A long time ago, I came across a list of the most stressful things in life. There are a variety of these lists out there on the web, but they all fall in a general pattern.
1. Death of a spouse or child
3. Marital separation
4. Detention in jail or other institution
5. Death of a close family member (eg parent or sibling)
6. Major personal injury or illness
8. Being fired from work
9. Marital reconciliation
…. and the list goes on. I haven’t experienced the first four items on this list, so it’s hard for me to really say, but I don’t think #5 should be so far down. In my opinion, this list was made for people who lose a close family member due to old age. When you lose a close family member when he or she is relatively young, this is extremely painful and the heart never fully heals.
My father passed away when I was 2 years old. Being so young when he passed away, I have no memories of him and this has always been the hardest part of his death for me. I’m sure my mom could chime in and tell you how I handled it at the time, but over the years I’ve periodically found myself in tears, grieving over losing him and not having the opportunity to know the wonderful man that everyone describes to me.
Nick lost his father about two and half years ago. It was sudden and unexpected. His father was planning a trip out from his home in the San Francisco/Bay Area to Dallas about a week after he passed away. That would have been the first time I would have met him. Sadly, that opportunity didn’t come. I flew of to California with Nick to help him sort through his dad’s belongings and a few months later we returned to the Bay Area to have an informal ceremony and to scatter his ashes. It pained me so much to see Nick so sad. I hoped he would have to go through that pain again, losing a parent way too early.
Unfortunately, my hopes were shattered. Nick’s mom passed away early Tuesday morning, 11/5/13.
It is somewhat a blur of when things happened, but not long before Nick’s dad passed away, his mom, Penny, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She had been diagnosed about 10 years earlier, had surgery, and everything was fine. Fast forward 10 years to 2011. She was in Dallas visiting for her mother’s 80th birthday. I remember her saying she wasn’t feeling well. Shortly after she returned to Washington, we got word that the cancer returned. Over 2011 she fought the cancer and won the battle. We celebrated the 2011 holiday season with joy that she had beat it. Nick and I were “recently” engaged at this point and we were planning on getting married at his mom and step-dad’s house in the San Juan Islands in 2013. After returning home and a check-up visit with the doctor, we learned that the cancer came back. She continued to fight. In the summer of 2012, Nick and I joined one of his step-brothers and his family out in the San Juan islands for family time at Penny and Joe’s (Nick’s step-dad) home. In anticipating this trip, I knew this would be my only time to do any sort of on-location wedding planning, but upon arrival, it became very clear to me that Penny didn’t have a lot of options left in fighting off her cancer. It was then that I told Nick we shouldn’t wait. 2013 was too far away and while his mom appeared healthy on the surface, the cancer was going to kill her. A big wedding wasn’t important to me, but it was important to have the moms be with us, so we pushed our plans WAY up and got married on October 27th, 2012, about 2 months after visiting Penny and Joe in the San Juan Islands. Having just celebrated our 1-year anniversary and Penny’s recent passing, Nick and I both agree that we were very, very, very grateful for our decision to push our wedding day way up.
Penny and Joe periodically came to visit Dallas from 2012 to the summer of 2013. As we moved into our new house over Labor Day weekend, Penny and Joe once again returned. Penny wasn’t feeling well and was having a hard time eating. When they returned home, we learned that the cancer was viciously spreading. The two of them decided to move to Dallas to be close to Nick, Penny’s parents, and her sister, along with other extended family. They moved to Dallas on October 5th, 2013. We picked them up at the airport. Penny had been very thin and as the cancer spread, she was losing even more weight, but she was still smiling and in good spirits. Penny and Joe wanted to have their own space, so they found a furnished apartment that they could rent from month to month. The day they moved to Dallas, I imagined she would surely make it through the holidays.
A week later, just after I finished the Chicago Marathon, Penny seemed significantly more frail, but she was able to get up and move around. Another week went by, and after a second (and terrible) trip to the hospital here in Dallas, she decided to enter hospice. At this point, she became more bed-ridden. Looking back, she seemed so perky the week before! Things were progressing so rapidly that now I didn’t know if she would make it to Thanksgiving. Our anniversary came and Nick and I spent the day sitting close to Penny. She was in and out of alertness and when she was alert, she was grieving terribly. We all were. The next day we learned that her feeding tube was leaking into her lungs. The family decided to remove the feeding tube. Nick’s step brothers both planned trips to Dallas and pushed the trips up. They arrived on Saturday, 11/2/13. Nick’s uncle, Penny’s brother, arrived from Washington DC on Sunday 11/3/13. In-town extended family came in and out of the apartment all day on Sunday. On Monday, we gathered one last time together as a immediate family, surrounding Penny. She was more at ease and ready to let go. Nick finally said goodbye and we headed home that evening. While we all grieved for her to leave us, we hoped and prayed that her suffering would end soon. I headed to bed shortly after getting home and Nick’s step-brothers soon followed. Nick stayed up until about 1:00 AM in the morning and he told me the next day that he looked up into the sky before coming to bed and asked whatever divine intervention out there to help ease his mother’s suffering and let her be at peace. Coming from a self-proclaimed atheist, it was a bit hard to believe he did this, but he was at his whit’s end and couldn’t bear to see his mom suffering any more. None of us could. At 7:00 AM Joe called us. Penny had passed away. He woke up at 1:30 AM and found her no longer breathing.
While we can all take a deep sigh of relief that her suffering is over, our pain is still there. Penny was a wonderful woman who touched everyone she met. She will be greatly missed and never forgotten. My heart breaks for losing Penny and those broken pieces shatter even more seeing my husband so terribly sad as he mourns the loss of his mother too early in life. Each day will get a little easier. We’ll make it through. Penny wouldn’t want us being sad forever. Each little drop of hurt and pain and sadness translates into lost love. But she’s only gone physically. She still fills our hearts with love every day.