November of 2013 was when my life changed. I lost two people unexpectedly. I heard about both of them on Facebook. (As a matter of fact, I have heard about the last five people who have passed on via Facebook.) This post is a tribute to honor them, as well as one other person dear to me who passed away earlier this year. You have been warned, so with tissues on deck, I give to you this tribute.
The first loved one I'm going to talk about is my sixteen and 1/2 month old godson.
This is one of the last pictures of Avery that my friend shared.
Avery passed away unexpectedly on November 4th, 2013.
I was lying in the tub. My husband was sitting there with me. He was perusing Facebook while I indulged in a bubble bath and a Stephen King novel. He nearly dropped the device he was using to look around on Facebook when he saw that our friend of sixteen years, Carrie posted that she lost her little boy. Avery had been experiencing some problems that were being looked into at the time by his pediatrician, but none of us ever thought there was something serious enough to cause us to lose him. My husband showed me the picture and for a good thirty seconds, I couldn't speak, much less breathe. I wasn't even sure what to say to my close friend of sixteen years. Words absolutely failed me. I just stared at the status message and the picture she had shared. Doug managed to share some words of comfort in a comment to her and her family, but it took me a few hours before I could even compose myself to respond. I was completely gobsmacked.
The next day, Carrie rang me to let me know what happened and to discuss the arrangements and to share what happened. It turns out that Avery had a stretched heart. None of us had any idea. (I'm not going to share my friend's last moment with her son, because I will become too inconsolable to continue.) I still felt like I was at a loss for words as we spoke.
November 6th came, sometime around ten o'clock, I took a break from writing and got on Facebook. That's when I saw the status message about my friend, Aimee. It was posted by her fiance, and said that she passed away sometime in her sleep. I had a different reaction to the news of her passing than I did with Avery's. With him, I was so shocked that I couldn't react, but with her, I freaked out and yelled for Doug.
My husband charged into the room, expecting me to tell him something along the lines of, "I need your help. I feel like I'm going to pass out," or "I'm having a migraine." Instead, I just simply pointed at my mini laptop's screen. He read it and he was shocked.
I think the reason I freaked out was because Aimee was nearly two years younger than me at the time, and as far as I knew, she was in better health than I am. (I have enough health problems for three people, and to be completely honest, the fact that I somehow manage a career and a life is beyond me, and has to be nothing short of miraculous.) Doug did his best to console me.
On Thursday, Doug decided to get me out of the house. We went to dinner at Ruby Tuesday. As we were eating, my friend's friend Melonee (now my friend) rang me and asked if I would say a few words at Avery's service on Friday. I accepted, but I still felt like I was at a loss for words. When we got home, I spent the rest of the evening researching scriptures to share in an attempt to give the family some comfort. I knew that speaking at Avery's funeral was going to be one of the hardest things I would ever do. I also rang my friend, Jodi, who was nice enough to agree to accompany me on the two hour drive to the funeral home, because Doug couldn't take off work on such short notice. I know I couldn't have handled the drive without Jodi. I am so thankful she was able to go.
On Friday, I took my husband to work, kissed him goodbye, returned to the cottage, reviewed the things I had written down and composed a brief speech to share at the service. It came to me all at once. I got ready, actually put on a dress and the new scarf I had purchased for Avery's funeral, (Carrie had asked for everyone to wear something in a specific green, which was Avery's favorite color) and was out the door on time to pick up Jodi, who was ready when I arrived there. And we were off.
I'm sure that many of you remember me sharing my horrible experiences with GPS. (I don't call it a GP-YES, I call it a GP-NO.) I brought the paper with the address and the directions, but it's not like I could drive and read it at the same time, so I put it into the GP-NO. We were going to be surrounded by cellullar towers. What could possibly go wrong? I turned the volume on my phone up and I listened, and I followed every direction the GP-NO told me. Then, it stopped talking. Little did I know, I lost signal and it had shut itself off. So I had driven so many miles in the wrong direction. I turned around when I realized it wasn't working, and I went into the city, and I asked for directions. I threw my piece of crap phone into my purse and vowed never to use the GP-NO again. Back onto the road, and aimed in the right direction, several cars refused to let me over, so we had to miss the exit and go around in a circle AGAIN until we could finally take the exit. We were an hour late arriving, so we totally missed all but five minutes of the visitation. We had to stop and ask directions to the funeral home, and thankfully I found a competent person who knew where I was trying to go, and she told me how to get there. FINALLY. I parked, Jodi and I got out, and we entered the funeral home.
I have been to many funerals in my thirty-something years of life. I have never cried at a funeral. I usually remain stoic, and then Sobfest (fill in the numerical year) happens when I'm in the privacy of my own home. This was not the case. I had never ever been to the funeral of a toddler before. I was not prepared for how it was going to affect me. I'm a fairly strong person. I can keep my emotions in check 99.9% of the time, but upon seeing a tiny casket with a beautiful chubby little toddler boy inside who simply looked like he was sleeping, I don't know anyone who could survive that. My friend Jodi had only met Avery once, and she cried. She couldn't go up to the front and look at him, It was too much for her. I barely made it with Carrie's help to the front. She said, "you can touch him." At that point, I became a mess. I broke down and said, "I really don't think I can." I pulled myself together, and went back to sit with Jodi until it was time for the service to begin. I went and sat next to Melonee in the second row since I would be the first one to go up and speak.
Songs that Avery loved began playing from the speakers. As I looked around, I took in my surroundings. They had a collage of pictures on a stand in the front, a quilt, a wreath, and a few floral arrangements. I listened as the pastor shared a brief introduction and prayed. Then, it came my turn to speak. I will never forget what I said as long as I live.
I stepped up onto the platform, and I opened my notes. I didn't need them, but I used them as a crutch, and something to focus on if I got too choked up. I took a deep breath, and I couldn't speak for a moment. So I blinked, and I fought through tears as I shared what I had composed.
It is a bittersweet privilege to be here today to speak about the life of Avery. When I was asked to speak, I did research on what to say, and how to give words of comfort, because this was such a shock. Words fail me, as I'm sure they have many others who are here today. I know that the big question on everyone's mind is why? It was too soon. Avery barely had a chance at life, and while that's true, the time he did have on this earth, he lived life to the fullest. Avery brought joy to the lives of those around him. I never once saw him without that beautiful smile he always wore. I got the distinct privilege of being the first one to make Avery laugh. His laughter was like a melody. It brought me so much joy. I apologize, for I have no answers to give to you. What I do know is that Avery is in Heaven. In Matthew, Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me and suffer them not.' There's also a scripture that says 'to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord' (I'm paraphrasing). Avery will never know pain. He will never experience sorrow. He will always be young. He will always be beautiful. I want to close by reciting a well known poem by Robert Frost, Nothing Gold Can Stay. (I recited the poem, and I concluded with these words...) Avery was gold. Thank you for allowing me to speak.
It was a miracle that I made it through. I trembled, fought back tears, and tried to furiously swallow the lump that had formed in my throat. I went back to my seat. I don't remember much after that. Carrie spoke. I remember what she said. She shared about her first and last moments with Avery. When he was born, she said, "Hi Baby," to him, and he smiled the biggest smile she had ever seen. And right before he passed, she looked at him and said, "Hi Baby," and she said he smiled the biggest smile she had ever seen, just like the first one he ever gave her. Then he looked up, and he was gone.
Jodi and I couldn't stay for the graveside service. I had to drive two and a half hours back to pick up Doug, but I also had to stop and eat. I hadn't eaten all day, so I treated Jodi to lunch, we ate quickly and got back on the road, where once again, another car refused to let me over, so I was lost, again, and I wasn't relying on my GP-NO to be of any assistance, so I went through town until I found an on ramp for interstate going west, and we were on the right path again. Unfortunately, due to being lost and traffic, I was an hour late getting to Doug, so he had a work colleague drop him off at the nearby Taco Bell so he could grab a drink and a snack while he waited. It was a long, emotional day.
My last memory of Avery was at his first birthday party.
After we dropped Jodi off, I told Doug that I was so glad he wasn't able to go. I don't think he could have handled it either, and that's something I never ever want him to witness. It was too difficult on me.
Monday was Aimee's service. It would be my second funeral in three days. Thankfully, the drive wasn't as long. She had a graveside service at the cemetery right across from where she lived. I could see her house from the hill where the service took place. People from other countries came to honor her. I was amazed and humbled by that.
During the service, people took turns sharing memories to honor Aimee. I didn't speak. My memories with Aimee took place during childhood. We had some memories as teenagers, like how we went to see Metallica with a mutual friend, Danielle, when I was a freshmen and she and Dani were in eighth grade, or how she and Dani would hang out at my place, but there weren't enough memories for me to feel qualified to even speak on her behalf.
From left to right, Aimee's sister Leila (bottom) Aimee (top) me (in the pink outfit) and my brother.
Aimee and I grew apart. It happens. The thing is, this was mostly my fault. I won't go into the details, but I do blame myself. I was a selfish, boy crazy, stark raving mad teenager who had a severe case of ATS (Acute Teenager Syndrome). I stood there at the service, feeling terribly guilty and sad.
As everyone spoke, I learned some amazing things about Aimee. She was responsible for Fringe having a fifth season. She changed television ratings. I was gobsmacked, but in a good way. She went to Vancouver. She had tons of friends across globe that she spoke with regularly online. She was just this amazing person, and I missed out on that. It was my own fault.
At the end of the service, everyone got a chance to sign the guest book and write a memory or a message. I took my turn. I wrote an apology to her, and I told her that it was nice to see her over the Summer.
I had seen Aimee in June, oddly enough the day after Avery's first birthday party. Dani came in for her annual Ironton visit, and she always has everyone meet her at Giovanni's. I was actually free and able to go. Aimee was there, as well as a few others. While we were in line, Aimee and I talked briefly. At the time, I had nineteen books, and I will never forget this. She looked at me and said, "You've got nineteen books. I think it's time you put one out there." Me, Aimee, and Dani spoke briefly in the parking lot, standing there in the pouring rain, and goofing off just like old times. That was the last time I saw her.
After the funeral, I went to find somewhere for lunch and decided on Ruby Tuesday just a few minutes from my husband's place of employment. As I'm sitting there, eating, a song by Pearl Jam, one of Aimee's favorite bands, started playing, and I burst into tears in the middle of the restaurant. It was such a fitting and precious moment though.
This is one of the last photos of Aimee. One of her many friends shared it on Facebook to honor her.
The book of short stories I'm releasing is called Dormiveglia. I plan to release it on October 31st of this year. I have dedicated it to Aimee, and I shared a brief forward filled with memories about our childhood friendship.
Now we arrive at an even more difficult part of this tribute.
Many of you have kept in touch with me concerning my father-in-law, and many of you know the horrible things that he went through for the last four years. Many of you have read the blog posts about him being in and out of the hospital, and about the many calls that my husband and I received where medical staff told us he was dying, and how he would always bounce back from it and they would ship him to the nearest nursing home who would take him as he was with several conditions that they insisted upon, but never enforced.
It is with mixed emotions that I share this announcement with you.
My father-in-law passed away on February 22nd of 2014.
I say mixed emotions, because part of me is sad, but the other part of me is relieved to know that he will no longer be in pain, confused, or scared. He's not stuck in a bed with bed sores, unable to eat or communicate. I miss him, but I lost him four years ago. It was just his body that was left. I honestly thought I had already grieved for him and got it out of my system the first time he didn't recognize me. (He never recognized me again.) But when his body went, I found that I took it just as hard as I did when his mind left.
Let's back up a couple of days.
On Thursday, February 20th, someone from the hospital rang Doug while he was picking up groceries. It was like ten o'clock that evening. I was at home, sick as a dog. I had a sore throat, fever, a horrible cough, head and chest congestion, and absolutely no voice. I was still in my pajamas, hair in a messy braid, and lying on the couch watching television when Doug sent me a text. It said something along the lines of, "Get ready. As soon as I come home and put the groceries away, we have to go to the hospital." I responded to his message. I dragged my germ infested body to the closet, got dressed, threw my hair in a more polished ponytail, put on my shoes, grabbed my coat, and I went to lie back down on the couch while I waited. Doug, who got held up by his mother ringing him pertaining to the same situation, (she was already at the hospital with fnl) finally returned, was pleasantly surprised to see that I had managed to dress myself, and we locked up the cottage, and headed for the car as soon as he put the groceries away.
At the local hospital, we met mnl on the second floor. It was familiar to me because when Doug was hospitalized in 2009 to undergo surgery, he was in that same area. I was simply there for moral support for my husband and mnl. I couldn't utter a word of input if they asked, and I was hoping nobody asked.
The doctor, and another associate, I don't recall exactly who he was, took us to a tiny room, a break room of sorts right there by where we waited. Doug introduced me and explained that I was sick and had no voice, and the doctor said I could write down any input I had. Being a writer, I keep a mini notebook and several pens from which to choose in order to write down story ideas while out gallivanting about town.
The doctor was a very nice man, unlike the one I didn't much care for when fnl was in the ICU the time before last. He presented the case to us calmly and with great patience (no pun intended) as we selected one of three choices we were given.
The choices were as follows:
- Life support. My fnl would live for three to four weeks, but be in agony.
- Hospice. My fnl could be moved to one of two hospice facilities.
- Hospice Care. Right there at the hospital.
I weighed in, quickly jotting down for the third option, because I didn't want fnl to be transported from the hospital, simply because it was difficult on him to travel. My mnl and my husband were in agreement. Doug shared what I had written, and we pursued information about this third option. The doctor explained that the hospital would place fnl in a room and stop tube feeds via his g-button, but continue with pain medicine as needed and keep him on oxygen.
My mnl didn't like the thought of stopping feeds, and I was worried she was going to change her mind. To be honest, I didn't much care for the idea of my fnl not receiving tube feeds, but I wanted what was best for him, rather than watch his quality of life decline any further than it already was. To be beyond the valley of honest, he hadn't had ANY quality of life since 2012. After the kind doctor assured mnl that nobody had died from starvation while in hospice care, my mnl was okay with the option the three of us had selected.
The doctor and the associate left to get everything set up.
I went to the lobby just across from the hallway where fnl's room was. I was sick, and he was in isolation, and I wasn't so sure I should be visiting him, so I waited while Doug and mnl donned the pale yellow paper thin gowns and rubber gloves, and visited him.
The hospital chaplain appeared next after Doug and his mother came to the plush lobby where I waited. He prayed for my fnl and with us. Then, I decided to don a yellow paper thin gown, mask and rubber gloves to go in and see him. I didn't want to take any chances on not getting to at least see him before the inevitable happened. Doug was glad that I decided to go into the room.
Doug and I went home and went to bed sometime around or after midnight. It was one of those rare occasions where I was too sick to for insomnia to kick my butt all over the wee hours, and I crashed.
February 21st, Friday, six AM, Doug's mother rang him and told him that it was going to be any minute now, so we dragged out of bed. I took a quick shower and some pain meds in attempt to feel better, threw on some clothes (I layered since I was alternating between freezing and burning up), dried my hair, put on my shoes, and ran out the door.
We spent from seven something in the morning until after eleven o'clock that night at the hospital. Doug's aunt and uncle came and spent some time with us during the earlier part of the day. The phone call was yet another one of those "any minute" predictions that was anything but.
We got one dozen of those calls throughout the last four years. where the nursing home staff, hospital staff, or mnl would ring one of us and say we needed to come immediately. We had been through so many of those that I was to the point that I wasn't sure how true it was, and Friday's telephone call was one of those times. I'm not trying to be hateful, because I didn't want him to die, but I also didn't want him to suffer any longer, I'm just being honest. Doug would be rung by someone. He would be told it was the end. We would rush over to the hospital or nursing home, fnl would bounce back, and according to the nursing home staff, he was just experiencing (fill in the random reason), and the hospital staff would be ready to ship him back to the nursing home.
Shelly#2 came to visit and did everything she could to cheer us up.
Obviously, I'm the horribly sick looking one in the mask.
I have refrained from sharing the pictures of where we drew lipstick lips on our masks with Shelly#2's lipstick. It was funny, but I don't think appropriate for this post. Still, it made my mnl laugh until she cried, and I was thankful for that.
Sarturday, February 22nd.
At some time after nine o'clock in the morning, mnl rang Doug to tell us that fnl was gone. I did not expect that. I honestly expected it to be the thirteenth, "any minute" call, but it wasn't. He was gone. He waited until my mnl left the room to go eat, and then he was gone.
Doug and I got up, showered, and went to the hospital. I was surprised that the body was still in the room, and the apparatus that made the bed move in various spots to keep fnl from getting even worse bed sores was still going, so his body was in the bed, and it was moving. It actually creeped me out. My mnl said the nurse offered to turn it off, and she insisted it wasn't bothering her, but I couldn't wait to get out of there.
We left the hospital and went to Max and Erma's to eat. Doug had to order for me.
Our next stop was the funeral home, where the service would be held. My mnl had set up everything last June, but there were things that needed to be finalized, like the obit, and figuring out the casket, the flowers, and the suit fnl would wear. The staff at the funeral home were wonderful. They offered my mnl a suit free of charge. My fnl didn't really have any suits. They did what they could to keep mnl from having to pay more money. We finalized everything but the obit. (Mnl went back to have a few things changed on it the next day.) And we were off to the cemetery.
At the cemetery, we were greeted by staff members who were just as kind. They offered us drinks and snacks. They helped mnl choose a marble and a plaque design. They offered her a payment plan. They gave her an angel pin to wear, and thank you cards for the people who would serve as pallbearers. They stayed late for her. They even drove us to the plot, (it's a huge cemetery) and back to the office.
With everything accomplished, we went to his aunt and uncle's house, where we spent the remainder of the evening, eating pizza, and sharing memories.
Sunday, February 23rd.
Sunday was rough. I'm not even sure we went to church. I didn't, but I don't think Doug did either.
We picked up mnl, took her back to the funeral home to make changes to the obit. We stopped at Wendy's to eat, and that's when I started freaking out. My heart was pounding, and I felt like I was going to faint. Doug knew something was wrong. I asked him to walk me to the loo, and I fell apart, right there in the middle of Wendy's. I don't know what happened. I pulled myself together, returned to the table, acted like I was okay so my mnl wouldn't have to see me freak out or cry, and picked at my food. After I ate a few bites of my chili, I started feeling better.
From there, we took mnl to the store, took her home, and headed for the cottage.
Today was my brother's birthday. (This was not the first time death was involved around my brother's birthday. Our cousin died in a car accident the day before his birthday in 1993.) That evening was the visitation for fnl. We met up with Doug's paternal aunt and uncle, who came in for the visitation/funeral. I still had no voice, but we met them for dinner, and Doug had to order for me and explain to them that I couldn't talk.
We got to the funeral home thirty minutes early. We spoke briefly with the staff, except for me, and they took us to the room. The set up was beautiful. Despite the discounts they gave mnl, they did not cut corners. We walked in. I was surprised at how good fnl looked. I know that people say things like that, and more often than not the body doesn't really look good, but I mean it. It think it was because he looked so bad for the last two and a half years, always tensed up in pain with a scared look on his face, and his lips were so dry. On father's day a year ago, I actually demanded that that one of the staff members put some chapstick on his lips. They were ridiculously dry. It broke my heart. Mnl said that the staff put something on his lips every hour that was supposed to be better than chapstick. Apparently the staff either didn't apply anything, or it didn't work. I'm not sure what caused his lips to be so dry. But he looked so much better than he had the last few years of his life.
My mnl broke down and cried when she saw her husband in the casket. I felt the familiar lump forming in my throat, but I remained stoic. I took up residence in a comfortable chair and watched everyone come and go. People I knew came and talked with me, and I could only whisper in response. There were people from mnl and fnl's church who recognized us. We had attended there and sang in the choir for three years until we went to Judgement House, and we fell in love with the church that put on JH. People from our church came to support us. One family from our church delivered a meat and cheese tray, soda, and chips, and it was so cold out that we knew that the car would serve as a refrigerator to the tray until we got home. Doug's relatives came to offer their condolences. The barbershop group with which my fnl sang came and did a few songs at the visitation. While that was going on, a lady that Doug and I sang in the choir with at mnl and fnl's church sat in the chair beside me and held my hand. I think she may have thought I felt left out, but I didn't. I was simply observing. That's what I would have done even if I could have spoken.
I've always been an observer, the outside looking in type. And as I watched people come and go, and I watched them interact with my husband's family (he has a great family and I'm so glad to be part of it) it just made me realize how much I loved them and the people who were kind enough to do the things I couldn't do at that moment. I felt like Doug's family needed them more than I did.
Toward the end of the night, my close friend of going on twenty years, Allison, came all the way from where she lives, a 45 minute drive, just to be there for us. That really touched my heart. I could only whisper my appreciation to her, but I REALLY appreciated it. My friend Jodi also came, and Gina and Chad, and a few others, including my fnl's favorite pastor from our church, and his son and daughter-in-law. We had so much love and support from everyone, and I am still truly grateful.
After the service, we went home, had sandwiches from the meat and cheese tray, chips, and introduced my mnl to Blast from the Past on the DVR. She LOVED it. We knew she would.
We met the aunt and uncle for breakfast at Bob Evans early that morning prior to the funeral home. When we got there, we were greeted by people who were unable to make it to the visitation for one reason or another. They signed the book, took a card with brief info about fnl's life, his DOB and DOD, the scripture insert, and the service times inside.
The pastor from our church came and prayed with us prior to the service. He and his wife sent a wreath. It's still hanging on our front door. I decided to leave it up until it's time to decorate for Fall. It will go back up on the door after Christmas. And a friend of ours who works on the church media with us served as a pallbearer.
The pastor from fnl's church was the one who spoke at the service. He did a beautiful job. My fnl's family and mnl's family are both Scotch-Irish. (My paternal side is rumored to be Scotch-Irish as well, but I couldn't tell you if that's true or not. Too many secrets and lies to sort through.) My fnl never got to go to Ireland like he wanted. It was one of his dreams that never came true. So at the end of the service, the pastor read the Irish Blessing. It was fnl's favorite thing ever. I can't read it or even type it without crying.
I'm going to leave you with a few pictures, and then the Irish Blessing.
From left to right, front row: mnl, me, Doug; back row: fnl, fnl's brother May 2007
Fnl Summer 2010 at HHR. I have no idea what I'm doing behind him.
May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
The rain fall softly on your fields
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of His hand
So to Avery, Aimee, and John, until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.