I am going to try to wrap up the story today, in order to do so I may gloss over a few things but I will try to be specific with the things I feel I most want to express.
To recap, I am on my way home from the hospital (actually from a party after leaving the hospital) and Brad and I find a message from Dan.
Dan had been living with this monster, I mean girl. Every one of his friends and his entire family hated her, me especially. I admit that there isn’t anyone he could have dated that I was going to be thrilled about but this chick was pure bad news. They started dating shortly after Brad and I did so we had all been trying to deal with her for years. This had put a real strain on every relationship Dan had including ours. I am not going to go into details but trust me when I say that hearing his message and finding out that they had broken up, Brad and I cheered as I am sure everyone did.
We called him back immediately and had him meet us back at our place. Brad had a lot going on with work and paramedic school and I needed a lot of help during my recovery. My mom took a week off of work for my first week back, like with my dad, hardly left my side. She was newly married and I hated taking up so much of her time. Within a few days of being home I was able to do almost everything for myself except take the dog outside. The way our place was situated we had to go downstairs to take him out and I couldn’t do steps yet. Everything else, I could manage. So in the evenings when Dan got off work he came straight over to our place to give mom a break. The first couple of days she refused to leave but she eased up after she could see I was progressing quickly. Again, I think the over protectiveness was partly just her instincts but I can’t discount that losing my dad had something to do with her fear of another loss. I was certainly not even close to death but as a mom I don’t know how much that actually matters. Because of Brad’s schedule he didn’t really have time to do much of anything for me. Mom did have to arrange all of my doctor visits and did all of our grocery shopping. She had actually been taking care of all of that for us for a couple of months. She had devoted so much time to me that summer that I was grateful to have Dan there to ease her burden. I know she would have kept right on going at that pace for as long as I needed her but I think she was relieved a little too.
Dan took up the role of my caregiver naturally from the beginning. Even on the rare night that Brad was home Dan came over. I don’t think that there has been a day from the time I got home from the hospital until now that we have been apart.
I can not speak to what was happening in Brad’s head at this time because I simply don’t know. But our relationship was crumbling. I can’t even say that I know when it started or specifically why. By September 2004 it was clear that things between us were not working out. He had to put up with a lot over our years together. It seemed at first that we were going to get married and live happily ever after but that didn’t happen. We lost my dad and three grandparents in a matter of a couple of years and then we find out that I have Crohn’s and I spent an entire summer very sick. He was becoming a paramedic he knew full well what a life with a spouse with Crohn’s could become. I have no idea if any of these things entered into the equation or not. I know that losing my dad changed me profoundly and I was no longer the person he thought he was getting.
There has been much speculation from family and friends that Brad wasn’t happy long before I realized and possibly having Dan back in our lives he discovered a way out. Brad certainly knew about my feelings for Dan and as a close friend of Dan’s for many years probably even knew his for me. Now that we were spending every day together, at Brad’s request, he thought it was time to bring us together. Brad wouldn’t have just left me high and dry while I was recovering from surgery. It is possible that he did try to push us together so he could have the peace of mind that I was going to be cared for. Again, I have no idea if this is true. If it is than there are no words to express how much I appreciate his kindness and sacrifice in doing so.
The night Brad left I had been out of the hospital for just over a month. I wasn’t yet allowed to drive or go back to work. He hugged me and told me to call Dan as soon as he left. He made it very clear to me that I was not to wait he didn’t want me to be alone. Dan lived only a couple streets away and I was to call him immediately, I did. Dan was at my place before I knew it. Brad had called in that time and asked that I have Dan take a couple of his things over to him that he forgot. Brad had gone to his parents who didn’t live far from us. Dan got his items and ran them over to him. The way that Dan tells it the conversation they had made it clear to him that Brad expected Dan to take care of me. It is sad to me that this would be the last time these good friends would see each other and I think they both knew it.
I was lost, I had no idea what I was going to do. My mom and step-dad took me in. I wasn’t released to work for another couple of weeks. I was still working part time at the nursing home didn’t make nearly enough to pay the few bills I did have. I started looking for full time employment. It wasn’t until January that I finally secured a good paying full time job. As soon as I did, Dan and I started looking for our own place.
Yes, of course, Brad was right. After he left, Dan took care of me and in the course of all of this we finally found our way to each other after all of those years. It all started with a kiss. It was a kiss we still both talk about. Whenever we see some amazing first kiss on TV or in a movie we always comment, “Not as good as ours.” We were watching Lord of the Rings (for the hundredth time) it was the battle of Helm’s Deep, Dan was rubbing my shoulders and I was leaning forward. Nothing had been said between us to this point about having feelings or dating. As far as we both knew the other was thinking of only friendship. Apparently though the tension was high. We each claim this part happened differently. I will give both sides. His side is that all of a sudden I turned around and kissed him. The truth (I kid) is that he pulled me back towards him, then I turned around and kissed him. Either way, he didn’t put up a fight. We kissed. It was truly the best kiss of my life. It was the most intense moment of my life. It was years of pent up love and desire finally having the chance to express itself. He put his arms around me and pulled my head to his chest. His heart was pounding so hard I thought he was going to have a heart attack. He told me later that he thought he was going to too. You would think that at this point we were start having a deep conversation about our friendship and what this meant, blah blah blah. We didn’t. Instead, I lifted my head and looked him in the eyes and simply said, “I love you.” He replied, “I have always loved you.” Nothing more needed to be said.
We got our apartment as quickly as possible. We were both living with our parents after coming out of long relationships so we were both starting over, together. We found a place and had the keys by March 1, 2005. We were so excited to live together finally that we spent the first night in our new place on a borrowed inflatable mattress in the middle of the living room. I don’t remember the exact timing but about somewhere around here my divorce from Brad became final.
August 26, 2005 Dan and I were married. We weren’t wasting any more time. From the moment we kissed we knew that we were finally where we needed to be. We didn’t have a big wedding. I had done that twice before and I didn’t get me the marriage I wanted. This time, it was just us and our parents at the North Canton City Hall with the Mayor officiating. We all went to lunch at Longhorn and then we went off to Cincinnati for our honeymoon. Actually, what we were doing was zoo hopping. We went to Cincinnati, Kentucky, Columbus, The Wilds and wherever else we wanted.
Two weeks before the wedding I quit working again. After my recovery had gone so smoothly things started to get bad again. I was having pain and fevers. My doctors started to get concerned that another flare up was starting. One of the biggest problems with Crohn’s patients is stress. It is terrible for the immune system and for people like me who don’t deal with it very well it tends to cause problems. I hated my job and was under more stress because of it than I anticipated. It was crucial in allowing for Dan and I to get on our feet but by now we made enough that we were able to pay things off and get a good head start. Plus, Dan had a good paying job working for the Sheet Metal Union and made enough for us to live off of. After a lot of conversations and doctor’s visits it became clear to Dan and I that perhaps it was best that I not work. I was surprised to discover that this, very personal decision seemed to rub a lot of people the wrong way. For some reason I found that I was having to defend myself over and over again about this. At the time I felt the need to explain my actions to other people. I don’t know why they would care or more importantly, what business it was of theirs at all? But all of this negativity started me on a downward spiral.
*Just a quick note. I have not worked since the summer of 2005 and have had no significant flare up with my Crohn’s since then. I don’t know that it is solely because of not working but whatever we are doing has been working for me so far.
At first my mom was one of the people not so sure about this decision. I had worked so hard to get a college education why would I throw it away? But it took her all of 5 minutes to decide that it was my life and she was going to support me. After losing my dad I think my mom’s view of the world changed, as would be expected, and she started to see how short life could be. She tried many times over the next couple of years to teach me a few things she learned but I was having trouble getting myself to the right place emotionally to take it all in. She felt strongly that I could no longer live my life defending myself to people. My decisions about my life were my own and no one else had the right to judge them or make me feel like less than because of them. I wish I could have taken that in more at that time but I just couldn’t get myself to live like that. I took very much to heart everything other people said. I cared a great deal about what other people thought of me and how I chose to live my life. I wanted everyone to like me and be okay with every thing I was doing. Of course, I was just setting myself up to be disappointed.
I got more and more depressed. My weight got completely out of control. I hardly left the house and didn’t want to face the world. I also began to realize that I hadn’t dealt at all with my feeling about losing my dad because I didn’t get the chance to. Everything started piling up on itself and I was only becoming more and more miserable. My mom and Dan were becoming alarmed at the severe transformation in me. They finally convinced me that I needed to talk to my doctor and see a therapist. My doctor started me on an antidepressant and a sleeping pill because my insomnia was terrible. She also suggested strongly that I needed therapy.
My OCD was now completely controlling every aspect of my life. I spent hours every day cleaning. I would wipe down all the doors in the house two or three times a week. Our place wasn’t that big and I cleaned it nearly into oblivion. The worst part was the invading thoughts. I told myself over and over how useless I was, how fat I was, how much everyone hated me and how much better off Dan would be without such a miserable drain. I hated myself more than I would have thought possible. I refused to look in the mirror. I felt terrible guilt over every moment that I ever spent upsetting my dad. I was convinced that I had been a horrible daughter and that he never knew how much I loved him. I was constantly apologizing for myself to everyone who ever came near me. I wanted nothing more than to die. I tried everyday to find a way to kill myself. It got so bad that Dan had to hide my sleeping pills and give me one every night before bed.
When I finally started therapy was the first time that I found out exactly what OCD was. We often joked about me being OCD because of my cleaning and organizing but this was when I found out that it wasn’t a joke. My therapist helped me sort out a lot of my feelings about my dad and helped me to find ways of coming to terms with his death. She encouraged me to start going out into the world and overcoming my fear of not meeting the expectations of others. I did start to get a little better until another bomb was dropped on me.
My mom stopped by my house one day which wasn’t all that unusual. This time it wasn’t just to spend time together. She had bad news. Her breast cancer had come back and had spread into her bones. I was devastated. I knew she had been going through some illness but the last I had heard they thought she was diabetic. I didn’t expect to hear this. I could not believe it. All I could think was “not again”.
As time went on my mom started to retreat more and more into herself. She rarely wanted to talk about it and was pushing away the people she loved. She spent more time at home and was less willing to spend time around people. I don’t blame her. I can not even begin to think how I would handle being in a similar situation. It was made clear that this was going to take her life. We were told she could have as many has four years. How do you face the world or your life under those circumstances? How do you say goodbye? I don’t know. She did what she could. Not only was this an emotional nightmare but she was getting more and more frail. She was tiny and I could tell whenever we were out in public that she was uncomfortable almost to the point of being afraid. I give her a lot of credit though. I think her instinct was to curl up in a ball and never leave bed. She fought that as much as she could and tried to stay in the world as best as she was able to manage.
November 5, 2010 she was admitted to the hospital. Most of us knew that this was going to be the end. She had lost so much weight and was so sick all the time, there was no coming back from this. My aunt Celiene and I spent many hours in the hospital by her side. We could see how she was fading. She was getting confused and slept more and more. However, the doctors didn’t seem to be on the same page we were. They were looking at numbers on a page and were not beside her watching her for hours at a time. All the while we are preparing ourselves they are talking like they are going to get her better. It became its own nightmare. Celiene and I knew what we were seeing we knew that she was not going to get better and we were relaying this information to the rest of the family. But then the doctors would make claims about getting her better that were in direct conflict from what we were seeing clearly. I don’t know about Celiene but I started to feel like I was going crazy. My aunts in Oklahoma were understandably confused about what was happening because they were getting two very different stories. Thankfully, my Aunt Judy could tell pretty clearly from her phone conversations with mom that we weren’t nuts. This went on for a week. If I hadn’t had Celiene with me I don’t know how I would have survived. We clung to each other. I felt like she was my sanity anchor in a crazy storm. Judy was my other rock, I would stand in the hall at the hospital losing reception and just cry to her. I was so frustrated and upset I didn’t know what to do. It felt like Celiene and I were screaming to the world that she was not getting better and weren’t being heard. Judy knew, she could tell. My step-dad wanted to hear that she was going to be better so I think that was what he chose to believe. We would tell everyone she was getting worse than he would tell them she was fine. It was unbelievable. Celiene and I were about at our breaking point when my Aunt Noel decided that we needed help.
November 11 our cavalry arrived, at least I saw it that way. Noel flew in from Oklahoma. I don’t think it took her long to see for herself that Celiene, Judy and I weren’t crazy. Not that she thought we were or she wouldn’t have made the trip but it was so nice to have someone else there to help us get some real information. The next day the doctor confirmed that the cancer was in her brain and that there was nothing more they could do. She would be released to hospice. I knew this was coming but it was still a blow. I didn’t know what we were going to do. She would need someone with her 24/7 and my step-dad didn’t think he could take time off of work. I knew it would fall to Celiene and me. Then, completely unexpectedly my Aunt Noel told us that she wasn’t leaving. She wasn’t going home. She would stay for as long as she could. She would live with mom and Norm and be her full time caregiver. She stayed until December 8th. She gave up nearly an entire month of her life to stay here and care for her sister and her family. I will never, in my life, forget that. I will never get over the love that took or the extraordinary strength that had to have taken.
During this time my family amazed me daily. My uncle from Florida drove up in one day to see her. My other uncle also came up days before his own surgery. Noel’s husband drove Judy and my cousin up here from Oklahoma. Every one pitched it. Celiene house’s is about 2 minutes from my mom’s and eventually became our “home base” with everyone in town we could become overwhelming to mom so we would take turns at her house but mostly hang out close by at Celiene’s. She and Uncle Brian would prepare dinner for all of us and pretty much host everyone. All of our lives were completely on hold. Everyone pitched in where they could. I can not imagine going through this without them. The love and strength they gave to me at that time still makes to cry (as I am now) just thinking about it. We had lost Nana a few years earlier and all we had was each other. I will never get over the way every one just dropped whatever was happening in their lives and made their way here. Their parents would have been so proud to see the way they all came together to carry each other through this. I know they carried me.
Mom passed away December 16, 2010. Norm was kneeling beside her holding her hand. Dan, Celiene, Kevin and I were holding each other on the couch next to her. She hasn’t been gone long but her passing has changed me more than I could have ever expected. Those lessons she tried to teach me after losing my dad have finally sunk in. I am no longer a slave to other people’s opinions on my own life. I am not afraid of the world because I don’t know how much more time I have to be in it and I want just that, to be in it. I feel once again that I have a support system that will have my back more than I ever expected in my family and knowing that gives me strength. I have decided that it is time for me to take back control of my life and to decide every day how I want to face the world. I am no longer a victim of my circumstances. I am finally living a complete and full life and am leaving all of those fears and insecurities behind. Not to get cliche but I truly have decided to stop living as and explanation and start living as an exclamation.
That is why I wanted to tell my story. My readers who knew me and my writing a few months ago will see a remarkable change and I wanted them to know why. I also wanted to acknowledge all the amazing people that have come and gone in my life. I have had some incredible role models and I haven’t been honoring them properly but that is all changing for me. My parents and grandparents were all strong, capable people and I feel I have been letting them down by being afraid to actively participate in the life they have given to me, no more. I didn’t always know how to love them or appreciate them but as I have grown I have learned that you only ever really know half of the story, this is my half.
The most important thing to know about the new me is this new mantra that I tell myself over and over again every day. “The people who matter don’t mind. The people who mind don’t matter.” -Dr. Seuss
The people in my life who I honor these are my heros: