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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.

A Letter To Lucas

Dear Lucas:

The last time I saw my parents alive was the day after my wedding, Sunday, August 5, 2007.

My sister and I choose to remember them most on October 15, the day we were both notified of their passing.

Sometime between Friday, October 12, 2007 at 8:00 PM and Saturday, October 13, 2007 at 8:00 AM they died of carbon monoxide poisoning. They were 61 and 58 respectively. Too young to die.

My parents lived overseas and dedicated their lives to working at American international schools around the globe for 28 years. My father was the principal of a kindergarten through 12th grade school in Tunis, Tunisia and my mother was a third grade teacher. They died in Tunisia.

For those of you who don’t know, carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless and is the second-leading cause of poisoning deaths in the country. Carbon monoxide poisoning claims nearly 500 lives and another 15,000 require emergency room treatment. It can kill you before you know it because you can’t see it, smell it, or taste it. A water heater vent was damaged in my parent’s kitchen and it emitted carbon monoxide into their home.

It’s hard to be the one left behind to pick up the pieces and ask the unanswerable questions. It’s stupid to walk around angry at an inanimate object. Most of the time I just feel robbed. My parents were anything but done with this life. One week to the day before their lifeless bodies were found, they had decided to retire and return to the United States. They were anxious to see my sister, who had recently graduated from college, start her life and begin building a career. They looked forward to us both having grandchildren (they would have been amazing grandparents and would have completely adored you, not to mention spoiled you rotten!) and had a long list of things they wanted to do to their Arizona home and trips they were excited to take. It’s unfair that they were taken from us too soon. I miss them every single day and ache to hear their voices again.

I’m mostly sorry that you will never get to meet them in the physical sense.

I hope that among me, your dad, your aunt, and everyone who knew them, we will help you know them too.

Sometimes bad things happen to good people, but I will forever believe that the best is yet to be.

Today Is Bullshit

Let’s take a look at some things that are total bullshit right now.

Psoriasis is bullshit. The itching, the peeling skin, the pain. People staring at me. People making nasty comments about me, asking to be moved to a different table so they don’t have to sit near me, avoiding any chance of touching me. All bullshit.

Medications to treat psoriasis are bullshit. All the damage it can cause, the extra blood tests needed, the worsening of the itching (and to think, I thought it wasn’t possible to itch MORE), the dryness, my lips chapping and bleeding even though I’m practically attached to the chapstick tube. All bullshit.

My best friend’s Grandma died yesterday, and the best I can do is help her by editing a couple of letters she needs to send, and being there online. Because she lives several states away, and I can’t just go hug her and tell her that she can relax and cry, and that I’ll take care of the huge list of things she has to do. That she doesn’t have to hold it together alone. Bullshit.

That people I don’t even know online have lost people so very special to them, and there’s not a damned thing I can do to help. I read their words, and I can relate to how they feel, but I can’t find the words to help. Instead I’m sobbing my heart out for people I’ve never met, and wishing that somehow, I could make it just a little better. All bullshit.

I’m afraid to walk from my car into the store because my purse might get stolen again. I should not have to live in fear. Fuck you, asshole, for stealing my purse, and part of my confidence. It was really fucking hard to get that confidence, and it will be even harder to get back there again. Total bullshit.

The Mate is in constant pain, and no matter how much I want to, there is no way for me to make it better. He’s on so many heavy-duty drugs, and still, he hurts all the time. Medical science can find a way to build robotic arms and legs, and no way to help him with the pain in his spine? Bullshit.

Animal abuse. I don’t even need to go into how many animals are out there suffering, and I can’t fix it. I do what I can, I have more animals than I can easily take care of, I transport, and still, there are so many more out there suffering. It’s all bullshit.

Parents that are assholes, abusive, nasty, whatever. I had them, and I hate that anybody else might have to go through something similar to what I’ve gone through. I HATE IT I HATE IT I HATE IT. I just want to gather everybody up in my arms and some how make it better. And I can’t. And that’s bullshit.

There is so much more bullshit I’d like to cover, but I’m having trouble typing through my tears, so I’m going to go hug my dog, find some tissues, and try to figure out at least one bullshit thing that I might be able to fix.

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,