To my mom, who is gone now.

1620931_10202316367265027_332258186_nThe night my mom died, after I had watched someone sitting on top of her pounding her chest, I knew I didn’t want to do this all again.

Sitting in the waiting room with my sister, I know I said “I can’t do this again. I can’t go through this again. I don’t want to do this again.”

The hospital didn’t handle death very well at 9 p.m. on a Tuesday night. At least not as well as Anschutz did for Adam. But, of course, then, we were waiting for death, life support off, sun fading over the mountains. They were prepared. We were just..waiting.

With mom, we were just waiting for the next step in care when we got the call that her heart had stopped. We had just finished dinner, just across the street. The mad rush to find an entrance into the hospital at that time of night.. running through empty corridors, so many empty corridors.

My therapist has been after me to write about Mom’s death, as I did with Adam. Back then, I flooded my emotions on to this blog. But I didn’t want to go back there; didn’t want to hollow myself into the depths of that pain.

So, I’ve avoided it. I’ve held it at bay with purpose. I’ve got too much to do. I have to show I know how to handle it.

But you can’t do that, you know. The grief is different, of course, for mom. Different from Adam. Adam’s death was the upheaval of my day-to-day existence. Mom’s death was the one we all know is coming…someday…in the natural order of things.

Guilt will always be there with grief. What if I had stayed holding her hand and watching that fucking Democratic debate till the end? Would we have been there when she choked? Would 30 seconds have made a difference? I tell myself again… “Guilt is not a fact. It’s a feeling.”  Thanks, therapy!

I left home a long time ago. Essentially at 18. I had to be out there; I had to explore and follow my dreams. That always, I think, made my relationship with Mom different from her relationship with my sister. I was quicker to impatience and frustration, cultivated by years of living apart from my parents.

I haven’t told all the details of my mom’s progression toward death over the holidays, except to two friends who patiently listened to it all on a three-mile hike in Red Rock Canyon.

I yelled at her a lot before getting into the hospital. I was scared and frustrated; I knew something was wrong. Her determination that she was “fine” reminded me of the frustration she felt with dad as his mind deteriorated. I told her she was acting “just like dad.” I think she told me to fuck off. Good for her.

I yelled at her when she only ate the ice cream on her hospital plate. I always asked for another Ensure for her, though. I was there every day in the hospital, working from a corner of the room as she slept. Once, on a good day, I had her tell me about her life as a single woman in Pasadena in the 1950s. Precious memories now.

1975064_10152217156484197_1879319576_nAnd then, we took a day off. Saturday. January 11. I really had to focus on work. Barbara didn’t go either. Mom’s youngest brother Alan was there. He texted us that she was active, lucid, said she “missed her girls.”

On Sunday, it was all wrong.

She was not responsive. I pulled the Fawcett of all Fawcetts, being the same woman who demanded to see the head of the transplant unit in Denver … because I wanted her to tell me to my face that my husband wasn’t worth saving.  I expressed my frustration this time with my mom’s nurses… “How can you not tell something is wrong? Things are WRONG.” She has the fucking flu, why is she nonresponsive?

Barb and I are pretty much convinced by the trajectory of her symptoms that it was COVID (and flu), It would make her a very early case. We’ll never confirm it. Does it matter? No. Still dead. But, it makes a better sort of sense to me. Makes me feel like it wasn’t my fault; that this was it and an 86-year-old wasn’t going to make it through.

I can’t cover everything I loved about my mom in a blog. She was better than she ever thought she was. Her two years as a widow before I became one set the pace for me. She thrived as a widow; learning, growing, exploring.

I’m not a mother. I’ll never ever understand the pain she felt watching me in pain as Adam died. How she felt worried I would kill myself. Frustrated she couldn’t come to Colorado and be with me for a long time … the altitude wasn’t for her.

But I’ll never forget her arrival in the hospital room in Denver. She sat by the window on the couch. And I sat next to her. She held me. I was 47. She was 82. Adam lay intubated… my life falling apart right there. She didn’t cry. She just held me.

I can still feel her arms around me.

Forever.

Jeanette Taylor Fawcett, 1933-2020

We are heartbroken. Our beautiful mom, Jeanette, passed away Tuesday evening after contracting both flu and pneumonia at Christmastime. She was 86.

Our mom was the steadfast center of our family, a smart, funny and caring woman. One step into her house, which she nurtured for nearly 50 years, shows what was most important to her: family. She influenced the world through love and friendship, sending two pretty awesome daughters out into the world, and being a role model for them and her granddaughters.

Mom was born in San Francisco on November 3, 1933, the middle child of five with two older sisters and two younger brothers. She graduated from San Francisco’s George Washington High School in 1951 and shortly thereafter moved south to Pasadena. She received her AA degree at Pasadena City College and her business certificate from the Sawyer School of Business. While a student, she worked part-time at Bullocks on South Lake Ave where she wrapped gifts. Oh – her packages were so beautiful! The best part of every Christmas was seeing her creations … not just what was inside the box. While she was in the hospital, she talked about her time in Pasadena as a young woman, saying “we had a good time.” If she could have winked, she would have.

She worked for the Santa Fe Railroad and the Pasadena Independent newspaper before taking a job as a secretary at Aeronutronic in Newport Beach. In 1961, became a secretary at Jet Propulsion Lab where she met and married our dad, “retiring” in March 1967 when she became pregnant with Barbara.

Mom then devoted herself to being a housewife and mother. Ours was the house on the cul-de-sac where all the kids gathered to swim and play, and there was always a hot queso dip and chips ready for hungry school children. She bowled, played bridge and attended all of our sporting and social activities.

In 1983, she returned to work at Verdugo Hills High School as an attendance clerk, where she was always available for her daughters when we needed something. At least that’s what she said. We know she just wanted to keep a close eye on us. Though her presence did come in handy when Barbara wanted to go off of our “closed” campus for lunch at Tommy’s (Laura claims she never wanted to leave campus… what?!?). She continued working for years long after we left, finally retiring in 1998 to spend time with dad.

We know she loved us (her daughters) and was proud of all we did, but her heart became even fuller with the birth of her granddaughters, Ava and Colette. A devoted grandmother, Jeanette loved spending time with them, joining us for every concert, recital and dance competition she could – including trips to Nationals for BOTH girls in Las Vegas. She made the long drive to Orange County on a regular basis and stayed with us so she could enjoy their company. She wanted to be tagged in every social media post concerning them so she could share her pride with all of her friends.

Mom loved her soap operas and was sad when All My Children went off the air. No more Erica Kane! She continued watching General Hospital right up until the day she was admitted to the hospital.

She loved figure skating, Roger Federer and musical theater; she was a season ticket holder at The Pantages for more than 25 years. She had an extensive magnet collection. She loved light beer – one with dinner every night – and fried fish. Her favorite movie was “The Tales of Hoffmann,” but she also loved pretty much all romcoms. She looked forward to both the annual holiday gala and the holiday buffet at The Athenaeum at Caltech every December and enjoyed treating family and friends to an elegant meal.

She often downplayed her intelligence, but we were really proud of the way she took control of her life when dad got sick and later passed away. At the age of 80, she learned how to run every aspect of her household and finances, mastered her computer and managed to mostly figure out her iPhone. Waze, however, perplexed her. We will miss her riding shotgun and asking us if we know where we were going.

She never looked her age and rarely left the house without makeup, hair and proper accessories. Gosh, she was beautiful. Of course, all that beauty took time and it was a running joke that if we wanted her to be out of the house at noon, we needed her to start getting ready at 9 a.m. Not an exaggeration. We hope that we have those same good genes!

Thank you to our family who visited and checked in over the last week. We may not have responded, but we appreciate the effort. We love you. She loved you.

There will not be a funeral, but we do hope to host a party in the near future to celebrate her life.

Grief’s Bitchy Friend: Recovery

family
Six of us are gone now. Recovery from grief. It’s a bitch.

There comes a time in all our lives where the tables are turned and we become the caregiver for our parents.

My mom pointed this out to me a few days ago as I fed her in the hospital. She’s listless while suffering from illness, and it’s just easier for me to help her out.

Tonight, not surprisingly, while spooning in ice cream and watermelon, I couldn’t help but think of The Clockwork Orange as she opened her mouth for food.

I’ve been back in my childhood home for more than two weeks now, an unexpected turn of events. But I have the flexibility my sister doesn’t. I don’t have children; I have friends helping me out back home. I have a job that is mostly on the interwebz so whether I’m working with a mask on in room 1413 or in my office matters little.

My mom’s 86. I know I won’t have her forever. But I fight to stave off death and grief just one more year. One more year, I tell myself. Give me that. Next year, I’ll say the same.

The truth is I know I can’t hold it back. The last five years have been a cycle of grief: from my dad to Bailey, the dog to Chance the cat, to Adam. All of those in the span of two years, and then it’s just recovery. I wonder, once this hits you, are you always in recovery? Is it the best you can do to hold off grief as long as you can so you only have to be in recovery for a few years, not half your life?

This house, tucked away on a beautiful cul-de-sac, is a reminder of all I’ve lost… pictures of dad, well, fuck his URN is here! Plus, of course ,mom has many pics of my wedding up. They loved Adam, too. Everyone did.

I don’t look too hard behind the dark corners of this home. I don’t want to find many memories (well, or spiders). But I don’t have to go far because they scream at me.

I turn back to writing when my grief is strong, when I can’t stand to go another minute without putting something down. I guess it is now. Grief is a bitch. Recovery is a never-ending battle. You push back against life and say “just stop, please. Leave me alone.”

But it never does.

“Cuz You’re Strong AF.”

memorial

This wasn’t exactly what I expected today.

But as I know, and you know, life will hand you an experience whether you want it or not.

I went back to Memorial Hospital today.

All of Adam’s hospitalizations, save the final one at Anschutz in Denver, were there. I knew every inch of that hospital: where the snacks were, what the cafeteria hours were, the restroom locations. I even had a filled punch card from the coffee shop. They knew me. They knew my drink.

I had no plans to return.

But when a friend texted, there was no hesitation. “I am free,” I said. Two of us were free, and we headed to be with her … and for me, it was an unknown experience to be on the other side of the fence, to be with a woman whose husband was tucked into a hospital bed suddenly and with little warning.

My own anxiety started while turning on to Boulder from Wahsatch. So many times I made that turn. Once it was in a panic with Adam at 3 a.m., sure he was going to die right there in my car.

The tears and shortness of breath came in the parking garage, and I kept crying trying to ask directions to a room; directions I couldn’t listen to.

So I got lost in a place I knew so well. I knew exactly where I was, but with nowhere to go.

The doctor was in the room when I found it, so I waited outside. When the nurse asked me if I needed anything, I told him I was waiting to go in. He had already heard my friends talking. I was the one with the deathversary. Here they are, with someone else in the hospital bed, and they were worried about me.

They knew this trip would cause me anxiety, more so on this particular weekend. I am still stunned by their caring: they were worried about ME! “I’ll be OK,” I said. “I know,” my friend texted. “Cuz you’re strong af.”

But there really wasn’t a hesitation. I would be there. These are my friends. These are the people who have been there for me since 1999.

The familiarity of the situation was disconcerting. Every sound is a trigger, every test result, every movement by a staff member. The yellow gown he wore for fall risk. The yellow gown that looked better on him because it didn’t match a jaundiced face.

About 8, I said I was going to the bathroom. I did go, but first I had to do something.

I took the central elevators to the fifth floor. I walked down the endless hallway toward the renal unit. I stopped at the bathroom I cried in many times. I paused by the set of chairs in the lobby, the set of chairs where I cried and asked Kathy, “if he dies, will I be OK?” “Of course you will,” she said “you are you. But I gotta tell you your breath is really bad right now.”

I smiled at that memory. I knew each of “his” rooms as I walked along the quiet corridor. There were three of them in all. I remember where I was when the nurse said his creatinine levels had dropped, and I nearly collapsed in relief. I remember the lounge at the end of the hall I slept in. The microwave I heated up my coffee in. The ice machine where I refilled his cup over and over.

Just one pass. That’s all I needed. It was ghostly. It was haunted.

But I was OK.

I didn’t want to make the visit about me, but for five minutes I did. Back in the room, we shared funny stories about Adam and his hospital stays, and how my friends were so supportive.

I got to hear the pumpkin cookie story again.

I know this situation is going to have a better outcome. My friend’s husband is safe and well-cared for now. She will sleep fitfully on the couch beside him. We will return to visit in the morning.

Because life doesn’t go as planned.

Take it as it comes.

 

I’m Out Of BBC Dramas, So I Might As Well Go Back To Work.

Adam
Sometimes, I pretend to be artsy with prosecco and photos.

It’s a weird thing for me, seeing this five months come to an end.

When I made the choice to leave my job last September, a confluence of issues made it so necessary that every one of my final 14 days was a struggle. It took enormous will (and a genuine love for my co-workers and the school) to do what I could to leave things in order.

Before Adam died, I never considered needing or having a break from work … a sabbatical, as I called it. I just kept plugging along, putting money aside for the time when the two of us would retire, move to Cocoa Beach, eat steamed clams and watch launches from the deck of Coconuts.

But, damn, did I need a break. I needed to rest, to grieve fully in a way that was quite different from those early months. I needed to reach the top of the mountain in terms of what to do with all the fucking stuff, to work with my financial adviser to start planning for a new second half of life. I needed to zone out and pet my dog. I needed to bond with my cats. I just needed to be me.

I did what I needed to do, but inside all of that I found more.

I spent endless hours in nature with Bixby, exploring new and old hiking trails with him. Most of the time we were alone, but I spent about four days with Christie hiking all over, getting to know one of my best friends all over again. I wore holes in my favorite hiking shorts and wonder now to myself, “Do I learn to sew or find a new pair?”

Sometimes, Bixby whined while I sat on a rock and cried. But that wasn’t often. Most of the time, I blocked out the sounds of nature with a horror audiobook or a murder podcast. Maybe you think that’s not soothing. It was for me. And for Brenna, I finally gave in and became a murderino.

I binge-watched a dozen BBC and Netflix crime drama series. I rarely said “no” to an invitation, and if I did say no, it was because I had a prior commitment. Sometimes I drank too much. When I did, I let my friends know and we talked about it. I spent more time on Instagram and Twitter, becoming familiar with a handful of interesting journalists.

I ate too much. I lost weight. I gained it back. Fuck it. I tried intermittent fasting. I failed. I tried to become a morning person. I failed at that, too.

I went bowling with Paul, then with Charlie and Andy. I fell while bowling. I did freelance work and kept cheering the hockey boys.

I worked on scrapbooks. I threw things away, and then, when the office trash can had to be moved to the outside trash can, I went through everything again just to be sure I didn’t throw away a memory I wanted to keep.

For the first time, today I dumped that office trash can without looking again. Because I have more confidence in what I need to keep.

I didn’t pick up enough dog poop. I didn’t clean the cat litter as often as I should. I paid for both in messes.

I watched my bank account dwindle, but only panicked here and there. I spent 10 days in California with my family … who gets a 10-day holiday vacation any more with family? I updated my resume, wrote cover letters and applied for a handful of jobs. I got one.

I wish I’d gone to Texas to visit the Currys. I have a million wishes, but in general, I’m pretty proud of what I did on my sabbatical.

And interestingly, the further along in my grief slog, the more I found myself retreating to my online wids. My widowed brothers and sisters in WD30. At first, I thought this group wasn’t for me, but I was wrong. The judgment-free zone is compelling. I have the ability to learn from others there, and I have the ability to impart wisdom as well. I can genuinely laugh now at the guys and gals with the nerve to try searching for a Chapter 2, and roll my eyes at their hilarious dating adventures. I can cry with them when they have “one of those days.”

The strength and frailty of widows is astounding, both its highs and lows. I see why we reach out to each other.

My sabbatical ends today. Bixby will be confused with me gone more often than not. I’m am thrilled with where my life has decided to go. I go forward but I return. I’ll announce what I’m doing on Tuesday. For now, I say, thank you to Mom, Barb, Keith, Ava, Colette, Kathy Curry, Bev and Steve Curry, and all my friends who have helped me in each shitty step.

Here’s to another.

Is There Life on Mars?

jessicalange
“But the film is a saddening bore, for she’s lived it ten times or more.”

Today, I received a text from a beloved, snarky friend who made me laugh. It read “While you’re sitting around bingeing, cuddling your pets and worrying about your bras, can you get a group text going for tonight?”

 

Now, I don’t mind throwing her under the bus here, because I have like 10 coming to me after the epic throwdown she gave me about eight years ago at work … that I still laugh about.

But it might get you wondering: What does Laura do all day now that she is not working?

It’s true. I’ve binged a lot of shows. Mostly British crime drama, yes, but I’m through six seasons of American Horror Story as well. I can tell you I have never appreciated Jessica Lange for the treasure that she is until hearing her sing “Life on Mars” in the Freaks episode. That woman is a goddess.

I also spend an enormous time cuddling my pets, but we all know that’s part of every major therapy. I only worry about my bras when they haven’t been handwashed.

What do I do?

I work on healing. I can tell you, despite my love for what I did at FVS and the enormous respect I have for the teachers, leaving was the best thing I’ve done. I could no longer grieve there.

So I grieved at home … on the couch, in the woods, on the trails, in bed, in front of the TV, at bars, at coffee shops, at friends’ houses, in Los Angeles. I grieved with everyone. I grieved when I was smiling and laughing as well as when I was crying. You don’t see the tears much anymore. They mostly come at night. My sleep schedule is still erratic, and the last thoughts are always of Adam in the hospital. Of his last breath, of the things I could have done better.

Does this surprise you? That after 14 months I’m still dealing with that? It won’t surprise my widows and widowers out there… the ones I’ve met and the ones I adore in an online community. In a recent New York Times article, a woman who lost her child wrote “You never ‘get over it,’ you ‘get on with it,’ and you never ‘move on,’ but you ‘move forward.’”

And that’s what I’ve been doing these last four months: Getting on with it.

It could be the best description ever. You make your choice to live, and you get on with it.

I got on with it by resigning from my job. I got on with it by beginning an exhaustive process of diving deep into the house, the possessions, the memories. Friends will come into the house and might think “it looks no different.” Same wine red disintegrating couch we got from Deb at FVS. Same hodgepodge of decorations.

It’s in the nooks and crannies that the changed has occurred. It’s in the bedroom where I have not just moved some of Adam’s stuff out, but have taken the step of moving my stuff in. It took time to put my clothes in his dresser, as if the emptiness of it was waiting to return. What happens if he comes back and needs drawer space?

I’ve donated thousands of dollars worth of items .. his, mine, ours. I took that Swedish death cleaning approach to my mom’s to help give away the last of Dad’s clothes.

I discovered new hiking trails with Christie. I continued to wrestle with Adam’s computer and files. I scrapbooked hundreds of photos. I found pictures of us where I don’t even remember where we were at. I marveled at pics of Adam when he loved another gal so many years ago… and I scrapbooked those as well, because it was part of who he was.

I tried food I never would have tried. I watched every episode of the Great British Baking Show and found no desire to bake. I followed my nieces and their successes online. I finally moved all my money to one place and have someone guiding me. I lost some weight, gained it back, lost it, gained it and now just miss Adam, who loved me whether I gained it or it lost it, because it wasn’t the weight, it was the way we treated each other and the way we loved.

In January now, I’m taking the steps to re-enter the workforce. Am I done grieving? Hell to the no. I won’t ever be. But I have a better grasp on it than before, a greater compassion for those around me.

I miss my best friend a lot. Every day, every decision I make is because he lived.

I am lucky. I had the ability to take time off from work on my own terms. Other widows aren’t so lucky. They have been fired, they have had to slog through thankless jobs without more than a few days of bereavement.

I’ll end this by saying… We need to do better for our widows and widowers in America. We need to prepare each other from the beginning and stop pretending one spouse isn’t going to die before the other. Women, especially, have to learn to be resilient now while they are still in their marriages. Resiliency starts when you don’t need it yet. Build it.

“It’s chaos. Be kind.” – Michelle McNamara

If I’m Lucky, I’ll Be A Widow Again

wedding copyToday is the 18th anniversary of our first date. Our first date should have been Nov. 14 to see Dogma, but while working football, I called him up to chat. He asked what I was doing that night. Well, I was going to a wedding reception … did he want to come? Of course, the rest is history.

But he’s gone now. It’s over.

A week ago, I spent a marvelous five days in California, most of it in San Luis Obispo with mom and my beloved teammates from Mustang softball. You all need to know, my friends, that Saturday night in that house on Grover Beach was a revelation to me. To be with you all (and my mom), I felt the first true moment of joy I have had since Adam died. I can’t explain it. Your love, your understanding, your ability to listen, the singing, the drinks … the camaraderie of shared and unshared pasts.

I feel like I turned a corner.

For whatever reason, maybe that one, I have spent more time thinking about my Chapter 2. That’s what we widows call it … thinking of the next phase of love in our lives.

No, I’m not getting on any dating sites soon. That’s not what I mean. It doesn’t mean I won’t continue blocking the extreme number of widow predators on FB and Twitter … actually, I enjoy doing that! It doesn’t mean I’m picking up men in bars as I never did that anyway. It means I’m more open to the possibility of “someone else.” Because I love “love.” I loved having a partner with me while facing this shitty world.

To open myself up to that is daunting. I realized it when I said this to a friend on Saturday: “If I’m lucky, I’ll be a widow again.”

Fuck.

But I have something to say to you, if I am lucky enough to meet you.

I’m not forgetting about Adam. Nor should you expect me to. Nor should you want me to.

We did not choose to part. One of us didn’t decide “enough was enough” or that we wanted something else or we were bored or angry. Adam was taken from me … taken by a disease of a most insidious nature.

I might talk about him like he was perfect. That our relationship was perfect.

He wasn’t. It wasn’t. I wasn’t.

There were times in the last seven years that I wondered how long I could stay … because I didn’t understand what was happening to him. I didn’t understand that everything he did and said was being channeled through the lens of booze I didn’t know he was drinking.

Addiction takes a toll on a marriage.

But in the end, for 17 years, we chose to stay together. Through my depression. We were poor, then rich, then poor, then rich, then poor again. Poor was always just as good. Through anxiety, depression, illness, work issues; through my exasperating perfection … we were in it till the end.

And the end came.

The end came at 10:42 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016.

He’s not coming back. Ever.

If you date me, you only date me because he died and I went through hell. That is true. But he’s not a threat to you. He’s dead.

His pictures will still be on my wall. I will tell you stories that include him. If I don’t, I have to pretend that 17 years of my life didn’t exist. That means I can’t tell you about my trips to Japan and the Netherlands, or a million other things precious to me. I can’t tell you the story behind every autograph on our Star Wars poster. I will accidentally say something and realize that you won’t know what it means because it was an inside joke with Adam. Don’t be mad.

But some of who I am is because of him.

I have an infinite capacity for love. One does not replace another. I won’t wish you were him because it’s a useless wish. Sometimes I will cry because I miss him. Don’t begrudge me that. You wouldn’t begrudge me crying for my dad, would you? Or anyone else I have lost.

Know this. Adam would not be mad. I knew him well enough to know he would love you for making me smile, for taking away some of the pain he caused me. If I choose you, it’s because you are someone all your own. You are not a replacement. I expect you will be different, and I like that. I will love making new memories that fit next to the old.

We have one life. Just one. I’m just trying to figure out ways to laugh and recapture joy.

I can make it.