Tag Archives: Death

Dedicated to My Brother-in-law, Erick

In Memoriam

On February 23rd, 2018, my husband’s family lost a beloved son. Erick’s death was not surprising or unexpected; he had been born with a rare combination of two genetic illnesses – Addison’s Disease and Adrenoleukodystrophy. Doctors had been preparing my husband’s family for Erick’s death for the last 20 years. The fact that Erick made it to his 39th is astonishing. The fact that Erick’s suffering is now over is a blessing.

Erick had two memorial services: one on February 28th, in Smyrna, TN, and one on March 1st in Lawrenceburg, TN. I met my husband’s childhood friends and his extended family. I met dozens of friends and colleagues of my in-laws. Laughter was shared, and tears were shed.

I heard many stories about Erick. I didn’t get the chance to know Erick other than through his diseases. I could only imagine what he was like through the memories of his family and friends.

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The Erick I met could not communicate in any way – he had no vocal capabilities, nor could he blink once for yes or twice for no. There was debate about what Erick could understand, if he could even understand anything at all, once the disease fully ensnared him. I know his mother and his primary nurse believed he was still in there somewhere.

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Last summer, I got to know Erick as well as I could when my husband and I stayed at his parents’ house for a week so they could take a well-deserved vacation.

During that week, I cleaned Erick’s face in the morning and emptied his urine bag. I administered medicines through his feeding tube, which connected directly to his stomach. I put a breathing device on Erick to help him clear his lungs. Every 2.5 hours I turned him, at least until my husband woke up and took over or the nurse arrived and provided far better care than I ever could.

The state of Tennessee provided Erick with 32 hours of nursing care per week. For my husband and I, that meant we could still see each other during the day and go out and about in Nashville while we were taking care of Erick that week.

My in-laws were expected to work full-time jobs and then care for Erick full-time before and after work. As Erick needed 24-hour supervision, this provision made it impossible for my in-laws to have a typical American life. They devoted nearly every hour of their lives for the last 12 years to taking care of their son. For the last 20 years, they watched him suffer and there was nothing they could do medically do about it.

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When I consider Annie Dillard’s profound saying, “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives,” I think about the kind of love that my husband’s parents have for Erick to spend every day in service to their dying son.

They refused to put him in a home and they refused to give up on caring for him.  They sacrificed themselves in ways I can’t even imagine. I suppose that is what you do for someone you love because what is the alternative?

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I am not a caregiver. Yes, I care for people and animals and the beauty of creation that is God’s gift to all of us. But it is not my vocation.

My vocation is writing and playing with as many animals as I can. I say this because I’ve been thinking of how I can best memorialize Erick, a man I’ll only really know through the love of my husband and his family. I have no stories of my own about Erick while he was alive, yet his story means something to me.

While I was in Nashville with my husband’s family, the time came for my agent to submit one of my picture book manuscripts, Sundays with Pop-Pop, to publishing houses. The timing wasn’t ideal, but she had a fire inside her for getting the manuscript out and I am eager for my first book contract. In retrospect, I do feel regret for closeting myself in their office to perfect the draft while there was so much grieving around me. I will hopefully not make that mistake again.

But I now know how I will honor Erick and the love his family has for him. Sundays with Pop-Pop is a story of love and loss. It celebrates the special relationships we have in our lives, whether they are biological, a beloved family pet, or a concerned member of our community.

Erick is, and always will be loved. When Sundays with Pop-Pop is published – and I truly believe it is when, not if – I will dedicate the story to Erick. He deserves it.

Thank you for reading my blog. And if you are so inclined, please send thoughts and prayers of peace to my husband and his family.

Memoir Monday, December 12th, 2016

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Most of my formative adult years took place in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  Thus, it should surprise no one that some of my favorite holiday specials are the Thanksgiving- and Christmas-themed episodes from Friends.  At the top of the list is The One Where Ross Gets High, featuring Rachel’s traditional English trifle and Monica and Ross outing each other to their parents for all their past misdeeds.

A close second would be The One with the Holiday Armadillo, which if you don’t know who the holiday armadillo is, he’s Santa’s part-Jewish holiday friend.  Ross dressed as an armadillo is the focus of the episode, but at the very beginning of it Phoebe brings out her Christmas skull to remind us that, “at Christmas people still die.”

I still laugh a lot when I see this clip from Friends, but now I’m older I can’t help but spend some time reflecting this Christmas on what the Christmas skull means to me.  I don’t mean to be morbid, but Phoebe is right.  At Christmas, people still die.

These thoughts might be forefront in my mind because one of the dogs we’re caring for was recently found to have a mass on his spleen.  He’s ten-years old and aside from a major surgery which may or may not prolong his life at all, there’s nothing else to be done for him.  After agonizing over the decision, his doggy parents decided they would let him spend his days in the comfort of his home, surrounded by the rest of his pack, and meandering around the 20 acres on their property.  It’s a nice way to go if you ask me, much better than being cut open and having an internal organ removed on the small chance of surviving an extra few months.

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Or I could be thinking this way because of my cousin, Becky.  In December, 2013, she was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 43.  She passed away just four short months later.

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Then there’s my friend who confided in me that it may be the last Christmas for one of their friends who has a degenerative illness.  My friend wondered what to possibly get for this person and their spouse, knowing this will likely be some of the last time they have to spend together.

It’s a sobering thought to consider Christmas gifts as last ones ever.  Does it make the iPad or gift card seem less relevant?  Does it invoke a need to simply be with someone and let them know how much they mean to you?  All thoughts to consider as we wait in line at checkout counters hoping to get the best sale of the season.

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Then there’s the narcissistic, egotistical, and human side of me.  What if it was my last Christmas?  How would I want to spend it?  What would I wish for?  I spent some time reflecting on these last two questions and quite surprisingly I found a lot of comfort in the answers I came up with.

The first thing I would do is have a huge holiday party with all my friends and family.  There would be a lot of dancing, peppermint-flavored sweet treats, and a baby polar bear for people to cuddle with similar to the sloth Dax Shepard got for Kristen Bell for her birthday one year.

More than anything, though, I would want to spend as much time as possible with my husband.  We would hit as many National Parks as we could, preferably bringing along some key family members and petting as many dogs as we could along the way.

I would also finish my first novel, which I’m delighted to report is thisclose to being done.  After that, there would be only two other things on my wish list – for the children’s stories I’ve written to be published and to see a bear in the wild.  The first would be easy enough, with my talented roster of friends, and the possibility of self-publishing.  Plus, my husband is well aware of this wish of mine and I have no doubt he would spend whatever time  necessary to get them published in my absence (just one of the MANY reasons I am so devoted to him).  The second, well, if I got to cuddle with a baby polar bear at my death party, I’d be happy to let go of my desire to see one in the wild.

Here’s the best part about my wishes, though, and the reason I find so much comfort in my answers:  this last year, I’ve spent most of my time working towards them on my own, without the threat of imminent death.  Heath and I were blessed with a wonderful wedding reception from my NC friends.

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We spent time with both my parents in Harrisburg, PA, and his parents in Smyrna, TN, and we have plans to do again soon.

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My niece and I went on a spring-break-roadtrip extravaganza in the American Southwest stopping off at the Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon

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and my husband and I now travel all around for the sole purpose of petting and loving other people’s dogs (and cats and homes, too).

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I write almost every day and agents are currently reviewing my picture storybooks.  There still hasn’t been a bear sighting, but I am constantly on the lookout.

So, as we countdown to Christmas, I’d encourage you to spend some time quietly reflecting on what you would do differently if you knew this would be your last Christmas.  Then go out and do it!  If not for you, then do it for Moon, my cousin Becky, and my friend’s friend, and everyone else out there who will only get one more Christmas.