Monday, February 25, 2013


Our century-old house has its share of challenges: poor insulation, faulty wiring, a window in the bathtub (really).  It's also got a pretty unappealing backyard.  The view from the dining room is one of a steep, homely hill scattered with trees and limp bushes.  The back porch isn't much more than a slab of concrete big enough for the grill and a wooden bench. 

But my cats love it. 

For several hours a day, they perch on the old buffet table I inherited from my grandmother ( one tell her about all the scratches they've put on it!), and watch the birds outside.  Thor, in particular, is an avid bird-watcher - or maybe he's really an aspiring chef, imagining all the delicious things he can do with the plump, juicy-breasted robins who hop around in the grass.

Since my mom's passing, I've actually become a bid of a bird-watcher myself.  I've always been fond of the cardinals who live in the bush beside our house.  We named them Tony and Pepper (after the characters in Iron Man, yes; if you haven't already branded me a super-geek by now then by all means, here's your chance).  Their single "wheet" note is strangely encouraging to me.  I love hearing it because it means they're nearby.  They always seem like happy birds, and that makes me happy, too.

Right before Mom died, a trio of blue jays moved in.  Now, some people hate them because their squawking isn't exactly soothing.  But I think they're brilliantly beautiful and obviously, Thor does, too.  I researched and learned that jays might not be the friendliest birds, but they're very intelligent.  They can mimic the cry of a hawk in order to intimidate a real hawk that might be snooping around the area!  Since hawks are territorial, it's unlikely that a hawk would muscle in on another one's territory.  (Although, since I did see a real hawk in our bush the other day, I don't know if Dick, Bruce and Barbara are doing their jobs properly).

Last week, on a whim, I bought a cheap bird-feeder and a huge sack of songbird seed.  I hung the feeder on the back porch and was immediately rewarded with a flutter of black-capped chickadees, joyful little house sparrows, and a solitary tufted titmouse.  I couldn't believe it, but we've got a red-headed woodpecker, too!

When we were little, my sister was obsessed with birds.  She wanted to be an ornithologist for a while, if I recall.  BoRing.  Still, when I had read all the novels, magazines, pamphlets and cookbooks in the house, I finally cracked open her Guide to North American Birds.  It was a pocket-sized bright blue book with full-color illustrations.  It wasn't as dull as I'd thought, although Gina had beaten it up pretty badly.  The cover was worn nearly in half from her constantly referring to it. 

Strange, the things you remember from childhood.  I've been able to identify nearly every little winged friend that stops by the feeder, just from reading a book two decades ago.

I haven't named them all, yet.  But, if I decide to, it's okay.  There's plenty more heroes in the Marvel and DC Universes for me to pick from.

Can I Get A Witness?

Or, rather, do you need a witness?

As I'm still looking for full-time employment in the Pittsburgh area, I figured it would be silly to waste the notary training I received while I was working for Dollar Bank.  I'm offering my services as a notary - by appointment only.  See my contact information below!

But maybe you're not exactly sure what a notary does.  Below, I've included a little information about the function of a notary, and included some examples of when you might need one.  If you find you're on the lookout, and you're in the South Hills of Pittsburgh, I'd be happy to help you!  My hours are probably more flexible than those of the brick-and-mortar offices in the area.

What is a notary?

A notary is an individual who is certified to perform limited legal tasks - the most common of which is witnessing signatures on legal documents.  In the United States, notaries aren't government officials; therefore, they can charge for their services or provide them for free - the choice is theirs.

A notary will use his or her offical notarial seal and/or stamp, and sign and date the document in question, once the identity of the customer is verified.  Then, the notary will record the details of the event in his or her register.  The register is considered a public record; therefore, notaries are not permitted to write down personal information like the social security numbers or phone numbers of their clients.  They can, however, include notes such as "refinanced mortgage" or "lost cashier's check".

What sorts of things does a notary, well, notarize?

Notaries can sign as witnesses on mortgages and loans, official statements (such as those being used in court), auto registrations and other DMV paperwork, bills of sale, etc.  Notaries can sign official legal documents (such as those used by banks), as well as more casual ones (a hand-typed intent-to-sell document between a man and the neighbor who is buying his car, for example). 

Notaries cannot sign as witnesses to events they have not witnessed!  This seems pretty obvious; not only is it immoral, but it's actually a crime and can cause a notary to lose his or her license, plus pay hefty fines.  Please don't put your notary in this position.

Notaries are also prohibited from notarizing their own statements, or from notarizing documents in situations from which they could potentially benefit.  For example, a child could not notarize his own father's will, nor could a person notarize a spouse's insurance paperwork.  In these cases, a third party is required to be the notary.

What do I need to bring to the appointment?

First, you'll need to verify that your document can be notarized.  Some documents may require supplemental information from you, or additional paperwork from your notary.

Second, you will need at least one form of photo ID (a non-expired, valid driver's license or state ID works best).  At the notary's discrection, additional ID might be requested (examples include a birth certificate, social security card, permit to carry a concealed weapon, etc.). 

Third, do not sign the document before you are in the presence of the notary!  The notary will not be able to verify it, and cannot notarize your paperwork.

Fourth, be prepared to take an oath or acknowledgement if necessary.  For some documents, for example, statements to be used in legal proceedings, the notary must administer an oath or acknowledgement to which you must agree. 

Fifth, bring your payment.  Notaries have strict guidelines as to what they are able to charge for each type of service they offer.  At the notary's discretion, the fees can be waived or discounted.  Fees differ from state to state.  Pennsylvania's current fee schedule can be found here.

What else do I need to know?

Because they are techically self-employed, and that employment depends 100% on their keeping accurate records, notaries are legally allowed to refuse service at their discretion.  A notary can refuse service, for example, if he feels the customer's identification is not sufficient, or if the customer is unwillingly taking the oath or acknowledgement.

Notaries are not private investigators.  That is to say that, when a notary signs off on your statement, he or she is simply agreeing that you are the person you say you are, and you say the statement is true.  It is not a notary's job to verify the facts in your statement.  Therefore, if you have lied, for example, in your complaint against a business or product, and you take an oath telling the notary that your statement is true, the notary is not responsible for your false witness.  The notary's only job is to confirm that you're the person making the statement.

How do I make an appointment with you?

I can be reached by e-mailing  Please indicate the type of document that you will need to have notarized, and any questions you might have about it.  I will be happy to arrange an appointment that works for you. 

Sorry that this post has been a little on the dry side!  I'm hoping to write some more creative things soon!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Talk It Out

Even before my mother's passing, friends and family had made gentle, casual suggestions that I consider counseling.  After all, no matter how strong a person's faith is, losing three babies and a job in 13 months is a lot to handle.

The thing is, I genuinely thought I was doing all right.  I wasn't hiding my emotions.  I was open about them.  I didn't avoid talking about my losses or troubles.  I shared them with whoever wanted to hear about them.  I acknowledged them.  I grieved.  I cried a lot over my miscarriages.  As we continued to lose pregnancies, my fear increased exponentially.  I am aware of that.  To be honest with you, at this point, even with my faith and the support of my friends and family, I am petrified to even think about getting pregnant again. 

Everything has become complicated by the events of last week.  Ross and I finally got the chance to see a specialist, and, while he was a wonderful, thoughtful and concise doctor, I left the office with few answers - just another round of precautions, bloodwork orders, and guarded well-wishes.  I hadn't even gotten the chance to tell my mom about the visit, when three days later she was in the hospital herself.

Last night, Ross was very brave, and approached me about talking to a counselor.  I say that he was brave because I know that, like both my (stubborn!  stubborn!) parents, I don't often ask for help - and usually it's because I honestly don't know or think that I need it.  It isn't always a "pride" thing.  So, you can see, I thought I was doing all right.  I wasn't internalizing, wasn't playing the "Tupperware" game (that's when you keep stuffing your feelings inside and packing them tighter and tighter beneath the surface - and when you finally have no choice but to address them, they have turned into a snarled, tangled, moldy, rotten, festering, awful, incredibly-hard-to-fix mess).

But, I have a loving and patient husband who wants me to be well.  He hasn't accused me of being ill - mentally or otherwise.  The same way we go to the doctor to make sure our broken bones are healing properly, we can consider a counselor who can help assure that our hearts are on the mend.  I share this because I'm an open person, and because I want to play my part in dispelling the awful stigma about people with mental health challenges or concerns. 

When and if any of the kids in my youth group read this, I want them to be encouraged and understand that God didn't give any of us the ability to shoulder everything by ourselves forever.  He did, however, create us to work with each other and lift each other up.  There is a spiritual side and a natural side to everything we do - healing is no different.  To return to the example above, it would be foolish, after breaking a limb, to do absolutely nothing but pray over it when there are qualified doctors more than willing and able to help fix it.  On the other side of the coin, I think I have been relying entirely on my faith alone to get me through this horrible time in my life.  There are times when God does give us the grace to get through something - but I don't believe it's His intent for us simply to continue to function on auto-pilot, mindlessly praying and ignoring the help of those reaching out to us.  Such things certainly don't make us more spiritual or better Christians.  It could be argued, even, that those actions are dangerous becase they isolate us.  Frankly, I'm realizing that it hurts Him, too - because He gave us friends, fellowship, and family to support us not when things are going well, but during times like these...when grief is overwhelming, when life is painful and confusing, when we're afraid that we might simply break down and collapse altogether.

I doubt I will be posting any gritty details from my counseling experience - whether it will be one session or many, I don't yet know.  I will, however, share with you about my walk towards healing - however ugly that path might be at times. 

You're welcome to come along with me.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Good-bye, Mom.

I probably could have sat down to write this the very day my mother passed away, so cathartic is writing to me, but I didn't have the time.

I'm really not sure where I should start this story, since so few people who care about my mom actually knew what she was up to the last several years of her life.  Perhaps it's best to start right before her move to Kentucky.  I'll warn you that my mother's death was not peaceful and there are some graphic medical descriptions that might upset some people.  Please move ahead with prudence. 

My parents were divorced about 17 years ago and things were pretty ugly.  My poor Mum was going through menopause quite early, and she was trying to raise two hormonal teenage daughters while at the same time attempting to re-enter the work force with very little experience and a limited skill set.  Although there was no raging custody battle, I know that my mom was deeply hurt and my dad felt guilty and repentant.  I'm not assigning any blame; since the divorce they have both, in separate instances, shared with me their own mistakes as well as the percieved mistakes of the other that ultimately led to the divorce.

Some particularly bitter battles between my mother and myself led to my moving in with my father, step-mother and step-sister the summer I graduated from high school.  For a few awful weeks as I was rehearsing a show, Mum - the reigning Queen of the Silent Treatment - didn't return my calls.  Still, as we sang the show's final song, the lights came up and I saw Mum and Gina in the audience, trying to repress a smile.  Of course, I burst into tears and the very slow process of forgiveness and healing began.

When I was on break from college, I would see my mom at times.  We would see movies, or go out to eat, or shop at our favorite store, Fashion Bug.  We still fought, and I was still thoughtless sometimes, but things were still better than they were when I lived with her. 

Not long after, my previously healthy-as-a-horse mother began to get sick.  She struggled to keep her job and health insurance, but eventually lost both.  She had a bout with thyroid cancer, which she overcame with one operation and no follow-up whatsoever.  She battled fibromyalgia and fatigue, and I came to believe that she was suffering from some undiagnosed anxiety as well.  She began to have increasing stomach troubles, too, and her breathing difficulties returned.  She could neither work, not receive medical assistance.  She tried several different charities and government organizations but was repeatedly told she did not qualify for aid - allegedly because she couldn't prove that she was sick.  It was a vicious cycle.

She eventually got to the point of not being able to pay the rent on her small apartment in Crafton and came to live with me at the worst possible time.  I had just lost my job at Starbucks.  My dad had just lost his job due to an injury.  Although Mum was his ex, I do believe he would have helped us financially if he had been able.  Their healing process had begun, also, and the bitterness between them was fading.  All we had between us was my mother's food stamps, which she joyfully used as we went to the grocery store and bought everything our hearts desired.  Still, I could not care for her and did not want her to stay long because I didn't know what to do.

A few weeks later, the decision was made.  Mum, unable to work or make any type of life in Pennsylvania, would move to Kentucky, where her ex-boyfriend's father needed a full-time caretaker.  She was still on good terms with her ex, and her nurturing instincts certainly hadn't perished when her daughters left home.  She accepted the "job" and packed up her (few) belongings.  Then she was gone.  She asked me to keep things quiet because she preferred that people not know where she was.  She didn't want to be tracked down.  I think there was a little pride involved there, but mostly it was to protect us.  She had the opinion that, if she happened to owe any debts, the creditors would harass my sister and me relentlessly, and she hated that idea.

Her increasing stomach troubles caused her to shun social events.  She told me about "attacks" or "episodes" she got which caused her to vomit uncontrollably, for seemingly no reason.  She tried changing her diet - cutting out dairy, fatty foods, and gluten.  Still, nothing changed.  She could barely go on a quick trip to the store because she lived in constant fear of another inexplicable attack that would leave her in pain for hours.  Although I believed her, I attributed much of her condition to anxiety and kept suggesting she seek mental help as well as medicine.

I offered to visit her several times.  Each time she refused.  She was unable to come to my wedding, which deeply hurt me.  I knew it was not her fault, and I eventually forgave her, but it took a long time.  We wrote letters back and forth and talked on the phone sometimes until my mother learned how to send text messages.  We kept in touch at least once a week in some form, and I did get one beautiful chance to see her.

My sister Julia, despite everyone's misgivings and gentle warnings, chose to get married before she graduated from college.  She picked June 2, 2012, and as we drove down to Tennessee, my husband kept mentioning that my mom's place wasn't too far off our route.  "She won't let me visit," I insisted.  "She says that she's on a strict schedule and the man she takes care of is pretty fragile.  I've offered before..."

"Call her," commanded Ross.

I did.  She sounded delighted.  She made plans to see us that Sunday, as we were headed back to Pittsburgh.  I hung up the phone in a daze.  I was going to see my mom after almost three years!  Julia's wedding was beautiful, but honestly, seeing my mom was even better.  Of course, she prepared a ridiculously huge spread of food for Ross and me: pulled pork and cold cuts for sandwiches, chips, homemade broccoli salad, pistachio pudding, lemon merengue pie, and Jell-O for dessert.  It was delicious, of course, and we chatted for several hours about her pets (she had continued her Pittsburgh mission of rescuing, training, and nurturing strays), her hobbies (she had begun to write poetry and dabbled in illustrations).  She never once mentioned her health, which was a typical topic of conversation otherwise.  We got a few pictures and enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Looking back, it was Julia's determination to get married when she did, that allowed me to see my mother one last time.  I am so grateful that Jules heard from God when the rest of us were not sure what to believe.

The call came at 3:00 AM Thursday, when my phone was on silent.  I woke around 7:00 and saw that I'd missed a call from Kentucky.  The message said that my mom was at King's Daughters Medical Center and in surgery.  I called back immediately, of course, hoping for nothing worse than an irritated gallbladder or inflamed tonsils.  She woman I spoke with had no information for me, as she'd just arrived for her shift, but she'd have the doctor call me as soon as he was finished with my mother.  I thanked her and set the phone down as I sat on the couch.  I was ice-cold and shaking.

The doctor called back within a few minutes.  The first thing he asked me was if my mother knew she had a hiatal hernia.  My heart dropped, and at that moment, God allowed me to enter Task Mode.  I did not have time to be a hysterial grieving daughter.  Instead, I was a business professional, thinking objectively.  "Yes," I admitted, "...but she consistently refused to seek medical treatment for it."  The doctor went on to politely, clearly, and gently explain that my mother's hernia had caused her stomach to burst, infecting her entire abdominal cavity and causing her incredible pain.  He said that they had done what they could, removing her entire stomach and her spleen, but that her chances of survival were minimal.  He said that, if she did make it through the initial recovery process, she would still face the risk of infection.

I took a deep breath and metaphorically plunged into that icy, numbing pool that is fear.  I packed my bag and told Ross that I was leaving and he didn't need to call off work.  Of course, he did, and he packed a bag, too.  We were forced to stop at Wal-Mart for oil for my car, and received a call from the hospital.  A nurse was asking when we expected to arrive.  At that point, I did lose it, crumpling down in the middle of the store, mascara bleeding down my face.  "I'm on my way," I sobbed, and Ross gathered me up.  At ten o'clock, we were on the road.

The drive should have been about five hours, but we made it in four and a half, the tense silence almost overwhelming us.  I prayed around ten-thiry, and God gave me the same strange sense of peace I had when we learned that we were losing Bennet, our second child.  God had whispered, "I have his heart here with me," indicating that the baby had already gone on into heaven before me.  I got the strong sense that things were okay - not necessarily that my mother would recover, but that we would be able to be there with her.

And we were.  Before I had arrived, I'd had the sense to ask the doctor what I would see when I got into the room.  I was already under enough stress; I didn't need the added surprise of seeing something I wasn't prepared for.  Sure enough, my mother was lying there, pale and puffy.  A machine was pumping blood into her body as another one was attempting to suction blood out of her abdomen.  A thin stream of blood was running out of her mouth.  There were tubes in her nose and one in her throat.  She was connected to at least half a dozen IVs that were pumping her full of sedatives, painkillers, and blood pressure medication.  She was undeniably on her death bed.

Yet, when I walked in the door and simply said, "Mummy", she opened her eyes and looked right at me.  She always had the loveliest eyes - almost black, with perfectly arched brows.  In those eyes just then I saw a heartbroken apology.  Her father had died unexpectedly 15 years before, leaving his two daughters to sort through a hellish mess.  In that glance, I believe I saw her fear over doing the same to us.

"I'm here, Mummy.  I love you," I said.  Dutifully, I added, "Gina loves you, and Gram and Brent, and Mar...and Dad and Deana.  We all love you."

I stayed there a few minutes, holding her stiff, cold hand.  The nurse, a small woman with curly hair, gently led us into the hall.

"I don't know how she is alive right now," she admitted.  "I've been in the Army for 22 years and this is the worst case I have ever seen.  I don't know how she was even able to open her eyes."

Remembering the wives' tale that coma patients can still hear what is being said around them, I asked, "While you were in the room, did you mention anything about my being on my way?"

"Yes," she replied. 

"Then that is how she could open her eyes," I determined.  I knew I wasn't a perfect daughter, but I knew I was always on her mind and we'd been in touch quite often over the last several weeks.  If she knew I was coming, that stubborn, wonderful old lady would stop at nothing to see me.

Over the next several hours, Ross and I were treated with great kindness and respect as we waited for my sister, Gina, to arrive with Dad and Deana.  Jerry, my mom's friend, and his family - who had practially adopted her - were there, too, on and off.  Mom didn't open her eyes again for us, but at one point in the night, the nurse told us she indicated she was in pain.  We gathered around her after I insisted to Gina that we weren't saying good-bye.  Not yet.  I believe in miracles and was completely prepared to allow God to do one, but I didn't want my mom surrounded by weeping and wailing until it was truly the end.

After everyone had to leave, I stayed next to Mom, gently stroking her calloused foot and talking to her.  The night nurse was sweet and thoughtful, but did let us know that things looked very, very bad.  She said that my mom's blood still wasn't clotting properly and that, as a result of her stomach rupturing, she was suffering from sepsis.  The rupture was also leading to multiple organ failure.  Her liver was in shock and her kidneys were failing.   Her heart and brain were fine, but nothing else was.  Nothing.  Her blood pressure continued to drop even as her heart rate increased to well above a normal range.   The nurse began to explain the concept of DNR to me, but I interrupted her.  I had already spoken to my sister and, even with no will or formal paperwork, we knew that Mum would hate to be brought back to a miserable life.  I fought a little with the ethical concept.  Was my refusing treatment for my mother the same as killing her?  Was letting her die the right choice?  Her mind was fine but her body was broken.  Was God going to do anything? 

I took a moment to talk to Mum, one-on-one.

"Mummy," I said.  "Listen to me.  If Jesus comes for you, you need to go with him.  You'll get to see your grandbabies - remember, their names are Olivia, Bennet, and Galen.  But if Jesus doesn't come for you, you need to fight.  And I will be here, fighting with you.  Okay?  I love you."

My mother had struggled with her faith, and faith in general, her whole life.  I don't think she ever stopped believing in God, but I know there were a great many trials that forced her to question what she believed.  I do know that she had found a lot of internal peace when she moved to Kentucky.  I think that God had allowed her to mellow and find forgiveness in many ways she didn't expect.  She once called me to tell me that she'd finally forgiven my dad for the divorce and everything that went with it...but that God had told her she needed to actually call my dad and tell him that.  She'd laughed, but she had done it.  She'd had a long conversation with Dad that, I believe, was a key to her own emotional healing.  I know she loved her Jesus.  She read her Bible.  Most of the letters and texts she had sent me mentioned that she was praying for us - for a job for me, a better job for us, healing during our miscarriages, better weather, safety.

I didn't fear for her soul that night, but I wonder if she was scared.  I wonder if she'd seen the Lord and said to Him, "Please...not yet.  Let me keep trying."  I wonder if she was afraid of leaving her Kentucky family in the lurch.  After all, she'd just adopted yet another stray kitten a few weeks before - not to mention all the other people and pets she was caring for!.  "We will take care of the animals," I found myself assuring her.  I finally left the hospital around 2:30 that morning, about 24 hours since she'd been admitted.

The final call came a few hours later, as Ross and I were sleeping in the Hospitality House provided for us.  "She isn't responding to the medicine and her blood pressure is still dropping.  I think maybe you'll want to come in now," came the gentle drawl.  "Should anything happen, do you want us to do chest compressions?"

"Absolutely not," I replied,  "Don't you touch her.  Don't put her in any more pain."

As I dressed, Ross made the calls to the rest of the family.  We gathered in the hospital room, six of us touched by this stubborn, hard-nosed, big-hearted little woman, and said our good-byes.  Still in Task Mode, I approached the nurse and said crisply, "We're ready."  I then asked her to explain to my fmaily what was going to be happening, making entirely sure that she would not be in any pain at all.

As Gina and I each held one of her hands, we began to remind her of all the wonderful things she had done for us, and told her about some of the things were were doing and still hoped to do.  Gina had just started a new job and I was looking at a great volunteer opportunity.  I told her that I'd lost a few pounds since the new year.  I reminded her that her skin still looked as fantastic as I remembered when I was a child.

Gradually, her heart rate slowed and the nurse continued to lower the dosages of her blood pressure medication.  I kissed Mum's forehead and snipped a lock of her hair. 

And then she was gone.

I didn't have any time to mourn.  I haven't mourned yet.  We had to make immediate decisions regarding a funeral home, memorial, and other things.  Mum had expressed to my sister and me that she'd wanted to be cremated.  Based not only on that wish, but on the horrible condition of her body, we agreed that it was the best way.  She'd had so few friends in Kentucky that we hardly needed a lavish memorial - plus, she would have absolutely hated that.  We ended up scheduling a short service without any professional speaker.  I would give the eulogy and that would be it. 

We celebrated Mum's life by enjoying country-fried steak for lunch that day.  Later, Gina and I went through my mom's bedroom.  She'd been a remarkably organized woman and had labeled virtually everything - her important documents, her treasured photos - even things she'd brought from our old Crafton house as she'd moved into smaller and smaller apartments.

Although Gina and I have never gotten along particularly well, God gave us a supernatural grace to go through her things without argument, without pettiness, without tears.  We each wanted different reminders of her - Gina preferred things that she'd used, like a pair of scissors or a recipe book - while I preferred things she'd liked, like lighthouses or cat memorabilia.  We each chose a few pieces of Mum's costume jewelry that had been our favorites.

Then came the brief memorial, where about a dozen people mourned the passing of Cindy Thielet.  Then a meal, then the long drive back to Pittsburgh.

As I said, things haven't hit me yet.  God gave me the grace and ability to take on the huge honor of handling my mom's final hours and last wishes.  That grace, it seems, is still in effect.  I'm a little numb.  I do have the overwhelming sense of gratitude that she was deeply loved and well cared-for by her Kentucky family.  These people were her true-blue friends.  Not that she didn't have any in Pennsylvania - I don't mean that.  I simply mean that she wasn't simply providing a service for them.  She was family to them, as much as she was to me.

The final gift I got from my mom, well, I have yet to unwrap.  In shuffling through the things on her desk, we found a wrapped package addressed to me, as yet unmailed.  I haven't been ready to open it yet.  I know it will be another silly gift; she'd loved to send little trinkets for the cats, or pictures to Ross and me.  But it's literally the last thing my mom had set aside for me, and I'm waiting for the right time to unwrap it.

We're planning a potluck supper in her honor for the Pittsburgh friends and family in the next few weeks.  Most people's memories of my mom involve great food, so there's no better thing to do to honor her than eat!  I'm trying to look forward to that - a celebration of a warm-hearted Polish lady who touched everyone she met.

Bye for now, Mummy.  Love you.