15 10 2014

Between times.

I am between times.

These are between times.

September 19 is my big one every year, the anniversary of the greatest loss I have known.  There is a season of the soul that starts for me then.  My birthday comes less than two weeks after that.  His birthday is three weeks after mine.  The world is not itself for that month, not for me.  That month is my between time.


The day before September 19, my son’s partner suffered the greatest loss she has ever known, when her father died.  It resonated all the way through our family as well.  There is no official state-sanctioned tie between my son and the woman he loves; the tie of love binds us all together into a new family, and we grieve together the loss of a good man.  I didn’t know him long.  Not nearly long enough.

The between time was a day early this year.


On September 19 my father-in-law entered intensive care after throwing up blood.  He is 90 years old, on a bunch of medications that all interfered with recovery, so he ended up getting unit after unit of blood – to replace what was flowing out of him, and to help him keep what was left.  The first check showed a bleeding ulcer.  The second check showed cancer.  There is no curing someone at that age, but you can make the remaining time easier, and he had surgery to remove the cancer the day before my birthday.

He got better.  And then he didn’t.  Fluid started backing up into his lungs and his tissues.  He came down with a severe hospital infection.  And another check, to find out where the fluid was building, showed that the cancer had outrun everything and had spread faster than we could ever have imagined.

He went into hospice two days ago.  The wires and the tubes have been removed.  He is kept clean, warm, and as comfortable as possible.  That means morphine now.  I watch his caregivers as they wash his diminishing body, shave his still-abundant beard, and trim the mustache that annoyed him with its length.  They are tender.

He sleeps much of the day.  He wakes up occasionally for a drink of water, or for a few spoonfuls of the lemon ice his oldest daughter brings to him.  He sleeps again.  And in sleep, he waits.

He is in his last between time.


My beloved’s birthday is in five days. I wonder if my father-in-law will end his between time before I end mine.  I don’t wish for his death.  I will wait with him.  And yet, I wish every day for this good man to finally rest.  He has had such a long time of pain and confusion.  I love him.  I wait for him to move on.

I think of him taking the hands of his wife and his son, leaving this behind, and I breathe…go.

And I wait.


5 09 2014

I married into a wonderful family.  Unlike so many people I know, I love all of the people I married… and yes, I subscribe whole-heartedly to the notion that you don’t just marry the person, you marry the family.  I lost the man I married far too soon.  Blessedly, I still have the family.

I’ve written before about losing my mother-in-law three years ago.  Her final decline was actually not that long, a few months – but they were long months, mostly in the hospital trying to get all of her systems to work at the same time.  I was blessed in being able to spend time with her during those last months.  She left behind a wonderful family, a legacy of love, humor, and compassion that we all strive to live up to.  And she left behind a man who loved her always, who loves her still.

He is an extraordinary man.  When I married his son, he introduced me to everyone as his daughter – he couldn’t be bothered with making the distinctions between genetics and love.  It caused no end of confusion.  I never asked him to stop doing it because it was such a sweet habit… but also because of how loved he made me feel, that I was also his child.  He was the terror of several generations of high school history students, people who meet me now and say “THAT man is your father-in-law?”  Yes, he is.  He has been in my life for nearly 40 years and I love him.

He is now 90.  He suffers from the degenerative illnesses of age – his eyes don’t work as well, his hearing is failing.  And he misses his wife.  He repeats the stories of meeting her, falling in love with her, marrying her and starting a family.  It doesn’t matter how many times I hear the stories.  I want to hear them again.  His body is betraying him; he has had a series of small strokes that have steadily shrunk the scope of his world.  The social and gregarious man of 40 years ago has become frail, unsteady, and afraid of his own vulnerability.  The man who told stories constantly, who learned Chinese because he could, has now found himself unable to string the stories together, or to find the words he’s looking for.  The constriction of his world has left him sad and isolated.

This week he was diagnosed with carotid stenosis, severe enough that endocardectomy was indicated.  His first response was: hell no.  After some discussion, he agreed that perhaps the quality of his life could be improved with the surgery, and he had the procedure this morning.  I have spent more time in the hospital with him… and I want to believe that this can make things better for him, but what I see is a man who is just so tired.  He is ready to leave.  I want him here.  I want will always want him here.  I will never be ready for him to leave.

I hope I am wrong.  I hope that I have several more years with him.  And maybe it’s just the discomfort of coming out of surgery – but he seems like he just wants to go.  The burdens of his body are more than he wants to deal with any more, and he wants to put them down.  I resist.  I deny.  I am not ready.

He is ready.

I am not.


1 07 2014

My son is dating a lovely young woman, a woman I would be thrilled to call my daughter one day.  And this amazing woman is surrounded by the most delightful family that I could ever hope for.  I wrote of what it was like to land in their arms at a time when things are potentially quite dark for them.

Her father is still very ill, and right now is dealing with a series of infections that make it very difficult to move on to the next phase of treatment. He has been hospitalized several times since the first diagnosis, trying to get things stable enough to move forward.  He is in again as I type this.  I went to visit him today, and as I walked into the room, I saw his wife leaning over him to gently kiss him – not kissing him goodbye or hello, but just kissing him because that’s who they are.

It was beautiful and profound.  One of those moments when everything stops, for this moment of utter tenderness and connection between two people.  I was blessed beyond description to witness such a moment.

It is a hard thing, taking the journey they are.  It is likely that there will not be a good outcome to this, and all of us know it.  Thankfully, none of us are looking away.  And again: grateful for the embrace of family.

But also: furious at how unfair this is.  How unfair our loss was, nearly eight years ago… my husband shouldn’t have died the way he did.  He should still be here, and he should be part of this new family we’re forming because he would have loved it so much, and they would have loved him, and this is everything he ever worked and hoped for… and DAMN IT my new family shouldn’t have to be facing this kind of loss and uncertainty.  And oh, how this hurts.

You can’t die.

There is still so much to do.

We have so many stories to tell, we have children to enjoy together.

There is still so much and why can’t there be enough time?

Don’t leave.  Please.

Stay here.


16 06 2014

There was a big shift in normal last week – somewhat for me, but definitely more major for my son and the woman in his life.  She found out that her father was very ill, the kind of ill that has >90% mortality within five years.  It’s the kind of ill that takes the wheels off of the world.  My son loves her.  Her grief and fear go straight to his heart.  And he gets to experience – again! – the truth that big new grief wakes up big old grief.  He is hurting for her.  She is hurting on her own and worried for him.  And they turn to each other to hold on and love through it.

Yesterday I was blessed to be included in her family’s Father’s Day brunch.  And she’s in one of those families where nearly anything will serve as an excuse to get a lot of people together, so I met what seemed like everyone.  And I now I know where this lovely young woman finds her ability to hurt and love and hold on all at the same time.

There are as many ways of responding to this kind of diagnosis as there are people.  Denial is common for a reason – it works, at least in the short term.  But yesterday I watched a whole family open up to it so that they could embrace each other more tightly.  It is nearly miraculous to witness this kind of love in action.  I have been swept into this encompassing embrace – “Genetics don’t matter much to us.  You’re family.”  And now I can hold on to them, as they have held on to both my son and me.

It is like sensory overload in the best sense – where it is so much to take in that you have to experience it in a different way.  You feel songs, you hear colors.  They opened up, they folded me in… not because of anything I ever did, not because I had earned it, but because this is the way their world works and now I’m part of it.

It is…astonishing.  Overwhelming.  Exalted.

At least three people that I had just met yesterday told me, as we were spending the hour (for real, a literal hour) that it takes to hug everyone goodbye (I’m not exaggerating) “You have to come to ALL the things!”  I hope to return that embrace with every bit of joy they offered me.