Who are these kids and why are they calling me mom?

Sometimes you just have to put on your big girl panties and deal with it

Life & Death January 22, 2008

Filed under: Family,Life — Steph @ 3:14 pm

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Do you ever feel like life is so overwhelmingly crummy you are afraid to get out of bed in the morning for fear the phone will ring?  That’s what life has been like for me for the past 6 months.  I am so thankful for so many things, not the least of which is my health, Joe’ health and that of my kids, and I know it could be SO much worse but I am honestly afraid to answer the phone.

 It started in September when we got the call my great grandfather was dying.  He fooled us all and hung on until November!  No one was going to tell him he was leaving this earth even though his organs were all failing!  Then we lost him and Joe’s best friend in a two day span.  From there it just kept coming.  My mom and mother-in-law both had to have major surgeries so we moved my mother-in-law to my mom’s house so I could streamline their care.  For all of December I ran my household as well as my mom’s.  Around the 2nd week of December my grandparents came to help out but my grandpa who’s always been somewhat difficult, was ready to go home in two days.  So my reprieve lasted all of 4 days and that was really pushing it for him.  He hates to travel, hates Gillette, etc… 

 We got through Christmas and I thought things would settle down.  Joe’s mom went home and although she still couldn’t drive, etc… it wasn’t as bad as it had been and we were managing. 

Right before Christmas we were told my great-aunt is dying.  She had been feeling nauseated, and had been losing weight but with my grandpa dying she didn’t give it much thought she thought it was just stress.  When she returned home after the funeral she found an envelope with her health screen results in it.  Her blood work showed some serious anomalies.  So she made an appointment for some tests.  It turns out she has very advanced liver cancer that’s spreading.  It is inoperable and chemo and radiation will not buy her any time.  She is going to a clinic in New York that she thinks might be able to at least add some quality to the time she has left.  They use natural supplements and specific diet plans and have a high success rate.  It won’t save her, but it could give her some more quality time at this point they’ve given her 6-9 months.  She’s an ER nurse but next week she’s going on FMLA leave and probably won’t be able to return to work.  She’s fairly young and is my grandma’s younger sister so everyone has taken it hard.  My family doesn’t have much history of cancer so it was a huge shock and of course after just losing their dad my grandma and other aunt took it hard. 

On the 5th of January my grandma got a call from Arizona telling her my Granny (great grandma) had to be rushed to the hospital via ambulance.  The women in my family up to my Granny were always Christian Scientists.  My grandpa hated it, he forced my Granny to seek medical attention when he was alive.  Something she always resented but something that literally saved her life on MANY occasions.  With him gone she decided to stop taking all of her medications including her diabetes meds.  That day she fell and couldn’t get to the phone.  She has a life alert bracelet but swears she pushed it and it didn’t work.  When my uncle found her he pushed it and it worked so we think she might have just been so weak she couldn’t push it.  It took her 5 hours to crawl to the phone.  I don’t think she’ll bounce back from this and frankly, I don’t think she wants to.  She and my grandpa had been a team for SO very long I think she is lost without him and is simply waiting to join him.  None of us think she’ll make the year.  Right now it’s obvious she can’t be left alone and we were looking at possibly having to place her in a care facility, but there’s a young lady who’s been helping them with the house keeping, meals, etc… on a part time basis for a few years.  She’s very fond of my grandparents and they of her, she’s been going through a really rough time in her own life and it turns out she’s at a point where she could use the companionship and is more than willing to care for my Granny.  So she’s moved in with my Granny so she won’t have to be alone.  My Granny wouldn’t move in with my one aunt, the other obviously can’t care for her, and she won’t move in with my grandma so we were really not sure where that left us.  Betsy is very literally an answer to all of our prayers.

My grandma went upstairs after that phone call and found my grandpa laying on the floor sweating and writhing in pain so she had to call the ambulance.  He’s been sick for a long time but he wouldn’t do anything about it.  During their visit here he complained about stomach problems and barely ate enough to keep him alive and he looked horrible.    He was a very heavy drinker for 40 years and we knew his gallbladder was bad but his liver was also thought to be bad and his liver enzymes were too elevated to risk any kind of surgery that wasn’t absolutely necessary.  On Sunday morning they decided they had to go in and take the gallbladder even though it was something he really wasn’t strong enough for.  Low and behold his liver was fine!!  Who knew?  His gallbladder however was so very bad it was affecting every organ system.  He had stones lodged in the entrance to his intestines so they had to basically do a bowel resection to get all of the stones.  It was a major surgery and in his condition we knew he might not pull through it.  He did make it through surgery but he came out of it with pneumonia and ended up on a ventilator.  My mom and I left that Sunday night and were there until last Wednesday.  By Sunday the 19th we knew he was dying and it was decided at some point he’d had a signifigant stroke.  On Tuesday a CAT scan was clear but by Sunday he was showing signs of having had a major neurological event.  He never wanted to be on a vent, he was adamant about that but we had to put him on originally as it wasn’t life support at the time it was simply a tool to rest his lungs so they could heal.  It ended up being MRSA pneumonia but in the end they feel he’d beaten the pneumonia so the cause of his death was a major stroke.  We took him off of the ventilator on the 19th but we didn’t know at the time it could take a long time for his body to shut down.  On Tuesday they told us he was essentially brain dead and it wouldn’t be prolonged indefinitely but could be several more days.  My great aunts had flown in to be with us so my mom and I decided to come home on Wednesday for a couple of days so she could have her post-op visit and I could see my kids.  We were 30 miles from home when my grandma called to tell us my grandpa had died 10 minutes earlier.  So we were home Thursday and went back on Friday.  Through all of this he never woke up, not once and he should have as he was improving the doctors were stumped for two full weeks and called many different physicians around the country to try to find out why he kept going downhill when he essentially was getting better.  The doctors belive very truly he just didn’t want to live through it, his will to live was not there and he was ready to go.  Something he’d been telling us for years so in the end he got his way and I hope he’s at peace now.

Here’s the link to his obituary: http://www.montrosepress.com/articles/2008/01/18/community/obituaries/doc4790342a84a19784789429.txt 

I love this picture of him (the picture is to the right in the center of the page) and there’s a story behind it that I may some day have the heart to share but today I just don’t.  It is a bottle baby elk in the photo with him though.

I had a very long, very detailed post typed out but I deleted it.  I decided you don’t all want to know the details of the two weeks we spent there and I honestly can’t bare to think of them now as it was the worst two weeks of my life.

 I have many grandparents as my mom has step parents who have always just been grandma and grandpa to us and of course I have my Granny left.  I know the next several years will bring many more of these events and I am struggling to face that right now.  The rest of them with the exception of my Granny are all very healthy so I am trying to avoid even thinking about it, unfortunately it’s this nagging thought at the back of my mind.

My grandpa was not an easy man, there were times I wanted to throttle him, but I loved him and we were always very close, I spent every Summer there and even lived there for a time right out of high-school so I was probably closer to him than anyone other than my grandma.  The last 10 years he’s been really insufferable but under it all he had a heart of gold, you just had to look to see it.  As much as he hated Gillette I think his deciding to come with my grandma for those 4 days in December is very telling.  I’m not sure if he knew it would be our last visit but I think he probably did as he held on a little longer and a little tighter as he hugged me goodbye.  I will forever be grateful for those 4 days for my kids sakes as well as mine and I am working really hard to remember those days and all of the Summers spent with him rather than the last two weeks of his life.

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My grandma will be moving here very soon hopefully.  The only reason they didn’t live here up until now was my grandpa, so the house is on the market and God willing will sell fast.  Their ranch has been listed for sale for a couple of years but until now the house wasn’t included.  My grandpa knew if the house sold he’d have no excuse not to move down here so he drug his feet about listing the house and the 8 acres surrounding it for years.  It’s really spectacular property and many developers are interested in the property to build high end homes.  The view is phenomenal but he wouldn’t let go of the house.  We are hoping one of those developers will buy it now which is bittersweet as you can probably see from the above photo.

The top photo is what’s called a “fly over”.  My grandpa was a pilot and flying was his honest true love he was a pilot in Vietnam and has flown in every country you can imagine.  He was forced to retire many years ago when years of loud helicopter rotors took his hearing, but it’s always been his heart.  We didn’t know about the fly over and weren’t prepared so it was very emotional for us.  The helicopter on the left is the same type he flew for so many years.  The fly over is something pilots do to show their respect for a fallen comrade.  In the end he made things very simple.  He wanted a simple grave side service in the military portion of the cemetery and the simplest possible casket.  The military section of this cemetery is new and we were lucky enough to get a spot on the very edge overlooking the valley he loved, he’ll forever have the view he loved so much when he was alive.

 So there you have it, the last 6 months of my life in a nut shell.  My grandma is fond of saying “God never gives us more than we can handle” but I can tell you I think He has a lot more faith in me than I do and I am really praying for a break now.

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One Response to “Life & Death”

  1. Terra Says:

    Oh Stephanie…

    I am so sorry, I know how hard this is for you (not for experience mind you), but because of you. You put my petty grievances in perspective, that is for sure.

    I am not really close with my family like you are, and therefore I have never suffered that kind of loss, but I know loss and I wish there was something I could say to make it better.


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