My stepdad died unexpectedly on Good Friday. He's been in my life as long as I can remember. He and my mom *just* came to visit us three weeks before it happened. Shockingly enough, in February, when we were planning things, I actually tried to talk them out of visiting in early March. It wasn't convenient because they got here about 48 hours after we got back from a 5 day mini-vacation to San Francisco, and I thought I wouldn't have sufficient time to clean the house to my mom's standards. Instead, I really wanted them to come visit over the weekend of April 21, when my husband and I were hosting our annual "rehearsal dinner anniversary" party, where we invite everyone for dinner who had come to Italy for our wedding. But no, they had plans that weekend already, so early March it was. And we had an awesome visit. Lots of great restaurants, fun experiences, and just time together. Everything was fine when they left.
My mom called on Friday night to tell me what had happened and I almost didn't answer since I was getting dressed for dinner. My husband and I were on vacation in Charleston when it happened. Apparently, he had taken the dog for a walk to get the mail (maybe half a mile round trip), came in the house, took the dog off the leash, set down the mail, and then fell over. After my mom told us, there was the initial shock, confusion, and attempts to make decisions. My husband and I decided I would fly straight home (well, to the nearest "big" city (Wausau), which is a couple hours away from where they live) and my husband would go back to Dallas to work a few days and pack for me so I didn't have to wear a hot pink one-shouldered dress to the funeral (which was the only dress I had with me in Charleston) (one of the many things I fixated on in the immediate planning stages; I knew it was cold in Northern Wisconsin and all I had were warm weather vacation clothes and nothing even borderline appropriate for a funeral). Plenty cold up there -- bear in mind, this is early April!
I made it home and all my brothers were already there. And no spouses were there. It was odd. From Sunday morning until Wednesday night, it was just like the olden days -- me, my brothers and my mom, plus the one notable absence. We spent days getting things organized. Finances, funeral plans, all the other "to do" things. I had the joy of being on hold for nearly an hour for some thing we needed to return or cancel.
One of my favorite parts in those early few days was working on the photo boards for the funeral. Mom put me mostly in charge since I like puzzles so much and we had a huge stack of photos that we wanted to use and only three large boards to display. It was a challenge to get them all arranged, but in the end, they were really cool to see.
One of my favorite old pictures of us -- we were at my babysitter's wedding.
My mom actually gave me that photo and I now have it framed at home. Right now it mostly makes me get teary and increasingly sad but I trust that it will make me happy again one day.
By Wednesday night, spouses started arriving, the funeral was Thursday and by Saturday night, all my brothers and their wives (and the kids who had come) were gone. The weather was terrible that weekend -- I witnessed a horrible but injury-free single car accident on my way back home from taking my husband to the airport.
Fortunately, I was able to stay home for another week to keep my mom company. She's actually never lived alone for a day in her life -- 69 years. It was good to have the extra week with her. There was still a lot to do in terms of sorting things out.
I'm still in shock. One of the things I'm still processing is that there were so many things unfinished. Usually, people are sick for a while before they go, so it's more expected and there's often time to get things into order. But he was just in the middle of everyday life.
His unfinished book. He actually was reading this while they visited us in Dallas -- he was about 1/3 of the way through it when they left to go back to the great white north. And in the two and a half weeks between when he left Dallas and when he died, it looks like he was almost done with the book. We usually read a lot of the same books (what I'm reading now is one he gave me in August) and he was suggesting I might want to read this one when he was done. But the rule has always been he'd read them first, give them to me if they were good, then I'd read them and we'd get to talk about them.
But he won't be done with it, and even if I read it, we won't get to discuss.
His unfinished vitamins. I think I posted before (at Christmas a couple years ago maybe?) about how many vitamins/supplements my folks take? They used these big pill cases to keep track of which ones they took at which times of the day. In June of last summer though, my stepdad had a heart attack and started taking some prescription meds also. But he got up on Friday, and went about his usual business. He took his morning vitamins, and his noon vitamins.
He never had a chance to the "evening" or "bed" pills that day.
His unfinished laundry. My mom and I ended up washing everything that was in the hamper, and then we had my brothers go through clothes and see what they wanted. I ended up taking a bunch of ties for my husband since he wears them to work every day and NONE of my brothers do! I thought that was kind of weird, but I guess a lot of offices are more casual. My husband doesn't have to wear a tie to work but he thinks it's more professional so he does pretty much every day. Now he has a new selection.
What my husband found funny was that one of the ties was a dupe of one my husband already owned -- turns out it was the tie from my baby brother's wedding.
Their unfinished plans, both immediate and long term. The weekend of April 21, they had plans to go to my aunt's parents' 60th wedding anniversary party (which is why they couldn't come to Dallas that weekend like I wanted). And when they were visiting us in Dallas, we pitched the idea of going to the UK together next year. It was a trip on their bucket list, and we thought it would be a good time. We figured we could do a week or so in the UK together at the beginning of the trip, then my husband and I could go on our own to wherever (the plan at present is/was Romania and Bulgaria for a week or so, then a final week or so in Italy with my husband's family). My husband was so excited about the idea of taking this trip together that he pitched it to them without me (of course I'd asked him if he was game for it and we'd agreed it would be great if we could talk my folks into it).
But during those two weeks I was home, aside from the expected grief and turmoil, I was plugging along. I had to work the week after the funeral (I got my boss to cover my Philly trip the week of the funeral, and my coworker to cover the week after, so I didn't have to travel and could work from my mom's, but it still had to be done). And there was a lot of helping my mom with various things. We had to return the photo boards. We had to buy stamps for thank you cards. We had to grocery shop. We had to pick up the ashes. We had to cancel his dentist's appointment.
But when I got back to Dallas, it really hit me. I started sobbing on the airplane when I landed -- the airport was the last place I saw him less than three weeks before he died. I was coming back to Dallas and suddenly it seemed more real. He's no longer just a phone call away.
And when I got to our house, it was all this stuff all over again. It's like things were lining up and in my face to make me deal with it.
One of the first days I got back to Dallas, I had to do laundry (since I had to do the following week's Philly trip and I was almost totally out of underwear). I was getting ready to do laundry, opened the doors to the laundry room, and sitting on top of the washer were the towels they had used when they visited. I'd done laundry in the 2.5 weeks between when they left and we went to South Carolina, but they were pretty full loads, and I'd left the towels to wait for a low-laundry-volume week.
I had to open an anniversary gift he had transported. I'd be kidding myself to think he picked it out, or that he even knew what it was (it turns out, my mom told me, he did know what it was; she'd picked it out and shown it to him when they got it, then she wrapped it and had him pack it to bring it with them to Dallas instead of shipping it here). It was kind of like the wind got knocked out of me when I opened the anniversary card and saw it was from both of them.
I'm reluctant to finish the book he gave me. It's sitting on our coffee table and hasn't moved in over a week now. I had taken it to South Carolina with me -- it's a beast of a book (India's War: World War II and the Making of Modern South Asia), about 600 pages, hardcover. But it's a good read and so I've been lugging it along with me since I started reading it. He'd noticed where I was in the book at the beginning of March when they visited, and we joked that it was going to be summer before I finished it and we got to discuss. But now, it's like, how can I even finish it?
Just in the last few days, I got my credit card bill. On that one statement, I have a charge for dinner from three weeks to the day before he died (plus museums and other stuff we did while they were visiting). There was a $2 charge for popcorn we ate on the train to Grapevine less than three weeks before he died. And on that same statement, I had a charge to change my plane ticket to go to Wausau from South Carolina, instead of going back to Dallas as planned. And a charge for the floral arrangement from me and my brothers for the funeral. How can that all be on one bill?
So I guess I'm dealing with it because I have to. I've felt like I'm having a heart attack for the better part of two weeks straight. It's like there's a huge weight on my chest and I can't take a deep breath. But I've gone running without issue so I'm kind of assuming it's not a heart attack (oh yeah, the day before he died, I signed up for a marathon next weekend, thinking I'd have 5 weeks to train, not expecting to lose a couple weeks to snow and sadness). My baby brother described pretty much the exact same symptoms and said he thinks he's having anxiety attacks. When I told him I was having the same thing and thought it was the longest, slowest heart attack ever, he said he'd actually made a doctor's appointment just to get things checked out. I've also had the hiccups a lot lately. It's like I can't catch my breath and sometimes almost start hyperventilating, especially in the office when I'm trying so hard to hold my $hit together. I also just kind of feel like a shell of myself. Like I'm a faker. It's not really me, and I don't know where the real me is. I'm going through the motions but I can't seem to really engage. It's so strange. And I've barely slept at all. A couple hours most nights, usually on the couch. I've been so restless and my husband has one of his worst cases ever going at work right now, so I'm trying not to disturb him too much. When I have slept, I've had the strangest dreams. Sunday night, I dreamt that they came to visit in Dallas, but he'd already died, but they were allowed to come since the trip had already been planned. And in the dream, we did a lot of the same stuff we did on the real trip, but in the dream, I didn't want to get too close to him since I knew he was going to be gone again. Then two nights later, I had a vivid dream that I was at work and I wrote down March 7 on my timesheet -- the day before they were coming to visit. And in the dream, it was March 7 and I was making plans for them to be here. It was so real that I woke up and of course woke my husband up to ask him. It seemed so real that I was sure the last few weeks had just been a bad dream. He ended up showing me his phone to prove it was April 25 or whatever, and I started crying all over again.
The last photo I took of him -- this is in downtown Grapevine. We were walking from the train depot to dinner at Esparza's. The train ride we took that afternoon was something we said that we would laugh about years later -- it was a miserable experience, my mom and my husband both voted to abort the mission, but my stepdad and I wanted to stick it out and we prevailed. And we all said that eventually we'd laugh about it.
So this is it. We're now over 4 weeks since it happened. Which is 2/26 of a year. I remember thinking a couple weeks ago, that I was at mile 1 of 26. But now, it's like mile 2 of the marathon. But I recently realized this is not a good metaphor for me because there's no finish line. If I get to 52 weeks, he won't be back. I'll just have to keep going. Another year without him. And another, and another. Yow. Did I mention I'm struggling?
It's weird for me to realize how many other people have gone through this. It feels so unbearable, that I'm struggling to understand how a vast majority of people over the age of 30 have gone through this and they've all survived. My husband is convinced that this unfolded in the best way possible, my stepdad was never sick, never suffering. But I wish I'd had a chance to say all those things I never said. To tell him what he meant to me and what a huge impact he's had on my life. I can't help it, I'm a lawyer, and lawyers like words. I want to go back in time and have a chance to use all my words.
Compounding all of it is worry about my mom. Where they live is so remote. Quarter mile to the mailbox, 25 minute drive (without snow) to the city (the city of 1400 people, more like a town). And a 4.5 hour drive to get to her nearest offspring (my brother in Milwaukee). None of us think she's cut out to live up there alone. Life up there is hard. Lots of shoveling. Loading up the truck to go to the dump since there's no trash service. Making sure you don't run out of propane. Chopping wood and building fires.
My brothers and I all think the best plan would be for her to move to a city where one of us live, or even moving in with one of us. Or we're all open to some kind of mom-share program, where she's with one of us for a month, then home for a couple weeks, then repeat the cycle with another kid. I don't know if I should credit my sweet husband, or my sweet mom, but my husband said he would love to have her move in with us, whether permanently or just for the winters. And my brothers are all telling her they'd love to have her around, especially since they all have young kids who would benefit from grandma time. But my mom is reluctant. First, she doesn't want to make any big decisions for the first year. Which I understand. But we really don't think she can survive a winter up there alone, and even though time is dragging so slowly now, I'm sure the summer and fall will fly by. Second, it's a small community up there, and I know she's seen other women become widows, and many of them leave. It's very hard I think to live up there alone. But she has it in her head that she wants to be a survivor, like the two women she knows who do live up there alone. But why???? Wouldn't it be better to be near family? I'm terrified of something happening to her. Even just a simple fall down the stairs, if she couldn't move to get to a phone, she'd be stuck there for days.
I know this will all get easier with time. If I'm not allowed to rewind and erase the last four weeks, then I'd like to fast-forward and get to the stage where I don't feel so overwhelmingly sad for most hours of the day. Sigh. Sorry to put all this out there. It was indeed helpful to write it though. Hug your folks! Tell them you love them! And write down all your passwords and accounts somewhere for your spouse or for whoever has to deal with things when you're gone (for me, writing it down for my husband, but mostly for my brother, since I've made my husband promise we'll die together).