Saturday, November 22, 2014

2:41 AM, 10th November, 2014

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that my sister-in-law passed away on November 10th.  She died peacefully - I saw her breathe her last breath, open her eyes, and then, just... never take another one, from the same exact chair I am sitting in to write this post, 12 days later.

She fought so diligently and so hard, for so long, even though she really only had a short time. Her cancer proved to be super-aggressive, and ... towards the end, there wasn't much we could do for her but keep her comfortable, and wait.

That last Sunday was horrible, with last rites, and a house full of family - hers and ours, and theirs - and her being unresponsive by dinnertime. 

That morning, early - like 4:30 in the morning, early - I smelled the sharp scent of urine, and had to feel to see if she'd wet the bed (mostly because, at this point, she was sweating through her clothes so much that she was almost always damp). It was her first bout of incontinence, and - although I knew it boded ill, I did not realize how quickly things would go downhill from there.  I had to wake my brother up to help me change the sheets, and then she took her pain meds and went back to sleep.

A few hours later, she'd woken up in extreme pain, couldn't seem to settle at all. Just kept shifting from one end of the bed to the next, every 5 minutes or so.  She took more pain meds, but was just super uncomfortable and couldn't find a spot that worked for her. She told me her pain was 10/10 and she was crying, almost incoherent.

I woke my brother up again - from the couch this time - and he called the hospice nurse. Who came and different meds were administered, and we - the nurse and I resettled her on the couch, to try to help her find a way to sit with less pain while she waited for the meds to kick in.

It was during this transition that she was last semi-lucid, at least in my presence, and as I sat her down on the couch after yet another 'I'm so uncomfortable, I just need to move' attempt on her part (wordless, though - that's just the impression I got), she leaned over and gave me a kiss on the forehead.

I don't know if she knew who I was then. I don't know if she meant that for me, and I feel guilty that I was the person who got her last kiss. I haven't told anyone in our family that she did it, I don't think (although ... things were pretty intense there for a while last week, so I may have told one of my sisters without thinking about it), but it felt like a "Thank you" and a blessing and - now, knowing it was her last, and she didn't get to give it to my brother or their kids, or even her sister who showed up moments later? Almost a torment.  I still feel gifted by it, always will, but it hurts my heart so much that she's not here to give out anymore.

Shortly after that, her sister came, a family friend who is an actual nurse and knows what the hell she is doing (as opposed to me, who just spent weeks caring for someone I loved and watching them slip away, AGAIN, but was just doing my best and making it up as I went along, and following directions) also arrived, and I moved into a much more peripheral role.

She continued to get worse and worse, becoming unresponsive to everything besides pain, relatively quickly (within a few hours). I let my brother and her sister, and the nurses, be in charge of what they could be in charge of, and I made sure the kids got fed and my parents & sisters got called, and that her sister knew she needed to call her parents and brothers as well. I learned all about the new, liquid meds from the hospice nurse, and gave doses of morphine and ativan and hyamax as the day wore on.

I called the priest, and the funeral home, and the priest again. (And we all know how much I hate making phone calls). We cried, and waited, and held hands, and helped the kids. Gave them a chance to say goodbye, then let the little one curl up into my lap and sob when she walked away. Watched her big brother comfort my big brother as they both sat in tears by my sister-in-law, SisterNc's side.

Watched as her nieces and nephews filtered in and out. Approved as my sister and her husband ordered a regiment's worth of pizzas and made sure everybody got fed. Comforted and cried, and just sat around rubbing smooth patterns into backs, and backs of hands, and anywhere I could reach, really.

Later, her parents and brothers, and my dad and sisters, all cleared out.  We were down to my mom, her sister, the family friend who is a nurse, my brother and I, and a friend who had known them both since the moment they met, some 16 years ago.  Around midnight, it seemed to get dramatically worse, and the med levels increased and the hospice nurse came out again and told us "a matter of hours."

About 2:30, my brother and her sister both decide to go upstairs to get some rest. The nurse-friend, the work-friend and I are sitting in the living room, my mom has snuck outside to get a cigarette.

A quick text from my brother asking me to bump the heat up because it's freezing upstairs, @ 2:37. As I settle back into my chair, I glance over at Nancy, see her breathing is very strange, but I check the book and it is nowhere near time for more meds. So I sit down, and the work friend says to me that she gets an inspirational text every day on her cell phone and starts to read it to me. It says something about "new pathways and being open to new challenges," And that's when I see SisterNc's eyes open, and I notice that she hasn't taken her next breath.

The nurse-friend has noticed too, and is getting up, checking on her, fussing with her. We both know - I can see she knows - that there is no reason to fuss.

It is 2:41 am, on Monday, November the 10th, 2014, and my only sister-in-law, the beloved wife of my brother and mother to two of my favorite people in the entire world, the only sister I ever made instead of came with, has died.

I send my brother a text that reads "you need to come back down, honey", and he must know. He wakes her sister up and doesn't bomb down the stairs. Takes each step, heavily, I can hear it even now. They are both crying as soon as they see us. As soon as they see her.

My mother comes in from the kitchen, seeing us, and begins crying too.

And that was her last day, her last actions, her last minutes, to the best of my recollection. I do not want that kind of thing to be forgotten, even if I am the only one who remembers it.

The past twelve days have been torturous for my brother, and difficult for his children, and so heartbreaking for all of us. I don't know how to help any more than I am, but I fear that it will not be enough.

I am - we all are - doing the best we can.

But it's hard to keep swimming with a broken heart, and hard to hold the pieces together while you wait for even the tiniest bit of it to heal.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Bullet points for the brainless

  • Maleficent was magnificent: I probably like the idea of the story better than the original Sleeping Beauty. Angelina Jolie's cheekbones are RIDICULOUS in that film. 
  • I just want to nap. For like, ever, hours. I miss me a good nap, especially now. 
  • Somehow days are super long and time is super short right now. I despise this phenomena. 
  • I can't remember the last non-cancer related conversation I had with my sister-in-law, and that's making me physically ill, because it was probably our last actual conversation. (That doesn't involve me coaxing her into taking her meds or trying to swallow her food.)
  • I'm ashamed to admit that I watch her breathe, but it's almost more painful to realize how many people I have had to do that for. 
  • I didn't get to go home for a shower at all this week - things got hectic (but the slow, interminable kind of hectic that can only happen mid health-crises) and schedules didn't line up. But I'm getting one this week. Almost definitely. 
Now it's pill time again; I have to talk to the hospice nurse tomorrow about when it's better just to not try to wake her vs when I should be absolutely making her wake up to take things. (I feel like never, but I don't want her to wake up in pain because I let her sleep through a dose of her pain meds.) 

Friday, November 07, 2014

In a much needed attempt at not being plugged in,

I'm sending my brother and sister-in-law to bed early, and watching Maleficent with the kids. With my luck, the mother dies. (Let's talk about our Marvel-thon this summer and how all the Avengers are freaking orphans, whose mothers are, you know, dead. Better yet, let's not.) But we're going to attempt it anyways. Wish us luck.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Why doesn't liquor work in real life the way it does on tv?

Today they talked to us about hospice. My sister-in-law is still a month shy of her 45th birthday. She and my brother just bought a house, and never had a honeymoon. And tonight, I need to have a conversation with her children about how they live the rest of their lives without her. Not today, but soon.

There are very few times in my life when I've thought "God I really wish I could drink," given what I know about drinking and how I've never seen it actually help any actual person as opposed to hurt them worse, but ... boy: if it worked like it did in the movies, just numbing things for a little while? Today would be one of those days.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014


I don't think I mentioned, that - in addition to everything else - I'm also working my way to kick NaNoWriMo's butt this month. I'm sure you'll be shocked when I tell you that my story started out as a fan-fic (and might still wind up as one, we'll see how far I stray from characters, time lines, etc.: It's definitely AU already, so we'll see). Given that I'm still reading (99%) Avengers fan-fic at an astonishing rate - can I make my way through an entire character tag? All 3406 (and growing) stories? Oh, I think I can. I think if it's a challenge, it's personally, totally doable.

So my current word count is 11,226, which was kind of shocking, and awesome, and somehow I'm up over 11 thousand (and 1/5th of the way done!) even though I felt like I'm writing basically fluff and nothingness, and it all comes so quickly, and I've got all sorts of "INSERT PLOT POINT HERE'" notations in the text, for all the stuff I'm going to have to fill in later, but: the words are coming, and maybe keeping me semi-sane in the land of chaos, grief and 'I'm totally out of my depth here, what the hell do I do"-ness.

Stucky fan-fic; rambling here, there, and anywhere my family can't see, and occasional frozen treats ~ things that are getting me through today.

And today was a bad one, folks. Hope yours is going better

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Pulling a Donna Moss

So, like I told you, I don't get to go home to vote today, so instead I'm trying to convince my brother that he should vote my ticket for me. Even though this is not in exchange for my actual vote, I explained it by using this example from The West Wing, with Donna trying to get somebody to use their vote to count for hers, as she'd mistakenly voted for the other candidate on her absentee ballot.
This is torturous for my "I can't believe how liberal you are, are you freaking kidding me" somehow (I don't even know how, because seriously?) Republican brother, but I think I'm going to get him to do it. Apparently Martha Coakley needs all the help she can get today (again: I do not understand how it can be close, but according to the news it is), so I'm just glad I'll get 'my' say.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Sacked out on the couch

listening to the oxygen machine and my niece read me William's Doll; waiting for my nephew to come in and finish his homework, too. The kids have the day off tomorrow, and they're working to make it a really free day, to finish all their work so they don't have anything required of them tomorrow.

Their parents are in bed - SisterNc had a bad pain day, and her meds are kicking her butt. She's mostly sleeping her days away, and getting her to eat anything is like UGH. And tomorrow she starts the chemo again. So, joy of joys. Big/Only Brother is in bed too, since he has to be up in four hours or so to head off to work. And the littles are being adorable, and not little at all, and I'm leaving spaces in my conversations for the words I know need to come out, but I'm also typing with my eyes closed half the time, so there's that.

Well: off to a few final hours of math and reading and not getting up early in the morning.

Don't forget to vote tomorrow, if there's voting near you: I won't get to (since home is 25 minutes away and getting someone to come down, take me home to vote for 6 minutes, then drive me back, and then drive home again? Absurd), so if you can, make sure you do!

Night all.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Here's how it happens

I go to visit my grandmother after she gets out of rehab, following a nasty tumble down the stairs. I've talked to her, as usual, on our Friday night phone calls, but ... something seems off. She drifts, seems to forget she's talking to me, seems ready to hang up as soon as she answers the phone. I'm worried, but my uncle has assured me that it's just a medicine mix-up, and that it's all under control.

Shortly into our visit, I realize that nothing is under control. My uncle is somehow missing the fact that my grandmother is not acting lucidly, that she's easily confused, that her pain is not being managed well. As we talk, he seems to realize that things are worse than he recognized, and I can see that neither of them are sure what the hell comes next.

I have no idea what comes next, except now I am volunteering to stay on the couch, and help with meds and her PT almost before I knew I was thinking it. I was meant to stay for a few days, but - on the first free day that I went home, to shower and refill my pills and gather some supplies and whatnot - I don't make it as far as my house before I am filled with an overwhelming fear, only manage to make it to my room and close the door behind me before I am sobbing uncontrollably.  The only thing I am sure of is that I need to be there, because they need me, even though I will be able to solve nothing, even though there is no possibility of fixing this.

And that was the last night I spent anywhere but my Grandmother's couch until three weeks after she passed away.


This time, my mother and I have planned to come down to my brother and sister-in-law's house every Thursday, and at least one other day during the week, to clean the house and distract & feed the children, and just... be supportive. The cancer is stage 4: we are hoping for miracles, but know how unlikely they are. We do not care. She does not care, and so treatment continues.

We are there two consecutive Thursdays, straightening things up and moving all their shit into neater piles, and helping the (not so) littles with their homework - basically doing the busywork of life that falls to the side when you're too sick to do anything but sleep and take your meds.

 My brother slowly seems to understand that we are here to help and not to just mess with his shit, and starts confiding how scared he is, how desperately hard this is becoming, how he doesn't know if he's going to be able to do it. On Facebook, he cracks a 'joke' about Stage 4 Cancer and spousal weight loss, and I can see how tightly he is holding on to his edges, how close he is to his private apocalypse, and I ask how I can help.

He tells me he trusts me more than anyone else, and he needs someone he can trust. He needs someone. I know how to be someone, and I push aside the thoughts of how often I need a someone and can find no one, push aside all of the non-essential elements of my own brand of being sick, and transition into helper-mode. I make schedules and organize paperwork and calendars. I make sure someone else will always be here, even if that someone else usually winds up being me.

Not being able to drive, and Mom having a job now, and scarce/uneven coverage during the day, mean that it's much easier to just camp out in their comfy chair, to claim a corner of the living room as my own. Sleepover almost never-ending, for now. For today.

And here there is hope, and here there are treatments, and here there is still that irreversible diagnosis waiting for us at some end, but it isn't now.

 For now, I try to coax my sister-in-law to eat more than three bites of noodles, of pizza, of absolutely anything, and lament that radiation makes everything taste like chalk. For now I keep med schedules and daily logs and ask otherwise inappropriate questions about bathroom habits, and hope that, somehow, she will forgive me. For doing her kids' homework with them and making decisions about whether they can go over their friend's houses; for camping out on her couch when she probably just wants to be alone; for following her into another room when she can't really tell that her feet are tangled in the oxygen cord.

For all the little things that piss me off the most when I'm sick, and I try so hard to avoid, but somehow, occasionally, still slip out. For poaching and nagging and making a sad face when I think she's not looking.

That's how it happens - how, piece by piece, I become a fixture in someone else's story, someone else's home, someone else's days. How I turn off my own life - just for this little while - in the hopes of helping. Just Helping. Sweet jesus, just Let Me Help

In case you were wondering. -

And a lot of people seem to be, and aren't exactly nice when they inquire - "How can you take care of someone else, when you can barely take care of yourself?" they ask. You're right - taking care of me is a struggle. Every. Single. Day. But a lot of that struggle is sitting around, laying around, distracting myself from the pain. Turns out; it's not that much harder to do in somebody else's living room, watching over them while they rest. Waking them up every few hours to try and get them to eat. Reminding them to take their pills when your alarm goes off for you to take your own.

Not saying it isn't hard. Because it's draining as hell and I couldn't be sorer outside of a 5-alarm-flare, but ... it's worth it. To be able to make her smile when I poke fun at my brother. To make my brother be able to go to work without having a panic attack. To hug some kiddos and let them pretend during a game of War. To talk to her sister and let her know that she matters to us too, that Sister-in-law is a part of our family, and that means that her sister can cry on my shoulder any day. To learn more about her, filing away bits and pieces for tomorrows.

If it's something that winds up being too physically taxing - and it already is, it always is - then that's a thing I'll deal with. Because there are a lot of parts of my life I have had to shut down, turn away from, pretend don't matter, and this is one area I'm just not willing to do that with. 

But in case you were wondering, that's how it happens.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

November again

And here we are, ladies and gents. Let's kick this off with literally the shortest post ever. Because I'm sitting in a crowded living room with too many people and too much noise and I can't seem to think straight. So, short post, full of good intentions.