Happy Birthday, Mom

So, it’s June 28th. For most of us, it’s just another day. The July 4th holiday is right around the corner. School is out for summer recess. The trees are in full bloom, and it’s summertime once again. But for me, my brother and sister, it’s anything but just another day. June 28th is our mother, Jane’s Birthday. Celebrations, cookouts, cake, gifts, smiles, laughter. Tons of camera shots, video tape. Telling Stories. All the things one celebrates when you mom has her Birthday. Not this year, though. You see, my Mom passed away last January 27th, after battling Multiple Myeloma Cancer for over 6 years. She got diagnosed only a few months after she retired from a long career in Nursing, where she was a caregiver, friend and and empathetic ear to anyone who needed it. She developed really bad pneumonia that required hospitalization, which was very much out of the ordinary for mom. After lenghty testing, it was confirmed. We were all in shock. Not her. Things like this don’t happen to people like my mom. But unfortunately, they do. And it did. After losing my older brother, Jim, and my father, Bill, 9 months apart in 2000, you could have never convinced me that things could ever get any darker. But this, this was a black hole, the likes of which we all felt, at the time, just couldn’t be true. You know, you tell yourself those lies, and convince yourself that she really isn’t going to die. You fool yourself into believing the myth that maybe they’ll develop a new drug, or treatments that will keep her with us. As long as mom was alive, that was the lie I was sticking to. To have to believe the truth was just too painful. As the years went by, she seemed to be doing remarkably well. She underwent a stem-cell transplant, which was hell for her, but she told us she wanted to be here for as long as she could, and would be willing to undergo such a difficult, painful procedure. Basically, what they do, is harvest some of your blood cells and plasma. Sometimes they use a donor. Then, they put you into a special hospital ward, where they completely wipe out your immune system thru drugs and radiation. Then they put back your harvested stem cells, which they first try and cleanse of any cancer. From these cleansed cells, they try and rebuild your immune system back to life, hopefully free from cancer. It takes weeks and weeks of hospitalization. Your muscles atrophy. You lose your sense of smell and taste. Once you have a basic immune system, they send you to a rehabilitation hospital, to get your muscles to work again. For an entire year, you are on a strict diet. Once you can begin to get around on your own, they send you home.Before you can go home, your entire house has to be cleaned and literally sterilized to keep as many germs out as possible. Walls were re-painted. Furniture was thrown out and replaced. Guests were screened and visits limited for months. Hepa filters were used. Mom had to go to the hospital sometimes as many as 5 days a week for bloodwork and testing which never ended. And she never complained once about why this happened to her. I know she struggled with it. She was only human, it would have been impossible not to. We all did. And I want to thank my sister-in-law, Tammy, who bore the burden of care for my mother the entire time. You see, 20 years ago, we built mom a new house, right next door to the house she and my Father purchased in 1960. My brother bought that house, and so was literally 20 feet from her door. I had already moved to California, so all I could do was give support over the phone and Internet, and visit every chance I could afford to. Tammy was incredible. She knew every medication, every Doctor, every Nurse, literally everyone at the huge, sprawling Medical Facility. She took Mom to her visits, got her medications, and made sure she took her pills, nebulizer treatments, and watched her diet. Because of her selflessness, my mother recieved the best care that anyone could ever recieve. My sister and brother were also a great help. She ramained in remission for 18 months, not really a very long time. So, what did she do? She decided to undergo a second stem cell transplant. That’s right. She went thru that living hell a second time. She still felt that she wanted as much time as she could get. She felt that the quality of her life, as difficult as it was, was still better than giving up. We never tried to tell her what to do, it was totally her decision, and we told her we would support whatever she decided to do.

Last summer, 2010, she had a great time. She went to the beach, went shopping, enjoyed family and friends, and especially her grandchild, Sammy, my sisters son, who was all of 3 years old. She told me how badly she felt that she would be unable to see him get much older. I called my mom all the time, even if for only a few minutes. I still have her name and telephone number in my contacts list. I can’t bear to delete it.

Last November 13, while at work, I got a call from my sister-in-law. Mom was not doing well. In fact, her cancer cells had risen alarmingly fast. So fast, they were concerned she might not make it to Thanksgiving. Her doctor gave her a high dose of medications and chemotherapy, but said he didn’t know if it would work, and even if it did, that they were running out of options. The treatement worked, and Mom enjoyed what she knew would be her last Thanksgiving. She had never gone out for a Thanksgiving Dinner before, so my brother made reservations and took her out. I bought plane tickets, and went to see her for 2 full weeks in  December, spending one last Christmas with her. It was difficult for me financially, but I would have gone bankrupt, and sold my soul to the devil to be there. The weather in Central Massachusetts was horrendous. Snow storms and ice storms seemingly came 1 after the other. The day before I was to leave the entire northeast corridor was shut down. My flight was delayed 2 extra days, which I spent with Mom and my family. The last photo of us shows me with kneeling next to her, my arm around her head, while she is sitting in her favorite recliner. We are both smiling. During my visit, I was fortunate enough to have many discussions with her about all kinds of things, from Politics (she shared my same political ideals, and voted for Obama), to music, to reminiscing about the old days, to what is would be like for all of us when she was gone. They were difficult conversations sometimes, but I am thankful today that we had them. She cried only once while I was there visiting, and in an instant, my spirit sank, and heart fell out of my body and shattered on the floor in a billion pieces. Tears flowed, and I tried my best to console her. The morning I left, I promised her that I would return in the early spring for another visit. It was the only way I could fool myself into leaving. If I confronted the cold, hard truth, it would have been that this would be the last time in my lifetime, that I would ever see my mom alive. That terrible truth was painfully obvious, but I would have been a total, miserable, unconsolable wreck, and might not have left. After arriving home on New Years’ Eve, I drove the 2 1/2 hours to my home in Arkansas. I called Mom the next morning, and she greeted me with a cheerful Happy New Years Day…

Shortly afterward, a visit with her Doctor revealved what we already knew. namely, that they were out of options, and the cancer was advancing. Mom wanted to die at home, in her own bedroom, and not in the hospital. Hospice was called, and arrangements were made. I spoke to her using Skype as often as I could. Our very last conversation was on January 22nd. She was still able to get around in her wheelchair. Her brothers, sisters, and friends from many years came frequently to visit. My sister-in-law moved into the spare bedroom. As the month progressed, so did her cancer. Mom’s grandson, Nicholas, was due to get married on Jan. 29, and my Mom wanted to attend. Hospice made special arrangements for her travel. A few days after our last conversation, Mom began to sleep all the time. She barely woke at all. Every now and then she’d open her eyes for a minute or two, and then that was it. My family now was at her side nearly 24 hours around the clock, determined to be there when she passed. They set the computer up in her room for me one last time and went outside in the hallway, to give me some privacy. I cried like a baby, saying my goodbyes, and telling her how much she meant to me, and how much I was going to miss her. I couldn’t believe it had finally come to pass. I was inconsolable with grief. My wife held me close while I sobbed and sobbed. Finally, on Thursday evening, Jan. 27, at about 7:30 pm, Mom slipped the Earthly boundaries and passed on to be with all those who had gone on before her.

We all felt that Nicholas should continue with his wedding, which Mom would have wanted. My wife and I flew back to snowy Massachusetts to say our goodbyes. Mom’ s funeral was in a terrible snowstorm. The wiperblade iced up and broke off the windshield arm while I was in the funeral procession, and I had to make a mad dash out in the middle of a very busy road to grab it. I pulled off to side and fixed it, but lost sight of the procession. At the Cemetary, I slipped on a patch of ice, hidden under the snow, and fell flat on my back, nearly cracking my skull open. These were most definitely the worst days of my life. Dark, Cold, Miserable and unending sadness. 3 days later, I was back home and back at work. Winter evolved into Spring. Mothers’ Day and Memorial Day were difficult, and had an entirely different meaning this year.

One bright note is that my sister moved into my Mom’s house. She and her family will be able to make it their own, and Mom would approve. So now, as her birthday approaches, and all of the nearly 50 years of memories that I shared with her flood back to me, I, and my entire family, grieves over the loss of a wonderful, friendly, giving, loving, incredible woman, who never gave up hope, ever. The battles my mother endured were as tough and painful and as difficult as you would find in any War. As a matter of fact, it was War. She endured things that would have crushed most anyone. It was hell, just like War. For me, and my family, these are still difficult, painful days. I’m trying as hard as I can to work through it.

So now, I say, Happy Birthday, Mom. I Love You so very much, and I miss you more than any words could ever convey. No matter where you are, I carry your love, light, and spirit with me everyday, and will continue to do so until my last breath. I know I will see you when that glorious day arrives. May God Bless you and keep you safe.


Only Love Remains

Ten Years Ago Today, January 29, 2000. I remember that Saturday like it was yesterday. Rick & Jimbo were working that day, doing some finish electrical work. Jimbo was worried about his 16-year old son, Jason. He was concerned for his future. He didn’t want him to have the hard times he had experienced growing up. He was talking about renting out his home and moving closer to Worcester, to be near family and work, and not have to make the nearly 45 minute drive everyday from Barre. As they finished for the day, Jimbo said he would take the work truck, gas it up and leave it at the shop, ready to go on Monday. Rick gave him the Gas Card, and the 2 brothers said goodbye. Just another normal day. I was working as a night-auditor for Hilton Hotels. You know, that glorious 11pm-7am shift. A few weeks earlier, on New Year’s Eve 1999, Jimbo came down to my house and we spent that evening hanging out, talking, watching the usual New Year’s Eve programs. I had recently purchased a second condo where I lived, and wanted Jimbo to take a look at it, and help me with some renovations I wanted to make before it was ready to rent out. A week or so later, again on a Saturday, he drove down and we looked over the condo and discussed renovations, including painting and some electrical work we could do together. He had just purchased a newer car, a 1995 Pontiac Grand AM.  He talked about how he got a good deal on it, and that he had recently refinanced his home to a lower payment, and he was getting a good grip on his finances, which for Jimbo was a big deal. We chatted a bit more, and decided to get together at some point soon to start the renovations. I watched him get into his car. We waved goodbye to each other, and I watched him drive off. Just another normal day.

At about 8:45 pm on Saturday, January 29, 2000 I was just getting up to get ready for my night audit shift. I was drinking coffee, sitting on the sofa trying to wake up, when the phone rang. My wife had already gone to bed. I answered. It was Rick, my other brother. It was a bit unusual for him to be calling at this time. Our Dad was in a Veterans’ Home in Bedford, Mass, where he had been for nearly 5 years, suffering from Pick’s Disease, related to Alzheimers. He had been ill nearly a decade, and we didn’t know how long he might live. It would not have been a surprise to get that call, saying he had passed away. When my brother called that night, the first thing he said was “Are you sitting down?” I immediately thought about our Dad, and said “Did something happen with Dad?” “It’s worse than that” he replied, to which I immediately thought, what could be worse than that? “What happened?” I said. Then the words that will haunt me forever.

“Jimbo got killed tonight in a car crash”  Stunned silence. Unless you’ve had this shock to your system, it’s nearly impossible to try and explain. My head swirled, my brain heard what he said, but refused to process it. I think I said something like, “What? How could that happen? Are you sure?” So my brother proceeded to tell me what he knew, in a very matter -of-fact, low-monotone voice. I could tell he was in shock as well. Apparently, Jimbo was driving home, and was about 3 miles from there when for reasons not fully understood, he made a hard left turn in front of a large truck hauling some motorcycles. The truck smashed into his Pontiac Grand Am, coming into the vehicle thru the passenger side fender and right into the front seat. Jimbo was killed instantly. A man who was behind him stopped, and ran up to see if he could do anything. Jimbo was already gone, his head back, eyes and mouth open. The coffee he was drinking was splashed all over him, and what remained of the interior. Fortunately, the young man driving the truck was not seriously hurt. My sister-in-law drove to the hospital and identified his body. He was wearing a heavy winter 1 piece work suit to keep warm, and she said he looked like he was asleep.

The State Police investigated, and my brother’s body was sent to Boston for an autopsy, required by law in this case. He was buried at Worcester County Memorial Park on Feb. 3, 2000. His 16 year old son was now without his dad, and his Mom was unable to care for him. Six years later, she too would die, murdered in Worcester. Jimbo also had an older son, James, 24. As if this wasn’t enough, he, too, was murdered in Auburn the year before, in 1999. His killer was caught and went to prison.

It’s been 10 years now. I can’t put into words all the emotions, thoughts and feelings that I have had since. My family is not the same. These wounds never heal. As time goes by, the pain begins to ease, and the good times and fun things start to return to your memory. We can now talk about him without the tears. But So much has happened to us since that time. I wish he was still here. I wish he could have experienced all the things in life that have taken place in the last 10 years. He was only 45. Every family gathering, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, are stark reminders of what happened.  Approximately 9 months later, I got that call I originally expected on that terrible day in January. My Dad passed away in October.

So what happened to Jimbo? Why did he make that fateful left hand turn? No one knows for sure, but we have an idea. Jimbo had begun having some sort of heart issues, including Angina. He had nitro pills that he took. We think he may have experienced an Angina attack, and needed to get off the road to take his pills, and/or call for help. The road he was on did not have anyplace on his side of the road where he could have pulled over. However, there was an area on the left side of the road where he could have pulled off and stopped, which is where the accident happened. It’s also right at the end of a small bridge, where the road rises and curves slightly. If there was another vehicle coming the other way, they probably wouldn’t be able to see anyone in front of them until it was too late, which is what happened. We think he was trying to get off the road and pull over when the truck appeared and the crash happened, but it’s only my opinion.

So now, 10 years on, I want to say that I love you, my brother, and I miss you so very much. Time eases the pain, but it never goes away. At night, when it’s quiet, and i’m winding down from the day is when I think of you the most.

Along with my many memories, only love remains.

Welcome To My World…..

I guess I should start by saying hello. So, here it is….Hello.  Blogging isn’t new for me. I’ve been writing editorials and blogs for years, just on other folks blogs and websites. Before the widespread use of computers, I used to write letters to the editor of my hometown newspaper. I read lots of Commentary and visited lot’s of people’s blogs. Then I got turned onto Margaret and Helen’s blog. They are so down to earth and commonsense about things. Sarcasm, wit, and plainspoken truth go a long way with me. So, if you’re still reading, then good. I hope you’ll enjoy what I have to say, and leave me some feedback, good or bad. It would be nice to know that someone is out there reading this. Anyway, I’m going to have a lot to say about a lot of things in the coming blogs. Sounds kind of funny. Coming blogs….. But, I digress. Let me tell you a little about me. After all, if we’re going to get acquainted here, you should know who you’re dealing with. And no, I promise this won’t be a lesson in narcissism, althought I am writing about my own sense of what I have experienced and learned, or not learned in my time on this planet. I was born in 1961, in central Massachusetts. I grew up in a city called Worcester. That’s pronounced Wu-stah. We don’t pronounce our “r’s” here very much, it just sort of ends up sounding more like an “h”. Comedian/Actor Dennis Leary grew up here, and if you like him, then you sort of get an understanding of what folks from Worcester can be like. I grew up in a nice, middle-class neighborhood, with lots of friends.  I graduated high school in 1979. The one thing that I always felt set me apart from my peers was the fact that I always took a keen interest in news and world-events.  I can remember so many of those events.  Like when I was 12, in 1973, I remember coming home from school and sitting down to watch the Watergate hearings, when all my other friends were outside playing. I remember the Moon Landings, Kent State, Vietnam, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, RFK and MLK’s assasinations. Nixon resigning and Ford saying our long national nightmare was over. I remember Disco, and I wish I didn’t. Elvis dying in his bathroom. Reagan and his trickle-down Economics. Big hair and Parachute pants. Gorbachev, The collapse of Communism and The Soviet Union.  Then factor in all the things that happen to each of us personally, and I think you’ll begin to get an idea of how much there is for me to discuss with you.

So, now i’m 48. I’ve had more than my share of hard times, and my share of misfortune. But like Jim Croce sang in one of his final songs “The Hard Way Everytime”,  “Yeah i’ve had my share of good intentions and i’ve made my share of mistakes. And i’ve learned at times it’s best to bend, cause if you don’t, well, those are the breaks” How true. I have a lot to be thankful for. And I see a lot of things that frankly bug the hell out of me. Some of them Political, Some not.  So, I hope you’ll ride along with me, and experience and discuss these things together. As John Lennon sang in his 1971 album, Imagine, “All I want is the truth, just gimme some truth.” Obviously,  you can see I’m fond of musical quotes.  See you soon, OK? ‘Nuff said for now