Flooded with memories

May 17, 2017

I have a voicemail from the hospital at 2:04 am on May 17, 2017.  I’ve never been able to delete it.   My phone is always on silent when I sleep.  I came home from the hospital exhausted on the night of the 16th… sent my neighbor home, sent Tim a telegram message I knew he wouldn’t get since I had his phone, and crashed.  At 2:30am, D woke me to nurse, I grabbed my phone and saw I had a message.  Crap!  I listened to it while I nursed and felt like I heard the judgment in the nurse’s voice… um, we need you to call back… um, we need your authorization… um, your husband is declining fast, why aren’t you here or answering your phone? Maybe that wasn’t there and its all in my head, but its what I hear.

I took D downstairs to call back without waking the girls.  I paced the playroom.  I talked to a nurse and then a nephrologist.  Tim’s kidneys were shutting down.  He needed to go on dialysis.  A machine needed to act for his kidneys.  I needed to verbally authorize the dialysis.  I’m pretty sure I only really knew what dialysis was because I had recently watched a John Oliver episode on it.  (Yup, I just quick googled that episode: Published on May 14, 2017.)  I asked if I needed to come back…. was it ok if I came in the morning when I got the kids to school? They said that was ok.

I felt so much conviction to TRY to keep things as normal as possible for the kids.  I would get A on the bus, and R and D to school…then instead of going to work I’d go to the hospital.  We’d see what the day held.  Maybe someone else could get Annabelle off the bus.  Maybe someone else could pick up the other two from daycare…

I fell back to sleep around 2:45 and turned up the volume.  At 4am my phone rang again and I jumped up like my bed was on fire.  It was my friend Anne. She happened to be in MA, and the night before when I texted friends and family, she had offered to come and I said yes.  Now it reminds me of the first week of freshman year of college when her mother offered to come get me from the dorms when I had mono… and I said yes.

I got up early and showered.  I was so tired.  But mostly, I was so scared.  While blow drying my hair I texted people.  My friend Jen who had put my kids to bed the night before offered to take the day off work and meet me at the hospital.  My friend Christine works at the hospital, but she was off that Wednesday.  I didn’t want to inconvenience Jen, but she seemed to want to do it, so I said yes.

On the drive to the hospital, a drive that would become like the back of my hand in the coming weeks, I sat at a light and texted Anne and my two other best friends from college and said at least Anne would have good weather for the drive.  Shruti who was in Austin where it was raining, asked if I was being sarcastic, so I sent them this photo:

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When I got to the hospital, I found my way to Tim’s room in the regular ICU area. It was around 9am.  I didn’t recognize anyone so I introduced myself.  They said they’d started dialysis at 6am, and they would be taking him out for a test soon, and I would need to talk to the new attending when he was available.  It seemed like there was going to be time, so I picked up my pump bag, “ok, I’ll go find a place to pump, and then he’ll be back?”  All of the sudden, there were a million medical professionals in his room.  The new attending doctor was very talkative.  He said a million words.   Then the cardio-thoracic surgeon showed up and everyone made it clear I had to pay attention to him. He told me they had to put Tim on ECMO.  (I had no idea what that was.)  He said it would be a surgery and it would be putting him on a machine that would bypass his heart and lungs.   He would be moved to the other side of the hospital for the surgery, and after he would return to the Cardiovascular ICU (ie the “CV ICU” or  my”home” for the next 26 days.) He told me that there was a 10% mortality rate in just going on the machine, but basically without it he’d be dead in a couple days for sure.  OMG, where do I sign?  10%?  Thats nothing.  When can the surgery start?  After I signed the paper, the surgeon went away and the attending was talking to me again about drugs, treatments, tests they wanted, all the things they didn’t know, all the blood and blood products Tim needed…. I was at the foot of Tim’s bed, under a lot of lights, holding my pumping bag, and a ton of interns were standing there,  along with nurses buzzing around… so many people and many of them were staring at me… and it was the first time in my life I thought that information was going to make me pass out.  I swayed.  I grabbed Tim’s bed.  I asked if I could sit down.

One nurse really jumped into action.  Most of the nurses seemed sort of exasperated with the attending for saying so much to me.  The attending told me they all knew about us, about my family… that they all had families… then he nodded towards the interns and said “well not them, they are too young!”  They all looked at me with so much compassion. It made me fell a little stupid?… uneducated?.. slow? I am used to people looking at me like that now.  But I wasn’t on May 17, 2017.  No one had ever looked at me the way that everyone in that room was looking at me.

I went to pump, and a nurse gave me a piece of paper and pen and I wrote down everything I could remember from that conversation. One nurse practitioner kept asking me who was coming… telling me I needed people here… telling me people needed to come.  I kept saying “My friend is here… she’s just downstairs getting us coffee, its fine.”  She was so incessant, that people needed to come… and what could she do for me?  And it occurred to me “How do I tell his parents?” So I wrote down their numbers and asked her to call them.  I had texted them both the night before.  I texted them to say to expect the NP’s call… I don’t know what she said to them, but I’m not sure that did anyone any favors based on the state they were in when they called me.  They were getting on airplanes.

Jen and I followed Tim’s bed to the elevator and down to the basement of the hospital and way across the hospital until they took him into the OR and I couldn’t follow anymore.  It was a long journey, a lot of people had to push his bed and all his machines, make sure his huge feet didn’t hit anything. Jen was helping me be sure me and my million big bags didn’t cause any issues.

There was a ton of waiting.  We waited for hours.  It was awful.  But then all sorts of people started showing up. I can’t even remember all who arrived that day but it was a lot.  Anne arrived later after he was out of surgery.  She ended up sleeping at the hospital that night after I left to go home and get the kids to bed and get some sleep. His best friend and his wife came up from Fredricksburg.  My sister and her husband and 2 teenage children.  My sister-in-law.  My mother-in-law and father-in-law.  Friends.  I remember when the doctor came out to tell me about how the surgery went. Someone had just made me laugh.  I jumped up to go talk to the Dr.  He looked so serious.  I felt judged for my laughter.  My friend  Christine, who works there, followed me and stood there basically holding me up and rubbing my back. He told me they were providing way above the normal standard of care.  Those words “standard of care” were said a million times and I just didn’t understand.  It felt like medical speak that they understand.  There are words in my industry like that. And acronyms.  That other people don’t understand.  I recognized this as that.  But I WANTED to understand.  I asked Christine.  And she couldn’t really translate it for me.  Much later, I would understand.  At the moment, I said “are they saying I’m going to have to make a decision to have them stop?”  and she said no.

After that it gets blurry.  Eventually I got home and my sister told me to go to bed.  My sister and her husband and kids were downstairs.  My 3 were asleep.  I knew I needed to sleep because D would be up to nurse at some point… but when I laid down… unlike the night before.. I could not sleep. I could not even sit still.  I was freaking out.  I ran downstairs and asked my sister if I could take some sort of tranquilizer.  She looked concerned. She didn’t let me take anything, but she came up and got in bed with me.  Warmed a heat/rice thing and put it on my chest.  And I did get to sleep….

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May 17, 2018

This morning I was going to a conference in Arlington.  I turned on Waze and started driving… and it took me the exact way I went to the hospital last year…

Then, I drove through Arlington on the way in and out…  Arlington, where Tim and I had lived as friends, boyfriend/girlfriend, fiances, husband and wife, and parents for 10 years…. the memories were on every corner. I  drove by his Ballston apartment, the restaurants where we went on dates in our 20s before going on dates was a big deal, the house where two of his best friends lived and we spent New Years Eve, barbeques and random drinking game nights.  I drove right by the rose garden where we did Annabelle’s 6 month photos, the park where we had Rose’s 2nd birthday, 7 corners and all the stores we went to a million times… the memories almost drowned me like today’s rain.  They are all good memories.  I am so blessed to have so many good memories.  I know that.  But goodness, today, they hurt.

Tonight I had a gym class scheduled… as I was parking, the James Arthur song came on.  The one I sang to him nearly every day in the hospital… until I could no longer ask him to “say you won’t let go.”  The song that now makes me cry every single time I hear it.  Immediately after that I heard the new Shawn Mendez song :In my blood:

 

I’m looking through my phone again, feeling anxious
Afraid to be alone again, I hate this
I’m trying to find a way to chill, can’t breathe, oh
Is there somebody who could
Help me, it’s like the walls are caving in
Sometimes I feel like giving up
No medicine is strong enough
Someone help me
I’m crawling in my skin
Sometimes I feel like giving up
But I just can’t
It isn’t in my blood
It isn’t in my blood

So the memories hit hard today.  Big memories.  I just wanted to write some of it down.

It’s absolutely true that sometimes I feel like giving up.

But its also true, that it isn’t in my blood.

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

Photograph in Music (Alternate title: I’m not Dead)

I am falling behind.  I have a hundred blog posts in my head and half started, but this one was longing to be written.

This weekend I officially joined a fitness place, and went to a class Saturday morning.  I like it because the music is good and motivating and they tell you what to do constantly so you don’t have to think.  During the floor exercises, when I was lifting weights I saw myself in the mirror, and somehow in the combination of music, adrenaline, and tingling of my soft muscles that had gone unused basically since November, I looked myself right in the eye and thought, “You are not dead.”  “I’m not dead.”

I felt like a piece of me, half of me, sometimes more, died last June.  In my post 6 months, an open letter to my love, I mention that sometimes I feel Tim would be disappointed in me.  I don’t think he’d be disappointed in me when I do what I have to do to heal, or to survive, when I allow the kids more screen time than I ever would have “before,” but I think he’d be disappointed in me when I do more of the holding on, the feeling sorry for myself, the wallowing.

Tim had a complicated relationship with death.  I believe now it was mostly a result of not ever experiencing it up really close.  I think he was mostly afraid of it.  Having experienced it up really close, as close as it gets, I can say there is a beauty in the sadness.  This is something I’ve heard from other widows too.  Living up close to death seems to be the only thing that can truly rid us of our fear of it.

But it is a challenge to always look at the positive, look for the good, find the silver lining.  When I hold on too much, is when I think Tim would be disappointed.  When I do things for other people, or for appearances.  He always hated that.  He’d tell me if he could to keep living.  He’d tell me that I don’t have to wait a certain amount of time for anything; that there is no formula; that weeks, months, years from now, he will still be dead.  He’d tell me: Don’t miss out on anything today because you are simply missing me and feeling sorry for yourself.

I can both love Tim, and be alive.  I can stretch, strain, and push all my muscles.  I am reminded of this in music.  And I felt like it was a nudge from Tim that gave me that thought.  It may seem overwhelming how much life I have left without him.  But I have it.  I have to accept that.  I am not dead.  And there is great beauty in that if I can find it.  And live it.

My sister-in-law asked me after Tim died if I hear every song differently now, and I really do.  Every love song has a different kind of meaning by me ears.   All of them.

I really love Ed Sheeran’s song Photograph, and when I heard it the first time after Tim died, I heard it with new ears, and it resounded with me in many ways.

Loving can hurt, loving can hurt sometimes
But it’s the only thing that I know
When it gets hard, you know it can get hard sometimes
It is the only thing that makes us feel alive
We keep this love in a photograph
We made these memories for ourselves
Where our eyes are never closing
Hearts are never broken
And time’s forever frozen still
So you can keep me
Inside the pocket of your ripped jeans
Holding me closer ’til our eyes meet
You won’t ever be alone, wait for me to come home
Loving can heal, loving can mend your soul
And it’s the only thing that I know, know
I swear it will get easier,
Remember that with every piece of you
Hm, and it’s the only thing we take with us when we die….
~ Ed Sheeran, Photograph
If love is the only currency we take with us when we die, then Tim died an incredibly rich man.  He lived big, and loved big and openly, and people loved him back.  So many of us loved him.  He loved life.  And life loved him.  He took so much love with him when he died.
I can only try to live my life so that I can be as rich on the day I die.

What Grief looks like

I said before that grief is my constant companion. But I’m really not sure I have ever done justice to what grief really looks like. The truth, of course, is that it looks different to everyone. But for everyone, it’s ugly. My cousin’s wife said those words to me right after Tim died, “the ugly parts of grief,” and I nearly immediately understood them in a way I never could have “before.”

I try hard to be positive most of the time.  Mostly, I think people need to think I am OK. But who is OK?  Am I a model for what a grieving widow should look like?  I work.  At the very least, I show up every day and try to do at least one thing that makes someone else’s life easier, or in some way generally moves the economy forward.  But truthfully, I show up because I am a mother.  I am a mother before I am a widow.  It’s job 1.  Exactly as Tim would want it.

But here’s the thing.  Grief is hard.  It’s hard for everyone, sometimes I get sucked into posts from the Hot Young Widows Club, or the Terrible Club.  (Reference: American Public Media Podcast “Terrible, thanks for asking” with Nora McInerny)  And then I think, ok, I don’t have it so bad… it could be worse, right?  But no. We don’t have to constantly compete on who’s bad stuff is worse. Who has it worse right now?  It doesn’t matter.  We can simply have compassion for others but still feel absolute crap about our own situation.

I actually listened to an episode of the podcast where a woman had to give birth to a baby she knew was already dead – how terrible is that?  Who should ever have to bear that?  But then she said that when the procedure was over and the medical professionals left her, her husband held her and they cried together.  And the emotion I felt then?  Overwhelming jealousy.  Here I was sitting in my car, jealous of a woman who had just gone through this absolutely terrible, unimaginable ordeal which when I had considered (any version of) during all three of my pregnancies I thought I could never survive.  And I burst into tears.  I cried so hard.  All over the steering wheel and leather seats.  Tears and snot and sobbing and all the ugly things no one wants to see.  Because that split second of – I’d rather that if I had Tim – I knew it wasn’t even true.  And yet for a second it’s what I felt.  It was absolutely my truth in that instant.  That right there – that is one of the ugly parts of grief.  Want to hear another?  Sometimes I see old men on the street and I hate them.  I hate them for being old when Tim never will be.  Sometimes I literally hate everyone in the world, even the people who love me the most, who I love the most, simply for being alive when Tim is not.

And hate is an emotion I try never to feel.  I tell my children not to say that word like its the F word.  And yet I feel it.  Towards literally everyone in the world sometimes.  Because they are not my Tim.

Many widow/widowers get comments about how strong we are. Others mean it as a compliment, certainly… they don’t know how we do it.  If  it were them, they wouldn’t get out of bed… but you know what?  We don’t want to get out of bed either.  We don’t want to be strong either.  Sometimes, it feels like an insult – like we aren’t doing grief right.  Like we must not be as in pain as they would be if it were them.  Like we didn’t love our person enough.  I had someone tell me once, a month after Tim died, “I had no idea.  If you mentioned it, I’m sorry I didn’t hear you. (Um no, I didn’t causally mention to a person I just met that my husband died last month.)  You don’t look like a person… who went through what you went through.. what you are going through.”  I smiled, nodded, said Thank you. But what I immediately thought was “am I not doing justice to Tim?  To the love we had?  To the life we had?  Because I seem ok to other people?”

I try to channel my grief into preserving beautiful memories for the kids.  From remembering Tim in big ways with a bench, a tree, who know’s what else… but also in the small ways.  At the dinner table, “Remember how daddy used to…?” But there are those ugly parts of grief that creep in too.  It’s probably the bigger part, though I mostly keep it hidden because its ugly.   I hide those ugly parts behind the facebook posts that Tim would have made.  That he did make back when we were a #partyoffive.   I no longer spend my time reading mommy blogs.  I read widows and widowers blogs.  I read posts from sad people.  Because I understand them.  I am a sad person.

I am trying hard to put together “selfies with Dad” books for each of the kids.  They are beautiful, and wonderful, but also, looking through all the photos… damn, it hurts.  Seeing how much he loved each one of them.  What he wouldn’t give to be with them here, now.  The selfies end 6 months ago.  But before that, there are so many.  The joy he had in his smile, in his eyes, whenever he was with them.  Unadulterated, unfiltered joy in his children.  I grieve that they don’t get to experience that in their dad anymore… that they won’t experience all the hurt that life will throw at them, and then come home to collapse into his big warm arms.  They don’t even know how much they are missing with that.  How good it was.  Feeling the warmth of his big arms around you was one of the most good things in the world.  His blood flows in their veins, and yet that is lost to them.

I grieve his losses. I grieve their losses.  A is so like him, they were kindred spirits in so many ways. A has the flair of anger and temper he had.  He could understand that temper better than I can, because it was his.  I grieve that she will not grow up with that understanding.  R has his goofiness, his sense of humor, his flair with sarcasm, and his comedic timing.  You can see it in the selfies they did together, in all the expressions they could make.  I grieve that she will not grow up with that  comedic appreciation and understanding.  And D… I grieve for him, but I’m not even sure I know yet what he will miss most of all.  I know this: He has the LAST selfie with dad.  The very last photos Tim ever took on his phone were of him and D.  And yet… there aren’t any that show their similarities.  He was only 9 months old. He never got a beach trip with dad, never got to spend a Father’s day together.  We don’t have photos that show their similarities, we didn’t even know what those similarities could be yet… and that is hard.  And I grieve my loss.  Every day.  Having him there each day to talk to in the present.  And I grieve the future I planned with him, that I imagined with him. That future is now lost to me forever.  And all I am left with is grief.

No one should ever have to give birth to a baby who is already dead.  A child that you’ve loved since you peed on a stick.  But you know what else?  No one should ever have to have their 37 year old husband, and baby daddy to three beautiful souls, die in their arms.  No one should have to watch the love of their life die before he fully got to live.  And that’s my truth.  It sucks.  And I am allowed to be sad about it whenever I want, and for just as long as I want.  I am allowed to do weird things.  I definitely think I creep people out sometimes.  But then I just remind myself it takes a certain strength of character to be around me.

There’s one big thing I notice.  I noticed it most the weekend of our wedding anniversary.  There were a lot of photos that weekend.  A lot where I am smiling.  Holding the kids and smiling big.   And that weekend we looked at a lot of photos of our wedding day too.  There is a key difference in the photos if you really look. In 2017, in any photo taken after May 16, 2017, the smile does not reach my eyes.  There is a part of me that died this year.  Maybe many parts.  But you can see it, if you look, in the sparkle that used to be in my eyes. I grieve the loss of all the parts of me that died too.

What does grief feel like?  There are moments when the loss hits you so hard it’s a physical pain.  This can happen literally out of nowhere.  When you least expect it.  It feels like someone has either destroyed or simply removed all your internal organs. Your stomach, your heart, lungs, esophagus, its all simply gone, and in its place is a gaping hole, like a pain so big and deep you can not breathe, how could you possibly go on in this world one more minute?  I don’t know how.  But you do.  Simply because you have to.

The only thing I ask, if you are reading this – if you got this far – is if you are grieving now, (or if not, hold on to this for when you grieve in the future): let yourself feel all the grief, whenever you can, and don’t compare.  Don’t think your grief is worse or not as bad as mine.  It’s all bad.  Life hits us hard.  And sometimes you will hear words that help, like “grief is the price you pay for love” which I heard on Anne of Green Gables on the day Tim died and has stuck with me.  And other times, no words of consolation will help and you are just so filled with anger and rage, you want everyone to stop talking.  Whatever you are feeling, just feel it.  Even when you have to feel it through changing a diaper, or giving a bath, reading a story, driving someone to something, the necessities of a life that goes on even when it feels like it shouldn’t.

“The other night dear, as I lay sleeping
I dreamed I held you in my arms
But when I awoke, dear, I was mistaken
So I hung my head and I cried
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away”
-Jimmie Davis, You are my Sunshine

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.

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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”