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Three Weeks

3 weeks ago my grandma fell and broke her neck.

3 weeks ago she was rushed to Peoria to see if they could fix her.

At 82 with severe Parkinson’s Disease, degenerative bone disease, (from which she’d lost a whole 12 inches off her height) dementia, and multiple other health problems, we didn’t know what the options were.

The surgeon suggested surgery to repair the fracture. He was hopeful that it would work. Do nothing and she could become a paraplegic if she so much as coughed too hard. Or she could live with the neck brace, which she hated, her lungs could fill up with fluid and she could develop pneumonia. In such poor health, that’s not good.

We opted for surgery; really the only option. Grandma was scared but we all told her we loved her. I told her we would go dancing after she was done as she hasn’t walked in over two years.

She smiled and held our hands, said she loved us and off she went.

Surgery went well and they were able to fix the break. That was not the major hurdle though. Even in good health, Grandma has never done well with anesthesia. Two days before her fall, the dentist didn’t even want to give her a local to fix a couple teeth as she’s allergic to Novocaine.

After surgery, she was put into a regular room and about an hour later, her vitals crashed.

She was gasping for breath. She looked so very scared. She gripped my hand as a wonderful nurse held the oxygen mask on her for close to an hour until they were able to get a bed ready in the Surgical ICU. Once she was settled in the ICU, we each took turns going to see Grandma. She was on a ventilator to help her breathe and give the swelling a chance to go down after surgery. This was against her wishes and she was miserable. She had the vent in for 3 days until it was removed. She did so well.

They observed her for a day in the Surgical ICU (SICU), then transferred her down to another room for a few days.

When she was ready, she was discharged.They didn’t send her back to her assisted living apartment, but to a skilled nursing facility with hospice. Everyone came to visit. Friends, grandchildren, family, everyone. Someone was by her side 24/7. She would talk a little, barely a whisper. Grandma looked at pictures and had us to sing to her while we sat by her side. She told us that she saw my grandpa who passed away in 1978.

She told us all of the beautiful things she was seeing and hearing. It was amazing to listen to her. She told us so many stories. She told us there would be no more pain there and no more wheelchairs. We all laughed and cried and held her hand.

On Tuesday November 16, Grandma took her last breath while my mom sang to her. My mom said it was very peaceful. Grandma wasn’t afraid like she had been in the hospital. I am so very thankful for that. I miss her, maybe more than I can ever express.  My kids miss her too.  They are hurting.  I have given them songs that help them feel better, or so they say.  I don’t know where to go from here. I don’t know how to fix their hurt, or mine.

This holiday is especially going to be hard for me.

Last year I was upset because I wouldn’t get to spend it at Grandma’s house. At least I got to spend it with her.

Now I don’t even have that.

Cancer Sucks

Cancer sucks. My grandma, barely sixty years old, died from breast cancer when I was four. Even though I was so young, I still remember watching her suffer. I remember watching my mother and her sister suffer, too. Even though I was young, I still remember thinking if there was really a God, why would he put my grandma through all of this?

She never hurt a soul…and I loved her.

Cancer claimed my mother-in-law, too. I loved her as though she were my blood. Maybe even more than that because she never said a harsh word to me, or as far as I know, about me.

She had lung cancer and yes, she smoked. “I shot myself in the foot,” she said to me when she was diagnosed. She fought like the feisty Scottish lady that she was. She was diagnosed around Thanksgiving and lost her battle that following June.

Just about six months. DAMN! It was so quick! I know it didn’t seem so quick to her.

She went through chemotherapy and all of the horrible shit that went along with it. She did everything she was supposed to do. She did everything right. And then they found cancer in her brain. The woman never took a fucking pill in her life and here she was having fucking brain surgery! She made it through the surgery. My sister-in-law and I went into the recovery room and damn it if that lady wasn’t sitting up and talking right after having her skull busted open.

While she was in rehab, she had a stroke. It was a kind I had never heard of. It was progressive so it started out slowly. She knew what was going on.

Chef and I went to visit her in the hospital and at that point she said she had had enough. She said to us, “if they find any more cancer, I don’t want to be treated.” If she had known that she only had six months to live, she would have said, “Screw chemo,” and gone to visit her grandchildren in Wisconsin.

I know that because she was an open book. She had no secrets. What you saw was what you got.

The next day she could not speak.

We were the last of her children to carry on a conversation with her. When the doctors finally determined that she had had a stroke and that it was progressive, my sister-in-law decided to bring her back home. The doctors said she had less than a week to live, so she would come home to be surrounded by her children, grandchildren and her beautiful antiques.

My husband and his sisters took care of her for that week. Because my children were so young, I stayed home and came for the weekend. My two year old daughter stood by my mother-in-law’s bed and spoke to her. She called her “gammy.” My mother-in-law would grunt occasionally. Sure enough on day seven – just a week after we had our last conversation with her – my mother-in-law lost her battle.

I ask the question once again, forty years later… if there was really a God, why would he put my mother-in-law through all of this?

She never hurt a soul…and I loved her.

My Friend Is Dying of Cancer

my friend is dying

of cancer

a friend. a cyber-friend.

we met 4 years ago on a grief site, called “beyond indigo.” there were about 5 or 6 of us who all came on at the same time, and we were a nice, tight little group. (these internet sites can be great…in the middle of the night, when you feel awful, someone may be on. even if no one is on, someone has written about feeling as awful as you…helpful. very.)

she is very spiritual. she follows the sufi path. she told us all in a post about an “ancestor ” shrine, so i made one for tom. and while it is mostly dismantled now it helped me. it was such a wonderful idea and i learned and grew from it.

anna’s loves name was ishaaq, and he led groups, and loved life, and was gorgeous. they played and sang together at their meetings (i am probably getting terminology wrong here, but it does not matter) he, and she, both seemed so wild and free to me. and that’s in a spiritual sense. there were problems. he had diabetes, and died from complications of it. she has major vision issues, which have left her disabled, and yet anna is a remarkable artist.

it just comes from within her. she is a shining spirit, to me, to many people. she dreams of ishaaq, and they are beautiful dreams. she never thought my “winks” were silly. i’m grateful to her.

here’s one of my favorite anna facts: many people in her religious tradition seem to take new names. she has a friend who posts on FB as Shaqeena Nonofyourbeeswax. (again, i may be a little off, but you get the picture). that is a cool friend. anna is cool.

she’s dying.

i guess, in reality, we all are, but she is, in reality. she has ovarian cancer. she had an operation and chemo, she was doing well, and now it’s back. and faced with a decision of more chemo and shitty quality of life, she chose hospice and pain management and, quite possibly, another lovely year…another walk around the sun.

(i now wish something that anna taught me to people for their birthdays….”a wonderful walk around the sun”)

you really can just be friends online these days. we’ve never met, but we have a connection. we do talk on the phone, and i’m always glad when she calls. it breaks my heart that she has to go through this. it makes me so happy that she has the friends that she does who do, and will continue to, support her. i think that her spiritual tradition is amazing about death, about crossing over and about soul-mates and eternal life. when she called me to tell me she said “i’m going to be the first to see my soulmate”…i knew what she was saying. in that instant i felt happiness for her.

i felt jealous of her.

i know anna is facing some rough times. i know she will get help from hospice and her friends, family and religious family. when she makes her transition she will be “handed off” into the arms of her beloved ishaaq. and her friends will be sad that she’s gone, that her gentle, creative and loving spirit has left this world.

i will be too. i’m her cyber-friend.

one day we’ll meet, on another plane. maybe she’ll be there wearing one of her incredible dancing outfits and she’ll sing me into another world with her sweet voice. maybe she and ishaaq will be there and they’ll bring tom to me, having befriended him on the other side.

i wish anna peace and strength and love.

i know she’ll have all of those things as she moves through her life.

Never Knowing

every time i try to start a post for this new community, i erase it and start over. i literally do not know where to begin.

i am an addict. i am a cutter. i am clinically depressed. i have ptsd. i have anxiety disorders. i am the child of an alcoholic. i was physically and emotionally abused. i couldn’t stop my friend from being raped. i went to my first funeral at the age of 5. my parents are divorced. i have had 16 suicide attempts. i have a younger brother and he is my best friend. i have an awesome husband, and he is my other best friend. i have sold drugs. i have had sex for payment. i was on welfare. i have had sex in a church parking lot. i have done cocaine off the back of a public toilet. i have cheated, lied, stolen, broken, taken, left a path of destruction around me.

but i am here. i don’t know what to make of that most days. am i a survivor? a survivor of what? of life?

life should be lived, not survived. you survive a disease. you survive in battle. you survive an accident. you don’t ‘survive’ life.

i guess this is as good of a place as any to start: i’m fucking crazy. batshit crazy. yes, you read that right. i own my craziness. but i don’t know what to do about it. i take my pills, i blog (which is my new free therapy), i exercise, i try to be a productive adult. and i fool most people. the pills help, they do. but it’s like lying under the surface, there’s always this blackness waiting to grab me and pull me under again.

i’m always treading water: surviving.

i don’t know why i’m crazy. i know that outside factors have not always helped. my dad was a highly functioning, non-abusive alcoholic. we left when i was 6. i got a new step mom when i was 7. and my mom found a new boyfriend when i was 9. we moved in with him when i was 10.

that first summer, he was home sometimes during the day. mom was at work, brother was at daycamp or some shit. i don’t remember why it happened, but i do remember the first time he hit me. it was kind of like a spanking. i was a bit old for that at ten, and had something to say about it. he told me that my mother had said he could discipline us, and she knew that he was hitting me.

so i didn’t say anything.

when i was 11, he flung a heavy piece of thick plexiglass at me while i was sitting on the stairs. i jumped down, and the plexiglass broke the banister. he would call me names – tell me i was fat, i was a whore, i was stupid, i was ugly. he would hit me. my mother finally noticed something was wrong, that i was acting out. she did the right thing and called a child psychologist.

i went to the psychologist three times. back then, i didn’t know what she told my mom or why i stopped going. now i know: she told my mom that i was a pathological liar. i was not being hit or abused by my stepfather – i was making it all up for attention. my mother was told to continue disciplining me, but not to give me that attention that i supposed was acting out for. i had no idea.

then he started getting me high. he first offered me pot when i was 12. he supplied me until i was 18. i was high for six years. and it didn’t help.

he was a functioning alcoholic. he almost never seemed drunk, and i didn’t even always register it. we’d smoke a joint in the basement, then each grab a beer while he cooked dinner. we’d be friends for that time. but it never lasted. i stopped respecting him because of the way he treated me. so i started mouthing off to him. he threw a pot of cooked rice at me at the dinner table one night. my mom saw it, but what she saw was me goading him into doing it. in reality, i just didn’t care anymore. i ran away about once a week. he would follow me outside to the gate, tell me he loved me like i was his own daughter, please come back inside.

i would.

one time, i walked out to clear my head after a confrontation. i must have been 14 or 15. when i came back in, he said, ‘i thought you were running away’. i told him i just went for a walk, but i’d leave if he wanted me to. he got mouthy with me, i got mouthy with him, and he threw a butcher knife at me. in front of my mother. i left then, and stayed at a friend’s that night. i called home five times, hanging up every time he answered. finally, my mom picked up and i told her where i was.

his defense to my mom was that if he wanted to hit me with the knife, he wouldn’t have missed.

one time, i told him i’d call the cops on him. he got in my face, and told me he’d already been in jail, it didn’t scare him. they’d never believe me anyway – i was crazy. i told him if he ever touched my mother or my brother, i would kill him or die trying.

he never did lay a hand on them. only me.

one night at dinner, he shoved our wrought iron table into my ribs multiple times, bruising two of them. we just kept eating. he told me he wanted to get some mushrooms (not the cooking kind). i could get them, but my source wanted my stepdad to roll blunts for him. he agreed, and my source gave me cigars to be rolled. my step dad showed them to my mom, said he’d found them in my room (he had – in my underwear drawer. he routinely went through my things) and that i needed to be punished. he made me eat the cigar. and when i wasn’t eating it fast enough, he lit it and exhaled the smoke into a plastic bag. he then made me hold the bag over my nose and mouth for what seemed like three or four minutes.

i spent the night vomiting in my room. i never got him the ‘shrooms.

i tried to put the iced tea back in the fridge one night. he got within arms length of me. by this time, i was 16 and had a panic attack when he got that close to me. i started yelling at him to get away from me. he trapped me behind the fridge door and shouted at me. i started screaming obscenities at him. he hocked a loogie in my eye. when i ran screaming to the bathroom to take out my contacts, he followed me and threw me across the bathroom. i bruised my lower and mid back on the side of the tub when i fell in.

he threw me out when i stole $1000 from him. i thought it was his, but it was actually the rent money for our house. he took everything i owned – all my artwork, paintings, sculptures, and threw them out. he got rid of my bed. he dumped all my clothes into plastic garbage bags, and emptied an ash tray into each bag. i ended up with two laundry baskets full of clothing, my senior year english notebook, two sketchbooks, and some cd’s. i lived in my car for a few weeks, sleeping over friend’s houses when i could – but most were away at college. my boyfriend’s mom took pity on me, and let me move in. until his grandma found out a few weeks later why i was thrown out of my home – then she threw me out too.

i was 17 and going to be put in a girl’s home. when they called my mom to tell her, HE insisted that i could not go to a place like that and let me come home. my room had my old dresser and desk, a lamp, and my bookcase in it. my boyfriend took a mattress off a cot his family had so i didn’t have to sleep on the hard floor in my own home. i lived like this from october 1997 until august 1998.

i’m focusing on my step dad here, so there are lots of things missing – me doing drugs, me stealing, me raising a bit of hell. but i’ve never laid this all out before. i’ve never actually gone through it all like this.

i was kicked out again in 1998. i lived out of my car for weeks this time. i slept on the road near my boyfriend’s house. i’d call friends to sleep over and shower at their house. i wasn’t allowed in his home at all – not even to pee. his grandmother wouldn’t allow it. we’d drive to a local taco bell so i could use the bathroom. every night, his mom would send him out with two dinner plates, and we’d eat dinner in my car. i finally went on welfare for housing in september 1998 and was in the system until june 1999. i was hospitalized for a suicide attempt. the only person who came to visit me in the hospital was my boyfriend. i didn’t see my stepdad much during this time.

in 1999, i moved within a few miles of my mom’s new home. i was invited over occasionally for dinner or something like that. i’d pick up my brother to hang out with me and my boyfriend. little by little, i was allowed in the house more. i would come over to do laundry. my step father would make passes at me, comments about us being alone together. i made sure that wouldn’t happen.

i was telling my mom one day that it had been so long since i cut, i was feeling better. we were having a dialogue, and that hadn’t happened in so long. my step dad put a knife on the table in front of me, and walked away. he’d come up behind me when i was in the family room alone, using the computer, and put his hands on my shoulders and whisper nasty things in my ear. we’d go to a family dinner for thanksgiving at my aunt’s house, and he’d hand me $100. it was a confusing relationship.

after the last time i was kicked out of my house, he never struck me again. but he was as emotionally and verbally abusive as he could be. my mother never really saw it again when i was an adult, but he was inappropriate with me up until he was diagnosed with bone cancer in june of 2003. he died december 28, 2003. i was at the house helping my mom that day. things did not look good, our hospice nurse was concerned. i usually did not go into their bedroom, ever. i hadn’t since i was 10. i went up to say good bye to him before i left. when i poked my head in the door, he waved me to the bed. i walked in, and he reached his hand out to me. i held it for a moment, and he said, ‘good bye’.

i said ‘good bye’. i drove home. he died about five hours later. my boyfriend – the same one all this time – drove me over there at 2am. (i ended up marrying him.) for my mom and my brother, it was a release – he’d been so sick. it was sad, but it was good. it was over.

i was the one who broke down.

i will never know why he chose me.

Letter I Can’t Send – Dear Grandpa

Dear Grampa,

I don’t know if I will ever be able to live down the guilt that I feel for abandoning you in the end. I should have gone. I should have called. I should have written.

When the stroke hit, I felt like my own life was falling down around my feet. I was barely hanging on to my own sanity so I said a few prayers and cried a few tears as you lay in that hospital bed over a thousand miles away. I took the rest of the day off of work to feel sorry for myself and to soothe my sense of loss but I didn’t go. I didn’t call. I didn’t write.

Time went on and you went home. Gramma did her best to take care of you with some help from Dad and your other kids and my cousins. I cried when I talked to Mom about the difficulties you were facing. You had to learn how to let other people do things for you instead of being independent like you always had been. I felt better with the sense of urgency gone so I didn’t go. I didn’t call. I didn’t write.

It was a Sunday when Mom called. You were in the hospital again and it wasn’t looking good. Your kidneys were failing. They were going to let you die. I cried and I cursed Mom for waiting to tell me as you’d been hospitalized days before. I went to work the next day, numb and angry but still I didn’t go. I didn’t call. I didn’t write.

You slipped away on a Thursday, two weeks before my birthday. I got the voicemail from Mom just before I went into a meeting at work. It was all I could to keep the tears from my face as my boss yammered about something or another. I sobbed all the way home, grief and guilt overlapping in my tears. I didn’t go. I didn’t call. I didn’t write.

I don’t know if I kept myself from your funeral because of the expense (which is what I told everyone), out of selfishness (I’ve never been good at dealing with death) or to punish myself. By staying away, my guilt is complete. I didn’t go. I didn’t call. I didn’t write.

My Grampa, I have eulogized you in my heart: You were a mean, ornery old bastard that said what you shouldn’t and stepped on plenty of toes, but we never doubted that you loved us. You taught me my first swear words and gave me my first gun. You were the hardest working and most independent man I’ve ever known and I will miss you for the rest of my life.

I’ve never believed in communication with the dead, so my pleas for forgiveness must fall on deaf ears or be lost in the air. Still, I wish I could tell you that I am sorry that I didn’t go and didn’t call and didn’t write.

I will love you always,