Monday, November 12, 2007

In Memoriam

When my Dad died 21 years ago, he was 59. I was about 2.5 months pregnant with my twins, and HIS Dad died when my Mom was about 2.5 months pregnant with me.

This morning, my sister-in-law died. She turned 59 last month. I remember when my Dad died (lung cancer), my co-workers kept commenting on how young he was. At the time, I didn’t truly understand what they meant. I mean, I knew 59 wasn’t OLD, but it didn’t really seem young either. Now I know EXACTLY what they meant.

Virginia and my husband’s oldest brother, Carl, have been together since the late 1960’s. Carl just retired as a captain in the fire department of a large city out west. They were inseparable, even more close and more in love now than they were back then. Their two daughters are grown now with kids of their own, but still very much need their Mom at this stage in their lives. Their oldest daughter has a 2 year old son, and a little girl due in January, and a 15 year old son who spent a good part of this past summer hanging out with his Grandma. Their other daughter has a 2 year old and a newborn daughter.

Virginia was diagnosed about a year ago with pancreatic cancer. Unfortunately, that’s not a cancer that has a good outcome, and hers was the most aggressive type of pancreatic cancer and had already invaded her liver. In spite of that though, she was able to fight the good fight for almost a year. That’s almost unheard of with pancreatic cancer. And through most of the past year, she stayed upbeat and active despite occasional setbacks. But in the end, her body just wasn’t strong enough to fight off both the cancer and the ravages of chemotherapy.

The thing is, she always did everything RIGHT! She ate only healthy foods, she ran and exercised daily. She was a tiny woman who never got over 100 pounds although, ironically, that was one of the reasons the chemo was so devastating to her- she died at 81 pounds. She took care of herself, dammit! All the things “they” say we need to do and it didn’t matter one damn bit, did it? Just goes to show that it doesn’t really matter what we do, it’s all just the cards we’re dealt.

So now we worry about her husband, Carl. Through all of this, he has been bitter and angry. To the point that, when she was started in a clinical trial program, the doctors pulled Carl out of the room and said “The first thing we need from you is a better attitude.” Yes, it’s normal to be angry, to resent others who live unhealthy lives and aren’t sick, to rail against the fate that could take your other half away from you. But I have never seen anyone as tortured as Carl has been for the past year. When my husband had lymphoma, I had to be the strong one. I told him his job was to get well and mine was to deal with all the other bullshit stress in our lives. And I did it without resentment. But it seemed to us like it was Virginia who had to remain upbeat and strong because Carl was falling apart and couldn’t deal with any of it. I have to admit we were kind of shocked since Carl had always been so protective of Virginia and now that she needed him most, he was almost too devastated to function. And now, at the end of the day, he will be going home to an empty house and the realization that after nearly 40 years of living and loving together, he won’t be seeing her again during his time here on earth. So, yeah, we are all worried about him. It really is hard to believe they won’t be together. And even harder to believe she’s really gone.

We here in Romancelandia read all about how the hero and heroine get together, fall in love, and live happily ever after. But in the real world, we don't really get an HEA, do we? Sooner or later death is going to rip one from the other. What do you do when the other half of your life is suddenly gone? Can you ever become a whole person again when you feel like your body is functioning but your heart, mind, and soul died right along with the one you love?

ADDED: She was in the hospital for 2 blood clots in her lungs which had also happened a few months ago. As late as Friday night, she was still upbeat and positive. In fact, she told my other sister-in-law that this was just another setback and she intended to get back into the fight as soon as it was taken care of. But by Saturday, the doctor told Carl to get hold of Hospice, take her home, and begin making funeral arrangements. On Sunday evening, he went home to eat and take a shower and then felt a strong need to go back to the hospital and spend the night with her. He planned on bringing her home as soon as he could make the arrangements with Hospice today.

This morning (Monday), she opened her eyes, looked at him, and said "I love you"... he said, "I love you, too"... then she took one last breath and was... just... gone.

There will be no services, no funeral, according to both their wishes. She will be cremated and he said he will place the urn containing her ashes on their bedroom dresser surrounded by her favorite jewelry and other trinkets, so that he can talk to her whenever he wants.

When I first found out he said that, I was even more worried about him. But, you know, in a way it makes sense. If having her ashes there for right now makes it easier for him to cope, then who's to say there is anything wrong with it? In fact, it's probably more comfort to him than anything else could possibly be.

ADDED: The circle of life goes on... my Mom just called to tell me that I've got a new grandniece. Momma (my brother's daughter) and baby are doing fine.


Madame Butterfly said...

Bev, as someone who has done a lot of hospice work and as someone who watched my grandmother go through hell, crying and asking to die every day after my grandfather died, I can understand your worry over your BIL. She died a few weeks later, but she was 89.

Everyone deals with loss in their own way and unfortunately some just don’t deal in a good way, or need a lot more time to process their feelings. I know he is a man and men aren’t good about expressing or even understanding their feelings, but maybe when your SIL’s death is not so new and raw, he should get with some other men or women who have gone through this experience themselves.

Hospice has a great network of service and I don’t know about where he lives, but Hospice by me checks in with family members several times after a death to see how they are doing. They can offer some grief services.

He might even now start to feel guilt that he wasn’t there for her and that might compound his anger making him further retreat. The best all of you can do is to keep in contact with him and keep talking to him so he doesn’t retreat into a deep depression.

I’ve watched many people go through death and dealt with family members around that, and actually as painful as the whole thing is, and you never get over it totally, death of a loved one can be a really beautiful and deeply moving experience.

No matter how painful, the ones that are willing to be with their pain and be with their loved one through the end have a much easier time of moving on with life and appreciating that they used every last minute they had with their love in a good way.

I really hope that your BIL can come to a point that he doesn’t resent life for the fact that the love of his life was taken.

QB said...

Thank you, MB. Right now, he is adamant that he does not want the family heading out there. He does have his kids there, of course, and Virginia's sister just happened to be visiting. I know they were part of a cancer support group and they also have a large and caring network of friends nearby, in addition to all his brethren from the fire department.

In unspoken agreement, most of us haven't called him today. We've told the family members that HE'S called to pass on that we are here if he needs us, but know that he does not need the phone ringing constantly right now. We will call him in a day or two. We don't know if that's right or wrong, but we are trying to take our cues from him, and he has stated that he needs some time alone right now.

Madame Butterfly said...

QB- It's probably good to honor his request for now. If he shuts himself up for too long though, he might need some intervening. Every one is different. I know when I'm grieving over some loss, I want to be alone and when I'm ready, I come out. But some people just get lost in a deep depression if they don't reach out after a while and need people to take charge. It sounds like he has a great support system for when he's ready to come out.

And really there can be life after the loss of a life partner. My real grandfather died when my grandmother was in her mid 50's, they were married almost 43 years. And then she met my second grandfather and he was the second love of her life.
I know she never forgot my real grandfather, but she made room in her heart for love with another man who lost his life partner. So, one never knows.

Jaci Burton said...

My deepest sympathies to you and your family, Bev. There's nothing harder than losing someone you love and care for. It leaves such a hole in our hearts.

Big hugs

sybil said...

Hon I wish I could say something to make it all better but I know I can't. Carl is luck to have you guys and I agree with MB, you are right to honor his request.

Your SIL sounds like a wonderful person and you were all lucky to have her and I am sure she was thankful for you. If you need anything you know where I am.

Ann Aguirre said...

I'm sorry to hear this, Bev. Virginia sounds like she was a wonderful lady.

Let me know if there's anything I can do.

QB said...

Thanks to all of you, I appreciate your concern.

We found out that she's being cremated on Thursday and Carl is accompanying her to the crematorium to insure that he gets the correct ashes.

He is still as protective of her in death as he was in life.

Gwen said...

Bev - Perhaps after he gets some time with this, you can all still have a small memorial service for her, even if he doesn't want a funeral.

I'm so sorry for your loss. And I wish there was more I could do than just commiserate. If you need anything or need anything done, just holler.


jade_kristen said...

Bev I'm so sorry for your loss. I think I remember you mentioning them on the forum last year.
It's so sad and yet I can't help but think of how lucky they were to have eachother and be able to share their lives together for so many wonderful years. So many people may never find that one person that they will truly love until death parts them. I'm sure thats not much comfort to him right now, but at least he has so many years full of happy memories with her.
She sounds like she was a wonderful lady. Which makes it so much easier to understand her husbands reaction to everything. I'm sure it's hard for him to imagine spending the rest of his life without her now. And I even understand his anger. With her for leaving him, and probably himself for not being able to protect her from all this or take her place. I really hope he is able to pull himself back together and find some happiness again, even if its not with someone else. It sounds like he has alot of family to help him through this and more granchildren on the way. That is a joyous thing in and of itself. So many happy memories to share. In the end I think that is the best thing that any of us can leave behind.

QB said...

Thanks everyone. he DID decide to have a small "Celebration of Life" for her on Monday morning. Unfortunately, none of us back here were able to get there for it. Two of the sisters and their husbands were able to get out there yesterday (Tuesday), but since it's Thanksgiving week, that was the best they could do, and even at that they had to change planes three times and had some lengthy layovers.