Friday, June 22, 2012

My Last Hour of Her Life

I woke up at 1:15 a.m. on April 20, 2011, and rolled over.  TJ wasn’t in bed.  My eyes adjusted in the dark and I could make out his silhouette at the window.

“Come back to bed, sweets.”
“I will in a minute.  It looks pretty bad out there.”

Sure enough, the weather sirens started going off a minute later.  I rolled over, annoyed by the idea of trying to sleep through the sound. 

“I think we should head to your parents’ house.”

I sat up, surprised by his suggestion.  We typically ignore the sirens.  They sound way too often in our county, and usually over nothing. 

“I mean it Kate.  It looks terrible out there.  If there’s a tornado, we’re screwed up here.”  We lived on the top floor of an apartment building in a complex called Pinnacle.  He had a point.

I rolled out of bed, grumbling as I pulled green basketball shorts and a grey hoodie out of the closet.  I dialed my younger brother’s phone.  He seemed surprised that we were coming over, but said he’d unlock the front door.

We ran out the door right as the wind really began to pick up.  By the time we got to the car the rain had started, and when we pulled into my mom and dad’s driveway four minutes later the wind was whipping so hard that the rain was hitting us sideways. 

As we pushed our way into the house, Rosie, the family dog, met us at the door.  Zach met us in the kitchen, still surprised to see us.  I told him TJ felt like we needed to be below ground.  Zach shrugged, but headed for the basement door.

The 3 of us sat there on the couch in Dad’s TV room with Rosie, watching the channel 12’s coverage of the bizarre weather.  We could hear the wind rushing outside the walls and the house was creaking.  Zach texted on his phone as TJ sat impatiently.  I stood up and headed for the stairs.  Zach looked at me.

“Where are you going?”
“I want Mom’s rings near us.” If this storm was going to rip our house away, there was no way I was letting it take her most important material possessions.

I ran upstairs to the family room and saw the gold glinting from the mantel.  I grabbed her wedding band and engagement ring, then headed back into the basement.  It was 1:35 a.m. The wind continued to rip through our world, pushing and pulling the house around with it. The rain teemed against the small windows in our basement, streaming down to the ground like tears.

Twenty minutes later, the storm had subsided and channel 12 was telling us we were safe. I asked Zach if he wanted us to stay with him. I had stayed with him the night before. I didn’t like him being alone in the house with just Rosie for company, but we both knew Dad wouldn’t let Mom spend one night alone in hospice. And we understood. He was needed more there than at the house.

Zach told us to go home. He’s a night owl, and he likes the quiet. TJ and I left the house, avoiding the rivers of water running down the driveway as we made our way to the car. I lamented the fact that the storm had woken me so completely. Sleep was hard to come by, and was usually peppered with memories of my mom in happier times, dreams of all we could do when she got better, and nightmares of what-if-she-doesn’t.

We walked into our apartment and just as I threw my purse on the dining room table, my phone began to ring. Is there ever a phone call you want to take in the middle of the night? When you’re 21 and you know your friends are drunk in a bar, maybe. When your 21-year old brother is home by himself and your dad is keeping watch over your dying mother… no.

I answered the phone as TJ walked across the room to stare out the windows at the rain, now falling softly from the black sky.

“Hi, Hon.”

My dad’s voice, soft and calm, greeted me. Hon. Not Pig, my nickname since childhood. Not Kate, the name my family normally uses. Hon.

I responded with a hello, and there was a moment of silence. And then the words.

“Mom passed away about twenty minutes ago.”

I steadied myself against the table as my muscles went slack. And yet, I didn’t cry. Maybe I’d known this was coming. Maybe I’d felt it happening. Maybe, despite my unending optimism til this bitter end, I’d realized this was inevitable. I squeaked out an ok to my dad. As I said it, I saw TJ’s body tighten. He knew.

We quickly discussed the right way to tell people. For a second we considered waiting til the morning call anyone, but we knew it wouldn’t be right. My dad decided to call my mom’s sister, Mary, and I decided to go home again to tell Zach. I think my dad wanted to tell him – I don’t think he wanted to make his daughter responsible for such a thing – but it was more important that someone be with Zach when he heard the news.

I put my phone down and TJ was there. There were no words, no tears. Just a single hug before I walked out the door, got in the car, and for the second time that night, drove back home.

As I entered the house, it looked just as it had an hour earlier. Rosie met me at the door, and Zach stood in the kitchen, looking confused as to why I’d be there. From the doorway, I studied his face. And as he stared back at mine, I think he knew something was different.

“Bud… Mom’s gone.” The pain of telling someone you love that his favorite person has died is second only to the pain of losing your own favorite person. And in that moment, the weight of both landed on my chest.

He leaned his head against the wall where the kitchen met the hallway, staring at the floor. As I walked toward him, his quiet tears started. We wrapped our arms around each other. I suddenly felt very small and very young. In the world, we are two young adults, but in this moment, we were children. With my head on his shoulder, I stared at our kitchen table and remembered the family dinners we’d had there and the way my dad kissed the back of her neck after every meal in appreciation. The nights I’d spent doing homework there with my mom checking my work over my shoulder. The days we spent sitting there, talking about anything and everything while drinking French Vanilla CafĂ© coffee.  The time the four of us spent a weekend at that table recreating the Lincoln Memorial for Zach’s social studies class. The African Violet one of her students gave her that sat in the center for years without blooming but never dying. The holidays we sat there with her mother, sister and sister-in-law, telling stories and drinking wine. The games of Clue and Apples to Apples on cold evenings. My mind was flooded.

Zach and I shuffled into the family room and plopped down on the couch. Rosie curled up with us, trying to lick the salty tears off our faces. Within minutes, my phone rang again – Dad, with further instructions. I called TJ, and then we waited.

What started as a scary storm turned symbolic when we learned that Mom was pronounced dead at 1:35 a.m. As the storm was whipping into a frenzy, TJ and I were being pulled out of our bed and to my childhood home to huddle on a couch with Zach. As the wind howled around us, she was singing her good-byes. In the minutes I was feeling a pull to the family room to get her rings, she was taking her final breaths. And as we sat on that couch, assuring ourselves that the storm would pass, my dad was whispering his final words to her – “I love you.”

Is it crazy to believe the storm came at that time so Zach wouldn’t be alone as she was passing – so we would all be awake in the world as she went to sleep? Am I a little nuts to think that a blowing breeze is my mom reminding me she’s around?


But the world changed that night, and so I too am changed. Things that were once written off as coincidences have more possibility, more meaning behind them now. On my darkest days, a strange occurrence can feel uncomfortable, even sinister. But on a good day… yes, on a good day, those strange happenings hold hope.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Departure Posting – House Update

One of my great “salvations” from dwelling on sad things in my life is decorating our new-to-us home. We bought the place right before Christmas. It had been empty for about a year, so there was a LOT of work to do before we could move in. Finally, at the end of January, and with the help of some great friends and family, we boxed up our life again and started living there. We’ve been nomadic for a few years – we never went more than a few miles from place to place, but managed to move quite a few times. In fact, as I’m counting now, I moved ten times in eight years. Wow.

Anyway, I really enjoy the planning process and seeing a room or space transform. I’m a fairly creative person, and though my day job requires some creativity in pieces I’m writing, working for a corporation of course comes with some constraints. (I’m sure the good people of this company have no interest in my short stories or memoirs.) Working on our home allows me to flex the small creative muscles I have. Unfortunately, this also requires us to do some flexing of the wallet… and thus, the decorating process runs slowly as we begin to save for things like children and new water heaters.

In our previous, more temporary homes, I put an emphasis on making the “public” spaces look finished, and therefore never spent much time working on our bedroom. Our bedroom “set” was a mixture of pieces from our childhood rooms and college apartments. So when we bought this house, we decided that was the first place we should invest in. It’s on the first floor of the house, and if the door is open, the room is visible from the family room, hallway and dining room, so it seemed worthy to invest in making it nice.

Here’s what we had to work with in the beginning:

This isn't our room at all; this is the photo that was on the realtor's listing of the house so the furnishings belong to the previous owner.
Also, it's hard to tell here, but the walls are a sickly green.

We were left with those window shades,
and a random mirror that was glued to the wall.

Luckily, the floors are gorgeous!
They're in mint condition throughout the entire first floor.

Our to-do list included painting, removing previous window treatments, removing the mirror glued to the wall and a shelf that was above their old bed, and a seriously thorough scrubbing. However, this isn’t, so we don’t have photos of us doing those things. We don’t look happy when we paint and we don’t look cute when we clean. But we do take after photos.

We painted the walls a soft lilac color to play off the purples in our bedding.
We also invested in some great ceiling-to-floor curtains from Crate & Barrel.
They have a beautiful side-to-side grey/khaki/ivory ombre effect.
I was hesitant to go with an entire wall of curtains but we love it!

The bed is wrinkled and it bothers me, but everything had just come back from the dry cleaners and was still creased. The bedding is from Bed Bath & Beyond and the flower prints are from Ikea.

There's not a lot to see in this photo but our dog, Lulu :)
The curtains are from Target and they're a plum/lavender dip-dye.

All the furniture in the room is from Furniture Fair, except the lingerie chest in the last photo, which is from JC Penney.
I love our dresser, even with TJ's baseball cap sitting in the basket here :)
Also, the vase on the left belonged to my mother.
I'm trying to weave a small piece of her into each room.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Golfing for Good

In this post, I referenced a time-consuming project that recently came to fruition. TJ and I hosted a golf outing on May 20th in my mom’s memory to raise money for the inpatient oncology nursing staff that cared for her during her illness. This team of nurses was – and is – incredible. The investment they made in my mom’s fight for wellness was startling, really. When my mom was in the ICU for 4 weeks, the nurses were competent, but in my honest opinion, a little cold. The oncology nurses on 14CD at Good Sam were at the other end of the spectrum. Not only were they completely competent, they were caring. They knew the names of everyone in our family. They knew me or my dad would stay the night with my mom 99% of the time and so they always made sure there was a pull-out couch or at least a recliner in her room with pillows and blankets stacked nearby. They always remembered that she preferred cherry Jell-O if they had it, and that you couldn’t pay her to eat the strawberry flavor. And they really understood when our family needed more details and when it was best to just let us cope with whatever we’d heard already.

The Terri Skeeters Memorial Golf Outing raised $6700 for Good Sam’s Inpatient Cancer Care Services. Not too shabby for our first year! All photos below are courtesy of my dear friend, Christina Gebel.

Volunteers at the registration table

Registration table

Brother, husband and scruffy cousin

My pops (on the right) and his rowdy band of golfers

Me and husband

T's Uncle Joe and his parents

Close friends of my parents, Jean & Joe, who volunteered for the day
A few of our buddies getting ready to head out on the course

Two of my friends, Brittany and Annie, volunteering at the 12th hole

Sharon & Jan, two of my  mom's friends, volunteering at our "Closest to the Snowman" hole
 TJ's brother (in all blue) and his foursome

A few of my mom's cousins out on the course

Loooots of raffle prizes... we also had a big TV and Adirondack chairs up for grabs!

My mom's mom and her husband at the dinner after the outing

Our friend Angie, winning a raffle prize and keeping an arm around her adorable son, Logan
Jim (Angie's husband/Logan's dad) and TJ announcing and passing our raffle prizes... that's my dad winning a basket of chocolate :)

Saying a final thank you to everyone who participated... ignore my duck face - I was thrilled by how successful the day was!

*If you noticed that many of us were wearing blue, that was intentional! Blue was my mom's favorite color, and it's the color for stomach cancer awareness.