Mother’s Day

The village is amazing, and many people reached out to me regarding Mother’s day plans and for this I am so incredibly grateful…

I answered them mostly in much the same way, “I have very complicated feelings about mother’s day.”

And that’s the truth.  I do.  My feelings about mother’s day are very complicated.  Mostly, maybe because they are overwhelmingly negative.  And no one is supposed to feel negatively about mother’s day, right?  Especially not when you are a mother, right?

So at the simplest level there is this: Mother’s day is the day when my husband got sick… and never got better.  And that was last year.

But there’s more.  We spent many mother’s days at the winery where we got married.  In 2015 we had a great day there.  I had a bit too much to drink, and that night, after we got the girls to bed, Tim and I had the worst fight of our marriage, or our friendship, of all the years we’d known each other.  I was very willing to move on from the memory of that low moment.  But Mother’s day 2016, when I was 8 months pregnant, he “had to work” and I took the girls there alone, and met my friends with my pregnant belly for a day at the vineyard.  Last year, even before he got sick, he told me he didn’t want to go…. that he couldn’t go there on Mother’s day and remember the lowest point of our relationship. And I was incredibly moved.  I was a little bitter, that he was making my holiday about his feelings… but I was also moved that that lowest point in our relationship had such an effect on him.

So last year, I didn’t have a lot planned.  Maybe Peterson’s (ice cream) in the afternoon. The girls had swim lessons in the morning.. When he asked me what I wanted for Mother’s day I said…. to sleep in, to get time in the bathroom alone.
I was running low on my perfume. If he could order some more on Amazon that would be great.  Maybe it would be great to get another family photo shoot, since the last was in October when Declan was only 3 months old… but it was probably too late for that… He told me I’d get a Mother’s day do-over.  He was so incredibly sorry for being sick and not helping with the kids at all all weekend.

But I will never get that Mother’d day do-over.  Although honestly, people take a lot of the logistics off my hands. And I have often thought, I’d take all the hard stuff and the exhaustion of the day-to-day, for just one more day with my Tim.  But that is not meant to be.

And I often wonder – was I bitter?  Or did he think I was?  I’d hate for him to have thought that…. there was a text from him that weekend where he thought I was ignoring him and said “I know you’re mad at me but..”  And in telegram there is no response to that… but I know I went up to our bedroom and saw him and said “I’m not mad, hun, I’m just tired, and busy. with the kids.. what do you need?”  It just makes me hope I wasn’t bitter.

And maybe there’e also the what-ifs.   The what-ifs that I try my best to chase away but creep in.  What if it wasn’t mothers day but a regular weekend – maybe then he would have given me more details?  What if not wanting to burden me on Mother’s Day weekend made him hold back details of how he was feeling that would have raised my red flags sooner, or given me critical information to help the doctors make a diagnosis sooner?  What if it being Mother’s day was the problem?

Tonight I went to see the movie Tully with two mom-friends.  And in the end, it made me feel better.  I don’t remember feeling bitter exactly, but if I did, it was no more than the average new mother with a baby who doesn’t sleep through the night.  I loved him.  He knew that.  No matter if I was exhausted that weekend, no matter if we had that terrible fight in 2015.  He knew how much I loved and was dedicated to him, always.  I showed it in life, and I show it now.

Maybe some day I will feel differently about Mother’s day, but for now,  and for my children, I will grin and survive it, just like I do every day.

 

Daddy’s Girl #2

By the nature of more time together, and being the oldest, and their love of watching sports, there are infinitely more photos of Tim with A.  She was the quintessential Daddy’s girl.  R has always been attached to me, and it seemed whenever dividing and conquering was necessary, Tim took A, and I took R.  He did a lot of fun daddy-daughter things with them both on Sunday mornings when D was first born, including an adventure where he printed out a map and they followed it all over the county… to Home Depot, Lowe’s, Barnes and Noble, Target….

Despite there being less total photos, R was daddy’s  girl too.  He adored her. And she adored her daddy.  I love the picture I have of them in the hammock on her 4th birthday where he posted “chilling like April birthdays do.” The shared birthday month and astrological sign was a special connection for them.

She is our sensitive flower, and I know she struggles with her grief.  She sometimes tells me she can’t remember his face.  We have pictures all over so I don’t point this out.  I don’t think a picture will help.  She is getting her little heart and head around her grief and her loss, and she has poignant words for it sometimes.  These have included “I can remember daddy’s glasses, but I can’t remember his face.”

These photos were from a year ago today.  A Sunday afternoon when Tim returned from a brew tour weekend in Richmond with 5 of his best friends.  He walked in and told me he was tired.  I was like um, right, but you know I had all 3 kids all weekend, right?!?  D was down for his nap, and Tim asked R if she wanted to go nap with him in the hammock.  “Yes!” and they both fell asleep.  I took the photo below of them in the backyard from our window.  Then I brought the monitor outside.  A had run down to play at a neighbor’s house, and I was sneaking off for a quick pedicure with one of my friends (and a wife of one of his friends from the brew tour!) The other two photos he took, their view from the hammock, and of course  – a selfie of he and R.

I am grateful for the photos.  I can always tell her how much he adored her, but a picture speaks a thousand words.

The memories are hitting me hard right now.  I am marching steadily towards the anniversaries of those traumatic days, and I feel them coming like a freight train.  Each day I can remember with more precision what we were doing last year, because they were his last days with us.  How crazy to think we had no idea.  But again, how glad I am for his sake that we had no idea.

Terrible, thanks for asking – Perfectly

I’ve mentioned before in my What Grief looks like post how much I love the podcast American Public Media Podcast “Terrible, thanks for asking” with Nora McInerny, Yesterday, they put out a new episode and it hit home to me in such a profound way.

While I was at the hospital, the infectious disease physician was one I often really liked to see.  She seemed to understand what I was thinking sometimes, even when I couldn’t say it.  I asked a LOT of questions.  She felt my guilt over whether I should have gotten him in earlier.  She told me that she was a physician, her husband was a physician, and she doesn’t think she would have brought him as early as I did.  That was immeasurably comforting and yet… a part of you has to wonder if that’s true.  That same physician described to me what happened to Tim as a “perfect storm” of negative occurrences with a disastrous outcome.

And here was a story about a woman who’s life fell apart suddenly very similarly to mine… a woman who’s husband had a very similar set of circumstances also come together “perfectly” and lead to his death.  His death, essentially from sepsis, on the table in her ER.,, because she was an ER doctor! I can’t imagine it happening at your work.  And yet, on the whole, I can imagine,  I lived it. And her guilt over whether she brought him in sooner… but she and I could have easily traded places for any of it,  She even talked about being jealous of a family who got the chance to prepare for the end.

And I certainly get that.

The emotions in all of this are so complex.  Some days, I think I’n doing great.  And then a song, or a memory, or an issue with a kiddo – or a podcast – will bring the pain and the loss to the surface.  And all I can do is sit in it for a while.

“Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.” Albus Dumbledore through J.K. Rowling

This is us – Jack’s death

Last year I wrote a bit about the TV show This is us.

Spolier alert:  Not appropriate to read if you have yet to watch the 2/4 episode of This is US.

Sunday night, after the Superbowl, it was the episode where you finally find out / see how Jack dies.  Tim had asked me over and over when I watched the first season, “do you know how the dad dies yet?”  The show was too much for him, too intense.  It’s amazing to me to see this same anxiety in his daughter.  I took the girls to the secondary school’s “The Little Mermaid” on Sunday, and in the “awkward” love scene parts A asked me if we could leave… then at the end told me it was so amazing, and I was the best mom ever for taking them!  Just like her father, she could not handle awkward, or anxiety, and uncertainty.

Jack’s death was harder than I expected.  I mean, I’ve known for 2 years that he will die.  But it’s TV, I expected it to happen dramatically: in a car crash, somehow related to his drinking… even when I knew it was a fire, I thought for sure there was a connection.  But no.  He was a hero in the fire and survived it. And then.  He died a very ordinary death.  The heart.  The lungs.  The widow maker heart attack. The last conversation with his wife:  joking, teasing, ordinary.  In the hospital where his son was born. (and daughter)

I wrote before about not making comparisons.  All of our bad stuff is bad, we don’t have to say what’s better or worse.  And yet, I think it’s only human nature to “blink” – make those snap judgments, and feel that quick comparison.  It’s what I felt when I watched This is us.  There were so many similarities.  And the differences were/are up and down.  The ages of the kids.. pros and cons… the suddenness.. pros and cons.  But at the end of the day, it’s still dealing with the loss, and being strong for the kids.  Being able to tell the kids… knowing the right things to say.  And being able to feel all the pain of it.

Someone in my hot young widows club posted about the struggle of seeing people post about how hard it is for them to suffer TV characters’ deaths.  About how we live devastation every day, we don’t just watch it once a week.  And I get that point of view, I really do.   Mine though is usually along these lines… when people tell me they’ve never experienced a devastating loss… or even that their children haven’t.. my first thought is, with all sincerity “good for you!”  I’m really just so happy that the most difficult loss they’e had is Jack, from This is us.  And I am grateful to the show for making people feel all the feels.  This episode was surprisingly difficult.  But necessary for me.

“…Take the sourest lemon that life has to offer… and turn it into something resembling lemonade.” ~ This is US

Day in the Life

DITL was a term in one of my jobs.  It was even the nickname of one of the guys I played softball with… yes, pre-children I played a lot of work co-ed slow-pitch softball!

Today, two-thirds of my children threw up… one in the car on the way to school, one at the dinner table.  They have incredible gag reflexes.

Today, after the months-long process of calling MetLife critical illness insurance to check on my claim, calling doctors, getting a friend who works at the hospital to physically stalk doctors, getting my company benefits administrator to call, fax information, seeking clarification, giving my claim or certificate number, my DOB, address and contact number should we get disconnected…over and over and over again… today, it got to me.  Today, I found myself shaking with rage, and then, as close as I’ve ever come to bawling my eyes out at my desk at work.    It’s dirty money.  Insurance money.  That’s how it feels.  Critical illness, or life…insurance feels like dirty money.  I remember one life insurance check specifically stating “death benefit” and it made me feel like I was going to vomit (which I know never to do in front of my little gag-masters.) But I survived, I got through the day. (Stay tuned because Critical Illness insurance is still not resolved, even though Tim was critically ill close to 6 months ago.)  I even finished a compliance training.  I drove home.  I played with A, R, and D.  We read books.  We talked about the sunny, stormy, and surprising parts of our days.  I got everyone to bed. I listened to a podcast while I made egg salad and did the dishes.

And you know what?  I conquered the car seat cleaning.  That was always Tim’s self-appointed job.  There have been many car trip puking incidents… and on each one I handled the cleaning of the child, and Tim handled the cleaning of the car seat.  Once, on our way to Richmond in 2015, we pulled over to the side of the road IN THE SNOW, jumped out, I cleansed and changed R, and he cleansed the car seat.  We were back on the road in record time and Tim gave me a huge high five and was incredibly proud of our efficiency.  Never did I imagine that was something we would get good at together as a couple, as a team.  But we did.  We were quite a team.  We handled a puking in the car seat child with the best of them!

Tonight, I reinstalled the clean car seat cover, and the car seat back into the car.  I didn’t want to, but it was a necessary evil.  I missed him.  And not just because it was a gross annoying job I didn’t want to do, that he did valiantly without complaint…. but because I just plain miss him all the time.

This is a day in the life of a 36 year old widow with three small children.   Thanks for asking.

This is Us

Last year I binge watched the first season of This is Us.  Tim started it with me but eventually found it too intense.  He kept asking me “do you know how the dad died yet?” He wanted to know, but he couldn’t handle the suspense.

A friend and I decided to get together at my house every Tuesday night to watch it this year.  I knew what we were getting into.  So did she.  We were watching a show that is at its core about 3 kids whose dad dies, and how it affects their lives, going back and forth in time.

In the first episode of this season, Rebecca, the mother who lost her husband, talks to her adopted son, Randall, about how he (the husband, Jack) was the one to push for the adoption.  “Sometimes in marriage, someone needs to be the one to push to make the big moves… and oftentimes in our marriage, yes, it was your father.  Our marriage wasn’t perfect, it’s true.  But none are.  And your father wasn’t perfect either, but he was pretty damn close.  As close as they come.   He pushed this stranger on me and that stranger became my child, and that child became my life.  He became you.”  That’s how I feel especially when I remember those days in the hospital when I told him every day that even if I had known this would happen I wouldn’t change a thing…  because I knew if he could talk to me, and knew what was going on that he would apologize.  Unnecessarily, but he would have apologized.  Because kids, 1, 2, 3… it was all him pushing. And now – they are my life.

In the Halloween episode this week, they cover when Rebecca’s first grandchild is born.  After, she cries saying “That was one of the happiest moments of my life”and Randall asks her if they are happy tears, she nods, “but also your dad isn’t here.  And that’s just something I’m going to have to deal with for the rest of my  life –  the happiest moments will also be a little sad.”  It rung so true, because I remember thinking that exactly this summer, and I am pretty sure I said those exact words to my sister.

It was a tough moment watching that episode this week, it was so incredibly close to home.  And I know it was for my friend who watched it with me.  But I reminded her – we knew what we were getting into here.

When I watched the final episode of Season 1 last year, Tim had already gone to bed.  There is a big fight scene between the two main characters, Jack and Rebecca, where Rebecca asks Jack what he loves about her and he can’t answer.  In the morning, he wakes up and has a very moving speech before he leaves for his friend’s couch for some space.  Tim and I had 3 kids.  We didn’t devote as much time to each other, to our relationship, as either of us would have liked.  I went up to bed after watching that episode and Tim rolled over to greet me when I climbed in so I said, “Tim, what do you love about me?”  I couldn’t tell you honestly all the words he used at that moment, but I can say this: He did not hesitate to answer, and he listed many things.

It’s very hard to know who I am right now.  I am many things.  There are many things I am not.  Someone asked me recently if I felt like I’m living a label.  Last weekend, a fellow widow commented on not being the old her… and another reminded us that we are still the person that he loved.

It is incredibly powerful to remind myself that however lost I may feel right now, without that person who pushed me, however difficult it is to swallow that every joy in my life will be hand-in-hand with sadness… I am still the woman he loved.

more of the beginning

 

In early May, 2017, I had installed the Telegram app on my phone and I had a few contacts, but when I saw that icon, it mostly meant I had a message from three of my close friends (whose husbands are all friends with Tim too) OR Tim.  Mostly, it was from Tim.  It was our primary form of communication if we weren’t together.  We never used SMS texting, and I’m so glad because now I have it all saved.  When he got sick, even though I pretty much spent at least 8 hours a day at his bedside at the hospital, I still Telegram-ed him. I had his phone, and I saw he was getting other telegram messages when I turned it on, but I didn’t read them.  I sent him updates on the kids I knew he’d want when he woke up and could check his phone again.  I poured out how much I missed him, how much I loved him, anything, so that he could look back on it when he was able.  Looking back on those telegram messages, brings that time back in such an acute way.  And before, his last messages to me, they help me remember those last times together, that I never could have imagined were the last.

In my Origin Story post, I talked a bit about the beginning… the weekend leading up to him ending up in the hospital, the trip to the ER with A, getting the kids with a friend and a neighbor, getting back to the ICU, our last moments that night before they intubated him… here is a bit more detail of what I can remember from memory and from telegram…

Here was our last Telegram communication:

Tim: Room is 415

Me:Yes/  Dr told me/  I’m here/  On my way to you/

Tim: I have no white blood cells

All of that is time stamped 6:37 PM, to give you an idea of how fast that typing occurred.

 

Going back in time…. On May 1st he went downtown after work to watch some sports thing with a friend.. he called it “baseball nerd stuff” at Howard Theater.  He was very excited about it.  On May 2nd (a Tuesday) we both worked short days so we could meet with A’s Kindergarten teacher in the morning, then make it back to the elementary school in the afternoon for her Tumbling showcase.  I took A to the bus, then the other two to daycare while he swung by Dunkin and got us each an iced coffee before the teacher meeting.  I was concerned that she wasn’t ready for first grade, I had always been worried mostly because of her age relative to the other kids in her class.  Tim was adamant that she was ready and she would be bored if we held her back, so I said we had to at least meet with the teacher to learn some strategies to support her where she was behind her peers.  I met him in front of the school with the 2 iced coffees, and we headed in.  It was like a date.  After the Tumbling showcase later that night, he pointed out that there were $1 subs at Jimmy John’s that day and we had to go.  He took A to soccer practice, I picked up the other two and we met at Jimmy John’s. A was so excited!  It was a scene.  We had to wait in a huge line with lots of other people while more bread came out of the oven, and they could start selling sandwiches again.  I remember thinking how ridiculous this was as I tried to keep D happy and A&R from climbing all over EVERYTHING, and from whining too much.  Tim chatted with a couple behind us and bragged about how awesome it was to be a dad.   He smiled from ear to ear, with pride at his kiddos.  After the kids were in bed that night he watched the end of the Celtics / Wizards game.  He sent me an article on fidget spinners being a threat to America, and commented that he saw a lot at school that day (on our two trips there!)

On May 4th he first commented on not feeling well.  He said he thought he had gout.  Between 6:30 and 7am he got stuck in the drive thru of the worst DD ever on his way to work, and eventually gave up and drove off without his food and coffee. That afternoon he was eager to get out for a run because he was getting frustrated with the kiddos, and the house being disorganized.

From May 6-7th he scheduled “beer and brunch with Jared” an occassion for Tim and 4 of his closest local buddies to visit the 6th of their crew (the poop group) for a Richmond beer crawl, in advance of the birth of Jared and his wife’s second child.  Before he left he left out the sight word notecards he had made for A, in three piles and let me in on his method of assessing her, with checks, minuses and sad faces.  He thanked me for letting him go to Richmond, he said he loved me, that he owed me one… I sent him updates from A’s soccer game (she scored!), where I was standing in the rain under an umbella with D in the carrier (thank goodness R was at a friend’s house!) He started sending me questions on how we were going to handle “no more babies” since we were leaning that way,  and had said we would make a decision by D’s first birthday.   I was pretty clear on how that should be handled.  He said tournament time next year.  He had a great time with his friends in Richmond, but when he contacted me to say good night he said he was exhausted,  and with “the gout, the sores in my mouth, and the hemerroids… I feel so old and broken.”  I told him at least he looked good.  He said he was too old for this (brewery crawl). The next day when he was in the car with friends heading home I asked how he was feeling and he said “better than you would think!  Didn’t actually drink all that much.”  When he got home, R hadn’t napped, so he and she went straight out to his hammock in the backyard to nap together.

On May 8th, he mowed the lawn.  He sent me a photo. He was so proud.  He said he was getting quicker, did minor trimming but got to use the new blower.  (I think when I read that in real time I thought “how many new lawn products is he buying?” But I didn’t question him even then, I knew he was having so much fun with the lawn!) That night he took care of Declan while I took the girls to Girl Scouts.  This included giving Declan a bottle, and my pumping when I got home.  He lamented adding more to the bottle and then him not drinking it. We talked about my family and my parents’ health.  On the 9th he sent photos from As soccer practice.. mostly selfies of him with R and D on the side lines… and mentioned the hemerroid pain.

May 12th was a Friday and his last day at work.  We talked about his outfit choices that week and the compliments he got at work.  (He had just started Men’s Stitch fix and was loving it.) I went to Muffins for Moms at the school for Mother’s Day and sent him pics. He messaged me at 1:35 that afternoon that he was going home.  He wanted to lay down – again complaints were only about hemerroids. He typically left work at 2:45pm every day to pick up Annabelle so this wasn’t shockingly early.

May 14th, Mother’s Day, was when he first mentioned a fever.  He had one, then he didn’t.  He told me he loved me and he was sorry to have ruined mother’s day.  He said he was supposed to make french toast but could only muster the ice cream sandwiches.  He said he promised I would get my weekend.  I told him the ice cream sandwiches they made me Saturday were so good – and how was he feeling?  I sent pics of us out with some friends for ice cream Sunday afternoon at one of his favorite places to go.  At 5:36pm Sunday he told me the fever was back – 101ish.  Thats when I said I really thought he ought to go see someone Monday morning, and he agreed.  That’s when he asked me to go with him.  I said yes, and that A needed to go to her room when we got home, and I was stopping with the kids at Safeway, and did he need anything  He said “Severe pain killer.  You are super mom.”  He also said he thought we needed to hug A more. Just because.

IMG_20170513_192411.jpg

On Monday, the 15th, our conversation was about getting ready to go to the doctor’s office. I thought I passed out in the waiting room, but I have messages with him while he was back there.  “She thinks its the infection in my mouth/ To make an appointment with Dr .Z (our dentist)/ For the end of the week/ She’s going to give me a foam for hemerroids / Since it wasn’t black and blue she doesn’t think it’s thrombrosis (He had clearly been googling/ WebMDing).  I asked if they thought the mouth infection was what was causing the fever?  He said Potentially yea.  I asked if they were giving him abx and he said yes.  We went to Target to get the antibiotics.  He said he was freezing.  Then shaking.  We went to Target, I got him home and in bed.  He never did use that foam.  He took the antibiotics.  I went to work.  He got A from the bus stop, and let her watch a movie til I got home with the littles. She had speech therapy that night. I had a lot of proposal work to get to at work after the morning doctor trip.  I  constantly ask myself why I hadn’t just stayed home with him that day. I had absolutely no clue.

The next day was the 16th.  A day I will never forget.  At 11:02am while I was at work I said: OMG next Friday D is 10 months! (I could never have imagined that D’s dad would die when he was 10 months old.)  At 1:33pm Tim said he vomited. I told him I’d come home to get A off the bus if he wanted – let me know… at 2:18 he said it was ok, he was going to get up and shower.  At 2:25 he said please come home.  I responded with “309 eta/  I think we go to the ER this time.”  I called him on my drive home.  I called my boss and told him he needed to get my deputy help with the proposal ASAP.  I grilled Tim on his symptoms while I was waiting for A at the bus stop… hemerroid pain he said was better, no mouth pain…lymphnoids didn’t seem as swollen, but sweating, fever, vomiting… I asked him if he’d been talking to his Aunt (because she’s a Dr and he’d spoken to her the previous year when he had an infection.)  He said no.  He said he was looking for socks… and brushing his teeth… next messages were the Room number and the white blood cells.

I described much of our last moments together in his ICU room at Fairfax hospital. Some other things I remember:

The hematologist came in while he was off for the CT scan.  My initial thought when they took him for the CT scan was how dangerous to finally be sitting, not responsible for the kids, or even for Tim – and alone with my own thoughts.  I texted his parents, my mom and sisters, my three close local friends (one of whom was with my kids and one who worked at that hospital and came back that night to be with me before  I headed home, the third happened to be on vacation in California), my three (very not local) best friends from college…

I didn’t know what a hematologist was.  They didn’t use the term “oncologist”with me that night though thats what he also was.  They already suspected cancer.  But I still had no idea.  When the NP told me things would get worse before they got better I was a cheerleader… I said we’d tackle it, I said we understood, right, Tim?  He said “well I’m not excited about it” (being intubated.)  I had no idea what the NP was telling me.  I had no idea that these crazy cheer leader go-get-em-we’ll-kick-this attitude I was portraying was the last conversation I’d ever have with my husband, my best friend, the love of my life.  When they gave him a catheter he really didn’t like it.  As a joke, I told him not to rip it out (because this was a problem my very-bad-patient-dad had been having) and I think I really freaked out the nurses.  So I had to explain.  They were both young and unmarried and said they thought girls married men like their dads.  I said I couldn’t have married anyone more different from my father, and my sister too.  Tim smiled at me through the oxygen mask.  I told him my friend who was watching the kids messaged me that she’d never changed a boy diaper before then (she has 2 daughters) and he asked why she’d never changed her sister’s son’s diaper!  There are times when remembering these last conversations burns me.  Why didn’t I tell him how much I loved him?  How much he meant to me?   How much I loved our life together? That I wouldn’t change any of it for anything?  Why couldn’t I have said all those things and more?  I had no idea.  I couldn’t imagine it was my last conversation with him.

Continue reading “more of the beginning”