There is an illusion we create of the order of things in the world. We are born, we live, we die. Childhood is supposed to be carefree and frivolous, puberty full of confusion and angst, teenage years dire and gothic. By the early twenties you try to recapture some of the carefree and frivolous because the need for decisions and a career choice are looming on the horizon. You are being called to responsibility in a new way. Maybe you go to grad school. Maybe you find a mate and marry, even have children of your own. Your parents age, but they are supposed to, you are not. Your children grow, maturing in fits and starts, make questionable decisions, do not embrace your belief system or priorities. Then at some point they start repeating things you have said to them as if it were their own idea. They tell you they appreciate you, they love you. They choose to spend time with you when they have opportunities where they could do something else. You are feeling pretty good about this whole thing. Then, as you are sailing along peacefully, patting your fat round belly in contentment the unthinkable happens.
In the year 1989 the first unthinkable thing happened. My husband’s dad died. He had abused himself with alcohol and refused to take care of himself. Our family had moved to what is now our home. My father-in-law had yet to come visit. My husband had yet to “show off” what his years of schooling and training had achieved for us to the father he desperately wanted to have love him, take pride in him. Right before Christmas, having lived in our new hometown for only six months we received the call that he was gone. Our children, two of the three grandchildren in the family were aged 7 and 4.
In February of 1998 my father was diagnosed with leukemia. He opted not to receive treatment in light of the advanced state of his disease. My sister’s and I along with the help of hospice helped our mother care for him at home. He lived three months. We cared for him as a we would a baby.
In April of 2000 our daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. My father had been diagnosed with AML, our daughter ALL. She was 14 years old. Our son had been arrested in December along with a number of his friends because of crazy prank involving a port-o-john and an explosion. He and his friends (the top scoring SAT students including valedictorian) were not allowed to graduate with their class – the class of 2000. We were in the middle of lawyers and trying to shore up our son’s prospects for the future when the real bomb dropped. We scooped up our daughter and spent the next 2 1/2 years with her in treatment. She was high-risk, with questionable cytogenetics. I don’t remember home life during those years, though I know we celebrated Christmas and the normal holidays. I remember being at the hospital and the smell of chemotherapy. Three of the children we met during treatment during those years died. Our daughter survived.
Our son stayed home to go to college during those years. I try to remember what he was doing while I was on the road with his sister. I lost a couple of years of his life and some of my own during that time.
College days came for our daughter, graduate school for our son. Finally he was able to leave and head out on his own and Colorado called. He had begun doing some rock climbing here at home, but there in the Rockies he fell in love with the sport. Colorado. That first place you live when you strike out on your own becomes an icon for freedom. There could not have been a better place for that man to live. He always talked about returning to the West eventually. He earned his Masters. Applications for a PhD program were submitted, and he received a placement at the University of Cincinnati.
By this time our daughter had finished her degree and had moved to a town an hour away from us. In her own apartment and working full time she too was thriving. She met a man and as those things progress they fell in love. Her boyfriend’s job took him to of all places, Cincinnati! They became engaged. She applied for a job, got it and moved to Cincinnati, to live in the downstairs apartment of the same house where her brother lived upstairs.
For the first time in seven years my children were under the same roof. They had six months together, learning about each other and growing to love each other as adult siblings.
The 4th of July weekend was upon us. Our daughter and her fiance were coming to town. One of my husbands brothers and wife were visiting. Our son called and asked it would be too much for him and one of his friends to come also. Was there room? Of course there was room, of course we could do it! No problem.
He and his friend arrived on that Friday night July 1st, a bit later than usual. There were leftovers from supper with my in-laws. His sister and fiance were to arrive the next day. I put the hot plates of food on the table. He smiled at me and shook his head in amazement. “What is it?” I asked. “You are crazy,” he smiled at me. The boys ate and tired from the drive retired early. We hugged and kissed good night. Even at 29 he kissed his dad goodnight.
I rose early and oven-fried 2 pounds of bacon. I fixed pancakes. Slowly the house awakened. My husband and his brother and wife were going to a car show in a neighboring town. My son and his friend came down the hall. Everyone shuffled around, eating and preparing for their activities. The two boys thanked me, my son hugged and kissed me. “Be careful” we said. They packed up the climbing gear. My husband and in-laws headed out. I never went out to the car where the boys were to say good-bye again. I wish I had.
I painted that morning. I will share that painting one day, when I am ready. At noon I was in the den, having finished the painting and while on the phone was interrupted by a call coming in from my husband. He was in tears. “I am on my way to the hospital.” he said, “there has been an accident. It is bad.”
It is bad. It is very bad. I hear those words. My husband had to tell me that his dad was dead, that the pathologist thought our daughter had leukemia, that our son had had an accident, and it was bad. Poor sweet man, the news he has had to deliver, unthinkable news.
We are now often together in silence, he and I. In the past three months we have cried together quite a bit. He goes to work with his mask on and faces the day. I venture out a bit more slowly. We sit together each with our own random thoughts, that make little since, that bog us down. The unthinkable happens all the time, all around us and unfortunately sometimes to us and usually unfortunately – it is really bad.
Illusion is shattered. Reality rushes in like a tide. We cling to anything that appears to represent normal. We shuffle through the “if only’s”, but nothing fits.
There is something to be said for the spirit of man, however. Whatever stuff the pioneers possessed that sent men out in tiny sailing ships, or over desert and windswept plain. Some survived, some died in the effort. We keep trying, clinging to the illusion that we are invincible, that the bad things happen to someone else. We just won’t think about the unthinkable will we Ms. Scarlett? But just in case, please make sure you tell those you love, that you do love them, tell them today, just in case.
Thanks for reminding me of how I need to tell those around me that I love them as often as I can. I think I can relate just a little to the idea that we always think something bad will happen to somebody else. I remember praying for healthy babies when I was pregnant, but I didn’t really think I would get anything other than that. Not really. That only happens to other people. People some how not like me. Now I look at pregnant women sometimes and I wonder at how naive they seem to me. It’s like having some sort of awful, inside knowledge. I understand a little of occasionally wanting to ball up a bit of my pain and toss it over to someone with “normal” kids and see how they like the daily angst. I know this is nothing compared to the horror you are communicating through your beautifully written messages. I just wanted you to know that the sharing of your experiences is touching my heart. Each one I read.
I didn’t know your son. But I know you and you are one of the neatest people I’ve ever met. One of my favorites. So my heart was so saddened, so saddened when our mutual friend called me that day to tell me what had just happened. She was on the way to the hospital to be with you. I got off the phone with her and just cried. I wished, like so many others, that I could come and sit with you, try to make it better somehow. I understand there is only one thing that could make it better.
So I will tell my loved ones how I love them. I love you.
Life is a whirlwind at times and your spirit has experienced quite the storm. The twist and turns through our journey hopefully teach us to savor and express all that we have and do with our loved ones and others within our measure.
God bless you!