Nice Shirt, Dad

Cataloging The Memories

Preface: I’ve been adding to this for a few days, but right now I’m on a bunch of cold medicine and exhausted from a lack of sleep. I apologize for any major typos or grammatical errors. This is the type of entry that’s hard to proof even when I’m feeling well, but when I’m tired and sickly, I just would rather not have to re-read this 100 times.

This time every year I find myself thinking tons about Dad. On February 10th, 2009, he was hospitalized with renal failure. He died 7 weeks later. I wrote a little bit here during that time, but not a lot because I was holding out hope for a miraculous recovery, and I was afraid he’d be mad about me cataloging his illness on my blog. I remember wanting to write SO DESPERATELY about what was going on, but I knew he’d be SO PISSED later. Not for privacy reasons, but because I was spending any time whatsoever thinking about him and his cancer. He hated the idea that his illness held any focus in our lives, even for the little time it did.

It’s been 5 years now, and I was recently scrolling through my archives during that time, seeing how little I wrote, but remembering VERY VIVIDLY how much I wanted to write about what was going on. Now I only have bit and pieces of faded memories documenting that important time in my life. I thought, maybe I should try to write them down now. Some of the things I’ve mentioned here and there, but in terms of trying to put that 7 weeks in some sort of catalog, I haven’t really done that. But I think I should, so I can remember it later.

  • I was boarding a plane for a solo trip to Chicago associated with this blog when I realized I had a voicemail from my Dad’s doctor looking for my Dad. I can NOT express to you how weird this was. Partly because Dad never went to the doctor, but partly because Dad ALWAYS answered his home phone. If he was home and not answering? That was a HUGE PROBLEM. I called the doctor back, before I was asked to turn off my phone, and he informed me had some results on my Dad’s recent bloodwork but he couldn’t get a hold of him and it was basically an emergency. I was Dad’s emergency contact since I was geographically closest. And here I was, about to board a plane to Chicago. (Didn’t even know my Dad had been sick.) I called my brother so he could keep up with the news while I was in air, and I called my Mom who was the one who went to my Dad’s house to check on him and let him know he needed to call his doctor. Then, I took off.
  • The event in Chicago was a blogger event, a pedicure night, and I have very vivid memories of the faces I encountered that day associated with that event. I remember being very torn about trying to be fun and social, but being worried to death about my Dad. The people who flew me to Chicago were super-accommodating and did what they could to get me an earlier flight home. These people probably have no idea how much a part of my memories they are. And how often I wish they’d seen a better side of me.
  • Dad was admitted to the hospital and was vocally irritated with how my brother and I were trying to get to Knoxville. I can’t remember if we got the Multiple Myeloma diagnosis before we all got to Knoxville or not. Isn’t that funny? I remember the blogger and her husband who drove me back to my hotel when I was in Chicago, but I can’t remember even what state I was in (Illinois? Alabama? Tennessee?) when I found out my Dad had cancer.
  • My brother and I spent quite a bit of time Googling Multiple Myeloma from his work laptop. This was before smartphones and I often think now how much easier it would have been then because the WiFi connection in the hospital was crap. We had to take the laptop to the chairs by some random entrance for good reception.
  • Dad was a big asshat while he was in the hospital, after the diagnosis. He was always very good about acknowledging when he had been an ass, and apologizing for it. I’m still learning to do that. Anyway – he was a giant asshat. To everyone. Family, siblings, children, medical staff. So, when he got his discharge orders and I needed to help him get settled in at home, I knew it was going to SUUUUUUCCCCCKKKK. But, it seemed the asshatedness had faded and he was very grateful and very open about needing help. I had never seen that side of him. I think that day I kinda new he wasn’t going to really pursue treatment. He was going home with an Rx for a pill type of chemotherapy and a dialysis schedule. He would never take the first pill, and only did dialysis twice.
  • When I took him home and headed out to get his Rx filled, I asked him if he needed anything. Dad had never openly asked for anything…EVER. But he was very calm about all of the things he needed. His stomach was a mess so he wanted to try something like the Ensure they had given him at the hospital. He wanted me to see if I could find a cane. Crackers. Gatorade. I was so – almost excited – to be able to help him that I think I drove all over Fountain City making sure I could find everything on the list. I had NEVER been in that roll before for him, and it felt like a tiny bit of payback for the years he was a single Dad to me. I was willing to do just about anything he asked, just for the joy of getting to finally do something for him.
  • When I got back that day, we talked. We talked a LOT about life and diagnosis and prognosis and the future. Again – I look back on that now and really know he had already made his decision to NOT continue on with treatment. But, I didn’t realize it then. We talked a lot about how his body and the microfractures on his skeleton and his kidneys, would probably never recover. He pointed to his backpack and brought up he’d never probably be able to carry that again. Would he even be able to work? I could tell he was hashing it all out in front of me, and again, I had never been in that position before. And I remember contemplating every response, desperately hoping it was what he needed or wanted from me. I agreed a lot with him, about how much it was going to suck. I wonder if I shouldn’t have? Should I had been less honest and said, “No! It can still be great not being able to live that life you had before!” I many times offered for him to come stay with us. I hope I never forget the small smile and laugh in response. It was something that said, “I love you for offering, but you and I both know that’s never going to happen.”
  • I drove up a few days later to take him to his first out-of-hospital dialysis appointment. I remember being FREAKED OUT because I hate driving my Dad places. I can feel his nervousness with my driving and that makes me an even MORE high-anxiety driver. I was 33 and still felt the same way as when I drove him around at 16. But, again, his personality was so chill and contemplative. And appreciative. Another thing I add to the pile of obvious behavior that he was NOT GOING TO KEEP TRYING TO LIVE. I waited for him at dialysis, he came out and mentioned how much he hated it. So boring. So sickly. How do people do that for years? He just didn’t understand it at all.
  • He was supposed to get his sister (who lived in Knoxville) to take him to his next dialysis appointment. I remember getting ready to leave work one day (a day or two after the first dialysis treatment) when he called me and asked if I had a moment. “Kim, I think I really just want to die.” He didn’t say it with sadness or regret. He wasn’t even crass about it. I could tell in his voice he was much more concerned about ME than about him. About how I’d take it. Just like before, at his house, I was trying to respond the way I knew he wanted. “I understand.” I didn’t sugar-coat a potential future or beg him to fight. I often wonder if I should have. I think that day at his house though, as he hashed through the diagnosis before me, I think that prepared me. I think it let me see a side of him that really didn’t want to live like that. The small sadness at realizing he couldn’t carry his backpack. The subtle tone of defeat that he needed a cane. So, I just stood in my office, trying to get my shit together to leave so I wouldn’t sob at work, and told him over and over, “I’m sad, but I understand.”
  • Donnie was out of town because that’s the way our life has always worked. We have weirdly timed catastrophies that always keep us for being there for each other. I remember trying to get a hold of him and couldn’t. I eventually got a hold of his Mom and sobbed to her. I somehow got a message to my brother that I wanted to talk to him, but I can’t remember if he had talked to Dad yet. I just remember lying in the dark in bed that night, finally talking to my brother about the diagnosis. I think Wesley was in bed with me (he was still a baby nursing at night) so I was doing a lot of whispering. And crying.
  • Dad’s sister got him set up with a wonderful hospice facility. I remember heading into town to get him settled in, but I can’t remember if I drove him or not. I remember my brother and I sitting with him around the table as he was still in street clothes and maybe even eating some food. I remember we were talking a bit about his impending death. Maybe we were assuring him we’d be okay? Maybe he was assuring us? It’s very foggy, probably because the whole thing felt surreal. There he was, in a button-up and jeans, in the room we knew he’d die in soon. That was the last time I saw him out of the bed in the room.
  • It was hard to say how long it would be before Dad died. Basically, he was going to die of kidney failure, but it could take 3 days or 3 weeks. It really depended on how bad his kidneys were to begin with. His siblings came back in town to see him/say goodbye. I was glad because it gave them a final memory of him that was NOT the ASSHAT memories from when he had been in the hospital. I was terrified their last memories of their baby brother would be him at his worst. The visit in hospice was quiet but at least peaceful. Dad was simply ready to die. He was at peace.
  • Sometimes (maybe most times?) he was irritated my brother and I were still there. He didn’t want us putting off our lives to watch him die. He did check in on the process of us clearing out his house. He jokingly said we should burn it down. I think he was pleased that the Rescue Missions wanted so much of his stuff. He was also pleased when we told him his ashes would be buried in the same Memorial Graveyard his brother was buried in. He always thought that it was so pretty there. He seemed honored to get a military burial, even though that part of his life was so long ago.
  • A childhood friend of mine who still lived in Knoxville stopped by to see Dad one day. She brought truffles. He was super-thrilled about this, he always loved her and her family. He was just mad he couldn’t stomach the truffles. I’ll always be grateful that she made that visit because it seemed to really bring him joy in his last days.
  • I brought my kids in at the end, after debating it a bit. I didn’t want their memories to be of him like that, but I also knew everyone should be able to say goodbye. I don’t know if any of them remember it now.
  • Dad had that LAST GOOD DAY the night before he died. My brother called to tell me about it (he was staying in Knoxville while I went back and forth) and we even contemplated the fact that maybe his kidneys were fine. He had perked up, wanted to go home, as acting more lively than he had in the weeks prior. The funny thing is, I had read about those “LAST GOOD DAYS” in all of my dying research, but still, we found part of ourselves getting weirdly hopeful. I didn’t sleep at all that night, contemplating the “what ifs” – is he fine? What do we do if he just doesn’t die? Do we call the doctor to come check on him again? Is this torture leaving him there if he’s actually fine? ALL NIGHT LONG I was thinking about this stuff.
  • I got the call after I was already at work a little while the next morning. He had died in the night and they didn’t know, so I needed to hurry because they really need to call the funeral home. I had been packed for the call, grabbed my husband and my kids and we hit the road. It was the longest drive of my life. I didn’t want them to move my Dad until I got to say goodbye to him. My brother and aunt were there already, everyone was just waiting on me. Donnie dropped me off at the hospice center and took the kids to Moms. I walked in and there he was. I felt so many feelings. Sadness, of course, but also relief. Watching someone die is hard, but watching someone die who just wants to die already is exhausting. The first few days we would visit Dad in hospice and ask if he needed anything, he would joke about needing to die already. After that first week it stopped being funny, he was just ready, and sick of waiting. So, his death brought unexpected sense of relief. And then a horrible wave of guilt for feeling relieved.
  • My brother and I laughed more over the few days planning for Dad’s services than I ever would have expected. Ordering flowers, preparing the announcement for the paper, we just kept finding the stupidest stuff to laugh at and know that would have made Dad happy. He would have been laughing along with us. Having a sibling to go through that with, someone who is suffering the exact same loss, is the only thing that kept me sane during the whole ordeal.

Thinking of You

Our 2013 Christmas Card

Our 2013 Christmas Card

It’s 5:24am on Christmas morning. We’ve put the final touches on Christmas and now Donnie and I just wait until the kid’s wake up. This is how Christmas works when Mom and Dad wake up before 5am on a normal morning.

I’m taking this quiet time to think of all of my friends who have lost loved ones this year. I have three friends who lost their Moms in 2013 and I’m trying my best to send them warmth this Christmas morning to try to dull the ache of loss that will outline the day for them. If you know anyone who lost someone close this year, maybe you can join me. The holidays are hard for anyone who has lost someone, but if you’ve lost a parent, the first Christmas without them feels incredibly off. If you’re one of those people who lost someone dear to them this year, and you have to reshape your Christmas without them, please know you are in my thoughts today. I am thinking of you now, before the chaos of the day hits my home, and remembering my first Christmas without my Dad. I’m trying to share with you some of the peace I’ve earned in the 5 years since, in hopes that it will soften the pain you will feel today.

Peace and Love to all of you today, but especially to those of you who have to smile through the sadness. You are in my heart.

Photo taken at Santa's Village by Jeff White

Photo taken at Santa’s Village by Jeff White

The dessert he chose at Dessert Theatre last night.

What Should Have Been

The dessert he chose at Dessert Theatre last night.

The dessert he chose at Dessert Theatre last night.

Tonight is Dessert Theatre at E’s school. It’s a fun and casual performance done while eating baked goods and ice cream. I love it – it’s always the funniest show of the year. But this year? It’s tainted a bit for me. Because I shouldn’t be there.

Over the summer, when I found out I was pregnant and they gave me my due date, I remember looking at the calendar and thinking…doubt I’ll feel up for dessert theatre since I’ll have just had a baby. I sat there with Wes last night and felt a bit sad that I wasn’t home with his newborn sibling.

When you have as many miscarriages as I’ve had, every month has some sort of depressing day in it. Maybe it’s the anniversary of a D&C, or of a bathroom-floor miscarriage. Maybe it’s a lost due date. Maybe it’s the day you found out there was no heartbeat. Maybe it’s the day you took the positive pregnancy test that was supposed to lead to a joyful birth.

I don’t fret over them all. I rarely fret over any of them anymore. My heart is cold and bitter about my pregnancy losses. We’re considering giving up, burning the crap out of my innards so I can finally have some relief from endometriosis, but forever deleting our chances of future pregnancies. So, now the sadness is mostly replaced with bitterness. I’m mostly just pissed off now. Pissed off that I have this shitty system that causes me pain. And while – of course – I’m blessed to have the children I have…I also had to recently run into a store with my purse over my rear, buy a pair of sweatpants, and change out of my bloody clothes in the back of my van. All of this was done relatively easily because every month I keep emergency garbage bags and paper towels in the back of my van. I typically keep clothes too but that day I didn’t have any because I had already used my backup clothes the DAY BEFORE.

So…yeah. When you suffer as greatly as I do certain times a month? It’s easy to hate my body more than loving it for the gifts it’s given me.

But this week? I should have a baby this week. And that was probably the last pregnancy I’ll ever “enjoy”. The nurse said to me at my D&C, “You’ll try again, right? I always hate to see people end on a loss.” I understood her point completely, you don’t want to end your reproductive history on a loss if you can avoid it. But I also don’t have a lot of strength left, so chances are I’ll be ending mine in just that way…a loss.

So…I’m sad and a bit bitter right now. Also angry. Angry that I don’t have that last baby in my arms, keeping me from my oldest son’s performance. I envisioned taking that baby to E’s graduation and the pride at holding my newborn child while watching my firstborn get his diploma. That won’t be happening either. I imagined all of the family being able to meet the new baby when they came into town for E’s graduation – and how perfectly that was going to work out. I imagined the pictures I’d take of my child and my brother’s child – and how happy I was that they were going to grow up together.

And all of that is lost, and it’s hitting me a bit harder that most of these painful dates do.

But I’ll be fine. I’m certain it’s the lack of sleep this week (don’t ask) combined with feeling poorly (don’t ask) and sadness over impending graduation of my oldest child which has my heart torn into a million pieces anyway right now. I know my anger and sadness will pass…I just needed to release those feelings into the blogverse in hopes for a bit of the healing power that has always been here for me before.

I'm certain you would have stolen this off my fridge to hang in your office at work.

Dear Dad,

I'm certain you would have stolen this off my fridge to hang in your office at work.

I’m certain you would have stolen this off my fridge to hang in your office at work.

I’ve been really tired for over a week now, and that makes me super-emotional and weepy. Sad things are happening all over the place, which doesn’t help at all because I tend to feel what the world around me feels. So, my choice of sad topics predominant in my life are:

1) Missing You
2) My baby going off to college next year

I’ve decided to focus on missing you, Dad. Because I’m still in denial about E leaving me.

I spent some time in December with your new grandson. I so wish you could have met him. And of course – C is as amazing of a Dad as we knew he’d be. He’s already putting you and I both to shame as parents. But we expected that, didn’t we?

I wish you could have met his wife. She’s one of those type of people we always talked about admiring so much. You could put her in a room with 10 strangers from 10 different walks of life, and after 30 minutes they would all leave with smiles on their faces from having found a new life-long BFF.

E is about to open his first non-school play in which he has a lead role. When you died, he hadn’t even started performing yet, something that always makes me sad. You would be so impressed with him. His face is on posters around town now, which I find so hysterical. Watching him perform blows my mind because he’s so laid-back about it. He doesn’t seem to have any of the Speaking In Public fears that you and I had.

I have been sticking with running now for almost two years. It’s hard to believe that it’s only been that long because I’ve made so many huge achievements in that time. 2 marathons, 2 50Ks, and so many other races I don’t even keep track anymore. But Saturday? Is a new first: A 12-Hour Run. I start at 6am and I don’t stop until 6pm. It’s 1-mile loops at a state park and my goal is to hit 40. Anything more will be cake. I know you’d think this was crazy because you thought C’s Ironman in 2005 was crazy. You respected these bizarro amibtions of ours, but never pretended to understand them.

Donnie is coaching a triathlon class now. He’s been competing for 3+ years, I guess, and he’s getting faster and more fit every day that passes. He did his first official sub-20 minute 5K a couple of weeks ago. I thought I was going to cry, I was so proud. I remember when you did that 5K with us in 2006 and you beat us both at about 25 minutes! We were both adequately ashamed of that.

I’m tired and weepy and I just miss you so much. I know many people have faith that allows them to believe their loved ones still watch over them, and I sometimes get violently jealous of that. The finality of death for the faithless is a bit depressing at times.

So I carry your memory and tell your stories. I keep you alive by building a love for space and sciene in my children (there are SO MANY YouTube channels that you would LOVE), or memories of hikes in the woods. I told Wes on his first hike that you would have been so proud to see how much he loved it, since I tended to be a whiny brat at that age. We play with the weirdo gadgets you left behind and look at your collection of dirt. We bundle up in the winter and I tell stories of us fighting over the coil heater in our home.

And I miss you every day. But no more than when I’m tired and needing a pick-me-up phone call to you.

I love you, Dad.
Kim

charlieblog

Missing Out

charlieblogI’ll be honest – sometimes I make mistakes that I am VERY glad my Dad is not alive to see. Like that one time I backed into the brick retainer wall lining my driveway. Or the time I almost got the utilities cut off because I forgot the pay the utility bill while we were in the middle of a show at E’s school.

Yeah. Those things? Completely fine with him never knowing about.

However – MAN – I wish he could see my oldest child rock the stage these next few months. I’ve always wished he could see E perform, the shows themselves would be amazing enough to wow him. But this year he has lead rolls! I really wish he could see those.

First up, next month? He’s Charlie Bucket in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”! How cool is that? A LEAD! His name IN THE TITLE!

He’s all cool and nonchalant about it – just going to rehearsals and learning his lines and his blocking – like…NBD. Whereas, every day I’m like, “HOW DID IT GO? ARE YOU HAVING FUN? WHAT DID YOU DO TODAY? WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART? HOW ARE THE COSTUMES? DO YOU NEED ME TO READ LINES WITH YOU?”

I…am NOT reserved. Obviously. I’m just screaming, “MY KID IS CHARLIE! AS IN – AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY!” from the rooftops. I’m the most embarrassing theatre Mom ever. Seriously. If you don’t believe me? Ask about my screaming being on the recording of a performance last year. After EVERY SONG you could hear me screaming in the audience. “WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

I’m not saying my Dad would be that enthusiastic, but his mind would be blown.

And then…THEN…in March? He’s playing “Young George” in “Our Town” with Theatre Huntsville. His first non-school play! And another good part! I can’t wait for that one either. Although, I’m not a volunteer for that production so I doubt I’ll have the opportunity to embarrass him like I do at the school shows.

I would love for my Dad to see BOTH shows. He wouldn’t embarrass E at all. It would be a good counterbalance to his screaming Mom in the audience every night.

Of course – I’d also love for my Dad to meet his new grandchild, born in November. I’m grateful my kids all got to at least meet him, although Was doesn’t have any memories of him, being 10 months old when he died. But I’m glad I have pictures of them together – and I’m grateful for that, even when I’m simultaneously sad for the other things he’s missing.

That’s just part of life after death, the things we continue doing that the dead can’t see.

But YOU can see it all! If you’re local, come to the shows! Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is next weekend and “Our Town” in March!

(Sorry to end the blog plugging my kid’s shows. Had to lighten things up a bit around here!)