There are some mornings when I wake up and it is hard to believe that the people I loved are now gone to a place unknown to me. Within a two and a half year period of time, beginning when I was twenty-six, I lost five family members. Death started to become almost too familiar. Pain came and went in waves and could never be predicted.
My losses began in late December of 1991 while I was finishing massage therapy school and going through a divorce. My mothers aunt passed away. I'd only met her a couple times, corresponding with her on and off, but knew her well through my mother. My mother took the news hard.
I hadn't seen my mother in a couple years. The Christmas holiday was approaching and I had to make a decision as to where I would spend it. I wanted to see my mother, but I hadn't seen my father in twelve years. My father was suffering from auto-immune hemolytic anemia and wasn't doing well. I sensed he didn't have a lot of time left, so I felt I should visit him. I was afraid I might not get another chance. I flew out on Christmas Eve about a week after my great aunts death.
When my father met me at the airport, he informed me that my mother had called to let me know she was back in the hospital for a few days but not to be concerned. She had been in the hospital many times over the last couple of years battling emphysema. I called to check on her after arriving at my fathers house. She reassured me that she was okay.
I spent a pleasant Christmas day with my father. It was good seeing him but it was also strange after twelve years. He looked older and frail which disturbed me. I was facing something I'd never experienced before and didn't even know the extent of it yet.
The day after Christmas we spent exploring the Arizona Mountains. When we returned I had received a message from my sister to call her right away. My sister informed me that my mother had died that afternoon.
I sat at the end of the table next to the phone. My stepmother was at the opposite end and my father sat next to me holding my hand, looking into my eyes with a reassuring look. I could not look at them. Tears ran down my face as I sat in fear. The pit feeling in my stomach boiled.
All I could do was cry. The anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach was like a bad nightmare coming alive. I wasn't comfortable anywhere. I tried lying down but couldn't close my eyes. I tried enjoying seeing my father but my face was stripped of a smile. I thought in these moments that I would never rest again.
The next day I proceeded to board a plane for what would be a most difficult and painful experience. I cried the entire trip. I felt sorry for the couple sitting next to me on the plane that questioned my distraught state. This was to be my first experience with knowing that there would be no words to relieve my pain.
I was shocked to get off the plane and find that my brother had come to pick me up. My brother and I had not gotten along for some time and had not spoken in almost four years due to conflicts. My brother embraced me and informed me that I was to stay with him and his wife. A sense of panic erupted inside.
On the long trip to my mothers house we each began to express our individual growth over the last few years we had spent apart and made amends. Though sad, my mothers death brought my brother and I back together. For that, I am gratef
Our first stop was our mothers apartment where my brother and sister had already begun dismantling her life. It was the most grueling and invading task. Within one day, we had my mothers apartment totally closed up.
I couldn't believe this was all taking place. That night, I was to spend my first evening in my brothers house with family I hadn't gotten along with in years. I brought my suitcase into the house setting it off to the side of the living room. I plopped down and opened it and begun making myself busy rummaging through my belongings for no apparent reason but to avoid my discomfort with everything that had taken place in the last twenty-four hours.
Mother was cremated. The next day we arrived at the funeral home. My sister was handed the cardboard box that inside it housed a black plastic box that contained a bag of my mothers' ashes. Sixty-four years of my mothers life could now fit into my cupped hands. It was too bizarre for words.
We cried, we fumed, we felt sad, angry and we laughed. Standing outside the funeral home with the ashes in my sisters hand, my brother walked up to her, leaned over placing his ear close to the box, tapped on the box and said, "Mother, Mother, are you in there?" We all began laughing. We had to find some humor in this somehow. We remembered the good times as well as the bad, all the time laughing and crying knowing that we had all truly loved our mother each in our own way.
Together we decided to disperse the ashes on my sister-in-laws property in a creek. My mother drove a 1965 Cadillac for years that she had adored. Mother always said that if she died to just put her in the Cadillac and push it over a mountain. A true diehard Cadillac lover! Well, what I had in mind was a little less dramatic! My brother had a Cadillac just like hers sitting in his garage. I made the suggestion that we drive the ashes to the creek in the Cadillac. Everyone agreed and so we were off on yet another painful trip.A few months went by and I felt like I was working through my grief. My divorce was proceeding, yet I was overcome by a lot of pain for all of my loss. My world and my foundations were being shaken and on top of that I had just started a new job. Then, I received a phone call from my stepmother. My father was in the hospital. I flew out to Arizona to be with him. My father was a real fighter. Approximately a year and a half after my mothers death, my father passed away.
Again there was no funeral or formal service. He was also cremated. My grief process once again went back to square one. By this time, sorrow and grief consumed my life. I began to feel like things would never return too normal. I couldn't even remember what %u201Cnormal%u201D felt like.
My brother, sister and I were experiencing fatigue, depression, sadness and other assorted emotions. My sister, however, seemed to be having a lot of difficulty. More and more, she seemed depressed. Approximately eight months after my father died, my sister called me at home one evening and told me she needed to talk to me about something very important. I didn't have a clue as to what she was about to unload on me. She then told me she had been HIV positive for five years. I couldn't believe what I was hearing yet home how it felt familiar%u2014too familiar. I held my composure letting tears stream down my cheeks while I listened to her rationalize why she had waited five years to tell me. Friends and co-workers around me were shocked about what was happening in my life.
I flew to Chicago to see my sister, once again on a dreaded mission. I have experienced a lot of flying in the most unpleasant ways. My sister could barely speak or walk at this point. She relied on her husband for her everyday care.
I saw in my sisters face her desire to get out of the house. The next day, after her husband left, I went down to the basement and got her wheelchair and took it around to the front of the house. There were about ten stairs leading up into their house.
I pulled my sister up and sat her back against the couch so that she was propped up. I, then, after many tries got her coat on. It was as if I was dressing a child, a lifeless child. She couldn't help me. I struggled and struggled trying to move her arms about in a way that would enable me to slip the coat on. At one point we both began laughing hysterically at my sorry attempts.
Once the jacket was on, the hard part came. I lifted my sister up propping her weight on me and slowly walked her to the porch. Now take into consideration that we are the same height and weight and all she was capable of was a slight shuffle. I managed to get her sat down on the top step. I needed to rest a minute and I wasn't quite sure how I was going to get her down the stairs. I was so damned and determined that she was going to get to spend some time outdoors seeing and hearing the birds she loved.
After resting for a moment, I got up behind her and slipped my arms underneath her arms. I pulled her up sitting her down on the next step and then I would move each leg down a step further. One by one we forged down those stairs. Her on her butt and me hoisting her with all my energy, not thinking about my body. I pulled her up and placed her into the wheelchair. Mission accomplished, I thought.
I wheeled her around the neighborhood. There was a nice chill in the air but not too cold. It was a very pleasant day and thankfully the birds were singing. My sister looked around taking everything in. I looked at her childlike face and was struck with so much pain that felt like a knife in my heart.
It came time to take her back in, and I almost felt like panicking when I realized that now I must figure out a way to get her back up the stairs. So, once again, I began. I placed her on the bottom step, got behind her and pulled her up each step, placing each foot up a step each time as I moved her. After the long haul, we were finally in the house, coats off, and I was sitting there amazed at how insane I could be at times.
I don't know if this was her last visit outside. I am grateful for the strength and tenacity to do what I did. That night I woke up in the middle of the night with my back and shoulders in excruciating pain. Every muscle was sore and heated.
The grief I was feeling because of the deaths that had already occurred and the fate of my sister left me feeling exhausted. It was a heart wrenching experience. I wanted to do more yet could not. I felt helpless. I was frustrated that I couldn't give up my job or take enough time off to stay with her until she passed. My life still had to run and my bills still had to be paid. That really pissed me off.
I really thought nothing else could happen. Then I got word from my brother that my grandmother died. Like my aunt, I had only met her a couple of times, but had corresponded with her on and off throughout my life. With her death, I really mourned my loss of never having had a complete family and the opportunities that were now gone.
A couple of weeks later, I took a second trip to see my sister. This time she was totally paralyzed and comatose. I had no idea if she understood I was there or not. I only have to believe she did. I was at a loss for something respectable I could do for her but just simply be there.
My brother-in-law gave me the terrible task of going through her things. Once again I had to encounter a task that seemed so imposing. But somehow I found the energy and courage to do it. I sat beside her bed reading from books and just simply holding her hand. I didn't know what to say. Encouraging words seemed ridiculous and good-byes seemed too hurtful. It was so painful leaving her behind. I'll never forget walking out of that house realizing that this would be the last time I would see her and there wasn't a damn thing I could do. Approximately two weeks later, on August 14, 1994, she died.
I remember times walking down the street, shopping in the mall or at the grocery store when I would look into the faces of passersby wondering what was going on in their world and wondering if they could even imagine what I was going through. I wanted to tell everyone of my pain. I needed to share it. But the few I told didn't understand the depth of my pain and despair that I felt. I wanted to yell from the rooftops what had happened to me and I needed the world to embrace me.
I'm sad to say my brother John passed away May 1, 2000 of a long battle with Cancer. It is now only my sister-in-law and myself but I have hope that the future is bright and my memories of my family will never fade. The lessons keep on coming. God doesn't give us anything we can not handle.
On 7/26/01 I discovered I had this rare form of cancer called Dermato Fibro Sarcoma. I couldn't believe that after everything I'd already lost in my life that at the age of 35 I would be told I have CANCER! Though it was somewhat shocking I have to say that because I've been through so much I wasn't surprised, almost as if I am use to a lot of tragedy happen to me or even expected it. I have learned how to live more honestly and real because of going through the grief but now with the cancer it really put things in even more perspective. Traffic jams didn't seem such a big deal any more and everything got pretty surreal.
The most frightening moment was when I had to go have a cat scan and bone scan after my surgeries to make sure that the cancer wasn't somewhere else or in my bones. After they took the bone scan they asked me to wait a moment just to make sure they got clear pictures. After a few moments the technician came back into the room and said that the radiologist wanted to take a different angle shot of my chest. Unknown to any of them, that is where the cancer had been and I began to panic inside. I informed the tech that as soon as this picture was reviewed by the radiologist that I wanted to talk to her because I couldn't wait a day or days for these results. In a split second I knew that if this cancer had entered my bones I was as good as dead. My whole family passed away and here I am at 35 with cancer. Literally in those few moments from the time he took the second shot of my chest to the time the radiologist came back into consult with me my life flashed before my eyes. I'd always heard that expression but there were a few minutes while waiting for the radiologist to come talk to me that an indescribable panic was happening within me that this could truly be it, at 35 years old. I mean, why not? My whole family had passed at young ages, my sister at 35, why not me??
Was God trying to tell me we were all suppose to be together in heaven I thought. But another part of me knew that couldn't be it. I had gone through to much and had too much to share with others to let this experience just pass due to my death. So here I am now cancer free and still very inspired with a positive attitude that life is unfolding in it's divine manner and though I don't always understand why these tragedies happen it always works out and I do the most I can to turn it into an experience that benefits others. I am still the happiest I've ever been because my faith is strong and I believe that God works through us to help guide us and others.
To the day my brother died he continued to joke and have a positive attitude through all the pain and suffering he had to endure. I watched my brother with this incredible infectious attitude and I knew that this was how I wanted to handle tragedies and adversity in my life.
To be a strong person we have to realize that we aren't being AFFLICTED by God or anyone else, just affected by the things that happen to us. There is a big difference. With affliction, we are helpless because we feel like someone is doing something to us, such as God. But my faith is with the thought that God is here to help us along in these times and that though we are affected by these circumstances, we can stand up and be stronger faithful people due to it. I take this experience as a lesson and a gift. A gift to pass on to others. These experiences have empowered me to write a book about my story and how I have found resilience. We can all make a difference in our life. Pass it on. Life is short. Laugh more, play more, love more and be open to what life has to offer you because it may be an opportunity disguised as an impossible situation.
Remember, it's a matter of CHOICE, and it is up to YOU in how you let your life events affect your life. May your path be strong.......