She Survives

Today would have been my Grammie’s birthday. I kissed her gravestone twice today as I passed it on my run. I live on the land she raised her children on and there was no doubt I was closer to her than any other grandparent. I think of her often, especially when I sit on my porch and look down my yard to the apple trees. This was the same view she had when she sat on her deck–which she didn’t do that often. She was always busy (Mom was so much like her!) although in her later years she took more time out to sit and chat and read and crochet.

My sister and I talk about the “Thibeau Women” sometimes. Grammie’s first marriage was to my grandfather, my mom’s father, and he was a Thibeau. Although really we should talk about the “Bonney Women”, that was Gram’s maiden name. Her mother was an incredibly hard worker like all of her descendants. But they were all more than that. They were survivors.

Myrtle, my Grammie, buried two sons and two husbands. One of her sons died as a baby and another as a toddler. She did raise 4 daughters and one son, most of whom were strong individuals. As I look at them with my eyes now, I see the trauma they all suffered and dealt with in their own ways. My grandfather was an alcoholic and all the stories I’ve heard tell me he was not an easy person to live with, whether you were his child or his wife. He had a heart attack and died on this land I’m living on a short time before I was born.

After that Grammie worked in a local mental institution as a cleaning person. She eventually met her second husband through work. Bruce seemed to be pretty good to my Gram, although his incessant fat comments to me as a 7-year-old contributed to my low self-esteem and self-image that still reigns today. But he was not an alcoholic and he took Grammie traveling around the country which gave her much joy. That’s the one thing I’m grateful to Bruce for. Shortly after I got married, he also had a heart attack and died on this land. (My husband mentions these two deaths often lately. I can see why!)

Grammie has been gone for 18 years now. She died one month before her 85th birthday. Throughout my struggles these past few years, I often wish I could ask her how she did it. How did she get through it all? So, so many women and men dealt with these tragedies and war and food insecurity and they survived. Or many did. I wonder what Grammie thought about when she went to bed at night. I wonder if one reason she was always busy so she didn’t have to think of all she’d lost. Especially her children. I know that her many grandchildren made her happy and her living children did, too, but my god, so much happened to her. And you know, Grammie was very small–under 5 feet tall–but her inner strength seemed immeasurable. All of her children had a healthy dose of fear when it came to her anger, because Gram RARELY got angry. When she did? You better not be at the other end of her wrath because not only did you anger her, but you disappointed her. And that was something no one wanted. We loved and respected her too much to ever want her to feel that way about us.

Grammie, I know you didn’t drink, but I’m toasting you tonight with a margarita. I love you. So damn much. If there is some kind of afterlife, I know you’re there with your children and grandchildren. Hug Phil tight, ok? I can imagine you’ve never left his side. And tell Mom and Dad I love them. And miss them. I miss all of you.

Yes, Grammie is in a wagon.

Cheers to you, Grammie, the Matriarch of the Bad-Ass Bonney, Thibeau and Williams Clans. ❤

Winds of Change

Remember that hug I was craving from my dad? Saturday morning, I had a dream that Dad was here and hugged me. Just like I remembered and longed for. I awoke lighter and in a much better mood than I had been in all week. I just felt…comforted. Throughout the rest of the long weekend, I tried to finish up projects at home or do a bit of cleaning that I had put off. It felt like something was changing and I felt more focused.

What I didn’t realize was that Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, was about to begin. (I may not be Jewish, but I love the thought and feeling of a new year.) It’s also a new school year, which to me feels like a fresh start, even if I’m not the one going to school. And 12 weeks to the day from his heart attack, my husband went back to work today. As soon as I got home, I ran to his office to ask how the day went. “I thought I was going to die,” he said. I reminded him that was an extremely poor choice of words since he nearly did die the last time he went to work! But, all in all, it wasn’t a horrible day for him. Exhausting, yes, but not horrendous.

Our son started high school last week, too–a huge change for us all, but also a cleanish slate for him. Some of his friendships have become more intense recently and he’s just beginning to make new friends, too. He wants to join clubs and actually do things outside of the home and a screen! He’s maturing, yet like most teens, is emitting hormones and emotional outbursts. It’s wonderful and scary and it all makes me hug him a little tighter each day, trying to hold onto every single moment that he’s here.

It seems, though, that everything around me is changing. I see some of my friendships and relationships changing, and I see that in others’ relationships, too. People in my community have left their jobs for other places, better for them but worse for us. People in the town where I work are having to leave because the healthcare services they need are no longer in that community. Yet new residents are moving in to both towns where I live and work and they’re happy to be there. Here in Maine, most people are masking again, regardless of vaccination status. More and more people are getting the vaccine and more people are dying once again–the majority being unvaccinated.

Yet…we all just keep trying to live our lives, day by day. Change is hard. No matter if the changes you’re facing are “good” or “bad”, change is a stressor. Major life-event stressors include marriage, moving, having a child–all good things, yet other life-event stressors are divorce, death of a loved one and job loss. Big changes are difficult, and no one ever put a pandemic on the list. I think it’s caused such a range of stress and emotion in each person, and continues to do so.

Maybe for some people it means they’re just done with certain humans on the planet. They can no longer hear what they have to say, nor do they care. And honestly, I think that’s ok if they’re not outright hurting those humans. It is their choice to be around people whose ideas are like their own, who stand for what they stand for.

But…I don’t think I can do that. If you know me and my husband, you know that I can’t do that. I live with and love a person with polar opposite views than mine on so, so many issues. And to be honest, if we had met when I was 30 instead of 22, we probably would never have married. I was open to new thoughts and opinions in my 20s, but now?

Yes, it’s difficult.

But the value of a human being is not just from their political or religious affiliation. We are made up of so much more than our views on an issue or a hot button topic. We are made up of acts of love and kindness–paying for that coffee for the person in line behind you or stopping to lend a hand to a child that fell of her bike. We’re made of shared moments like holding someone’s hand in a hospital waiting room or listening to stories of your mother from her friends and family after she’s left this earth or even that second when you catch someone’s eye and smile and you both know that you’re ok, at least for the moment.

I know I can’t convince you all (or any) to reach out and talk to someone tomorrow whose opinions you don’t agree with or understand. It’s ok. You don’t have to. But I do ask that you try and understand those of us that love others with differing points of view.

Or…don’t. I’d like to change your mind. I’d like you to think that there are more people out there with commonalities than differences. More good than not. But I don’t know what the right words are.

Do you?

Missing You

It’s been a long week. It’s been busy at work, although I’m not complaining about that. It’s been a week of making more community connections which is what I think our library should do. That part of my week has been tiring but in the best way.

The rest of my interactions throughout the week, though, have been emotionally exhausting. I’ve questioned some of my friends’ judgment calls, and then my own. I’ve wondered if the choices I’ve made have really been the best for me. I sat on my porch tonight, just contemplating my life, my little family’s lives, our future. It got me missing the rest of my family more than usual.

If Dad was here, sitting with me on my porch or out on his deck, he’d tell me to do the right thing. Whatever that was. He always encouraged me to do better, or specifically, to do or be better than him. He made many, many mistakes in his lifetime (like every human being on the planet) and lots of bad choices and had many regrets. But he made amends for all of them. Or I think he did. On his deathbed, he worried about all of the mistakes he made and I hope I convinced him otherwise. I tried to. I just don’t know if he heard me.

When Mom was alive, she backed me up on whatever I chose to do. I asked for her advice, and she always threw it back on me and made me think things through and say why I wanted to do things a certain way. And whatever way I chose, she’d say “good choice!” She was my biggest cheerleader. I really, really miss her today.

And if my big brother was here? More than likely he’d just say to do whatever made me happy. Do good if you can (WWSD–What Would Superman Do, or in my case, WWWWD–What Would Wonder Woman Do), but mostly do good for yourself. Life in this world can be so damn horrendous, so be happy whenever you possibly can.

Right now, right at the instant that I’m typing this, I’d give nearly anything to have a hug from my father again. He was the biggest teddy bear that ever lived. His hugs would envelop me and particularly when I was sad, he made me feel so much better. Almost every time he hugged me, he’d make this little “mmmm” sound and say how much he missed me. Then we’d both marvel at the fact that we lived 11 miles from one another but only saw each other once a month or less.

It’s funny how much I still miss both of my parents when I’m feeling a bit lost. I wonder if I’ll ever stop feeling like I need their guidance. Even with Mom having dementia those last 5 years of her life, I still asked for her advice and needed her comfort. And now…

Now I’ll go read a book and go to bed. I know that tomorrow is another day and I’ll probably feel better. The rest of my family is coming over to celebrate my niece’s birthday and to wish all the kids good luck on their first day back at school next week. I can still take comfort in having all of them and my own little family. And they will seek me out to comfort them when they’re feeling down or lost.

And, I suppose, lives go on.

Be Prepared

I was only a Girl Scout for a short period of time. Actually, I don’t think I even made it to Girl Scout but was just a Brownie. When I discovered my leader was drinking at the meetings, I told a teacher at my school and voila! No more meetings!

Since I didn’t have a lot of training being prepared for anything, I’m not the best at it, but I do try. I always have a first aid kit in my car (even though the only thing I can do with it is put a band aid on someone), typically a spare tire, and always my AAA card. After my child was born, the diaper bag was filled with almost too many things and I could never find what I needed when I needed it. My current purse, though, has a lovely little bag in it with nearly everything I think I need–ibuprofren, chapstick, pads, band-aids, lotion, hand sanitizer, even a tiny stick of deodorant. I always have my phone, a smidge of cash, hopefully a debit or credit card, and again, always my AAA card. So I think I’ve gotten a little better over the years in trying to be prepared.

Back in 2004, after my husband and I bought our home, my mother said to me, “You need to learn how everything works in the house. If anything happens to your Wally, you don’t want to be left not knowing.” I know she said this to me because that’s what happened to her. When my stepfather died in 2002, there were a few things in her house she didn’t quite know how to maintain or fix, and a snow blower she couldn’t move. I agreed with Mom and told her I would learn it all. Fast forward 17 years, and here’s Holly, not knowing much of anything.

Since my husband has been on death’s door twice in 18 months, and will undergo a heart procedure next week, I decided that I couldn’t wait any longer. (FYI: He’ll go into the Cath Lab where they’ll investigate his blocked arteries and either put more stents in or schedule bypass surgery.) I told Wal I wasn’t trying to be morbid, but I needed to be prepared. He’s been reluctant to show me some things over the years, but mostly I have been the one who has been resistant because I just didn’t care to know. Our household chores have been divided in mostly traditional male/female roles–I do much of the housework, he does much of the outside work and fixes anything that needs to be fixed, and we both share cooking. But so often I’ve felt very overworked and always seem to spend my weekends doing housework yet my husband spends about 2 hours doing stuff and he’s done. WTF?!? So I didn’t care to know shit because why should I when I did most everything anyway?

But for the past 6 weeks, my husband hasn’t been able to do much of anything, so everything IS up to me. Thankfully our son has mown the lawn all summer, but he doesn’t know how to use the trimmer or the push mower and I couldn’t friggin’ start either one last weekend. So yesterday, I asked my husband for help. We got things going, I know what I did wrong on the mower and can easily fix that, but the damn trimmer is a pain in the ass. Either I’m not coordinated or strong enough to start it. Thankfully the old man started it for me and I was able to trim the yard. (Next time the kid will have to start it, or we’ll be buying a trimmer where I don’t need to pull a cord to start it.)

Today, though, I dug out a notebook and wrote down everything I wasn’t sure how to start or fix or maintain that’s in or around the house. I wrote down the things I did know and confirmed them with Wal. I actually had the boy show me how to start the riding lawn mower. I had refused to learn after my husband spent nearly $9,000 to buy the damn thing, but I guess I still need to know how to run it, eh? With everything else, I had Wal take me around and explain how certain pieces of equipment work or how to fix them or who to call if I can’t do anything. I double-checked with him on the location of our septic tank and leach field, just to make certain that what I thought I knew I really knew, you know? I wrote everything down with step by step instructions for some and general notes on others. I felt a little relief once I had finished…or at least not quite so panicked. There are still a few tools that I honestly don’t know how to use and want to, like the power drill.

I know, I know! My friend, Aymie, is this kick-ass woman who knows her power tools (and uses them!) and has been building a bunkhouse in the woods this summer. She can do all of that shit and I have no idea how to use the electric screwdriver. (I wish I was kidding about that last part. But I’m not.)

Tonight, as we’re searching the house trying to find my husband’s living will (to no avail), my anxiety is starting to grow. I haven’t been hugely concerned about Wal’s procedure, but maybe I was more worried than I thought. I have another living will form that Wal can fill out and have notarized this week, but it’s not something either one of us really want to do right now. If you haven’t done one yet, it can be an emotionally exhausting task, especially when you’re sick and someone may need to put it into action. What you write down really matters. Knowing what you want and having others know it, too, is crucial. (We learned this last year.)

Here’s hoping the hospital still has a copy of Wal’s living will that I gave them last year or that my husband will find his copy somewhere in the disaster he calls his office. 😉 Otherwise we have an interesting evening coming up, where he’ll sigh a lot and I’ll drink a glass of wine. One way or another, we’re going to be prepared.

Wish us luck, friends.

Rain On Me

I miss running. I haven’t done much of it lately due to stress (do I wake up at 4am to run so I can take my husband to his appointment then go to work?) or because my body and mind are incredibly sluggish from said stress and lack of sleep. Yet I become more tired the less I run and feel bad about myself so I eat a bit more and gain weight and feel bad and so on and so on and so on. Have you been on this ride before, too? Yeah. Not my favorite.

But this past week I was determined not to feel bad about myself. I was already missing my brother and I didn’t need to feel worse by treating myself like shit. So I did run on Tuesday then snuck a few walks in the next few days. My son and I went on a fantastic hike on Friday that began with his non-stop complaining and ended with his non-stop praise of the scenery. 🙂 We never saw another soul and loved the isolation. This was followed by amazing gelato at the Pugnuts Ice Cream Shop in Surry with my sister and brother-in-law.

The next day I went on a hike by myself and saw funky mushrooms and another little stream, all while listening to the birds and stopping every once in a while to just look up at the canopy of trees with the sky peeking through. It was cathartic and peaceful and I enjoyed nearly every minute of it, until I met someone at the end who had two dogs, one that barked and growled at me. But even that creature couldn’t ruin my tranquility.

When I woke up this morning to grey skies, I knew if I wanted to run I needed to do it soon. I drank coffee, folded clothes, watched a bit of CBS Sunday Morning (my absolute favorite news show for the positive stories that are portrayed), then decided I could do a little run. I ate a banana, put on my “hanging out at home” clothes instead of my usual running tank and wicking shorts, and went out with the attitude that I was going to have a good time.

Just two minutes in and “Little Bird” by Annie Lennox started to play in my ears. I smiled broadly and looked to the sky. “Thanks, Phil!” I shouted. My brother’s love of Annie Lennox was infectious and this song in particular was always one of our favorites. “I look up to the little bird that glides across the sky. He sings the clearest melody. It makes me want to cry….I wish I could be that bird and fly away from here. I wish I had the wings to fly away from here.”

I can’t fly but I pushed my shoulders back, picked up my head and ran a bit stronger and faster. Even when the rain did start coming down just past mile one, I kept chugging along, looking to the skies.

At mile three I had started to lag a bit, but yelled and waved hello at a few of my neighbors that never acknowledge my existence. (They did today!) A half mile later with the rain coming down in a nice, gentle pitter patter, “Rain on Me” by Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande hummed through my earbuds and right down to my toes. That’s when I saw a lone bird flying through the sky, possibly trying to catch up to its buddies, or just out for a solo jaunt like me.

For once, little bird, I don’t want to fly away from here. Not sure how long I can hold onto that feeling, but I’ll take it today. ❤

That Time of Year

Tomorrow it will be 1,461 days since you had to leave, Phil. I know you didn’t want to. That’s why you told the doctors all that week to keep you alive, because maybe they could make you well enough to have a procedure that might give you a few more years. But there were too many “maybes” and “mights” and “perhaps”, weren’t there? Watching you make the decision to die is still the bravest things I’ve ever seen anyone do. If you were here you’d roll your eyes at me for that and scoff, “Brave? Ha! I don’t think so.” You were often humble but with attitude.

Phil…I’m sorry. I don’t think I said everything you should have heard. You knew how much I loved and love you, right? You knew how cool and funny and wonderful I thought you were, because that was never a secret. Did you know how happy you made me every time you walked into my house or the library? I hope so. I really, really hope so. But I don’t think you had any idea how much of a big empty crater you would leave in my life and every one of our family member’s lives.

I still don’t know who I am without you. I’m not the same person I was 4 years ago, but I don’t even remember who she was. I just….I still feel so lost some days, Phil. You know, the other day, Wally was reminiscing about something and it reminded me of Dad’s house and how he had his bedroom downstairs set up. But I couldn’t quite remember it all, and I’m going to ask our sister but I don’t think she was around much then. You and Dad are the only ones who might remember. I got so fucking sad and started bawling on the spot. So many questions will go unanswered because you’re not here to answer them. NO ONE is left to answer them. What the hell am I supposed to do with that?!?

I wish you were here. Jesus fucking christ all to hell I wish you were here. I still miss you every. single. day. I still wonder what you would think about a variety of books and songs and movies and television shows and food and drinks. I’ve been making a variety of these literary cocktails lately and my friend, Tiffany said she thought you’d like the whole idea of them. I think she’s right. “The Joy of Sex on the Beach”* would probably be a fave of yours just for the picture in the book. I mean, look at that! I can just hear your comments about the tongue, the phallic “cocktail” glass…yup. You’d love this one. 😉

*From the book, “Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist’ by Tim Federle. Published in 2013 by Running Press Adult.

Tomorrow night, your sisters will toast you with a drink or two. Your nephew and I will go for a hike in a new place, will experience a new adventure in honor of you, like we have done each year since you’ve been gone. More than likely we will all have a good time at some point during the day, but we would trade those moments in a blink of an eye to be with you again and listen to you tell a naughty joke or hear you laugh once more.

I love you, big brother. So. Damn. Much. And if you didn’t get the subtle message before, I’ll spell it out for you. I. MISS. YOU. EVERY. DAMN. DAY.

Hugs and sloppy kisses. ❤

Boundaries

The scene at my house this evening, minutes after arriving home from work:

Husband: Hey, hon, do you still have some reusable grocery bags I can leave in my car?

Me: Oh! Yeah, I have some right here. I’ll go put them in your car right now so I don’t forget.

Husband: No, no, you don’t have to do that.

Me: It’s no problem. I have to put these cds in my car anyway. I’ll be right back.

I trot out to our driveway, put things in my car, open his car door to place the bags in his passenger seat. Then I find this on the floor:

I flipped the package over to look at the date. Was this left over from before his heart attack when he was eating loads of junk? “July 9, 2021.” Last Friday.

I slowly walk back into the house with this fried chicken bag pinched between my fingers. My breath is getting heavier with every step. Cue the cartoon steam exhaling from my ears. I walk through the door and put the bag in front of my husband’s face. With a clipped tone I ask, “What the hell. Is. This?”

Husband looks slightly shamefaced but not nearly enough. He’s smiling a little, but that nervous smile he gets when he knows he’s fucked up and got caught. I may have been afraid to yell at him a week ago, worried he’d have another heart attack. I certainly wasn’t scared today. I lit into him. When our son asked what Papa did, I showed him the bag with the fork still in it so he could eat in his car without anyone knowing. The boy just shook his head.

I raged for just a few minutes. Told him that it hadn’t even been 4 weeks since his nearly fatal heart attack. 27 days, in fact. “You couldn’t even go one fucking month without fried, fatty food?!?” I left the room to put my sneakers on so I could take a walk to cool down. But before I left, I stomped back into the living room, pointed my finger at my husband and said, “YOU are not allowed to kill yourself. I am the only one who gets the pleasure of killing you!”

Ok. Not my finest hour, but it felt good. And we both ended up laughing because it was so absurd and sounded exactly like me. Then I still had to leave the house because I was pissed.

But you know what REALLY upsets me about this? The night before he ate that fried chicken, he had a scary episode. He went to bed, but then came back to the living room just a minute later and said he couldn’t lie down. His stomach was bothering him, which was one of the signs he had before his heart attack. So he sat in his recliner, and I asked him if he’d like me to stay with him. He said that he would and took my hand. “Once I start snoring, you can go to bed if you want. I’ll be ok by then.” So I kissed him, turned out the lights, got blankets for us both, and lay on the couch listening to my husband breathe, cough, and sniffle. Eventually he slept deeply and I went to bed. It was a frightening time, yet he trusted and loved me enough to ask me to stay, which I know is a great gift.

And then…he ate the fucking chicken.

As a caregiver, one has to know when to draw the line or when to say, “Ok, big boy, you can make the phone call to your cardiologist to find out when they’re going to look at your other blocked arteries.” (This is something I’ve been asking him to do for a week, and today his nurse told him the exact same thing. Should we take a bet on how long it takes for him to do it now?) Since Wal’s heart attack, my sister and so many of my friends have been telling me to make sure I take care of myself, to take some time for myself. I mostly have. But no one has yet said, “It’s time to stop taking care of him.”

Because we don’t do that, right? We try to squeeze moments out for ourselves which often causes more stress in the long run, but we never say to someone, “Ok, you can give up on that person now.” And why? Because what if that person dies or has a stroke due to their declining health and is bedbound or mute or paralyzed. How would we feel then?

GUILTY.

But…shouldn’t there be a time when we finally say, “I will no longer take care of you. I will remain your partner until death, but I can no longer help you if you refuse to help yourself.” Any person we are taking care of must take some responsibility in their own health if they are able. When I took care of my mother, I understood that she could no longer do this. She could make her own coffee and get dressed, but showering and eating well and taking her medications were no longer in her realm of tasks she could do. And after a few months of working full time and taking care of my son and my mom, I knew that I couldn’t keep caring for her without losing much of myself.

So what do you do when you’re taking care of your spouse or partner? I have a friend who is dealing with this on an even more intense level. I have tried to lend my shoulder and ear to her as much as I can, but I know it’s never enough. She’s given me loads of advice and listens whenever I need her to, but her caregiving tasks are much more serious and frightening. And her spouse is NOT able to care for himself much anymore.

But my husband can. And he needs to. I find his lack of respect for his health infuriating but also incredibly sad and unfair to me. To our son. Does Wal know and understand all of this and everything I’m feeling and what I wish he felt? Yes. He does. And if he doesn’t, he will when I read him this blog post. 😉

The question remains: What do I do now? Do I throw my hands up and say, “Whatever. Do whatever you want”? Or do I say I will help you if you need me to, but I will not make phone calls for you or keep track of your sodium or fluid intake? My therapist and I just had conversations about what kinds of boundaries to set down, and the latter seemed the most appropriate at that time a week ago, but now? Now I’m angry and hurt and not sure what steps to take next.

I’m already tired of being angry. I’m not apathetic because I’m too emotional about this. I think I’m sad, frustrated, and disappointed.

Maybe I just need to find some patience and let him be and hope he finds the path towards good health. He doesn’t need to die trying to look for it because it’s right there in front of him. I’ve been holding out my hand to show him for a long time, but now I guess I just need to go on ahead and hope he catches up. I’ve left breadcrumbs and neon arrows to guide him, so let’s hope he just opens his eyes.

Caregiving vs. Self-Care

When you’re taking care of someone, it feels much like being their parent. You worry about them more often than not. If they don’t feel well or are having a rough day, you feel like they do. And when they admit their fear about what’s happening to their body and their life, you feel just as frightened.

This weekend has been another rollercoaster ride for my household. Our son had his wisdom teeth out on Friday and yesterday he was just ok, but this morning he was in pain and had been up most of the night. Wal had gained 2 pounds overnight, which is not a good thing when you’re a heart patient. He also didn’t feel very well much of the day. I didn’t feel good when I got up, but I kicked into crisis mode after realizing my son was hurting and my husband wasn’t well. Got the kid on a pain med schedule and my husband already took the medicine he needed to work on the extra fluid in his body. So although I didn’t feel great, I went for a run in the heat and humidity anyway. I needed to physically put one foot in front of the other so I could do it figuratively when back at home.

At one point this afternoon, both my husband and son were napping. It reminded me of the times when my boy was a baby and although they always said to nap when your baby naps, I would always clean. Which is exactly what I did today. I listened to an audiobook and swept and mopped and cleaned bathrooms and did laundry. I get like this. It’s like I’m preparing for the next crisis, so maybe my house will be clean when it arrives and I won’t feel as much stress.

Folks talk about self-care and have really been driving that home to me over the past two weeks. And maybe I should have rested when my family did. But in my own quirky way, cleaning the house was taking care of myself. I love that when I walk on my kitchen floor now, my socks don’t stick to it. 😉

Once my son was awake, he felt a bit better. I gave him some yogurt and he planted himself at his computer desk to play a video game. I checked on my husband, who was still napping, then made myself a margarita at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Might not be the best choice of things to do, but I curled on the couch with a book and my drink and relaxed for 15 minutes. It was pretty fantastic.

But then I got up and checked on my husband again. He had been sleeping for nearly 2 hours at this point. I watched his chest to make sure he was still breathing—-just like I used to do with my son when he was an infant. Wal started to stir and caught me staring at him. I asked if he was ok and he said yes and wanted to know the time. I told him and he said “ok” and rolled over. I figured he’d get up in a few minutes, so I went to the kitchen and started making a salad. An hour later I went to our bedroom again. I was trying not to freak out. He woke up this time and we both wondered aloud, “Is this ok?” Is taking a long nap alright? Does it mean something besides being tired?

We are stumbling along this path, not fully understanding where to go or what to do. Everything keeps changing. His blood thinner meds have changed every few days because his blood wants to clot and right now that’s not a good thing. We weren’t really sure how much sodium he’s allowed to have until a friend whose husband went through this last year gave me an idea of what the amount should be. And just today I found the answer in his pile of paperwork he came home with. (I thought I had read it all but obviously didn’t take it all in.)

This all still feels…surreal. Exhausting for sure, and unfamiliar yet a bit familiar at the same time, but not enough to actually know what we’re doing.

For now, we’re doing our best to take things one day at a time and one issue at a time. We’re also still trying to enjoy the little things that bring us joy. Whatever they are. I hope you do the same, friends. Live in the moment if you can. ❤

Anger Management

This past week has been filled with nearly every emotion that exists. Fear, surprise, sadness, guilt, frustration, grief, joy, and anger. These were all felt by everyone in my home and they continue to ping pong from one to another in each of us every day.

On Saturday, I spent the morning with my husband at the hospital. I crawled into his hospital bed, we held each other, and I cried for the first time since he had his heart attack. They were tears of relief but also fear of what the future will bring, and even grief for what he has lost. His life, our lives, have begun to change, and the changes can be difficult. But necessary.

The husband came home on Sunday afternoon. As we waited for someone to bring us a wheelchair, I scrounged the hospital floor, found a chair with no owner, and snagged it. I was done waiting and this guy needed to be home! It was kind of fun–like we were breaking out of prison. We laughed and waved to the nurses and enjoyed the moment. But on the way home, I could feel little bits of anger escaping. I snapped at him for telling me where to go then again when he said I didn’t pick up one of his meds when, in fact, I did. “You wouldn’t know because you were in the hospital!”

Oh.

Then I went to the pharmacy to pick up his new medications…10 of them. TEN. The pharmacist wanted to speak with me since these were all new. We had gone over all of them with the nurse so I basically knew what to expect and what he had to stop taking at home, but as the pharmacist started to tell me how Wal can no longer take ibuprofren for aches and pains and if he does need to take a nitroglycerin that the package is only good for 3 months after you open it and he (or I) would need to put it under his tongue…I started to cry. Could this be any more overwhelming? The pharmacist looked at me and said, “I know. It’s a lot. I had to do this with my father, too.” I just nodded but inside I was scoffing and yelling, “But it’s my husband, damn it!!” She went on to say I should probably keep a list of his meds and I said that yeah, I had done this with my mom so I was good.

I was so not good.

Once we got home, Wal went directly to a rocking chair we have in our library where our son has his computer. They sat together and we all talked. It was ok. We were ok. But as the evening went on, both my son and I were harboring feelings of anger, maybe resentment that Wal had put us through this again? I’m just speculating because I really don’t know what I’m feeling sometimes. I know that our son was being kind of a dick and I was flying off the handle at the most foolish things. And yet I was also trying so hard not to yell or upset my husband at all. But I could not be calm. I think I had kept my cool throughout this entire event (thanks to the support of my friends) but now that he was home, I could truly lose it…for a little bit.

But I felt so incredibly stressed and overwhelmed that night. What was he going to eat? What could I cook for meals? I put together a few snacks and salads for all of us, then realized he can’t eat leafy greens or broccoli because of his blood thinner. He can only have 8 cups of liquid a day, so let’s make a little chart for that. He’s diabetic so needs to eat as few carbs as possible.

Oh. My. God.

I spent the rest of that night cooking meals ahead for mostly my son and I and making snacks for my husband. I tried not to hover, but any kind of noise he made I asked him what was wrong. I didn’t sleep well that night because I was afraid he wouldn’t wake up again.

I needed to work all day on Monday, so after running my husband to the lab to have bloodwork done, I went to work but called home 4 times just to check on him. He is sad and scared and frustrated, too. Facing your own mortality must be some scary shit to deal with. He wasn’t awake or very aware of that fact last year, but this event is completely different. He felt himself dying this time.

Yet when I took Wal to our doctor on Tuesday, one week since his heart attack, I found myself getting angry again. He doesn’t think he needs to have a biPAP machine (he was not able to get one before he left the hospital). Since he’s slept well for a few nights, he thinks it’s ok. I did tell him that, in fact, he stopped breathing the night before, which why I had been awake since 4am. This has been a near daily occurrence for the past umpteen years, but since he nearly died the week before, I’m hyper aware of every little sound or movement his body makes…or doesn’t make. Once our doctor insisted that he seriously think about getting a biPAP did Wal concede that it might be a good idea.

*insert silent scream here*

Each day this week and part of next, I’ll take Wal to various appointments, work when I can, and will take our boy to have his wisdom teeth out. Most of our meals will be made by various friends, restaurants and an online premade meal service. It’s one thing we’re hoping to stop stressing about, at least for a few weeks. We’re all trying to find little things that bring us joy or peace. Our son had a friend over and they played video games and talked to other friends and just enjoyed themselves. My husband has been watching YouTube videos about camping…he has no desire to camp anymore but loves watching others do it, and playing Space Engineers where he gets to build his own space stations. That brings him a sense of accomplishment and happiness. I have been taking walks when I can while listening to fun podcasts and started running again after taking a few weeks off. Typically reading calms me and lets me escape, but I haven’t been able to concentrate on much. Today was the first day I’ve been able to get at least a few pages in and actually enjoyed it.

As we go about our day, none of us seem to be at the point where we forget Wally nearly died. Our groceries look different, the calendar is covered with appointments, and our phone rings more often with check ins and reminders of said appointments. And even the mail. Today’s mail was a lovely mixture of kindness–an encouraging card for both Wally and I from a dear friend–then a letter from the hospital with a different type of encouragement–to make an Advance Directive. That little piece of mail was such a kick in the ass. First because…holy shit. If anything can remind you of your mortality it’s someone telling you to get your shit together before you have another heart attack. And second, because the man already has one and they should have had it on file!! (I had to bring it to the hospital last year when he was in a coma.)

Thanks to all for your incredibly kind and uplifting words and thoughtful gifts. We have a long road ahead of us– physically, mentally and emotionally. I will need to work harder on trying to support my husband and to understand what he must be feeling. I am also aware that I need to take care of myself. I haven’t been great at it before, but I think I’m getting better. I am finding little moments that I take as mini vacations for my mind. Like these photos:

As I waited for my husband at an eye appointment today (yup, he can’t see well out of one of them due to diabetes), I found this little garden hidden behind the office. Pretty sure it was meant for the staff, but no one was there so I took the opportunity to sit in the sun, read a bit, take a few photos and just breathe.

That’s the key, right? Find those moments you like and suck every bit of life and love and joy from them.

So go hug, kiss, touch someone you care about, then find a few of those mini vacations for your mind.

We have to keep living one day (or moment) at a time. We just have to.

Trauma not Drama

Now that I know my husband is going to live, I can write about our week.

My birthday was Monday. It began with me rushing my husband to the doctor because he was feeling so awful. After I broke down in the office and made sure we were leaving with some kind of plan to get him better, the rest of the day went well. My husband stayed home and rested, I went for a lovely hike, shopped for a bit and brought home sushi for dinner. The next day began like any other work day. But like the saying goes, our lives changed in an instant. I received a call at work from the hospital, with a doctor on the other line saying my husband had a heart attack and they were in the process of putting a stent into his blocked artery. I’m not sure I understood everything he said because I was so confused.

Wait. What just happened? I remember asking, “Where do I go when I get there? How do I see him?” I called my sister on the way to the hospital so I could freak out to her and she’d calm me down. She told me, “Remember, you’re a Williams Woman. We’re tough and strong and you’ve got this.” But…EVERYONE has a breaking point.

Once I got to the hospital, they couldn’t find him. I was sent to the ER even though I told the front desk that he wasn’t there because I just received a voice mail from the surgeon and he already put a stent in my husband’s heart. But nope. They sent me to the ER anyway. And, of course, he wasn’t there. They sent me BACK to the main entrance but thankfully found my husband because I was already giving the guy at the desk my mean librarian look (staring down over my glasses). When I got to Wal’ss room, he was talking and he was happy to see me and he told me everything that happened.

He was working on a printer at a local university. Once he left the building, he didn’t feel well but got in his car and started to head home. But the pain in his stomach was coming up his chest and it just didn’t feel right, he said. Thankfully he knew where the health clinic was, so he drove there. His legs weren’t working well, but he made it into the building and told them he was in trouble and thought he might be having a heart attack. They rallied around him, got the ambulance there in minutes and he was off to the hospital.

They saved him.

As soon as he got to the ER, they just wheeled him through and went directly to the cath lab. We now know that he had a 95% blockage. But the surgeon put the stent in and truly saved him. But what we also found out is that he has two other arteries that are 100% blocked.

Every few hours since Tuesday afternoon, we get a little more information or another scare.

Tuesday night my husband experienced flash pulmonary edema–his lungs immediately filled with fluid and he was drowning in his bed. This happened just one hour after I left his bedside and his first thought was, “I won’t get to say goodbye to Holly and Bri one more time.” A nurse rushed down the hall and retrieved a biPAP machine and slapped the mask on Wal’s face. The machine uses pressure to push air into your lungs and Wal said as soon as the mask was on he felt relief and knew that they had saved his life again.

When I walked into his room on Wednesday morning, I found my husband with the mask on his face and he was miserable….but alive. I met the surgeon who put his stent in, and he expressed how serious the heart attack was. I met a cardiologist and while the mask was on Wal’s face, I explained what happened to him last year and the lung damage he now has from the infection and ventilator he was on in February of 2020 due to pneumonia and the flu and possibly COVID-19. But also mentioned his incredibly high cholesterol he’s had for years that medicines have never been able to touch. The rest of the day, Wal tried to nap and I rubbed his legs, texted his friends to keep them informed, talked to his family and we both called our son to check in. He was better before I left that night, but we just didn’t know what would happen next.

Thursday I worked all day. When I called in the morning, Wal was not great. Couldn’t breathe well. I felt weighed down that morning. I hadn’t cried since this happened, just choked up a few times, but I felt like I was going to completely lose it. What was going to happen to my husband? Will he live and if so, what will his life be like? Will he work? Have to be on disability?

I called Wal again a few hours later and he was ok. He called me in the afternoon and he felt quite a bit better. A cardiologist talked to him and told him he had a “widow maker” heart attack. He was so damn lucky to be at the university when this happened, because more than likely if he was home, he wouldn’t have gotten to the hospital in time.

But he did.

Today, Friday, talk began about my husband coming home. His eating habits, exercise habits, his life–will need to change. No more salt, fast food, fried food, fatty food. More vegetables and fruit and whole grains and exercise. He will need to go to cardiac rehab for at least a month where he’ll have access to physical therapy and dieticians and therapists. The latter is the one I hope he uses more than anything. But he will need a biPAP machine before he can come home. So it may be a few days yet. For the first time in any of his hospital stays, he’s ok with staying there. Having a near death experience (or two in one day) can change a person.

At some point, bypass surgery will have to take place to work on the other arteries, but his heart needs to get stronger for that to happen. Right now, the cardiologists don’t even want to talk about that because we have to get through this event first.

My husband’s spirits are good right now. Like mine and our son’s, his mood changes from moment to moment. We’ve all been through so many traumatic events in the past few years, that this one is making us all feel…almost numb. At least that’s how I’ve felt this week. This morning I was almost in a horrendous car accident because my mind was not on my driving…at all. I didn’t even feel like I was in the car. Nearly being t-boned got my focus back and I was pretty much ok the rest of the day.

I know we need to live one day at a time, which I’m absolutely horrible at, but I know I need to find that patience somewhere inside of me. I am feeling overwhelmed and sad and angry, but maybe if I can slow down and try to live day by day, then I can find some kind of control over my emotions.

Or I could take a vacation and sleep for a few days.

But right now, I am just grateful for the many medical professionals who saved my husband’s life this week. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to thank many of them in person. But a big THANK YOU also goes out to my dear friends who listened to me this week, drove me to the university to get my husband’s car, and made meals for my son and I. I have the greatest support network in the world. I love you and I am grateful for all of YOU.

Hug someone you love today, friends, and live in that moment.

Hold on tight.