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30 Days

The first question I get all the time is, “are you eating?” Apparently it is a common belief that grieving and starving go hand in hand. Which in my case has not been true, cooking and eating have given me something to do. So while I may not enjoy eating as much as I once did, I keep doing it and this week my scale reflected my physiological departure from the norm.

The second question I get is, “so, how are you doing?” Apparently no one understands that this is a question that is impossible to answer truthfully. Not only to the person posing the question, but to myself.

Three years ago my father died.
30 days ago my mother died.

There are days that I try my hardest to forget those two facts. Make every attempt to put it out of my mind and there are days that it’s the only thing I think of from the moment I open my eyes to the moment I lay back down.

I want people to stop asking me how I’m doing because I don’t have an answer that’s honest to give them. I can’t begin to tell you because it’s too difficult to put into words and it’s too personal to share with anyone else.

Writing this helps. The words have been dancing around my head and my heart for days…30 days I guess. There’s so much else to say, so many more feelings that need a place to take shape. But for today, 30 days from that day, I just needed to give everyone an answer.


Sounds Like Crazy

I installed cameras throughout the first floor of my house so I could watch over my mother. Some people thought I was crazy. Hell, I thought I was crazy.

She’s getting frailer, seemingly by the day – sometimes by the hour. There are days when I think, “she is great, just like before!” And days like today, where I clearly know that she is not like before, and she’s not great.


It was three years ago when she shared with me that her next door neighbor was sneaking into her basement and stealing her hot water. “He” then escalated to stealing the quarters out of her Easter Lenten folder and the batteries from her smoke detectors.  “He” started to bring a friend with him and “they” began to sit on the steps that led to the basement waiting for her to fall asleep. Mom started to sleep sitting up in the living room on the couch to catch “them”.  It was about that time that I told her to pack her suitcase and I was taking her to come live with me. Some people thought she was crazy. Hell, I thought she was crazy.

Several doctors and psychiatrists later, mom was diagnosed with early onset dementia and paranoia. It took about a year and the help of a little pill called Risperidone, to quiet the voices which had moved from her basement to mine in the form of a new “him” — my next door neighbor.


It was 7 months ago at a routine doctors’ visit when my mom’s red blood cell count prompted a red flag for additional testing. Two specialists and four CAT Scans later, mom was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer in both of her lungs. She’d never smoked a cigarette in her adult life and was quite possibly the nicest, kindest person I have ever known. Lung Cancer for MY mom, now that’s just crazy.



The Mom Cams at work

It was just 2 hours ago as I was working in my home office that I decided to take a peek at my newly installed “mom-cams”. I saw her sitting on the floor beside her bed. Not moving, just sitting on the floor. Her nightgown was off and there was a pillow beside her. It took me a moment to really understand what I was seeing. I just sat there staring at the screen thinking it must be frozen and she’s really standing up now. What’s strange is that when you get yourself ready day in and day out to see something bad on these cameras, when you finally do, your brain doesn’t want to register it. It took less than 3 seconds to take the stairs three at a time and fly into her room to help but it seemed like forever. She was not hurt at all, but she couldn’t get up. She had taken her nightgown off so that it wouldn’t gather around her ankles as she was trying to stand. I tried to pick her up but she was too heavy for me to lift from that position. I scooted her around the room on the pillow to try and find a spot that she might be able to leverage her weight to pull herself up. If it hadn’t been my mom it was happening to it would definitely have been a funny sight to see. All 130 lbs of me trying to get a grown woman off the floor and not having the faintest idea how to make that happen. It took about 40 minutes, several breaks, a step stool, a real stool and many prayers, but finally we got her up. I wanted to cry after it was over but that would have been crazy.


The truth is, from the dementia to the paranoia to the cancer, I really have no idea what I am doing. I am trying and I am learning but I feel like I am always about three steps behind getting it right. After two days of her blood pressure being super low, I realized that she was probably getting confused with which day was which and over taking meds from her 7 Day pill box. I knew she was struggling with remembering the days of the week and I had seen pills missing on the wrong day but I didn’t put two and two together until the blood pressure readings. So now I keep the pill box and I hand her medicine throughout the day. I feel like I should have realized it sooner and made the change quicker.

I knew my mother was getting weaker. Many times I have to grab the back of her jacket when we are walking so she doesn’t fall. I see her teeter when getting up from her chair and the past three weeks she can’t get into bed without my help. I had mentioned it to some nurses and they said she should get physical therapy. I said yes, great idea but nothing happened and I never followed up. Finally three weeks ago at a doctor’s appointment, he asked me about her stability and I said she needs help. His office followed through and we finally got approved for 2 day a week in home physical therapy. Ironically today was the first day that the new physical therapist showed up — an hour AFTER I struggled to pick my mom up off the floor. To say I could have used that help a little sooner, is let’s just say a crazy understatement.

I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve never done any of this before and I wonder why no one has come up with an app yet to take care of your elderly parents. I worry every day. Even the days when it seems like everything is fine, I am worried. I am worried that I am not doing enough, not doing it right, not doing it fast enough or well enough. Worried that I don’t know what the hell I am doing and I am figuring it out on the fly, and she deserves better than that. Worried that I’m going crazy.

At the same time, I do realize I am being too hard on myself and that as everyone reminds me I am a good daughter that is doing a great job taking care of her mother. I know that is what it IS, but it’s not what it feels like to me. We all have our emotional baggage and I suppose for me, I am still holding on to a 50 lb. carry-on packed tightly with guilt about my father. The “would haves” and “should haves” I still battle with about his passing away in a nursing home two years ago.

I haven’t written in this blog since May when I graduated, I said then that I was done with it – that I didn’t need it anymore. Today, I felt like I had to tell this story out loud. Today it doesn’t matter if anyone ever reads this or knows about it. Today, the fact is this story lept from my heart to this piece of paper and it was just enough to make me feel a little less crazy. Today, I needed that.

At Last

capI struggled with the words for this my final blog post. It seems difficult to believe that I have been writing about graduating from college for four years. I wanted to memorialize this journey in order to keep me motivated and now it is suddenly over. In the last year I have not been as active on the blog because the writing intensive courses I have been taking have drained me. In addition, promotions at work have been wonderful to receive but taken time away from writing for pleasure. But let me be clear, this blog has been my guilty pleasure.

Today is the day I officially graduate. I walk with cap and gown across a stage and mark the end of a journey that I began when I was 18 years old — too many years and so many memories ago. Graduations like weddings, funerals and christenings are one of those occasions in your life when you reflect on what has brought you to that event. They remind you of the struggles you’ve faced, insights you’ve gained, friendships you’ve made as well as those you may have lost along the way.

There is no shortage of emotions I am feeling today. I have cried in the car, in the shower, and as I type these words. Tears that are filled with pride, happiness and accomplishment but also with overwhelming exhaustion. This has been one of the  hardest things to keep doing. The work is not that hard, it can be a pain in the  butt at times, but I’ve learned that there is nothing I can’t do. The problem is the drive to keep going, to keep taking another course, to keep filling out the paperwork, to keep meeting with the advisor, to keep keeping on – it’s exhausting. More than once, I just wanted to take a break, stop it or say enough already, do you really need this? You’re career is on a fast track and you are missing out on some fun weekends because of homework – homework at 46 – enough already! Three things kept me going and to which I dedicate this final post and my degree…

1. My Daughter, Kalia….frankly my competitive urge to graduate before her was uber important (and perhaps a bit petty!) since she is now going into her junior year! Really though, she is everything to me. I was never that “rah-rah” mother of the year, but as she got older and I got wiser, I realized how unbelievably amazing a person she is and how fortunate I am to have her in my life. Getting this degree became a way to silently make her proud, instill in her strength and courage, and remind her that she can do anything. I have often said, anything good I have done or will do, will be because she is in my life.

2. My Friend, Bonnie….she started this journey with me four years ago and when I tell you that we have literally kept each other sane throughout, I am not exaggerating. There is something absolutely wonderful about knowing that someone is going through the exact same doubts and fears, worries and concerns as you at the same time for the same reasons. We have laughed and cried about our courses and our failures and our exploding stars! You are truly one of my best friends. Not just my cheerleader, you have played the role of wife-husband-sister-friend since the day we met. You think that I have lifted you up and kept you from drowning, when in fact the opposite is really true. The first person I always look to when I feel like I am falling, is you, and you’ve never let me down.

And finally the third and final thing that has kept me going these past four years as I stayed up late, woke up early, worked on trains, planes and sometimes airport bathrooms to take quizzes and write papers is not the most important of the three, but certainly deserves great acknowledgment…..drum roll please…..

3. Good wine…really does it need any further explanation…

To those of you who will read this today or any day and are not sure if you can do something that is hard or seemingly unthinkable but you want to, you really want to, I’m here to tell you that you can. I am here to tell you that the only thing standing between you and your dream, is nothing! Say the words, believe the dream, and envision yourself achieving your goal. There is nothing that you can not do and everything that you can.

Thanks for taking the journey with me.

All Love, Always.

The Good News

The Good News is that this summer I finished my Associates Degree and graduated Magna Cum Laude!

There is no flip side…no bad news, to this opener. It’s just ‘the good news’.

I could have followed my opening line up with BUT I have 6 more classes to take to complete my Bachelor’s Degree. But in some way that diminishes the accomplishment that is already mine. Sometimes we have to just accept the good news and not expect another shoe will drop with bad news. It took me a long time to figure that out, and to remember that I need to always celebrate the small victories. These victories keep you going and prevent you from drowning when life changes courses (as it always does) and you may be overwhelmed from time to time.

If you diminish the smaller steps toward success because there is a bigger goal in mind, you cheat yourself. So simply put, don’t do that and don’t let anyone else do it to you. Couple of things I have learned in the past three years that I want to share with you. And no, it’s not a lesson from Plato or Madame Curie or even Einstein, although all of them are evidence of my learning. What I have learned is …we focus on what we see every day; we believe the words we say out loud to our friends and the thoughts we repeat inside our heads and our hearts; we grow when we acknowledge how worthy we are despite our faults and we can accomplish absolutely anything that we convince ourselves we are capable of doing. We fail when we say it’s too hard; it’s not important; it doesn’t matter; it’s not that important; he/she/they won’t support me; I’m too busy.

My journey continues but I have not just met a milestone but I pole-vaulted over it. Three years ago, I was on my fourth attempt to get a Bachelor’s degree – and I was more than a little concerned that I wouldn’t do it. And here we are now with my finish line well in sight and not a doubt in my mind that this time next year, the journey will be concluded. They say the third time is the charm, but for some of us, it’s the fourth, or the fifth, or the sixth time. There is no number that is a one size fits all when it comes to fulfilling individual goals. The process of documenting my journey in this virtual, written platform has helped keep me motivated and moving forward. But while I have enjoyed working on  my writing and sharing my stories and my silly sense of humor with you; I have to admit that I am looking forward to the day, when I submit my last post that simply says…”I did it!”

What’s a Girl To Do

So its 8:30 pm and I have worked my day job until 6:00; made dinner for the family, and had 2 hysterical back to back telephone conversations with my girls.  One is juggling her dating life the other is juggling her son’s dating life – – both had me close to tears in laughter.  Now its strangely quiet.  Everyone has something to do and I really should be preparing for my first big test on Saturday morning.  But instead, I am flitting around the television channels and am dangerously close to watching an episode of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo”.  No, no, I really don’t LIKE that kind of TV.  After all, I am a would be scholar, so I am simply interested in such a show purely for studying the social ramifications of the early objectification of young women and hillbillies in American society.  Sounds smart, right?  Okay I doubt if I fooled you anymore then I fooled myself.  But the shame of considering watching the full figured Honey Boo Boo and her equally robust pet pig have forced me to turn off the TV and ask why its so hard for me to get down to studying.  I have the time and I need to do it, but I simply don’t want to.

Maybe after you get to a certain age, you just don’t or can’t feel that sense of anxiety that you used to as a younger person for school or any of the other so called “hard things” that society says are in our way.  A part of me is worried about the test, but it’s more like those little fruit flies at the end of summer that you want out of the house, but realize you can live with for a few more days until the first cold snap sets in and takes care of the problem for you.

I don’t know if this is the right decision or not but instead of studying tonight, I am going to pour another glass of this pretty decent 2007 Rioja and just enjoy the quiet for a little while.  Maybe I will pick up my copy of the epicTolstoy novel Anna Karenina that I have been trying to finish reading for three years (sadly, yes, I admit it’s been three years plus!) and see if I can find out what happens to our tragic heroine next.

While, I have no idea what my outcome will be on this first test, from what I have heard about Anna, I’m pretty certain my future is brighter than hers.  It’s all perspective right.

M Words & My Theme Song Search

About six years ago I learned the most dreaded word ever uttered to skinny girls past their thirties – METABOLISM.  Obviously I knew what the word meant but when you only weigh 110 pounds for the first half of your adult life, it’s just a word.  A vague notion that some poor unfortunate people watch helplessly as their metabolism slows down.  It happens to THEM and makes it impossible for THEM to burn calories like THEY once did.  Back then, I thought rather callously, that was THEIR problem.  After all I was knocking on my mid-thirties, had already had a baby and was still blessed with the same svelte figure, flat belly, and guilt free addiction to McDonald’s filet-o-fish sandwiches (with large fries and orange drink on the side…mmmm).  I thought I had crossed over; I would never be one of THOSE poor unfortunate people.

Round about the age of 36, it occurred to me that some sort of change was taking place when it came to my weight.  I had never gotten on a scale at home and I had never taken note of the weight/height stats from my yearly exams.  After all why would I, I wasn’t one of THOSE people that had to be concerned about weight.  I began noticing that my clothes weren’t quite fitting the way they should, so, I did what any normal woman would do…bought new clothes.  About 6 – 7 months later, a crazy thing happened, those clothes started to have the same problem.  That led me to take more drastic measures. I invested in a new washer and dryer as they were obviously the culprit and were shrinking my second set of new clothes.  Sometime after the delivery of my spanking new, front loading, matching silver washer/dryer set, I began to do my laundry and the darndest thing happened to my clothes.  They did the same thing as the first set despite the new washing machine.  As novel as a concept as this was, I had to consider that perhaps the problem lay elsewhere.  Maybe the issue was not “shrinkage” with my machines, but “biggage” with my body!  Apparently, my body, without my approval had decided I was one of THEM.  I was on a crash course with Metabolism and no amount of Maytag repair men visits would stop it from happening.

I was forced to go to a terrible place where others in similar situations went – –

 The GYM

I won’t bore you with my experiences at Planet Fitness on the dastardly devil called the elliptical machine or the absolutely hysterical characters I have seen at the gym doing things that no sane person should ever do in public. Instead, I will skip to what I have learned in my time spent thus far exercising…

I learned that I hate the gym. Seriously I hate it.

I learned that I hate working out 6 days a week for 30 – 45 minutes a day and only maintaining my current weight, not dropping it by any recognizable number.

And, I hate the fact that I am already struggling with my next M word, MOTIVATION.

Some people may be motivated by getting into a new pants size, attracting the attention of a new amour, or changing the frowning facial expression of their doctor at their next physical.  For me, all those things have at one point or another motivated me to go to the gym, but none of them have been able to keep me coming back or to consistently give my full effort.

Yes, I feel as awful as I look here – did I mention I HATE THE GYM!

Around 7am each morning, I head out to my neighborhood fitness center.  I angrily pull into the semi deserted parking lot, slam the car door in disgust and with feet dragging, I skulk to the entrance.  All the while I am devising dozens of reasons to turn around.  What if this blister starting to form on my in sole bursts and gets infected, I could die for heaven’s sake.  What if those annoyingly perky and non-stop conversation carrying middle age housewives get on the treadmill right beside me, again? Or my favorite, what if instead of this torture, I should just give up drinking wine to lose weight. (hahahhaha). I was starting to get the itch to quit when I realized I needed to find something to motivate me to keep going.  I also realized that there was a correlation between managing my lack of motivation to deal with my metabolic crisis and my new-found desire to go back to college and (wait for it…) get to my next M word – MATRICULATE.  I have been an undergrad for less than a month and I am already starting to think about how long it’s going to take to finish and how expensive it’s going to be.  It seemed that my motivation was already waning for school much like my work-out routine.

35 minutes into level one of the elliptical’s cardio program, sweat was pouring down my face and a killer side cramp started to kick in, when it came to me that my last M word, had to be MUSIC.  The best workouts I have ever had have been when all the songs have been just the right mix of ones I love and beats that kept me moving.  Conversely, my most disappointing work outs have been when the battery ran out, or I forgot my headphones, or bored with my music.  Ultimately the good songs were keeping my mind engaged with what my body needed to do.  Yes, music would be my key to staying on track at the gym. I would make sure I kept new and current tunes on rotation by finally giving into this whole i-tunes thing (PS, I miss a good ole fashion walkman and a homemade cassette tape).

Taking this music thing, a step further, I began envisioning a school soundtrack.  Something I would listen to on the drive to class that would get me hyped up even in the bitter cold winter days and during final exam season and when my bank account is suffering from the long-term effects of ever rising tuition costs.  A mix tape (yes, I’m dating myself) is good, but is it good enough? What I really need to channel my inner superhero is to come up with my own theme song.  One I will play as I stride across campus, head bobbing and smiling knowing it’s my personal beacon keeping me from getting lost in thoughts of what I can’t do. Perhaps the Wonder Woman song from the 1970’s television show would work? I don’t know if it has the right “umpf” to keep me properly motivated, so I’m turning to whoever is out there reading this.  Please help me in my search for a proper theme song.  It needs to be high energy and something you would hear if you were chasingwonderwoman.

How Did I Get Here – How Can You

Me and my bestie – – both going for the golden degree!

So orientation was actually quite nice; I have a new label in my life…”adult learner”.  I guess I have been called worse, and someday perhaps I will called better but now that’s my label when I step foot on the campus grounds and put my shiny new college ID in my pocket.  (PS, my photo is so bad that I wont dare show it to you – is it a crime to give some soft lighting and an angled lense when they take these ID pictures!).  I digress, during orientation, we were treated to hot pizza, cold soda and water, a bevy of raffles and a host of speakers who thanked us for choosing UCONN and told us how important we “adult learners” are to the college community because we provide a nice balance to their “traditional age” students.  How’s that for another neat euphemism teenage freshmen all of a sudden become “traditional age student”.  Gotta love academia!

So to be perfectly honest, this is my third attempt at going back to finish my degree.  I was embarrassed by that at first, but listening to the others who were gathered around the stark classroom, perched in uncomfortable stacking chairs and sipping college emblazoned bottled waters, I realized I was in like company – – and it felt good.  From what appeared to be people from ages 60 all the way down to mid-twenties, I heard similar stories about multiple attempts to gain the coveted college degree.  Life, for better or worse, had gotten in their way, much like me and so here we all sat, feeling nervous but excited about giving it another chance.

For those of you who are embarrassed, fearful or ashamed, yes ashamed, to admit you haven’t gotten your degree yet, don’t be – as soon as you walk into that “adult learner” social club, you will be a part of a new group that you don’t have to do anything different to fit into, because just being you, has already given you a ranking position.  And what other organization can you get that – certainly not the local Rotary Club or Chamber meeting!

For me this journey is a little easier because this time around I am going through it with one of my very best friends.  She and I began this journey last March.  We knew we wanted to get our bachelors degree but how to do it.  For those of you who don’t  know, to be admitted to a bachelor’s program as a returning adult student, you have to already have an associates degree or (60 credits).  But my friend and I didn’t have an Associate Degree completed.  Like I said, I had started and stopped several times over the years but was sure I didn’t have enough credits for my Associates and she had never taken any college classes at all.  We started by taking a course at our local community college called an APL Class.  This is a class that gives you  college credit for life , work and prior college experience.  This is a wonderful program that can jump start your progress immediately and it did for us.  As part of this 10 week, 3 credit course, my friend went from zero college credits to 73 and I went added an additional 43 credits to the prior college courses I had already taken.  We were back in the game, we didn’t have to spend the extra time (or money) to pursue an Associates Degree first and then enroll in a Bachelor’s program.   For us we both held great positions with our current employers and they weren’t looking for Associates, they were looking for Bachelors and higher.

My suggestion to anyone reading this that wants to try the same, is to go online and look at your local community colleges.  Most of them offer 2 year Associate degrees but part of that will likely be an APL class, which stands for ASSESSMENT OF PRIOR LEARNING.  Look for it and take it and at the same time make an appointment with the four year college you are interested in getting your degree from.  Most cases they have staff members who are dedicated to us “adult learners”; make  an appointment, tell them what you are planning and see if they will take the credit from your community college – many of them have partnerships.   If all you really want is the Associates Degree, then no worries, still take the APL class because it will be a great benefit at the 2 year campus – saving you time and money.  I know some people who took the APL class and received 60 credits and were able to obtain their Associates Degree immediately!  Not bad at all.

I can’t speak highly enough about the APL program, its the only reason I was able to fully register again as a degree seeking student at UCONN and the first time since leaving as a disappointed and dejected drop-out 25 years ago that I truly felt like I was making this dream come true – watch out Wonder Woman, I’m on your heels!

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Kalia Kornegay

Freelance Journalist

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