“Love your family. Spend time, be kind & serve one another. Make no room for regrets. Tomorrow is not promised & today is short.” – Unknown
I loved having my mother live near me. Coinciding with Mom’s move was hiring one of the twins – Abee – to work with our company; and so, she too… moved (in with mom). She was the perfect addition to our staff as we expanded and implemented a customer service position. I was elated to have family close by and my sister and I soon became great friends, expanding our relationship beyond sisterhood. We shared an office at work and enjoyed family time off the clock. She was a wonderful mentor to our daughters. She and I shared some of the medical advocacy responsibility for mom as they (Mom and step-dad) made frequent trips to Walter Reed. On one of those trips, mom asked Frank (her husband, my step-dad, sister’s dad – not to be confused with my son Francis also known as Frank in High School…) to have a mole checked out that had grown sufficiently to interfere with the arm of his eyeglasses.
It wasn’t ‘just’ a mole. Within a week, it – the mole – along with a large margin of surrounding tissue and a series of lymph nodes had been removed. He had (literally) a monstrous line of staples running from his temple down the side of his face and across his neck to the base of his shoulder. Within another week, he was receiving aggressive radiation for what had been determined to be Stage Four Malignant Melanoma. It was just less than a year since we had moved them nearby to help with Mom’s illness and Step-dad (SD) Frank was receiving a cancer death sentence. After a couple of months, it was clear that radiation was not working and he was advised to call Hospice and go home; that’s what they did. It was early June.
Abee’s twin had been married a few years back and had a baby the prior fall. They came often to visit that summer. We all spent a lot of time at Mom’s house as a family. When we weren’t working, we were together in some capacity. We took turns nursing a garden for SD Frank, who loved gardening and sitting on the porch chain smoking. We would sit with him, smoking far too many cigs ourselves, speaking quite philosophically about life, love, and hope. One thing was sure. He loved our mother. He was more protective of her than any other man I’ve known in any relationship with the exception perhaps of my maternal grandmother and grandfather. It was a beautiful example of the chivalry that one thinks of when considering the definition of a champion – at least in my mind. Her well-being was foremost in his mind at any given time. It was endearing and I loved him more because of the way he loved my mother – the way he made her life better and easier. I wanted to be loved and taken care of like that.
I wanted to ask him to say hello to Rocky for me – to give him my love – when he finally made it to heaven, but it felt somewhat callous so I never actually spoke those words but I thought them each time we would sit together. He found a wonderful way of being present and in-the-moment with every person who was with him that summer. He was peaceful and gentle and loving and kind until cancer went to his brain. Then, he wasn’t himself. By then it was August and he was running out of time. I spoke to him pragmatically and told him how fortunate I was to have had him in my life as a father figure. I was so deeply grateful for his support of me over the years he was a part of my life. Much of any success I experienced was in part – because of his support. I expressed appreciation for all the patience he had with me through the years as I grew from a snotty little brat into a cohort of sorts. I told him how much I loved him and how we would all band together to make sure that mom was ok. I was sitting there as Hubby let him know that he would look after us, make sure our needs were met – all the gals.
If ever there was a beautiful death, it was his. We were prepared, we thought. He had been ‘out of it’ for several days and heavily medicated for two or three. He was peaceful and still. Mom was anything but… she was so immensely emotional that none of us could comfort her. The nurse was telling us that he should have passed hours earlier, she didn’t know why he was holding on. We, the twins, our brother, myself, Hubby, and my children, along with a few Hospice people, were in and out of the room – mostly in – as we sat and waited for him to take his last breath. We would all hold ours when we noticed any irregularity in his and then with the sound of an inhale, we would exhale and the wait would resume. In the meantime, Mom continued her outpouring of grief without control of her tears. Eventually, she crawled up, in bed with SD Frank and laid with him – her head on his shoulder, sobbing gently, until she fell asleep. Then, without apparent hesitation – with his beloved resting and momentarily calm – he left. In a matter of micro moments, there was peace in the room – not in the quiet sense – but in the way of the spirit. He quickly and quietly slipped out of this existence, away from the living energy in that room and it was palpable that his essence had moved away.
He was the 3rd person ever and indeed, the 3rd most important man in my life – to leave. I found it very difficult to process that men I loved – died. Hubby was the only man of any importance left in my life and frankly, I was still having trouble trusting him.
SD Frank didn’t just leave me of course. He left mom (his wife) and his daughters. Abee was particularly close to her dad and his death hit her hard. She and mom hunkered down in their grief in a way that was almost impenetrable; mom especially. Within a month or two she was diagnosed with a Lung neoplasm that required resection and via wet slide was determined benign only to discover – two weeks later – that a fully developed sample indicated malignancy. They went back in – through scars not yet hardened, to remove a larger section of her right lobe. We – all her children – stayed close by, taking turns, caring for our grieving mother. Abee became her primary physical and emotional caregiver – they became extensions of my immediate family. In our mourning of SD Frank, we bonded with one another in a way that many families fail. Abee and Mom moved into a new house in an effort to begin a new life; still close enough to be a part of our everyday experience. I loved dropping in and having a morning cup of coffee with mom or coming home only to find her finishing my laundry as a surprise (for some quacky reason, she found laundry to be relaxing and offering her a sense of accomplishment). Of course, Abee, Hubby and I continued to work together and build a business that had somehow become a ‘family’ vision.
We developed a strong, robust connection – a form of ‘super glue’ – that we thought was impervious.