A blog by Lori Lyons

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Down to the river

"We're going down to the river,
Down to the river, down to the river to pray.
Let's get washed by the water
Washed by the water and rise up in amazing grace."

The best laid plans don't always come together.

Just ask any bride. Any mom. Any coach.

But when they do, it really is magic.

When my Mama left this earth after 84 years of living her life to the fullest, my sister and I were left to face a challenge. Mom didn't want a funeral. No wake, no service and certainly no viewing.

I understand that she didn't want a bunch of mourners passing by her casket saying, "Oh, she looks good!" She wasn't religious so she didn't want a bunch of prayers over her body. She didn't want a bunch of ballyhooing. As loud and as boistrous as she was, she wanted to just slip out of this world peacefully and quietly. She really didn't want to be a bother, so she wanted nothing. She wanted to go just as she went -- quietly and peacefully and without any kind of fuss.

We used to argue over this a lot. I'm one of those people who believe you have to have some kind of closure. My father's funeral and its aftermath is one of the enduring memories of my life. And it's actually a good memory.

"We have to have something, Ma," I'd say. "The way you'd have it, we wouldn't even get a day off of work! And you'd deny me flowers and pretty plants? Really?"

"Yes," she'd say.

Occasionally she would concede.

"Have everybody over to your house, in your yard, then go throw me in the River," she'd say. A lot.

So that's what we did.

Six days after Mama went wherever she went peacefully and quietly in the middle of the night, The Coach and I hosted a party.

Y'all know I'm no stranger to parties, now. I host a parade every year. I've had a good dozen or so toddler, kid and teenage birthday parties. I turned my house into Hogwarts and a refrigerator box into a Tardis. Yes indeed.

But I'm not so adept at hosting a funeral.

OK. It was a memorial service. And I had a vision from the start. I wanted simple, elegant, but Mama. So I took down some of the Christmas decorations, made a little memorial table with pictures and mementos and ordered myself a big bouquet of flowers.

I didn't want a sign-in book, so I ordered memory cards for guests to write their favorite memory. And as a keepsake, I ordered Forget Me Not seeds and envelopes. (And spent hours filling them!)

Throughout the day a steady stream of family, friends and complete strangers made their way to and through our little cottage, grabbing a chicken tender or a piece of catfish along the way. A big gang gathered in my tiny kitchen to drink and talk about those who were and weren't there. (You know who you are.)

Meanwhile, the kids ran around the backyard, testing the strength of my hammock and miraculously avoiding the dog droppings.

Then about 4 p.m., my husband got everyone's attention and explained what would happen next. We were going to the Mississippi River, where there would be a nice (we hoped) sunset.

And we took Mama and her dog, LulaMae, with us.

A caravan of about 20 or so cars followed us to the Bonnet Carre Spillway, which is about a mile from our house. Most people know it as the big Army Corps of Engineers project that has to save the City of New Orleans from flooding every once in a while. We also know it as a huge, wonderful recreational area where local folks fish, camp and play in the mud. It also offers a spectacular view of the Mississippi River and some gorgeous sunsets.

This day was no exception.

First, we gathered in a circle, each offering a memory of my Mama. How funny she was. How strange she was. How unforgettable. How stubborn. How bigger than life. How she often told people that she wanted to go into the river.

And even though she wasn't very religious, we all held hands and said one for her anyway.

Just at that moment, a lone Bald Eagle decided to fly over us. I had never seen one in my life.

Then we made our way to the water's edge, small waves rippling toward the shore, and let her and LulaMae go, riding on the little waves and taking their sweet time about it.  A dozen red roses followed her -- the color of her ubiquitous lipstick -- and one beautiful flower garland handmade by one of her dear French Quarter friends.

And behind it all was a perfect sunset. Some even saw a cross in the clouds in the sky.

There were tears. But there also was laughter.

And peace.

Lettie Lee French

Lettie Lee French, a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and eccentric character passed away Monday, December 4, 2017 after a brief illness. She was 84. Fiercely independent and a mistress of reinvention, she had careers as a comptometer operator, restaurant hostess, hotel night auditor, office manager and hobby shop owner in Houma and New Orleans. She was a talented painter who studied with well-known American artist Henry Hensche. After moving from Bay St. Louis, Miss., to Norco, La., she spent 10 of her final years as a Tarot Card Reader at The Bottom of the Cup Tea Room in New Orleans. She loved her family, her poodle, Lulamae, and the casinos. She is survived by her daughters, Jo Lee Catton (Abby "Nick" LeBlanc) of Baton Rouge; and Lori Lyons (Marty Luquet) of Norco; daughter-in-law Louella Pitre Lyons; Grand children Lee Saunier (Regina) of Prairieville, Beau Saunier of Baton Rouge, Casey Catton of Baton Rouge, Lena Lyons Brunet (Clayton) of Houma, Marti Lyons of Houma, Kevin Lyons (Samantha) of Houma, Daniel Luquet (Cori) of Luling, Courtney Luquet of Destrehan and Lora Leigh Luquet of Norco; and 10 great-grandchildren. She is preceded in death by her parents, Martin Behrman French and Evelyn Himel Cross French; her son, Rhett Martin Lyons. Friends and family are invited to a casual gathering to be held on Sunday, December 10, 2017 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the home of her daughter in Norco. In lieu of flowers, donations to are preferred. The family wishes to thank the staffs at Oschner Hospital in Kenner and Ormond Nursing and Care Center in Destrehan for its thoughtful care in recent weeks. Arrangements made by Samart Funeral Home of Houma.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

No tomorrow

"I'll see you Monday," I said. "I'll bring my book and sit with you all day. I'll need the rest."

It was a promise I made and fully intended to keep to my Mama on Saturday as I left her surrounded by my nieces, the great-grandkids and my sister-in-law. I brought coffee. They brought Popeye's.

It was the day before the big Christmas parade that literally ends at my house. Every year we host a big Open House for family, friends and some parade participants. I had a million things to do. The Coach and I were headed to the grocery store for vittles for the party. But I was already exhausted from a week of house-prep and Mama.

She had been in the hospital since last Friday, complaining of not feeling well. She had been lethargic. Nauseated. Weary.

Turns out, she really did need that oxygen they sent her home with a few years ago but she sent back. That day her oxygen levels were so low the triage nurse thought the reading was wrong. No, they really were in the 40s.

She was released on the following Thursday and moved to the nursing home near our home for a temporary respite. "Skilled nursing," they call it, for the patients too well to stay in a hospital but not really ready to return to their little room in their daughter's house. She had up to 20 days paid for by her insurance to get stronger, get some more physical therapy and get used to the idea that she really did need that oxygen.

She had spent a week at another facility in August. That one was more of a hospital though. This was a nursing home, the same one where my mother-in-law spent her last week. Where many others do too.

"Do these people stay here all the time?" she asked me on Friday.

"Some do," I told her. "But you're only here temporarily until you get stronger so you can come home."

I had been there every day, getting her settled. Getting her TV set up. Bringing her clothes, makeup, toothpaste and a daily thermos full of my husband's coffee -- which she loved.

She was doing OK, I thought, but not great. She didn't look so good. She still didn't feel so good. My sister went to visit her after the parade.

"She didn't look good," she said. "She said she didn't feel good."

A little after 2 a.m., the phone rang. I've come to know that a middle-of-the-night phone call is never a good thing. That's when your mom calls to tell you your big brother has died in a car wreck on a lonely stretch of road. That's when that same nursing home called to tell my husband that his mother was on the way to the hospital she would not leave.

To me they simply said, "There's been a change in status. Can you come down to the facility?" Then she gave me a code to get in. I had to call back to get it repeated.

I was in my closet getting dressed when I realized it. Mama was gone. They didn't say she was being taken to the hospital. "Change in status." That can only mean one thing.

An eternity later (really only 15 minutes) we drove up and saw the ambulance idling and the Sheriff's Deputy's car. I knew.

Inside, a lovely lady named Claudette stammered as she tried to say the words I already knew were coming. The nurse, making her rounds, found my mom in her bed. She was gone.

I wanted to see her, but I was asked to wait for the coroner to come. About 30 minutes later they decided he wasn't coming and I could go in.

Her body was there, but the fierce, fiery, sassy, force of nature that was my Mama was gone. Stilled. Poof. Just like that.

That's the hard part. I was supposed to see her tomorrow. But tomorrow came and she was gone. There will be no more phone calls asking me when I'm coming to fix her TV or her phone or bring her coffee or her glasses. There will be no more arguing over something stupid. We did that a lot.

While she was in the hospital, I rearranged her room at my house. She had only been there since August and we were still trying to get her settled. A fabulous painter, she brought many of her artworks with her to my house, but in her depressed state she never let me hang them. I put as many of them up as I could while she was out so they would be there when she came home.

She never thought of this as her home, though. It was my home to her. It was my kitchen. My refrigerator. My cabinets. I told her once, "I bought you the cookies you like." She replied, "I'm not going to go through your cabinets looking for something to eat, Lori." No matter how many times I tried to tell her, "This is your home now," it never was.

I had hope for our future, even though I knew it would be somewhat short. I had no idea it would be this short.

When my mama lost her mama in 1988, she told me, "That's a champion you lose forever." She was right.

I really did plan to go to the home on Monday and sit with her and rest my sore feet and legs. I would have. But when tomorrow came, she was gone. Instead, I packed up her few belongings and brought them home. Then I went to the funeral home to make arrangements and fill out her death certificate.

Hey. Not everyone gets to put "Tarot Card reader" in the occupation box.

I got to see her one more time. Still still. And it broke my heart in pieces to know that was the last time we  would be in the same room. Forever.

I won't get to see her tomorrow.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

How's your mama?

Image result for how's ya mama

You know how it is when a bunch of women get together?

While we do like to drink (and dance), we also like to talk about stuff we all have in common. You know, our kids, our husbands, our lives, our love for Outlander.

When we were little girls, we liked to talk about little boys, both the ones we knew and the ones we dreamed about (Donny Osmond! And now you know how old I am.) and other little girls.

When we got older, talk turned to clothes, makeup, music, teachers, where we wanted to go to college, what we wanted to be when we grew up. And boys.

Once we got to college it was which teachers were the worst, which were the easiest and how in the world did they expect us to do all that homework and still make it to to quarter beer night.

Then, most of my friends went on to the next phase of their lives -- babies.

I was left out of that conversation for a long time, and I never did get to talk about my stretch marks and pregnancy cravings and delivery nightmares -- because I didn't have any of them. I wanted to, but I couldn't.

I did get to regale friends and party guests about infertility treatments, fertility doctors, the cost of one cycle of  Fertinex and the cost of adoption.

Even after all these years, people love to hear our happy adoption story about how we were found, chosen and blessed to receive our baby girl, Lora Leigh. And the crazy day she was born.

While I was late to the party, I did get to tell lots of funny stories about my adorable little curly-headed girl, and got to talk about school, teachers, birthday parties, mean girls, field trips, puberty and the dreaded age of 13 with my mom friends.

Now she's 16 and I don't get to see her much. She has school, a job and her room. At least I can follow her on Instagram and SnapChat to see what she's up to sometimes.

When my friends and I get together these days, we talk about lot of things like diets, booze, sex, our jobs (or my lack of one at the moment) and how stupid funny Sharknado was.

And we talk about our mamas.

Everyone who follows my somewhat prolific social media accounts is well aware that my mama has been through a tough time. Some are aware that she is now living with us, in the same tiny room my mother-in-law occupied for nearly two years three years ago.

Some know that I left my job to give her my full attention and move her from her apartment to The Room.

And I'm not the only one going through it.

My daughter's school held its homecoming dance Saturday night, two weeks late thanks to Hurricane Nate (which seemed to be headed directly our way then took a turn to the right). My daughter and her BFF, who have known each other since kindergarten, joined a young man they have known since kindergarten and his date to go to the dance as a group.

Hours (and hours) before, everybody got together at the young man's house for some wine (yay!) and cheese and the obligatory pictures.

After making them pose in various ways and enduring the hundreds of eye rolls, the kids were safely on their way. Then the parents stood around for a few minutes chatting -- as we do.

Once upon a time we would have shared stories about our kids and their various adventures and even some of their recent ailments. But now we all seem to be at the stage where we talk about our parents.

Our aging parents.

Where once we might have compared notes on our children's first steps, now we're comparing notes on or parents' last.

My mom is still rather mobile, but she has had trouble navigating the few steps up the side porch and the steps in the back that go down to the pool. She's been nagging us for years to put up hand rails. For the past month she has been telling everyone who will listen that she is a prisoner in our house because there are none.

This week, we finally found a guy (and she was walking across the street to play video poker at the little diner the very next day!).

In our Saturday conversation, my friend Mary said her dad can still navigate her front steps, but her mom can't. She asked for the number of the guy who did the job.

We also talked about my mom's cognitive issues, how her short term memory took a hard hit. Mary said her mom has dementia too.

We discussed how difficult it is for our parents to work their phones, the TV remotes and what the hell is up them them and QVC?

Friday night as I did my thing in the press box at a high school football game, several of the long-timers asked me, "How's your mama?" Word has spread that I had to leave my job to care for her. I appreciate their concerns.

"I live with Dory the Fish," I tell them. That's the simplest way to put it.

Not surprisingly, I am often rewarded with a story about their own mama and their own trials and tribulations. One night, a fellow scribe and I spent the whole pregame comparing notes -- not on the game, but on our mamas.

We're at that age, I guess, us Baby Boomers, where our children no longer really need us but our parents really do.

We don't want it to be this way.

We want our parents to be the strong, independent people they've always been -- just as we want our children to grow up to be. We don't like to think of our moms as weak and needy and incapable of making a damn ham sandwich. But after seeing how she destroyed a box of cereal while trying to open it, you realize she really can't help it.

Yes, this is my second go-round. I was a terrible caretaker for my mother-in-law and I will continue to be a terrible caretaker for my mother. I'm lucky I have a husband who is on my team and has my back every single day. A lot of people are doing this alone.

Mary tried to call me a saint last night.

No. No I am no saint (have you read this blog??) I'm just doing what I've got to do.

And comparing notes.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Deja vu.

A few weeks ago, I asked my mother a serious question:

"Mom?" I said. "When I was growing up, was there ever a time when you looked at me and said, 'You know, Lori? You are really great at taking care of people. I think you should be a nurse.'"

 "Absolutely not!" she replied.

Then how in the hell did I get here?

Right about five years ago, just two weeks after the former daily Times-Picayune gave me my gold watch for 25 years of service then laid me off, I became the Mother-In-Law keeper, a full time caretaker for my husband's 83-year-old mother.

For the next 16 months I fed her, dressed her, medicated her, drove her to her thrice-weekly dialysis appointments and picked her up and spent the remaining time tiptoeing around my house so as not to wake her.

Many, many, many times Mother-in-Law Jane would complain (rather loudly) about the level of care she received, to which I replied many, many, many times, "I am NOT a health care professional!"

To which she would reply, "Believe me, I KNOW."

When she finally got to a point that she needed more assistance than I could physically provide, my husband made the very difficult decision to put her in a nearby nursing home. She was only there a week before she took ill and died.

But I knew -- and apparently God knew -- that my caretaker days were not over.

I've been sorta watching out for my Mama for the past 11 years, when she divorced her third husband and bought a house around the corner from me under the chemical flare in the suburbs of New Orleans.

She was only in her early 70s, so she didn't need a whole lot of assistance, but apparently she believed that I, her youngest child, could do anything if I put my mind to it.

So, I'd get a call:

"Lori. There's a tree branch that needs cutting down in my yard. When you get a minute, can you come cut it?"

"Lori. My toilet is not working. When you get a minute, can you come fix it?"

"Lori. I know you failed math several times when you were a kid and I had to get you tutors to get through high school, but, when you get a minute, can you come do my taxes?"

Um. WTF?

"Mom," I'd say. "I am a SPORTS WRITER." Even when I wasn't any more.

Eventually Mama went to work in the French Quarter as a fortune teller, reading drunk tourists' Tarot cards and spending just about every dime she made during the day at Harrah's that night.

But as she got into her 70s, she started slowing down. She's had a heart murmur since she contracted Rheumatic Fever when she was pregnant for me. Every time she had trouble breathing and I had to take her to the ER, the doctors would tell her to get her affairs in order because she was in heart failure. That happened a few times over 11 years.

And she did have a few what we believe to be TIAs, where she would make no sense or talk jibberish. They could have been UTIs, too. Who knows?

Two years ago they even convinced her to let them do an experimental trick on her leaky valve, which worked pretty good. But she never went back to work. Fearful of running out of money, she put her house up for sale one day in May.

She sold it two days later.

After months of cleaning, tossing  and not tossing, selling and giving away her life's treasures, my 84-year-old Mama moved into a cute little one bedroom apartment in a senior living complex in our old home town. She liked to call it "The Home." I told her, "Ma. You have to be 55 to live there. I can move next door to you."

Maybe I should have.

Things weren't right. She was silly on the phone, forgetful. She became a little paranoid, believing the hospital had stolen all her money. She forgot to pay bills or paid them more than once. One night when she needed help, she called me -- but now I was an hour away.

Knowing she had a doctor's appointment in early August, I planned to go with her to discuss these things with her doctor. When I arrived to pick her up, she wasn't even dressed. She was groggy. When we got to the doctor's office, she dozed off. When she awoke, she couldn't move.

A stroke, we thought.

It wasn't. But it was the beginning of a three week odyssey that saw my Mama go from her usual kooky self to Chuckie to the Exorcist to Sleeping Beauty and back again as the doctors tried to control her out-of-control blood pressure. There were hallucinations, paranoia, ugly words said. Things I will never forget.

She remembers none of it.

I posted this in Mama's hospital room so the nurses could see the "real Lettie." They all loved it. 

Whatever this was took a huge hit on her short term memory. While she can tell you clear as a bell what she ate for breakfast on her first day of school, she can't tell you what number is the Weather Channel. Or if she ate or took her pills or the last time she took a bath.

She's Dory.

So, at the end of August, Mama left her fourth hospital and came home with me. For good. We are in the process of packing up her things from her little apartment and moving her full scale into the mother-in-law cave, where Jane spent her final year and a half. Only a few months ago I converted it from our guest room to The Coach's baseball cave.

That same day, my employer and I decided to part ways. I had worked 14 hours the day before.

Mama isn't too happy about all this. She loved her little apartment, for one thing. She was making friends. She was close to the great grandkids. But now, she can't drive any more. She's not ready for a nursing home and assisted living is outrageously expensive. My sister lives in Baton Rouge, but she's still rebuilding her house, which was flooded last August.

So she's stuck with me.

Mama she thinks she is "putting us out." She moaned and groaned about being in the way all day yesterday as I moved the Coach's pictures and plaques from his cave to a wall in my upstairs home office, which I dusted off and reorganized for my freelancing gig (hire me!)

"He's going to be upset," she said.

"Yes," I replied. "He's going to be so pissed off that I moved his bobble heads. What was I thinking?"

For the record, he loves his wall (mainly because it shows he has more stuff than me.) We still have to find a spot for the FOUR sets of golf clubs, though. And we are thinking about building a pub/pool shed in the backyard so he has a place to put his stuff.

To all of our surprise, it has been a rather smooth transition though. My mother and I fight. A lot. And we have been estranged several times. We didn't speak for three months after my wedding because she thought the photographer took too many photos (and, well, I was marrying that man). She says I don't make her feel welcome in my home; She makes me feel like I can do nothing right. Now we are living in the same house for the first time since I was 17.  

Mama and me. 1962. 
Of course, this time, the roles are reversed. 

I'm now the one telling my mother that she needs to take a bath, that she needs to get out of the damn bed, that she needs to learn how to do things for herself and grow up. I'm the one showing her how to turn on the washing machine and the dryer. And I'm the one making doctor appointments and driving her to her appointments.

And I'm the one who gave her a stern talking to this morning after I found out that she had slipped out of the bed (she didn't fall, she kind of slid to the floor -- thank goodness). That's not why I got mad, though.

I got mad because she didn't call for help, didn't bang on the floor, didn't reach for her cell phone to call me (even though I was right upstairs) because she "didn't want to bother" me.


"You're always fussing at me," she said.

I should ground her. Or take away her car.

That'll teach her a lesson. Right?

We all knew this day would come. It was only a matter of time. I've been saying it to Coach; Coach has been saying it to me. We've been saying it to Mama, but she kept saying "never."

But this is what we're supposed to do. She keeps saying, "I don't want to be a burden."

Mama, you're not a burden.

But you can be a pain in the ass.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017


As much a fuss as my mama made over all of my birthdays growing up, I have to say she let me down on my 16th.

I wanted a party. A big, fancy Sweet 16 party with lots of people, friends, balloons and a big ass cake.

I didn't get that.

I did get a cake, and a couple of friends and I went to the big hangout at the time -- Shakey's Pizza Parlor. I had invited a bunch of friends from school, but not many of them came. I ended up offering my cake to other diners and their kids.

When my stepdaughter, Courtney, turned 16, she got the big fancy party. She and some of her girlfriends who were having March birthdays got together for a big party with lots of people, friends, balloons and a big ass cake. They wore long dresses and got to dance with their dads. It was sweet.

Just a few days ago, my little baby girl turned Sweet 16. 

Knowing her the way I do, I gave her the option: Do you want a big party or a trip somewhere fun?

She wanted a trip.

OK. Where to? The beach? New York? Somewhere historic?


And she wanted to spend her day in Epcot.


So, after consulting with a cousin-in-law who used to be a sports writer but now is a Disney travel specialist (smart guy), we booked ourselves a 3-day trip to Orlando.

Oh, this wasn't our first Disney rodeo. We took her when she was 4, then again when she was 9 and 11. Keep in mind, my stepdaughter worked as a Photopass photographer for a few years, so believe me when I say we've done Disney. I also went with my mom and my niece way before I met any of current family members.

So I've stayed at the Grand Floridian, All Star Movies, All Star Music and the Caribbean  Beach Resort. I wanted my budding little artist to have a turn at the Art of Imagination Resort, but they were booked. We had to settle on Pop Century, right across the lake.

She still was excited. She started packing on Sunday, bringing out pairs of outfits for the Coach and me to choose between. (They all looked the same to me). We also had to go to Bed Bath and Beyond so she could buy travel sized items of all the things she couldn't live without.

And I went to Amazon.com and ordered her a beautiful tiara, complete with a rhinestone 16 in the center. If you're going to go to princess land,  you must dress the part. Right?

On a Wednesday afternoon after school, we set out from New Orleans to Florida, stopping for orange juice at the official welcome center. We even let our newly licensed driver have a (very brief) turn on the highway -- not realizing that particular stretch would turn out to be completely under construction with absolutely no shoulder. It also was my first time as a passenger with her behind the wheel.

Oh she did great.... And I survived.

After about six hours on the road, we stopped for the night at a little hotel in Lake City, Florida, where I learned how difficult it is to share a small hotel sink and counter space with a teenager who spends her days and nights watching makeup tutorials.

"Just give me a spot," I told her.

We survived that too.

On Thursday, January 26, I woke up to having a 16-year-old daughter snoring in her bed next to me. We woke her up with song and hugs and kisses, only for her to complain about how loudly WE snored in our bed next to her.

After a breakfast at the local Waffle House, we drove the remaining few hours to DisneyWorld. Thanks to modern technology, we didn't even have to check into the hotel. We parked the car by the shuttle, hopped on board and, within minutes, we were in Epcot.

She wore her crown and received a birthday button at the front gate. We spent the day strolling from country to country, dashing in just about every store and having people from around the world wishing her "Happy Birthday."

We ate fish and chips in England, had French pastries and champagne in Paris and (her choice) Japanese food in Japan.

And it was, truly, magical. Friday we went to Magic Kingdom and Saturday we spent a small fortune visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We even caught the Pro Bowl parade, which is another story (you can read it here... I wrote a column about it.)

And I cried.

Even as we were making memories, I was surrounded by them....

Her face when she saw the princesses on the castle stage for the first time....

When she saw Mickey and Minnie....

When she was the little girl dressed in her Cinderella costume sound asleep in her daddy's arms after a long day at Magic Kingdom....

When she was getting autographs for her book....

The moment she balked at getting onto the Hogwarts ride a the last minute (Hey! Those warning signs were scary!)

Now she's nearly a grown up. She doesn't believe in the magic much. She believes in Netflix, Lush, Sephora and Etsy. She refused to get on the Small World ride because it's "creepy," and she almost refused to go on Splash Mountain. And we never saw the Magic Kingdom fireworks because she was tired and ready to go.

And in two years -- just two years -- she'll be off to college.

And Coach and I can go to DisneyWorld all by ourselves.