In Memory Of…

As many of you know,  I left nearly two weeks ago to be by my sister’s side as she was dying.  She passed away on Friday, May 29, 2020. which is Pentecost in the New Testament. I don’t really understand the connection, but her dear friend she celebrated the tradition each year with her, called it to my attention.  Over the years, They embraced and began celebrating many of the Jewish festivals and traditions, as taught by her Christian Jewish friends, so it was fitting that that was the day she would die.

Today, I went through some of her old pictures and I will sprinkle them throughout my story. Click on them for more info.  Her art and some of her stories are in blog posts I’ve done in the past, so if you ever have a chance or time to go back, and some are way back, I encourage you to do so.  I hope you will bear with me, while I share how my trip went and some of the feelings I experienced.

Diana's senior pic
Senior Picture

I went to be at my sisters side because she was at mine when I needed her most.  I have to say, it was the hardest thing I have ever done.  It doesn’t even compare to how I felt when my parents died.  Over the years, my blogs  have shared bits and pieces of our childhood and the abuse we endured growing up, so their passing was different.  It was perhaps one of relief.  We knew that mother’s mental illness would be cured and that dad’s judgement for his actions would be in God’s hands.  They were still our parents and we loved them despite themselves. We appreciated their good attributes and tried to focus on those and that part of them that made us who we are today. To be honest our feelings vacillated often. We would often remind ourselves to stay positive. She and I worked as a team to take care of our parents as we felt a Christian should.

 

No, my sister’s death cut deep.  If she had not come up to help me care for our ailing parents, I might not be here to write this blog today.  She was my rock and my lifesaver.  I loved her deeper than I can ever express. Surprisingly, I am composed for the moment as I am sharing this.

I hope you don’t mind but I’d like to share my trip experience which went as follows:

May 19th

When I spoke to my nephews the doctor had stated, she might not live through the weekend.  I was in a quandary because of Covid-19. I vacillated all day.  I did not want to be sitting in such close proximity to people in an enclosed airplane cabin which recycles and blows back air from throughout the cabin.  I didn’t know what their process was or if it would be safe.  I get sick every time I fly, so I know I’m inhaling germs that recirculate.  My daughter reassured me that her flight left seats open between people, so it wasn’t until evening that the decision was made. I asked my friend for buddy passes. She responded instantly.  However, because of Covid, flight schedules were considerably cut and my choices left me with either leaving my house at 4am for a  flight leaving at 6 am and not arriving to my destination until after 9 PM, with a long layover in Seattle or leaving at 11:30am, laying over in Seattle until the next day and arriving the day after that, the same time I would have arrived had I left at 6am, only a day later.  36 hours!  So, I had to explore other options.  Fortunately, I found another carrier with a flight I could afford that would not leave me in Orlando but get me where I needed to be without hiring an Uber for the rest of the way.

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May 20th

I arrive at the airport and I was relieved that it looked pretty empty. My goal was to get to my sister right away.  She was there for me when I needed her so I had to be there for her.  I was early as I wound my way through the terminal and sat down.  Social distancing was not a problem.  Yay!  That, however was short lived as more and more people arrive.  They announce this will be a full flight.  I’m understanding that to mean with the extra seat in between.  WRONG!  It was full.

They announce they will not be serving food but we can pick up a sack on our way in and we are to leave our masks on except to eat.  For real?  The two people in my row take their masks off and I thought I overheard the man next to me say, he’d been in an area that was questionable. UGH!  No way in hell is this mask coming off.  Years ago when I worked at the health department, I was fitted with an N-95 mask specific to me, so I was fairly confident I would be okay. It is not like the ones today but it fit extremely well.  The problem was that it had been in it’s package for six years.  On arrival to Charlotte, one of the straps broke, breaking the seal. I put a spare one on over that and it kept it in place.  To be honest, it was horribly uncomfortable and I hated re-breathing my own air for 8 hours. I was extra careful too because there was a chance I might not get into hospice being from California.  Despite my good intentions, near the end of that flight I looked over at the passengers near me and they were all sleeping with masks on, so I sneak a drink and a couple of bites of pretzels or some nutty thing.  By the time I got to Charlotte, I was parched and hungry.  Not starved, but at my age I never let that happen.  I rationalize to eat when I’m not hungry so I don’t bonk later. Before my next flight I bought a sandwich, found a safe place, ate and drank all my water.

My next leg had delays. This time we each got a row to ourselves. The second officer comes out and tells us there are creaky boards in the back deck and some lights going off.  For real? The girl across the way wasn’t sure she wanted to stay on board.  I’m worried and I’m getting antzy that I’ll never get to my sister in time.   I feel like screaming, “my sister is gonna die before we get there” but I don’t, then I debate telling everyone my mission and starting a prayer vigil, but that’s not my style either, though I sometimes wish it were. I’m sure some of that comes from all those years as a Jehovah’s Witness getting rejected for our door to door ministry that’s made me gun shy.  I do have faith and I do share scripture, but not like others might.  We lift off, finally and I text my nephew with our new ETA.

I was so afraid I wouldn’t get there in time.  I let my nephew know, since he’s picking me up at the airport.  He said, no worries, he’s taking me straight to her, which isn’t far and open 24 hours. I feel better.  My nephew was worried they might not let me in because he’d heard that folks from four states were prohibited.  New York, Washington, California plus Connecticut.  I’m thinking, yeah, I’m from California, but there are no incidences in the area I live in and I don’t go into the denser areas. I hadn’t been anywhere populated in months, so I have my argument ready.

My sister was my go to girl.  She’s the one I talked to and most of the time with no judgement.  Sometimes, my brother and I would roll our eyes though, because she could be at times quite self righteous… no, just coming across that way.  Now my other sister, she uses scripture for everything and talks in scripture, which I find annoying.  Maybe she thinks we’d forgotten everything we ever knew or perhaps she has nothing else to say and finds that a way to connect, which I believe may be the case.

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Her trip to Mexico with the parents but without us. I have no clue who these kids are. Mom’s on the right.

I have step siblings who’ve been very supportive and encouraging as well. One has been surprisingly reasonable and I call attention to it because she can be a little like sister #2. Oddly, for some reason, amid all the updates I send them, they start talking about their cats, or barbecues and recipes.  Let me explain.  I have two major chat groups I’ve formed for getting updates on my sister.  This saves the nephews.  One are the siblings,  the other are my children and one adult grandchild. Then there’s my brother who would go crazy on the group chat. And, one for sister #2, since any news in the group chat would warrant  incessant phone calls.  Sister #2 is on the autism spectrum, so communication is handled differently.

 

My kids on the other hand start joking in a sick sort of way.  They love their aunt very much.  She is their favorite aunt, but when I told them there’s an off chance I might not get in the hospice center because of where I came from, my  daughter, the nurse asks if they have the quick test and then says something like, “they’re all gonna die anyway”.

I exclaim “Tina!”

My son, who tends to be a bit stoic say, “I thought the same thing Tina”

My granddaughter, boy do I love that girl, says “haha, that was funny”  “terrible but funny”

Mr. Stoic follows it with “Robert Heinlein said, “people laugh because it hurts too much to cry”

Yes, its true.  I know my kids meant no disrespect. They are hurting too. They hurt for me, they hurt for Di and for their cousins. I get it and in the next few days, witness it. None of us were ready for this, yet over the past few months we’ve had to make ourselves ready for this eventuality.  I think deep in our gut, we knew.

Diana's new pic12
With our grandpa on the porch of the cabin he was born in. No longer the Casanova I spoke about.

I was thinking how just a few years ago, Diana and I were each other’s soldier while we cared for our dying parents.  Mom in 2009, Daddy in 2011. It felt like so long ago, another space in time. We parted in 2014, yet we talked nearly every day for the first two years, then it became once or twice a week.  On a rare occasion, we’d skip a week, then we’d pick it up again.

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Bud’s for life.

We tried weaning ourselves of being so dependent on one another.  She was doing a better job of joining groups and making friends than I.  I had a harder time of doing this even though I had always thought of her as the dependent one.   She needed me, but I think I needed her more.  What she had a hard time with is connecting with her kids.  She admired my time and relationship with my kids.  I was more open about their foibles and they had their fair share, but to me her boys were perfect and maybe so did she.  I saw them as successful in their careers, while my kids took longer to get off the ground. She had these two stud muffin, gorgeous sons and she couldn’t get close to them.  She never said, it but I felt it.  For a long time I thought it was them, but it wasn’t all them.  I see how close we’ve become since all this happened and we’ve talked.  I had observed this before.  I remember how when she first came up to live with me and help, there were moments of miscommunication or lack of.  I’m guessing she had moments of feeling unworthy so it makes sense, it was easier for her to chat and make friends with strangers.  No risk there.  She loved her boys and I believe they loved her but I think they had a hard time bringing it all in together.  At first I thought that was why she didn’t get the help she needed in time.  No matter how much I encouraged her to reach out to them,  she didn’t.  Help came when her grand daughter noticed something wasn’t right with her Nana, when she went over to help her with bookkeeping, because her eyesight had started to go.

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I think this is Miami somewhere at a boatyard daddy probably wanted to check out.

So I believed, it passed, she didn’t get the right help at the right time.  In speaking with her son, it appeared that early on if she’d gone for help, it still might have been missed.  As it was, her symptoms may have lead another doctor down a rabbit hole.

The facility she is staying in is immaculate.  I fill out the questionnaire, they take my temperature and I go in. It’s after 11pm.

We go into her room and she is breathing steadily. I marvel at how young her skin looks.  No wrinkles. But she’s gaunt.  There is nice soft spa music playing.  Her son said, someone had brought that in.  It was perfect.  I talk to her, tell her about my trip and all the chaos going on around her.  There is no recognition, just a lifeless body. It is now May 21.  1 AM I tell her I love her and miss her.  Around 2am we leave.

The next day, after little sleep, we go again.  I go over all the fun times we had.  A little past 1PM, we decide to grab a bite.  As we head out to the parking lot, the director runs after us and inquires about the sister from California.  She apologizes for not having gotten back to my nephew right away.  She tells him California, New York, Connecticut and Washington are prohibited. She asks when I would get there. I hesitantly tell her, it’s me. She asks if I’d already been in.  I say, “yes”.  Well, because my sister is so grave, she would make an exception. Uh, I’ve already been in there we’re thinking.

I reassure her that the area I’m from has few cases and I took extra measures myself, given where I planned to be.  So, she’s okay with that.  Perhaps she’s unaware that her forms only ask about foreign travel, exposure to Covid – 19, temperature and cough.  My answers were “No” straight on down. Oh, well.

Diana's new pic5
One of our last bike rides in Florida a few years back.

Each day from there on out is the same. Every other day a doctor comes in and every other day a NP.  The doctor tells us on Friday the 22nd that she’s hanging on but did not expect her to survive the weekend.  The NP tells us this is her favorite room because of the nice music.  It makes her feel like she’s at a spa.  We tell her Diana was a massage therapist, so it’s perfect for her.  The nurse says no wonder and agrees. The second day I go from sitting by her bed to the couch and notice her birth date just happens to be stamped on her bed. It is a yearly inspection sticker, but…?  I start to say something and her son says, “yeah, we know”.  Huh.

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So here we sit by her bed waiting for her life to end.  I recount stories of our childhood and we share stories of life with Diana.  The teasing her boys used to give her… what is it about boys teasing their mother?  I see hubby doing it to his mom all the time.  He is still doing it as a grown man.  There was so much these boys didn’t know about their mother, but only one is here to hear the stories.

Each day there are minor changes and each day they’d level off.  On Saturday though she starts to gurgle.  I guess they call it the death rattle?  They gave her an injection and we thought this is it.  When it increased, I lost it. When my step mom got it, I thought it was because she’d had emphysema from all those years of heavy smoking, but the nurse explained we might see fluid being released from her lungs even though Diana never smoked a day in her life other than maybe one time behind the house as a teen experimentally.

After awhile, I apologized to the nurse and said we had to leave.  I couldn’t do it.  She understood and reassured me not to worry, I would not be the first nor the last to do so.  That night I didn’t sleep feeling guilty I’d run out on her like that. At the same time, it seemed awful waiting for someone to die.  We expected a call that never came. The next day, the gurgling had gone away.  Then her gaps in breathing increased but Sunday came and went and she was still there.  When the doctor came in Monday, she shook her head and said, she had a strong heart.  They referred to the gaps in breathing as apnea.  I’ve had occasional sleep apnea and that isn’t any fun at all.   My son calls and his little girl, Maggie May wants to talk to her Auntie.  She’s four, doesn’t understand but wants her to get better, so I put the phone to Diana’s ear and Maggie May proceeds to tell her about her unicorns like only a four year old would.  I take the phone up and start to talk to my son, when Diana starts this continuous moan.  I hang up and my niece in law calls the nurse.  She’s given a shot and it subsides. A couple of days later her breathing gaps increase.  The doctor says, she shouldn’t be here and I want to pop her one. In a way, I wish she wasn’t lingering.  It was painful to see how thin she was.

May 26 Tuesday.  Something felt different and I didn’t want her to be alone.  Since I’d been there, three people had come and gone.  The nurses and staff are wonderful.  I decide this is where I want to come to die. The room across the way is now empty.  I let my nephew know I’m not coming home, but they tell me it didn’t matter what time, they would leave the light on in case I change my mind.

When I left my home in California, I really wasn’t anticipating staying away so long.  When I left the weather in Florida was 91, it cooled off a few days later and add the fact that her room was air conditioned, I was freezing to death. My light linen pants and short sleeved shirts weren’t cutting it, so I brought in blankets.  Eventually I bought sweatpants and sweatshirt at Walmart.

That night, they bring someone else in across the way and she is wailing and moaning as well.  That’s when I noticed Diana moaning. I close the door. I call the nurse and tell her, but I hear them saying the person across the way had vomited, so they’re fighting to keep her from aspirating.  It is now night and the staff is lighter.  Even so, someone comes in right away to give Diana her shot.  They are quick, but the nurse across the way calls for help.  Fortunately, there is a male nurse on duty.  Later, when the door is opened briefly, I see them walking a tall, large, (not fat) woman.  There are several interruptions in the night and I’ve not slept hardly at all.  When morning comes I shower and put my same clothes on.

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There she is distracting her siblings as big sister pokes her to straighten up.

At some point, I realize my body feels like it went to war, so I decide to go home.  She’s somewhat stable and my nephew will arrive shortly.  At this point, we have been staggering visits.  I’ve still not seen nephew #2.  I ask if I might see him, but no, he’s too busy with kids and work.  Those words were often my sisters excuse for why she didn’t spend more time with them.  Work and kids.  It always upset me that she wasn’t being included in that dynamic.  Nana’s can watch kids and love spending time with them.  I didn’t know how much of it was her or them.  I learn later, he was struggling over the fact that he had no solutions for her condition. He has a strong science background and a professor at the college, so he was in a quandary over what happened and why.  The thing is, and I knew in my gut this is true, when you “play” with the brain, anything can happen and the why can sometimes be elusive, to never be understood or discovered.  I get it.  He was also hoping for a miracle.  I guess we all were.

Before I left, a new nurse had come in to administer her pain med.  Over the last couple of days, because of the moaning, her meds would be upped.  However, her heart was still strong and her urine clear.  The nurse says it tends to get darker near the end.

I slept a good part of the day.  I just couldn’t get my strength up after my previous night.  I realize that despite my good intentions, I just have to understand my limitations.  So far Diana has disproved every prediction they’ve made. No two people die the same, that was the only verifiable truth.  We all die differently. I wondered how much longer.  My family and husband have been supportive.  Everyone constantly grateful I could represent them.

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On the back of her product label she had this quote, which sums her up pretty good.

At one point on the first Friday I was there, my husband tells me his brother, who had just had a quadruple bypass just before Diana went in for her surgery was having to get four stents in.  His arteries were already calcifying.  I fretted that day that we would lose them both on the same day.  Then, if that happened it could start a chain reaction.  My mother in law would be devastated, her husband at 94 would get upset for her and our whole house could fall.  As it turns out, the stents were put in and he goes back to do two more in a month.  So far, it looks fine.

Thursday May 28, My nephew and his wife stayed with me most of the day.  Even though they only allow two visitors at a time, they gave us a pass.  We apologized to one nurse who sweetly says, “What? I don’t see anything”   We were grateful. I had my reservations about leaving Diana that night, but I knew I couldn’t stay the night again. She was different, but I had to trust.

In the morning on Friday, when I came in, I sorta knew.  Her eyes were veiled and it was like she was already gone but she was still breathing. My nephew came in a little later.  A couple of hours later they changed her position.  My niece in law comes in to switch places with nephew but he doesn’t want to leave.  He feels it too.  When she starts to assure him it’s okay, she doesn’t mind staying, I look over her shoulder and say, “She’s not breathing”.  It takes a moment for that to register.  I look at the clock.  11:37am.  I get the nurse and she verifies that yes, she has passed on.

For ten days, I talked to her. The last two days I prayed over her and told her how much I loved her.  How I didn’t want to see her go but that I knew she’d be okay and better soon.  I asked God to take good care of her as I knew how much she trusted he would.

I did research. I learned that the first to go is the brain, but hers was pretty much already gone.  The last MRI showed her frontal lobe completely dark. Then each major part takes turns. Despite how strong her heart had been and the other parts of her body that hung on for so long, there was no chance of any organ transplant unless they were in the hospital.  Hearing is the last to go. Her urine diminished but never changed color.  The skin on her limbs did mottle hence my biggest clue she was close. When they administered that last dose, she cried out. I asked why. The nurse said, every five days they have to change the portal.  Hers had been changed last night, so yes, she probably felt it initially but only for a moment since they’d given her a pain shot.  She went minutes later.  When her death was confirmed I bawled. My niece in law bawled. Nephew calls his brother who comes running.  He had been visiting most nights after the kiddos were tucked in bed.  I felt bad for his kids, that they would never really know their Nana.  The other grands were in their late teens, his are only two and four. He said his goodbyes.  By then we girls had regained our composure.  Son, #1 had been hugging us both while remaining strong. Son #2 also hugged me, but neither shed a tear.

I remember when parents died, we didn’t cry until two weeks later.  I understood when there were times #1 son wouldn’t respond to my chatter, that it was how he was keeping it together.  Sometimes, I can’t talk either.  Sometimes being alone is hardest.

I rushed to make my return flight home so that I wouldn’t be an added burden to my sweet sisters#1 son, should I completely come unglued.  Our mourning was derailed when we heard on the news about George Floyd and all that mess.  For a moment I thought Diana why couldn’t I have gone with you?  I don’t want to be here anymore.

Oh girl, if you only knew what has been happening while you were sleeping and now are gone.  We would have had so much to talk about and analyze. We still dissect these events and make it all better.  I did talk to her today, but she didn’t answer.

Diana' Mad photo
My favorite picture of her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Senseless Deaths

I have recently had two deaths in the family.  I am still working through them, but not for the reasons you might think.

Yes, I am sorry they are gone, but I’ve accepted that already. I cried a little but my grief is mixed with anger, so I know I will eventually have to work through that.

One I will miss terribly.  The other, I will always wonder how I could have made a bigger difference in his life.

Death number 1:

The first death was my cousin’s.  My cousin was fantabulous.  I didn’t grow up with him.  I babysat him. He was considerably younger and so I never really was around when he was a teen or growing up.

The visits to our Mexican side of the family had been few and far between, by then I was a mom and responsible parent.  My young cousins seemed wild and we all worried and wondered if they belonged to gangs. One visit in particular, I remembered seeing gunshot holes in a straight line along all the cars across the street from their house.  My aunt and uncle moved from there shortly thereafter wanting to get the kids to a better neighborhood. Given the circumstances of his death, my brother’s response to the news is, how grateful he is, we didn’t grow up in that environment. Mother kept us away.  Mother may not have been quite sane, but she still had a mother’s protective instinct. I thought for a long time she was ashamed of her family, but perhaps not.

Still, they are family and for that reason, I’ve since tried to get to know them better.

For 30 years, I lived out of state and hadn’t seen them in quite a long time even though I stayed in touch by phone and mostly just with my aunt, their mother.  When I returned four years ago, I started visiting them again.  All grown up now, “RA” (not his real name) and I became buddies.  During my time away, he’d had four kids and they’d had kids. He was no longer with either of their mothers and now lived next door to my aunt, his mom.

On m first visit, I drove up in my “dirty” car.  I’d just washed it either a couple of days before or the day before.  He insisted, he’d detail it.  In short order he had all his buddies washing and buffing every inch of it.  Before long it looked brand new!!!  I didn’t realize that washing alone doesn’t cut it. A good waxing and buffing makes a world of difference!  Spit spot.

I offered to give him something for it but he always refused.  When my son got his new, used car, he taught him how to take care of it and when they were done his car now looked spanking new.  That particular time, because he had worked on two of our cars and quite laboriously, I might add, I once again offered him a sizable amount of cash for helping out.  That time he took it.  I think he went to the casino afterwards. I was, of course, disappointed and vowed to not do that again.  Instead, I thought I’d give him something in trade, perhaps.  I’m a first born.

On some afternoons, we would talk and occasionally have a beer together. He was warm and kind. I did get around to asking him if he’d belonged to a gang and he said, No, never.  We would talk about everything and I saw nothing but a good guy.

He was also quite artistic and gifted me a Betty Boop clock that I knew my airline pilot brother would be envious of and he was. Betty Boop

On that first visit, when I was in LA for a screenwriters workshop, I told him of my screenwriting desires.  He had gotten so excited about my screenplays.  It was neat, he looked up to me for all he thought I’d achieved, even though a part of me was so afraid to disappoint. He was interested in what I’d written and even hooked me up with a guy who had once been in law enforcement who might help my research. My story centered on a kidnapping and a woman’s unknown connection to the cartel.  Later he would tell me, “Cuz, don’t do it.”  He was quite serious. I didn’t understand his change of heart, but even though he said it sounded great, he reiterated, “don’t do it”. He said, it was dangerous.  It never made sense to me since lots of writers write about the cartel.  In fact, there are so many cartel stories out there, how would one more make a difference?  I said, it’s fiction after all and my queries were non specific, plus I told him, most everything I had, I got off the internet, the rest was made up. Nevertheless, I let it go because it wasn’t developing the way I wanted it to anyway.  Unfortunately, there was also one about a kidnapping that came out soon after.  Plus that year, so many cartel movies began to surface that I would be hard pressed to sell it anyway, even with revisions.

On my aunts property, she had fruit trees. RA would harvest giant grapefruit and from her tall avocado trees, avocados.  She would sell them to the neighbors or passersby that would stop and ask.  Of course, that was frequent since RA made her a big sign inviting them to buy.   “RA” would also be the one to climb this tall ladder to harvest the fruit so his mom  could sell them for a little cash (like 10 for $1 or so), mostly so they wouldn’t go to waste.  When I was there, I’d hold the ladder for him as he’d tie it and himself in before he’d get to work some 20+ feet up.  Between him and his brother they took good care of his mom and did things for her all the time.

A few weeks ago, he was shot, assassination style.  The news said that, except for his age, 63,  it had all the markings of a gangland “hit”.  But what got me is that it was a story that got snuffed almost immediately. It was weeks before his body would be released to the family.  Am I overstepping my bounds in saying so?  I hope not.

It was around 2 AM.  He was riding his bicycle home, after visiting a “friend”, after said friend called him over.  Was it a set up?  We still have no answers and pictures are sparse for a reason.

At first, I thought perhaps, because I knew he liked to gamble, that maybe he’d gotten in debt with the wrong person.  But that was just a guess.  No one else seemed to have a clue.

I’ve since learned the FBI is investigating.  The FBI?  Hmmmm

The story gets curiouser and curiouser.

Death Number  2 –

Last weekend, we deposited my ex son-in-law’s ashes at sea.  My daughter and granddaughter came out for the services.  She was his first and I believe his only legal wife. His mom, sister and ex football jock friends from high school were there and all his homeless “crew” were there.  The contrast disconcerting.

The homeless sat or stood on one side and the country clubbers on the other.  How did this once good looking guy go astray?

I knew he had an alcohol problem when he married my daughter and I only suspected the drugs.  One time, when I visited them, I had observed him stepping out momentarily with something in his hands and then returning moments later, but I was naive to those matters at the time. Was it a drug deal?

What I didn’t know is that he had once used my daughter, while she was pregnant with our grand daughter as a drug mule. So, his addiction and her love caused them both to make some unwise choices. I never knew.  Drugs and alcohol, for me anyway, have never been a temptation, for which I’m grateful.

We talked them into moving to Colorado to live with us hoping that away from his druggy friends, that he’d kick the habit.  They were there for six or seven months.  We employed him at our bicycle business and kept him busy, but he was miserable.  He didn’t have his drugs, that we knew of, but he still had access to alcohol.

While cleaning one day, I found a stash of alcohol, several bottles of vodka, whiskey or whatever.  I went back to check later and those were gone and several others had taken their place. Where and when was he getting these? One day, I asked him to run to the store for me, so he borrowed my bike and took off.  After more than an hour, I went looking for him on my son’s bike. (the store was nearby) I found him sitting on the bridge, downing cans of beer and tossing the empties into the Colorado River!!!  I took the cans from him and we had a chat.  When the chat was over he hugged me, thanked me and then closed in for a kiss.  I pushed him away and told him, he was drunk and I’m his mother in law, for Pete’s sake!  He was only 21.

I wasn’t angry at him because I recognized only too well that this young man had a serious problem. (My ex had been an alcoholic, but a good natured one such as BAC, (not his name). He was a teddy bear… a gorgeous, handsome, charismatic hunk (at the time).  Women had trouble not forgiving him. Instead of getting angry, they forgive and forgive, which was a disservice to him. Some time later, the kids announced they were moving back to CA. We were not happy.

They got their tax return and he was going to go on ahead, get a place and send for the girls.  We never saw him again.  My daughter, after waiting awhile, learned he had moved in with her former roommate.  She filed a divorce in absentia.  I’m not sure if that’s the correct term.  She would later marry a guy who became the only dad, my grand daughter would recognize as dad.  He and his family love her to pieces.

BAC didn’t show up in her life again until he learned she’d had a son. His mom, sister and brother were always in Becca’s life, so it wasn’t as if he was totally unknown to her, but he wasn’t dad and she’d never met him.  She finally agreed to meet him.  By then, he’d been in and out of prison, lost an eye in a fight and was living on the streets.  He’d stolen from friends, and abused his friendships. He was a mess, but despite that she says philosophically, “he lived life on his terms.”  She doesn’t hate or admire him.

My daughter met his “wife” and she told her that he stayed away as much as possible because, he said regarding his daughter, “she was the only good thing I ever did” and didn’t want to ruin that. She was the only child he would ever have.

Now, here he was, at 48, in a box. (His mom gave permission to use his pic on this blog.)

The program had a picture of him when he was young and the way my daughter remembered him when they first met.  She lost it.  She never expected that hurt to spring up after 26 years.

The homeless people laid out a spread you would not believe, but no one, except the homeless ate anything that they’d prepared. Even then, they didn’t eat until most everyone had left. We drank water and dipped only what our own hands touched.  There was a pork loin (several, in fact) that were on the barbecue, but when I saw this guy slicing it up with his filthy hands… well.

My grand daughter and I made an attempt to talk to them, but discovered that most of them seriously suffered mentally and from their addictions. They did say, he talked about us often.  It was difficult to watch. We learned that some of these folks had, at one time, had come from good homes. Some were well educated and talented. I learned they  are provided phones and other resources by family and friends, who have not abandoned them completely, but don’t know what else to do for them. There was among this older group, one young man, who is probably not unlike BAC was at one time and it saddened my heart to see and wonder where he would end up. It was sad all the way around in so many ways.

BAC died peacefully I hear.  He got up one day and sat down at the table and that was it.  He died where he sat.

My daughter said, she believed it started when his father died while he was still in high school.  He never got over it. I think people are more aware of the impact of traumatic events these days, but perhaps not so much then. No two people suffer the same and for some, it is deeply hidden and surfaces subtly.

His high school jock friends turned out. They went to college and he went to drugs, but they were there anyway.  Some were childhood friends and others he’d grown up with later and they came.  Two of his friends went out on their boards to deposit his ashes.  None of his homeless friends except for his wife, would walk that far (one block) to the beach for his send off.  For me, it was so evident who his true friends were.

 

When his friend had paddled the required 1/4 mile to deposit the ashes, he said that once the ashes got wet, they felt like 50 pounds on his back.  The sea was not in his favor and he returned exhausted.  That’s friendship.

Bret sendoff

 

Michael Kelly

Leukemia is a disease I seldom hear of anymore.

There are a number of other cancers still talked about, but I haven’t heard the word leukemia as much as it once was.   Has it been given another name? Is it still the number one cancer in children?

The answer to that is yes and no it has not been given another name, at least not according to NCI. Leukemia is still number one in addition to its variations, followed by brain cancer. See link for others listed.

When I was young, I never completely grasped what it meant.  Polio was the big thing when I was growing up. In our day we were given live polio vaccines and invariably one of my classmates would succumb to this horrible debilitating disease in varying degrees.  My friend Gloria’s little sister was confined to a wheelchair. She died at an early age, but still managed to have a somewhat fulfilling life, got married and held down a job. My friend Sally was another, she wore braces on her legs and used crutches most of the time.  As she got older, she could sometimes go without.  It always amazed me at fast she could move, stiff legged and all. Then there was Leon, a boy I dated at one time whose only sign of it was poor posture.

As I got older every now and again I’d hear the word “leukemia” spoken in hushed tones when someone’s child or a relative had come down with it, but it was usually done so furtively as not to frighten us, I guess. At times I wished I could come down with this mysterious illness or something like it so that I could be fawned over but I never did.  Little did I know.

My first experience with it was when a very dear friend of my daughter was stricken with leukemia.

I was working at the junior high school  my daughter and her friends attended at the time.  I met Michael earlier on or at least before I was assigned to work with him. Michael was actually my daughter’s best friend’s boyfriend but he became her best friend as well. Michael was also the most popular boy in school.  This kid was friendly, smart and cute to boot. Everyone loved him.  That was in 7th grade.

I always thought it odd that her best friend’s boyfriend called our home as often as he did, but she insisted there was nothing to it.  What was odder still was that it didn’t matter if my daughter was or wasn’t around because he was just as happy to just chat with me. We talked about so many things.  It tickled me. He already knew what he was going to do with his life and was so full of energy and promise.

My job at the school was to tutor kids who were seriously ill and had missed a great deal of school because of treatments, doctor appointments and such.  I kept them up with their studies. So, you can imagine my shock when his name came across my desk at the beginning of the next year.  I’d not heard he was ill.  I was told he’d gone away for the summer with his family.  Apparently, I was misinformed.

I don’t know when he first received the diagnosis but that summer, at 13, his chemo was started. He came in late the following school year. When he first showed up back to school, he was wearing a wig as was commonly done in those days. He walked through the halls keeping his head low and avoided all his friends. As much as he liked me, he didn’t want to be treated special and refused my help with his studies.  He kept up fine though. He made it clear he didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for him and because of that he avoided eye contact.  He broke off with his friends at first and pretty much kept to himself. As his health improved at the end of the school year, he looked so much better. When he learned his leukemia had gone into remission and as his hair had grown out we were starting to see a glimmer of his old self starting to get back into the groove of being himself. He let his friends back in and we began to talk again, but never as before.  It was obvious he was still considerably more subdued and the sparkle that was Michael didn’t shine as bright, but there was hope and he perked up.

Too soon it came and went. Sadly, by the end of summer he died.  His mom, God bless her, knew we were pals and gave us a call.  We and the whole school were devastated.   She’d not known how much time, he and I had talked on the phone before he was ill, only that he was friends with Tina.  I would have some lovely conversations with his mom as I shared with her our little chats.  In the end, we laughed some and we would cry more.

Over the years, I lost track of his family  so I don’t have a picture of him.

As kids do, they move on and most would eventually forget this young man who once lead the pack, made them laugh and made them cry. That was nearly 40 years ago, yet some of us didn’t forget.  Every now and then Tina and I remember.

It’s funny how some kids, some people for that matter, can leave their mark on you in just a short amount of time. I would have loved to have seen him grow up to be the man I know he would have been, yet of all of Tina’s classmates, I followed none and barely remember a few.  Except for Michael.

 

 

Places to Donate if you so choose: St. Jude, City of Hope, and the American Cancer Society

 

Death and Condolences

DEATH

Death and how we deal with it can be different for each of us.

The truth of my situation is that my parents were both suffering, so it was a relief when they left. Mother didn’t even know us any longer and dad lost his ability to communicate or walk, which for him, as independent as he was, was a fate worse than death. It doesn’t mean I don’t miss them, and interestingly enough even though we’d had a challenging childhood, I  remember mostly the good with the occasional bad along with their redeeming virtues, such as they were. I see their passing as their chance to be made whole again. For example, mother loved to garden, so I have visions of her ambling through a beautiful garden helping to prune and nurture it. I see her feeling privileged  and  fulfilled at God having given her hands something to do. Dad on the other hand, I picture challenging God, cracking his jokes and playing devil’s advocate for some of God’s questionable decisions over the millenniums and/or, he could very well be just picking his brain.  I can see God either dodging him,  maybe smiling at his questions or perhaps giving him to someone “else” to deal with. LOL You don’t know my dad.
I think how we mourn is personal and every individual does so differently and we should grant them consideration, without judgement.

I remember a woman I worked with, who lost her son in a horrible traffic accident while her mother in law was driving. She never cried or seemed sad and was her usual self the very next day! We were all shocked she would even come to work. We all thought differently of her from then on, most assuming she was a heartless you-know-what, like how could she do that?  We all knew the boy was adopted, but he was still their child. I would personally hate to lose my step siblings, of whom I am greatly fond of,  but we are all different. I heard from other sources that from that point onward she would not speak to her mother in law again. Her birth child had survived and the grandmother was unhurt. It made me question whether or not to drive my own grand kids around and I would always take extra precautions knowing I would not want the weight of that guilt.   Later this woman and I would talk about it years later and I learned that there were so many things she had to process. Hate, anger, grief and so much more.  It wasn’t that it didn’t weigh heavily on her, she just wasn’t ready to face it, much less deal with all of them. She segregated her emotions to another part of her psyche to work through later and yes, her relationship with her mother in law was never the same and she admitted that she couldn’t stand to even look at her. That’s a lot of anger.  Being a grandmother,  I couldn’t help but feel bad for the grandmother. For them both really.

Some people grieve passionately, wailing and carrying on for days, months and years sometimes. Some are quiet and private. Some never get over the death of a loved one. Some erect shrines and shut out everything and everyone around them, focusing only on those they lost.

movie funeral
Me, (black hat) as a wailing woman at a funeral,  waiting for my cue to  “Action”.

One of my sisters is a case in point.  When her daughter died, she created a shrine with pictures and candles all around and that was her entire focus.  Her other two daughters were being sorely neglected. It broke my heart.  Her infant daughter, born severely brain damaged, due to a delivery issue, having been without oxygen off and on for parts of an hour, was blind, deaf and had little sense of touch.  For two years she tube fed her and cared for her.  The child had not been expected to live beyond a week with all her issues.  When she did, the doctors told her it wasn’t likely the child would grow but instead remain an infant.  In part that was true.  Her features did mature but her body didn’t.  After faithfully caring for her and loving on her, the child began to respond to the resonance of her family’s voices and constant stroking.  The doctors were amazed. The long and short of it is that after two years and several surgeries, she caught pneumonia and expired. My sister was especially devastated.

She resented anyone that said her baby girl was “better off” or “in a better place”. She mourned her this way for over a year. I finally sat down with her and reasoned with her, pointing out that if she truly believed in God’s promises, then she will see her little girl again some day.  In the meantime, she needs to get back to being a mom to the two she still had.  I pointed out that continued neglect of her daughters like she had been doing could easily result in them resenting their sisters memory.  I said a whole lot more, but that was the gist.  I didn’t tell her she couldn’t mourn her or talk about her but she needed to get back to loving and caring for those still with her.  The wonderful thing is she did just that and to this day she and her girls are very close.

I have heard people deify family members that were horrid, or that they treated horribly while alive.  Especially widowed spouses or the remaining parent with children.  I understand it, but at some point in time an honest appraisal may be necessary.  My husband and I have had that talk since he was 8 or so when his father died and I think his mom elevated him to sainthood when he passed, so we sometimes speculate at what he may have been truly like. The reality being that no one is perfect and it’s okay to share that. How adults and children grieve is often different with elements of the same. Theirs can be more intense. Children can sometimes show their sadness through blaming, anger, alienating themselves from others, disinterest and sometimes resentment to the remaining parent and/or worse guilt.  One never knows how they will be.

CONDOLENCES

Some have no emotion whatsoever, others rejoice and for some, it brings peace. Because of that when it comes to condolences, one never knows the perfect thing to say.

My aunt, (my step fathers sister) came to my mothers funeral and said, at her graveside that she wanted to make sure the bitch was dead.  It, of course offended a great many people there.  She never got it that mother was mental, so whatever you do, don’t do that.

At my father’s funeral, people brought in newspaper clippings of all the amazing things my dad had done.  Never was there a mention in any of them that he had any children. (He’d left mother when I was 15 and never paid child support or acknowledged our existence)   Because we lived clear across the country, we were no longer a part of his life, not until we were adults and only because we sought him out. Until I moved back there to care for him, most people in the community were shocked he had other children besides my one sister who lived near him, because he never spoke of us. That was painful and added another level of sadness.

The reverse can also be true though, you may learn a side about someone you never knew before, like my step dad.  My step dad who was droll and generally humorless was a cut up at work.  I remember my step sisters being shocked that his coworkers were talking about their father.  He had once won an award for employee of the month.  Because he has such a sour countenance, we learned that someone had submitted his mug (picture) to some show, either Jay Leno’s or David Letterman’s, where they displayed unlikely winners of “employee of the month”. His was aired!!!  None the less, my siblings would have given anything to have known that person they were hearing about, yet overall they were glad to learn he wasn’t always a stick in the mud.

I think discernment and situational awareness is essential. Sometimes it pays to check out the tone and expressions of the bereaved before saying too much.

When it comes to condolences, choose your words wisely.  It is probably one of the hardest things to do tactfully and often, the less said, the better.  You can’t always know a family’s back story and you can add to a person’s grief by exposing something unnecessarily.  Unless of course, that is your intention.

More Detours but Now I’m Back on Track

After the divorce I went on a two week cruise with a girlfriend of mine. I went wild, you saw the movie “Wild?” well, not that bad.

I attribute a good part of that to an incident just prior to me leaving for that trip. My airline pilot husband came to visit the day before I left and tried to rape me, again. He kept saying, “you want it don’t you?” and “I’m gonna miss that ass”,  this time I did what my attorney suggested and laid there like a limp rag and didn’t fight him.  I was shocked, it worked. When I didn’t fight, he let go of me and left me alone, but it was still demoralizing. So I went through a brief self destruct period that lasted about six months.

While on the cruise, I was the party girl and at times would bring everyone in. The staff on the ship asked if I’d be interested in a job as cruise director. I guess the felt someone who could rally everyone to have a good time would be an asset.  I turned it down. What I should have done is take it, but I didn’t. They’d offered all expenses paid for me and my girls and special schooling for my girls in addition to teaching them several languages. But, I wasn’t sure I could trust the moral integrity of the crew or the pressure of performance by the staff, so I passed.

Instead, I went home got a job at the gym teaching nutrition and makeup for Jack La Lanne’s.

There, I met and got involved very briefly with the most gorgeous hunky guy I’d ever dated. We parted friends and that was nice.  We decided we were heading in two different directions and we wanted to see each other happy in that choice.  My girls were disappointed because even as young as they were, he was not only pretty but congenial as well. They liked him a lot. I think of him often, but not lustfully, just wondering if he ever got where he was going.

I thought it was interesting at how easy it was or that it was possible for two people to part so amicably, without that achy feeling you get like you’d lost something.

Maybe it wasn’t really a self destruct period so much as more of a growing “you’re okay” period.

After him I dated someone I’d dated before and became engaged but that didn’t fare well. One day as I was cleaning up after dinner, I overheard him threaten my eldest child. I don’t know what preceded that, all I heard were his words when he said “you just wait until your mother and I get married!”  I immediately went straight to the living room and told him, I’m sorry but we aren’t getting married and if he couldn’t say or do whatever it was he intended now then I wasn’t waiting to find out what he’d do later. He left. I never saw him again and since learned he died a few years back.

A few months later I met another young man ten years my junior. After a whirlwind courtship, we married.  Suffice it to say, although we have two wonderful boys from that relationship, after being married to him, I didn’t pick up a Bible for about 10 years. Neither did I step into a church. It was the most suffocating period of my life. That was the paranoid camper.

During that time, I did start back to college but again never finished. At least I got to do that and I could tell that as an adult I would have been an excellent student.  It was during that marriage we moved to Colorado where we eventually separated. Unfortunately after the divorce, I had to get a job and go back to work so no more schooling.

After much therapy, my life started to get on track again.

While married to #2, I met yet another young man (even younger than the second and an employee of ours, so actually I’d “known” him for some time) and his atheism/agnosticism changed my life in two ways.

First of all he forced me not to “need” anyone or anything.  He taught me to lean on and trust my own abilities. Believe it or not that applies to faith.

Second, his agnosticism challenged my faith and I discovered that I still loved God and that my faith was still alive.  In time, he accepted Jesus and became a believer.

Shortly after we married, I was approached with an opportunity to get into the film industry.  I did a few extra parts in film, took classes and kept my feet in the water by starting my own talent agency. It paid quite well, but unfortunately jobs were few and far between in our small town.

I bounced around from job to job during this time. I had moved up to sales exec for the company I was with which sent me traveling quite a bit and some of that was to Aspen, Telluride, Vail and smaller towns in between. I did radio and later as a Realtor, I would visit those areas again, so I was in among “the stars” constantly.

Then came 9-11 and my priorities changed. Hence came my volunteer period.

I felt so compelled to do something to help in whatever way possible that I joined forces with Red Cross and assisted many disaster clients. That was rewarding for a time but after Katrina that ended.  So detour after detour and then more.

When my parents got ill, everything else took a backseat to their needs. Fortunately, my husband was right there for me and supported me in whatever it was I needed to do for them.

We packed up and moved to Alabama where we became farmers. Later I would join the staff of the State health department as medical interpreter.

My sister D later joined us and she too became my biggest advocate. WE became each others cheerleaders and mentors.

When my father was dying he kept talking about all the opportunities he had passed up or failed to take advantage of. It was regret after regret. I told Diana to listen to him. “That sounds like us”, riddled with excuses. I thought about my writing.

Years before Diana and I had talked about writing a screenplay about our parents and their dysfunctional relationship, but it never happened. (I still have the notes so someday … maybe.) Instead, I wrote about the red bra I had stolen from the five and dime and how it impacted our lives.  It was called “The Red Bra Party”. It was my very first completed screenplay.  It was abominable, but I got it done in time for two contests, so I submitted it. I was exuberant because as shabby as it was… I DID IT!

I told Daddy before he died that he could take credit for that. I got a lot off my chest with him before he died, some of which I regret because although it needed saying I probably shouldn’t have done so as he’s dying, not that he would have been so considerate. What can I say? I am my father’s child.  I did let him know I appreciated his colorful personality and how I forgave him because in reality his abuses made me stronger and they didn’t break me.  They could have, but they didn’t. Some of that could be his genes and some of mom’s.

Whatever lives they had, whatever hardships they endured made them harsh, it didn’t me.  Whatever it is that’s in me made me more determined. I’m fueled for bigger and better things and I know it!!

The screenplay I wrote after that one so impressed my actor daughter that she gave me a free trip to the Sundance Film Festival.  I got good remarks on one screenplay sent to Austin Film Festival and I’m working on improving that among several others. Now I’m blogging and meeting countless of writers online.

I’m in California now and networking and meeting more amazing people and writing again, full time, so it’s all good. The interesting thing too is, everyone is willing to share what they know.  Not what you’d expect huh?

All these detours and now I’m back on track.