brandy in some egg nog.  My brother, sister and I standing in line to get our little taste treat of the season.  Everyone knew it would not make us go to sleep—we were just too excited,but boy did it taste good and warm our body.  I remember hearing my mother, brother-in-law and older sister bringing the toys in to put under the Christmas tree.  They’d had a little of that brandy in egg nog too, so they’d be laughing and shushing each other.  As soon as they’d left, and my mother finally put her head on her pillow, we’d call out “Has Santa Claus been here yet Mama, can we get up?”  “He hasn’t been here yet, children—I’ll wake you when he has” she’d call back, desperate for a few hours sleep.  Finally after a few more attempts, she’d let us get up—still dark out I can still hear our squeals over a bike, a new dress, a doll—whatever we could afford that year.  Oh, precious memories.

I remember trying to duplicate the wonder of my childhood Christmases for my children.  I remember the wonder in their eyes, the excited energy that emanated from their bodies, the joy when they got exactly the video game, or Lego set they’d wanted.  I remember how happy they were when I promised that Santa would be able to find us at Grandma’s house in New York and knew not to bring the gifts to California .  I remember a day care provider's tradition of having a birthday cake for Jesus so that the children would remember just who’s birthday we were celebrating.  Oh, precious memories.

I remember when Lateef had a family of his own, that he would dress up like Santa Claus.  I remember the call I got when Jade was 3 ½.  An excited little voice on the phone said “Grandma, guess what?  The black Santa Claus visited me and brought gifts.  Grandma, I wish Daddy could have been here to see.”  I said, “Wow, Jade, that’s great..You’ll just have to tell Daddy about it.”  I remember that Rashida always wanted stocking stuffers, even well after we no longer piled the Christmas tree up with gifts, even today….  I remember that Ted would hold out shopping until Christmas Eve, when he’d finally break down and go Christmas shopping for a last minute gift—I remember that Rashida always had to tell him what I’d like even though I’d been dropping hints for at least 2 months.  Oh, precious memories.

This Christmas season is different.  My mother, Ted and Lateef are not here, but I have my wonderful memories and they are heart warming—almost like they’re really here with me.  This Christmas we're building new traditions and keeping some of the old.  Rashida and I will go to visit the Christmas windows on Fifth Avenue on Christmas day.  That’s new.  I will cook an abbreviated Christmas dinner. That’s old.   We will see Alvin Ailey. That’s old. We will light candles for Ted, Lateef and my mother.  That’s new. We will give a little more to Salvation Army and the homeless.  That’s new. We will see, really see some of the sickness and sadness in the world and look for ways to help.  That is enhanced…

What will the holidays mean to you?  To me, they signify hope, joy and love and yes, Gerri, there is a Santa Claus—he is alive in all of us--no matter what.

Peace, love and the blessing of the holiday season to you all--today and every day.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Goodbye Lateef

On Monday night, February 24, 2014—exactly one month from Ted’s death, my son, Lateef, suffered gran mal seizures at his desk and was taken by ambulance to Grady Memorial Hospital in downtown Atlanta.

Lateef had recovered from brain surgery to remove a benign meningioma just 9 months prior.  Though his recovery was rocky, of late he seemed sharper, felt better—his stories were flowing—no more searching for words.  His doctors at Gwinett Medical Center had announced him at no risk for recurring seizures, so he was not required to take anti-seizure medication.  During his 9-month recovery, he had suffered hallucinations, headaches and what we now know were probably small seizures but as of February 24th, he was feeling really good.  Lateef had taken his dad’s death very hard and as this was the one-month anniversary of Ted’s death, and between dealing with the grief and spending hours looking at Ted’s facebook page, Lateef was weary—not enough sleep and the stress from losing Ted were the perfect setup for seizures for those who are prone to them—we know that now.

As I looked down upon my son in the emergency room—this writhing mass of humanity-- my whole being was with him—willing him to again become the cool, fun-loving son I knew him to be.

In time he was moved to ICU—a world away from the loud, scary, dirty emergency room.  The neurological ICU—a world apart—filled with beeping machines,  and electronics and hospital beds that turned into x-ray stations.  We stood watch over our son, our husband, our brother, our friend and willed him to get better.  The doctors kept him sedated but there were times when he reacted to our voices, so I knew he heard us—that he was somewhere in there.  He was on a ventilator and when he first arrived in the ICU, the ventilator was breathing 100% for him.  As the week progressed, the doctors ordered the ventilator turned down slowly so that Lateef was breathing more on his own—the ventilator less.

 My job was to stay with the girls at night and Aileen slept at the hospital.  After I dropped the girls at school, I would switch with Aileen and she would leave to run errands.  The first thing I’d look at when I arrived in the morning would be the monitors—his blood pressure (really high) his heart rate (first very low—then really high), the percentage the ventilator was breathing for him.  One day, the machine was turned down to 40%--which meant Lateef was breathing 60% on his own.  After reviewing blood tests, the doctors realized that he was in distress and they turned the ventilator back up.

  I remember the first day in ICU.  I looked at his nurse and said “We just lost his dad 4 weeks ago.  Could you do all that you can to help us hold onto him”?  She looked at me with watery eyes and said “We will do the best we can”.  That was enough for then. Every time I asked the doctors how Lateef was doing, really, they would tell me that he was moving in the right direction.  I had to trust them even though his entire body seemed to have a mind of its own.  His blood sugar was sky high (he’d never had sugar diabetes), his blood pressure was sky high, his potassium numbers were weird—all kinds of craziness was going on. 

On Friday, February 28th I got to the hospital about 10 am.  Of course, the first thing I looked at was the monitor.  Blood pressure very high—heart rate very high—his breathing was very labored.  The doctor said not to worry about the blood pressure—seizure patients benefitted from high blood pressure because that meant more infusion of blood to the brain.  They were reassuring me but somehow, that day, I felt very anxious—more than usual.  I remember texting that to my niece.  I put the anxiety off to just “mom stress”.  At 2:30 pm I left to pick up Lateef’s youngest daughter from school.  While on my way back with Ami I got a text from Rashida saying that Lateef’s blood pressure was coming down.  I was happy.

We got back to the hospital and I stopped to get a happy meal for Ami.  We got up to the ICU floor and I got Ami settled in the family waiting area and proceeded to Lateef’s room.  As I came through the door I saw Lateef’s nurse.  His face looked strange and I remember asking him what was wrong.  He didn’t answer me so, unknowingly, I just kept heading towards Lateef’s room thinking “He is sooo strange.”  As I rounded the corner, I could see Lateef in his hospital bed—I did not realize that the machines were not functioning.  As I entered the room, Rashida came towards me. Her eyes were huge—I knew something was wrong.  Another man was in the room—I did not know him.  Rashida took my hand and said “Mom, he didn’t make it.”  I looked at her—incredulous.  I said “What do you mean he didn’t make it?”  I had no idea what she meant.  She repeated it and my knees buckled.  I remember sinking into a waiting chair and I remember crying out “Oh, no—not both of them—not both of them—It can’t be—It can’t be.”  I ran to the bedside.  Lateef looked like he was just sleeping.  He was still warm—but he was not breathing. 

Later I learned that while his nurse was doing his hourly assessment, Lateef’s heart just stopped.  Rashida was there and she corroborates this statement.  I asked her whether the readings on the machine started declining showing that Lateef was in distress and she said that they did not.  “Mom”, she said “It was like he was here one second and just gone the next.”  Staff came running from everywhere.  They tried to resuscitate him for 30 minutes with no success.  He was gone.  My first born, my only son, Lateef Mungin was pronounced dead at 4:27pm on Friday, February 28, 2014—five weeks to the day that his dad, Ted Mungin died.  Lateef was 41 years old and left a wife and 2 daughters (8 and 13 years old).  He also left many family members and a legion of friends who will miss him forever.