Friday, December 30, 2011

Since You've Been Gone

January 4th, 2002 seems like a lifetime ago. And it seems like yesterday.  It's hard to believe, sometimes, that I left work a little early on that Friday, stopped at the store for a few things, and came home and discovered that you'd had a massive heart attack and died on the kitchen floor earlier in the day.

I called 9-1-1 and hoped they'd somehow breathe life back into you, even though through my shock, I was pretty sure it was too late.  The paramedics, including a fire truck, soon filled our tiny street, and got the neighbors buzzing.  Turns out, Ritchie, our neighbor the paramedic, was the one who confirmed what I'd feared the most. 

Hours passed waiting for the coroner's office and whatever paperwork needed to be processed, while you laid in the kitchen.  Police and detectives arrived in succession; searched outside, walked around with notepads, and sequestered and questioned me several times.  The juvenile division detective with the bad toupee asked me several times, several ways, when was the last time I saw you.  Finally they took you away.  But left the sheet carelessly tossed in the corner of the kitchen floor. Calling your parents was the hardest phone call I've ever made in my life.

People came. Brought food I couldn't eat and answered phone calls I couldn't take.  It's a sobering reality when someone 46 years drops dead with no warning.

Who knew that a few weeks earlier, when we had a conversation after your father drug you to the funeral home to pre-plan your parents funeral, when you told me that you thought the whole process was ridiculous ("Fuck that. Cremate me and have a big fucking party."), that I'd be doing just that.  My mother picked out the ugly urn that looks just like a Kleenex box; don't blame me for that.  We had the big F'in party in May, around our anniversary, which I still can't remember if it is the 24th or the 25th. I haven't seen or heard from most of those people since.

People came. Brought food I couldn't eat and answered phone calls I couldn't take.  It's a sobering reality when someone 46 years drops dead with no warning.

Your father showed up the next day, and true to his completely self-centered nature, started immediately whining about who would take care of them and administer the Living Trust he had made his personal pet project.  He went into high gear torturing the lawyer (and me) re-writing the Trust, which entailed near weekly phone calls and visits.  I could barely deal with one deceased Mitchell and he couldn't stop drilling me about what I'd need to do when the last two died.

I drug myself back to work but the 'career' I'd worked hard to climb the ladder in had already become a mind-numbing, boring series of repetitively stupid meetings, conference calls, and the corporate babble du jour threatened to drive me crazy.  My contempt filter switch flipped and progressively got worse.  Working with stupid people pulling down six figure salaries while constantly being told to whittle budgets and lay off the those at the bottom of ladder wasn't working really well with my current state of mind.

In April, your mother got breast cancer.  I found a lump the day I was taking her for surgery. A big one. I cried, by myself, while the doctor said I needed a mammogram ASAP, and I told him I was busy that day. (Turned out after a biopsy, that mine was benign).

After the surgery, it became apparent your mom could no longer stay at home.  Turns out not planning a first floor bath and bedroom in that Dutch colonial was the fatal flaw that sent us scrambling for assisted living accommodations in an urgent, need it now situation - just like I figured it would go down.  You can just imagine how much fun it was touring places with your father.  We found a place close to the house in Wadsworth where he could visit every day.  She complained bitterly about the food, which I found mildly ironic, since she wasn't the best cook.  Then I discovered that complaining about the food is one of the main activities in nursing homes.

I tried drowning my sorrows and it turned out that, like stuffing one end of a pool float in the water, the other end just kept popping out of the water. Your parents had no one else, so they just couldn't help calling me constantly, not really to ask how I was doing, I don't think they ever did actually, but to constantly test me to make sure I was going to take care of them to the bitter end.

I did stupid things with inappropriate people, all the while trying to tread the water of sanity while your parents constantly grabbed me by the ankle and pulled me back underwater.  Mostly I was just numb. All of the time. No one apparently understood; no one offered to help.  I thought about suicide. A lot.

I finally couldn't take the bullshit of my corporate life.  On almost exactly my tenth anniversay, I quit.  Regardless of what a couple of the self centered assholes I worked with think, I did not get fired.  I could have have made them work at firing me; I didn't have the energy to stay that course, so I called bullshit and left.

I gardened and cooked and tried to get some sense of calm in the never ending undertow of need of your parents.  Then I remembered the gift certificate for the personal chef that we bought your parents as a gift, and my new career was born.  Then I chickened out when I was offered a chance to go back to the corporate life.

The first few days back in the office your father ended up in the hospital, taken in by an ex-employee of the assisted living your mom was in, who was 'helping' by driving him to appointments and cleaning the house. He had two tumors taken out of his brain and was never the same afterwards.  Was lucid for a few days, then totally out of it.  The 'cleaning lady' caused extra trouble by telling them I was just trying to take their money, when in fact SHE was, and I eventually had to have the hospital staff ban her from visiting then reporting back to your mother with tales that made her hysterical.  None of this worked out very well with my new job. One of the first few days I had to leave to change the locks and figure out what to do with Bob, the cat, who had apparently from the smell, decided the house was his litter box.

The stress really threatened to kill me.  With the federal privacy laws, your mother would call the hospital where your father was and they would say he wasn't there.  She would call me hysterical. The only way I could stay on top of it was to camp out at the hospital trying to talk to a doctor, then go to your mother in assisted living.

My cousin, an Air Force veteran, who had a bunch of young kids, was killed in a tragic car accident right before Good Friday in 2006.   I took off work to go to the funeral and when I returned my boss called and told me I was fired.  To be fair I'd already told her I wanted to quit so I wasn't too broken up.  I'd hated every single second of being back in corporate prison.  I went back to the personal chef plan. It was easier to launch a new business while juggling your parents than report to a boss that wasn't me.

Your dad lasted two years in the nursing home, completely unaware of who he was, or anyone else, including me or your mother.  Most of the time he thought he was back in the Navy. Once he flirted with me, which was a little creepy. He was violent and prone to falling out of his wheelchair, which prompted calls to me nearly every night.  He was in hospice and when he was taken off all of the drugs he'd been put on when he made going to doctors his main hobby, he actually got better physically and they eventually kicked him out. I had to clean out the house and auction it; it was in such bad shape I was happy to get anything out of it.

The economy took a shit and fortunately he was out of it when his portfolio took a massive hit when the markets started to tank.  Your mother was blissfully clueless as I wrote huge monthly checks for their care.

Pneumonia finally claimed your father, and by then your mother was at peace because he'd really been gone for over 2 years by then.  She ended up in the hospital nearly every year, usually around Christmas, and turned into a completely different, crazy person.  Finally a nurse told me there was a condition called hospital psychosis.  The minute she was wheeled through the hospital door she'd start hallucinating. She'd spin fantastic tales of parties and being taken to the roof for testing and telling me how the swans in the picture in her room where constantly changing direction.  Her neighbor's phone would ring and she'd grab her call button and scream into it "Stop calling me!".  Then she'd return to her room at the facility and melt back into her old self with barely a memory of being in the hospital.

Then she fell. Injured her shoulder, and that was the beginning of the end.  I sat with her in the hospital all day. It was the Indians home opener; they couldn't pull off a win for her last game, sadly.  She was out of it and I told her it was ok to go. She went peacefully in her sleep that night.

I've honestly lost track of when I became the last Mitchell standing, but roughly seven to eight years. I cleaned up the paperwork, which not surprisingly, did not go as smoothly as your father had hoped, including a six month battle with the IRS to get back a sizable refund, which resulted in me having to start a totally pointless probate process, that unfortunately, is still not closed.

Finally I had some time to release the stress and live my life without the constant weight of having to make sure someone else was ok.  Played in the garden, ate better, went to the gym every day.  Built my business and met a lot of fun people.  Turned down jobs that just weren't appealing.  I felt happy for the first time in a long time.  I made lots of chef and foodie friends.

Then a year ago I went for a slightly overdue mammogram.  Then got the 'come back for more tests' call. And as those tests progressed, I found out this time I wasn't so lucky.  I suspect the years of constant stress  probably gave the cancer cells a helluva kick start.  Had surgery, then chemo, and radiation. It was a long winter.

Jake, who will always and forever be my favorite cat, snuggled close the entire time I was in treatment.  He was either on my lap, or he started burrowing under the covers with me in bed. At seventeen, he wasn't a kitten anymore, and right before my last chemo he stopped eating and I knew it was time.  So I sent him to keep you company.  It nearly tore my heart out. I still miss him.

I'm better now.  Older, fatter, grayer, probably wiser.  I've shed all of the things and people that don't add any joy to my life. I try not to add anything or anyone that doesn't make me happy. I finally got the kitchen of my dreams. I am blissfully debt-free. I am happy.

I now know that you only get one soulmate. I think about you, and miss you, every single day. I sometimes think back to that conversation a few weeks before you were gone, when I begged you to take better care of yourself because "If you drop dead before you're fifty, I am going to be really pissed."

I wish I'd said instead "Because if you die before me, you're going to take a piece of my heart with you forever."  xoxoxo


  1. Tami, thank you. Truly beautiful.

  2. You did it again, Tami. I laughed and cried and was truly moved by your story. Thanks for sharing. I wish we could have met your sweetheart, I can only imagine what a fun couple you were.

  3. Tears as I read your poignant letter to your Lost Love. Thank you for sharing parts of your soul with others.


  4. Tami, Thank you for letting us share your love letter. Your words inspire, add clarity to the "important stuff" and will linger with me for a lifetime. Be strong and of good courage,

  5. Tami, I too wish that I could have met Mike. It goes without saying that he must have been a special man.

    We're all older, fatter, greyer and hopefully a little wiser. I happen to think we both wear the older, fatter, greyer remarkably well. In fact, I know Mike would find you more beautiful today than ever and he would be proud of you and happy for the place you're in now.

    I'm glad that we met, Tami.

  6. This is such a heart-wrenching post. you've been through so much, and still managed to come out okay. Older. Wiser. Wish I could offer you a real hug, but know I'm sending you a virtual one!

  7. OH Tami...
    we talked about Mike last night, it's hard to believe it's been so long.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Love you honey.


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