With the help of my daughter-in-law, I’ve made a playlist of Nate’s favorite songs. I sit here wearing his jacket, listening to the music that made him happiest and I feel like he’s sitting right here with me. But something in the songs he loved has granted me a little insight to the person he was inside, somewhere beyond “daddy” and “husband” and “son.” “His songs” are optimistic, upbeat, happy and joyous. Country life with simple pleasures, the love of someone he trusted, little faces looking up to him. Being outdoors. Karaoke. Playing pool. Just being loved. My little boy had grown up into a man I didn’t know well enough due to the many miles between us. Even weekly phone calls can only bridge just so much. I’ve learned so much about Nate from his passing. How much his friends loved him, how generous he was with his time, helping people, how everyone loved his smile. He will always be irreplaceable to me, although everyone’s lives go on. I hope I can keep enough of Nate’s spirit alive for his little boys so they remember, and are proud of, their dad. <3
I miss you so much, Nate. Every minute is so hollow, echoing with your absence. You were just a kid, barely a man with no time to make that huge transition from exuberant boy to responsible adult. I did all I could to help guide you to good choices, when you would listen, which 26 year olds don’t excel at – hell 54 year olds have a hard time with it! Now my mind gets caught on that not-so-merry go round thinking of you and trying so hard to understand. Why did you have to be taken from us? Will I ever know the answer to that omnipresent question? I still can’t accept this loss. It is those left behind to suffer on without you who are affected even more than you were, in your fight with that bastard cancer. I can’t get my brain to the right level where I can say, “oh, I see now…” I don’t think there is such a place, anyway. I miss you so much, my little boy in a man’s body with a smile that could light miles of darkness. My sweet, loving little boy. Take good care of my heart, wherever you’ve taken it. I love you always, mom xoxoxo
It happens some times. A lot, really.
I’ll be going along okay, actually functioning on an acceptable level, and it will kick me in the gut. It’s vicious like that, grief; completely uncaring about what I’m doing or that maybe I might be okay right this minute and it would be kind not to remind me… Some times I can even get up in the morning and for a minute or so while my mind collects all the ravaged pieces of memories and reassembles them into “awake” mode, I think “ahh, a new day.” But then it kicks me again, in the gut and in the heart and then everywhere else at once and I remember it wasn’t a dream and it did really happen and my only child is really gone. Those bruises from grief’s attacks don’t show on my skin, but my insides are a sickening mess.
If it happens at work, I lose all understanding of what I was doing and sit like a zombie for… I don’t know how long. On the verge of a tearful meltdown, I stare. I look at things that in an ordinary world are phones, pens, paper, computer, printer, keyboard… but in my zombie world have no meaning, they may as well be aliens for all the comprehension I can muster. I have refused to put his photos away, and there are times when I can look at his glowing smile and do the same. And there are times when I don’t dare look at his handsome face, his bright blue eyes, his loving wife, his beautiful sons. Because I know the kicking will start again and maybe one of these times it won’t stop. That happens some times too. The fear of being completely consumed by grief. It makes me afraid to start crying for fear I won’t be able to stop – as if I had control. The way it sucks all my energy and awareness, all of whatever cognitive ability remains, on top of the kicking, the mauling, is completely exhausting. Utterly, completely.
I still cannot conceive of this world where my son is gone, eaten alive by that foul fucking cancer. All illusions of what is right and what is wrong melt into this useless pot of despair. “They” tell me that with time I will come to accept what has happened, but I can’t imagine that day. It has been four months and four days. There has been a Christmas and a New Year and just yesterday, his would-be-27th birthday. Many of those “firsts” that They said would be hard. So on the second ones, I will be okay? I won’t miss him so much that I can’t breathe? I won’t feel my heart breaking day after day, night after night? How hopeful I am that They are right, and how doubtful I am at the same time.
If the first two signs had warmed our hearts and made us smile, the third one made us laugh right out loud. We had checked into our hotel in Plattsburgh and had taken our bags up to the room. We were exhausted from such a long, overnight trip across the country. I opened the blinds, and right there, big as life, was a FedEx Ground truck. 🙂
No, I don’t care that there is probably a daily pickup at that location, all I care about is that our hotel window looked right at the very spot where the truck sat, waiting for us to get in and make another connection with Nate.
Thank you, Nate for making us laugh and feel you close by. Sign #3, received!
The second sign I found was after we had gotten off the ferry, going to see Becca and the boys before Nate’s services. We were headed south on the Northway (yes, I know that sounds silly) and there in front of us, pretty much exactly over the area where their house was, was a display of sunbeams and dramatic clouds that took my breath away.
I really felt Nate welcoming us home. He would know how upset I would be, and he always hated to see me cry. I have no doubt that he was determined to make me smile, to make sure we felt him near. He did a great job.
Sign #2, received loud and clear. Thank you, Nate. I love you.
I think it will be good to start recording the signs I see that I believe are from Nate’s spirit. I pray (and I don’t do a lot of that) to be connected to him, to be able to feel his presence and when at all possible, for him to leave me signs that he’s here to help us get through losing him.
The first sign was the day after he passed. Larry had dragged me out of the house for a walk (thank you, sweetie) and we were rounding the corner on the last block when there in front of me was a small feather. Light and clean and looking for all the world to be fresh but not blowing around at all, just sitting there in my path. I picked it up and felt immediately it was from an owl, there was barring on the tip and a lot of down at the quill. It was only a few inches long but it was truly beautiful.
Native Americans believe feathers in your path are messages from loved ones who have passed on. Message #1, received. It now lives in a crystal box with other treasures from my son. Thank you, Nate.
How many times?
Rest in peace my beautiful little boy. My strong, grown son with beautiful little boys of your own, with so much life left to live.
No more pain, no more cancer. No more falls, no more struggling to breathe. No more radiation, no more chemotherapy, no more relentless vomiting. No more suffering.
I miss you so much. love, mom
… a long while actually, since my last post. More than two years – wow.
If you know me at all, you know my obsessions almost always dominate my life. Hobbies are things that I pour myself into 1000%, often to the detriment of other aspects of my life and relationships. Obsessions often come and go in phases too – I pick something back up that I was unable to put down in years past and then forgot about almost completely – it’s a cycle, always. Sometimes they’re awakened by accident, sometimes by a void that needs filling. This blog has seen its share of those obsessions wax and wane, my heart often overflowing to the point it needs an outlet, like this.
Which is why I find myself here again…
It started in August of 2013, my then-24 yr old son, a husband and father of three young boys, had a growth removed from his back that was positive for melanoma, along with one very suspicious lymph node nearby, also removed. He followed through with his frequent PET scans, saw specialists in nearby cities and believed if the cancer returned, it would be on his skin and he’d see it, have it removed too, and go on with his life. I knew at the time that wasn’t usually how melanoma worked. It is aggressive, insidious, and very, very quick. I tried to explain this to my son, and he listened but as is the case with most 20-something young men, he felt invincible and quite safe. He was anything but safe.
In June of this year, 2015, he had a serious accident in his work vehicle. He drove for FedEx and loved his job. A mechanical failure on the truck he was driving caused him to lose control and wrap it around a tree. Help was there almost instantly, the home on the property where the accident occurred belonged to a First Responder who was home, immediately made the 911 call as well as to family, and an ambulance was quickly on the scene. My son wasn’t badly injured from this accident (miraculously, as the truck was totaled) however OSHA protocol dictated he be ruled out for head, neck, back trauma and he was taken to the hospital for evaluation.
In the process of ruling out head trauma, MRIs were done of the brain which revealed five tumors, the largest situated on the brain stem in the pons region – which controls muscle movement of the body. More scans followed and more tumors were found, in the lungs and lymph nodes. The news was crushing to those of us who understand more about cancer than we’d care to; my son and his family were shaken but we all quickly latched onto the fact that had it not been for that accident and the workup that followed, we’d never have known the melanoma had metastasized so widely. You see, while PET scans show intense concentrations of glucose in areas the body which can usually be identified as cancer, the brain uses so much glucose to function that PET scans are of no use in watching for metastasis to the brain. That MRI for head trauma was crucial for finding his tumors – and doctors were amazed that the tumor at the pons was as large as it was without causing symptoms or seizures.
Things happened very quickly then. It seemed like all hands at his local hospital were working for him – Social Services secured him insurance coverage – Oncology, medical and radiology, were putting together plans and whole brain radiation started the next day – and connections were secured with Memorial Sloan Kettering in NYC, the finest and most highly rated cancer center in the United States. A consultation was held and my son had himself a medical team to give him the best chance of seeing his sons grow up. We were all so very optimistic.
I left immediately to fly back east and be with my son and his family. My employer could not have been more understanding, generous and accommodating. My significant other of 13 years could not have been more supportive, kind or helpful.
After the initial 15 rounds of whole brain radiation, which the local radiation oncologist was highly confident would either significantly diminish or completely eradicate the multiple brain tumors, the treatment plan began with immunotherapy. A central line port was placed and infusions were given every two weeks. We all prayed and sent as much positivity and healing as we could muster. This opportunity to just be with my son and his family was priceless. Friends and family encouraged them to utilize a crowd funding campaign through GoFundMe, as my son could not work and they had no money coming in at all. But my son and his wife felt they couldn’t ask for money from strangers. When enough people let them know they felt this was a good idea, I was asked to run the campaign. I set it up that day – and in only a few weeks the support poured in. To this day, in just a few months, we have raised over $15,000 which has been a godsend for them – enabling them to pay bills and at least some of the overwhelming medical costs.
Followup brain scans showed that the radiation had had no diminishing effect on any of the tumors, other than the fact that they weren’t larger. And other than creating swelling of the brain tissue such that no further radiation was possible. The immunotherapy would not affect the brain lesions either… we waited for the next step in the plan. It’s here that my own brain has difficulty with the timeline of events. There were consultations at larger hospitals for targeted brain radiation to only the pons tumor, but it was not safe to risk more swelling than was already present. Immunotherapy continued.
Then after believing he’d injured his back lifting his youngest son, he had a precautionary MRI of the spine before being considered for chiropractic care or physical therapy. But it was not an injury – it was a tumor on and in the spine. Several of them. More scans revealed even more – liver, kidney, adrenal glands, more lymph nodes… plus all the existing lesions were larger and had multiplied – eight now in the brain, numerous in both lungs…
My worst fears were coalescing into a nightmare from which I pray constantly I’ll awake. Again I dropped everything and flew back to NY. When I arrived I found my strong, tall, macho son using a wheelchair and recovering from several falls. He’d been having periods of confusion and disorientation, weakness and joint pain. And it turns out you can truly feel your heart breaking in your own chest.
I stayed only two weeks this time – knowing that my son has his own family now and that they need their time together as well. I cherished every single moment of that visit. While trying almost desperately to remain positive, I was still afraid that any moment might be our last one together. Treatment was not working. The immunotherapy was stopped and a combination of two chemotherapy drugs begun. Radiation is still on hold.
Which is where we are now. This is what I imagine I will be writing about for the foreseeable future.
…to be continued.
I don’t think there is any turning back to simple tangles for me, now. I envision more and more complex works to come. I must, however, remember that white space can work well too. lol
I have opened a second store on Etsy for my artwork at www.TheTangledLotus.etsy.com – this piece is my first sale from the shop!
My friend Holly the Doula’s business: