Today would have been our 14th wedding anniversary. We had a nice, small wedding in a friend’s house. She had a large great room with stairs coming down from the gameroom above. The girls and I readied ourselves upstairs while guests gathered downstairs. We had rehearsed the day before in the empty house, but on the day of the wedding, the girls froze midway down the stairs. My maid of honor had to escort them the rest of the way. Once downstairs, Kristen went to Jeff, hugged him, and took her seat next to my mom. Alex was to do the same, but she was so scared and shy that she didn’t let go of Jeff. He walked her on his knees to her seat, with her still clinging to him. I could hear the laughter upstairs, but didn’t know what was going on.
We didn’t write our own vows and I don’t remember what the pastor had us say. I assume it was the usual. We were already committed to each other in my eyes. I didn’t see the point in the piece of paper, though I do love the ceremony of weddings. I suppose the paper is a necessity for taxes, insurance and whatnot.
Most of the attendees were work friends, so our wedding photos look a little like a work gathering. All in all, it was a wonderful day; the beginning of our lives together. We moved into our house some three months later. Life was good. This wonderful man had joined our family, bravely taking on kids who were not his own and the accompanying ex-husband.
I woke up this morning crying as I remembered driving by the hospice last week on the way to Wendy’s for lunch. I then attempted to visualize a different route to Wendy’s from work. (At 6:00 in the morning, this is not easy.) The route I take on autopilot takes me by the hospice where Jeff spent his last days. I can’t look at it. Can’t even see it in my peripheral vision. This means I have to look in the opposite direction as I drive by, which makes it hard and a bit dangerous to drive. There are still too many reminders, too much pain there. It’s where he took his last breath, spoke his last gibberish, last opened his eyes, where I last held his hand.
I formed the thought today that I didn’t get to say goodbye. Well, I did. But I didn’t. How do you say goodbye to someone who isn’t ready to go? Even his first night at hospice, he didn’t want to lie down. He kept feeling he wanted to go to the bathroom, but as he would sit on the side of the bed trying to gather strength, the feeling would pass. He was too groggy and weak anyway. So, I hope he has heard me in the last year when I’ve spoken to him, that he has seen me working and trying my damnedest. I guess the way I’ve said goodbye is by continuing to live.
Had a bummer day Wednesday. I was driving to work, listening to the Kidd Kraddick show on the radio. They were talking about a Kidd’s Kid, Rowan, who has a pancreatic disease and needed a bone marrow transplant. This 8-year-old kid has been struggling with a chronic/terminal disease but is still raising money for Kidd’s Kids by selling his autographs, lemonade, whatever he can do. He has spent 900 days in the hospital, has had 69 trips to the ER. The last thing I heard was that his siblings were tested and they had good news. I had to change the station. Not because I was touched for this young boy, but because I was feeling sorry for myself. I was jealous.
Of course, I wanted so much for Jeff to be able to at least have the opportunity to get a bone marrow/stem cell transplant. Every hope hung on the possibility that it would cure him, or give him more time. It would have turned our lives around. We were going to be better together. Everything was going to be rosy.
I also wished he had been taking better care of himself and that he had never gotten sick in the first place. But then, we would have likely continued on in our “okay” lives, going through the motions, taking each other for granted, doing what we felt was our best at the time, with nothing to snap us out of it. That made me even sadder.
The cold, crappy weather doesn’t help my mood, either. At least we had a little fun in the snow while it lasted.
So… life is good. I’ve seen glimpses of it over the past year, the sun peeking through the clouds, but it now feels… good. The sun is out like an August day in Texas and I’m basking in it’s glow.
Work is still going well, thankfully. My employer has rewarded me nicely and I feel appreciated. The stress is manageable.
The kids are healthy and doing well. Travis got braces and had a rough first day or two, but he’s back to his happy, smiling self …until his next appointment in March when he’ll be sore again for a couple days. He’ll soon see the cycle. Kristen is now considering college. She had been pretty set on cosmetology school (she wants to be a make-up/special effects make-up artist), but now wants to check out UT, maybe A&M, probably others – for what, she doesn’t know! She’s got to get really serious about school first if she has any inkling of going to college. Alex will be going to college this fall, if it kills me. The child is immune to any attempts at motivation, but I’m determined.
It’s a blessing not having to worry about home, kids and work. I think this stability in my life has allowed me to open my heart and find love again. I feel alive again. I feel cherished. I feel loved. It’s amazing. He’s amazing. He’s very unique – I guess that’s my “type”. Comparisons to Jeff are inevitable, but they do have quite a bit in common. Maybe that has made things even easier. We’ve only been dating a couple of months, but things look promising. One might advise me to Take it easy. Don’t let him break your heart. You’re still grieving and vulnerable. Well, I don’t want to be in a relationship fearing the worst, waiting for something bad to happen. I’m jumping in headfirst, into the deep end. I would rather give my heart a work-out – pumping fast, full of adrenaline and excitement, even if it gets smashed to smithereens – instead of allowing it to gather dust in the corner, withering and faltering from lack of attention. I’m tired of being sooo careful. Maybe this comes with age.
The house projects continue, though not as maniacally as before, since I have someone new attracting my attention. I’ll be painting in the master bath soon and replacing the baseboards. Later will come new carpet, countertops, and some bitchin’ fireplace tile after a bit of construction to remove the monstrosity of a plant ledge that abuts the fireplace. …goofy floorplan. What were we thinking?
Friday night I was going through the text messages on my phone. At 2 am, for some dumb reason. I had all the messages transferred from Jeff’s phone so my phone is LOADED! I came across beautiful messages of love, sadness, inspiration, grief, and support from all the beautiful ARFCOMers, and Texas Hunting Forum and Godlike Production buddies. There are too many messages to count. Each of them special and perfect. I can’t tell you, each of you, how much those messages meant to Jeff and still mean so much to me. Of course the messages brought me to tears, but the one stupid message that really did me in was a text message from him to me that was oddly all by itself: “Get taco bell”. It was December 3rd, the day before he went to hospice. We had just been given the news that there was no more chemo. No more treatment. The tumor had practically exploded in his belly. I was driving home to get some things for Jeff and a change of clothes and things for myself so I could return to the hospital for the night. I was driving El Blanco, the little white Elantra we bought when we traded in Jeff’s truck. My phone wasn’t paired with the bluetooth in the car (first world problems, eh?), so I had to look at my phone to call my daughter to see if I needed to pick her up from her friend’s house. It was just after the call connected that I rear-ended the car in front of me, so my daughter heard a few choice expletives. There wasn’t a whole lot of damage to the car in front of me and, as luck would have it, there was a policeman one car behind me who saw the whole thing. He facilitated the exchange of information and advised me not to drive since the hood was a little crumpled and he didn’t want it to fly up while driving. I told him I didn’t have far to go and drove on. A friend of ours stayed with Jeff while I made the mad dash home so I called her to let her know I had just had an accident, not to tell Jeff, and would be a little later than I planned. Jeff subsequently changed his mind on his last meal to beef and cheddar sandwiches from Arby’s. He ordered three. I knew he’d maybe eat only one but I ordered them anyway.
I spent the next day in my jammies with Jeff. I greeted hospice coordinators, the chaplain, grief counselors, friends, and doctors in my pajamas. Jeff’s spirits were up. He was happy to see his friends from Masco. He was pretty drugged and drifted in and out of sleep, but he was happy when he opened his eyes. That was really his last coherent day.
So yesterday I got up, went to Home Depot and bought paint. I finished painting in my bedroom and got the baseboards done on three walls. (Slight miscalculation on materials and I’ll have to move my heavy bed again to get to the fourth wall, but it still looks kickass.) And I feel better. The tears still come a bit easy today, but I’m better.
One year ago today, I said goodbye to my husband and friend, father of our beautiful son, mother and mother-in-law tormenter, and friend to everyone he met. This past year has been a bit of a blur, though I know I’ve done a lot – managed to keep the house and kids going, work is going well, my health is ever stable, even my love life is perking up. And yet, there’s still a hole that will be forever empty, walled off, protected. The box that’s put away, only rarely opened.
I remember every second of this day last year. I remember waking up in Jeff’s hospice room, getting up, showering, making cocoa, meeting Jeff’s dad, brother and aunt, talking with friends. Jeff hadn’t been responding to anyone since shortly after admission to hospice, so he was quiet. It was icy and I was kind of stranded there, not that I wanted to leave. That evening our sweet friend, James, and I were sitting and talking by Jeff’s bed, the TV on for noise and distraction. I looked over at Jeff and didn’t see the rise of his chest. He was too still. Too quiet. He left us at 5:47pm. There was a lot of crying and hugging, confusion, numbness and pain. I lay in the bed next to Jeff, tracing his lifeless hands, so wishing he’d squeeze my hand one last time.
What do you do after you lose your husband? You pack up your things and go home. You hug your kids. You lean on your friends and family. You attempt to reboot your life. I wouldn’t say I’m moving “on”, but moving forward. Moving on implies forgetting, getting over something. Moving forward means cherishing memories, even painful ones, but continuing to live a life with grace.
You only realize your true strength when being strong is the only choice you have.
Dear friends have reached out to me today, remembering Jeff. I miss his devilish smile, the snort when he laughed, the creak and click of his bare feet when he walked, his outrage at some political happening, his soft-hearted tears shed for any suffering child, his wicked sense of humor, his bravery, his friendship, his hugs, his warmth, and the image of him greeting neighbors in his boxers and button-down shirt. He was unique, to say the least.
I like to think I’m thankful every day, not just on Thanksgiving, but in the spirit I’ll jot down my thanks. I’m thankful for:
- the passage of time. I wouldn’t say it heals all wounds, but it allows one to experience moments and people that make the wounds and scars fade just the slightest.
- my mom. She is so selfless. She has always been there for me and the kids. And she makes me laugh.
- my Washington mom and dad. Always supportive, caring, and quirky Just my style.
- my beautiful kids. They are what gets me up in the morning, they are the reason for the giggles during the day, and their hugs help me sleep at night. They also worry me, frustrate me, confuse me, and anger me sometimes. I love them just the same.
- my friends, old and new. I’m quite an introvert, but trying to get myself out of my comfort zone a bit and be with people. It’s helping.
- my health. Knock wood – no issues, yet. Need to get back to the gym.
- my job. I work with some awesome people. My job has allowed me to keep our home, keep us cool/warm with the seasons, keep food on the table, clothes on our backs and butts, transportation in the driveway, and the added benefit of being able to share it all with others. My (our) work family has helped me cope and helped me keep going.
- our country. Our country is run by people and people are imperfect. All we can ask is that we do our best.
- a sense of humor. I wouldn’t be here without it.
- our freaky cats. They add some excitement when they bring in still-living mice, moths, geckos, bunnies, birds… Their snuggles take the edges off any rough day.
Okay, I’m over my rather frenetic state from the previous post. I’m betting that’s a cyclical thing, dammit. But I’m chill for now.
As one might guess, the approaching holidays are met with a wide array of emotions. They’re full of anxiety even for people who haven’t lost a loved one. It’s certainly different when someone is palpably missing. I find myself still reflecting on last year. This time last year Jeff had been home only a couple days after being in ICU for nine days and the oncology floor for another eight, discharged just in time to have his bone marrow transplant evaluation in Dallas. He was home for Thanksgiving, and we were thankful. He was miserable, but he was glad to be home. This time last year, we were still hopeful. I feel terrible that his days weren’t spent doing better things. I feel terrible that I couldn’t share his rekindled faith. I feel terrible that we didn’t have more meaningful talks about the possibilities. I guess we weren’t ready. We were still hopeful.
I generally enjoy the holidays and just spoiling the kids. I even enjoy the potluck lunches at work. In his rounds to all our offices, Jeff would often come home with baked goodies and presents that coworkers and doctors’ wives had shared. He was so loved by everyone. We would occasionally hit the Black Friday sales and those were always a fun adventure. It was like a hunt for Jeff. He loved a good deal.
But Jeff didn’t really get into the holidays. He disliked the traffic, crowds, shopping, and decorating. So he mostly left it to the kids and me. I wish he had participated more. Oh, he helped with things if I asked him, but there was no joy. I think he appreciated that I made efforts and he was happy to let us buzz around with enough holiday spirit for all of us. He did manage to get me something for Christmas each year and it was always a very thoughtful gift. He liked watching the kids open their presents, sitting in his usual spot at the end of the couch, laptop in his lap. Always multitasking. I miss seeing him there. More often than not, he was in his boxers (maybe sweats if it was cold enough) and button-down shirt.
Thanksgiving is not a big event in our house. We just don’t have much family around so, we keep it low-key. I hope to make this Christmas better than last year’s daze. I plan to put the lights outside (the weather is perfect today) and put the little tree up upstairs, among other things that didn’t get done last year. Lights and silly things make me happy. I’ll do some baking for friends and neighbors. You won’t catch me caroling though! So, I’ll make myself busy and distracted and trying to soak up every bit of holiday spirit.
Okay, it hasn’t been quite a month since I posted last. I’m just kinda exhausted with everything bouncing around in my brain, so I’ll spew it here:
- The tattoo is healed, though still a little itchy.
- I’m still painting (LOTS) in the house.
- Planning projects for next year – I think I’ll focus on the yard and exterior of the house.
- Need to replace a rotting piece of trim around the kitchen window.
- Thinking about taking some college classes.
- I wonder how Jimmy Johnson is doing. Used to watch NASCAR all the time with Jeff, but just haven’t.
- Waiting for the fridge or microwave to die.
- Replaced the garbage disposal. Yay me!
- Laundry needs to be done (always).
- Damn toenail polish chipped!
- Those gumballs are hard. Need to trash ’em.
- Need to dust.
- Dating? Me? Blech… blarph… The idea is terrifying. I’m trying to get “out there” and be with people, but it’s hard. Takes a lot of effort. I feel like I’m damaged goods. Toxic. Yet cute
- Got a zit that is taking FOREVER to go away!
- That wine looks good.
- I should sit up straighter.
- Need to clean the fridge.
- Lymphoma sucks.
- Need a new kitchen trash can. You know they have trash cans with batteries in them?!? It’ll be a cold day in hell before I get a battery-powered trash can. $200.00 Seriously? You put TRASH in it! I just want one with a good ol’ spring-loaded lid. You mash a lever on the front and the lid pops open. Evidently they don’t make a lid like the one I need to replace so I’m looking at complete replacement. In stainless steel. Fingerprint resistant. Slim profile. Shouldn’t be more than $50, I think, but I can’t commit to one. Stupid huh?
- Stupid effing giant stupid effing plant ledge. Definitely need to demolish it.
- I need to fix those encounter note findings for oximetry, 6MWT and Epworth so they don’t mingle.
- I have a few episodes of Walking Dead DVR’d that I need to watch.
- Is that a mosquito bite or a spider bite?
- Remember that time Jeff puked in the hallway at MD Anderson cuz we couldn’t find a bathroom?
- Maybe we should go to Galveston again this winter.
- I’m hating the color of the kitchen cabinets but can’t decide what would be a better color.
- I’m using the laptop Jeff was always glued to. When I type, the sound of the keys reminds me of him.
- Not a fan of Windows 8.
- Can’t wait to get the lighting in the kitchen done.
- I like my hair today.
- Stupid zit.
I’ve been following the Hayslips’ story for a month now. Seeing his post, seeing his wife join ARFCOM, seeing pictures of their beautiful baby, and all the love surrounding them brought back lots of memories – mostly good ones. I found myself holding my breath though, knowing that he would soon pass and his family’s life would change so drastically. Brandon passed on 9/23/14 and I felt I could exhale, relieved for all of them that the pain of the situation is over. Different pain will follow, but Brandon’s struggle is over. It’s odd feeling close to someone I’ve never met. Their story was just too familiar, I guess. Christina is quite eloquent and seems to have a good head on her shoulders. I’m sure she and her daughter will be fine. They certainly have a great support system and her faith gives her strength.
Speaking of faith, I’ve never really had any. I like to hope that there is something more to this physical body. Some spark, some light, some energy that keeps going even when the ol’ ticker doesn’t. I like to think that Jeff’s spirit is around me. I still talk to him. It gives me some comfort. But that’s the extent of my “faith”. The idea of God, any god, just doesn’t make sense to me. I understand the comfort that people feel when they have faith in God and that there is a plan of some sort. I understand that having someone, a higher power, to lean on can be empowering. It’s just not in me though. I guess I’m a big bang theory kinda gal.