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Life After Death

I come from a large blended family.

I have six siblings- four brothers and two sisters. I’m especially close to two brothers.

November 19, 2017 will always be the hardest day of my entire life. You see, early that morning, I got a text from my mom asking me to call her; it was very important. I called her immediately, expecting that my grandfather, who is already in terrible shape, had fallen again or had another stroke.

When I called, the first words out of my mouth were, “Is it Pappaw?”

It wasn’t. It was Eli, my youngest brother, just 25.

He had committed suicide in the middle of the night.

I screamed for hours it seemed. I couldn’t stop screaming.

My baby brother, and one of my biggest supporters, had chosen to end his life with no signs of depression or struggle beforehand. I cried myself into one of the worst migraines of my life.

I was in the ER that evening seeking treatment.

As if that earth-shattering day wasn’t enough, the next day was just as bad.

My dad, 66 years old, had gone to the ER complaining of back pain and unable to walk. I mean, his legs wouldn’t support him or move, not that it hurt to walk. After scans and exams, we found out that he had stage four cancer. His bones were riddled with cancer.

He went straight from the ER to radiation.

Now, this is a double whammy. Not only am I reeling and numb from Eli’s loss, but now I have to hold myself together to support Dad. He’d always been my greatest supporter, it was my turn to help him.

I immediately began packing bags to go to his side. After a cluster of idiotic errors and misjudgments by the doctors, he was finally given an accurate diagnosis regarding the type of cancer and I stayed with him as much as I could during the next two months.

Dad died January 30, 2018.

Since losing these men that helped shape who I am, I’m barely breathing some days.

There are times when it all seems like a nightmare. There are times when I’m drowning in tears. I’ll never be the same. I don’t know how to live in a world without them. As crazy as it sounds, I’m reluctant to seek grief counseling. I’m worried I’ll hurt more if I’m forced to talk about it. I am on an antidepressant that takes the edge off this utter depression.

I distract myself with movies and books to get through the day.

Because Kids Can’t Fight Cancer Alone

*Of course, no one can fight cancer alone. Or should. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t sometimes feel alone. Even if you aren’t the one who has the cancer.

I still remember walking with my son on his way to the OR. Trying not to fall to pieces. Wanting to believe that the neurosurgeon I had hardly met more than 24 hours before would fix my son. That his hands would be steady as he worked to remove the tumor that was slowly taking over my son’s brain. That the tumor really was “just” benign as he had thought.

Oh, how I wanted someone to promise me that my son would be okay.

The constant plea in my head… just please let my son be okay. Just please let him live.

Oh, dear God… my son was going to have brain surgery. My two-year old son. Brain surgery.

Then the bright white room, people moving about as if on a mission, my eyes locked onto my son.

“Time out!”

Me wondering, “What the hell?” and “What did we do wrong?” Only to realize that they are trying to verify that they have the correct patient and the correct procedure. I try to regain what little composure I have left. I can’t lose it completely in front of my son.

Then the anesthesiologist telling me to kiss my son as it’s time for me to go.

My son is howling as if betrayed. “How dare you leave me with these people?” scream his eyes. Then the medicine starts to take an effect and the life seems to fade from those same eyes as his body goes limp.

I walk out of the OR. Without my son.

I had never been more terrified in my life.

That was four years ago.

In the last few days, I’ve been teaching that son to Rollerblade. The one who before the diagnosis had problems with balance and motor skills. Now on rollerblades.

It’s one of the most beautiful things ever.

But he didn’t make it to this point alone. Nor did I.

Nearly a year after our son’s surgery, my husband learned of a program called Hero Beads offered by a local childhood cancer support group called Capital Candlelighters (soon to be renamed Badger Cancer Support Network). This string of beads documents the diagnoses, treatments, milestones, etc. along a child’s journey.

It’s almost indescribable seeing your child’s medical history as a string of beads. And regardless of outcome, there are always too many beads.

And while I treasure those beads, Capital Candlelighters offers kids and their families so many more concrete means of support. From financial aid to support groups to sharing information… anything that they can do to make the hell that is childhood cancer easier for children and their families.

Over time my family has begun to participate in events either sponsored by or to benefit Capital Candlelighters. We recently walked in our second Suzy’s Run. It’s a highly emotional experience. Seeing the families and kids who are still fighting or have beaten cancer. Seeing the families whose kids have lost.

So it’s time for me to do more, to give back. Because doing good feels good. But I’m not done yet.

“…because kids can’t fight cancer alone!” (Capital Candlelighters motto)

(I’ll be damned if I don’t tear up every time I read that motto.)

2010: Year of the Suck

Cancer took my Daddy not even three months ago. The rest of the year hasn’t been much better.

2010 was supposed to be a fun year. A great vacation with my little girl – she was turning 5. We were so excited. First inkling that 2010 would NOT be cool? My 5-year olds dad would not allow me to get her a passport to take her on a cruise. The bastard didn’t think I’d bring her back! Wha? Obviously he knows me even less than he did when we were married. Idiot.

So my dreams of a Mama and Gigi vacation were put on the back burner.

February 2nd, I turned 32 and I wasn’t happy about it.

Where was my life? Not where I wanted it even though I did everything the right way. I graduated high school, went straight to college, graduated college, married college sweetheart and waited the right time after the wedding to have baby. We thought that three years was a good amount of time.

Uhhh…not so much.

Marriage was not a happy thing for me. Every day, I was put-down. My self-esteem shattered. I found out I was pregnant (because, you know, that’s what happens when you have sex and don’t use protection. After, all it was “cheaper” to use condoms instead of birth control pills. Or something like that).

All my life I wanted to be a mother. My pregnancy was awful. Not because I was sick or anything but because my husband was an asshole. He called fat and crazy, I started believing him while I wondered what the fuck I was doing with this bastard? Well, I needed to work things out because we were having a baby. And not just a baby…MY daughter, the one that I been waiting my whole life to have.

She was born on a freezing cold St. Patrick’s day. Came screaming into the world and was…perfect. This child was sent to save my life, I knew that the moment I saw her. We named her Grace (I call her Gigi online for “privacy”). I promised that little girl on the first night of her life that I would never let ANYTHING hurt her. ANYTHING or anyONE.

Life went on with a colicky, very super-attached-to Mama infant. That child cried more than I thought anyone could ever cry EVER. I wore holes in the carpet walking with her jiggling her and whispering “shhhhhhh shhhhhhh” to get her to sleep. We moved to a brand-new city when she was five months old. Because it’s REALLY a good thing to uproot a mom with severe postpartum anxiety and depression from her only support system (her family) and move her with her colicky infant to a new place where she has to “bring home the bacon” while he leaves at 6:00 am every day to get a fancy-schmancy MBA. I was in a really good place in life. /sarcasm

Two months into the hell that was this move, I was on the phone with my mother while I was pumping in a dark, cold, hidden office at my work. I told her how awful The Husband had been. I told her that he’d said he would “rather me be dead than be Grace’s mom.” (Now there was more that happened but I’ve blocked most of it out. Some broken closet doors, a night spent sleeping with 911 dialed on my phone in front of my daughters crib and some other stuff)

Somehow, this didn’t concern me for ME…but for her. My mom decided that she and my father would hook up their trailer that night and make the 3 1/2 hour trek and move us home the next day.

The next morning I got up and dutifully kissed my husband goodbye. I called my parents as soon as he was out and could no longer be seen on the road. By 12:30 we were headed “home.” I called The Husband and told him that we were gone and things needed to change before we came back.

I fully believed that we WOULD be going back. But then? Then my colicky cried-all-the-time-unless-she-was-attached-to-Mama’s-boob became Super Happy Confident 7-month old. What? My child was picking up on every single source of stress in me and reacting from that. Weird. I’ve always said she is my heart and she truly was…we have been cosmically connected from the moment of her conception.

Anyway…4 years and much angst, tears, anger, hurt, hearings, court sessions, lawyers and judges later – I was declared free and divorced from The Husband. Whoopee! But yet I still had to hand over a piece of me every other weekend and every Tuesday evening. Grrr. I still hate him even though he is now The Ex.

Anyway…2010 was a year of promise. It was going to be good. I had a job that was as close to my dream job as I could get (or at least as close to my dream salary being somewhat geographically challenged). This was going to be a GOOD YEAR.

And then? It wasn’t.

February 4th. My Mama took a slip on the ice. A couple of scary moments where we thought she was bleeding in her brain. BLEEDING in her brain. That was bad. I took off work and ran to rescue my child (whom my mother took care of and didn’t know if she was at school or not because she wasn’t quite sure when or where she fell – a severe concussion will do that to you).

February 5th. I got fired from my job. FIRED FROM MY JOB. I’m a single mom who bought her very first house not even 5 months before and my jackass bosses FIRED me. I won’t get into reasons but let’s just say they aren’t exactly all “legal.”

Then my Daddy starts having health issues while we are still dealing with my Mama’s issues. Now yes, I’m 32 years old but when I say I’m close with my family – I am CLOSEWITHMYFAMILY. Multiple conversations with each of them a day. These people are not only my blood relations but my best friends.

So…winter turns to spring, I may or may not be enjoying a bit of unemployment fun and playing the “stay at home mom” gig. Never thought it would happen as I’m a single mom and well, I have no sugar daddy.

April…my fabulous Daddy is diagnosed with fucking brain cancer. BRAIN CANCER. It seriously doesn’t get much worse than that. He died not even three months after diagnosis. Motherfucking cancer and the motherfucking staph infection that came with his surgeries. I am not prepared to be half an orphan. I’m too young for this crap.

Then my sister…ahhh…my sister. There are not enough words or space on this site to even get into her. I love her, she drives me crazy and I love her 4 children as my own. She moved them 3 hours away. 3 hours away! Not the best choice given everything going on (and by everything I mean that this storyline could rival any soap opera…I’m NOT KIDDING). So my dad dies, my sister moves, my daughter-my heart-my sidekick in everything starts real life school and I have NO FUCKING JOB.

Add onto this that my nephew (0ne of the 4 that my sister has birthed) has leukemia. Yeah…unfortunately after everything we’ve been through this year that is an afterthought now. Poor kid. But he is doing well so that’s always a positive.

So…that’s my story. I have no “home.” This story could go under abuse (which I grazed with my marriage to The Ex), Divorce, Cancer, Parent Loss, Grief, Economic Struggles, Infidelity if I got into my sisters story, chronic illness if I went into all of my back story (Ulcerative Colitis), Depression, Anxiety, Postpartum Depression, Family Relationships, Pediatric Illness and it could go on and on. So I just choose to categorize it as “Things That Are Bullshit.”

So my Band friends, this is a small piece of the fucked up-person that is me.

I’m in a full scale “life sucks” moment now and just hope eventually maybe I can shit rainbows and see unicorns again. Maybe after I kick this damn strep throat that I have right now. School cooties.