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. πŸ˜‰ 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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ˜‰

*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. πŸ˜‰

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. πŸ˜‰

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.

Losses and Gains

Today should have been Dad’s 80th birthday. I say “should have”, although he would probably disagree. He was shocked to make it past 70 and he was 2 months shy of his 78th birthday when he died. I also should have run my first marathon today, in honor of Dad. But neither of those things happened.

Yesterday, just like with Mom on Mother’s Day, I visited Dad’s grave. Since it was a Saturday close to Memorial Day, there were a bunch of people in the cemetery, which I hated. Dad would have waved to most folks that were nearby and say “How are ya?” (although it would sound like “Whyya”), but I just kept my head down and set up our picnic.

Dad used to make whirligigs, some were funny, some obscene, and some were just cute. I didn’t plan well enough but for the moment I placed a few small pinwheels, just to have something moving in the breeze. I brought my dad Cheez-Its, which were one of his favorite snacks. There’s an inside joke between my husband and my dad and they used to exchange a box of these crackers nearly every Christmas. It all stemmed from the time my then fiancΓ© drove my dad to Pennsylvania for my graduate school graduation, and my father ate a whole box of Cheez-Its…and proceeded to have horrible gas…and they were trapped inside this little Ford Escort with hours left to drive. It was something they both used to laugh about and bonded over as only men can.

Once I set out snacks and my water bottle, I just sat in front of Dad’s stone and plucked the grass around it and ran my hands over the smooth stone. I could hear people around me, including a man about 20 feet from me laughing into his phone. I tried to block him and the others out, when I started to cry. I was angry and overcome with that loss again–that emptiness I feel when I realize I can never have another conversation with my father. But also the absurdity of the situation. I was bringing my father treats he would never eat again. His body was far beneath the ground I was sitting on and I know this because my sister and I helped put his body in that fucking hole. And all around me people are planting bushes and flowers to sit around these stones with our loved ones names carved into them. But…why?

I wiped my eyes and started to talk to Dad. I told him I loved and missed him. Told him we were all surviving, how tall my son is, how work is going. The usual things we discussed when he was alive. But Dad also liked to have deeper conversations. For a man that never liked to read, he did like to deconstruct thoughts or ideas. And I know some of what he’d say about his grave and stone. He never wanted to be cremated because he said, “I’ll be close enough to hell as it is.” He was traditional in some ways, hence the funeral home visiting hours, the church funeral, the burial. All the stuff that I hate, but the stuff that he and his wife knew and understood. But as I sat there, I also got it, I understood. In a way, I do like being able to “visit” my father. I like being able to still give him things, even if that’s just a plant or a plaque or mints (my father always had mints of some kind and I leave at least one wintergreen lifesaver every time). I do talk to him occasionally when I’m home or somewhere else, so I don’t save that for the cemetery. Honestly I usually get upset when I go to Dad’s grave in particular because I can’t feel him. I’ve visited his grave on days that I just really wanted to talk with him, and I’ve always left even more bereft then when I arrived because he’s not there. I always think that I’ll feel something, like his spirit is somehow there, but it isn’t. It really isn’t. But…I also don’t even believe in spirits anyway! See how confused I am?

I just want to believe in something because it’s too devastating to think my parents and brother are just…gone.

No longer exist.

Dead. Forever.

So…I continued to talk to Dad. Why the hell not? The cemetery cleared out, the breeze died down and the black flies started to swarm. “Dad, I’m going to go, ok? As you would say, the black flies are about to pick me up and slam me to the ground!” I kissed his grave stone and told him I’d be back next month.

When I drove home, I saw the sign for the Robyville Bridge–a historic covered bridge in Corinth. I had been there before but I felt the need to go there again. I just took a few photos, avoided the couple that was there as much as possible, walked then ran across the bridge. That need I felt to go to the bridge was like a need to feel alive, to experience something new. Even something as simple as looking at, admiring and running across a covered bridge fulfilled that need.

As I woke up this morning, the day I should have been running for hours and hours and had trained for for many months, I figured I might as well try to start training again. So far my leg is better (although I am now aware that could change at any time). My heart isn’t in it as much as before, but hopefully that will change. The run I took was just 4 miles this morning, but it was already 73 degrees and humid at 9am. It wasn’t a pleasant run for the first half. At the 2.75 mile mark, I had to walk (or shuffle) and drink more water. The sun was frying my brain and destroying my will to go on, until I heard the lovely tune of two geese squawking and flying in the sky just behind me. I have this thing for geese, and often wonder if it’s my family hanging out near my house. And today, after the geese flew over, the clouds rolled in and cooled things down just a tad and I immediately felt better. I laughed out loud and decided that my parents were giving me some support and urging me to keep going. So I did.

This afternoon, I took my son to an international food festival at the high school near where I work, and we ate SO MUCH. One or both of us tried a food from every single country they had (except for Japan because they weren’t ready). We couldn’t pronounce some of the foods, a few were things we had eaten before, and others seemed strange but were typically delicious. It was a fun experience and one that I know the rest of my family would have enjoyed. If food was involved, my father would have been happy. He might have been a meat and potatoes man, but he was willing to try just about anything. It was a great way for us to honor Dad today.

Then on the way home from the festival, I saw a turtle in the road. Over the years, my mother picked up many, many turtles and sometimes brought them home. I distinctly remember finding a turtle in our bathtub on at least two occasions. I always stop for turtles and try to shoo them to the other side of the road. Typically my son hates it, but today he helped me and we just walked behind the turtle, moving it along so cars wouldn’t kill it. Seeing the turtle felt like a little “hello” from Mom…if I believed in that sort of thing.

And now as I sit here, thinking about the days ahead, I am a bit relieved that there are a few weeks until Father’s Day and my brother’s birthday–they happen to fall on the same day this year. A double whammy. Maybe I’ll have a few more gains and pluses and good moments before then. Maybe I’ll have more bad days than good. No matter what though, I will keep remembering, keep running if physically possible, and keep my eyes to the sky. Because you just never know, right? You just never know.

All the Days I Hate

In chronological order:

St. Patrick’s Day–I watched my father die that day.

Mother’s Day

May 23–Dad’s birthday

Father’s Day

June 20–My brother’s birthday

July 23–I said goodbye to my brother that day.

September 20–Mom’s birthday

October 4–I held my mother’s hand for the last time.

Someday, I hope I won’t dread some of these days. I hope that I won’t feel sick the entire week before or have the powerful urge to somehow escape my surroundings and my feelings and my brain on the day of. With Mother’s Day here, I am horribly conflicted. I have felt all those things this entire week and I had planned to do exactly what I did today–visit my mother’s grave so “we” could talk and eat and drink coffee. Just like we did every Saturday for the last two years of her life. And this morning after a meeting for work, I found myself antsy. I vacuumed and made blueberry muffins to take to Mom and just…puttered around the house, like Mom would say. I felt the overwhelming need to leave and go to her, but I kept pushing it off because it wouldn’t be the visit I wanted.

I finally did go. I packed up a bag with goodies and a blanket to sit on and I drove the back way to the cemetery in the town I grew up in. I passed houses that friends used to live in, including my own childhood home that is now abandoned. I saw new houses and roads that never existed before and wondered what my parents would have to say about them. Just like anytime I drive through my hometown, the memories came back–many good, many awful–and I grew angry at myself for driving this route. But once I got to the cemetery, my tension started to ease. I poured Mom a cup of coffee, gave her a muffin, and settled myself on a blanket in front of her. I talked about the pandemic, masks, our family, my friends. I asked her if she’s with Phil or my stepfather or my dad or Grammy. I prefaced that question with “So…if there IS an afterlife…” (What can I tell ya? I’m an agnostic which means I have no idea what the heck anything is or will be.) As I asked about our family, I started to cry and told her I missed her. Then I couldn’t stop crying. I rocked myself and said, “See Mom? THIS is why I try not to cry!” And as I’m writing this, I can hear Mom say, “Oh, I know, I know!” and almost feel her hug and hear her sniffle and wipe her nose.

But because it IS Mother’s Day, I want to celebrate my own motherhood. Sort of. I honestly just want to hide in a room for a day and drink cocktails and watch sad movies. But my son told me just this morning that he wants to make me dinner. My 14-year-old gentle giant of a boy, whom my mother adored more than any other person on the planet, has decided that he does indeed want to do something kind for his mother on Mother’s Day. (Last month he told me just to buy what I wanted for a gift and he’d pay for it—which is really me paying for it since he gets an allowance from me.)

A friend told me yesterday to try and do something for myself this weekend, like go for a run or have a drink or just do something to make me feel good. And I will. I hope to run on Sunday morning, eat brunch with my family, have a drink with a friend via Zoom, and eat dinner made by my child. All the while I will be thinking of Mom and her laugh and her raisin-filled cookies and her eerily strong grip. Seriously. This woman could break your bones with her hands if she wanted to.

Mom and I on my wedding day, 1997.

I miss you, Mom. Every day.

Love you forever, love you for always.

Strength

Since my doctor gave me the go ahead to gently start walking and running again after my likely stress fracture, I’ve only been out a handful of times. Two weeks ago I ran and although it was tough and slow and my lungs hurt, it still felt glorious to have the freedom to run again. Then I took a few days off, rode my bike and lifted weights…and my leg started to hurt. No swelling, but a similar type of pain. So, once again, I took a few weeks off.

After a week of occasional walks, I just had to try again this morning. Sunday mornings have been my typical long run days since I started running a decade ago. I’ve done all of my half marathons on Sundays, and had hoped to run my marathon on a Sunday. I tend to feel antsy on Sunday mornings if I’m not getting ready to head out for a run. My body starts to zing a little, like I have this bit of nervous energy and I often get butterflies in my stomach.

But Sundays are also extremely complicated for me. My brother and father both died on Sundays, so emotionally I am not at my best. The Sunday my brother died, I woke up early that morning, knowing that it would be the last day I saw him and the last day he would be on this planet. The day my dad died, I was woken at 2am by a phone call from my stepsister to say that Dad was in the hospital and I might want to get there. That Sunday was filled with the phone call to my sister telling her she should come to the hospital, talking with doctors and nurses, and watching my stepmother having to make that decision no one wants to. So…yeah. Sundays still fill me with a bit of dread.

But this morning, after reading a book and eating a light breakfast, I geared up for a walk. Not a run. I just needed that fresh air and what little sunshine there was peeking through the clouds. But after a half mile, I needed to pick it up. Just a little. So I jogged for a bit, then walked. I did this for about a mile and a half, then realized our friend, Bam Bam was following me.

After chatting with him for a minute, I headed back home. I ran the mile and a half back with my hamstrings aching, my hips feeling tight, and feeling extraordinarily heavy. You know, I’ve been riding my stationary bike and lifting weights and walking when I can, but there’s nothing like a run to make you feel weaker and more out of shape than you ever thought possible!

But I finished the 5K, walked a bit, stretched, and felt…alive. And tired. Crikey, I was tired! But that good tired when you know you’ve exhausted your body to a point that muscles ache and your brain goes quiet.

I wish that running was not so intrinsically tied to my mental health. I wish there was something inside of me that could make me feel good about myself like running does. It’s something I hope to work on in the near future. But for now, I’m just happy I got to run. ❀