Happy new year my friend :)
We hope 2020 has a great outlook for you. 70 years from now they will look back on this time and call it "back in the 20's"... although that's not here yet, the 20's are our present... it's currently undefined, so we hope you can make the best of it.
Every Friday I talk about what's on my mind or what's happening in the industry we work in. Sometimes it's simple and other times I'm pouring my heart out.
This is one of those times I am pouring my heart out.
As we start the new year we all can't help but reflect on the previous year. Although I have a lot to say in my weekly grateful messages, there's a lot of 2019 that I've kept close to my heart and not disclosed. There have been moments sprinkled in (blue highlights), but this will close the loop as to what we/I have been dealing with for literally an entire year. Starting from Christmas 2018 - ending just after New Years 2020.
As the world starts 2020 fresh, our little family's new year begins with the end of our Mom's life's story...
I married into a family of 3... Having married the only girl, I became the 3rd son. In this story I'm about to tell, I am the 3rd son.
When I was a kid somewhere in my young mind I came to the awareness that once someone was one year old, that when they die, they will have already lived the day they were going to die, but just didn't know it. That has followed me since being a small kid.. now as I get older, the mind boggling idea surfaces more often.
This time last year, 2019, was a great and special time for us. We had family from two different parts of the country come spend it with us. One of which was my second Mom and second Dad from Nevada... It was probably the best Christmas I can recall in a very long time. As I reminisce about it, the house was filled with love and joy.. just as we see on TV and such. Everyone was happy to see each other, no drama, nothing but love. It was amazing. :)
I smile as I think about it :)
During that time, Mom would find herself needing to leave due to stomach pains. We all still enjoyed the time as we could. As soon as they went home back to Nevada the pain still continued, so much so they checked into a hospital for a closer look. Later that January my family would find ourselves in Utah to be there for "my" brother's wife (my sister, Kelly) police graduation.. As the universe aligned itself with us, Mom was also in the hospital in Salt Lake.
While stressfully visiting her we were informed she had stage 3 pancreatic cancer. This was devastating to us... especially as we recalled the stomach issues just weeks ago during Christmas. The cancer was in a spot that made it inoperable as it was near a vital blood vessel. They informed us that this was the aggressive, Patrick Swazy kind of cancer rather than longer Steve Jobs kind. They anticipated a 3-6 month span but would try an aggressive chemo to help make the tumor smaller. Trying to process this life changing, life altering moment, amongst everything else we were participating with while up there, all of this made it far more stressful.. more so, just shitty, period.
When we came back to Arizona we started this new chapter in our life... how and what with pancreatic cancer. In short time Dad and Mom would make the commute from a small town in Nevada and travel 4 hours to Salt Lake, then again 4 hours back to Nevada.... every week... then 5 days later, do this again, and again. For weeks on end this continued. The family being on all parts of the planet keeping updated with the ongoings... I cannot imagine that drive!
As time would continue the chemotherapy just kicked Mom in the ass. Whether it be with a pain port problem, depression, exhaustion, 8 hours of travel a week.. things sucked. The treatments would carry on for months... all the while we're not sure how long or what to expect. Months later a checkup discovered that the cancer had metastasized and was now stage 4. Given all the chemo efforts nothing was working... so they made the difficult decision to stop chemo and focus on the quality of life rather than the quantity.
Please keep in mind, up until now, this is my 3rd son perspective... I was close to the info as best I could, but still needed to provide for my family. There may be some details I've missed but I'm pretty close.
When we got the call about things escalating to stage 4 the anxiety went through the roof. Shortly after knowing this, one evening while my Chas was in the shower I called some close family who was nearby and ask if they could pick up Chas and take her to the airport the next day. I told them I would do so, however I had a family flying into town to go look at a number of houses that weekend and had no backup to hand the work off too. Our friends graciously said yes and decided to come over that night. By the time Chas got out of the shower and saumberly found herself in my office I told her I bought her a one way ticket to Utah and family would be here in the morning to take you there.
This of course was sudden, overwhelming, and ________.. just fill in the blank. In a mess of tears, with the help of our family who showed up late that night calmed her down and planned for tomorrow.
Keep in mind. Chas had only twice ever been away from the boys for a decent time. Once when she had a ruptured ectopic pregnancy and then when Tristan was born. That aside, the one way ticket, kids, school, life... you name it... she wasn't going to be there for. So this was a big deal.
The next day, which was Friday, Tristan and I left that morning and showed about 12 houses that day. He was a hell of a trooper. Our friends came by and drove Chas to the airport which she arrived later that afternoon. Chas would end up staying in Utah while waiting for her brothers to show up, then as a group would make their final drive back to Nevada. She would end up staying there a little over a month.
During this time I became a single dad.. legit single dad. Although it sucked at times, I was happy to be there for my boys in a way I didn't have the chance too. Chas would end up missing the first day of high school and first day of fourth grade. Not to mention all the football practices and such too. Not easy for an intentional life-long stay at home mom...
I would find myself doing all the things my awesome stay at home bride would do AND all the handyman and real estate stuff simultaneously. There were times I would not get home until 8-9pm... Tristan would be at our family neighbors house across the street, Avin with some friends from football.. .our football family would step up and help us with the boys.... man.. it was a hell of a time. I ended up taking Tristan on a number of long drawn out handyman jobs... one of which was a 130 degrees in an attic crawl space... dude, it was a temporary madhouse!
We were beyond grateful for the support we got from those in our life.. We had a number of friends make us dinners, take the boys, welcomed us to their home. It was truly helpful and one that I will never forget.
While Chas was up there with her family for the month she spent a lot of time with her brothers and mom. Laughing, crying, planning, dealing, missing, hospice care, crying, more crying.. tending to, learning, crying. It was a very stressful time.. but looking back now, it was such a good decision. Mom still had her wits about herself, was mobil and could enjoy the company better than in her later months.
In a nice turn of events, being off chemo allowed Mom to feel better and ride things out. The spirit was up, the wits were there, all things leveled out and symptomatically slowed down. After a months time up there me and the boys surprised Chas by visiting her in Nevada. Since Mom's health was doing better, there was time for Chas to come home and be home for a while before planning to go back and be with her Mom.
Transition to home wasn't easy for my Chas.. routines had been altered.. hell, I even rearranged the cabinets to be more efficient. hahha :) (which she agreed)
Fast forward to the end of October this year. The health started to change, Moms depression worsened, with Dad needing to go back to work, and hospice visits being only so often, the decision was made to have her come live her final days with us in our house in Arizona. Although this was a huge decision, the biggest one we've ever really made, even beyond having children it feels (for me) was also very easy. So on halloween Mom moved in with us.
In short time of her living here her health progressively dropped... sporadic moments of mental loss would ensue, more dwindling health. This meant that someone needed to be at home full time with her. Fortunately Chas was already a stay at home mom.. but this was now to another level... thankfully I had the experience from a few months prior working the real estate job, handyman job, and dad/mom responsibilities all at the same time... so I did. That allowed Chas to be there with Mom all the time. This of course brought out a lot of challenges and struggles, but she, we, all of us persevered.
Throughout this time we received more help from neighboring family, close friends, visits from Dad and her bro would be here to help with Mom, the boys, and Chas. Chas being Chas though she burdened herself with a lot.. but heartfeltly did so, and so, so well!! More than she gives herself credit for. To be in a position of mine to watch the circle of life unfold was beautiful and heartbreaking. It showed me how precious life is and what love truly is. The way she cared for her, gave Mom her meds, cleaned up for her, showered, bathed, cleaned for her... was amazing. The exhaustion was overwhelming at times. Being at the beck and call of a phone call just rooms down the hall at 1,2,3 in the morning. Religiously giving meds at all hours, never missing a beat... lord I tell you... I married and angel!
To watch the growth between the siblings was amazing.. the cohesion of efforts.. this is what family does when the care for each other. It was heartbreaking and heartwarming to watch. It had its moments of sheer difficulty and despair.. and closure and connection. I am grateful to the universe for allowing me to be able to provide Chas and our family for these final days. Hard, but damn precious.
Christmas 2019 came... it was quiet and saumber. It wasn't filled with the same joy as last year... the awareness of having lived the day you were bound to die on was smack in my face. Final pictures were taken, final videos... moments of less than 15-20 minutes were supposed to last a lifetime. The boys opened their gifts, she opened their gifts. For as much as she could muster, attention span shortened, joy and absence all into one... it was time for her to go lay back down.
We would end up finishing the Christmas experience throughout the day.. finsingh in the mid afternoon. Chas made an amazing gumbo and were later visited by my dear Aunt and wonderful cousin. Although with heavy hearts everything was full. It was a bittersweet but good time nonetheless.
Like the flickering of a candle on its last burn, Mom would fight to let go and stay here with us. Symptoms were in steady decline but not plummeting. Wits were harder to understand, memories were lost. There were times when Chas would be called someone else's name, Mam, Jesus, Nurse, (a handful of others)... at times asking her "Mam, please find my daughter"... although Chas would roll with it, it would eat her afterwards. Watching it unfold was so hard.. but what can you do?.. Mom didn't have an estate, insurance more than State, no social security (she was only 58) :(... she couldn't go to a home and hospice could only visit a couple times a week... so that fell solely on Chas and her brother to take care of Mom... but mostly Chas.
Yesterday started off like any other... I found Chas on the couch awake since 3am or so.. exhausted. Somehow I had the forethought to call and cancel a number of my handyman jobs the day prior... so I was chill and ready to just be there with Chas should she need anything. After Moms 6am morning meds we were sitting on the couch and could hear Mom call for her. Thereafter she would end up throw up on herself... she hadn't eaten since before Christmas and drank very little... but oddly enough had enough fluid to pass up... her body was breaking down, it was no longer clear watery, but dark and brown.. her eyes were yellow and she was incredibly weak.
It was sad.
Things became difficult enough for myself to step in and help. Chas could physically only handle so much. Having not done any of this before Chas led me through the process like a pro.... man, I tell you.. changing wet sheets below dead weight is a challenge... then to put new ones on all without one coming off the bed is challenging. There was a moment when we were changing her clothes and Mom muttered the words "please let me go"... "just let me go"... I don't think Chas knew what Mom was getting at as Chas was engaged with just trying to make her comfortable. It felt different to me but I was the helper not living though it like Chas was. Chas would bathe her while saying "it's ok".. just as a mother would her children... but it's the child doing so with her mom... it was incredibly hard to watch, but I was there being present.. soaking it in and dreading it all at the same time. We dressed her and made her comfortable as best we could. Chas thanked me insistently and we progressed into the morning.
The nurse would be there later in the morning to check vitals. Moms breathing changed.. it was more rampant than normal... it reminded me of a dog just before giving birth. You could feel the stresses in the air. The nurse informed us that the end was near and we had maybe 24-28 hours. Chas was a complete mess... Tristan, the sweet boy... he came into my office gently, not like times past just barging in.... he said moms crying really badly.. you could hear the child's concern in his tone. I went and consoled her. The nurse had tears in her eyes as well.. not that things weren't serious, but things were serious. While I lead Chas to the bathroom, barely holding on, she collapsed to the ground, tucked in the fetal position in the corner... crying with a small gag now and then...I felt helpless... she said you need to call Ryan (our younger bro), you need to call John (Dad)... man. Overwhelming...
I walked to my office. Tristan is in the hallway looking up at me.. I think he had something in his hand. Maybe a lego or something. Holding it like a small kid with a teddy bear looking at me. Holding the tears back asking if she's going to be ok... I said Mom, he said yes. you could see his eyes welling up. Man it sucked!.... I gently touched his head and brushed his hair as I held him. Holding back from crying myself looking at him in the eye I told him Mom was going to be ok, it's just really hard right now. I continued to hold him and tell him it'll be ok. I walked him to his room and thanked him for being so wonderful and gentle as he came into my office.
I left him to his room and headed to my office and closed the door. Although Mom hadn't passed yet.. I could feel it. Thank the heavens I called out today! man! ... I calmly called Ryan then John.... Ryan was about an hour away at work and poor John was in Nevada at work... 2 hours away from his vehicle, 14 hours from his house to our house... Right after that I called our older brother Brandon in Louisiana. All were calm thankful conversations... but man... being the one to do this.. shit!.
Shit it was hard... being the 4th child in this... the 3rd son in this... it was my job and I did so honorably.
I went on my was as best possible that morning... Just as the nurse left and the social worker arrived (keep in mind, all of the hospice visits were part of the weekly routine)... Mom threw up again. The first set of sheets were just now done with the dryer... I went to the back to take them out to be as helpful as possible. Chas and Sierra (social worker) were talking and helping Mom... having just been informed of the recent news of Mom's time, Chas was unconsolable... although there in the task, she'd be in tears the entire time... not thinking well, but going through the efforts to help Mom.
Mom was too weak to change clothing, so we had to cut her nightgown off and throw it away. Random utters of words would come from Mom but not much. As Chas would bathe her one last time you could see tears pouring down her face as she held it together. Just as we were changing her, Ryan showed up. It was nice to have backup there. He was calm and quiet as we dealt with the moment at hand.
Things calmed down a bit and Mom layed there sleeping. Her breathing had slowed down. Although not awake really, you could tell this morning was exhausting for her. Ryan would stay by her side the entire time. Chas ended up needing some air and was outside with the social worker.
Things were quiet for a time.
Although I was at home helping as much as possible, work life doesn't stop. Amazing the commitments that happen while life is doing what it's doing. After a call with a client, a different hospice lady came to my office door and said it won't be much longer today. As I bend the corner, Chas is on the ground looking at Mom stroking her hair talking with her. Her breathing has slowed down, she looked different. Ryan would pat and caress her quietly from behind. I stayed there for support asking if anyone needed anything... Poor John...he's still not here and has forever before he's here... would he make it in time I wondered?...
Not knowing what else to do, I rounded the boys to check in on them. Avin was in his room with a fever and playing video games. Tristan was out with friends being a distracted boy. In a motherly panic Chas would ask where are the boys what are they doing. I would inform her where they are and that they're good. Avin came out and laid his head on Nanna (Mom) and said that he loved her. He patted Chas on the shoulder and leaned his head in consoling her. It was endearing as hell. After making some other spot checks as I came back in the room they all were on the phone together with big brother Brandon in Louisiana. Mom couldn't respond at all but they were talking. Each subsequently saying their last goodbyes... the phone in Louisiana was handed from family to family talking to her.. Landon (our nephew) said his goodbyes to her... it was the little boy voice that just shattered your heart.... the southern drawl coming from him as he said I love you nana was hell on the heart. Although Nanna couldn't say anything, her face had a glimmer of a physical response... you knew she heard him.
Chas being so distraught I had to keep it together... I could feel the tears coming but it was her time to cry and be there.. so I put on a strong face and kept quiet fighting the temptation. The final moments would creap in quickly. Chas continued to stroke her hair and call her beautiful.. Moms hands would get cold so Chas would have a hot washcloth she'd keep over them. As soon as it got cold Ryan would take it to the sink and warm it up. This would continue for minutes at a time. Eventually Chas found herself dead exhausted on the ground holding her mom's hands while looking at the floor. Ryan would gently hold Chas's hand while patting mom on the back. Sitting next to Chas all I could do is rub her back... all the while the phone's are blowing up.. hers and mine both... so strange that the suddenness of everyone showing up. No one knew what was going on anyway, so the irony of their timing is supernatural.
Feeling helpless while trying to not be in the phone I needed to make sure it wasn't someone important. I would answer for texts for the family who was reaching out. Mom's breathing was very slow, but peaceful. Her eyes were open, lost to the world. You could see that fire in the candle dance and struggle as the watery wax would build up around the wick...
Chas put her arm under mom's head and her other arm over her shoulder. Crying and consoling her mom at the same time Chas would say "listen to my heart".. I just watched. I was being present as possible. Ryan continued to pat mom then occasionally stop. We all were waiting for the candle to burn out but taking no moment for granted.
As Chas held her mom close to her heart she felt her leave... pausing in mid conversation like talking to someone whom you know just fell asleep (we've all been there) Chas looked down as a double check... the candle had blown out....
Chas slid down into my lap next to me as the hospice lady checked for vitals... we all waited in understanding concern having watched every breath for the last hour. The lady pronounced her time of death and like floodgates erupting, both Ryan and Chas held Mom together as an angel went to heaven...
I stayed there next to Chas, across from Ryan and let them grieve... I continued to pat Chas but knew she had me... I watched as my little brother Ryan in an emotional hurricane downsize to a small boy missing his mom. I've seen this before in movies... but not like this. This literally just happened. I stayed there and was present. I concern and love for Ryan I got up and went behind him and rubbed his back too. I could feel the heat from his body and the clamminess of himself come through his shirt. I could see the white in his knuckles as he gripped the side rail... Chas would peer up and look at him and put her hand on him consoling him... I stepped back and let them be with their Mom, my second Mom.
I couldn't help but recall my childhood awareness... that we have already lived the day we would die... it was just a year ago, this past year, in our own home... and here we're living the unknown future to that moment. The words are almost haunting.... I stayed there continuing to think and wonder...
She had always treated me so, so well... Chas and I would joke that if we ever got divorced her mom would always blame Chas as there was nothing I could do wrong.. I just stayed against the wall and processed everything... I was so sad for them and for her. 58 years old... Tristan should have been in his late 20's - early 30's when Nanna died... not 9. She was an amazing Grandmother... one who loved each child as if they were the only one. I could only wish to have seen her as a Great Grandma, a Great Nana.. <3 I was heartbroken for them. As I let the emotion sink in, ending calls or texts that would come in and I just stayed there.. being present.
I was quick and shaking as I took this picture... but being there in the moment I had to capture this... it was the least I could do for them.
If you could choose how eloquently someone could slip away, this is how you'd want it to be... surrounded by love, within the arms of someone who loves you and in a safe place. This part of growing up sucked, but was a necessary part of it. Although Mom, Nanna, Dale, is no longer on this planet with us, she is with us forever. For me, I will see it in every time I look at my boys as they could not be here without her. When Chas sounds hot and lippy, like her Mom, I will remember that too. :) That along with all the funny memories she gave us.
She always had a love for angels, I would have loved a chance to frame the angel from above for her as I know she would have kept it forever like the first angel gift I made her almost 20 years ago..
As I come down from the emotion of this post, especially with the last very difficult year, there was a lot of sucky parts and a lot of good parts. The responsibility of taking care of someone you love in their final days is not easy. All in all, I'm going to miss it as a whole... as strange as that sounds.
When I see this picture I can only wonder what she is dreaming about... either her life, where she's going, or maybe there's nothing happening. But she does look peaceful and that's important to me. At the end of the day, the one thing we could do, the one thing I could do was provide for a safe environment for someone to live out their last moments of life... for me, that is enough.
I've really not given this much thought... but I'd like to imagine the gates of heaven look kind of like this. I hope they have open arms for their newest family member.
Forgive any randomness of thought.. that was not easy. :(
We love and miss you <3