Some weeks it seems my life is nothing but a seven-day stretch of making PB&J sandwiches, policing homework, letting cats in, folding laundry, hustling for freelance work, letting cats out, and then the cycle begins again. The doldrums take hold and I’m this close to reaching for a Harlequin Romance novel for a little escapism. Then, well, then there’s last week.
On Thursday, February 28th I went to dinner with a group of friends and had a long overdue chat. Some of my very favorite ladies were in attendance and after having rescheduled the dinner four previous times, I welcomed the laughter and conversation. Every time we get together a new inside joke is created. “Did she say, whore up? No, honey, I think she said order up. Okay then.” Ohhhh, you had to be there. I was still smiling when I got home that night, changed in to my comfy snowflake pajama pants and started scrolling through Facebook updates. Then I received a private message from my cousin, and my smile disappeared.
Although I knew my Uncle Lewis had not been well for some time, I was unprepared for the message I received. “Lewis was taken to the hospital. . . nothing more doctors can do. . . Hospice coming tonight. . . doctors do not expect him to live through the weekend.” I stared at the blinking cursor but had no immediate reply. Uncle Lew, the handsome rugged man pictured to your left, has been a fixture in my life for 42 years. The strong man with the broad chest and tattoos, whose life-uniform consisted of a light blue button-down and generous amount of Brylcreem, always had a smile for me and doted on me like I was one of his own. I understood he was sick but could not grasp the finality of my cousin’s words.
I sent a text to my brother letting him know about Uncle Lew and then asked if he had heard from HIS pathologist. A few days before, my brother had undergone a colonoscopy for troubling symptoms and we were still waiting for the results. I needed to hear the doctors say, “It is not cancer.” He had heard nothing.
On Friday I visited my Uncle Lew for the last time. He was lucid, he knew me and he smiled. When I kissed his forehead and left, I held my tears until I was leaving the room and heard him say, “Talk to you later, Sugar.” Hugging my aunt and cousin just outside the door, I lost all composure. The drive from my aunt and uncle’s home to pick up my son at school was a blur. I was on auto pilot.
When I returned home I received an email on my phone, “Your submission has been chosen. You’re invited to a live audition in Kansas City.” It was an email from the co-producers of the Listen To Your Mother (LTYM) show. Not familiar with LTYM? Well, you can go HERE to read about it in all of its awesomeness. I’ll be talking about it more in the future. Basically, it’s a “National series of live readings by local writers in celebration of Mother’s Day.” The shows happen all across the nation at small venues in the month of May. I was ecstatic that my written submission had been chosen for a live audition but didn’t even tell anyone about it until the next day. It was a huge deal and I was honored to make it to the next level, yet it was dwarfed by the magnitude of my uncle’s situation.
I sent a text to my brother. No news from the pathologist.
On Saturday I woke up dehydrated with a headache from two days of crying. I felt a tremendous sense of dread. My heart hurt knowing that essentially, though no one would come out and say it, we were on death watch. I cried on and off most of the day. With the death of Uncle Lew, a nostalgic piece of my childhood was fading away. I was also worried about my aunt, his bride of 50 years, and my cousins. How could I bear this if it were my father?
I sent a text to my brother who told me to stop making the situation worse by imagining my father dying and also to quit bugging him about the pathologist because NO, he had not heard anything.
Saturday night I received word that my Uncle Lew passed away while holding my aunt’s hand. He was surrounded by his children, grandchildren and even some great grandchildren. When he left this world, he knew he was loved.
Monday I waited till the afternoon and then sent a text to my brother:
Me: Your pathologist is pissing me off.
Jason: Don’t worry about it. I’ll be fine. I know what it is and I’m taking care of it.
Me: I want someone with a degree to say, “IT IS NOT CANCER.”
Jason: Dude. It’s not cancer. Settle your crazy ass down.
On Tuesday my brother sent a text asking me to call him. CALL. Since his preferred communication is texting, usually profanity-laden texting, I knew he had a diagnosis. I sucked in my breath until I heard him say it was NOT cancer. I was trying to “settle my crazy ass down,” so I didn’t cry. Not then. I remained calm when he said, “It’s active chronic colitis. In the same family as Crohn’s disease, like Mom has.”
It’s not an easy diagnosis and the medication the doctor recommended is hella expensive but it is a manageable one. Also, when I asked permission to talk about his diagnosis in this post he said yes with the caveat that I don’t portray him as a, “whining bitch who is scared and confused.” No, Sir. You certainly are not.
When I got off the phone I said a silent thank-you prayer to God because that’s my buddy, y’all, and I’m not ready for him to leave me yet.
On Wednesday I attended my uncle’s funeral. It was beautiful and heartbreaking, as only funerals can be. I sat stoically with my Gordon family. We travel in a pack, we mourn in a pack. I watched a slideshow of his life, listened to a pastor deliver his eulogy and almost made it through the service without having a complete come-apart, until they played the Johhny Cash rendition of, “Why Me Lord.” It was a classic salt of the earth country song that triggered a memory. It was a song my late Grandmother would’ve loved and then it hit me, in a few short moments I was about to see her gravestone for the first time in almost 20 years.
I know opinions vary about whether it is disrespectful not to visit a loved one’s grave. Some believe it’s their final resting place and therefore should be revered, decorated and tended to. I am not one of those people. My Grandmother’s picture is prominently displayed on my living room wall. I walk by it dozens of times a day. Sometimes I stop and gaze at it so I don’t forget even the tiniest detail about this woman I love so much. Sometimes I talk to her. For me, THAT is where she lives. In my home, in my heart, where she can look down at my children and watch them grow.
At the graveside service my brother held me. My sisters held my father. That’s all I have to say about that.
A few hours later I powdered my face, reapplied lipstick and attended a parent/teacher conference where I was told my daughter is a smart, joyful 2nd grader who brightens a room. Yes, yes she does.
On Thursday I printed directions to my destination, grabbed a bag of Crunchy Cheetos, assured my family I wouldn’t get lost and headed to KC for my Listen To Your Mother audition. I drove six hours round trip for 15 minutes of jazz hands. On Twitter and Facebook I dubbed the day: Follow Your Heart, Thursday. I find out this week whether I will be asked to join the cast for the live show in May. One night, one stage, one chance to read an original piece about motherhood. I didn’t trip over my tongue, say anything awkward, break down in ugly-faced tears or throw up. I considered it a win.
After the audition I stopped in Olathe to fuel up, then grabbed a Chipotle burrito bowl and ate it in the minivan while listening to the audio book I’d picked out especially for the trip, Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly. It was dark, quiet and thanks to my mother and husband (both on the list for sainthood) my children were taken care of. At that moment in time, no one needed me and there was no place I had to be. For a mama, it was total bliss. . . bliss topped with guacamole.
***Are you guys still with me? We’re almost done with the journey. Thanks for hangin in there. For those who have given up already to go back to work, fold laundry or watch The Bachelor, I totally get it. No hard feelings.***
On Friday I woke up exhausted but ready to get back to some semblance of normalcy. I kissed the babies, sent them off to school and then returned home to answer emails before a client meeting that afternoon. I started the dishwasher and stood in front of it at the kitchen counter with my laptop open. Thirty minutes in to the wash cycle, the towel I’d been standing on for comfort had suddenly become very warm and wet. Had I been so engrossed in Twitter that I’d wet myself? No. Worse. Moments before, the dishwasher had begun to make a screeching sound, then I noticed a “hot” smell, then, WATER. The bottom of the dishwasher was leaking boiling hot water like a sieve. All over my towel, my feet and our wood floor. I yelled, pressed the off button, then opened it up but still it screeched at me and the water kept flowing.
“WHY ARE YOU SCREECHING AT ME?” I screeched back. Then I ran to the hallway and grabbed towels by the handful. Nice towels, guest towels, SpongeBob beach towels, there was no discrimination. Everything went on the floor to sop up the mess.
I called my husband. No answer. I called my brother. No answer.
I opened the door and began to bail water. First with a large pan. Then with a large measuring cup. The water didn’t appear to be backing up, it just kept coming OUT and the damn thing wouldn’t shut off.
My brother returned my call. I frantically described the situation and may have yelled more than once, “I’m bailing water like a son-of-a-bitch but I can’t figure out how to turn this thing off.” He sympathized but he was across town and couldn’t offer much in the way of assistance.
Switch out the towels, throw the wet ones on the back deck, continue to bail water, wonder when the hot smell was going to result in the dishwasher igniting, wonder aloud to no one in particular, “What is wrong with you? Why won’t you turn off? This is the way it went for another two or three minutes.
I text my husband, “CALL ASAP.”
I run across the street to my neighbor who works odd hours and explain the story to him in short quick bursts. “Ron. . . *pant*. . sorry to bother you. . . help. . . dishwasher is possessed and won’t turn off. . . water everywhere. . .” *pant*
He was clearly confused but I hoped the, “Lassie there’s trouble at the old mill” look in my eyes would compel him to follow me as I sprinted back to my house. It did and he followed. Within 30 seconds he located the shut-off valve under the sink for the dishwasher and turned it. The noise stops.
Neighbor: “Must be somethin’ in the line causing it to back up.”
Me: “But, what did you do? I thought the dishwasher just wouldn’t stop running.”
Neighbor: *blink blink* “Naw. It was the water. Under there. *points under sink for emphasis* Gonna be a bitch to replace, probably.”
I thanked him for his trouble and he left. He could see the water was still leaking but he left me to continue bailing alone. I guess chivalry has its limits.
My husband called soon after and as expected, his reply wasn’t pretty. The man I tend to poke fun at for being the one to run in circles during a panic situation knew exactly how to handle this Bob Villa-type emergency. He said, “When in doubt, never go to the source. Kill the main water supply to the house or shut down the breaker. Just shut the whole house down. Dani, you have to know this stuff.” He was right. It was basic homeowner 101 and I failed miserably.
After I hung up the phone I switched out the towels, put drip pans under the last bit of water trickling out of the silent leaky beast and sat on my kitchen floor. A floor that would end up warped from the hot water and my inability to think and act quicker. I pulled my knees up to my chest and cried ugly-faced tears. For a week I’d been riding an emotional roller coaster and I wanted off.
Today is Monday. I know life is full of unexpected twists and soon the big steel wheels will send the coaster car climbing up the steep hill once again. Until then, I’m going to be content making PB&J sandwiches, folding laundry, hustling for freelance work and letting cats in and out.
I keep thinking about a story my father told me. On the day the Pope stepped down, which was also the day I received the grim news about my uncle’s declining health, Uncle Lew had been watching the Today show with my cousin Danny. Uncle Lew leaned forward in his chair, almost in a slump and it was hard to tell if he was even paying attention. As the helicopter carried the Pope away my uncle looked up briefly, smiled and said, “Too pooped to Pope.”
That’s good stuff right there. Dang, I will miss that man.