Well, it’s been nearly 3 months since I last posted…amazing how time just sneaks away when you’re not looking. The weeks and months since Christmas have been an adjustment around our house, for the better in some ways and worse in others.
Severus and I flew to Oregon on Christmas Day to enjoy some oceanic therapy. It really is amazing what being oceanfront can do for the soul! It’s also amazing what falling into the ocean can do to an iPhone 6—not good amazing. Fortunately, we still had an upgrade on our contract so my waterlogged, 3-month-old phone has been replaced and I’m back up and running. Here’s a little peek at what that dip in the Pacific looked like.
Unfortunately, we’ve not yet been able to recover the photos/videos that hadn’t yet loaded to the cloud. That in itself wouldn’t be a big deal except that it was our last Christmas with Vampire Kitty. We got frequent reports from my mom (who was housesitting) that Storm wasn’t eating. We had hoped it was a simple matter of her being a cat and protesting our absence. When we returned home on New Years Day we found that wasn’t the case. After several days of syringe-feedings, we took her back to the vet’s office and learned she was losing weight at an alarming rate. On Friday, January 9, a bitey little soul left our lives; melodramatic though it is, I haven’t been quite the same since.
Storm and I were almost like halves of a whole. She was both a BFF and nemesis. She slept right beside me at night, joined me as I prepared for work each morning and greeted me at the door when I arrived home. In spite of all that togetherness—or perhaps because of it—she also lashed out and bit me with regularity. Given all of the wounds she inflicted over the years, I feel secure in saying that we shared a bond forged in blood.
Those first few weeks found me nearly inconsolable. Translation: there was a whole lot of ugly crying! For heaven’s sake, I’ve got misty eyes again now just thinking about it. That’s why it’s taken me so long to get back in the swing of blogging; I dreaded having to write this post but couldn’t pretend like it didn’t happen or have a tremendous impact on my world.
She was just a cat, and she was kind of a jerk of one at that, but she was my little jerk. Things have steadily improved and we’ve welcomed a new little family member that I’ll introduce soon. Still, the Storm-shaped void aches with fluctuating intensity and, like any grief, finds the most obscure ways to resurface.
It’s been two months and four days since my uncle Pete left behind the worries of this world.
Today would have been his 55th birthday.
And the fantastic thing of it is that they still are!
In spite of the circumstances, Sherry carries on the joyful essence of their relationship and what it means to all of us. Even in her sorrow, she radiates the love and good humor that were once carried by two.
Sherry is stronger than she realizes and more inspiring than she’ll ever know.
Among countless other things, Pete and Sherry taught me how to imitate a richy-rich, snobby voice (imagine the Howells from Gilligan’s Island). Saying the most mundane things this way still reduces me to a pile of giggles.
From them, I learned to appreciate nice, long conversations held on the front porch or deck. Time is better spent outside, away from the television.
They instilled in me the therapeutic value of intermingling serious subjects and gut-busting funnies. The most beneficial laughter often accompanies tears.
Pete repeatedly demonstrated that even annoying commercials can be funny when irreverently taken out of context—he had a habit of hilariously singing and dancing like the guys in the old Nextel commercial or muddling through jingles like the McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish song.
Above all, they provided a glimpse at the beautiful result of spouses treating each other like respective kings and queens. They carried as much respect for one another as they did love.
That’s something that neither could have done without the other.
That’s something I will forever cherish.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times.”
(The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien)
There’s nothing particularly endearing to me about the Lord of the Rings saga, save for Samwise Gamgee’s unwavering loyalty to Frodo. Nevertheless, this exchange with Gandalf strikes a chord.
None of us ever really wants to face tragedy. Sure, we may have some strange inclination towards fictional accounts in action/drama/post-apocalyptic fare and we may even give in to gawker syndrome when passing an accident scene, but the vast majority of our species does not genuinely wish to see suffering.
And yet, we are privy to tragedy and pain on a daily basis, be it on a personal or global scale. The bad in life seems to happen so frequently that we can become indifferent to it. It’s only when the pain hits close to home or in a shocking, unexpected way that we pause and truly mourn.
This morning, for the first time in my life, I awoke in a world where Uncle Pete does not share his smile. Just shy of a year after his terminal diagnosis, the cancer became too much for his body to handle. It is now my turn to mourn.
On Friday afternoon, I received word that Pete had been moved to a hospice facility. My extended family had already planned to come to town on Saturday, so I joined them that evening. I expected it would be a difficult visit, but I couldn’t have imagined the degree to which I had underestimated.
Severus and I sat with Pete and Sherry for about ten minutes Saturday night. What do you say to a dying man who is physically little more than a shell of the person you’ve always known? Naturally, I told him he looked good (to which he replied “under the circumstances”). I told him that he was a trouble-maker and a brat; he said I was a brat, too 🙂
When he got fidgety and started pulling at his oxygen tube, I lectured him not to be like Papaw—who had died after pitching a fit about not needing the oxygen and throwing his mask across the room. In typical Pete fashion, a Papaw-esque fit ensued…followed by a devious little smirk and “hee hee.” He then told me to sit down (in as close to a Papaw imitation as he could muster). We bantered a little more, but much of his mumbling was incoherent and I could tell he was hurting.
Not knowing what else to say, I suggested that we let Pete get some rest. After kissing him on the cheek and discreetly slipping a note into his breast pocket (I’ve no idea if Sherry read it to him), we walked to the door.
“See you soon,” I said.
“Are you coming back tomorrow?” he managed to squeak out.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” said she who was on the verge of tears.
But I didn’t make it back in time.
When we got out of church Sunday morning, I had a voicemail from my mom and text message from my dad—”Pete’s home now.”
In the days ahead, I hope to detail some of the lessons I learned from my uncle and the example he and my aunt set. In the meantime, my duty is to help Aunt Sherry as much as I can. Her transition from wife to widow is not an easy one; I pray that she will feel peace and comfort.
I spent Easter weekend with my favorite peeps…and they weren’t even the marshmallow kind.
<ba dum dum>
Saturday’s festivities included a first birthday party for a very special little girl (I’m an honorary auntie) and the annual after-dark Easter egg hunt at “House Severus” (we scored toilet paper, paper towels, soap, snacks and more Tootsie Rolls than you care to know).
On Resurrection Sunday, we spent the better part of the day at my parents’ house where Uncle Pete and Aunt Sherry joined us for supper. We were elated at Christmas when Pete was able to keep down little bites of everything; this holiday brought the surprise that Pete has reacquired quite an appetite! He cleared a rather full plate and helped himself to three different desserts. Pete’s new chemotherapy involves taking a pill rather than undergoing the intravenous treatment, and it seems to be much easier on his body. Of course, only time will tell if it is as effective at staving off the multiple tumors’ growth.
Aside from Pete’s shorter, whiter hair (it’s coming back!), he was 100% Pete…joking, laughing, irreverent and sarcastic as ever. It was splendid!
We talked about going to visit our family down at the farm sometime soon, and I mentioned that I couldn’t go this weekend due to a prior engagement. Naturally, Pete took the opportunity to guilt-trip me mercilessly. “This might be the last time we all go down there together,” he teased.
Sadly, there’s an element of truth behind it. Pete’s recovery thus far has been remarkable, miraculous even—most people don’t have 9 massive brain tumors that shrink down to virtually nothing or get a 6-week life expectancy prognosis that turns into months and (hopefully) years—but we’re not guaranteed anything. Though things are looking sunny right now, the proverbial skies could cloud at any moment.
Rather than give in to the pangs of sorrow that shivered inside, I returned Pete’s banter. First, I called him on his ruse. He replied oh-so dramatically, “A ruse by any other name is still a ruse.”
Then I reminded him that it could be the last time we saw each other because I could die in a car accident any given day with my 80-mile roundtrip commute. He laughed and tossed back, “Well, what do you want me to do, go to work with you?”
You know, I sure wish I could bring him to work with me. It’d make the days better for everyone!
In the grand scheme of things, our lifetimes are short and our bodies fragile. From the moment we are conceived in our mother’s womb we are working against an unseen countdown clock towards expiration. Ideally, everyone would live long, happy lives; unfortunately, many see only several decades, others mere days or fleeting moments.
The majority of my family members have died relatively young (many prior to turning 65 years old), but there have been a few who were blessed with good health and longevity. My great-aunt Martha was one of the latter.
Born in 1924, Aunt Martha grew up in the small rural town where I currently reside, the same as her mother (my great-grandmother). Her little brother, my grandfather, was born a few years later.
In 1944, Aunt Martha married a sailor she had met at Kansas City’s Union Station train depot. Uncle Dale, a Purple Heart recipient and Pearl Harbor survivor, swept her off her feet; they celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary together last September.
Though they had grandchildren and great-grandchildren of their own, Aunt Martha and Uncle Dale always made me feel like I was special to them. I cherished the t-shirts and souvenirs from their many travels.
We saw Aunt Martha and Uncle Dale every summer, visiting them in Texas or hosting them in our home. After my my great-grandmother passed away in 1998, the visits were fewer and further between. Our most recent time together was some five years ago.
Around that same time, I worked for our local library. It was there that I had the extreme pleasure and honor of meeting some of Granddad and Aunt Martha’s former classmates who still reside nearby. They shared favorite memories of schooldays and stories of extracurricular mischief.
I marvel when thinking on “The Greatest Generation,” and I’m deeply saddened by the rate at which they are disappearing from our demographics. This is the generation that banded together—men and women, civilian and armed—to overcome tyrannical leaders and fascist regimes. With more than 16 million men and women joining the effort during WWII, hardly anyone went unaffected.
Yet in spite of all their experiences, those remaining Greats have such a joy about them. Even with ailing bodies, they carry themselves with dignity and grace. Perhaps it’s because they were raised to stand for the greater good, which can only happen when you’re prepared to give your best.
Aunt Martha left the worries of this world on Monday, her sweet spirit passing on to the land of memory. She was one of the most beautiful people I’ve known, inside and out.
Like the rest of my family, I’m grieved by the loss. On the other hand, this is precisely how it’s supposed to happen…a long, happy life filled with loved ones and great experiences. I can only hope to be so blessed.
Life ends not here upon this earth,
The Savior, He awaits
To gather in His loving arms
Each soul at Heaven’s gates