Category Archives: Memoir

The Day In A Life – Part 4

If I had known it was Jerry’s last day, would I have done things differently? That day was so chaotic, so unreal. When Emilee and I finally pulled up to the hospital’s emergency room, I parked the car and we walked over to the entrance. I recognized the paramedic, who was standing at the back of the ambulance, which was now empty. We watched as he slowly closed the doors. Then he turned to me.

“He was calling for you on the way here. He’s inside with the doctor.”

The rest of that day seemed like it was happening in a slow-motioned dream. Jerry’s doctor approached us and asked Em if she would help one of the nurses celebrate her birthday. She was led down the hall to the nurse’s station, while the doctor and I went into Jerry’s room. I can’t quite remember it all. At some point I must have called Jerry’s brother and sister-in-law, because they were there. We stood together next to Jerry’s bed, and we watched his chest rise and fall, and listened to his labored breathing. We didn’t say much. They left and took Em home with them, where she spent the night.

I stayed with Jerry, and we were left alone for a while. I noticed that his breathing was slowing down. As I looked at him, I was filled with an aching guilt, knowing that he had called out for me in the ambulance. He must have been confused and scared, not knowing what was happening to him. He needed me, and I wasn’t there to comfort him. It felt like I’d let him down. I didn’t say good-bye. I thought we had more time.

What would I have said to him anyway? Would I have told him the truth? That I was so sorry, but in my bone-weary body I had already started to let go, that I’d already started to grieve? That over the past two years of doctors and surgeries and medications and treatments, of watching him slowly waste away, I was now relieved?

Or would I have told him how scared I was? And that I needed him now more than ever to help me face a future without him? I don’t think I would have told him that I thought I was ready to move forward, to begin a new life that didn’t include cancer and caregiving and exhaustion and death. That I knew I would be okay, that we would be okay. Maybe I should have told him that last part. It might have made it easier for him to let go.

I know I would have thanked him for his courage and his commitment, for holding onto his life – our life – for as long as he could in order to give our young daughter memories of him.

Where were the operating instructions for all of this, anyway?

After I’d picked up Em and brought her home, I somehow found the words to tell her that her dad wouldn’t be coming back, that he had died. She screamed and sobbed and ran into our bedroom and to our dresser and began pulling open the drawers that still held Jerry’s things.

“No, it’s not true. He’s not dead. He’s still at the hospital!”

And there it was. The first of what felt like a million moments to come, when it would be up to me to find the answers, to make the decisions as the only parent. The crushing weight of that truth almost knocked me off my feet. It was all on me now. I looked at Em and silently asked for divine assistance. I knew I had to somehow convince her that he was gone. She still pictured him in the hospital, like he had been so many times before. Only this time he wasn’t coming home.

Before I knew what I was doing I picked up the phone and called the mortuary. It was after hours, I knew, and a long shot, but someone answered the phone. In a shaky voice I asked if we could come by. The man on the other end of the line said yes, of course, as if he were asked that question all the time. Maybe he was.

I drove us the short distance to the mortuary, and when we arrived we were taken to a small room and left alone. Jerry’s open pine coffin was sitting in the middle of the room. And there he was, wearing the clothes I had brought over earlier that day – his jeans and flannel shirt, and his well-worn work boots. His clothes were way too big for him. As Em and I looked at his still body, I suddenly realized that in all of my earlier confusion I had forgotten to bring socks for him. I guess it really didn’t matter, though. I leaned over and kissed his cold brow. He was gone.

I thanked the attendant and Em and I made our way back home. We had barely made it inside the door when Em turned to me, eyes wide and teary, and began sobbing. We clung to each other, and I comforted her as best I could.

“But I didn’t get to kiss him good-bye!”

This time I didn’t hesitate. I walked over to the phone and made a call, and we found ourselves back at the mortuary, where Em leaned over and kissed her daddy good-bye.  A few days later we buried him at a nice cemetery, the one on the hillside overlooking the river.


The Day In A Life – Part 3

Did I really throw a temper tantrum the other night? I actually yelled at Jerry and cried and stomped my feet. As if I was the one who was sick. Who was dying. He gave me a worried look and led me to the couch and pulled my feet onto his lap. We stared at each other as he gently rubbed them, neither of us saying anything. What was there to say? Our time together was running out and we both knew it.

Maybe we were ready.

A few weeks ago I had watched from the front window of the house as Jerry, Emilee and Cheyenne made their slow march down the steps to our baby blue pick-up. They were off on one of their adventures through our little town. Cheyenne was leading the way, followed by Em in her blue rubber boots, carrying her yellow pail to hold all the treasures they were sure to find. And there was Jerry, moving slowly and painfully behind, leaning on his newly acquired cane. Not long ago he had come back after a solitary drive in old blue and told me he had found a nice cemetery on a hillside overlooking the river. What was the name of it again?

Looking around the quiet house, I wasn’t sure what to do. There was so much weighing on me, so many things to take care of, to plan for, but I had no energy for them so I tried to take a nap. But my mind wouldn’t calm down enough to sleep. It kept jumping around from one exhausting scenario to another, with no peaceful place to land. So I wrote in my journal, trying to put into words what was happening, what led us to this place. On one page I pushed down on the pen and carved PLEASE HELP ME.

I thought about the little Culver City house we used to live in, and about our late-night drive to the doctor’s birthing room in Santa Monica. Jerry was a great childbirth coach. We wanted an all-natural birth and we got it. I can still picture Jerry smiling in front of the window, with Emilee cradled in his arms. Through the window I noticed that it was morning and raining lightly. Three hours after Em was born we brought her home. I didn’t sleep at all that first night. I just held her and watched her while she slept, amazed and thankful and scared. For the first month Jerry would come home from work each night and do the laundry, including hundreds of cloth diapers, and make dinner for us. He was a really good cook.

We shared a dream of moving out of Southern California, and one day we did. We’d been saving for a while, and when Jerry called me from work and said he had to get out of there, I said come home, and together we made a plan. Within ten days of our decision, we had rented a car and drove up to Portland where Jerry was hired on the spot as a precision welder, we found a cute little house on a quiet street, then drove back down south where we packed our belongings and our pets, said good-bye to our families and friends, and left.

I remember Portland with its blue skies and lush, green landscapes. Our first day there we met Velva, our ninety-year-old neighbor from across the street. All of five-feet tall, she chopped her own firewood, grew her own herbs, and lived alone in a big, white plantation-style house. She just rang our doorbell, handed us a delicious casserole, and she and Em became instant buddies.

The only winter we lived in Portland we shared our first white Christmas as a little family. We laughed and played in the snow and then warmed up with hot cocoa. From our living room we could see across the river to Vancouver. When the weather warmed we took road trips along the Columbia River Highway and were awed by the beauty of Multnomah Falls as we walked along the footbridge. It was our last carefree time together.

And then Jerry got sick.

And he didn’t get better. What started as a stomach ache resulted in a surgery that exposed numerous malignant tumors. The doctors recommended that Jerry go to a state-of-the-art hospital in Los Angeles, so we again packed up our belongings and, reluctantly and unbelievably, moved back down south. All of this happened in just six weeks.

The smoggy, heavy heat of summer in the San Fernando Valley took its toll on us immediately. Jerry started a round of powerful chemotherapy, and then survived another surgery. He braved it all, despite the humidity and the nauseating days that seemed to go on forever. Jerry’s parents let us live with them, and for that I will always be grateful. Having a place to stay during his treatment lifted an already-heavy burden, and we all made the best of those stress-filled days.

I remember Halloween that year. Jerry, always the clown, that day dressed the part. He borrowed a pair of roller skates, and broke all the rules I’m sure as he skated up and down the halls of the hospital. I’m sorry to say that he may have also scattered around some black rubber spiders. I have a picture of him in his clown costume. His painted-on smile is upside down.

A few months later his doctors acknowledged that they didn’t know what else they could do for him. So we again headed north, this time to the redwood coast of Northern California and our house on the hill.

The Day In A Life – Part 2

When the ambulance pulls up, Jerry is still stomping around the house. He’s tugging at his clothes, but so far I’ve been able to keep him mostly dressed. He’s been acting confused and irritated for several hours, and as much as I was hoping we could keep him here at home, rather than back at the hospital, I guess it’s just not meant to be.

Two paramedics appear at the kitchen door. This startles me at first, and then I remember that when I’d called for an ambulance I asked them to come around to the side of the house, where there was more room to maneuver the gurney. I don’t even want to think about how they will make their way back down the 23 winding steps to the street.

I watch as they push the gurney into the kitchen, leaving the door open. As I start talking with them I catch sight of Lilly, our cat. She darts in through the door and disappears in the general direction of Emilee’s bedroom.

The paramedics slowly approach Jerry, who is flailing his arms around and talking to himself. Though they remain calm and ask me a variety of questions, I think they are physically bracing themselves for a struggle. Jerry clearly does not want to lay down. I try to reason with him, but I’m interrupted by Emilee’s scream.

“Mommy! Lilly is getting Barney!”

I turn around and see Em racing to Barney’s cage just as Lilly pounces on it. Feathers are flying, and I imagine Barney’s little heart pounding right out of his chest. I grab Lilly and set her outside the French doors. I hug my crying daughter, and turn to see Jerry as he is being rolled out of the house, yelling and cussing.

“We’ll meet you at the hospital,” a paramedic says over his shoulder.

For a minute I just stand there, too numb to move. I don’t want to go. I want to sleep. When was the last time I slept? I reassure Em that her parakeet is okay, I close up our house on the hill, and we make our way down the steps to our old Pontiac. We’ll follow the ambulance to the hospital, some 20 miles away.

As we start to pull out from the curb I spot our dog, Cheyenne, up on the roof of the house. It’s the flat part of the roof, above the kitchen. She’s standing close to the edge, looking down at us and barking. How did she get up there? Is she stuck? Should I stop the car and help her?

Poor Cheyenne. The other night I heard her whimpering outside the kitchen door, and when I opened it there she was, her face practically dripping with skunk spray. Her eyes seemed to say, “Just kill me now.” I led her to the patio, where Em and I rubbed her down with all the canned tomato products we could find. The skunk smell was overwhelming, especially for our little hamster, Scooby, who didn’t make it through the night. I haven’t yet had the heart – or the strength – to break the news to Em. Good grief.

The ambulance is already down the street and around the corner. I want to stay close to it, close to Jerry, so I leave Cheyenne on the roof and we take off. At first I’m able to keep up with the ambulance, but once we get onto the highway it speeds up and pulls away. I slow down. Oh, Jerry.

Em is sitting next to me, hugging her stuffed animal, Kitty, and crying. I wish I could offer her words of comfort, but there are none, really. I know what’s coming, and maybe she does, too. A sob escapes me and I inhale a shaky breath. Is this really happening?

Okay, concentrate. Foot on pedal, steer, blink away the tears, and try not to think about what’s next.

As we make our way down the highway, I notice the whitecaps on the bay to our left, and the ocean beyond. The clouds are dark and low. It seems like just another day here on the coast, but it isn’t, is it? This might be the day. My mind begins to wander and I see vivid images of Jerry, of us, and our time together. Bittersweet memories are crowding my mind for attention, so I press down on the pedal and I let them in.

The Day In A Life – Part 1

What happened that long-ago day in July comes back to me in fragments. Jerry, half-naked and confused, is stomping around the house, mumbling obscenities. I’m in the kitchen, on the phone with his pharmacist, who tells me that Jerry’s prescription is ready. He then informs me that he’s closing early today for the town’s annual Rodeo parade, and that I have about an hour before Main Street is completely blocked off.

I hang up the phone, grab my purse and keys and look around for Emilee. I find her staring out of the big window at the front of the house. I join her to have a look, and sure enough people are starting to gather on the streets below for the parade. If we hurry, we can make it to the pharmacy and back in, what, 30 minutes?

Wait, I can’t leave Jerry here alone. What if he goes outside while we’re gone? What if I’m driving back home and we see him running down the street, naked and cussing? Maybe I can leave Em with him. I suggest this to her, but as soon as the words are out I regret them. She’s only five. It’s bad enough that she’s watching her daddy behave this way.

“No Mommy! P-l-e-a-s-e. Don’t leave me here. He’s scaring me.”

I’ve got to get help.

I go back into the kitchen and call Jerry’s oncologist and leave a panicked message. A moment later he calls me back. My throat tightens when I hear his voice. I somehow get the words out. “Something’s wrong. Jerry is out of control.”

“It sounds like we better get him back to the hospital,” he sighs. “Call an ambulance and I’ll meet you there.”

I take a deep breath and hang up the phone. I collapse onto a chair and look around the quiet kitchen. I’m beyond tired. I’m weary. Please just let this be over.

I call for an ambulance, and I start to feel a little better, knowing that help is on the way. Now I need to try and get Jerry dressed. I find him wandering around the living room and I slowly corral him into the bathroom. He seems a little calmer. I manage to get his t-shirt on, but he keeps tugging at it, as if this thin layer of cotton is painful against his skin.

I notice again how thin he is. About a week ago, as I was helping him out of our big claw-foot tub, I was shocked at the sight of his suddenly bony back. I tried not to show my fear, but I knew. As sure as the image I had of the pine coffin that would soon hold him, I knew. My once-muscular young husband was dying. And now here we are, getting ready for yet another – maybe our final – trip to the hospital. Should I call his parents? Could they make the 600-mile trip on time? Is this it?

I need to talk to Em. I follow the sound of her voice to her bedroom. On the way I pass Barney, her beloved blue parakeet. He’s in his cage, chattering away at something outside, beyond the French doors.

Em is in her room, sitting on her bed and talking softly to her stuffed animal, Kitty. I lean on the doorway as she and Kitty share their hushed, private “meow” talk. I watch the trees outside an open window, and I feel the breeze as it moves through the wind chimes. I close my eyes and imagine for a moment that life is peaceful. I don’t want to go. I want to stay here. I’m afraid to what’s coming.