I enjoy sharing my experiences and what I learn from everything humble and Divine.
What I don’t often share are my personal problems or painful issues going on in my life. I’ve always prided myself on seeing the lesson or the blessing in everyday events. No one REALLY wants to read about someone else’s pain.
But in this case I feel I must share because eventually most everyone will experience the type of pain I have felt in recent months and today I had what might be called a bit of an epiphany. So yes, I must share this story with you.
8 weeks ago, I received the kind of phone call no one ever wants to receive. It was my brother’s best friend calling me to tell me my brother was in ICU after suffering a heart attack and cerebral hemorrhage. The prognosis was grim.
I was across the country 3000 miles away. It was unlikely I would get there to see my brother or hold his hand one last time. Desperate phone calls went back and forth from airlines, to hospitals, to nurses’ stations. I was trying to handle all these difficult decisions while still at work and not completely lose it. My brother Mike was in a coma and was in multiple organ failure. I really didn’t want to fly across the country just to watch my brother die.
I had never attempted to connect with someone in a coma, much less so far away. But it was all I had and there was no time. “DON’T YOU LEAVE ME! I shouted silently. I felt the energy of that plea reverberate through all Space and Time. No sooner had the plea left my thoughts did I realize how selfish it sounded. Mike was suffering. His body was broken. He wanted permission to leave but was trying to hang on and here I was acting like his selfish little sister.
I went into a quiet area at work and began asking questions. “Why don’t you wake up? Why can’t you feel it when they do the gag reflex tests?” In my ear I heard, ” I can’t feel it. It is so comfortable here. I see Daddy.” That’s when I realized my brother was already slipping away but he was trying so hard to stay with us. I took a deep breath. “It’s OK if you want to go. I understand.”
I put my head down and just started walking. I walked no more than 10 feet when my cell phone rang. It was Mike’s friend at the hospital.
I hung up the phone and slammed the door of my office. I completely broke down and sobbed. I cried like I hadn’t cried since childhood. Maybe because once again I was a child. I became the little sister who had just lost her big brother.
I found only a little comfort in knowing he was now free from his painful and broken body, released to explore and be amazed by the wonders that await on the Other Side. I felt cheated. Everything happened so fast that my brain couldn’t really process what had happened. He was gone. Gone were the lengthy phone conversations and Christmas cards. Gone was the genius big brother that had all the answers to my most obscure questions. It just didn’t seem fair.
I spent the next few weeks in a daze. My sister and I traveled to his home and I thanked his friend Christopher for all he did. He was witness to things only family should have to endure. Chris, having medical power of attorney, had to make decisions that were extremely difficult. This loss took a heavy toll on Chris. I met many of my brother’s friends at the service. Mike’s friends were simply stunned. He had been such an intellectual mentor to so many and the wound left with his loss was visceral.
Thank God I had my husband Joseph to lean on during these difficult times. He was the doting spouse, fixing me a hot dinner and making sure my favorite TV shows were recorded, just in case I felt like watching them later.
Joseph enjoyed being the house-husband. Being retired meant that Joseph would putter around the house, watering plants and spoiling our dog, Alice. The two of them would share peanut butter on toast every morning while watching the morning news.
Joseph’s relatives all live in Chicago. Phone calls are too seldom, and visits were a rarity. So you can imagine how excited Joseph was when he heard his favorite relative, Cousin Laura, was coming out to California for the weekend. Laura’s son, Mitchell, was attending school out here and Laura was only going to be in town for a couple days. It was Memorial Day Week and I had a heavy work schedule, with only one day off and I’d already worked more than one 12 hour day. I was SO looking forward to my one day off but….
Joseph looked at me with big, sad eyes, ( OK, not really, but almost ) and told me how he hadn’t seen Laura in so long and she was only out here for the one full day and..Ok, Ok, Fine. We’ll spend the day with your Cousin Laura and Mitchell.
Cousin Laura was equally excited to see her Cousin Joseph. The two of them sat in the back seat and gossiped while Mitchell ( whom I’d never met before ) and I got to know each other. Soon Mitchell and I were the best of friends, teasing and joking about the giggling “kids” Laura and Joseph, in the back seat.
It was a great day. We went out for lunch and chatted and caught up on all the latest. We were in Long Beach, so what better place to sight see than the glorious Queen Mary?
As we pulled into the Queen Mary parking lot, we forgot it was Memorial Day Weekend. They were having a huge car show in their parking lot. Mitchell was beside himself with excitement and snapped dozens of shots of exotic race cars, spoilers, and rims.
Joseph walked with a cane and was a bit frail, so I parked him on the Promenade Deck while I took his relatives on a whirlwind tour of my favorite haunted ship. In my best tour guide voice, I showed them some of the most interesting spots on the ship and gave them quick history lessons of the Queen Mary’s storied past.
After a couple of hours, we fetched up a very relaxed Joseph and headed back to their hotel.
Laura and Joseph swapped more stories over a beer. It was getting late, so we said our farewells and promised to come to Chicago to see a Cubs game soon.
Joseph had a slight smile as I drove home.
I had to be at work early so I retired and left Joseph with some strawberry ice cream.
When my alarm went off at 1:15 AM, I noticed the TV was still on and Joseph had not come to bed. Sure enough, he had fallen asleep on the couch. The TV remote was still in his hands. Tisking, I took the remote from his hand and clicked off the television.
I looked at my husband. I looked closer. I blinked. I looked even closer.
Joseph wasn’t breathing.
Half afraid, half jokingly, sure he would snort and startle awake, I poked him in his shoulder.
Joseph was cold.
He was gone.
I gasped. I grabbed his hand and squeezed it. “Honey, Honey?”
My husband was dead.
In my moment of panic and despair, I ran downstairs to my neighbor’s door. “Joseph’s gone. I don’t know what to do!” Of course they threw on bathrobes and started to come inside. I stopped them. “No, I don’t want you to see this!” They sweetly ignored me and came inside. Barbara lightly touched his cheek and checked for pulse. “Oh, so peaceful. He just went to sleep.”
The rest of the night was a teary blur. I called the hospital who sent out Police and paramedics. The monitors showed almost no brain activity. The brain slows to a stop gently after the heart has stopped beating. I timidly asked what kind of time frame we were looking at. “He’s been gone about two hours.” I guess I must have looked pretty fragile and lost. I’m sure it’s not protocol but one of the police officers asked, “Do you need a hug?” I did need a hug.
Calls were made to the mortuary and they were on their way. I sent everyone away so I could sit with my husband one last time and hold his hand. I gently petted the soft hair on his head while I waited. It was the only part of him not yet cold and so lifeless.
I stood numbly while I watched the mortuary attendants discretely do their tasks.
I stood numbly while I watched my beloved husband of 27 years become a body, wrapped in white, and carefully carried away.
Later as I got my wits about me I apologized to my neighbors. By asking them to help me, they were witness to something I would not wish upon my enemy. Barbara touched my shoulder. “Kitty, I felt honored, HONORED, to see my dear friend looking so peaceful in what had been his final moments. I was touched.”
I cannot imagine anything sweeter or more precious than those kind words.
Alone in the house, I later heard a clear voice tell me, “He thinks he’s still dreaming.”
Even in my unbelievable grief I knew how beautiful that was. What a perfect transition from this earth.
So here I was, having lost two loved ones only eight weeks apart. I fumbled through the house and all the things we had collected over our lives together. People say changing the environment will help with healing. So I bought a couple new pieces of furniture.
I didn’t feel any better.
I felt I needed to start culling out some things in the house before I started clutching every little scrap of paper he’d scrawled on and every old, tired shirt he hadn’t worn in decades. I’d watched too many episodes of Hoarders to want to fall into that trap of grief and despair.
I packed up bags and bags of clothes for Goodwill and pots and pans and dishes. And then I noticed something. In our many travels to flea markets and yard sales, we seemed to have accumulated quite a collection of vintage dishes. Antique Chinese rice bowls and hand painted plates. And they were all in pairs. It had always been just the two of us. Now I was faced with all these pairs of dishes on which we’d shared so many meals. Now what do I do? Do I save one for myself or sell them both at a yard sale? It was enough to have a serious emotional meltdown. All these memories were now just becoming things being packed into boxes. Do I save his favorite cookbooks and his specialty salts? I was afraid if I didn’t have the visual reminder I would start forgetting the memories.
Slowly I was able to sort out some things and decide what was most sentimental. What is sentiment regarding an object? It’s a visual reminder of a sweet moment in time. I put the Hawaiian shirt he’d worn when we visited with Cousin Laura in a plastic ZipLock bag because I could still smell his cologne on it. I placed his paint brushes from college art projects in a vase near his urn. My God, I even still had his wedding boutonniere from 27 years ago! These were the important things because they told a story.
I culled out a lot of stuff. I don’t know, call it retail therapy, but I passed my idle time scrolling through vintage items for sale online. Local stuff. i picked up a nice vintage bookcase this way. Older furniture is always built better, It was built to last.
I happened to come across an especially nice antique buffet for sale. It was just what I needed to give the space a new, fresh look. I contacted the young lady selling the buffet and drove to her house. It only took me minutes to start explaining why I was interested in buying furniture and soon I stood there crying in front of a stranger. She hugged me and told me everything was going to get better. We ended up talking for a couple hours. We exchanged numbers and I sent her a photo of the buffet in it’s new home.
Somehow it felt alright to feel vulnerable in front of someone I’d never met. They became a friend.
Today I just returned from another small buying trip. This young lady was advertising an antique mirror for sale. Normally i don’t gravitate towards mirrors but this one had a cool, gothic look to it. i drove 20 miles after work to take a look.
The neighborhood was poor and a little run down. I pulled onto her street and found a place to park, not sure if I really needed a mirror after all. It was an apartment building and I didn’t have her unit number. I texted her and she greeted me outside.
“Ooh, I like your shirt!” Yes, I had on my best Roswell, NM alien shirt. It was a one bedroom apartment with a bed in the living room. Her young son played on the bed while Grandma smiled and waved at me. She took me into the one bedroom and brought out the mirror. She explained how she was recently married and several family members along with her new husband were all living here in the cramped apartment saving money until they moved into their own place. I listened as I gave the vintage mirror the once over. It did have some age but it had a sizable chip she hadn’t mentioned and it didn’t show in the photos. We talked and I envied her youthful excitement about her new life ahead. She was studying in cosmetology school and was selling off most of her things to save for their new married life.
“My mother bought this mirror because I love old things. I love the history and the stories they hold. I love it but I need to use this fancy lighted one for school, so I’m selling this one.”
I shared my recent events and told her I was on the other end of the married spectrum. Here I was, tearing up and getting hugs from a stranger, a stranger who reached out and comforted me. We connected over the love of antiques and the stories they carry.
Well, of course not only did I buy the mirror with the chip in it that I drove 20 miles for, I paid her more than she was asking and wished her as many happy married years as I had.
Driving home with the chipped mirror on the car seat I thought about my visits. These were people with whom I never would have crossed paths except for our common love of old things and the stories they carry with them.
A loving mother had bought this mirror for her daughter. Before that, who knows? A wedding gift from long ago? And so it begins a new chapter with me.
The house is looking better. A lot of old stuff gone, sentimental items in places of importance, and fresh vintage items to share their journey with me.
Cherish your loved ones. Make memories and hold onto what is important.
And with a kiss of sentiment, blow the rest away to continue THEIR journey………….