*photo of the rear view mirror in my car showing the cars behind us in focus:
Kim and I got up and hit the road right away. It was pouring down rain as we drove through Cleveland on Sunday morning, and driving through that city isn’t fun in perfect conditions. I’ve driven through many big cities and I normally don't get too worked up over traffic, but this small town gal thinks the stretch of I-90 through Cleveland sucks! I was glad that it was Kim’s turn to drive. The rest of Ohio and Pennsylvania weren’t bad, though, and we arrived at Dad and MJ’s apartment in the early afternoon.
Dad was glad to see us and greeted us with emotional hugs. “She’s not hurting anymore.” He said. This comforting thought was repeated throughout the week. She was in so much pain towards the end that even a slight touch on the shoulder, arm, etc., caused her to wince.
Nick, Darin, and Amy (my step brothers and MJ’s daughter-in-law) were at the apartment with Dad when we arrived, and we talked about how things went rapidly downhill. Even though we knew the end wasn’t far off, you could tell they were shell shocked by how quickly it ended. They’d lost their sister in January – MJ’s daughter died in her sleep and the cause of death was never explained. Weeks after she returned to Iowa broken and empty from burying her daughter, MJ was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The boys only had these past few warm summer months to spend with her.
The mood was somber on that first afternoon, but I picked up on an undertone of relief. They’d been on edge for days, sitting around her bedside, watching to see when she’d take her last breaths. The stress of it all had to be exceedingly hard to bear, so I think their relief was natural. We discussed what had to get accomplished before the visitation and the funeral, and came up with a plan of action for the next few days.
We knew that Dad wouldn’t want to stay alone in the apartment, and so Kim and I had him pack his things and come to the hotel room with us. Sunday night we got him settled into the hotel and I called my grandma to tell her how Dad was doing. After I’d given her the update, I handed the phone to my dad. Dad doesn't hear well, so Grandma was speaking loudly, and Kim and I could hear the conversation from both ends. Dad's voice was full of grief and Grandma was comforting. As she finished the conversation with, “It’ll be ok. You’ll get through this, sweetie. I love you.” I realized that you’re never too old to need the comfort of your mother.
Speaking of comfort from your mother, my own mom writes a weekly letter that she sends out to her family and friends. This week’s letter included a remark about how proud she was of me for going out to help my Dad, and doing the hard work in situations like this. I read her letter as I was sitting in the hotel room, taking deep breaths and trying to stay in control of myself during that first tough day.
Dad was happy to have a comfortable bed to sleep in (the hospital bed he'd used for the past four months apparently wasn't comfortable) and after a while, he settled into sleep. Kim and I sought refuge in the hotel bar. For a couple of hours it was nice to relax, drinks in hand, and watch football. We even had a man buy us a round of drinks. It didn’t matter that he was an old dude who looked like a deranged Danny Glover. Also, the odd fact that he was at the bar wearing pajama pants didn’t bother us, because, hey – free drink!
Dad was still asleep when we returned to the room, but he didn’t stay that way for long. His sleep was fitful, and he awoke several times in the night. I could hear him crying softly, trying not to wake us. I thought about how awful it must have been to wake up, blissfully unaware for just a second, before the realization that she is gone washed over him. None of us got much sleep that night.
(to be continued…)