Friday, July 23, 2010

A Hat

It's odd.
Just a hat.
But seeing it- wearing it- brought back a flood of memories.

2003 September.
His mother was diagnosed with cancer. Our boy was gone. His father diagnosed with cancer.
Given a year.

He didn't quite make it that long.

My father-in-law had a personality larger than life and when I close my eyes I can still picture him- see his contagious smile- hear his boisterous laugh.

I miss him.

That last year of his life was so very hard.
I watched as he began to fade. A man that was so full of life was losing his.

A week before he left, we were all there. We sat in a crowded room and watched and prayed. Prayed that by some miracle of God, things would get better and that once again he would be sent home. Home to heal. Home to live.

But as time drew on, we knew it was the end and the nurse told us it could be any time. That some leave quickly. Others stay around for something... someone...

He didn't talk much that last week in the hospital. His breathing was labored, but he was comfortable. The medicine gave him sweet relief and for that we were grateful. I remember we brought Jonasen- weeks shy of his first birthday. He noticed him. He noticed the presence of our little boy. The one who had visited him so much in that year. Had he heard him crawling? He said something about our Joey. And though it was August, he asked if it was December.

Did the others realize like we did? December. December was when she would be born, another grandchild. The one that was growing inside of me. We were months from December, and we knew that he wouldn't make it to the first snow. My husband and I looked at one another.

I watched him closely in that time. My husband. Watched him. He had lost the son he named and now he was losing his mentor. His father. He was fragile. His faith was fragile. In the span of a year he had lost so much. I watched him and I had no words. I just took his hand. I took his hand and was still. So much. That one year aged him. Aged us. Though only in our late twenties, it felt as if we had lived a lifetime.

We stayed as my father-in-law's speech left him.

We stayed.
We waited. We prayed.

It was at that time I also thought of Andrew. -Though he was never really far from my mind- I missed my Andrew. A boy that would be turning one just that next month. Instead he'd be celebrating his first birthday in the heavens. Without me. I thought of my Andrew and wondered about his eyes. What color were they? I looked at my father-in-law and knew that he would learn those answers about our son. His grandson. Soon.

It felt like a long time. But it was only days. Days which felt like an eternity and yet you wanted to slow them still. Stall the moments. Because though you didn't want to say it aloud, you knew that moments were all that were left. We wanted him to stay. But we knew he had to go. We knew that peace was what he needed. Peace was what he would have.

The nurse told us it could be minutes, days or weeks. She encouraged the family to go home, shower, leave the cold sterile room that had become the place that held their days and nights. A room that they wanted to leave, but not without him.

And so the family took turns. But someone was always at his bedside.
And that's what I remember.

Just the two of us.
My husband and I.
We sat at his bedside.
One on each side and he spoke,

"Dad. It's o.k. you can go home now. I heard you mention December. And I think I know why. But dad, it's o.k. This baby will be born and you can watch. You can watch from the heavens. Right now you need to go home. There is another grandchild that needs you. He's waiting for you. We're going to take care of mom. I promise you. You need not worry. Go home. Hold my son. Tell him that we love him. That we miss him. That one day we'll see you both again."

I looked at my husband with tears running down our faces. And though his faith was fragile. Though he was so very, very angry, and hurt, and shattered. I knew that still he still believed. Because that was all he had left.

It wasn't long after my husband spoke those words, that his father's breathing changed and while that could have meant nothing, it could also have meant something. And so my husband called his mom. She rushed to the side of her beloved. Touched his arm and whispered, "I'm here."

It was with his love at his side, knowing that she would survive, that he took his final breath. They sat there for some time. And I felt I should go. That I had witnessed something so tender. So sweet. That I should not have been there. It was so peaceful. So very, very peaceful. I left the room and walked down the hall. I sat on a bench and I cried. I looked to the heavens and said, "Grandpa's home. You are going to love him!"

He was home. Home with his grandson.

I am blessed for having known him for the time that I did. I wish I had had longer with him- as did everyone who knew him. But I also know it was time. A time for suffering to end. A time for a new beginning. And I know he held our son. He told him.

He watched that December, as his granddaughter was born. He smiled with Andrew from the heavens. He knew it would be alright. And it was.

An odd thing. Just a hat. But I remember and think of him still.
Thank you for that moment. Yet another moment in this journey that lets me know that there is a heaven. And that he's there.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Watch him, Remember me, Remember him.

By now I know that Joe has no memory of it.
No memory of sharing a home for nine months with his brother.

And while I have pictures of them, videos of them kicking at each other, writings to them- my own memories of that time, those images, and those feelings- are also starting to fade.
Starting to blur.

I worried early on that he would be forgotten. People may remember that I had a son- once... Wasn't he a twin? Which baby had the twin? What was his name? Or was it a her?

I couldn't let that happen.
I wouldn't let that happen.

And so I started to say his name. I spoke it often. I spoke it often so that they would hear it. I spoke it often so they could say it. I spoke it often so that they would remember.

And they did. And they do. And when I hear someone say his name, it makes my heart burst that he- MY son- ANDREW- was not forgotten. Even as the days and months and years pass. Even when the world started spinning again. He was remembered. He is remembered.

But I spoke his name.
And I spoke it often.

I don't talk about him as often as I once did. But others know. They read my words here. They see his name in our home. But I don't feel the need to say it as often as I once did.

But I watch him. I watch Jonasen.

My Nana Jonasen, (1/2 of the couple he was named after) is forgetting. She is not just forgetting my Andrew, she is forgetting others... the names of my living children... the things she did that day. And so we visit. We visit often and I find my children 'testing' her. Asking her what their names are through giggles. She answers them and (more often than not) remembers their names with a chuckle.

And then he does it.

He says his name.

After going over all of his siblings names (and sometimes mine too) he will add, "And then there is my brother Andrew, Great-Nan. Do you remember? He was my brother who died. He and I were born on the same day. He's in heaven. His name is Andrew. He's six just like me."

And I watch her.

I watch her as she nods and remembers.

Perhaps she remembers the night she got the call. Learned of their births. Of his death.
I watch her and I want to save her from reliving that horror. She had experienced the death of her own son, and then great-grandson. I don't need her to remember...

But he does.

He says his name. Speaks it often. So that she will remember. So that she won't forget. And as I watch him, I remember me. In that time when I did just what he did. For perhaps the same reasons. I watch him. I remember me. I remember him.

And though now it is only with his great- grandmother, I wonder if he'll start doing it with others. Or it will be enough. Enough knowing that we remember.

Time will tell.

But for now I will watch him.
And remember me.
Remember him.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Greatest Things in Life.

The Greatest Things in Life-

Are Not Things.

I had this written in my bedroom as a teenager- when the world seemed so full of material and "stuff". As decades passed, these words remain true to me still. The greatest things in life are not things.

My grandma passed away when I was just a year old. I have no memory of her and I feel sad about that. But she had a sister- my beloved Auntie Irene. Auntie never married, nor had any children. She listened to her mother who didn't want her to marry. The man she fell in love with was neither polish nor catholic and my Auntie, though in love, listened to her mother- took care of her mother and lived most of her life in her mother's home.

My Auntie Irene.

We visited often and wrote letters frequently. She was more than just an 'aunt' to me- though she would sometimes make comments that she was 'just' that... an aunt. Later when she grew too old, too fragile, to live by herself, she moved to our town. Though she missed her home, I was secretly and selfishly happy. A woman I had grown to love and respect was now living so close and because of that, I enjoyed Tuesday dinners with her each week and grocery shopping trips with just the two of us. Over that time, I gained more than I could imagine. One of my childhood mentors had become a friend.

My Auntie Irene.

I remember her face when I rushed to her apartment and held out my hand. She looked at the diamond, tears in her eyes. She was so happy for me, and yet I could see that she was also sad. Sad for herself. "It's so beautiful," she whispered. "It is just what I would have wanted."

My Auntie Irene.

We laughed together, and as she aged I would care for her, wash her feet, tuck her in bed, kiss her goodnight. As she became more and more sad about her life's circumstances, I gave her a journal and instructed her to write in it something she was thankful for each day.

On the day I took a test- a test that would tell me that in nine months another amazing woman would be born, we buried my sweet Auntie.

My Auntie Irene.
Who never wed.
Never had children...

But oh she did!
She had us!
She had me!

I can't imagine my life without her influence- without her laughter- without her guidance. I can't imagine my life without her! I sometimes wonder what if she had married, had children of her own... would she have loved me as much? Would our relationship had been as special? Would I be exactly the person I am today? Perhaps not. But the 'whatifs' do not matter now. The truth is that she loved me as if I were her child. She loved me as if I were her own. And I only pray that she knew how much I truly loved her in return.

The children that grew inside us, are not all in our lives. But children will be in our lives- if we choose to, we can be that someone- like my Auntie. We can change someone, love someone, mentor someone, share ourselves.

I do not know why my Auntie's life went the way that it did. I do not know why she passed on a lifetime of love. I do not know why. But I do know that God put me in her life for a reason and she in mine.

There will be others. Perhaps that is why. There are other lives to touch and mentor and share with. And though we wished we were touching and mentoring and sharing with the ones we are missing, I sometimes wonder if there is someone else out there that needed us more. Needed me more. Needed you more.

And one day those children will grow up, and reflect and be so grateful. Grateful that the greatest things in life, are not things. And that God gave them a gift, YOU!

In that journal my Auntie wrote many things she was grateful for. She wrote that she was grateful for me, but I was oh so much more grateful for her. And I pray that she knows that. But one day I will tell her, and tell him, and tell baby E.

I love you sweet Auntie.
Thank you for being so wonderful to me.
Thank you for holding my babies until I get there.

Goodnight Irene,
I'll see you in my dreams.