Yesterday my two boys and I, along with DDIL and JP, attended a memorial service at the chapel in the hospital where my husband passed away in early December. It was small and informal with what looked to be about five families attending. Apparently the hospital chaplains and grief counselors hold these quarterly services to celebrate the lives of people who died at the hospital or in hospice.
Chaplain Kim had lost an older sister when she was 17 and her family had few coping skills to deal with their grief, let alone the ability to teach their children how to handle their feelings. The grief counselor lost her husband to a brain aneurysm many years ago when she was a 28-year-old mother of a three-year old daughter. He lingered in a coma for nearly a month. It was obvious that these events shaped their lives and career choices.
One woman who attended lost her 22-year-old son, father of three little ones, to a heroin overdose in December. Another family lost their elderly father after a grueling hospice stay.
We had the chance to light a candle for our loved one and pick a stone from a bowl of lovely choices to keep with us as a tangible reminder of the love we had shared. I chose one that is a bluish gray and reminded me of my husband’s eyes. I think I will put it by his picture on my nightstand so it’s the last thing I see before turning out the light.
I was too emotional to speak to the group, but if I’d been able, I would have told them that Paul was my soul mate, a great father and papa and a wonderful husband. He was a self made man from rural Tennessee who put himself through school on the GI Bill and became an electronic engineer. He told me he’d known since he was a small child what he wanted to do for a living. He found the whole process so fascinating when his family’s first little house finally got electricity that he had to understand how it worked. And he eventually did!
What I gleaned from the memorial service were mostly things I already knew. Any feelings you are experiencing about grief are normal and okay. There is shock, denial, anger, bargaining and finally acceptance. There can be a need to be alone or a need to share. Self-care and socialization are important, but we all move at our own speed. I feel like I’m somewhere in the “fake it till you make it” phase. I have moved on from shock and denial and am able to get through the days.
I’m packing up the house to sell but it’s not a hasty decision. We had planned to move this year anyway, but instead of finding a new place right away, youngest and I will move in with JP’s family for a while. My house is too big and holds too many memories.
And that’s as far as I’ve gotten. I’m kind of day by day right now in the healing process.
Bethany sat near the window, letting the small patch of sunlight warm her. Eyes closed, her thoughts drifted to the day their first son arrived. She had gripped Rod’s hands as one contraction after another left her gasping. “Just breathe, sweetheart,” he’d soothed. “Did you pick your focal point? It’s okay, squeeze as hard as you want.” Always her rock.
The beeping machines brought her back to the present. Shadows lengthened and the hospital room felt colder. Tears fell as she gripped Rod’s motionless hand, tubes and machines keeping him alive. She stroked his graying hair. “Please, sweetheart, just breathe.”
My theme this year is 100 word stories (so, no, don’t count this line.)
There are so many things I’m grateful for this beautiful mid-October day, but I’ll just tell you about one fun thing that happened a week ago for which I’m so thankful…
My local hospital has a large and wonderful service dog program. I requested a dog visit during my last hospitalization and one evening was visited by the gorgeous Josie and her owner.
Josie was an enormous grey and white cloud of wavy fur, easily 90 pounds, part standard Poodle, part Bermese Mountain Dog. I wish I’d taken a picture, but this one I found online is close to what she looked like. She proceeded to sniff me as I petted her, nibbled a little on my wristband and then plopped down by the side of the bed.
And as her owner and I talked, I found that she was a 15 year breast cancer survivor and her sister was a 20 plus year breast and ovarian cancer survivor. Small world…
Picture courtesy Google
I’m just starting my fight against breast cancer, hence the title fighting like a girl. I was at the doctor’s office and they had a wall that people signed with personal messages about their cancer experiences and there was one quote that was my favorite. It said “I fought breast cancer like a girl and I won!” So that’s my new motto…
I’ve finished meeting with the surgeons (general and plastic), the genetic counselor, the oncologist and had the MRI — an experience I don’t care to repeat. That is the noisiest thing, even though they give you earplugs. But it did show that we’re just dealing with the one area on the right side and it appears to be small. So it was well worth the annoying experience to get such detailed pictures!
I think I’ve also shared before that I have a genetic blood clotting disorder that makes me more prone to develop blood clots. It’s something I share with one brother and its called Factor V Leiden. It’s fairly common and not usually a huge worry, but wouldn’t you know it, my case is more difficult!
I found out I had Factor V because two years ago I developed a very large blood clot in my left leg from my knee into my stomach area and spent ten days in the hospital where they had to do a procedure called trellising to mechanically break up and remove the clot. They also put in a filter, threading it in through an incision near my collarbone into the vena cava. It temporarily protects you from a clot moving into your lungs and after your blood thinner starts working well they retrieve the filter. I was part of a study group for the B Braun filter that is now available.
So the thing is, because I had that really big clot and will have to go off the blood thinners again for surgery for several days, they will have to reinsert a filter before they do my surgery. Oh, and the best part is you get to inject yourself in your stomach twice a day with a drug to prevent clots up until and after surgery! And then later, usually within weeks, they will surgically retrieve the filter.
I’ve had a lot of decisions to make about a lumpectomy versus mastectomy, reconstruction if it is a mastectomy, the pros and cons of doing just one side or both sides, the worries about cancer reoccurring, etc. But as my oncologist pointed out, the fact that I can choose means I have many good options!
And one of the most exciting things I’ve found out about is genetic testing of the cancerous tumor that they will do after surgery which helps you and your doctor’s determine if chemotherapy is necessary and helpful. Here’s a link to info from The New York Times about the testing that my dear friend Laura from Fountain Pen Follies sent me that explains a fascinating study that’s been going on that will help thousands of women make good decisions about treatment now and in the future.
Thanks for reading, for all your thoughts, prayers and lovely good wishes, and for riding along with me on this sometimes bumpy journey. I will let you all know when surgery will be and how everything goes. I may not be writing as much for a little bit, but I will be reading your blogs ❤
Did you ever notice how words, even though they are just a relatively short group of letters, have such power over us? This past week some of my least favorite words were biopsy, tumor, surgery, specialist – well, you get the idea. My stomach churned with fear, time kind of stopped and everything was bleak.
Then just as suddenly all was right again as we heard all clear, extremely lucky and laparoscopic! We were on a roller coaster of emotion, with the diagnosis changing from possible Stage 4 to not even a tumor. Leaving hubby to rest, I triumphantly drove home from the hospital 30 miles away to eat and let the dogs out and just as quickly my least favorite words changed to dog and skunk and spray!
After the peroxide, baking soda and dish soap sudsing, followed by another bath with pet shampoo, my Norwegian Elkhound, Inga, kind of resembles a cotton ball. Hubby is home from the hospital, not fully recovered but well on his way to feeling better.
I’ve been cleaning with a vengeance to rid the place of any lingering smell — vacuuming, mopping and setting out small dishes of vinegar to absorb the odors. So now my house smells only faintly like a skunk dyeing Easter eggs <grin>