Noel describes the day he and his mom flew to Colorado as one of the worst days of his life. For most of it, I was generally unaware of how traumatizing it was. The evening their flight departed* they sent optimistic texts to the family – pictures of them next to a moose statue at the Anchorage airport and reassurances that they were feeling calm. That night I wrote in my journal in anticipation of their arrival, “Buckle your seatbelt for our wild ride!” If only I’d known how truly wild the ride would be, even from the beginning.
The next morning, I dropped the kids off at a friend’s house early in the morning and drove to the airport to pick up Noel and Glenna. I waited anxiously at the cellphone lot and was relieved when I got a call from Noel. Noel was so calm that it almost didn’t register at first that he was telling me they were boarding an ambulance.
Prior to flying, Glenna had gone through a lot of tests to make sure it was safe. Her doctors in Alaska knew she had some fluid on her lungs, but didn’t think it posed an immediate risk. About half way into her flight, her oxygen levels began to plummet. Their amazing United flight attendant, Tammy, busted out the emergency oxygen onboard the plane. They went through 4 of the 6 tanks onboard before landing in Denver. Glenna’s levels still weren’t normal, even with the oxygen, and they called and asked for an ambulance to meet them at the gate.
The United manager at Denver International Airport had recovered from breast cancer herself and arranged for Glenna and Noel’s luggage to be brought curbside for me to pick up. After acquiring their bags I made my way over to the hospital. Two good friends and neighbors pitched in to take care of the kids while Noel and I spent the day at the hospital.
We spent the morning and afternoon keeping Glenna company as she went through a myriad of tests. She cheerfully agreed to let the doctors bring in interns and patiently answered all their questions. Even in her pained and tired state, she wanted to help others. At some point, they took her to another part of the hospital for a thoracentesis where they drained 1.6 liters of fluid off her lungs. (Which explains why she was having such a hard time breathing.) When one of the moms from Cooper’s school walked in I did a double take. I hadn’t known she was a nurse in the hospital’s pulmonary department. It felt weird to run into her in that context; it was like worlds colliding. Seeing her jolted me into the reality that the me that dropped my kid off at school and the me standing in that hospital were the same person. This was really happening. This was my life.**
*Flights to and from Alaska are almost exclusively red eyes.
** I am well aware that Glenna’s story affected many people, most notably her. I can only tell my own story, but in doing so don’t mean to diminish the feelings of others, especially those of my dear family. ♥
“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.”
– Mignon McLaughlin
“There is no more lovely, friendly, and charming relationship, communion, or company than a good marriage.”
– Martin Luther
The good, the bad, and the bleh – it’s been 10 years full of adventures. I’m glad we’ve had each other through it all. There’s something about a decade that feels solid, which is exactly what our marriage is.
Before I jump into any reflective posts I think I need to set up the backstory. In true Audrey fashion, I’ve been concise, maybe too concise about everything that has transpired.
It was the Saturday of our church’s fall General Conference when we found out Glenna (Noel’s mom) had lung cancer. She called Noel in between sessions of talks intended to uplift us and told him she’d gone to the ER earlier in the week because of severe neck pain. The hospital ran tests and it was then that they discovered she had lung cancer. She didn’t have an official diagnosis at that point, so there was still some part of us that hoped. The next day everyone in the family (her children, sisters, nieces) threw rocks in bodies of water to celebrate Rosh Hashanah in Glenna’s honor. (Glenna was quirky and adopted a lot of different religious and cultural practices that she would often adapt to supplement her religious beliefs.) The act (usually done with bread in the Jewish tradition) is supposed to symbolize a renewal as sins are cast off; we were all hoping for a renewal.
It was almost two more weeks before Glenna got an official diagnosis. In the meantime, we went about our lives as best we could, but with a lot more praying and fasting than usual. I was in the final days of my long-term sub job and we had a trip planned to celebrate its finish in Keystone, CO. It was during that trip that Noel’s mom called and through tears told him her cancer was Stage 4 and had spread to some of her bones and lymphs. Her doctor in Alaska gave her 6 months to live and didn’t recommend any treatment except radiation, but only to help with the pain not because they thought it would extend her life. Her call was brief because she had many more of those painful phone calls to make. This was uncharted territory for us and I found I was really bad at knowing how to support Noel. Even though the news made the trip less celebratory, we were glad to be away and have distractions to keep us from sinking too far into a depression. That weekend was also the temple dedication for the Fort Collins LDS temple. Noel and I attended the last session and were very touched and comforted by the messages. I wrote in my journal that night that “In all the craziness it’s good to have that rock.”
Noel has two sisters: Danielle and Joy. Their mom’s diagnosis greatly concerned all of them. Alaska wasn’t offering any care options and Noel’s dad was unable to be the type of caregiver Glenna needed. (He has his own health problems and at the time was working a job where he was basically unavailable for entire weeks at a time.) All of the kids began researching cancer treatment centers in their area and both of his sisters were even willing to move to more accessible apartments (they both live on the top floor). Ultimately, Glenna chose to come live with us because we didn’t have to move and the Lung Cancer Clinic in Colorado was really proactive and optimistic. Let’s be honest though, she came to live with us because we have the grandkids and if this was going to be the end, she wanted to spend as much time with them as possible. We began to prepare our house almost immediately. Noel bought plane tickets to go to Alaska and bring his mom down and we spent an entire Saturday at Ikea where we kept telling each other, “You can’t cry at Ikea.” During all of this, my grandfather also passed away which made our already crazy October have an even crazier finish.
The airline was really accommodating about changing Noel’s flights. His sister Joy picked him up from the cemetery the second the services for my grandpa were over so he could catch his flight. Noel spent a few days in Alaska helping his parents get ready for this new transition and I spent a few days holding down the fort at home and finalizing the last of our preparations for her arrival. We didn’t know what the future held, but I had a feeling we were never going to be the same.
*If you’re coming here from Facebook and want to follow my posts, I’d recommend subscribing to the blog to get email updates (check out the sidebar) or adding the blog to Feedly or whatever feed reader you use. I’ll keep posting links to Facebook, but it’s not the most reliable way to find out that I’ve posted. (You know it thinks it’s all smart and it knows what you want to see . . .)
I don’t think I’m being dramatic when I say, this school year has been unlike any we’ve had before. There has been no normal. There has been no groove. It’s also not an exaggeration to say the last four months have been some of the hardest of my life. They’ve drained me emotionally, physically, creatively, and even spiritually. On bad days I was depressed; on good days I just felt spent.
Today, I woke up and for the first time in awhile I felt truly alive. I feel like we survived and made it to the other side. It’s not a closed chapter, of course. There’s still more healing and likely sadness to come, but I feel ready to take it on. Writing has always been a way for me to work through my emotions and figure things out and right now I have a lot I need to write about as I sift through everything that happened and figure out where to go from here. I’m going to be posting a lot of this writing to the blog and would love to have you read along as my writing trickles out (or floods, you never can predict the writing process). I also have a lot of posts to get up about the goings on of our lives (March is always a crazy, busy month for us) so the blog won’t be just deep, brooding posts. I hope you’ll stick around. ♥ Until the next post.
PS – I’ll be sharing links to all my posts, but if you want reliable updates (I’m looking at you Facebook) you might want to subscribe to the blog to get email updates (check out the sidebar) or add the blog to Feedly or whatever feed reader you use.
Caring for my mother-in-law the last four months has been hard, but I’ve been so grateful to have my little family during all of it. We’ve leaned on each other and grown together. When I told the kids that their Grandma Glenna had passed away, I told them it was okay to feel sad. Ellen told me “I’m not sad; I’m happy.” When I asked why, she said, “Because she’s with Jesus and she’s going to be alive again.” I’m so grateful for the knowledge that our family relationships can last beyond the grave and for a little girl with simple faith.
Glenna/Mom told us she did her best sleep in the early morning hours. She spent the last six days in inpatient hospice care because her needs became too great to take care of in our home. Early this morning, she passed peacefully into the next world and is finally at rest. We will post funeral details when we have them.
Most of you know that Groundhog Day is inarguably my favorite holiday. (You can read about the origins of that love here.) This year though, I was not feeling like celebrating. Matters nationally (almost every cabinet pick and every executive order has upset me on some level), locally (there was a proposal on the ballot in November to raise money for schools that didn’t pass and the school district is looking at closing schools as early as next school year), and personally (a mix of typical winter blues and minimal progress in my MIL’s health) had left me feeling much like this clip from the movie Groundhog Day, like “every day is exactly the same and nothing [I do] matter[s].”
On Groundhog Day I woke up early and had some quiet time to myself. I was thinking about the movie Groundhog Day and remembered that even though it took a long time, with a lot of repetition, change eventually DID come in Phil Connors’ life. He endured a lot of dark moments, but in the end he was a better person for it. In the day to day it sometimes feels like my contributions don’t amount to much, whether they be letters to my elected officials or helping my kids with their excessive homework (just an opinion), but I’m hopeful, I have to be, that eventually they will make some sort of difference. Yes, there are 6 more weeks of winter, but spring will come. I decided then and there that celebrating Groundhog Day was more essential than ever.
The weather that day was awful. We’d had freezing drizzle the night before and everything was covered in a thin sheet of ice. When I drove Cooper to school we had a small sliding incident (thankfully no people or property were injured). Glenna had an appointment and getting her to the car was a little dicey, but luckily when Noel lost his footing on the ramp he and the wheelchair slid gracefully down to the bottom. When school pick up rolled around I was still carless. I optimistically thought Ellen and I would be able to walk to pick Cooper up. Unfortunately, everything was still slick as snot. It took us 10 minutes to walk two blocks and at some point Ellen fell and I went down too landing on top of her. At the rate we were going we would make it to the school 30 minutes after school was over, assuming no one seriously injured themselves. I didn’t want to admit it, but we were in over our heads. I texted a few friends and one of them let us hitch a ride to and from the school. Once we were all safely back at home (including Noel and his mom) we made new and improved Groundhog Day flags, ate a Groundhog Day themed dinner, and of course ate rice krispy treats. This Groundhog Day may not have been my favorite, but it sent me back to my Groundhog Day roots. I previously said that celebrating this quirky holiday is a reminder “that it’s the little things in life that are worth living for, that sometimes being a little crazy is the only way to keep your sanity, and that attitude makes all the difference.” This year I would add, it’s also a good reminder that perseverance pays off and not to let life (or ice) keep you down.
Last week Noel’s aunt and cousin came to town to visit Glenna (Noel’s mom) and ease some of our burdens (as well as visit and dote on Glenna). We turned the baby monitor off for a week (we use it so we can hear her at night, when we’re in the basement, outside, etc) and took advantage of being able to leave the house at the same time. We were content to do exotic things like shop for pants and go to the gym together, but everyone insisted we needed a night away and we aim to please. We were kind of dubious that the excursion would actually happen. It seems like every time we plan something lately someone ends up in the hospital or deathly ill. (Sometimes both when we’re lucky.) In fact, Marsha and Jessie were actually in town for several days before they came over because Glenna didn’t escape the virus I mentioned we had. I attacked the house with the mindset of total germ annihilation because even though I usually believe in “good germs” too I just wasn’t taking any chances. Our getaway was going to take place on Friday the 13th which seemed somewhat ominous, but as it turns out, unlucky things are pretty lucky for us. (This really shouldn’t surprise me. I’m the kind of person that wins Loser’s Bingo. You know, where the last person to NOT have any of the drawn letter/number combos wins.) We spent a night in Boulder where we ate Indian food and sat in the hot tub, then the next day we ate at Snooze and went snowshoeing at Brainard Lake.
Now, let me tell you about us and snowshoeing at Brainard Lake. We have been trying to snowshoe to the lake for years. We went once when our kids were young enough to be carried and when we got out of the car the wind was so strong Cooper got knocked over and everyone was crying. We ended up getting back in the car and going somewhere else. When the kids were older we tried taking them again, but only made it 3/4 mile before everyone melted down. Noel has also taken the Boy Scouts and they honestly didn’t do much better than the kids. This time it was going to happen though. The weather was perfect: sunny, 29,° and hardly any wind which is unheard of there. Without scouts or children holding us back, we made it to the lake and even further to the cabin just beyond the lake. When we were done we rewarded ourselves with cake from Piece, Love, and Chocolate. (Which sadly my body was kind of unhappy about because apparently I’m old and cake no longer constitutes a real lunch.)
We are so grateful to Marsha and Jessie for helping us out for a few days!
PS Right now Glenna is pretty stable and we’re hoping she’ll stay that way for awhile or even make improvements. It’s a day to day, week to week game so we shall see!
The small flight of stairs in front of our house has become a huge problem as we’ve tried to figure out how to get my mother-in-law in and out of the house and it was becoming apparent that we needed a ramp. Because we are cheap big DIYers, we decided to build the ramp ourselves. The actual making of the ramp kept getting hijacked by life though (Christmas, my MIL being hospitalized, a debilitating round of norovirus, etc) and we found ourselves finalizing the construction literally the night before her next appointment.
It was below freezing and dark, but there we were all bundled up with headlamps operating power tools. We’re just trying to add to the list of reasons why our neighbors think we’re crazy. Noel did a great job with the design and used a lot of story problem math in real life (Are you listening high school students?) and I did a really good job holding lumber and tape measures and such. We still need to add some little guardrails and some anti-slip tread, but it’s a beautiful addition to our home. What exciting house renovation will we take on next?!