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.


Strong is hard

1 10 2014

I have written of my son’s lovely partner, of the illness that her family is dealing with.  It came to an end a few weeks ago when her father died, felled by a cancer that had been diagnosed three months earlier.  Three months.  It is no time at all.

It is normal, in the face of great loss, to rationalize that what you’re going through isn’t as bad as what others have gone through.  So in the days after this wonderful man died, his widow held my hands and told me again and again how my experience had been so much worse, how she didn’t have it so bad because she had had the time to say everything that needed to be said.  I get that.  I lost my husband very suddenly.

But we too had said everything that needed to be said.  We spent a lifetime doing it, and the last thing we said to each other was “I love you”.  There is nothing else.  And I didn’t have to see him sick, or in pain, or suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy.  I didn’t have to see him afraid of what would happen to his family.  He lived until he was done.  And then he stopped.  It was sudden, and shocking, and I was left in the aftermath.

But that is true of every death, regardless of how you get there.  A lingering decline or a sudden exit, the final silence is a shock.


His widow told my son a few nights ago that she wished she could be more like me, that I was so strong and independent.    I am.  I don’t always feel that way, but overall, yes.  I take care of things.

And she will as well, for the same reason: there isn’t a choice.  She will take care of things because nobody else can or will, and these things must be done.  She will take care of emptying the house, of figuring out what the next step is.  She will deal with the loneliness of an empty bed.  She will straighten out the finances, cook for just herself, shovel her own walks when the snow begins to fall.  These things are hard.  She will become strong by doing these hard things.

Being strong is good.  People speak admiringly of strength.

Becoming strong is hard.


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.


24 08 2014

I have a friend that I’ve had for almost twenty years.  Until last week I had been with him for less than two hours.  My friend was in prison.  I met him when he was already inside, writing to him because another of friend of mine was already writing to him and knew he could use all the mail he could get.

Let us not mix words here or make this in any way romantic.  He was in for murder.  He stabbed his fiancée to death.  In the course of that horrible night, she also stabbed him – but the key difference is that he survived while she did not.  He was sentenced to thirty years for the crime.  And he was paroled a little over a year ago, having served twenty of those thirty years.

Her family is furious.  I understand on the most superficial, basic-human-kindness level.  I can’t understand what they truly feel, and fundamentally I don’t even want to.  I simply cannot imagine the loss they have gone through.  I don’t know what I would feel in that situation.  I don’t want to know.  I do know that, for them, the time my friend has served will never be enough; their cry will always be “But she is still dead.”

Yes, she is.  There is no answer to that.  No matter what, no matter how extreme the punishment for the crime, she is still dead.  I would hope for myself that I would be able to move beyond it to a simple “she is dead,” without that unexpressed hope of the word “still,” as if there were somehow a way to make her not dead, like the situation could somehow be reversed to make the outcome different.

It is not directly comparable – but I know what it’s like to have a crater blown in your world.  It doesn’t ever go away, it doesn’t ever disappear over the horizon of your life.  If you’re lucky and you work at it, you can put some distance between yourself and the crater, though.  It can still be big and overwhelming, but it’s part of the larger landscape of your life.  It’s not the only thing any more and it doesn’t define who or where you are.

I wish her family could move away from the rocky slopes of their crater.  Not because their continued fury is so hurtful for my friend – although his remorse is considerable, and it does hurt him – but because the crater is so unforgiving, so unlikely to support life on its glassy, molten sides.  There is no love there, no memories that end in anything except sorrow and loss.  There is no comfort.

I wish I could tell them of a better world.  I have no standing and they would be justified in driving me off by any means necessary.  I do grieve for them, for the loss they suffered and for what they still feel.

There are no winners here.


25 09 2013

“Grief is a powerful river in flood. It cannot be argued or reasoned or wrestled down to an insignificant trickle. You must let it take you where it is going. When it pulls you under, all you can do is keep your eyes open for rocks and fallen trees, try not to panic, and stay face up so you will know where the sky is. You will need that information later. Eventually, its waters calm and you will be on a shore far from where you began, raw and sore, but clean and as close to whole as you will ever be again.” – Rhonda Riley, The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope

Grief is an odd, powerful, and universal thing.  For once it isn’t me I’m thinking about.  (I know, right?  I’m as shocked as you are.) And it’s entirely possible that my mad skillz in grief management are making me think that every time someone is upset or worried or angry, it must be some form of grief in action.  Nonetheless, I continue.  Ahem.

I’m fairly active in the blogging community on Shakesville.  Some days it’s profound, some days silly.  The last few days I’ve been following the postings of a woman who lost her cat.  Literally lost her cat… he left home and didn’t come back.  She is understandably heartbroken.  And she is also, in the way of so many grieving people, chiding herself for feeling so sad, for not taking better care of herself so that she doesn’t feel this way.

Grief sucks.  It sucks hard.  It is demanding and squats in the middle of your life howling for attention.  And you can ignore it for short periods; denial is in fact an outstanding short-term coping mechanism.  But long term?  It follows you from room to room and howls more loudly until you finally have to address it.  It won’t actually devour you.  But it sure seems like it will.  Sometimes it’s easier to let the sadness tip over into anger, rather than feel that inexorable gray emptiness of grief.

My son is dealing with problems at work, the unsettling part of early career when you realize that your expectations exceeded reality.  There’s plenty of talk about this in the media, as there is every few years when someone decides to write yet another fresh new outlook about Kids Today!  They expect everything handed to them!  Unlike the sober and clear-eyed workhorses of our generation.

That’s not entirely the kind of expectations I’m talking about.  I’m talking about my son’s expectation that people in the workplace would be grown-ups, that they would behave in professional and adult manners.  Most people do.  But he’s finding the people that don’t, and also finding that corporate and management motivations are sometimes not what they claim to be.  It’s a crushing discovery for every new generation, when they were raised by parents who taught them to play fair, tell the truth, and apologize when you’re wrong.  Most corporations have some variety of core values that always, always include that kind of integrity.  I’ve been at this long enough to know that those core values aren’t rock solid.  My son?  He’s still seeing it all for the first time and it is a huge disappointment to him.

It shows as anger and frustration with his workplace.  But I think it also carries loss with it – you had in your head that life was a certain way, and now surprise!  It really isn’t that way at all, and you have to build a new model.  As they called it after my husband died, it’s the New Normal.  I loathe the New Normal.  I liked the Old Normal.  And in my son’s case, this is all hitting right around the anniversary of his father’s death, and I think that it’s all tangled together in a sticky mess.