Live Forever

Hook In Michigan at the Wachowiak house, 2010.

Hook In Michigan at the Wachowiak house, 2010.

Today I will spread the last of Hook’s ashes.

In the movies when a person does this, it’s made to seem as though ashes are but a cup full maybe two. The reality is that a human body cremated produces more than four liters of ashes.  I only know this because I dropped off four, one liter Kool-aide bottles — one lime-colored, one orange, one red and one blue — to the funeral home for the transport of Hook’s remains over a year ago.  He would have appreciated knowing I hadn’t wasted money buying a fancy urn.  And, the plastic bottles could be and have been recycled which would have pleased him just as much.

The blue bottle was taken to Trinidad where Allan was spread on a collecting trail he frequented in the Caura Valley, and on the grounds of Asa Wright Nature Center, and finally in the rainforest of Brasso Seco.  Hook loved everything about Trinidad especially the people and they had loved him back, appreciated him, understood his “mamaguy.”

The orange bottle was spread in the firefly meadow, where Allan had taken me at the end of our first nature walk and where I began to fall in love with him.

The red bottle was taken to Bastrop and spread in a family cemetery where a grandmother and a great grandfather are buried.  When Allan and I had the ash discussion before he died, we agreed that a portion of his ashes would be spread where mine would eventually be.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “You’ll be the only white guy in the cemetery, you know.”

“That’s how I like it, baby,” he said.

When I took him out there, all I could think to say was, “Hi Grandmother, I know we’ve never met but well, this is my husband, Allan. Please show him around.”

That was exactly one year ago, wicked cold just like today with the only difference that sheets of rain were pouring down. I hadn’t wanted to drive out to Bastrop in the rain but I’d wanted to honor Allan on his birthday.  The rain ended up being my good fortune because after I’d covered my grandmother’s plot multiple times, the white remains looked more than a little conspicuous.

Most of you already know how Allan made it into Australia which was not in one of the Kool-aid bottles. But this morning, I’ll pour from the lime-colored bottle and spread around the Mexican Oak which Hook planted in our backyard to honor the year we were married.  This final release is meant only as a pause and reflection of November 17th.  And on September 3rd of every year, I’ve no doubt I’ll either openly cry or shed a tear and eventually over time, maybe it’ll just be the welling up of water in my eyes.

This Time Last Year

Last week as I was driving down Manchaca in Austin, a memory swooped in and I almost had to pull off the road to catch my breath.  I shivered as I felt for the briefest of seconds that familiar abandonment and aloneness in the world.  2013 and most of 2014 had been a time suspended from living, what some might call the walking dead.  I shake my head now as I recall how unbelievably dark my world had become.  Until Hook had died, I had never felt deserted, rudderless, and such an unwilling participant in my own life.  As I continued to drive, the feeling eventually subsided but it was the perfect reminder of how far I have come in these last 14 months.

Since the anniversary of Allan’s death, my memories ricochet against this time last year not unlike how the entire first year of grief was lived.  Except, in all of those memories, Hook was still alive albeit sick and dying.  It was, quite frankly, a time of near insanity.  Now, my recollections are about how I grieved, how I honored, and what I learned and am still learning.

I wear my rings separated now, the wedding band on the right hand while the engagement diamond is on the left.  I tell myself that I am “emotionally engaged” and therefore unable to remove the ring.  I cannot imagine a time when I would ever stop wearing these rings, but then I could not have imagined a time when I would fall asleep at night without silently crying into my pillow.  Those nights occur less frequently now.

In the last month of Allan’s life, I asked him for a song request every day then I would post a link to the song on my personal Facebook page.  One of his requests was Joe Ely’s version of Live Forever.  I think when someone truly loves you, you live forever, maybe not here but somewhere.

Live Forever

(lyrics by Billy Joe Shaver; sung by Joe Ely)

I’m gonna live forever
I’m gonna cross that river
I’m gonna catch tomorrow now
You’re gonna wanna hold me
Just like I’ve always told you
You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone

Nobody here will ever find me
But I will always be around
Just like the songs I leave behind me
I’m gonna live forever now

For the rest of 2014, this blog’s name will remain Hooks Down Under.  Beginning in 2015, the name will change to Writings By Rosemary.  Between now and then, I’d like to share some seriously funny memories about Allan so we can laugh together instead of crying together.

Until then …

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A Pilgrimage of Milestones

Australia_kangarooIn two weeks, I’ll be on a plane to Australia.

Someone said that I was taking a pilgrimage but I’ve realized that this entire year has been nothing but a pilgrimage of milestones.  The first birthdays, the first holidays, the first trip back to the Texas coast, our anniversary in June which by the way is not an actual anniversary if only one of you is still alive, are all the beginning of the end to a new beginning.

Confusing, yes.

After the anniversary was the ritual of going through Hook’s clothes, his closets, everything he ever owned, made easier by the presence of my family.  They helped me to pick through what I was willing to part with then adopted some of his things which was more reassuring because it felt like he wouldn’t be far away. Then finally, there was the move back into the Hook House, a house I have to admit that I did not want to return to. Living here again was never part of the plan, but nothing of the last two years was part of any plan ever.

Yes, it’s a great house. Yes, I am grateful. Yes, everyone who walks into this house has said what I said the first time I ever saw it: “It’s so cute and such a perfect location!”

He should have died in this house but if he had, I wouldn’t be living here today. That’s one thing I know for certain and it goes with the only other certainty that I have:  I need to finish what we started which is why I re-booked my flight to Australia with little to no time to plan.

Early in 2014, I doubted that I would ever step foot in the land down under.  That country no longer held any interest for me.  Instead it was a reminder of unfulfilled dreams and not just of a sabbatical but of an entire future.  Occasionally I would say without conviction that someday I’d go and take his ashes, but I lacked any enthusiasm to make that happen until I moved back into the Hook House.

[I refer to my home as the “Hook House” because in the future it will become the Hook Scholar House where I sponsor students from outside of central Texas who travel to Austin from all over the world to conduct creative research at the Wild Basin Preserve.]

The first week back home, I had to give myself permission to feel relief, yes relief, that I could start anew, relief that it was okay to feel happy again, relief that no matter what I did to improve my future did not mean I would forget about Hook.   How could I?  This house was the only home I’d ever known with Allan.  It was his home then our home.  Now it is my home.  His Jeep is parked in the driveway while my Nissan is tucked away in the garage. Do I keep both cars? I don’t know but I no longer feel the need to figure everything out all at once. Somehow being back in this house has released me from feeling like I’d never find my way back to the land of the living.  And even as I walk through the house with the constant sense of he should be here, I know I can’t change the past.  I cannot make my husband be undead.  The only way forward is forward.

He would want you to be happy.

Sort of.  I mean, Allan would not have wanted me to be unhappy. He would have wanted more than anything for me to be productive, for me to get going.  I could cry all I wanted so long as I kept making progress.  Hook was from the generation that if you were too happy, you probably weren’t working hard enough.  So yes, he would want me to be happy but not too happy.

What is Allan saying to you now?

Multiple people have asked me this, but I couldn’t answer because I’d started listening more to what I needed than what I believed Allan would have wanted for me. That’s how I decided to make this trip to Australia which is neither a vacation nor a holiday. The same knotted ball that was in the pit of my stomach when I took my first trip back to Port Aransas without Allan has resurfaced. I struggle to feel excitement for a trip I once couldn’t wait to take.  But that was when I thought my husband would be sitting next to me on the plane not resting in an urn.  Everything is different now even my reason for going.

I go because there is a circle to be closed. I go to complete a two-year journey I never wanted to be on. I go to spread the last of my husband’s remains on the anniversary of his death.  I’ll do finally what we’re both now ready for me to do:  I’ll let him go.

The widow books that used to decorate my nightstand have been replaced by books about Australia.  Each time I open one of the Oz books, Australia_booksI barely skim through the pages, not really reading at all.  Instead, I stare at the maps of this continent, mentally planning a counterclockwise, southwest trek from Perth to Melbourne to Sydney to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef then over to Darwin and down to Alice Springs then back down to Perth for one last peek at Hope Street.

Australia’s vastness used to intrigue me and my hope is that once I get there, it will again.  I’m giving myself exactly one month.  And all that traveling inside the country that I mentioned?  I’ve no way of knowing if I’ll actually do it.  I’m as likely to hunker down in Perth and do absolutely nothing as I am to figure out that anamoly of an island and make a solo trek around the circumference.

As I live through the next three weeks which this time last year were Hook’s last three weeks, I find it impossible not to return to that time in my head. We had lived a year for every day in that last month.  The intensity of feeling doesn’t go away just because 347 days have passed. I can actually see it more clearly now, see that no matter what happens in my life, nothing will ever touch me as deeply as those last days helping my husband to die.

We didn’t know, I didn’t know — our last conversations, our last everything. Some might think that that time was tragic or horrible or possibly even disgusting to have to live through.  When you can’t stop what is happening, when you can’t save them, when all you can do is wipe phlegm from their mouth or carry them to the bathroom, then those actions become ultra significant.  So you push back any thoughts of he’s dying and instead you think, He would have done this for me, or, I can still do these small things for him.  And you make that be enough for both of you and you never break until he’s gone, because he’s no strength left so you must be that for him, too.

If Hook were saying anything it would probably be:  Just keep going orYou’re right babe,” a common phrase in our home.

My husband did not want me to take his ashes to Australia.  But I have always known what was best for us and now I know what is best for me.  I need to release him.  I need to begin a new journey that starts with finishing this one.  I’ll make this pilgrimage to Australia and I’ll face this milestone like I have faced all the others: With my heart and my mind wide open.

And I’ll cry and I’ll cry and I’ll cry and when I’m done, I’ll remind myself that it’s okay to be happy again.

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Calling for Hook Stories

HOOKABRATION_SEUphoto

Professor Hook, 2010.

Do you have a story you’d be willing to share about Hook or Allan or Al or Dr. Hook?  If so, I’d love to receive it via email so I could:

  • Read these to Hook.  He seems to enjoy having me read to him just before he dozes off.  (I read to him all of the comments from the blog postings.)
  • Share them on a future post titled, Hook Stories (or Stories About Hook), something like that.
  • Include any photo you’d like to send with the memory.

I welcome all quotes, anecdotes, stories… old, new, funny, sad, long, short.   I’d have to OK everything with Allan before publishing and I’d probably make any R-rated stories PG-rated (where possible).    Otherwise, your stories would be shared verbatim.

Email stories (w/ photo if you have one) to:  rosemary@hookthetalent.com

How about if we say that you’ll email by the 15th of August?   This will give you some time to compose.  If you would, let me know how you’d like me to reference you, e.g. Bromance buddy from UGA or fellow student at Colorado State or …

On a separate note, next week I have a special blog post.  I’ve been writing it in my head for about a month on a subject of a delicate nature — delicate but positive —  something I hope everyone will be open to reading.   I wish I could tell you what the post will be titled but I’ve no idea.  I can tell you that in a roundabout way it is about religion and God but not in the way you might think.   There will be no soapboxes, no preaching, no soul-saving, just a sharing of who my husband is, has always been, and the mysteries we keep discovering together.

Until that cryptic post …wooooo…. send those stories of my wonderful husband if you would.  All old, ornery, and obscene memories welcomed of course!  (They may not get shared via the blog but I’m sure Hook will appreciate hearing them.)

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It All Began with Wheat Gluten: Part II

(Click here for It All Began With Wheat Gluten: Part I)

HDU_WheatGuten

The original bag of wheat gluten from Hook!

Hook loves to brag, “I almost didn’t get a second date!”

If it hadn’t been for the wheat gluten, he may not have. Neither Hook nor I were the common 20 to 30-year-olds when we met. I was 42 and Hook was 53.  His balding head was losing hair follicles by the dozen and my body was sprouting new follicles in places I do not care to describe. That we are opposites is no surprise to those who know us, but we are also alike in the most organic of ways, and that organic part began with wheat gluten.

The First Date

Allan spotted me on campus, our common place of work at the time, a few months after I’d started working at the university. He’d asked around and found out that one of his colleagues knew someone who knew someone who knew me. Around the same time, I’d been told by a friend of a friend that someone was making inquiries. Once I learned it was Dr. Hook doing the asking, I figured it was just a matter of time before he made his interest known. I waited but no Dr. Hook.

I’m sure a more liberal woman would have just picked up the phone and asked him out.  But I’m a closet conservative so I was going to need to invent a reason to contact him. The thing was, Allan taught traditional, undergraduate biology students while I career counseled working professional students mostly in graduate business programs. I counseled the occasional undergraduate student but rarely were they biology majors.  Then one day a colleague asked if I knew which employers were actively hiring biology students. That seemed a legitimate reason to pick up the phone and call Dr. Hook. I left a detailed voice mail explaining who I was, why I was calling, and when he had a moment would he please call me back.

Now, when I tell this story in person, I like to exaggerate and say that I had barely put the phone back in its cradle when Allan showed up on the threshold of my office door. Since I don’t want to embellish, let’s just say at least ten minutes passed between the time I left my voice mail message and what appeared to be a slightly winded Dr. Hook standing in the doorway of my campus office. He walked in, sat down, and propped his feet up on my desk and repeated back to me the question I’d asked on the voice mail. When I saw the side of his shoe on my desk, I couldn’t help but widen my eyes and smile with the thought, Who does this guy think he is?  He immediately started talking about biology-related employers which I paid no attention to until I remembered my made-up reason for calling him. I thought I’d better at least pretend to write down some of the things he was telling me. When we’d exhausted that part of the discussion, we started talking about (I no longer remember) and next thing I knew, I was asking him to give me three adjectives he would use to describe himself.

Allan did not like that question at all. I saw what could only be described as a smirk show up on his face as he looked me in the eyes and answered.

“Old, ornery, and obscene.”

I laughed out loud.  This guy is a hoot!  What I didn’t learn until months later is that Allan was annoyed at what he perceived to be “a marketing question.” It was a common question I asked of my graduate students as a way to pull from them what they believed to be their greatest strengths, in essence, how to market themselves to employers. Except, this guy in my office, this old, ornery, and obscene man with his feet propped up on my desk was not going to put up with ordinary questions from a commoner. But even my marketing question wasn’t enough to annoy him into forgetting what he came over to do and that was to ask me out on a date.

“So, do you want to get drinks sometime after work?” he asked.

Well, that seemed out of nowhere, but Allan was done with the conversation and wanted to move on to more important matters back in his office.

“Sure,” I said.

“When?” he asked.

Apparently, small talk was over. We agreed on a Friday in the future. We met, we had a drink, actually, I had two drinks – two pints of beer in fact — to kill the pain of our conversation which wasn’t an actual conversation but more my asking questions and Allan mumbling into his salad with his head bent over. This must be the old of old, ornery, and obscene. Halfway through the date, I decided I would not be going out with him again.  We didn’t have enough in common and whoever had shown up in my office a week and a half ago was not the same man who showed up for this date.

How to Get a Second Date

The day after, I received a looong email from Allan, the length of which he has never written to me again in the last five years. He thanked me for the date, said what a nice time he’d had and that he had stopped by the store to pick up a bag of wheat gluten and would I like him to drop it off at my office. What is he talking about?  Wheat gluten?  Then finally, Oh my God he remembered …

Somewhere between pint one and pint two, I’d asked Allan how to get rid of the dallisgrass weed in my yard. I’d read something about using an organic alternative like wheat gluten, and since he was a biologist, I figured he must know something about that sort of thing. I’d completely forgotten we’d even discussed weeds and gluten, so for him to remember then to actually follow-up and buy some wheat gluten was for me, quite impressive. I sat there thinking, Wow he was paying attention.

In the email, Allan said he’d drop the wheat gluten off at my office or if I wanted, I could stop by his house. He’s insane.  I am not going to his house. And then after I’d researched his address which he’d offered in the email, I realized, he’s only a mile from campus!  Since I was driving 45 miles round trip every day to work, and since I must have whined about this during our date, the good professor cleverly offered up his logistical attractiveness to our place of work.

To keep him from dropping into my office again, I mentioned something in my response email about meeting up at an art function the following weekend. He could bring the coveted wheat gluten then. Now why I didn’t just say I’d pick up the wheat gluten from his office, I’ll never know. Except, as I started to recall bits and pieces of that first evening, I remembered a part of our conversation that stumbled into the area of ‘what do men want?’

Allan said with clarity, “That’s simple.”

“It is?” I asked as I sat up to attention.

“Yes,” he said. “Men just want women to be happy.”

I remembered feeling disappointed with that answer; it seemed too simple. But as I typed out my response on the keyboard to his email, I couldn’t help thinking two things:  He listened — and — He’s trying to please me.  There was something genuine about the offer of wheat gluten, especially since he didn’t actually believe it would make the dallisgrass disappear. He’d bought me a bag anyway because it meant something to me.

When we met at the art function a week later, Allan seemed different, more relaxed somehow.  He told me later, “I was just so happy you agreed to a second date.”

“But it wasn’t a second date,” I said. “I just wanted the wheat gluten.”

“Yeah,” he said, “but I didn’t know that; to me, it was a second date.”

Well, it did end up being our second date because we stayed at the function for several hours looking at all the different artwork. He engaged in the conversation and we laughed a lot. I learned he was a wine drinker more so than beer which surprised me given his affinity to plaid shirts.  Allan saw bugs in all the abstract watercolors while I looked for people in the paintings. Even though I didn’t initially see insects in every piece of artwork, once Allan pointed out how to look at something differently, sometimes I could see them.

Afterwards, as he walked me to my car, I thought:  There’s depth to this man. Then as I turned to face him, he snuck in a lightening fast peck on my lips.

“Oh” was all I could think to say.

“Do you want to go on a nature walk tomorrow?” he asked.

“A nature walk …” I repeated, because I was a bit flustered. Did he just kiss me?

“There’s a place where I do some work,” Allan said. “I could take you on a nature walk there.”

The Nature Walk

No one had ever taken me on a nature walk before. I wasn’t even sure if I knew what a nature walk was, but I’d enjoyed myself at the art event so I agreed to meet him the next day at UT’s Brackenridge Field Lab. When I arrived that Sunday, Allan walked me inside the facility, showing me parts of the enormous insect collection full of pinned wasps and moths, butterflies and beetles. There was also a disturbingly large ant mound that gave me the heebie jeebies but which I found myself asking questions about. Then he led me over to the tropical butterfly tent which was a huge blue tarp draped over a greenhouse area with butterflies flying over our heads.

“Wow” was all I could think to say as I stared upwards with my mouth open watching all these colorful insects fluttering around and around. The tropical part of the butterfly tent was owed to the Costa Rican butterflies that were visiting. Allan said there were Texas butterflies, too, like the Zebra Longwing, the Tiger something and a bunch of other iridescent beauties. From the butterfly tent, we exited outside to a dirt trail where Allan pointed out grapevine and cypress and pecan trees and elms. Surely I’d walked by grapevine a thousand times in Austin but until that day, I’d never really seen it. My ignorance and obliviousness to nature astounded even me. Further along, he showed me a man-made pond full of squishy things that was being used for an ongoing study of more squishy things.

Halfway through our walk, we found a log and sat down side-by-side to share a large Honeycrisp apple. I took a bite then Allan took a bite then I took another bite and so on until the entire apple was gone. I felt shy all of a sudden and worried if I looked okay so close up. But Allan was so comfortable with himself that I started to feel perfectly fine, and I forgot to care whether my hair was too big (it usually was), or whether my forehead was too greasy (you could fry an egg on that thing), or if any apple bits had wedged in between my front teeth.

Our nature walk was on a late January afternoon which would normally be jacket weather. But that particular day, the winter air had warmed so Allan was dressed in blue jeans and tennis shoes and a white t-shirt with pictures of bugs on it. I was bundled up in worn khakis with a navy blue hooded sweatshirt assuming, I guess, that I was going to be mauled by biting insects or something. Allan had on his head a weathered white baseball cap with a blue flap which sat pushed back on top of his head. He carried a long stick in his left hand so that each time he described something to me, he could point to it with the stick.

We didn’t always walk together, sometimes I was trailing him. At one point, when he stopped to show me some cypress trees, he was positioned underneath a canopy of leaves from the live oaks on either side of the path. Their branches reached across the trail to touch one another. Allan stood facing me, smiling, waiting for me to catch up, and I couldn’t help thinking, He’s just a big kid and this is his playground.

Later as we continued to walk, he ran up to what looked like a circular bundle of dark green nothing hanging high from a branch. He poked it with his stick and said, “It’s mistletoe.”

“That’s not mistletoe,” I said as I laughed. I thought he was egging for another kiss except it really was mistletoe. For some ridiculous reason, I thought mistletoe started growing the day before Christmas Eve then died right after New Year’s Day.

“It is!” he said then he began to explain how mistletoe grows.

The more he talked, the more animated his face became, and I finally understood.  So this is who he is.  He was in his element, at his best, enthralled to be sharing this world of nature he obviously loved with someone who obviously understood so little of it.  He was thorough with his descriptions, generous in his sharing, and I began to fall in love with my future husband as he explained mistletoe to me.

Allan eventually gave me the bag of wheat gluten many dates later, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to use it.  I’ve been holding onto it, treasuring it I guess. When we were planning our wedding, I thought about dividing it up and placing it inside glass centerpieces for the tables, then realized that was too weird even for me.

But this is our story, how two incredibly opposite people came to be. My husband is not old but he is ornery and he is obscene and I love him.

Thank God for wheat gluten.

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It All Began with Wheat Gluten: Part I

 

 

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Hook and me, June 7, 2009 @ Chapel Dulcinea. Matron of Honor, Mary Joy Guzman, and our Officiant, Dr. Bill Quinn.

Wheat gluten.  Not the most romantic offer a man can give a woman but if the man is Hook and the woman is me, it becomes a gift that leads to falling in love which leads to marriage which leads to caring for someone until they do not need your care anymore.

When Hook and I announced our engagement to my parents back in 2008, my mother said, “Only marry a man you’re willing to care for in sickness.”  That might sound ominous to some except my mother, like me, married a man who was older than her.  My father was 14 years my mother’s senior while Hook is 11 years my senior. Married men, on average, die before their wives.  Erma Bombeck said it was the only break women got.  The world laughed, I laughed, too, except I’m not laughing today.

My mother’s sage advice comes from living her wisdom because those words were spoken three years before my father, Lou, passed away in 2011.  So women, write my mother’s words down, share it with every female you know – young or old:

Only marry a man you’re willing to care for in sickness. – Anselma Guzman

I’ve put off writing this blog and you know I’ve been putting it off.  No matter how many times I blocked the words WRITE on my calendar, my fingers wouldn’t move over the keyboard.  To write, I would have to think, and to think meant I would have to feel. Feeling too much meant spending too much time curled up in a ball sobbing, and I could only afford to do that when Hook was resting in another room so he wouldn’t hear me.  I call it repressed crying; my mind calls it selective madness.

Hospice Austin & Hook’s Research

Under the oncologist’s advisement, Hook decided to stop chemotherapy treatment permanently in June because it was too debilitating to his system.  For the past three months, I have envisioned Hook standing in the middle of a road with chemotherapy headed toward him from one direction and cancer from the other.   Both were accelerating faster and faster with the same outcome expected regardless of which reached him first.

Stopping chemo meant moving into palliative care which some of you may know as hospice.  We’d been avoiding hospice out of fear.  If you’re like us, hospice meant preparing to die with no alternative but death.  Then, one of Hook’s friends lent us a wonderful book, The Best Care Possible, written by a palliative care doctor.  The book gave us a positive perspective on what to expect and how to embrace this type of care.  So far we’ve learned:

  • Some people “graduate” out of hospice.  People can and have lived far longer than the estimated six months under hospice care.  At the risk of sounding pessimistic, I know we will not graduate out of hospice.  It’s important for me to write this because it’s part of my acceptance and part of helping you to accept it, too.  I mention the ‘graduating out of’ because hospice is as much about hope as it is about dying.  There are other things we can graduate toward.
  • Palliative care usually reduces stress.  Hospice covers pain control and symptom management in the home.  This in-the-home care alleviates (most) trips to the hospital, doctors’ offices, pharmacies, medical supply stores, etcetera.  Less stress = a more productive Hook and more time for him to focus on completing his final pieces of scientific research which he attends to daily.  We’ve been trying to get to his university and to UT’s Brackenridge Field Lab, where Hook stores his bug samples, on a more regular basis.  He has been able to line up other scientific experts in the U.S. and abroad who are willing to take the research baton and carry on his work when he’s no longer able to do so.
  • Hospice means hope.  Hook and I are hopeful but realistic but hopeful.  The hope I hold in my heart today is different than the hope I harbored three months ago.  We’re living with hope that adapts to daily, sometimes hourly changes.  No matter what is staring us straight in the face, though, we still hope for the best outcome.  If you’re thinking where is hope in the face of death?  It’s in honoring the person who is dying by allowing them to live their life to the fullest regardless of how it affects you.  Honor and dignity are words that come up a lot with respect to dying.  I consider it an honor that I get to be the person who is with Hook at this stage in his life.  My flaws as a human are highlighted daily now, but in the light of my husband’s love, I find myself both a stronger and weaker person than I ever imagined.  When I am strong, it is for him.  When I am weak, I’m back in that curled up ball position, but I’m fully aware in a way I know I’ll never be again.  Hopeful but realistic but hopeful.
  • Intimacy is heightened.  Intimacy here is meant to describe the trust and faith two people hold between them, sometimes with words, sometimes in tears only.  We wrap ourselves in each other’s arms to ward off any assaulting anguish that descends upon us on any particular day.  Still, Hook and I share our desire for the remainder of the life we have left together.   How could we not?  In this, we build on top of plans still in place with an appreciation and fear of time, sidestepping emotional landmines or sometimes stepping right on them.  We know not everyone gets the chance we have been given – the chance to finish things, to say I love you, I’m sorry, I love you, I’m sorry I’m not a better cook.  (Hook says, “You mean a cook.”)  But even if we do not have more years together, we do have this — this flimsy gift of time not afforded to those who lose loved ones traumatically. Hook mumbles above my head that this experience is traumatic and I mumble into his chest, only because he’s so ornery.

Speaking of ornery and the real purpose of today’s blog was to share the story of how Hook and I began.  It’s a story that starts with a small bag of wheat gluten, but it’s too long to finish in one sitting.   I promise I didn’t intend a To Be Continued to torture you rather I suspect my ramblings in these blogs are torture enough.  Consider this break to Part II your chance to save your eyesight or to get away altogether . . .

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The Great Hook Escape

HDU_HookHospitalpics

Hook’s Get Well cards. There were so many, I had to tape some to the window.

As I sit in the hospital cafeteria and dream of life outside the walls of St. David’s, my POW-stricken husband lies in his 5th floor room being poked, prodded, picked, and occasionally pampered.

With a hollowed, gaunt look of someone who has been starved and beaten, Hook’s recovery continues but his appetite struggles to rise above broth status.  His initial plunge into shrimp marinara proved too aggressive and his stomach beat back any hopes of resuming regular consumption of even the most basic of solid foods.   Like coming across a DETOUR sign on a side street and driving down roads never before taken, Hook’s internal system is learning how to maneuver new passages while trying to heal in the process.  Progress has been made but it is slow and arduous.

“Maybe you could just place the Cherrio on your tongue and let it sit there,” I suggest in a desperate attempt to get him to eat even a little bit more.

When I’ve exhausted that parental tactic, I switch to bribery, “If you eat one more spoonful, you can take a nice long nap.”   Knowing Hook has been deprived of a full night’s rest due to middle-of-the-night vital checks and oral pain medication, the promise of sleep is motivation enough for one more spoonful.

Release Date

Our hoped for Tuesday release came and went and now Friday the 21st will be the earliest we are released.   I say We because the closer a Go Home date approaches, the more nurses and technicians and nutritionists and dieticians and physical therapists and home health care personnel and doctors …have I left anyone out?…visit Hook’s room to prepare us for what to expect once we are on our own.   And slowly but surely his plastic appendages are being removed but one outie tube and one innie IV will remain attached when we finally exit these beige walls and the antiseptic smell of healing in progress.   Once home, we’ll entertain daily visits from a nurse and other home care professionals at least through the first week of January.

Since pampering is actually my job and not the nurses, it’s time for me to return to the room and resume my full duties.   But Hook and I have decided, if the surgeon doesn’t set his discharge for Friday, we’re breaking out and pleading insanity.

Regarding visitation, I’ve reverted back to surgery day status and have put on hold any in person visitation for the remainder of 2012.  Feel free to email and call Hook directly and this way he can respond as he feels able.

Friday or bust.

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The Beginning of Thanks not the End of It

I didn’t miss posting about Thanksgiving in Australia simply because there is no Thanksgiving in Australia at least not in the month of November.   Thanksgiving is one of the few U.S. holidays that is unique to Americans and oddly enough not grossly over commercialized.   We’re too busy giving thanks I guess.

Australia’s Thanksgiving

Australians have what some rumors call a National Day of Thanksgiving in the month of May.  It sounds like it was something conjured up by a Christian network in the mid-2000s and maybe (or maybe not) recognized by the Australian government.   But do Aussies actually celebrate this National Day of Thanksgiving?  I can only wonder without some Aussie input.

It doesn’t bother me that other countries might create their own day of thanks. Maybe your thanks will override our thanks since I’m sure everyone is not thankful enough.   I can already hear people saying out loud (mostly Americans probably), “I’m thankful, I am!”   Be more thankful.   If you’re healthy and you know it, clap your hands and be so very, very thankful.

No Thanks, Scary Thanks & Real Thanks

There is inner turmoil between my bethankful woman and my I’mpissedandscared woman and since this is not a Thanksgiving blog but only sounds like one, let me share my lists of No Thanks, Scary Thanks, and Real Thanks.

  • I give no thanks, nothing, nada, zilch to the doctors who have been treating Hook for the past six months but do not see him as a person.   Do I expect too much?  Maybe.  Except Hook represents for these doctors one of very few patients who is likely to become candy-free.   He’s not just a statistic so stop treating him like a number!
  • No thanks to– I have to say it: cancer.  That disgusting blob of killjoy which attaches itself to healthy cells and feeds off organs like a parasite.  With all the fat floating around in the universe, why couldn’t cancer attach itself to cellulite? We’d all sign up for it then.
  • More no thanks to a healthcare system that didn’t allow for a nurse practitioner to help Hook and me navigate the healthcare process until …wait for it…six months after we’d been navigating the system on our own.   In fact, I’ve been so upset about this for the past week that I couldn’t even post a blog.  (Yes, I’m blaming healthcare for my lack of writing!  Genius, no?)  No thanks for the added layer of bureaucracy.
  • A big fat no thanks to Hook’s oncologist who loves to answer a question with a question.  When I asked, “Should we get a second opinion?”  He answered, “Why do you feel you need a second opinion?” and I said, “Let me ask that another way.  Would you recommend we get a second opinion?”   His answer, “You could.”    Thanks for nothing, but shhhh, don’t tell Hook I wrote this.  He likes his fist-bumping oncologist.
  • Finally, I am not at all thankful for mastering the art of living-in-limbo in a constant state of ‘wait and see.’  It sucks.

Okay.  The no thanks is off my chest.   That was my fear and frustration talking.   Now let’s hear from my heart.

Scary Thanks

Scary thanks are those thanks I give because I know it could be worse (way worse).  I know I’ve somehow skated by and I’m not quite sure why I get to be part of the lucky group.  Scary thanks are those cosmic chuckles we all give from time to time when Good Blessings aren’t checking I.D.s at the door because not all of us would be admitted:

  • I give thanks that my life’s circumstances aren’t worse or worse than yours whoever you are whose life is worse than mine.
  • I give thanks that my husband is who he is, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.  If things get worse, please remind me that I wrote this.
  • I give thanks for those nurses who do answer our questions, who give us frank advice when it’s not always in their best, political interest to do so.  God bless all nurses always.

Real Thanks

  • For our families.
  • For our wealth of friends.
  • For our lack of debt because we like to live like monks.
  • For my work-from-home business.
  • For my stupid cat.

I’ll always be thankful that life in Australia was even a possibility, is still a possibility, and who knows maybe next May when some Australians celebrate a Day of Thanks, the Hooks will be celebrating with them.  It’s the beginning of thanks, not the end of it.  Sing it with me people!

Hook’s Surgery is Dec 6th  I’ll probably post twice that day.   I’ll either post or spontaneously combust and you can read about it on Twitter.  😦

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