Life and Death

It was Christmas, 2015 that the explosion happened at the dinner table. My brother and I, my parents, my aunt and uncle, and two younger cousins. We might have been having fun, wearing tissue paper crowns and racing wind-up penguins across the table. It was much later and the two younger ones were locked into their electronic devices, the rest of us remained at the table, wine glasses close to empty, listening to my uncle tell stories. And then my brother snapped.

I dont remember how old I was when I finally began to understand the kind of person my uncle was. My mom tells me she saw the look that crossed my face the moment it happened. That my aunt saw it too. 

It took years for my brother and I to finally decide we’d had enough of my uncle. My brother had packed his things and nearly drove home that night. It took an hour long, heated conversation for him to finally come out and say he wouldn’t do a family gathering that included my uncle again. My brother was eventually persuaded to stay, but it was the last Christmas we would spend with my aunt, uncle, and cousins.

December 2017, right before Christmas, my last grandparent passed. Some time before that my mom and I had gone to lunch and she’d told me what my grandma’s life had been like. How hard it must have been. It was lovely to hear she’d had a smile on her face when she passed. That perhaps my granddad had finally taken her hand and that they were reunited.

And it was that passing that finally brought us all back together. To raise a glass to celebrate her life and love, together.

Not present, was my uncle. 

Five days prior, the doctors had discovered cancer in his bones and lungs. They told him he had a few months at best. That day he stopped eating. My aunt believed he had given up hope. She called her eldest daughter, away at college, and told her she needed to come home as soon as possible. And that afternoon we helped my aunt get ahold of hospice.

I’ve struggled to remember the anger I felt, to remember why it was important. Maybe there is a reason it all happened like this. My sweet and endlessly loving grandmother, hanging on to life for so long. No one knows why. Perhaps it was for this. Perhaps it was to bring us all back together at this time when love and support was needed. Perhaps this was her lasting gift to us.

Respite – Day 3

11/06/17 08:30

“She just passed.”

What do you say? What do you say to the family who just lost their 32 year old daughter, sister, mother, and wife?

For someone who works in words, I don’t know what to say. I never quite do, because I am feeling so much more than a simple, “I’m sorry,” can ever convey.

The moment I heard my name called to room 104 over the radio. I strolled in casually. “He’s gone,” the nurse informs quietly. His wife lets out a sob and falls into my arms. They had waited for me. My resident had passed, and the first thing his wife had said was, “Where’s Rose?” I didn’t know what to say. Simply stood there holding her as she sobbed.

The morning is fractured, with tears and fatigue, and eventually some confusion. Everyone says their final goodbyes then retreats to their respective beds. Perhaps they’ll sleep. Perhaps they’ll dream. Perhaps they won’t see her in their dreams.

And when they wake, we gather for dinner. “A celebration of life gathering,” I clarify, when asked what the party was for. And for the time, we reminisce, and smile, and even laugh. People brought together under unfortunate circumstances, but for the better. She brought us all together, from the far corners of the states.

I held her as she sobbed, taking comfort in my presence. I had made a difference in her husband’s life. A man who once was against females taking care of him, eventually prefering my care over anyone elses. I didn’t need to say anything in this moment. I was simply there for her, the way I’d been there for her husband, to the end.

The evening is bittersweet, with blissful laughter and emotional fatigue, and eventually some confusion. Everyone says their final goodbyes then retreats to their respective beds. Perhaps they’ll sleep. Perhaps they’ll dream. Perhaps they’ll see her smiling in their dreams.

I give the family who just celebrated the life of their 32 year old daughter, sister, mother, and wife, a hug, and I tell them, “good night.”

Respite – Day 2.5

The floor was quiet, not in an eerie way, but in a respectful way. Her room was dark and somber, we waited in the hall. They showed us the room, set aside, where it would be happening. The extent to which the staff had gone to to help see this happen. Her father tells us how the day had been going, successful surgery, but tests revealed more bad news. The worst. The cancer had begun truly showing its aggressive side, and this time… they were out of options. 

“Two things,” he quietly informs us, “she only wanted two things. For her kids and sister to get here… and to get married.”

We enter her room, and the look on her face is fairly blank at first. But she is handed her glasses and recognition dons on her. My mom goes to her for a hug and her face crumples into tears, “thank you for being here,” she whispers around her oxygen. My mom hugs her, and a slight smile comes to her face as she states, “I’m getting married today.” My mom tells her she loves her, and she tells my mom she loves her back. When she steps away, I realize I am next. She looks small and frail to me, and I’m not sure I can hug her. I do anyway. She whispers to me, “take care of my sister,” and I tell her, “of course.” And then she holds onto me. She holds onto me like a lost child looking for the way home. And all I can do is hold onto her back, until she lets go of me. I hold my breath and pour as much strength and calm towards her as I can. And then she lets go.

The staff had brought in a wedding dress and tux. They’d even found clothes for the children. They’d baked cake and provided cookies and refreshments. They were going to make sure this was as fabulous as possible. The crowd of people who showed up, was awe inspiring alone. To feel the weight of the world’s unfairness upon you, to see this room full of people who love and support you. These people who dropped everything to celebrate your life and this moment with you. The room was full of tears, tears of sadness, and tears of joy. 

The groom played, Baby I Love Your Way, as her father wheeled her down the hall. She wore an off the shoulders gown and a boho style headband. The groom took her hand as my mother officiated. Inside the room was crowded with family and friends. Outside the room were dozens of staff members. Both parents, her two children, and her sister all gave her away. And in the end, the groom took her face and kissed her gently on the mouth, then on the forehead. She was married.

She was finally married and she was surrounded by family and friends. Her parents let the cheer of the moment wash over them. It was a bittersweet moment. Their eldest daughter was finally married. A final wish granted. And now she could sleep peacefully.

“Are you ready to go back?” My mother whispers to her, after five minutes of her sitting with her eyes closed. 

“No way,” she responds. 

“Isn’t it a little weird, all of us standing around staring at you?” My mother whispers. 

“That is because, I am the queen.” And for tonight, and maybe forever, she was..

Respite – Day 2

Childhoods end…

Every year, we would pack up for the weekend. We would drive for miles Out the Road. I’m sure the road had a proper name, but to us, it was simply Out the Road. Thru the trees and along the beachy coastline. Too often, I’d fall asleep, just wanting to be there. When I’d open my eyes, we’d be pulling into the parkinglot facing the small inlet. Other families unloading their bags and packing them onto the small cart. This was it, the beginning of the long journey by foot, along the beach, around the wide corner, and to the camp site..

Respite, day 2. Or maybe not. There is no real rest to be had here. But it is not me who is the unlucky one. Perhaps I am actually fortunate, to be here, at this time…

We were a group of families that showed us kids love. We were a group of kids, all adopted. We were a group of kids who were invincible. In hindsight, my childhood was probably pretty idealic. We all grew up in a bubble of safety and ease. And maybe to some extent, I accidentally left my soul back there. Back where it was all safe and easy. Because I can’t make sense of this. These things don’t happen to us. We don’t die of drug overdoses. We don’t get rare forms of aggressive cancer. We have kids, and husbands, and lives. We are only in our 30s for Gods sake.

I woke up this morning, to a snow covered dreamy landscape. Coffee was brought to me, and all the fur babies were nestled into my covers. It wasn’t long before I realized I was actually in a horrible reality. My childhood friend, one of the crew, one of Us, was dying.. 

“We don’t know how long she has. She wants to be married tonight. Please come…”

The snow is melting and our coffee grows cold. Its easy to put on the brave face now, but I don’t know what will happen later. I’ve had my share of death before. Family members passing, patients at the hospital passing… but this is different. This is not right. And I’m a little bit scared..

This weekend we all packed our bags. We made the long drive to the ferry terminal. Along a road whos name I don’t know. Some, coming from even further. Thru the trees and to the sea. I fall asleep, not sure what we will be arriving to. When I open my eyes, we pull into the small terminal facing the sea. Other cars fill the lot as we wait. This is it, the beginning of something that will change us all forever, something cruel and unfair, but undeniable..

And when she goes, alone, we will be a group of families that show each other nothing but love..