Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Between Love And Hope

Between Love And Hope

I've spent a lot of time lately wondering about this place that sooner or later we all experience. This hollow place between love and hope...I think we define this as grief. It's like standing in the middle of a tunnel through the mountains.
You can clearly see two distinct pinpoints of light...you know what they are and where they lead and yet you're frozen. Unable to move in either direction...because you know, each step forward is painful...searingly so. Much better than to remain here...numb and immobile.

It's said that grief is a passage and that is truth but the passage also has many stops and the occasional derailment along the way. It is here that I ponder...where can I possibly hope to go? Worse still...why would I? That which I most desire is irretrievably lost and beyond my reach.
Forever...I don't know. Oh, my sweet girl...I just don't know!

I'm not new to loss. Grand-parents, siblings and comrades, even my mother but this seems to tear at my soul. Does that mean I loved those people less or you more...does an answer to that question have some meaningful application? I wish I knew. I only know that for me, losing you was akin to amputating the best parts of who I am....or was.

Through this void a steady winds blows, sometimes as gentle as a summers breeze rustling the leaves at sunset or without warning, the shrieking howl of sudden decompression at high altitude. My reactions range from misty eyed sorrow to gut wrenching bawling...I mourn not only your loss but all of the unfulfilled dreams we'd held...is this selfish? Probably. Intellectually I understand all of this but my heart gives not one damn about logic or reason...it only wants you.

I am fortunate that many people, friends and strangers alike have not only offered but DO take my hand and try to help guide me forward. A kind word, a call or even a video or picture (technology is sometimes genuinely useful.) and I am deeply grateful and thankful to all of you for each of these acts of kindness. I'm quite sure that from their perspectives, it's akin to dealing with a petulant child...each step forward is often accompanied by being dragged back three. For your patience, I am humbled...and for those whom have remained steadfast, I beg your forgiveness. I am trying...

With my upcoming surgeries, a co-worked recently asked if I was afraid of dying. I replied as I have in the past. (due to my career choices) No. I've never been afraid of dying...I've been afraid of many other things in my life but never my own death.

The impending death of my beloved honey terrified me...it was beyond my ability to control or influence. I could only react to each new affront on her body...each day was like walking blindly through a minefield. You pray for the miraculous, dreading the eventual explosion. Anyone who has been a caregiver knows this state of extended anxiety and dread. Then there's the guilt...could I have done some things sooner? Was I present enough...real or imagined failings, the intensity is the same.

These past months have been the most difficult in my life...before now, I've never felt lost. She grounded me and gave me purpose...for those that know me well, the thing I fear most some days is simple. Another day in this new reality. I'm not suicidal...I'm not wired that way but it's difficult to paste on a smile and pretend everything is ok. It's not.

I often use humor and goal setting as a coping mechanism. I also write things out... it's my process. I've made some long range plans...I set into to motion the goal of replacing my knees. A promise to my honey...things happen. An infected finger has put those scheduled procedures back weeks now...maybe a month or more. Ordinarily, I adapt and roll with it but I'm just...weary and uncommonly blue.

For those unfamiliar with type A personalities, let's just say that accepting anything as unchangeable through force of will and just plain stubbornness is challenging. My sweet girl used to tell me,

You can't change the universe to meet your demands.” I'd typically grin, replying. “Wanna bet?!”

She'd roll her eyes and shake her head but it usually worked out. I don't like losing...or failing...and this somehow feels like both. I feel like I let her down...irrational as that may sound, it's what my heart tells me. Dammit. All. To. Hell.

Ok...so, I've vented, had my pity pot day...actually two. I can almost feel the head smack...the rule is ONE! Today, I'll dust myself off and get up...life doesn't wait for anyone. It just continues, with or without you. I guess it's a lot like jumping into the middle of a pair of blurring jump ropes...you can participate or watch. Jumping in you risk being tripped up and maybe even falling...but watching isn't living...it's existing.

I'd promised...live my life...yes dear. Even when I suck at skipping...and have no rhythm. Bring on the whelps and bruises!

Monday, September 4, 2017

A Labor Da Honey-ism

A honey-ism...On this long weekend most of us try to get in that last camping trip or other favorite outdoor activity. The weather can be contrary this time of year as true summer begins to ebb and fall isn't yet fully upon us. The night are cooler and it's the perfect time to leave the windows open at night...my sweet girl was always wistful this time of year. Being a sun bunny, she loved being outdoors but enjoyed the brilliant colors of fall too.

Our small deck was where she'd spent most of her final time here on earth...and since her passing, I've not been able to cross that threshold...until yesterday. Saturday was spent furiously cleaning the upper level of our condo. I deep cleaned everything in preparation for my upcoming surgeries. I even managed to uncover her elliptical machine (where I'd draped all her coats and light jacket's) and put her clean and folded clothes into the dresser downstairs, along with the assorted foot wear, left scattered in our bedroom and laundry room. These small task took an inordinate amount of time to complete...it was a tearful and heart wrenching experience...and I still cannot bring myself to take down her bathroom robes or the numerous cooking aprons hanging as they always have...it took most of the day and left me in a funk...but honey and I had a rule...you are allowed ONE day on the pity pot...only ONE in any given week, no matter the circumstances.

So...Sunday morning, with her stern whisper in my heart, I set out to complete some of the task I'd been putting off (mending some pant's) and was determined to use our grill to make steaks and chicken for the upcoming week. Returning from the store, I'd prepped the meat and then turned my attention to the pack of needles and thread I'd bought. I couldn't find honey's kit and truthfully just couldn't make myself look very hard. A word here....as a young man, my father had taught us the basics of sewing. Simple stuff...but I'd not actually done any sewing in DECADES. I had a pair of tactical pants that needed a button put back on and a pair of jeans with a broken belt loop. Easy right? I'd certainly thought so....

First off, threading the damn needle itself proved to an exercise in patience worthy of a saint! I didn't remember the holes being that small! After muttering oaths under my breath for nearly twenty minutes...success! I pushed the needle effortlessly through the material and plopped the button right over it...easy peasy...EXCEPT for when I tried to repeat the process....for the next half hour, I poked my damn finger TWICE, broke the thread once and ended up with a fishing spool looking snarl on the backside that I managed to tie down and secure...who's gonna see it, right? The belt loop??? Holy frick'n, mother pucker!!!! :o( Two bent needles, three poked finger's AND a thigh!!! The pant's very nearly went to the grill...I was seriously considering setting them on FIRE! All the while, I swear I could hear faint snickering...my honey would've been rolling. I know she'd have rescued me after the first (maybe the second) blood letting... but she'd have giggled the whole time!

I knew there was a reason I'd outsourced this sorta thing....

So after bandaging my sore fingers, I had two completed (albeit bloodstained) pair of pants repaired...FYI...anybody asks and you can bet there'll be a better tale for the bloodstains than the truth! ;o)

Grilling and the making of the sides (Fried potatoes with onions and garlic sweet peas) was a bittersweet experience. We'd always done these things together...and while I'd enjoyed the meal (I have TON'S of left overs!) it left me melancholy. I'm not much of a drinker...two “girlie” beer's and I've usually had enough...but sipping one as the sun went down, I'd watched the contrails of a high altitude jet and thought of my girl...yes, there where a few tears...but they where mostly from good memories...lot's of them...of similar evenings shared together. Lying on lawn chairs or a blanket on the ground, hand in hand and just...being.
As the stars came out; I realized I'd been staring upwards for some time. The jet was long gone and my tears had dried but the memories of my sweet girl left a warmth in my heart and a wisp of a smile on my face...I feel you baby. Alway and forever my honey...

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

What Would Honey Do?

What Would Honey Do?

I reached for you this morning...as I have every morning for these past eighteen years. In all that time, you've never disappointed me...even when you where already up...I could feel you...smell the faint scent on your pillow or the lingering aroma of coffee, wafting through the cracked door.

How I miss your morning smile and the “Hey baby!” greeting so often used when I'd stumbled from our bedroom door, usually headed to the bathroom. With rare exception, my coffee would be waiting when I emerged along with a kiss and a touch of greeting....fifty four days...1320 hours...79,200 minutes since you've been gone... Lord how I miss you!

The routines we all take for granted...those little things are the ones that cause the biggest aches. I freely admit to being spoiled. Rotten. My lunches were always made, dinner ready (even when you worked) and I was greeted at the door with a hug and a kiss...always. These things we did for each other...I too, packed your snacks, checked your bag or gear and loved on you coming and going. It wasn't a chore or a task...we wanted to take care of each other! Your vehicle was always gassed and clean and we shared in all of the daily details of living together...well, except the laundry...you'd banned me from that! I realize now that we never argued over these things or made task list. We each just did whatever need to be done...gladly and when possible, together.
Grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning...I can still see you holding that expensive and shrunken to a child's sized sweater...rolling your eyes and declaring the laundry room off limits...I STILL swear it was an honest mistake! :o)

My greatest joys where taking you on new adventures...in fulfilling your wants and dreams. We weren't rich...far from it but it doesn't take money...just time...that most precious commodity of all. You encouraged and believed in me without question and I in you. I was so proud of my sweet and loving girl...even when you gave away our cookware or my bicycle and God knows what else to strangers in need...I couldn't help but love you. It's who you were...

You my love, taught me to be kinder and more forgiving...to see the world and those in it not necessarily as they were but as they could be...with a helping hand and a little care. Common sense and color blindness dictated your actions...you always tried to simply do what was right..not what was politically correct. There were no special groups, everyone was equal...excepting children...any and all of those held your heart. The world could use more of that...a lot more of that actually. You taught me that there is a greatness in the smallest of actions...you believed, even when at times you doubted yourself. I'm trying to match your enthusiasm...your zeal for life and those around you...no easy task my dearest honey. Sometimes in that moment between sleep and wakefulness I can hear you, whispering to my heart...I try then to hold you...to freeze that fraction of time forever. If only I could...just a bit longer... but of course each time I fail no matter how hard I try.

It hurts...this life without you. In all of our preparations even now a part of my denies the reality...clings stubbornly to that thread of hope...even though I know it's a lie. I so badly want it to be true! This is the undying part of love...the memories that live on. For all that they hurt, I cherish them darling...now and always my honey.

I've yet to have a day without tears...most are from sorrow...selfishly wanting MORE...just one more minute to hold you...to take your hand and again bask in your beautiful soul...but some are from joy...the gladness that the agony you were suffering has ended and too from a guilt that I kept you too long. I know that many of the things you tried, those treatments were for me...because I couldn't bear the thought of letting you go...I'm sorry baby...truly. I'm trying to make peace with that...to forgive myself for such selfishness...but you know me...it will take time.

I'm coming to realize that you are and will always be an inseparable part of me. You my dearest honey, changed me without trying, without demanding but through your shining example into a better man and a more complete human being. SO...now and forever I will ask...WWHD? What Would Honey Do?

One step at a time my love...forward...one step at a time. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Real Love

I was going through honey's computer today...making sure I got pictures that I didn't have, ect. This was the machine she used for college, so there TONS of documents on it but I came across a bunch of titles that I thought were odd and sure enough, there is a (to me) treasure trove of little things she jotted down but never showed me...this is one of them. Yup....I cried...a lot. 

 This is a family poem. I am writing about the love that my husband shows me. It is about me running my first marathon.
 Real Love 
 My day has started it’s 4am The coffee is brewing my bag is packed I’m running in circles and there he calmly stands The love of my life picking up my slack
 Without question he will get me going Thinking of all the little things I forgot He takes such care of me without even knowing Never given to himself a single thought 
 The race has started and he waits patiently to the end Taking pictures and yelling you’ve got this doll My wonderful husband my greatest fan Meets me at the finish line standing proud and tall
 True love he shows is so many ways The test of time has come and gone I cherish the way he loves me every day And my love for him will forever be strong

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Month Without...

This morning I woke up and for the briefest of moments, I had a thought that felt normal. Before I was fully awake my mind was in the process of planning to celebrate one of the few traditional holidays that I've always insisted on. My Honey's birthday...which is tomorrow.
Of course when my eyes opened, my new reality came crashing down with a intensity that took my breath away...today, August the 6th 2017 marks the first full month without my girl. Cancer took her from me, one month and one day before her 51st birthday. Call it premonition or whatever you will; my sweet girl told me a little over a year ago that she had dreamed of this fact...she knew she would not live to see this birthday.
At the time I'd dismissed it as a manifestation of fear. A normal reaction to someone battling such a disease. We'd cuddled together in our bed and she'd drifted off as I ran my fingers softly through her hair, massaging her scalp...but I remember staring at the ceiling for a very long time...listening to the light buzz of her snore and breathing in her scent. Every man, every couple knows that unique feeling...breathing in the mix of smells that belongs only to your soulmate. It can excite or calm and it is forever intoxicating...I would give all that I have for just one more minute of holding her on my chest.
They say that grief never ends...that it changes into something more bearable. I believe that...I cling to it...some moments in desperation. Like now. I miss you babe...and I know that I always will...but you asked me to make some promises to you and I will honor them as best I can.
Some of them I'll share here...but many I won't. Simply because I haven't a clue as to how, when or if I'll be capable of honoring her request. As always, my dearest honey put my needs and happiness before her own...I returned it whole heartedly...it's what you do when you truly love each other. It creates balance...stability...trust...and the ability to face and overcome unfathomable adversity. Because you do it together...because you KNOW that all that matters is that you have each other on the other side of whatever it is that you're facing. We did that...always...but I'm struggling to do it alone...she completed me and made me a better man. She taught me to look for the goodness in all things and situations. Her loving beacon made it easy to hope and dream...
So...what did the love of my life want for her birthday? The one she felt certain she wouldn't see...she wanted me to attend to my health. Primarily, to have my knee joints replaced. It's something I've put off for a very long time and one of the few contentions we've had the past few years. I see a surgeon the 28th and I suspect the actual surgery will be in early September. I had new scans a week ago confirming what I already knew...total replacement is the only option and recovery is 3-4 months (per knee) which is why I'll be having them both done at once or at least within a few days of another.
Can I afford it? Not really but I found a way...not one I like but a way. Is it painful? Yes. Very...but pain and I are old comrades. They've (my knees) hurt for years, steadily getting worse. As usual, my girl's gotten her wish...I'm not sure how rehab's going to work yet as I live in a condo with LOTS of stairs but I'll figure it out...yes dear.
She wanted me to stay close to family and our boys...to mourn and move forward. I'm trying babe. Really, I am. To get back to work on my writing...to create the stories that she so loved reading and encouraging me to work on. Hence this piece today, when all I really want to do is pull the covers back over my head.
I hear you dear...whispering to my heart. It's what keeps me going...as I look back and flip through the photo albums we accumulated over the years. In nearly every shot you're smiling and happy....as am I. Was it perfect? God no...I made so many mistakes...but we got through them together. We loved hard and trusted in each other...we were real and goofy. We danced in the rain and in the middle of Walmart...I held you often and stole kisses every chance I got, sometimes to your annoyance and embarrassment.
We laughed at life and each other...we lived in the moment and focused on what we had and dreamed forward, never dwelling long on the "YaBut's." You taught me what love is...what it CAN and SHOULD be!
I promised that I would pay that forward eventually and share that beacon with another...I don't know if that's possible. I think that if you're VERY lucky, we find a soulmate once in life. My honey believed in the best of people...in the capacity of love and of the importance of a helping hand and a loving heart and the ripples it caused...changing lives in ways you might never see. I've seen it...and of late been the recipient of it, so I know it's true.
All I can say for now is that I will strive to help others and restrain my more cynical nature. I love you my sweet Tammy Jean...now and always...forever in my heart. I will celebrate tomorrow silently...but eternally because on this day, whatever powers there may be, blessed me with the time I had with you.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Honey's Last Days...

A honey-ism of a different sort...this is my attempt to both honor her courage and spirit, yet also purge some of the darkness from her last days. I may never share this...but if I do, be forewarned there will be tears and sorrow....there is no happy ending. It's very much about human suffering and the remarkable capacities our bodies have to not only endure it but defy it.
It's about the love that binds us and allows us to make great sacrifices for each other...to bear helpless witness to the atrocities of disease...of age and of the realities that we will all one day face...death. In the end all of the things we accumulate, the degrees and honors we've earned are not what we will be remembered by. What remains is how you lived...who's life's did you touch and make better? Did you make a difference? 
These are the questions that my honey asked often...and with rare exception, she doubted her contributions. Doubt or no, she firmly believed that if you planted a seed; however small that it would blossom and in so doing cause a ripple effect impacting others that you would never meet. Her optimism was just one of the things that I loved about her. She always gave more than she took...at times to my annoyance. 
I've written of our last camping trip which we took a mere two weeks before her final day. Even then we both assumed we had many weeks, perhaps even months left. She was weak, only able to shuffle ten or fifteen feet at a time but still eating and drinking. A few days into our trip, she started to noticeably slur her words sometimes...we both knew this was trouble but she was determined to enjoy this time. We spoke of it late one evening and she told me bluntly.
“If I'm to die, then here is ok. I'm surrounded by my family and doing what I want.”
She'd held me while I'd sobbed...soothing me as best she could. When the tears tapered off, she'd handed me a Kleenex and kissed me very softly, telling me.
“It's ok boy.” 
It wasn't...not really but what else could we do? With few exceptions (she would vomit without warning) we had a great week. It was cool for her (75 degrees) so she kept her jacket on and had a blanket handy. I know it annoyed her...my honey has always loved being outside and in the sun. She pushed HARD and by Saturday morning she was exhausted. After eating lightly, it didn't take a lot of convincing to get her to lay down and take a nap, under one condition. I'd wake her up to help prepare dinner for my brother and his wife's anniversary dinner. 
My brother Joe and his wife Lisa are extraordinary people...twenty nine years together...under some of the most trying conditions. An amazing network of family...parents, grown children and life long friends...they all loved my girl and she them in return. My honey's exact words where, 
“I'll be DAMNED if Lisa is going to cook her own anniversary dinner!” I've been with my girl a while, so I saluted and said smartly. “YES MA'AM!” And so, with the help of Lisa's Mom, Tj and I cooked the majority of their dinner. Nobody left for McDonalds, so it must'a been ok. 
We went to bed early and said our goodbyes the next morning. She slept most of the way home (it's about five hours) but after a rest stop, which of course necessitated getting out her wheelchair and O2 tank, she asked me.
“Would you like me to drive a while?” She was quite serious. 
Smiling, I told her thank you but I'd be alright. After getting her back into the car and the gear stowed, I was sliding into the drivers seat and she taken my hand, squeezing it as hard as she was able to. When I'd looked at her, she'd smiled a little sadly before saying softly.
“I'm so sorry you're having to do everything.”
Gently returning her squeeze, I kissed her forehead and told her not to worry about such nonsense. My honey just nodded and sighed. As we pulled back onto the highway, she asked again.
“You want me to drive for a while?” Fighting tears, I'd squeezed her leg and told her I'd be ok. A few minutes later she was sound asleep...
Getting back home and unloading all of the equipment took some time, when everything was setup and ready I went and got my girl and we prepared to walk up the fourteen steps to the main living level. With my bad knees, (no cartilage in either one) the passage is painful more often than not. I'd offered to carry her up and of course she refused but it was apparent every step she took was a monumental effort for her. It took several rest breaks and about ten minutes or so but we went up, with me holding her waist from behind to steady her. At the top, she relented and let me get her wheeled walker so she could set on it and I could push her to the couch. 
Once I got her settled and had her some water and the assorted paraphernalia she kept on her little TV table, I plopped down in our big chair and as tired as I was, my girl was completely exhausted. Even so, she'd chided me about getting my knees fixed. It was an old argument but it brought a smile to my face which annoyed her. She'd said, “What's so funny?”
Chuckling, I got up and kissed her answering. “You are! My focus is YOU! My knee's will keep.”
Becoming whimsical, she'd stated. “I think that's the last time I'll beat you up those stairs.” 
I'd sat by her and we'd talked about our trip and the boy's upcoming arrival, then only four days away. I had no idea then of how quickly things would change...I believe my girl did or that she at least had a feeling of it. I didn't know that she'd elicited a promise from my sister in law...to make sure I wasn't alone when she passed.
She'd gotten several promises from me during our week away as well. One was that if it was possible, her boys not be there until the very end. She didn't want that to be their last memory of her. I think she hung on until she got that wish...stubborn until the end. 
I went to work that Monday and Tuesday evening but by Wednesday afternoon it was clear she needed a hospital style bed, so our hospice team made it happen. I cancelled her regular doctors appointment which was scheduled for Thursday morning over her protest. She wasn't upset over stopping the big shots she'd been getting once a month but she truly loved her physician and the staff and wanted to visit with them. I knew she'd be unable to make it back up the stairs....at least not without the real risk of her falling. Even as sick as she was, having my honey pissed at you wasn't any fun! 
I finally got her to relent by telling her I'd reschedule it after our oldest son arrived so he could help me. That calmed her down and I picked our son (David) up later that morning. Our youngest would arrive two days later, along with my brother, his wife and their daughter and her boyfriend. Since the plant I worked for was starting it's planned shutdown, I'd been scheduled to go to dayshift and stay until the 9th of July. Honey and I had a plan in place for this...it just didn't work out that way. 
Since there was family present, I worked that three day weekend..Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Each evening when I came home after my 12 hour shift, the changes were drastic. That evening, July the 2nd my honey seemed to be quickly fading. Her breathing was labored and she dozed in and out of consciousness. I called the hospice nurse and while we waited for them to arrive, both of our grown boys poured their hearts out to their mom...it was heart breaking and meaningful at the same time. When they had finished, I knelt down and tearfully began to whisper my own goodbyes...I'd barely started when she opened her eyes and looked at me directly, very clearly saying. “That'll be enough of that stuff!”
My mouth clicked shut with an audible snap. About that time the nurse showed up and my honey wanted to know what all the fuss was about...REALLY??
After taking her vitals and reassuring us that this was fairly normal but warning us that my girl could go at any time. The nurse left and we all sat around both stunned and bemused...while it might be normal medically, it was certainly not what we had been expecting. Our original plan was that I work until our boys flew out (the 4th & 5th ) and that we'd do a hospice transfer until I returned to nights. I cancelled all of that. Fortunately, my work was more than understanding when I told them Monday morning that I couldn't leave her anymore. 
Both of our boys wanted to extend their stays but my honey nixed that. She told them to get back to their fiance's. Each morning for the next two days my girl would ask who was still here...it was a checklist for her. My brother and his wife stayed. As did their daughter and her boyfriend until they were forced to leave on the fourth, along with our youngest son. Those two days were both difficult and amazing. Even though her speech was slurred and her body was failing (she could no longer sit up unassisted) the conversations she had with those that loved her are something I will always cherish. 
Her oncology doctor called her at home and spoke at length with her. She'd missed not seeing her at her scheduled appointment! When asked how she was doing, my girl had replied.
“I'm fine. How are YOU doing? Did you enjoy your vacation?” She'd remembered that her physician had told her she'd be on vacation for the two weeks before her appointment...incredible. When she was finished, honey said. “I love you too Amy.”
Taking the phone I could tell that her doctor was trying very hard to be professional but that she too was quite emotional. We spoke a few minutes and she told me she'd be conferring with her hospice physician first thing in the morning. 
My girl did a quite a few things that were in my opinion, pretty fantastic in hindsight. She would remember things that I or even all of us had forgotten. She made only one demand during this ordeal...she wanted a slushie. Cherry. Right now. This was later on Monday evening and while I was scratching my head trying to figure out WHERE to get a plain cherry slushie from (along with everyone else!) my girl shook her head in disbelief, telling us all.
“They have them in the movie theater.”
DUH! She was right! My wonderful niece, Alyssa went with her boyfriend Dan and got her one. To my delight and surprise, honey drank about a quarter of it. Sipping happily, she'd thanked them and questioned where they'd got it from. Bittersweet. 
I know that the hardest part (one of them anyway) was when she'd wake up and not remember what was wrong with her. She'd realize how weak she was and look at her arms and legs, panicking she'd exclaim. “What's WRONG with me?!” It would take me snuggling close and whispering lies to calm her....”You're ok babe...ssh....it's alright...I'm right here.” Eventually she'd drift back off...but it kept me awake for nearly three days.
After our youngest son had left along with our niece, late on the fourth. She'd asked again about who was still here and specifically when our oldest, David was leaving. I'd told her and she'd nodded, asking. “Where's Lisa.”
I replied. “She's here babe.” Another nod and she said “That's good then.” she'd drifted off mid nod and all I could do was weep. Lisa had pushed our big, overstuffed chair next to the bed and with few exceptions, I hadn't left it. Very early on the morning of the 5th, sometime between three and four, I remember my girls eyes opening abruptly and as they locked with mine she said very clearly.
“I apologize.” Moving inches from her face I'd asked her what she thought she had to apologize for and she'd replied. “For leaving you.” I'd kissed her softly and cried as she drifted away. It was the last thing she'd say to me. Our oldest son left late that day and he'd thought she was completely gone because she wasn't responsive...but I knew she was still there...deep inside herself, away from the pain and humiliation of her body. I could feel her...
I dozed off in the early morning hours of the 6th and I startled awake, jerking upright in my chair. Lisa was asleep in the recliner and my honey's breathing was irregular but steady...but I knew even before I smelled the urine that my dear baby had gone. She was home. I held her hand as the tears flowed...her body was still breathing, but that presence... her beacon...was gone. I don't know how long I sat there quietly sobbing but as the room got lighter I gained enough control to blow my nose and wake my dear sister in law. She knew...by my face...and because I think she too couldn't feel my girl's light any more. 
I called her nurse, who said she'd be on her way and then told Lisa that I had to clean her up and change the bedding. Being the strong woman she is, she refused to let me do that alone. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do...we both sobbed the entire time...that's love. That's sacrifice. She and her entire family have made so many of them for honey and I this past two years...it's something I can never repay but it won't be for lack of trying. Anyone who's gone through something like this knows the details and the reality. Bed sores. Changing and cleaning the one that you love most of all...
Shortly, her nurse arrived and took her vitals gently telling us that while we were most likely right in our feelings, that Tj's heart was still beating strong and while she hoped it wouldn't be a long struggle, it could be simply because of her relative youth and strength. I truly believe that hospice workers and the nurses in particular are among the most special and loving people you'll ever find. 
Around noon, my sweet sister-in-law along with my brother insisted I take a nap....I'd been up for quite a while and agreed under the premise that they'd wake me in four hours. I'd just laid down when Lisa knocked on the door and my heart leapt into my throat...cursing myself mentally, I flung the covers back as she entered the room and said. “It's not that...but I know you'd want to see this.”
We live in a condo. When you come up the stairs, there's the living room which is open to the kitchen. A short hallway has two bedrooms on the right and a bath on the left with a laundry room in between. Standing in the kitchen where three women I hadn't expected to see again. It was Tj's oncologist, her P.A and her head nurse...(not her hospice team) they were all tearfully there to say goodbye to my dear honey. I don't mention them by name on purpose...I wouldn't want any of them to get reprimanded. They came because they loved my girl...these dedicated professionals shed tears and hugged us all because they had come to love my sweet girl as she had loved and respected each of them. I'm still awed by it. I cried and of course thanked them for all that they had done...for all of their effort and heart. More evidence of those ripples my honey talked about so often.
They stayed much longer than I would've thought and when they'd gone my heart was lighter. It was a little after one when I laid back down...it seemed like my head had just touched the pillow when I heard the door open. It was Lisa and her face told me what I'd both dreaded and hoped for...it was a little after two pm. I came and stroked her face and kissed her forehead. I sat in my chair...taking her hand and waiting for her chest to rise. It never did. I thought I was cried out but I was wrong...after a while, I tearfully called her hospice nurse back and she came fairly quickly. Official time of death...2:35pm. 
More tears after the funeral home team arrived a short time later. They'd told me I might not want to watch and that they'd be as gentle as they could...I'd nodded and stayed. Until the end...even though it was late in the afternoon, our hospice team rushed to clear out all of the equipment and reminders. I called our boys and some relatives and friends. My sister in law was in overdrive...moving furniture...cleaning, anything to distract herself and stay busy. 
Within hours, those ripples my honey spoke of started returning in ways I'd never imagined. A young man (it would end up being TWO) that Tj and I had trained with but not seen in years, called from San Diego where he's station as a Marine SGT and told me he'd gotten approval for emergency leave. He'd be flying in Saturday morning. Even though he'd just returned from a 9 month deployment and had a family of his own...
Unknown even to him, his younger brother was making the 10+ hour drive and would arrive late Saturday evening...he too has a young family. They both planned on staying the week until I returned to work. They brokered no argument...they were coming. Period. 
Tj and I knew their father and mother and all the siblings trained with us. They'd lost their father (my best friend) to cancer 13 years ago. So...after having stayed much longer than we'd originally planned for, my brother and his wife returned to SD Friday afternoon under protest. I'd held them and thanked them but not only did they have a small business to run but a 12 year old son that needed them too. 
Jared (the first to arrive Saturday) accompanied me to pick up honeys cremated remains late that evening. As a veteran, honey also received a folded flag. She'd have been so very proud of the ramrod straight Marine that took it for her...the same young man that shed tears and held me as I sobbed at our vehicle...lost for long minutes in agony. I quite simply could not have done it without him. 
When his brother arrived some time later, the reunion was again tearful but I was also overwhelmed with joy at the simple and honest love being shown to me and my dear honey. For four days we shared stories, caught up with each other and grieved openly. Although they'd planned to stay the entire week, I was able to convince them to ride home (TN) together and surprise their mother. It would give the two of them some much needed brother time and allow Jared to fly back to his family and spend a few precious days recouping before returning to the grind of inspections that all units endure when returning from a deployment. 
While all of this was going on, three wonderful ladies that Tj was friends with sprang into action to setup and execute her memorial. Honey had been adamant about not having a traditional service. She wanted an outdoor gathering to celebrate her life in a casual manner. No dress clothes. Snacks and drinks, preferably a park so the kids could play. These terrific folks made that all happen. To Donna, Diane and Kim...thank you. 
She got want she wanted....as my honey usually did. Her passing drove home (to me) a point she'd always tried to lead me too...that if you love others and give of yourself without expecting or demanding in return, simply do it because its the right thing to do...then the right people will reciprocate. Maybe not to you but to another person in need, then that's a life worth living...
You were right babe...it's just the tiniest piece of why everybody loved my girl. Almost as much as me.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Honey's Eulogy

Honey's Eulogy

On July 6th 2017 my dearest honey's pain came to an end. I'm not sure how to put into word's what and who she was...to me, she was everything.

She'd battled cancer twice in the past five years. The first was breast cancer and she beat it rather quickly. After eleven months of treatments, she was declared 'cancer free.' We were given a little over two years of complete remission and during this time, we moved to Iowa to be closer to my family. My younger brother had suffered a series of strokes and we wanted to be closer to help him and his wife. While still four hours away, it was the best we could manage. As it turned out, it was his family that came to our needs when honey's cancer returned with a vengeance seven months after our move.

My sweet girl has always been a giver. She loved everyone and gave of herself freely, in time and resources. Her constant encouragement to others and genuine desire to see them succeed made her a beacon of hope. She was many things...a police officer, a fitness trainer and martial artist but mostly a loving mother to her two boys (and EVERY neighborhood kid they came in contact with!) and my best friend. We met in a dojo at a point that in each of our separate lives, there was chaos and discontent. It was not love at first sight...in fact for the first year of our association, she only came to try and knock my block off. I was her instructor and she didn't like me very much.

As I came to know her and witness the joy she coaxed from others, I was awed by the passion she had to help and trust those less fortunate, despite her own pain and deeply hidden sorrow. I couldn't help but fall in love with her. She later told me that I was an acquired taste...you got used to over time!

Her sense of humor and willingness to tackle new challenges served her well as she went back to college. Sadly, her illness prevented her from graduating by a mere three semesters. She was frustrated but rarely morose by anything for long.

She had just turned 49 and was training hard for her first fitness competition, which she planned on entering for her 50th birthday when the cancer returned. We first thought it was a training injury. Pain in her lower back, that was eventually diagnosed as a compression fracture caused by bone cancer. For the next 17 months she and her superb medical team aggressively treated this terrible disease but it kept mutating to new places and the cost on my dear honey was staggering. Throughout it all she pushed herself to the limits and beyond. Cancer may have taken my girl but it didn't win because she NEVER quit!

For all of her pain and misery, she gained a family that loved and cherished her...almost as much as me. As for all of our nearly eighteen years together, everyone loved my girl! She brought out the best in people and in me. She made me a better man and a better person by her shining example and unwavering courage. God has truly recalled a special angel...

As was her habit, long ago she left a note in my lunchbox ( Done with colored pencils) which I kept and framed. She thought I was silly but it struck a cord within me..it reads.
Good Morning my sweet man. :o) Thank you for letting me be me, even when it's hard.
I love you so much! That will NEVER change.
See you at the finish line in all our races....Your Loving Wife. :o)

I'll be along sweet baby...please be patient and wait for me.