Just So Lousy… Death Is An Ugly Business

I’ve been looking back on the last year and a half, and it has become mind-boggling how many of my friends (or their close family members), family, former co-workers, and people who were part of my everyday life are now dead.  I don’t really even know where to start.

Most people know that my cousin died on March 2, 2014, so almost two weeks (tomorrow).  She had a  horrendous fight with neuroendocrine colon cancer, with every complication known to nurse-kind.  I was her ‘go to’ person (as she described me) for bouncing around ideas of what might be going on, and getting my take on what the symptoms she was having could mean.  Being eighty miles away didn’t help, but I did what I could, and my standard line was “you probably need to go to the ER” or “It would be a good idea to call your doctor now and let him/her know what’s going on.”  I was glad to be of some use- and it was also hard to know she was going through so much.

During the last twelve to eighteen months, I’ve looked up former coworkers to see if we could reconnect, and ended up finding their obituaries.   I’ve also been informed about friends’ family members- and in the case of two particular children, it was really so incredibly sad.  One died at age eleven from the same leukemia I had- less than a day after being diagnosed. Another child (8 years old) in that same extended family died from brain cancer, less than a year after she was diagnosed.  She had the best treatment there is (St. Jude’s), and she still lost the fight.  Even though their names are available on public ‘search’ links, I won’t post their names because they were minors- and I don’t have the family’s permission to name them.  I remember some kids who died when I was a kid (friend’s brother had a brain hemorrhage, kid at school had a brain tumor, skating coach’s six kids were murdered by her husband)… but as an adult, with the experience of  pediatric nursing-  hearing the screams of the parents when an infant or child died back in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit isn’t something I’ll ever forget.  It was the most guttural, primal PAINFUL sound I think I’ve ever heard.

I am going to name a few of  the people I’ve lost in the past few years, as I have nothing but good to say about them- and they too are easily found when looking their names up.  I hadn’t expected to find their obituaries, but ….

Madeline Spenrath, R.N. was one of my nursing supervisors in Kerrville, TX.  She was one of the best supervisors I ever had anywhere.  She maintained a bit of a strict ‘ship’…but she had a heart of gold.   I reconnected with  her after her breast cancer was found, and after she’d had to have her right hip removed from the socket (along with the whole leg), as the cancer had spread.  It continued to spread, and she eventually died at one of the nursing homes I used to work at (it helped to know she was getting good care).   Madeline was ‘good people’.   She was down to earth, very knowledgable, and could get an IV into a mosquito in motion.  She had amazing BBQs for the night shift crowd every year for a long time- those were great.  She had someone tend the pit, and everyone brought a dish to pass.  She was all about team work, and it was obvious she was an amazing team leader- and player. She wasn’t above getting her hands dirty.

I had started looking for the mom and godfather of a baby I took care of for most of the first 18 months of his life when his mom worked.  I worked 2-12 hour night shifts on the weekends, and his mom worked 3-11 shifts Monday through Friday, so it was perfect.  The first 3-4 months I had him 5 days a week (had the car seat so I could get errands done), then cut back to 3 days a week so I had some time off.  But he was my little angel bug.  He’s about 25 years old now- last time I saw him he was twelve !   Anyway, when I looked up Jae Arkeen and Dana Coy, I found their obituaries.  It stunned me when I later found out that Jae had relapsed into addiction, and had elevated levels of drugs in his system that he wouldn’t have touched when I knew him.  That broke my heart. He had been SO solid in recovery.  It reinforced that ANYONE can relapse and die with drugs and alcohol.  I really don’t think he’d mind me saying that, because he’d know it could possibly reach someone who is rocky in recovery, thinking they’re invincible with their 12-Step Program.  He was the kindest, most caring guy, and thought that his godson hung the moon. He was so funny, and great to work with.  He later worked in a very intense area of counseling, and I’m sure that, along with what seems like some serious instability in his addiction recovery, was very difficult.  I had contact with  someone who had been very close to him (that I didn’t know), via e-mail, and she let me know what happened.  While it was horribly sad, there was some partial comfort in knowing it was fast- at least at the end.  I’m sure there were some painful times emotionally for him to get to that place.  I worked with him on an adolescent psych unit… he was great with those kids before he moved into a much more specialized area that is polarizing, and very difficult. He was outstanding with those kids.

Dana Coy (RN in several psych units over the years) had a very brief obituary.  brief battle with cancer.  She had been divorced from her adopted-at- birth son’s dad for years, though the son kept in contact with him- so after losing two people who were so close, I’m sure it helped to have his dad there with a long history together.  Dana and I didn’t work shifts together… but we saw each other nearly every day when she dropped the baby off (starting at 9 days old since he was adopted, so not much time off for ‘maternity’ leave), and when she’d pick him up, or I’d take him to work to do a ‘hand off’ if I was working an 11-7 during the week.  I liked Dana.  She was very easy to interact with when I took care of her son… not high strung about things, and also appreciative of having an R.N. for a regular babysitter.   I loved the baby as if he were my own.  She knew that- and also knew that I knew my boundaries as ‘the babysitter’… I always asked her before doing anything with him.  Whether it was a trip to the store, or just going to the apartment complex swimming pool, I made sure she was OK with it.

Another shock was finding out that Tricia Heath, the administrator (and an RN) at a really nice nursing home I worked at in Round Rock, TX back in the early ’90s had died. She was so supportive when I was dealing  some personal things, and was just a kind, compassionate person, who wanted the residents in that facility to have the best possible life they could in an institution.   I really cared about her, and when she and her family moved to Memphis, TN for a job her husband was offered, it was so sad to see her go.  As often happens, people say they’ll keep in touch once they get settled, and then life happens, and they’re in the wind.  Back then, there were no internet search engines for finding people, and it was all basically just luck if phone numbers were in the 411 for a particular city.  Tricia was a great administrator- she kept the place in line for state requirements, but she also had a heart.  I had a lot of respect for her.

Madeline, Jae, Dana, Tricia, and Kathy were parts of my life for a long time. Madeline, Jae, Dana, and Tricia were people I saw every day I worked, depending on the schedule I was on. I wonder how all of their families are doing.  When Facebook and other internet ‘reconnection’ things were available, it was like we’d never been away from each other. I got to catch up with Madeline the most… Jae, only once with a postcard from somewhere, and Dana only briefly when her son was twelve, and I was in Austin for a week for my work; they came up to the hotel to see me one evening when there weren’t any seminars scheduled. But it was great to see her, and how much M had grown !      Tricia was harder to track down since she’d moved back to TX.   I could have paid to find out where she was, but there was information on that thing that was really too invasive for just trying to send a ‘hi, how are ya?” kind of note.  And then they were gone.

I stopped looking for people.  I sort of don’t want to know who else is gone. If more people pop up via Facebook, or whatever, that’s great.  But I think I’m done looking.   It hurts.

Advertisements

Being Adopted

I’ve wanted to write about this for a long time, but haven’t really known where to start.  I still don’t, but I just got done watching the movie “October Baby”. The storyline isn’t anywhere close to the circumstances of me being put up for adoption, and yet there are things that I think go through the heads of most adoptees. At least while we’re young.

For clarification purposes, let me throw this out there: I differentiate between my families in the following way- my ‘real’ mom and dad (parents) are my adoptive parents- the parents I grew up with and knew from the beginning. This also applies to the rest of my family- my adoptive family is my real family. But, my biological family is just as important in different ways. My birthmother (who I address by her first name) is very dear to me. We had written contact in the mid 80s, and then first talked on the telephone on October 30, 2010.  We’ve talked regularly since then, and she has visited several times; we’ve both been amazed at our common likes/dislikes and interests. I’ve had various forms of contact with many biological relatives. One of my bio-mom’s cousins (I think that makes her my first cousin once removed) has been a very close friend (as well as my cousin) since we met during my first Christmas after moving to Texas in 1985.  

I ‘always’ knew that I was adopted. My parents never hid that fact, and it was essentially a non-issue. My mom used to read a book to me called “The Chosen Baby” that explained adoption to young children in a very positive way. My family never made an issue about me being adopted; I was just one of the kids. (On my dad’s side, I was the only grandchild; on my mom’s side, I am one of twelve grandkids- I’m # 7).  Several of my parents’ friends had also adopted kids, so adoption was just a ‘normal’ part of my life, and the lives of many people I grew up around.

First Birthday !

When I got older (teens) my mom and dad told me that if I ever wanted to find my biological mom, they’d be supportive. When I was 19, in the midst of some intense emotional stuff, it was recommended that I make contact. Through the adoption agency that handled my adoption, contact was made after just two phone calls by the guy at the agency. My birthmom and I wrote for quite a while, and then life was happening, and we didn’t have contact for many years. I understood that she had other things and people to consider, and while she NEVER cut me off completely, she needed some time  to sort through stuff that was stirred up.  While I missed having contact, I absolutely understood that things were much more complicated on her end of things. I  respected the need for time and space. In some strange way, I  ‘got it’.  And, I was also going through some things and needed some time to sort through those things, and to grow up a bit.  I now think that the time without contact allowed for us both to be ‘ready’ when we first talked and then met. 

When I was a young kid and into my teens, I did wonder about my birthmother.  All I knew is that she had gotten pregnant while she was in high school. Pretty standard story (at least from my end of things). I knew that she’d gone on to college, and that was about it.  I always wondered about siblings. I grew up an only child, and dreamed about having brothers and sisters.  I wondered if my bio-mom was OK.  I wondered about that a lot. I wondered if she was happy. I wondered about my biological father as well, but I think the maternal bond is stronger, regardless of any actual personal knowledge of the birthmother.  I  sometimes wondered  why I’d been given up, even though I knew she was still in high school.  I wondered if she’d wanted me, or just thought of me as a major inconvenience that just happened to come along before abortion was legal. I wondered if she cared about my biological father.  Since meeting her, I’ve had these questions answered, and I’m relieved with what she’s told me.

As far as anything ‘deeper’, there were times when I felt like I wasn’t meant to be, though my parents wanted a baby very badly. They’d lost two newborns within two weeks of their births during the 4-5 years before they got me. When I’d see happy scenes on TV, when someone had just had a baby, I imagined the day I was born as something that was a relief when it was over.  When I was going through rough times, I sometimes wondered why I hadn’t been aborted (legal or not, people were still having them).  I did have dark things go through my mind, but in the end, I know I’m around for a reason…I’ve survived way too much to have been a fluke.  🙂

I’ve been asked if I ‘hated’ my birthmother for giving me up for adoption. I’ve talked to pregnant teens who were relinquishing their babies, and also to people who were just curious, and the answer is an absolute “NO”.   I could never hate her.  I could never be ashamed of her. I could never think that she was ‘bad’ for getting pregnant. I could never imagine what it was like for her, going through a pregnancy knowing she was going to have to give the baby away. I could never judge her for the decision to put me up for adoption…sometimes people just don’t have any other choice- for whatever reasons.  Those involved in that decision thought it was the best thing to do- and since I wasn’t in their situation at that time, I have no frame of reference to judge my birthmother. Being an unwed pregnant teen in the early 1960s was judgement enough. Even when I was in junior high and high school in the late 70s and early 80s, I remember people sort of gasping when they heard about someone being pregnant and unmarried. The message was clear- and I can’t even imagine how hard that had to be to live through.

There were times when I wondered where she was.  When I was at the University of Illinois, I did wonder if she was any one of the thirty-somethings I saw walking around town. Or if she was even in that city; I knew I’d been born there.  I wondered if I’d know her if I saw her. Or if she’d know me. Sometimes I wondered if she were alive, or if something had happened to her. I wondered if she’d ever seen my birthfather again. I wondered if she’d like me.  I wondered if I looked like her.  I wondered a lot of stuff.  There was a ‘hole’ from not knowing her, and ultimately about myself, and who I was …where I came from.

I understand why I was given up for adoption. I feel much more badly for my biological parents than I ever did myself.  I grew up in a ‘good’ home, and was given a ‘normal’ life.  They had to give part of themselves away.  I ended up with two families; they lost their child- though they both went on to marry other people and have their own families.  I’ve been able to talk to my birthmom about anything related to my birth and adoption, and that makes me incredibly fortunate.  I don’t have any other frame of reference than being an adoptee.  That’s my ‘normal’.  There are many things I won’t write about, out of respect for privacy for my birthmom.  But I’m lucky. While we don’t have a traditional mother-dauther relationship, I can’t imagine my life without knowing her.  🙂

When Forever Breaks

In my nearly 49 year old nursey brain, I know that nobody stays on this earth forever. I’ve seen so many people die, I can’t count them all and I feel badly about that. I do remember some individuals that I’d gotten particularly close to, who had been at the places I’d worked for quite a while,  or who died from something uncommon. But for the most part, they were ‘just’ really sweet people whose bodies had given out.  I do remember feeling that their absence would be incredibly sad for their families and friends.  I spoke to many of them, and sometimes I was the one to give them the news. I always hated those phone calls.  Nothing good comes from a phone call in the middle of the night from a hospital or nursing home.

As I was growing up, I had the incredible fortune to be sent to summer camp for one week each summer to Timber-lee Christian Center in East Troy, WI.  Starting when I was 8 years old, and getting ready to start 4th grade (I was young for my class), I went every summer until I was 15, and getting ready to start my junior year of high school. I met some really neat people, and a few of them left lifelong impressions. When I got to work there in the summers on the ‘summer staff’, I was thrilled. The summer before my senior year in high school, freshmen year of college, and between the spring and fall semesters in college (1/2 of that summer), I spent up to three months working at camp- loving every minute of it. It was my spiritual home, and I learned more  about the love of God through Christians there than anywhere else. I still consider it the place where God became real to me.

I grew up in a solid church. The people there were very nice people, and there were several who were living examples of God’s love- but camp was different. I grew up with a mom who didn’t show much affection. She loved me (it took decades to really understand that), but I didn’t ‘feel’ it. As a kid, I didn’t know if she even liked me. It was all about her own ‘stuff’, and had nothing to do with me, but as a child, I had no frame of reference for what her life had been like- just what I saw in how she related to me.  She had lost two babies a couple of years apart, from the same newborn disorder, and she never even got to see them after they’d been born. That all happened a few years before I was adopted by her and my dad.   The death of a child who was never allowed to bond with a mom  does something to a mom. The bonding isn’t only for the baby. I get that now. But as a kid, I just wanted to feel that I mattered to someone, somewhere. I know my dad loved me- never questioned that. But I needed something different, that I didn’t get from a distant, aloof mother.  I got that for entire weeks at a time at camp.  On summer staff, it was 24/7 for up to three months.  Right or wrong, camp was extremely important to me feeling like my existence mattered.

I guess that’s why the death of a core member of Timber-lee has hit hard. I never really imagined camp without her. She was the constant person year after year- and she made kids feel like they mattered.  On summer staff, I met other people who made me feel like my existence was a good thing, but when I was really young, and into my adolescence, camp is where I really felt like I wasn’t ‘irrelevant’ (not sure what a better word would be), and this one woman was there each year. Camp didn’t exist in my mind without her.  With her death, my frame of reference has been broken.  I know I’m kind of old to still be hanging on to camp memories, but this place had that much of an impact.  It formed a big part of who I am because of the acceptance and understanding I felt there. It’s hard to explain.

So many people have come forward to talk about how Mary Kay impacted their lives. Many spent much more time with her than I did, but there are others who were ‘just’ campers or summer staff members who got the same genuine care and concern from Mary Kay- it’s just how she was.  There wasn’t anything phony about her, and kids can figure that out in a heartbeat. Kids crave adult acceptance. They need that adult to look up to and emulate. They need someone who thinks they are good enough just being a kid.  Those are crucial things to help them along developmentally, as they become their own persons.  And Mary Kay was there every year since 1972, loving every kid (and summer staffer) in a way that most people don’t have the skills and gifts to do; Mary Kay was special.

I don’t mean that I grew up in a vacuum at home. My mom (now deceased) was a ‘good’ person, and had a successful teaching career. Her students felt she was a great teacher, and many loved her. My dad worked hard, and provided for us; I never lacked a good place to live, clothes, etc.  He always had my best interests in mind, even when I didn’t realize it. He’s the person I’m closest to now. There were some key adults when I was a kid that sort of ‘took me in’ emotionally.  But camp was a block of time where I was immersed in love and true Christian living. I thrived on that.  I couldn’t wait to get back to those week long camps where I’d be in a cabin with 5-6 other girls, and a college age summer staff counselor; it was like a week long family based on the love of Jesus. It doesn’t get better than that.

On summer staff, I was surrounded by all sorts of Christians who were also  there for the kids. It was a chance to give back, but I often got so much more than I felt I gave (I worked in the nature center for most of my time on staff- I got worms for the fish and fed rats to snakes, along with doing various nature-related activities, often with a 6 foot boa constrictor wrapped around my waist). Those interactions went on to help me survive some really dark times. Camp formed the core of my beliefs (as did my home church, but it wasn’t the same). It’s something I pictured in my mind as unchanging- however irrational that may sound from someone who will be 50 years old in just over a year.  The core of my beliefs won’t change, no matter whose physically present on earth, and yet there’s a shift with Mary Kay gone.  I’m not sure I can explain it well.

Summers at Timber-lee Christian Center

I’m so glad I was able to reconnect on FaceBook earlier this year, and see Mary Kay and her husband, Greg, at a gathering at the camp this past July. It was the first time I’d been back to Timber-lee in 27 years.  There were changes, but that welcoming, feel-good feeling is still there. I believe it’s a supernatural blessing that presides over the people and property associated with that amazing place. I have never found any other place that immediately brings back the good memories like Timber-lee does. It’s mightily  used by God for so many things, and it touches people’s lives in ways that are for forever.

I’ve been so happy to reconnect with other Timber-lee summer staffers. It’s impossible to explain those summers to people who weren’t there.  I will miss Mary Kay deeply.  But I’m so thankful that I’ve got the memories of her TO miss. She and Timber-lee will be connected in my mind forever.  But now there’s a new frame of reference for Timber-lee moving forward. The ‘old forever’ broke. But I know that in the ultimate forever, it’s all good.

The Why of Loss

I remember when a dear friend of mine died unexpectedly a few years ago, I couldn’t get past the question ‘why?’.  She had been through several complications and surgeries from a knee replacement, coupled with her longterm steroid use for rheumatoid arthritis.  Her muscles, tendons, and tissues were weakened by those steroids that she had to have in order to treat the arthritis.  When she was found dead one morning on her daughter and son-in-law’s floor, I couldn’t comprehend it. I had talked to her the night before, and she sounded great!

I had talked to her nearly daily since she’d moved in with them in another state, to be closer to her grandkids (she was so excited!). I had talked to her daily from each of the rehab facilities she had been in following the various surgeries.  She wanted a nurse’s input regarding some of what was going on, or for me to explain how things work in nursing and rehab facilities (one of which was a kinda creepy). She had done well during the various phases of her surgeries for the knee issues, until another complication set in. When I talked to her the night before she died, she asked me to call her the morning, as she’d be at home alone. She was perfectly safe doing that even with her cast. She was someone who just got it done. But she said she’d feel better if she knew someone was going to check on her- so I told her “no problem”.

When I called several times that next morning, and got a busy signal, I knew something was wrong. The house phone had more than one line. One line should be open.  A few hours later, her daughter called and confirmed what I already knew in my gut. She was gone.  It had apparently been very sudden, as she was next to the bed.  I couldn’t grasp it.  It still bugs me sometimes, but I understand that she didn’t suffer.  She’d been through so much.  At least the end wasn’t painful, like the years of rheumatoid arthritis had been.  I still miss her like crazy; we’d been neighbors, and while we hadn’t known each other for that many years, we had near daily contact during the last eighteen months or so.

When my mom got sick during her winter with my dad in Arizona, I was livid at the treatment she got (or didn’t get). The emergency room in Sun City West had blown her off. She had been brought in by ambulance, unconscious after a seizure- and they couldn’t get blood samples to find out if she had some sort of systemic infection (sepsis)- but they got an IV in. Most competent ERs get the blood from the IV site before they hook it up to fluids (if fluids are started- which they were). They got a urine specimen, that showed a bad urinary tract infection, which along with the altered level of consciousness should have screamed urosepsis (when the bladder infection gets so bad it gets into the bloodstream) and the need for admission to ICU for IV antibiotics.  That is SO basic, and yet it was ignored. She was sent home with my dad on antibiotic pills.  She was semi-conscious and they sent her home on pills (the home they were renting).  It took three people to get her into the car on the hospital end- they didn’t care how she got out of the car at home….with my 71 year old father as her only caretaker.  He found some friends to help, but he shouldn’t have been in that position. Period.

My take on the whole Arizona ER situation is that they saw my mom as some disposable dementia patient who had a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ request IF she was to the point of needing resuscitation. But her heart hadn’t stopped. She had a treatable problem.  She had been with my dad to an art museum the day before. She still enjoyed things, even if just for the moment- but in the eyes of those medical ‘professionals’ the hospital people, she wasn’t worth the time. The hospital had been full; several people were waiting in the ER for a room. But the greater Phoenix area has many, many hospitals. A competent ER doctor would have sent her to another hospital, and that would have been appropriate. Instead, my dad had to make arrangements to fly her back to Chicago  after a few days of those antibiotic pills (crushed in applesauce) to make her just well enough to fly. When I went to help get her off of the airplane, the flight attendant told me that dad had to hold mom’s head up for most of the flight back. He’d left his car in the parking lot of Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, and flew with what he had on his back. The original plan was for me to pick her up with a family friend on this end of things, and dad drive the three days back. But the airlines wisely required that dad fly with her.

It’s a good thing that dad was with her, since he never would have made it back from Phoenix before she died. She was admitted to the hospital as soon as we got into town from O’Hare (airport near Chicago- for those outside of the US), and was dead within 48 hours.  Gone. I’ll never know if she would have had a chance IF the hospital in Arizona had done the right thing.  They took that away from us.  But, she also didn’t end up getting even more demented and lying in a nursing home, not knowing anybody.  I’d moved back from Texas just 3 1/2 months earlier to make sure she stayed out of a nursing home as long as it was physically possible for me to help dad keep her at home… and then she was dead.

I think about a 90+ year old lady who had been admitted to a nursing home I had just started working at in Texas. She had developed  kidney failure after a severe bleed in her gastrointestinal (gut) tract. The blood loss was so bad that her kidneys didn’t get enough blood to keep them functioning. The family decided that she was not going to get dialysis- the only thing that would keep her alive. She was admitted to the nursing home not knowing her own name or why she was there. This was a lady who had been living on her own, in her own house, doing her own yard work, etc.

Her life had changed in one single day. The aftereffects of that day lasted the rest of her 34 days. She got to the nursing home 17 days after the bleeding started. She left the nursing home a couple of weeks after that, following continued deterioration, and readmission to the hospital (and a physician who didn’t return calls to nursing homes; he was a problem).  Without dialysis, her body couldn’t even get stable. Her legs leaked fluid from the loss of proteins in her system, causing pools on the floor under her wheelchair, for the brief periods of time she tolerated being up. And her skin became fragile, and ‘broken’. The really sad part of that lady’s story is that her family decided that they’d like to profit from her death, and held the nursing home (four of us who worked there) responsible- even though they were the ones who refused the dialysis (and I understand why they made that decision- it would have been a miserable existence for someone who didn’t understand why it was happening- and getting a shunt into her blood vessels would have been a nightmare of torn vessels from the low protein levels). The doctor was never named in the lawsuit; he also didn’t help our defense attorney (provided by the corporation that owned the nursing home).

I was one of the people sued for wrongful death. To a nurse, that’s like saying I killed her. The lawyers had absolutely NO interest in the truth, or even the entire story- they just wanted some way to make money. Period. I felt like I was being accused of murder. I took care of that woman the best way I could; she was dying when she got there.  There was division  in the family about whether or not to sue- and nobody ever visited or called when I was on duty during the day, so I never even met the person who initiated the lawsuit.  What that lawsuit did was erase most of what made that woman who she was– an independent elderly woman who was amazingly strong and intelligent, and reduced her to a lawsuit.  The lawyers eventually settled, which angered me. I was ready to go to court. After a grueling seven (7) hour deposition, I wanted to see it through. But lawsuits don’t work that way- they just destroy people on one side, and issue a paycheck to someone on the other side (and their lawyers).  When there is some evidence of absolute negligence or malpractice, that’s one thing. When someone dies because their body breaks down, and someone wants to blame someone for it, that’s something else. 😦

Lousy things happen. Sometimes, there is some nice explanation, and it’s somewhat expected, even though it still leaves a sense of shock and deep, deep loss.  With each of the three examples above, I have to look at one thing: at least it wasn’t worse.  My friend could have ended up in a nursing home for life dependent on people to help her with basic mobility, her mind intact- that would have crushed her independent spirit.  My mom could have also ended up in a nursing home, oblivious to anybody or anything around her for years– at least she still recognized people up until 36 hours before she died. And dad and I were both with her- he wasn’t on the road, and I wasn’t stuck here waiting for both of  them to be able to get here, unable to have those last days with her.  With the lady in the nursing home, well, her situation was pretty bad all the way around. And it was made worse by the displaced grief and anger of at least one family member,  and questionable intra-family dynamics. She will always be associated with ‘the lawsuit’– not a sweet lady who had been changed by tragic and unpredictable physical disease.

I can’t pretend to understand why God allows some things to happen. I can understand why things fall apart from a medical standpoint. When one thing is going on, it’s usually pretty straightforward. When there are complications and coexisting problems, that makes it easier to understand in my head, though my heart has trouble catching up. I do know that in God’s timing and purpose, all things work together for good.  That doesn’t take the pain away, but it does help me realize that there is a much bigger frame of reference for things than my human brain can comprehend.  God has it under control- and He’s with me when I do or don’t understand why some things happen.  Sometimes it’s just so hard not to want to be able to make sense of it all….and some things just don’t make sense.  Except to God.

September 11, 2001

My dad called me around 8:00 a.m. Central Daylight Savings Time to ask me if I had the TV on. “You won’t believe what they have done”.  They. THEY?. They… I was 5 days post-op from having scalp surgery and vein stripping on one leg, and was still a little out of sorts from the anesthesia and healing process from that.  I dragged myself out of bed and turned on the TV.

At first it was just too much to process. There was smoke coming from both of the World Trade Centers.  They.  It was incomprehensible that fighting a fire at that ‘altitude’ was going to work.  I was having trouble knowing what to think, what to do, what to feel… and I was a couple of thousands of miles away.  They were doing something to us in New York. I saw footage of thousands of people just looking up, their expressions a conglomeration of shock, disbelief, and horror.  How many people were in the Towers?  At that time, estimates were as high as 50,000 regular employees of the buildings and businesses in them. That number didn’t even register in my head.

I saw  replays of the second plane hit the other Tower.  The fireball.  The people who had to have died instantly and then the ones who were trapped filled my head.  The news kept showing people waving jackets and improvised ‘flags’. But they were too high.  When I saw footage of the second plane hit, I knew who they were.  Bin Laden was the one who had done other attacks, but nothing like this. His minions were attacking the United States.  Here.  I called my dad back to ask him if I should go get my car filled up with gas. I don’t know why that was important, but it seemed that everyone gets gas during an emergency.  Nobody knew all of the targets at that point, and I was in Texas. Lots of military bases in Texas.  For some reason gas seemed important. But I was immobilized by what I was seeing.

Another plane hit the Pentagon at 8:37 a.m. CDST. The Pentagon? How could anything get through the Pentagon?  More dead. More trapped. More hurting. Families watching, waiting… More fire.

I watched the South Tower implode at 8:59 a.m. CDST.  How could that happen?  It was a huge building full of people.  Full of people.  How many were trapped, but alert, as the floors started to fall out beneath their feet?  How many knew exactly what was happening as they fell 70-90 stories to their deaths?  How many were instantly incinerated when the planes hit?   How many really jumped?  Then the second tower went down. How many families were watching their loved ones die?  Were they alone? Was someone with them as they watched their lives change forever?

At 9:03 a.m. CDST, the fourth plane went down in Pennsylvania, obliterating it.  The stories were scattered about what had happened, but word was that the passengers got control of the plane and crashed it themselves.  More lack of comprehension, and awe at their presence of mind in the middle of the crisis when I was dumbstruck many states away.  What had they felt? How had that group of people been on the same plane, and able to enact a plan to avoid more disaster and loss of life as they heard of what had happened in NYC and DC?  How had they been able to call loved ones ahead of time and get word about what was happening?  How were those loved ones when they heard news of that plane going down… Was someone with them to offer some token of support in a situation that defies the scope of ‘normal’ grief?

9:28 a.m. CDST- The North Tower falls.  The debris and aerosolized concrete  and building materials blanket the end of Manhattan, while the rest of the city has amazingly blue skies. The tops of the towers are both gone; the city is engulfed in particles of walls, papers, paint, office equipment…people.  The steel frames were bent and twisted when what little of what was left  materialized on the TV screen. It was still hard to really understand the magnitude of what had happened.  I was numb.

The next two weeks, I was off of work because of the surgery, and 24/7 for much of that time, the news channels were glued to the coverage; cable stations ceased programming. I was immersed in the news about the attacks continuously.  For some reason, I couldn’t turn the TV off.  I had to know what was going on. Were there more attacks?  Were we safe?  I’d see the shots of people putting up photos and descriptions of their missing loved ones on fences and walls near the Trade Center site.  They had to ‘know’, but also had to hang on to a bit of hope until there was none left to grasp.

Rescue workers were going through the wreckage of the Towers with buckets, pausing only occasionally when a body was found.  Everyone stopped working, paying their respects to the person coming out in a flag covered stretcher.  The NYFD carried out their priest on a chair. Dead.  Both the NYPD and NYFD lost SO many of their own.  How unfair that anybody die, but they died going in to help the others.  And the buildings caved in.  They didn’t have a chance up in those buildings or near the bottom where the twisted pieces fell.

Dogs wore special boots to keep from shredding their paws on the steel and glass.  They were there for survivors at first, and then those who were temporarily buried in that burning metal tomb.

In total, 2,606 people died in NYC, 125 at the Pentagon, and 40 in the plane crashed by heroes in a field in Pennsylvania.  The youngest to die was 2 1/2 years old.  Ninety countries lost citizens.  Nineteen highjackers also died, but I refuse to add them to the total victim count. In total, more than 2975 people were killed in the span of  102 minutes.  For what?  

In two days, it will be the 11th anniversary.  I still can’t see documentaries about that day without dissolving into tears, and I wasn’t even close to the situation.  This had no ‘borders’ or ‘city limits’. This was an attack on America, collateral damage in the form of foreign nationals- our friends- be damned.  It still makes no sense.  I still wonder how the people in NYC deal with their grief, and how the families of the victims are doing.  I wonder how those who inhaled that stuff  have fared; various illnesses have been reported- in those who were there to help.  My guess is that the actual number of victims is really unknown; the families and friends of those who actually died will never be the same. They are victims,too. And survivors.

September 11, 2001 showed the vulnerability of all of us.  While I’ve gone through a personal attack in my home, the magnitude of 9/11 isn’t something any of us could comprehend.  There are countries that go through terrorism regularly, but not us. Oklahoma City was the closest we got to knowing what that is like. Even the first WTC bombings didn’t come close to 9/11.

I changed that day.  The fact that life can be cut short in a nanosecond at the hands of lunatics was graphically shown for days on end.  For the first few weeks after I returned to work, I was overwhelmingly annoyed when my coworkers talked about everyday mundane ‘problems’ (matching shoes to a dress for some 3rd rate banquet? Puhleeze).  It took me a while to get out of those two weeks, and back into my regular life.

But I’m so insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  What about those families and friends, and now the survivors of those lost in the wars fought in response to 9/11.  In many ways it has been a world war.  I’ll never forget that day, and I hope those who were too young to remember it will grasp the magnitude of that day and learn from history.  I hope that we can regain some of our prior sense of safety without neglecting common sense.  It happened once… we can never guarantee it won’t happen again.  But we have to go on living if we are to really honor those who were lost.  Otherwise they win.