Apples, pumpkins, football, leaves falling, autumn has officially arrived in our area. And while that cool breeze signals a return to a schedule, it also signals a time of grief and sadness in our house.
In late August, my two girls and I had a chance to head up to the lake, just the three of us. Without the boys there we reveled in our last Sunday night swim, the deafening silence on the lake a reminder that fall was upon us. If the quiet didn’t remind us, the way the sun sat in the sky, just a bit off kilter from where the summer sun beats down upon us, was a certainty that seasons, they were a changing. In late August, the sun is there but the intensity less and with a bit of a cool breeze, one that makes you feel the change of season coming. The girls and I sat at the end of the pier on this day, six feet lined up, toes lazily floating and we looked forward and all seemed to notice how the water looked a bit darker. Yes, we all agreed the water was a deeper blue than in summertime when the humidity hangs over the lake like a familiar hug. And what was that? Ahh, the breeze is just enough that a sweatshirt or a towel was needed for each of us. We talked about the end being near. No worries, the end of course, was the end of the summer season.
And eventually, the conversation turned to this time of year, this time gently reminding us of when Grandpa died here at this very house on the lake. As the girls chatted about birds, colors of boat covers, etc…I couldn’t help but allow my mind to wander. Just three years ago I sat at the edge of this pier, despondent as my dad was laying in this very house dying. It was less than thirty days from diagnosis (cholangiocarcinoma) to death. And here was my dad laying, dying in the same room, in the same house, in the same spot as my mom died just four years prior. And it was myself and three kids along with two of my brothers, who were there as caretakers in those swift three weeks. At the time, it felt suffocating and surreal. Daily hospice nurses coming and going, learning how to use medical equipment, to dispense all the medications, to listen and bottle up all those last nuggets of wisdom that my dad was about to impart. All this chaos with this beauty right outside the door. This time of year will always remind me of my dad. That August of 2013 when he was diagnosed was one for the record books. Every day, storms, tornadoes and an unrelenting heat. In early September, the day after my dad died, I walked outside to go get the mail up the driveway and there was fall, there was that cool breeze, those few early leaves letting go from their branches. It was like everything changed overnight. Everything.
The weeks that followed were a blur. Planning, memorial, bills, photos, thank you notes. All a blur until my birthday, the day after the memorial. My brother Joe was staying with us, he had been there to help throughout dad’s hospice care and now he was at our house. One last hurrah before he headed home out of state. He rolled into our kitchen all smiles with a huge pile of “Birthday Nachos”! Ha. Birthday nachos. We ate the heck out of them at our kitchen table. This would be the last time I would sit with my brother at my kitchen table eating birthday nachos or any nachos for that matter. Days after our birthday nachos we found out that my brother, Joe, just 31 years old, was dying of pancreatic cancer. It was late September when my youngest brother and I headed out of state to bring my brother Joe back home to die. We spent too many days and nights in a tiny, dormitory room at a huge research hospital waiting, praying, pleading that the doctors were wrong. When all the tests were done, all the medications administered we made the long trek home with Joe just in time for the last weekend of September. The incomparable oncologist Dr. B promised Joe a room with a view at our local hospital – and he did not disappoint. The view out his window was an extraordinary array of reds, yellows, oranges. Again, here we were, all this chaos with so much beauty right outside the door.
Just 52 days, 52 days from the day my dad died to the day my little brother died. 52 days of hospice nurses, medications, “arrangements”, medical appointments, prayers, pleading and begging. 52 days of watching the same symptoms grip my brother, the very same tell tale signs that his death was imminent. How did I know? I just saw it, I didn’t even have time to let it digest.
Just a day before Joe’s Memorial Service, was a day that I thought I would be celebrating. I thought I would be celebrating with my Dad and my brothers, my husband, kids and friends. It was my third year anniversary of being diagnosed with stage iv breast cancer. When I was diagnosed, I hadn’t been given real good numbers on me actually surviving to three years. But, here I was. I remember feeling angry. It felt wrong to celebrate my life when I had just spent 52 days watching ones I loved, die. Die with no warning. They didn’t get a chance to try to live with disease. The cancer for them was like a freight train, a freight train with no warning whistle.
So, today when I feel that change coming. When I feel that little nip in the air, that first leaf turning and letting go, that first football game, a sadness grips me. For as much as I love that first cool, crisp breeze, I can’t help but brace for the change that could be coming. All that change in just 52 days.